NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett‘s status as one of the top quarterback prospects available in the 2022 NFL Draft is the result of hard work and an example of taking advantage of every opportunity presented. He will have a chance to continue overachieving later this month when he is likely to hear his name called early on the first night of the Draft. 

Pickett will watching the Draft with his family and fiancé from his hometown in New Jersey. Jersey was where it all started for Pickett, a consensus three-star recruit from Ocean Township HS. Despite ranking as 247Sports’ 10th-best pro-style quarterback of the 2017 class (33rd-ranked pro-style quarterback in the site’s composite rankings), Pickett only fielded offers from eleven schools, only four of them from a Power 5 Conference. He received his first offer from nearby Temple shortly following his sophomore year of high school, but, not content with only one scholarship offer, Pickett attended several camps starting with in-state Rutgers and branching out to several ACC schools like Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia.

After receiving more offers from the likes of Toledo, Monmouth, Buffalo, Texas State, UConn, and Coastal Carolina, Pickett made the decision to commit to the first school that offered him and joined the Owls’ 2017 class. About a month later, following the conclusion of his junior year, his first Power 5 offers came in from Boston College and then Pittsburgh, about two weeks apart. Five days later, Pickett de-committed from Temple, intrigued by the momentum of larger schools. Three days after opening up his recruitment, Pickett took his first unofficial visit of the summer to Pitt. He returned two weeks later and the Panthers landed a commitment from the rising-junior. Pickett graduated high school early and enrolled at Pitt in January of 2017, eager to get to work.

Pickett spent most of his freshman season on the bench behind starter Ben DiNucci and backup Max Browne, who transferred in from USC. He made his debut late in a Week 6 loss to Syracuse and appeared twice more for late relief work in losses to NC State and Virginia Tech. With the season all but over and Pittsburgh sitting at 4-7 going into a season finale against the ACC Coastal Champion Miami Hurricanes, who were ranked #2 in the College Football Playoff rankings at the time, Pickett became the first true freshman to start a game for Pittsburgh at quarterback since Pat Bostick in 2007. Pickett ruined Miami’s victory lap finale completing 62.1% of his passes for 193 yards and a touchdown while adding 60 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 24-14 upset of the second-ranked Hurricanes in his first start.

Pickett took that starting opportunity and never relinquished it, returning to start every game of his sophomore season and leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Coastal Championship with a 7-5 regular season record (6-2 in the ACC). Pickett’s stats didn’t jump off the page as he only threw for 1,969 yards, throwing 12 touchdowns to 6 interceptions.

Pickett took a large step forward in his development in his junior season with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple increasing the emphasis on the Panthers’ passing attack. The Panthers once again finished the regular season 7-5, but this time with Pickett throwing for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In Pickett’s COVID-shortened senior year, he put up similar production with 2,408 yards and the exact same number of touchdowns and picks as the previous year in three fewer games.

Due to COVID-19, Pickett was given the rare opportunity to return for one more year of eligibility, and it was easily the best decision of his career to do so. Pickett had a prolific season, leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Championship. He was named a first-team All-American and finished 3rd in Heisman voting. Pickett’s statistics in his last year exploded off the page as he threw for 4,319 yards with 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, adding 233 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.

Pickett now enters the Draft as one of the top quarterback prospects on the board, commonly grouped with Liberty’s Malik Willis as one of the top-2. Pickett has a lot of variables that NFL teams covet: ideal size, excellent accuracy and anticipation, and impressive athleticism that allows him to escape trouble. He can throw from multiple arm angles, something that’s become popular in the NFL lately, and is comfortable throwing on the move. He has a tendency to get antsy and throw the ball before getting his feet set, which can affect ball-placement, and some in NFL circles have talked about his hand size and the fact that he throws with gloves on. It’s a fun news story, but most people in those circles do not view his hands as an issue, as the acceptable NFL ball size-range largely overlaps with the NCAA ball size-range and shouldn’t affect his ability too much at the next level.

It’s looking more and more likely that at least two quarterbacks will be taken in the Top 10 picks of the Draft with their likely destinations being with the Falcons, Panthers, Giants, or Seahawks. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Pickett ranked as the 24th best overall prospect in his rankings and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Pickett at 31st overall. Pickett should get used to the idea of being a first-round draft pick, as it is all but certain at this point, and might want to start trying out the moniker of “Top-10 draft pick,” as that’s looking more and more likely every day.

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