From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’m profiling a player who used the 2021 season to become a star at Heinz Field, jumping into the QB1 conversation and going down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in his school’s history.
#8 Kenny Pickett, Quarterback, Pittsburgh (R-Sr.) — 6032, 217 lbs.
Updates Available After Senior Bowl, NFL Combine
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Kenny Pickett||6032/217||8 1/2||30 7/8||72 3/4|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Solid size and strength, is able to brush off some contact in the pocket and shed tackles, or fight for extra yards as a runner.
— Has above average throwing power, rockets the ball in when he has time to set himself in pocket.
— Puts plenty of juice on throws into tight windows, against one-on-one coverage.
— Capable of putting touch on throws to loft over shallow defenders.
— Shows quality touch on deep throws, can drop most passes right into target’s basket for easy grabs.
— Precise when throwing for sidelines, doesn’t lead his target out of bounds.
— Not afraid to challenge defenders in one-on-one coverage.
— Dangerous when he gets into rhythm, is able to quickly rattle off consecutive chunk plays and speed up the offense.
— Stands strong in the pocket, not afraid to absorb a shot if it means getting the throw off.
— Pocket presence improved over course of 2021 season, became better at sensing pressure and making the first man miss.
— Always looking to extend plays, gives his receivers extra time to adjust and find windows.
— Doesn’t lose throwing power when rolled out to the right.
— Recognizes when to throw the ball away when facing pressure on rollouts.
— Above-average runner. Foot speed to outrun linemen and most linebackers, with acceleration to separate quickly when he escapes the pocket and gets vertical.
— Sees the field well as a runner, maximizes yardage in open field and can rip off big gains.
— Willing to sacrifice his body on dives for first down yardage, the goal line.
— An absolute fighter. Plays with noticeable passion and fire, channels his emotion, able to rally his teammates.
— Deep ball has a limit, receivers will have to hesitate along route for ball to arrive if he doesn’t get throw off early.
— Puts too much power on some shorter throws, leads to occasional drops by his targets.
— Accuracy has room to improve. Tendency to overthrow his targets, either sailing over player entirely or forcing player to leap and enter a hospital pass situation.
— Occasionally throws behind his man on short-field throws.
— Will force throws when extending play, has to improve discretion on when to force into tight window/vs. one-on-one, and when to run or throw it away.
— Has to develop quicker trigger to escape pocket and get vertical, will wait too long to bail and allow rushers to take away running lanes.
— Needs to ID open lanes to escape pocket quicker, avoid scrambling in direction of rushers.
— Will retreat too far backward when improvising to escape pressure, sets himself up for big losses if sacked.
— Four-year starter for the Panthers (2018-2021), appeared in 52 career games with 49 starts, compiling a 32-17 record as starter.
— Finished 1,045-1,674 for 12,303 yards, 81 touchdowns, and 32 interceptions. Ran for 809 yards and 20 touchdowns.
— Pitt career record-holder for passing yards, completions, passing touchdowns, total yards (13,112), rushing touchdowns by a QB, wins, 300- and 400-yard games.
— ACC single-season record for passing touchdowns (42), Pitt single-season records for passing and total touchdowns (47), passing yards (4,319), completions (334). His 2021 season was greatest statistical year in history for a Pitt QB.
— Led Pitt to 2021 ACC Championship, first in program history. 11-2 record the first 11-win season for program since Dan Marino-led 1981 team.
— First true freshman to start a game for Pitt since 2007.
— 2021 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm winner, ACC Player of the Year.
— Finalist for Heisman Trophy (finished third), Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Manning Awards.
— AP Second-team All-American, appeared on some outlets’ first teams.
— 3-star recruit, also received offers from Iowa, UNC, Temple, Boston College.
— Father Ken was All-American linebacker at Shippensburg University.
Among quarterbacks in college football, few made as many improvements from 2020 to 2021 as Pickett. Over his 13 games this season, Pickett went from a mid-round project to someone who earned a place in the first-round conversation, playing an exciting and intense brand of football that led Pitt to its best season in decades.
Watching Pickett work, something that strikes you first is his arm talent. He lacks the elite ceiling with his throw power, but he has more than enough strength in his arm to succeed at the NFL level and deliver rockets to all levels of the field, and should have one of the better arms in the league at his peak.
Pickett displays that power the best when he gets into a rhythm working over the middle of the field. At his best, he can fire passes down field to the sticks and beyond before the rush can get close, and chain consecutive first downs together with ease. He delivers throws accurately just seconds after the snap, getting the ball out quickly. This example is from a mid-season game against Clemson, but is an easy one to find across any of his games this season.
He gets the snap, gets himself set, and has the throw out before approaching rushers can disrupt it, connecting for an easy first down with Jared Wayne. Pickett’s most consistent when throwing passes to this level of the field, and when he can work quickly and get throws away off that initial drop back, and is NFL-ready to be running a two-minute drill that emphasizes plays like that to move the chains and gain chunk yardage.
One theme of Pickett’s game is that he isn’t afraid to challenge the defense on any type of throw or run, and he uses his throw power and skill over the middle to hit tight windows in coverage, like he does here against Wake Forest in the ACC Championship.
Pickett is once again quick to drop back and plant himself in the pocket for a throw, and again launches it with plenty of power. He uses that speed on his throws to fit it into tight windows, like he does here to connect with Jaden Bradley just before Wake’s Luke Masterson (#12) can undercut the route and break up the throw.
Pickett is willing to challenge the coverage deep as much as he is willing to attack them in the shorter field, and his 2021 film is similarly scattered with examples of his ability to air it out, that show he has one of the better deep balls in the class. He makes reads quickly off the snap to recognize when he has a shot deep, and excels at leading his man downfield with enough power to keep the throw ahead of a trailing defensive back. A lot of Pickett’s proficiency in throwing deep is because of that accuracy and his ability to drop it in to his target; it is rare to see him miss badly on a longer throw downfield.
Here are a pair of examples from back-to-back games, against Duke and North Carolina. On both, he quickly identifies Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison has a step on his man, and is able to lead Addison on strikes of 47 and 43 yards, laying the throws in without forcing Addison to slow up, or giving his defender a chance to deflect the pass.
Again, his arm isn’t limitless — as he reaches the extent of his range, his throws will lose a little speed, and when he doesn’t get throws off as quickly as above, receivers will have to hesitate briefly for it to arrive. He has the arm to succeed airing it out in the NFL, and pairing his accuracy and ability to make quick decisions off the snap will result in some big gains.
Similar to his ability to challenge coverages, Pickett excels at making throws to the sideline. Whatever level he is throwing to, he can deliver the pass where his man can make a play on it first, without leading him out of bounds. A good example of this is another pass from his win over Duke, where Pickett hits a back-shoulder throw to Shockey Jacques-Louis.
He gets the ball to a spot where Jacques-Louis can bring it in against his defender prior to going out of bounds, and is another example of how Pickett will help his receivers win against one-on-one coverage.
One of the most impressive things about Pickett’s game is his ability to extend plays, and deliver throws while on the run or rolling out. Pickett will choose to escape and roll out on his own or when he senses pressure in the pocket, primarily throwing when he rolls out right and running with it when he rolls left. He doesn’t sacrifice power when throwing while mobile, and can create some highlight-reel moments with his arm in those situations. He is willing to attack different levels of the field on the run as well as the end zone, shown on these two plays.
The first is against Tennessee. Pickett, sensing pressure, escapes and rolls out right. He has a clear lane to run and pick up at least a few yards before going out of bounds, but instead of pulling the trigger on a run (more on that later), he keeps his eyes focused on the end zone and his body ready to throw. On that play it pays off, as he finds Melquise Stovall in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, delivering a perfect throw with plenty of speed without breaking stride.
His other throw comes against Clemson, and shows the type of highlight plays Pickett is capable of making. From the 23, he immediately rolls out right and four yards backward to buy enough space to throw. As he is moving away and off his back foot, Pickett throws a bullet perfectly to Addison, a 32-yard pass that safety Nolan Turner can not make a play on. Not all of Pickett’s throws are as perfectly placed, but the majority of throws on the run are accurate and find his man without risking an interception.
He does create some incredible moments on throws like that, and in general his attitude and fearlessness to attack defenses makes him one of the most entertaining QBs to watch from the Class of 2022. But he does get a little too confident in challenging the coverage, and needs to improve his discretion as to when he can go after them and when a safer throw, scramble, or throw away is the better option. Pickett is prone to forcing throws on plays where he doesn’t get an immediate read to deliver the ball within the first few seconds, often launching it into a one-on-one matchup where his man doesn’t have positioning on the defender.
An instance of that is here against UNC.
Pickett doesn’t get a throw away early, and then ends up throwing for the left sideline. UNC’s Tony Grimes has position on Jared Wayne however, and Wayne is left trying to reach over Grimes to get the ball. Throws like this need to be avoided in the NFL, and run the risk of interceptions, something Grimes knows he could have had, based on his reaction in the clip.
You’ll also see some areas where Pickett could stand to improve his accuracy. He puts a lot of speed on the ball, which allows him to hit tight windows but also results in delivering some passes high, either high enough his targets can’t make a play on it, or that they risk taking a big hit as they try to make the catch (a “hospital pass.”)
That issue doesn’t appear often in his shorter throws, but does pop up targeting the intermediate and deeper levels of the field. Here is an example against Wake Forest of the former, where he just puts too much on a throw and misses Addison working towards the sideline.
And here is an example of the latter, against UNC. He overthrows Tre Tipton about 25 yards downfield, forcing Tipton to try and make a leaping catch, and setting him up to take a big hit from Giovanni Biggers. Pickett has all the arm to get those throws there, and just has to bring them down so his targets can make plays on every throw, and prepare to absorb any contact and hang on to the reception.
While Pickett is not a finished product as a passer, and will experience some growing pains as an NFL rookie should he start right away, his ability as a runner will help him from day one. Pickett has the athleticism and foot speed to escape and create separation from linemen and linebackers as he escapes pressure and advances beyond the line, and can also recognize running lanes and hit them for chunk yardage.
His work as a runner helped create the highlight for which he may be remembered most at Pitt, and which inspired an NCAA rule change: His “fake slide” run against Wake Forest in the ACC Championship.
Pickett makes the first man miss in the pocket, something he can do consistently with a good ability to sense pressure. He gets vertical and accelerates quickly, and shows his speed in out-pacing his pursuers before delivering the fake slide (now against NCAA rules) to create an opening to go the final 40 yards for the score. It was easily the longest run of his career, but not the only one he was able to break for chunk yardage when a passing lane wasn’t there.
In fact, if there is a weakness to Pickett’s game as a runner, as alluded to earlier, it is that he is too hesitant to pull the trigger and run it. He will wait in the pocket or roll out and continually look downfield for a pass, which will sometimes lead to big plays, like the above touchdown pass against Tennessee. But he will also be hesitant to escape the pocket and run it, or pass up open running lanes in favor of looking downfield on roll outs, and the lanes will close by the time he decides to take off with it, leading to less yards or a forced throw downfield. It would be nice as he makes the jump to the NFL to see him become more aggressive with his legs, and really take advantage of that skillset he has, which is better than most of his fellow quarterbacks in this year’s class.
Something that is very evident with Pickett, as a runner and as a passer, is that he is committed to winning and has no shortage of fight in his game. He isn’t shy about sacrificing his body on runs if it means getting to the marker, or standing in the pocket and absorbing a hit if it means delivering an on-target pass.
You see the intensity from Pickett as he gets up after earning the first down and getting hit by a pair of Tennessee defenders. And below, you see Pickett again willing to take a hit, this one so he can deliver a touchdown pass against UNC.
Notice how he has multiple teammates over helping him up as he goes down. Pickett’s style of play and the way he fights for victories should endear him both to his locker room as well as the fanbase for whatever team selects him. At the same time, he is smart about how he channels that fire during games, not taking unnecessary hits or letting emotion lead to unforced mistakes. He is the type of player that teams love to have in some capacity.
Among all the contending names in one of the weakest quarterback classes of the last 20 years, Pickett is one of the favorites to be the first selected at the position. Like every quarterback in the class, however, he is far from a finished product, and shouldn’t be expected to immediately step into stardom. His first season will involve some adjustments and growing pains, though not any that are unexpected for most early-round QBs making the jump to the NFL.
With how he prefers to play the game and the attitude he brings on the field, Pickett shows the potential to lead a high-powered offensive attack, and grow into a starting role. It’s hard to imagine him reaching the highest tier of quarterbacks in the NFL, but there is room for him to be one of the better passers in the game and an above-average quarterback in the right offense. Any team drafting him should allow him to air it out early and often and make himself a threat with his legs, and try to embrace the style of play that had him labeled as a gunslinger with Pitt. In a West Coast-style offense or similarly pass-heavy gameplan, Pickett can be expected to put up numbers, with the possibility of finishing among the league leaders in passing at his peak and with weapons to throw to.
Projection: Mid-Day 1
Depot Draft Grade: 8.6 (Year One Quality Starter)
Games Watched: 2021: at Tennessee, vs. Clemson, at Duke, vs. North Carolina, vs. Wake Forest
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