NFL Draft

Study: Kenny Pickett’s Stellar Red Zone Numbers

The Steelers selected their QB of the future in Kenny Pickett Thursday, as the organization had dealer’s choice of all available passing prospects in this year’s draft. Now that we’ve heard the initial reactions from Coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert as to why they chose him, it’s time to dig deeper to see what else caught their attention.

Coaches and fans alike realize the red zone is perhaps the most important part of the field, and once your offense reaches the opponent’s 20-yard line, the expectation is to come away with points – moreso of the touchdown variety compared to a field goal.

It’s no secret the Steelers struggled a bit in the red zone last year.  Pittsburgh ranked 25th last season in scoring TD’s at a 54.0% rate and scored on FG’s on 34.0% of the time, the second-highest rate among the league. What’s very telling in those scoring percentages are the Steelers ranked #1 in the league in passing plays within the RZ at 71.9% – the next closest team was 64.9%. It was no secret Pittsburgh liked throwing as they got closer to the end zone.

How to improve on scoring chances? Draft the QB who has shown he can excel and make plays in that part of the field obviously and Kenny Pickett has done just that.

In taking a closer look at how Pickett performed in the red zone during his college career, let’s compare him to the other five QB prospects who the Steelers took an interest in pre-draft.

As you will see below, each QB had impressive TD to INT ratio’s, some better than others. And let’s face it, if a player didn’t perform well regarding this area of the field they simply wouldn’t have been considered as a high draft pick.

The numbers which stick out for Pickett among the others is completion percentages and the drops he incurred at Pitt. The 19 drops on 188 attempts are quite a bit, thus if you calculate an adjusted completion percentage, Pickett’s 74.6% is head and shoulders above the group.

Pickett also leads the group in passer rating which some may subscribe to as an all telling metric. But perhaps what the most telling numbers relates to is mobility. During the offseason, team President Art Rooney II and Coach Mike Tomlin both mentioned their desire of having a mobile QB. In looking at the above red zone numbers only, Pickett was not sacked at the highest rate compared to other QB’s listed and his ability to scramble shows he’s a threat as a runner as well. Furthermore, Rooney II made mention during his interview back in January, referenced in Alex’s article, they also want someone who can read a defense and complete passes downfield.

To illustrate a bit further, let’s look at third & fourth downs only – the most important downs to secure points inside the 20, and as those who may vividly recall, the area Pittsburgh had issues last season.

Pickett’s career completion percentage is low, partly due to drops, but once factoring his adjusted completion percentage, he ranks second, but Pickett with a much higher sample size among this group. The sack numbers once again are low and the scrambles high – perhaps further indicators of reading the defense and taking what’s available in the minds of the Steelers. No blemishes appear in the interception department, while having the most attempts.

Overall, this is only the red zone we’re talking about, but it happens to be the most important area of the field. After the Steelers struggles last season in scoring TDs, especially in the red zone, Pickett may help provide some solutions moving forward.

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