Kenny Pickett is just about the hottest name when it comes to quarterbacks for the 2022 draft class.
Pickett is shining in a Pittsburgh team who are having a good season in an ACC which is certainly more open this year, given the power vacuum which has come about due to Clemson having such a down year.
Speaking of Clemson, Pickett’s stock is about as high as it ever has been right now, thanks in no small part to a marquee victory against The Tigers this past weekend. Pickett’s name was hot before this weekend but now it’s even hotter with the Panthers QB now fourth favourite in terms of Heisman odds.
He’s a player who has caught our eye before at F10Y CFB and we’ve kind of rooted for him as he’s a player who has flashed ability but he’s also done silly things too – Ball security has been an issue at times and he’s never really wowed in terms of putting up big numbers. In the past two years he’s registered a 13:9 TD:INT ratio, with a pass completion percentage of just over 61% and a yard per attempt of less than 7 in every year before this. All very run-of-the-mill.
Fast forward to this year and we find ourselves in a position where this draft class and perhaps college football as a whole is lacking a proven, marquee QB, perhaps even a marquee player at the moment and I feel like everyone is scrambling around to find the guy to pin their hopes on and hitch their bandwagon to.
Pickett’s 2021 season has seen upticks in stats and in his play, so I thought I’d dig into the tape and bring you my thoughts, because whilst I recognise that he is having a fantastic year, his rise has been sharp, almost too sharp for my liking, especially when some want to push Pickett towards being drafted in the first round, or even first overall!
So once again, I am here to tell everyone to slow down on another QB who is on everyone’s lips at the moment.
Pickett was born on June 6th 1998 and was a 3-star QB out of New Jersey, and the #33 Pro-Style QB in the 2017 class according to 24/7 sports. Measuring 6’3 and tipping the scales at 220lbs (school measurements), coming out of high School Pickett had offers from Temple, Toledo, Monmouth, Buffalo, Texas State, UConn, Coastal Carolina, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Iowa and UNC.
He comes from an athletic family with both his Mother and Father playing college sports, as did this older Sister. Pickett has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and is enrolled in Pittsburgh’s business school completing a postgraduate degree in business.
Pickett has appeared in 46 games at the time of writing, and if he plays the rest of Pitt’s schedule, including bowl game and ACC Championship Game, that number will rise to 53.
Pickett has been measured and has 8 ¼ Inch hands and he wears two gloves on both hands when he plays, although there has been no confirmation that wearing two gloves is linked to his smaller hand measurement.
He has never suffered a major injury, but did suffer an ankle injury in 2020 and missed two games.
Games Watched (7): Miami 2019 (A-22), UNC 2019 (Broadcast), Clemson 2020 (A-22), NC State 2020, UMass 2021 (A-22), Tennessee 2021 (A-22), Clemson 2021 (Broadcast)
Best game: Tennessee 2021
Worst Game: Clemson 2020
Notes about Pittsburgh’s Offense
Pitt run a version of the spread offense with a lot of verticality and receivers run routes mainly off of a vertical stem (Go, Corner, Post, plus in and out-breaking routes in the deep and intermediate levels of the field, as well as short curl and comebacks.
The short routes that are run seemed to be screens to either the running backs or wide receivers and some slants. Until 2021 the Pitt offense felt very “all or nothing” because of the vertical nature of it, so it forces Pickett into long throws which feel like they’re at the limit of his capabilities in terms of arm strength, which led to him forcing the ball downfield or leaving him without many options in the short and intermediate parts of the field – He often ran into these spaces when nobody was open.
There is very little pre-snap motion and in the games I watched I noted very little play-action – The most common play-action was zone-read plays where Pickett was given the opportunity to show off his rushing ability if the play allowed.
Because of the nature of the routes being run this means that we don’t have much evidence (from what I’ve seen) of him throwing into tight windows over the field with much success.
I also noted the spacing in the offense is generally poor, with far too many occasions where routes were being run and finished in the same area of the field by more than one receiver.
Lastly, there was an abundance of drops from receivers on almost every game I watched.
Accuracy & Ball Placement
Prior to the current season, my notes contain a lot of red ink and warnings of carelessness, badly thrown and mistimed passes.
I found myself begging Pickett to lead his receiver with the ball in order to give them an opportunity to gain more yardage. I feel that there were flashes in this area and some genuinely great throws (sometimes let down by a receiver) but these flashes weren’t consistent at all.
A couple of examples from Miami 2019 here – The first throw is into traffic and as much as you could say this is unlucky, he’s asking for trouble by putting a ball into an area with three defenders – If he led the receiver he’d have been fine. Second throw is a prime example of “if you miss the receiver, miss them long” – Really underthrown and showed a lack of deep ball placement.
However, move to 2021 and this is now a much stronger part of Pickett’s game – Compared to previous years, he seems more assured, more precise with the placement and he’s also throwing his receiver open much more often and giving his guys an opportunity to make a play with ball-in-hand.
Towards the end of my film study, I did see more evidence of anticipatory throws which was very encouraging – Such as this throw against Tennessee:
Lastly, Pickett has shown an improved ability to throw on the move – for a QB who likes to scramble and has decent athletic traits this is another area of encouragement. In the modern NFL it’s almost a prerequisite now that you must have some sort of mobility and be able to have success out of the planned structure of the offense, and I think we are working towards that here with Kenny Pickett.
Decision Making & Mental Processing
At the start of my film study, especially in the 2019 games I saw, this was an area of serious alarm.
There were just some bone-headed decisions; throwing the ball into double coverage, hospital passes, locking on to an initial read when a more fruitful throw is available elsewhere and just some downright horrible decisions.
The First two of these throws literally made me say, “what are you thinking?” and “what are you doing?”. The third throw shows a lack of processing and a poor decision in not recognising the moment passed – He has the receiver open for the pass he eventually throws as soon as he sets his feet, yet he delays and then throws it anyway.
However, again much like the accuracy and ball placement, Pickett’s decision making is an area where we can see clear improvement. You can clearly see a level of understanding of the concepts that the offense is running, the right reads and keys and most importantly how to execute them. That’s almost been the most stark improvement of all – He just looks like he’s operating at a higher level of execution this season, he looks confident and comfortable, like he’s letting the game come to him and not having to force things. I do think this is partly down to some offensive tweaks where more short and intermediate routes and throws have been infused but still, credit where it’s due – Pickett is making the right choices and connecting the dots.
I thought both of these throws were great examples of the ability that Pickett has in terms of processing the defense, and then delivering a well placed ball. He reads his keys correctly and throws the ball… Just how it’s drawn up.
Arm Talent (Strength, Touch & Mechanics)
Ok, let’s start with the positives – Mechanics are good, Pickett has a nice action with the whole body working in unison and the foundations for this are set in place by sound footwork and good posture in the pocket. There is also a small amount of evidence of Pickett being able to deliver off-platform and with different arm angles – Again, this is much improved from game one to game seven that I watched.
However, arm strength is not anything above passable. Here is where the roof and ceiling is placed on Pickett’s game because I don’t think I saw huge improvements in this area and because of that my question start to centre around whether his arm is as strong as it’s going to be, which in the NFL could be a problem and in terms of his draft position, it will likely mean that teams look elsewhere with premium draft capital.
Throws die on deep balls and often receivers are slowing or waiting for the ball to arrive. There isn’t any real top tier zip on throws and because of that, I didn’t really notice much variation in ball speed and touch comes from additional loft being placed on balls, rather than a variation of speed.
It feels like Pickett is trying to play a round of golf with just a four iron and there was this one play against Tennessee which stood out to me because I feel like you see the new confident Kenny Pickett, who is operating at a high level and is getting used to being able to make plays every game but his arm let’s him down on this one.
He tries to make something happen but just doesn’t have the arm strength to make this play – It’s not a bad play, I don’t even think he’d have attempted this a year or two ago but top tier QBs in the NFL like Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford and Justin Herbert make this play, routinely.
It’s a 23 yard pass across his body rolling to his right and it just doesn’t make it. Obviously it’s just one throw and he could get stronger in an NFL strength programme but he lacks that X-Factor here.
Mobility & Ability to Work Off-Script
Pickett’s mobility is a strength of his. As mentioned above, mobility is a prerequisite of being an NFL QB nowadays and Pickett gets a tick in that box from me for sure.
As I will discuss shortly, his pocket movement and management is very good and he can easily leak out of lanes that opposing defensive lines leave him and break out for a long gain if it’s there.
However, he is very much a pass-first QB who keeps his eyes downfield when he has escaped the pocket. Pickett is mobile but he’s a scrambler and a guy who can use his legs rather than a prototypical dual-threat QB.
One thing I definitely noted was that once he decides to make a break for it, he can move! Long strides eat up the turf quickly and he can beat linebackers to a spot or turn the corner on them.
He almost reminds me of a slower Daniel Jones in this regard. Jones is one of the most sneaky athletic guys in the NFL and can really motor when he has grass in front of him. Pickett gives away a couple of inches in height to Jones, and as mentioned he isn’t quite as quick but he can break off a long run if given a chance.
As I alluded to above Pickett’s pocket management and ability to buy himself time and space is really one of his best qualities – On my grading scale, he actually scored 9/10 in this area which makes it his best attribute in my eyes.
This is a nuanced aspect of quarterback play and Pickett seems to have mastered it from an early stage.
Eyes are always down field and he is able to adjust his position within the pocket in order to be able to make a throw. He can also use this ability to evade on coming rushers but also then get his eyes back on target to make a play.
I rarely saw an instance where Pickett got fuzzy and lost on a play and gets himself sacked because he’s moved towards pressure or his internal clock is off and he just stands in the pocket too long and takes a sack. This is aided by his scrambling ability as he is willing to take off and move away from danger if needed.
This isn’t the best pass, by that little slide to the left in the pocket bought him time – Subtle, but it’s a typical example of what he does quite often and seemingly automatically.
Summary and Final Grade
I think Pickett will make a solid NFL career for himself – I think, and I hope, that he goes somewhere where he doesn’t have to start right away. I hope he can go there, be surrounded by a good team and a good culture, and have a veteran team mate to learn from and develop behind.
If he gets a spot start in year one he could survive a game or two if he has a talented offense around him. He would make some plays but in reality he’ll need those around him to create the magic for him.
I think Pickett can be a facilitator but not a star in the league. Whilst the 2021 season has raised the floor of the NFL player he can be, I still think there are limitations both mental and physical which mean you are banging your head on the ceiling.
Despite playing his college career in a vertical spread offense, I actually think he’d be much more suited to a west-coast offense based on short and intermediate throws where he can get into a rhythm early and play point guard.
If he lands in the ideal situation and if given time to develop, I think the ceiling is an average starting QB in the NFL, and the floor is a career backup who will have a long career in that role. If a team spends a first round pick on him and he plays too early, I believe he’ll turn out to be the sort of pick who loses a GM their job.
Final Grade: 5.44 (out of 7) or 77.79 (out of 100) – Early to Mid Third Round Grade
Where Pickett Fits in this Draft Class
Overall, as much as I completely recognise and applaud that Pickett has made some fantastic strides during this season so far, I just don’t see many elite level traits on film at this point, which thrust Pickett into the upper echelons of the draft class.
I think he has elevated his game to the levels where he’s absolutely going to get drafted and is a firm day 2 prospect now – Let’s remember that the grade above isn’t final as there are still plenty of games left in the season for him to impress. There will also be the Senior Bowl, which he is nailed on to be invited to, as well as the Scouting Combine too.
I think that this year with there being no slam dunk QB to select at the top of the draft, the NFL is likely to draft for upside and hope that the one they pick is able to be developed by their coaches.
Kenny Pickett doesn’t fit this billing. There are more talented guys ahead of him in that regard. Players who are more physically gifted, players whose body of work throughout college is more impressive and players who have just been in NFL GM’s eyeline for much longer.
Pickett just doesn’t have the physical attributes to take his stock to that next level, as well as a couple of potential red flags in the form of hand size and age. As mentioned, he’s improved in many areas of his play, he’s a competitor, he’s got some intangibles that coaches will like and it has finally clicked for him at the college level, so there should be more to unlock in the pros.
However, I don’t think he’s ready to start at the next level and I am not sure if the ceiling is high enough to warrant paying the price of a first round draft pick. This isn’t to say he can never be a starter but I just don’t see that ceiling right now and I don’t think he’s close enough to the next level, having only just elevated himself this year, for coaches to throw him in and hope he swims.
I do think the clamour partly comes from the fact there’s a void for top tier talent that we haven’t really had since 2013 and if this were a normal year with some very good to elite prospects in the class, Pickett would be everyone’s favourite sleeper, rather than a potential saviour and he should be graded and thought of accordingly.
Follow Lee On Twitter – @Wakefield90