Tim Benz: Let’s not kid ourselves about what the drafting of Kenny Pickett means for Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph


Congratulations to Mitch Trubisky. His career as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting quarterback has ended without any losses, sacks or interceptions.

Or any actual starts.

Let’s be honest. Kenny Pickett is going to be the new starting quarterback for the Steelers. He will be the successor to Ben Roethlisberger.

He has to be, right? If he isn’t, why was he chosen by the Steelers with the 20th pick in the NFL Draft Thursday night?

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “Nah! They’ll give Trubisky a few token starts at the beginning of the season until it becomes clear that Pickett is the better player. Just to make it look good after they signed the other guy this offseason.”

Sure. I suppose the Steelers could play that game. They could make Trubisky the starter in name only.

But what would be the point? Why bother? Pickett will be 24 in June. He played in 52 games over five years at Pitt. Some of his greatest strengths are his intangibles.

Experience. Maturity. Ability to read and diagnose defenses.

Consider some of these quotes from coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert upon announcing the decision to draft Pickett Thursday night.

Colbert: “Kenny is just a mature, even-keeled guy. When we’re studying the quarterbacks, we not only watch them on the field, but we watch them off the field, when they come off, how are they with their teammates, how do they interact with their coaches, how do they conduct media interviews … we feel that the maturity that he displayed on and off the field will help him in that endeavor.”

Tomlin: “We talked about his high floor, and the high floor was because of the intangibles but also the anticipation and the pro accuracy were very obvious and consistent when studying his tape.”

Tomlin: “It was a good thing for him to come back and go back to school and gain another year of college experience. He is 24 years old. He is a mature young man. You do see maturity in his game, and I think all those things are going to put him into a position to compete.”

Does that sound like a guy they are planning to slowly groom? It doesn’t to me. Not behind Trubisky, who was Josh Allen’s backup last year. Or Mason Rudolph, who was Devlin Hodges’ backup at times in 2019.

Let’s not kid ourselves. All those narratives that were spun about the Trubisky signing ring hollow now.

• The Steelers can fix him after the Chicago Bears coaching staff ruined him.

• He grew so much learning behind Allen in Buffalo last year.

• He’s young and has upside, so if things work out on his two-year contract, maybe he can turn into the long-term starter.

That all reads funny after what happened Thursday night.

“I’m pretty familiar with competing,” Pickett said after being drafted. “I’ve been doing it my whole life. So, I know how to be a good teammate and compete at the same time. I’m excited to join the quarterback room, get to know those guys, and honestly just get better every day.”

If the Steelers had picked Liberty quarterback Malik Willis instead of Pickett, the dynamic would’ve made more sense. The book on Willis is that he is wildly talented but needs lots of seasoning. He’s raw. He didn’t play at a Power 5 school. The thought of him sitting behind Trubisky for a year or two would’ve made sense.

At the moment, it feels like — at least at the start of the year — Trubisky, Pickett and Rudolph are three of the same. Pickett better turn out much better than that really soon, though.

But for the time being, Tomlin and Colbert can pass off the “it’s an open competition” game.

“We’ve got three young quarterbacks,” Colbert said. “I think it’s going to be a great competition. They’ll all be in it to see who becomes the starter, but now I think we’ve got three real good options.”

Maybe the Steelers can still fix Trubisky — as all of Pittsburgh talked itself into believing in mid-March. But to prove it long-term, he’s likely going to have to do so in a fourth city in four years.

Because this is going to be Pickett’s team. The kid from the hometown school that nearly won the Heisman. He wasn’t taken in the first round with so many defensive backs, linemen and talented receivers still on the board to be a backup until he is 26.

Unless Pickett stinks. And his hands really are too small. And the ceiling is a lot lower than the floor is high.

If we get to that point? Hmm. Well, how good is that Kedon Slovis kid that’s replacing Pickett at Pitt, anyway? When is he entering the draft?

And Phil Jurkovec from Boston College, you know he went to Pine-Richland, right?

Hey, cut me a break. I’ve been in quarterback speculation mode since Roethlisberger walked off the field in Kansas City. Some habits are tough to break.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.