Pickett & Purdy Set for Battle of Unproven Quarterbacks

The Pittsburgh Steelers still have an old-fashioned mentality regarding team building. In a league where the quarterback is king, the Steelers have the highest dollar value invested in star defensive players. What Pittsburgh desperately needs is for its first-round pick from last season, unproven quarterback Kenny Pickett, to deliver on his potential.

49ers unproven quarterback Brock Purdy was the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft but stepped in when called up to help San Francisco reach the playoffs. In the offseason, San Francisco put all of its eggs in Purdy’s basket by trading away former first-round pick Trey Lance to Dallas. The 49ers believe Purdy can get them beyond the NFC West Division and back to the Super Bowl.

49ers are Road Favorites

 

San Francisco is opening the season as a 2.5-point favorite despite being slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Accrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh. The 49ers and Steelers have deep records of history and success since the 1970s.

Pittsburgh has six Super Bowl wins in eight appearances. The 49ers, meanwhile, have won five times in seven appearances. San Francisco leads the all-time series between the teams 12-10. The last time the 49ers won in Pittsburgh was a 25-15 victory on Dec. 15, 1996.

Pickett has Work to Do

 

Despite being a first-round choice in the draft, many critics acknowledged he was only picked there because it was a weak draft class at the position. Pickett’s stats from last season reflect what many rookie quarterbacks suffer. As a starter, Pickett was 7-5 and showed flashes of solid play but was inconsistent.

The unproven quarterback only threw seven touchdowns and tossed nine interceptions. Pittsburgh hopes that building a better offensive line and improving production from skill positions will help Pickett grow. Steelers running back Najee Harris is a former first-round pick, and backup Jaylen Warren has shown flashes. Some Steelers alumni have weighed in that Pickett can be the real deal. Pittsburgh needs him to be.

Follow the Money

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TJ Watt

There will be a lot of attention given to Pittsburgh’s star defensive trio of Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. But there could be other important players who will need to make significant contributions as well. Pittsburgh’s defense could have five new starters when the game against the 49ers starts. 

Alex Highsmith finished with a career-high 14.5 sacks and was given a big contract extension in the offseason. Pittsburgh seems excited by rookie linebacker Nick Herbig for his pass-rushing ability. At cornerback, the Steelers drafted Joey Porter Jr. and signed veteran Patrick Peterson. If this group blends together quickly, Pickett could be afforded some more growing pains.

Home Again, Finally

 

The Steelers opening up the season at home has become a rare spectacle as of late. Since 2008, Pittsburgh has only opened the season at home five times. During the Steelers’ last home opener, Pittsburgh knocked off Cleveland in a 2014 game most remembered for Antonio Brown’s punt return, where he tried to hurdle the punter and ended up kicking him in the facemask.

This is a good year for the Steelers to open at home. Pittsburgh will be locked in a tight AFC North Division race all season and want to get a leg up with a home victory against a strong opponent to open the year. The Steelers haven’t won the division since the 2020 season, which was the team’s 24th division crown.

What Will a Full Year with McCaffrey Look Like?

 

San Francisco made a big push to get running back Christian McCaffrey in a trade from Carolina last season. In 11 appearances with the 49ers, McCaffrey was a perfect fit for San Francisco’s season. McCaffrey piled up 746 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

He also hauled in 52 catches for 464 yards and four touchdowns. With San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan at the helm, the 49ers will find several ways to utilize McCaffrey’s talents. San Francisco has seen tight end George Kittle’s production decline for several years since he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019. 

Adding McCaffrey in the mix should keep the pressure off of unproven quarterback Purdy. What San Francisco will need to balance is McCaffrey’s workload. He did have some issues in Carolina with injuries, and the 49ers won’t want to lose McCaffrey.

49ers Need to Get Deebo going

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Deebo Samuel

San Francisco got through a complex contract negotiation with Deebo Samuel last season only to see the wide receiver’s numbers dip significantly last season. Not all of Samuel’s issues were due to his performance. San Francisco was forced to play three quarterbacks due to injury, and the offense wasn’t consistent.

In 2021, Samuel was named first-team All-Pro after leading the league by averaging 18.2 yards per catch and finishing with 1,405 yards receiving. In San Francisco’s three playoff games last season, Samuel hauled in 13 passes for 211 yards.

49ers Could Be Without Key Player

 

San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa is locked into a nasty contract negotiation as the season nears its start. The 49ers hoped to have something done by Week 1, but the team and Bosa are still about $2 million apart on a deal. Bosa and his agent are seeking $110 million in guaranteed money. 

Bosa has been a destroyer during his first four seasons in San Francisco. Last year, Bosa finished with a league-high 18.5 sacks and earned first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career. Bosa also finished with 15.5 sacks during the 2021 season. Bosa has said repeatedly that he is still in good shape and is ready to report and play when the team has made a deal.

San Francisco did bolster the defensive line in the offseason by adding free-agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, but the 49ers would like to get Bosa back in the fold as quickly as possible.