NFL Betting: Who Will Be the Steelers' Starting Quarterback in Week 1?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have enjoyed almost two decades of stellar quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger. Ever since Big Ben was thrust into the starting gig in Week 2 of his rookie year, the Steelers have not had to worry about the position.
But Roethlisberger’s form in the last couple of seasons suggested that the end was in sight, and that became a reality this offseason when Roethlisberger retired. He ended his time with the team owning franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns while also winning two Super Bowls.
The Steelers now face a difficult question heading into the 2022 season -- who will be their Week 1 starter when the campaign kicks off?
FanDuel Sportsbook has a market for this quarterback duel, so let’s look at the contenders.
Mitchell Trubisky (-175)
The Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky to a two-year contract in free agency after he spent the 2021 season backing up Josh Allen with the Buffalo Bills. He has experience as a starter, with a 29-21 record in four seasons with the Chicago Bears. He completed 64% of his passes on his way to 10,652 yards and 64 touchdowns after being taken with the second overall pick in 2017, adding a further 1,057 yards on the ground with eight rushing scores.
But these numbers do not tell the whole story of the Trubisky experience.
To label him as an efficient quarterback with the Bears would not be an accurate description. In his last season as a starter for Chicago in 2020, he finished 21st of 34 quarterbacks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back with mark of 0.14. But to be fair, he was also seventh on that list in Passing Success Rate at 52.46%. He's been, at best, an average starting quarterback. His contract is saddled with incentives and is by no means a guarantee of long-term job security.
Kenny Pickett (+134)
Since 1953, the Steelers have used just six first-round draft picks on quarterbacks. Two of them wound up getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- Terry Bradshaw and Len Dawson, though the latter earned his place in Canton for his achievements as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Roethlisberger is likely to join them in the Hall one day, so there is absolutely no pressure on Kenny Pickett.
Pickett earned his place in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft thanks to a stellar 2021 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers. In 13 games last year, he shattered his previous career-best marks by completing 67.2% of his passes for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns. He had a combined 39 passing scores his four seasons prior.
Pickett does have question marks coming into the league, and it's not only why did it take him until his fifth season to post truly elite numbers in college. His first-percentile hand size is a big reg flag. He may not be truly ready to become a starting-caliber quarterback from the jump and may well benefit from a redshirt season in 2022.
Mason Rudolph (+250)
The Steelers have, in small chunks, given Mason Rudolph plenty of opportunities to show that he could step into the starting quarterback job once Roethlisberger was out of the building. He has consistently failed to show that he is up to the task.
Rudolph has started 10 of the 17 games he has played since 2019 and is the owner of a 5-4-1 record. He completed 61.5% of his passes in those games, amassing 2,366 yards with 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
In 2019, when he started eight games, he averaged -0.03 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. That ranked 32nd out of 32 quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks that season.
It would be stunning for the Steelers to turn to Rudolph out of this trio, and for Rudolph to start Week 1, it would likely mean an injury to Tribusky and/or Pickett.
The modern NFL is a league in which rookie quarterbacks, especially those taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, are expected to start quickly. Teams and fans will often bring up the fact that Patrick Mahomes spent his rookie season on the bench and just look at him now. But it’s usually a good strategy to not chase outliers.
That being said, there are sufficient question marks surrounding Pickett that makes me think the Steelers will try to protect and develop their future signal-caller -- maybe keep him on the bench for as long as they possibly can. The Steelers want to run the ball and play defense, a strategy they showcased in 2021 with the first-round selection of running back Najee Harris.
As long as Trubisky doesn't faceplant in training camp and the preseason, he's a pretty safe bet to start Week 1, and if he plays competently, he might hold the job for most of the year.
Even at the -175 price, Trubisky is the guy to bet on to open the year as Pittsburgh's signal-caller.