NFL Draft

Scouting Spotlight: Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett Vs Wake Forest

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 defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons by a score of 45-21 to win the ACC Conference Title and the opportunity to play Michigan State in the Peach Bowl in a highly coveted New Year’s Six Bowl game. QB #8 Kenny Pickett capped off a great regular season with his performance Saturday, completing 20-of-33 passes (60.6%) for 253 yards and two TDs while adding in another 20 yards on the ground on six carries which included an impressive 58-yard scamper to the end zone for a score with his legs. Recognize that sacks count against college QBs’ rushing totals, hence why Pickett’s total yardage on the ground is far less than his long considering he was sacked three times.

The run itself by Pickett has been heavily debated since the game by many as a controversial play. As you can see, Pickett escapes the pocket once pressured and runs downfield, getting into open space and starts to pull up as defenders approach, acting as if he is going to slide and give himself up. However, Pickett keeps his feet and stands back up to run as the defender pulls up, breaking to the sideline and hits the finger role as he crosses the plain for the TD. This ply seems unfair from a defensive perspective as Pickett looks to be giving himself up, causing the defender to let up. However, as they say, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”, and Pickett capitalizes here.

 

While Pickett did have several impressive moments as a passer that will be highlighted later on, there were several throws that were off-target with poor placement in terms of hitting his receivers in-stride on the night. For example, Pickett throws this deep in-braking route to the middle of the field, but the pass is clearly behind his intended target, throwing the ball where his receiver is at the moment rather than leading him to catch the pass in-stride.

 

Here’s another example of Pickett’s accuracy being a little shaky on this screen play where the defense starts to get in his face as the OL sets up to lead the way for the back who has plenty of blockers upfront for a big play. However, Pickett throws the ball into the ground due to the pressure rather than holding onto the ball and putting it on the back for potentially an explosive play.

 

On this drive into Wake Forest territory, we watch Pickett set up in the pocket to throw the ball down the field near the end zone. One thing that sticks out here is that Pickett plants his feet, but doesn’t step into his throw, relying on his arm to get the ball down the field, causing the pass to sail on him. The second thing is that the receiver Pickett throws to is double covered and doesn’t have much chance to be completed on a fourth-and-one situation. However, a PI call gives Pitt a fresh set of downs on the goal line, saving Pickett from the turnover on downs.

 

Later on second-and-goal, we watch Pickett get a slant route by his receiver on the left side who gets a step of separation on the corner. However, Pickett again puts the ball well behind his intended target, setting up third-and-goal.

 

The very next play, though, Pickett responds on an identical route, leading his receiver on the slant pattern into the end zone for the TD in-between the corner and safety.

 

While there were plenty of moments where Pickett looked off-target on the night, there were several examples of quality ball placement both in coverage as well as hitting his receiver in-stride to set up YAC opportunities. The latter occurs here on this completion to the receiver at the top of your screen running a post pattern, getting to the hole in the zone coverage in the middle of the field and evades one defender in open space and picks up over 15 yards after the catch.

 

On this pass attempt by Pickett, we see exceptional ball placement on the tight window throw, threading the needle between the linebacker dropping in coverage and the corner running with the receiver on the slant pattern, moving the sticks for a fresh set of downs.

 

Here is another good pass by Pickett where he steps into his throw from the pocket, driving the football down the field to his receiver in-stride with the defender behind him, allowing the receiver to pick up additional yardage after the catch.

 

While this deep pass falls incomplete, we see a positive example of Pickett’s touch on the football down the field. He drops back to pass from a keep pocket, sets his feet, and steps into his throw, getting good arch on his pass deep down the field dropping it in the breadbasket of his intended target #3 Jordan Addison, but the pass falls incomplete as the defender knocks the ball out of Addison’s hands at the last second.

 

Earlier we saw Pickett’s mobility as a runner on his long TD run. On this play we see Pickett’s mobility as a passer rolling out of the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield and finds Addison in single coverage along the sideline and creates enough torque with his hips and shoulders to drive the ball on a line to Addison on a back shoulder throw that Addison hauls in for an impressive catch, getting both feet in-bounds to move the chains.

 

Pickett may not have a cannon attached to his arm in terms of deep passing ability, but he has plenty of zip on the ball, having a live arm that can make the throws were the ball needs to arrive quickly. For example, watch as Pickett drops back to pass and puts the ball on Addison on the left sideline on the deep out route, putting the ball on a line over the defender’s shoulder for Addison to pick up the first down.

 

The next pass play is the TD where Pickett passes the great Dan Marino for most career TD passes in school history. While a phenomenal feat surpassing such a legend, the play itself is a bit of a gimmie where the back runs the swing route out to the left that Pickett immediately checks it down to, having tons of green grass for the back to take the pass into the end zone uncontested.

 

Overall, it was a good game by Pickett against the Demon Deacons as Pittsburgh won the ACC crown for the very first time. Pickett’s performance was like a previous film room from his game against the Clemson Tigers earlier in the season, coming with positive and negative takeaways. In terms of athleticism and mobility, Pickett is 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. He can escape pressure and pick up yards with his feet but can also extend the play as a passer.

Pickett also possesses good zip and velocity on his intermediate passes, creating plenty of drive on his intermediate passes to the sideline and over the middle of the field to deliver the ball into tight windows.

Pickett does tend to dance a little in the pocket and his footwork and ball placement need be more consistent moving forward to limit his incompletions. The windows in the NFL tend to be tighter than in college and defenders are more aware in getting hands up in passing lanes, meaning passes either sailed high or behind intended receivers may become turnover-worthy plays at the next level rather than incompletions against the likes of Wake Forest.

There is no denying the stellar season Pickett has had thus far as he hopes to cap off his college career against the Spartans on New Year’s. He has several traits you like to see from a franchise QB at the next level, but the one year of production and limiting inconsistencies will determine his draft stock come spring and whether he has what it takes to be QB1 in this wide-open draft class.

What are your thoughts on Kenny Pickett’s performance against Wake Forest? 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!

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