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Kenny Pickett: Pittsburgh Steelers' Savior?

Najee Harris - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

The Pittsburgh Steelers played the New York Jets last week. Mitchell Trubisky started the game and played the first half of the game, a half in which the Steelers had eight first downs in seven possessions. Trubisky could not get them to the red zone.

The second half started and ended with Kenny Pickett under center. Is Kenny Pickett the savior the Steelers have been searching for?

If Pickett is the savior, does that make Trubisky the foe? Or are we looking in the wrong place for both savior and foe? Yes, I am looking at you, Matt Canada.

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What Can We Expect From the Rookie?

Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL 2022 Draft. The second quarterback did not come off the draft board until the third round. So, heightened anticipation is expected. The surprise (or maybe not) was that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Pickett 20th after signing Mitchell Trubisky in free agency.

Pickett looked good in the preseason. He finished that debut 29-of-36 for 261 yards, throwing three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That was then. Last week was his first real NFL game. He came in the second half to provide "a spark" to an anemic offense.

Pickett's offense improved. Trubisky's first half produced eight first downs in seven possessions and did not reach the red zone. Pickett's second half had five possessions. He went 10-of-13 for 120 passing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and three interceptions. Although head coach Mike Tomlin would not say if Pickett would replace Trubisky as the starter, the decision is made. The Pickett era is here.

Pickett is a rookie. If last week is any indication, expect him to play like a rookie. He has shown he can move the offense and score. He has also demonstrated he can put the ball up for grabs.


Can Pickett Help Salvage the Steelers Season?

The Steelers are 1-3. They are 30th in yards per game (278.8), 25th in points per game (18.5), and 26th in plays per game (58.5). There is a valid question of whether it is the quarterback or the offensive scheme. Time will tell.

The Steelers' next three games are: at Buffalo (where they are a -14-point underdog); v Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a defense tied for third in takeaways per game 2.3 and fourth in sacks with 14; and the Miami Dolphins, who blitz more than any other team in the league. The Dolphins also held the number one offense, the Buffalo Bills to 19 points.

The Steelers have the fourth hardest schedule per Sharp Football Analysis, and it is just getting started. Tomlin has never had a losing season. Asking Pickett to keep that streak alive is a little much, but asking him to help your fantasy team is a reasonable request.

Will Pickett Help the Fantasy Values of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris?

The predictive game script has the Steelers playing from behind in their next four games (they play Philadelphia after Miami), then the bye week. The Steelers' pass-catching crew will get plenty of action.

Currently, in PPR leagues, the Steelers' wide receivers' rankings for the season:

WR40 Diontae Johnson

WR66 George Pickens

WR76 Chase Claypool

TE7 Pat Freiermuth

RB26 Najee Harris


So who Do We Choose?

Pickens gets the biggest boost out of the receivers with Pickett under center. Pickett's 13.2 average depth of target has eyes for Pickens. Last week Pickens had eight targets and six receptions for 102 yards. For the first three weeks, Pickens had a 12.9% target share. After Pickett entered the game in Week4, Pickens' target share went to 33.3%, which helped move him up to WR18 for the week.

Freiermuth is going to be okay with Pickens. He led the Steelers in targets, and receptions and pace remained the same when Pickett entered the game. Freiermuth has a 20.6% target share and 26.9% target rate and has run 78 routes on 21 targets. Last week he was peppered with nine targets, catching seven for 85 yards.

Look for Johnson to get a slight boost, especially in games where the defensive front seven is aggressive, causing Pickett to look for a quick out. Johnson was the safety blanket for Roethlisberger and Trubisky. Pickett should follow the trend. Johnson currently has a 32.4% target share and rate. He is on the field for 88.1% of the offensive snaps (behind both Claypool and Freiermuth) but leads the team in targets (37) and catch rate (62%). [Zach Gentry has a 100% catch rate on three targets].

Claypool is the odd man out. Not only did he not contest the jump ball that resulted in Pickett's first interception, but Pickens out-targeted him. Last week Claypool had two targets and zero receptions. For the season, Claypool has 79 total receiving yards on 18 targets and 11 receptions.

Harris hasn't performed up to his draft capital, and the court is unsure whether he will. Harris has seen a stacked front, the 10th most (25%) on his 40 carries. Statistically, defenses will have to give more attention to Pickett's ability to get the ball downfield.

Harris is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry and has zero breakaway runs. Although he has eight red zone touches, he has only two touchdowns, and if last week is any indication, there is the threat that Pickett will vulture goal-line carries.

Expect an improvement in fantasy for Johnson and Pickens, but now might be the time to trade Harris and Claypool.

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