New to Steelers Depot, we will be highlighting several possible draft prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers may have interest in for the 2022 NFL Draft and their performance during the college football season.
The Pitt Panthers bested the Clemson Tigers at home Saturday afternoon in a much-anticipated ACC matchup. Pitt has been flying high this season offensively, and much of that success must be credited to the improved play of QB Kenny Pickett. Pickett, a redshirt senior, decided to return for his final season rather than attempt to enter the NFL as a projected late round/UDFA in 2021. The decision to come back has done Pickett wonders, as his name is firmly in the Heisman conversation thanks to his stellar play thus far. Through seven games, Pickett has completed 168 of 244 pass attempts (68.9%) for 2,236 yards, 23 TDs, and only one INT while adding 55 rush attempts for 195 yards and three scores on the ground.
Prior to this season, Pickett has failed to throw for more than 2400 yards and 13 TDs in any season as the starting quarterback. It truly has been a breakout performance for the 6’3, 220lb signal caller from a passing perspective, as well as a testament to only have one turnover in seven starts. The Tigers boast an historically stout defensive under the guidance of DC Brent Venables, meaning that Pickett would have to show that his early success was no fluke.
When watching the game, there are several things that stick out when watching Pickett. First, his mobility as a passer is solid to maneuver the pocket and escape when the pocket breaks down to extend the play. On this third-and-short situation, we watch Pickett take the snap and scan the field but is able to evade the pressure coming off the right side and escape the pocket, breaking for the first down marker and moving the chains as he is chased by the defense in pursuit.
On this play near the end of the second quarter, we watch as Pickett drops back to pass, but gets a ton of green grass in front of him as the pocket opens in the middle, presenting an opportunity to tack and run the rock which Pickett does, picking up several yards before he slides to the turf. One thing that does stick out is the running back breaking open in the flat on the delayed route as he breaks to the sideline wide open. By this time, Pickett has already committed to scrambling, which possibly negates the chance of the back picking up the first down and potentially more. However, credit for Pickett to recognize the hole and pick up solid yardage.
This last scramble by Pickett comes at the end of the game to put the game on ice in the final minutes. On 3rd-and-7, we watch Pickett drop back to pass with his eyes down field but when he turns an looks to his left, he notices an open gap to the left sideline which he exploits, taking a good angle to the sideline with #47 James Skalski in hot pursuit, diving for the chains to move the sticks and help put the game away for the Panthers.
Another aspect that sticks out about Pickett’s mobility is his ability to throw on the run. Pickett does a good job moving laterally when he escapes the pocket yet keeps his eye downfield for receivers breaking open from coverage. We see that on this rollout TD pass as Pickett rolls out to his right, looking for #3 Jordan Addison on the deep corner route. Addison breaks open as reaches the end zone and Pickett creates enough hip drive and zip on the ball while on the run to put in on Addison in the back of the end zone for the score.
Here is another example of Pickett extending the play by getting outside of the pocket as the pocket starts to collapse on 3rd-and-10, running toward the LOS, but then decides to flatten out and move laterally, scanning down the field and finds his receiver sitting in the soft spot in zone coverage, putting it on him while on the run to pick up the first down.
While Pickett is a capable passer from outside the pocket, he is more than willing and able to deliver standing in the pocket as well. Here on one of his first completions of the game, we watch Pickett take the snap and read the field, locating his receiver on the left sideline and delivers an accurate ball as the receiver picks up five yards on the play.
On this next throw, we watch Pickett make a good timing pass over the middle of the field to his receiver on the in-braking route, recognizing the nickel defender blitzing off the left side and throws the football just as the receiver comes out of his route. The ball is a little high and could be delivered a tad quicker to give his guy a chance to create after the catch, but nonetheless, a good completion to his man before the safety can come down and breakup the pass.
On this throw by Pickett over the middle of the field, we watch him go from left-to-right on his progression and locate his receiver in the soft spot against zone coverage. He fires the ball in there with good spin and velocity, giving his target a chance the catch the ball in-stride and pick up additional yardage. Overall Pickett’s footwork on the play is solid, although he does lift up his back foot on delivery rather than stepping into his throw to drive the football. However, he has the adequate arm strength to hum it in there on-time for another completion.
Now Pickett’s footwork can get the better of him at times and does need cleaning up to deliver accurate passes more consistently. Like on this play, Pickett has a wide base in the pocket and patters his feet in anticipation of the throw he looks to make sitting down on the curl route. He hesitates, drops the ball on a pump fake, then quickly tries to throw it again without his feet set, sailing the ball over to the sideline well out of reach of his intended target.
When Pickett’s feet are set, he can make great throws down the field and to the sideline. On this drive, we watch Pickett take the snap and fake the handoff to the back as he drops back to pass, immediately looking to the left sideline at the bottom of the screen. He syncs up his feet and shoulders, creates torque with his hips, and drives the football down the field on the left sideline to an elevating Addison who goes up and gets it over the defender for a nearly 40-yard completion. Pickett has great zip on the ball and gets the ball to his intended target quickly upon its release.
Here on Pickett’s second TD of the afternoon, we see him manipulate the pocket just slightly, rolling slightly to his right and squares up his feet as he finds #11 Taysir Mack separating from coverage over the middle of the field for the easy pitch-and-catch TD strike.
Pickett may not have the biggest arm in terms of total air yard distance traveled, but I would say he does possess a pretty live arm that has a quick release with plenty of velocity on his passes. As we well know, the 15-yard out route is considered by many to be the hardest throw to make for the QB at the NFL level due to the quickness needed to react to the receiver’s break and drive the football to the sideline without the defense having a chance to make a play on the ball. On this play, Pickett executes this exact throw, dropping back, locating his receiver breaking open, and put the ball on a rope to the sideline before the defender gets there.
We see similar timing, anticipation, and zip on the ball on this next play where the receiver is running a comeback on the right side of the field. Pickett delivers a beautiful ball in-between two defenders in zone coverage, putting it just enough to the outside to give his receiver a chance to make the play without the linebacker dropping to the flat a chance to break up the pass. The receiver makes the grab and keeps his feet, turning back inside and cuts up field, picking up additional yards after the catch after making one defender miss in space.
Overall, it was a great showing by Pickett against the Tigers as Pittsburgh looks to cement itself in contention for the ACC crown whilst ending the reign of dominance Clemson has had on the conference for nearly a decade. Several things stuck out from Pickett’s performance from both a positive and negative perspective. He does like the dance a little in the pocket and his footwork and ball placement can be more consistent moving forward to limit his incompletions. While he didn’t make long plays down the field showcasing a howitzer of an arm, he does create plenty on drive and velocity on his intermediate passes, especially to the sideline to deliver the ball on time to his target.
He is fairly mobile both inside and outside of the pocket and has a good recognition of when to tuck and run, or when he needs to keep his eyes downfield and locate a receiver breaking open against coverage. For all those out there that like pro comparisons, the size, play style, and mobility remind me of Teddy Bridgewater coming out of Louisville. Granted, I do think Pickett has more zip on the ball, but excluding the fact that both wear two gloves, Bridgewater also enjoyed a breakout campaign his junior season nearly identical to what Pickett is on-pace for and put himself squarely in first round consideration entering the 2014 NFL Draft.
Bridgewater ended up being selected #32 overall, and at this moment, I see a similar projection for Pickett. I think the guy is talented, but I question his overall ceiling, and personally don’t see the caliber of play like that of QB Joe Burrow who Pickett is often compared to that made Burrow the #1 overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2020 NFL Draft. I project Pickett to be a capable starting QB who has a steady floor but may teeter between starter and high-end backup like Bridgewater has for most of his NFL career. There is still plenty of season left to be played, and Pickett may make me eat my words, but based on this performance, Pickett should raise his stock.
What are your thoughts on Kenny Pickett’s performance against Clemson? Do you think he showcased the skillset of a franchise NFL QB? Do you think he should be in-play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, or should be considered more of a Day Two option? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!