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2022 NFL draft scouting report: Pitt QB Kenny Pickett

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Pitt QB Kenny Pickett

6-foot-3
217 pounds

Yahoo Sports' 2022 NFL draft grade

6.08 — possible first-rounder; possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report

Highly experienced, confident passer whose game took a big leap in 2021, even if there's a question of whether he'll ever be a top-tier NFL starter

The skinny

A 3-star Rivals recruit in the Class of 2017, Pickett committed to the Panthers and saw action in four games as a freshman, leading them to a shocking victory over No. 2 Miami in his one start. On the season, he completed 39 of 66 passes (59%) for 509 yards, one TD and one INT, also rushing for 93 yards on 26 carries with two TDs. In 2018, he completed 180 of 310 passes (58%) for 1,969 yards, 12 TDs and six INTs and rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns on 117 carries in 14 starts.

In 2019, Pickett completed 289 of 469 passes for 3,098 yards, 13 TDs and nine INTs in 12 starts, also rushing for 110 yards and two scores. The following year, he completed 203 of 332 passes (61%) for 2,408 yards, 13 TDs and nine INTs, rushing for 145 yards and eight scores in nine starts. Pickett chose to return for a fifth season in 2021, starting the first 13 games and completing 334 of 497 passes for 4,319 yards, 42 TDs and seven INTs; he also ran for 233 yards and five scores. He opted out of the team's bowl game but attended the Senior Bowl.

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett goes through passing drills during the school's pro day. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett goes through passing drills during the school's pro day. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Upside

  • Better athletic traits than he's given credit for

  • Arm talent is above average — can make all the throws on three levels

  • Mostly very clean fundamentals — efficient throwing motion and good base

  • Improved ball placement throughout his career

  • Willing and more than able to attack the middle of a defense

  • Improved timing, touch on deep balls in 2021

  • Receivers dropped more than 7% of his career passes (nearly 9% in 2020)

  • Works around pressure and able to make off-platform throws and buy time with legs

  • Keeps eyes downfield awaiting late-breaking receivers while escaping pressure

  • Efficient, smart scrambler who can catch defenses napping

  • Didn't move well to his left early in career, vastly improved in that area

  • Smart decision returning in 2021 — was Day 3 prospect entering season

  • Surgeon with clean pockets — ate up drop-eight defenses and weaker pass rushes

  • Eye manipulation became a strength by final season

  • Highly experienced — 52 college appearances, four years of starting experience

  • Quality football IQ that evolved with each passing season

  • Pitt coaches say he showed good instincts vs. unscouted looks when thrown at him

  • Made coverage reads, showed pocket presence in NFL-style pass game with true progressions

  • Can start Day 1 for an NFL franchise — handled spotlight very well last season

  • Mature, confident, likable personality — a player teammates will rally around

Downside

  • Doesn't possess a truly special athletic element

  • Hand size (8 5/8 inches) is as small as you'll see on a QB

  • Ball-handling concerns with larger NFL football — fumbled 38 times in college career

  • Uses glove on throwing hand, a la Teddy Bridgewater

  • Appeared to battle elements in rainy late vs. North Carolina, at Senior Bowl practice

  • Really a one-year wonder, production-wise — more TDs in 2021 than four previous years combined

  • Gets jittery at times vs. pressure and can be guilty of some panic plays

  • Took an absolute beating behind poor OLs earlier in his career (sacked 123 times total)

  • Lets the rush get up on him and takes too many sacks

  • Still will bail from some clean pockets

  • Clock needs speeding up, and anticipation can be a tick slow

  • Injuries caused him to miss games in multiple seasons

  • Late-game mistakes against Miami, UNC and Virginia raise concerns about clutch gene

  • Ball doesn't exactly explode off his hand

  • Deep-ball accuracy solid but needs to get better

  • Will force some throws into tight windows

  • Turns 24 years old in June — two months older than Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Best-suited destination

Pickett has the moxie and experience to step right in as a starter immediately if needed. However, even with what looks like a good floor as a prospect, the question is whether he can be special in the NFL. Although he saw a huge uptick in his game in 2021, it would be unwise to assume he can make a similar jump at some point in the league. Still, Pickett's variety of respectable traits figure to make him a solid to very good quarterback at some stage in his career. He'd fit well on a team with a good pass-protecting O-line and a defense that occasionally can carry the team in games.

Did you know

It has been 38 years since a Pitt quarterback was drafted in Round 1. The last one would be Dan Marino, whose passing records Pickett broke with the Panthers.

Player comp

He has some of the same traits Joe Burrow does, but his career projection might be closer to Kirk Cousins.

Expected draft range

Top-20 pick