The 2023 fantasy football season is in full swing and it's time for another NFL player debate! If you haven’t had your fantasy football draft yet, then you are probably looking over the fantasy football player rankings. You’ve already printed out and studied the Ultimate Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet, right? Good. What about doing some fantasy football mock drafts? Fantastic.
But even with all of that research, you are probably still staring at certain players, wondering if drafting them at their current fantasy football ADP is, not just giving you the proper value, but if they are even right for you or your team. Is the juice worth the squeeze?
This is where we come in with our all-new Fantasy Football Player Debate series where two analysts go head-to-head and give you the pros and cons to help with your decisions.
Why You Should Not Draft Kenny Pickett in Fantasy Football
By Britt Flinn
I know everyone is looking for Kenny Pickett to take a second year leap, but, let’s be real, the bar for him to leap over is laying on the floor. Anything would be an improvement over his rookie season, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a good fantasy quarterback. In 2022, Pickett finished as QB30 in fantasy points per game, and several of his metrics were…we’ll say “less than desirable.” Of the 389 passing attempts, over ten percent of them were deemed “interceptable,” and his low average yards per attempt of 6.2 (30th) isn’t great for sustaining a deep vertical game.
I’m not alone in my low expectations for Pickett. In a survey of coaches around the league for The Athletic, Pickett ended up in the very bottom tier of quarterbacks, along with names like Baker Mayfield, Desmond Ridder, and Gardner Minshew. These guys do this for a living, so who am I to question their rankings? People want to talk about Pickett’s win record down the stretch for the Steelers as being an indicator of future success, and while, yes, it was an impressive outing, quarterback wins don’t get you fantasy points.
Let’s just dive into some numbers (boring, I know) and see just how much Pickett needs to improve to be fantasy-relevant and pay off his ADP. If the Steelers’ pass volume remains much the same as last season and Pickett starts all 17 games, it sets him up for around 571 passing attempts. Even being charitable and improving his completion percentage to above average at 65%, that sets him up for around 371 completions. With a small increase to last year’s numbers, that would only put him at around 3400 yards on the year. Even baking in nearly double the rate of positive touchdown regression and lowering the touchdown to interception ratio (at 20:13), you end up with somewhere in the range of 190 fantasy points at the end of the season. Looking at last year’s stats, that would have been good for QB22, right where Pickett is currently being drafted. However, that’s also an EXTREMELY low points per game average for 17 games at 11.18. Not someone I would feel comfortable playing in a superflex spot…
Okay, thanks for sticking with me through all that math. The point is, we’re expecting a lot out of Kenny Pickett and everything has to go right for that to happen. I still expect this team to be very run-heavy, I expect Pickett to have growing pains as a passer against a tough AFC North division, and he’s not exactly on the Trevor Lawrence second-year trajectory. This team will still be tough to beat just because of coaching, but again, wins don’t translate to fantasy production. I know that there aren’t many options when you get that far down in the quarterback pecking order, but I would much rather take a chance on Matthew Stafford (QB24) or Mac Jones (QB29), guys who have already been proven. There’s too much risk and imagination in Pickett becoming fantasy-relevant, so I’m staying away.
Why You Should Draft Kenny Pickett in Fantasy Football
By Jon Impemba
Lets just get this out of the way ok? Was Kenny Pickett a good fantasy QB last season? The obvious answer is no, no he was not. But does that mean he can't be a good fantasy QB this season? No, no it does not. Not all rookie QB's are going to be Justin Herbert. In fact, most don't look very good at all. Hell, Trevor Lawrence completed just 59.6% of his passes as a rookie with 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The college game and the NFL game are two completely different animals. The Steelers used the 20th overall pick on Pickett during the 2022 NFL Draft with an understanding that there was still some development that needed to take place. That's the basis for my reasoning on why Pickett IS worth a look when it comes to your 2023 fantasy football rosters.
Dare I say…Trust the process?
Pickett has the benefit in year two of his NFL career of not having too much actually change around him. Mike Tomlin is still the Head Coach. Matt Canada is still the Offensive Coordinator. Mike Sullivan is still the the QB Coach. This consistency allows for Pickett to continue his development in an offensive system that he now has familiarity with. He spent his entire rookie season in this offense, adjusting to the pace of play of the NFL and learning to understand NFL defenses. The Steelers also need to know what they have in their potential franchise QB. If in year two things don't look much better than his rookie season then it is back to the drawing board for the franchise that had Ben Roethlisberger under center for more than a decade and are looking for his permanent successor.
So what makes Pickett someone worthy of drafting in the later rounds of your fantasy football draft? First, what's the risk? Our guy Andrew Cooper has written great articles on Scratch Tickets vs Lottery Tickets and while the QB position is certainly a bit more complex, there is still some application to this process. Pickett is being drafted as your bench QB in most leagues, if you even decide to draft a second QB at all, what this allows for you to do is wait and see. How does Pickett perform out of the gate? Does he flash some fantasy potential? Does the Steelers offense click early? Again, you aren't relying on Pickett to go out there and be your QB1 right away.
What about his skill set? The passing numbers were ugly so let's maybe focus on a potential positive and that positive was Pickett show off some mobility as he rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Rushing potential is always a nice-to-have skill for fantasy QB's. Is Pickett going to go out there and look like Justin Fields or even Daniel Jones? No, but whose to say he can't run for 400 yards and a few touchdowns? That would help boost his fantasy appeal for those who are detractors of his when it comes to throwing the football.
My fellow debater gave a nice “best case” stat line of 3,400 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions which she says comes out to somewhere in the range of 190 fantasy points which would be true IF that's all Pickett does. He was on pace for 310 yards rushing last season and he had already rushed for three touchdowns. We should include the full picture. If Pickett finds himself with similar rushing potential with just that baseline passing production then he will certainly be outproducing his ADP.
But what about those passing numbers?
When we look at the Steelers passing offense right now we see George Pickens is coming off the board as WR30 while Diontae Johnson is not too far behind him at WR36. Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth is coming off the board as TE9. For all the talk that Pickett can't throw and that this offense isn't going to be successful passing the football, the fantasy community is certainly drafting the top receiving options like they will be.
While not a perfect comparison, we have seen ADP discrepancies before with QB's and the team's pass catchers with last season being a prime example where both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were coming off the board among the top 15 wide receivers while Tua Tagovailoa was being drafted as QB17.
It felt suspicious.
And suspicious it was because Tua was on pace to be among the top 10 QB's in fantasy if not for the concussion issues.
So, back to Pickett, either the fantasy community is going to be very upset with the production of George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth given where they are being drafted this season OR Kenny Pickett is going to be able to support these players at their ADPs and he is going to outproduce where he is going in fantasy football drafts.
Again, I feel the need to reiterate, I'm not sitting here and telling you to plan your draft around taking Kenny Pickett but I'm willing to give the kid with a first round pedigree, entering his second full season in the NFL with the exact same system a chance to sit on my fantasy bench and prove to me that he can't live up to the expectations rather than take his rookie season at face value and say the kid just can't make it.
Place your bets.