2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: South Carolina DL Zacch Pickens

From now until the 2023 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’ll be profiling South Carolina DL Zacch Pickens.

#6 Zach Pickens, DL, South Carolina (Senior) – 6035, 300lb

Senior Bowl Invite


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Zacch Pickens 6’3 5/8”, 300lb 10 34 1/8 81 7/8
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

— Has great size for the position in terms of height, length, and weight
— Strong, powerful defender that has noticeable pop in his upper and lower half
— Explodes into blockers, having the powerful punch to knock back blockers
— Brute strength allows him to collapse the pocket quickly after the snap
— Will stack and shed OL at the LOS to get into the hole and take up the gap
— Can time the snap to shoot and penetrate gaps
— Has an impressive swim move inside to quickly clear blockers
— Experienced Defender with three years of starting experience
— Played from 3-tech to over the nose as a 0-tech
— Shows effort and hustle to the football away from the play

The Bad

— Lacks ideal open field speed and coordination for the position
— Can get knocked off balance when engaged with blockers
— Has a bad habit of popping straight up off the snap
— Loses leverage when engaged with blockers due to pad height
— Will get washed on down blocks or pushed back on combo blocks when standing straight up
— Needs to use his legs more consistently when engaged with blockers to fight pressure
— Can lunge into blocks, having his pads over his toes
— Needs to show more urgency to disengage blocks
— Motor in pursuit runs hot and cold
— Lacks hand usage and a pass rush plan chasing after the QB
— Needs to develop a counter move when he doesn’t win with initial quickness or power


— Senior Prospect from Anderson, S.C.
— Born March 6, 2000 (age 22)
— Rated as the top player in the state, the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle in the country and No. 8 overall, according to 247Sports
— Under Armour All-American Game invite, named the South Carolina Gatorade Football Athlete of the Year and South Carolina’s Mr. Football in 2019
— Enrolled in January as an early graduate
— Played in all 12 games as a freshman and had 16 tackles and one quarterback hurry
— Appeared in all 10 games making seven starts in 2020 and had 35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack
— Started all 13 games in 2021 and had 38 tackles, five TFLs, four sacks, two quarterback hurries, a PBU, and recovered a fumble
— Started 12 games in 2022, notching 42 total tackles (22 solo), four TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three PBUs, and a fumble recovery
— 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team, SEC Academic Honor Roll (2019-2021), team captain
— Sport and entertainment management major

Tape Breakdown

Zacch Pickens enrolled early at South Carolina as one of the top recruits in the nation, being named the #1 DT prospect in the 2019 class by 247Sports. Pickens played in a rotational role his first year in Columbia before becoming a mainstay on the defensive line for the Gamecocks, starting 32 games in his next three seasons. When you watch the tape on Pickens, you understand why he was such a highly touted recruit. He looks the part coming off the bus and has the play strength and power to match, flashing instances of man-handling OL with brute force in his punch on the snap of the ball.

Pickens has impressive play strength in his stout 6’3 5/8”, 300lb frame. He has over 34” arms to quickly get into opposing OL’s chests and shock them backward with a powerful punch. Watch this rep against Texas A&M where Pickens blows the center back into the backfield, gets off the block, and makes the play right at the LOS.

Pickens also flashes impressive hand quickness at times on the snap, quickly disengaging blocks to get into the backfield and make plays. Watch this rep where Pickens hits an arm over/swim move on the center right as the ball is snapped, getting into the backfield to wrap up the QB and bring him down before he can get to the yellow marker, forcing fourth down.

His strength and power in his hands make Pickens a viable run defender, having the ability to control OL like in this clip where he bench presses the LG and extends him away from his frame. Pickens then sheds the block and makes the tackle on the running back.

When Pickens gets his momentum going, he can be a load to stop, watch him on this rep against Clemson as he works through the outside shoulder of the LG, working through the block to take down the QB in the backfield for the sack.

Zacch Pickens is a fairly good athlete given his size and shows that athleticism in his pursuit of the football. You will see Pickens often attempting to run down plays like this one against Georgia where he fights through the block and runs down the receiver on the reverse play, making the tackle as the runner attempts to evade other tacklers in a good showing of effort.

Still, there are moments where Pickens’ effort wanes throughout the game due to his gas tank running empty as well as being out of position. Watch this rep where Pickens gets washed down the LOS, creating a big hole for Stetson Bennett to scramble toward the end zone. Pickens gets off the block but is slow to see Bennett cutting up the hole, reaching out his arm as Bennett keeps it himself for the score.

The previous play was less effort and more leverage/positioning for Pickens, but this isn’t a new occurrence for him. He has notable issues regarding his pad level and standing straight up when taking on blocks, thus losing leverage to hold the point of attack and fight pressure against double teams. Here are a few instances on tape of Pickens standing straight up on the snap losing his power and getting pushed back off his spot. The first shows Pickens making the tackle after he stands up and gets knocked back initially on the play while the second clip shows Pickens getting blown back five yards by the double team while playing with poor leverage.

Pickens also doesn’t rush with much of a pass rush plan, normally resorting to pure strength in his bull rush or the occasional swim or rip move. We see him execute the rip here on this play, shooting the gap and the OL down blocks him, creating a big hole the back takes the handoff to as he finds daylight in the secondary and takes it all the way for a house call.


Overall, Zacch Pickens is a raw, yet gifted athlete at the defensive tackle position that has a bunch of good traits that need to be developed to maximize his potential at the next level. He has notable strength and explosiveness in his ability to manhandle single blockers on the snap of the ball and collapse the pocket. He has push rush juice but needs to develop more hand usage and a pass rush plan to become more productive in this facet of the game. Pickens also needs to be better at playing with consistent leverage and motor as he will stand upright too often on plays, essentially taking himself out of the rep.

When watching Pickens, Jaleel Johnson comes to mind as the former Iowa Hawkeye has similar measurables to Pickens (6’2 5/8”, 316lb, 33 1/4” arms) as well as the capability to win with strength and power. He showed promise as a run defender with the Hawkeyes while also posting 7.5 sacks in his final college season, getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. However, Johnson has been a journeyman for most of his career, playing out his rookie contract with the Vikings and has played for Houston and Atlanta the last two seasons as a player that flashes, but needs to be more consistent.

I see the same package with Pickens, who likely is a more powerful player than what Johnson was coming out but needs to refine his craft and develop his game more to be considered a three-down starter in the league. The Steelers need DL help at NT as well as at 3-tech/4i, making Pickens a logical fit given his size and skill set. Still, I would feel better about Pickens playing as a depth piece to start his career as he learns from Cam Heyward and DL coach Karl Dunbar to play with better pad level to properly take on blocks and play sound run defense before earning a starting role.

Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.6 – Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: vs Georgia (2022), at Clemson (2022) vs Clemson (2021)

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