Kenny Pickett, Pitt QB | NFL Draft Scouting Report

How high can Pitt Panthers QB Kenny Pickett go in the 2022 NFL Draft after boosting his scouting report in a breakout 2021 campaign?

He may have an unfortunate surname for a quarterback, but make no mistake: Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is a legitimate 2022 NFL Draft prospect, and his scouting report boasts the kind of upside that relatively few quarterbacks provide. Should Pickett go in Round 1, and does he have franchise quarterback potential for an NFL team?

Kenny Pickett NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Quarterback
  • School: Pittsburgh
  • Current Year: Redshirt Senior
  • Height: 6’3 1/4″
  • Weight: 217 pounds
  • Wingspan: 73 3/4″
  • Arm: 30 7/8″
  • Hand: 8 1/2″

Kenny Pickett Scouting Report

Pickett has a wealth of experience on the college football stage — more than most quarterbacks that suited up this year. He was regarded as a serious 2021 NFL Draft prospect in 2020 but chose to return to school for his redshirt senior season. It was an excellent decision by Pickett to bet on himself. He came into the year with 39 career passing touchdowns, and more than doubled that number in a Heisman finalist campaign.

Pickett has long been a mainstay for the Pittsburgh Panthers and ACC football, in general. But now, the Pickett experience will be gone from college football, and the Pitt QB will make the long-awaited leap to the NFL. We know how exciting Pickett was as a college football signal-caller, but does he have the upside to be a successful NFL starter?

Pickett’s physical profile

Let’s start with Pickett’s physical tools, where the Pitt QB is surprisingly well-equipped. Standing at 6’3″, 220 pounds, Pickett is a very good athlete with a strong frame. With his mobility, he can sidestep rushers, escape the pocket, and produce on the ground. He also has elite competitive toughness. Pickett is clutch in crucial moments, and he plays through injuries, putting it all on the line each Saturday afternoon.

Even more so than Pickett’s athleticism, however, his arm demands attention. The Pitt QB has a crisp, compact, and efficient throwing motion, which easily generates velocity. With this velocity, Pickett leads receivers downfield and pushes the ball past defenders. He also fits the ball into tight spots and has the elasticity to adjust his trajectory and ball placement. His arm strength isn’t elite, but he has good arm talent overall.

Going further with Pickett’s elasticity, he flashes the ability to adjust his arm angles on throws. Pickett generates velocity off-platform and delivers accurate throws on the run. Even off his back foot, he creates impressive momentum. Furthermore, he can methodically place balls according to receiver leverage downfield, and he improved his consistency in this area in 2021.

Execution beyond the physical traits

Pickett’s strong off-script profile is one of his most appealing features. But the Pitt QB has a degree of polish, which comes with experience. Pickett has exceptional mechanics in structure. He keeps his feet and shoulders squared toward his target, and he continually resets his base as he goes through his progressions. Pickett’s never idle on his feet, and he navigates the pocket well. He knows how to manipulate throwing lanes with his positioning.

Diving into the minutia of Pickett’s mechanics — especially in 2021 — reveals impressive consistency with lower and upper-body mechanics. Pickett isn’t perfect; he sometimes has scissor feet in the pocket, crossing his feet on dropbacks when he should be staying within his cylinder. But with his strong muscle memory, he almost always snaps back to congruence and loads his hips ahead of his throws. His shoulders are consistently level — even off-platform — and that helps him maintain reliability and accuracy in off-script situations.

Moving on, Pickett has flashed the necessary poise to stand tall and deliver strikes amidst contact. Pickett sometimes bails clean pockets too early, but he’s shown in glimpses that he can navigate lanes and adjust his spacing. Additionally, Pickett is proactive in evading and extending plays. He’s very competent off-script and off-platform.

Mentally, Pickett showed immense growth in 2021. Pickett’s always had confidence as a passer, but that confidence sometimes breeds recklessness. In 2021, however, he was more efficient and methodical. The Pitt QB sees the field well and has shown to go through progressions with pace. Moreover, Pickett knows how to use his eyes to manipulate safeties and open up certain routes, and he keeps his eyes downfield when going off-script, identifying open receivers quickly. That strong processing compounds his appeal.

Areas for improvement

Pickett fixed a lot of problems in 2021. He corrected his mechanics, improved his accuracy, and was much more consistent overall. However, there are still some negatives to make note of.

While Pickett has the physical capacity to respond to pressure and go off-script, his general feel and poise in the pocket can be more consistent. He does a good job keeping his eyes up under pressure, but there are times when Pickett bails clean pockets that he can step up into, creating unnecessary chaos. It’s arguably better for a QB to be too skittish than too oblivious to pressure, but Pickett needs to improve at working the pocket and staying in structure. He also still fades back occasionally and can be more consistent stepping into his throws to generate maximum momentum.

Going further, Pickett occasionally displays a degree of arm arrogance. His arm is above-average, but it’s not an elite-level arm in terms of strength. Some of his longer passes sometimes loft, and his velocity doesn’t drive as well into the intermediate and deep ranges. Pickett’s fearlessness as a passer — while appealing — can sometimes be a double-edged sword when he takes risks he shouldn’t entertain.

Pickett’s mental process can also be further refined. The Pitt QB has shown he can go through progressions and throw with anticipation when given the opportunity. However, his offense at Pitt employed a lot of quick throws and one-read progressions. Thus, a slight adjustment period may be needed in a faster-paced NFL, although Pickett can identify pre-snap mismatches and exploit them.

Pickett’s NFL Draft scouting report overview

Back in October 2020, I wrote that Pickett could be a potential starter in the NFL. His physical upside stood out: He’s a great athlete with a good arm, generates solid velocity both in structure and off-platform, and his competitive toughness can be contagious. But there was still development needed for Pickett before he could enter the early-round discussion.

Now, with 2021 in the rearview mirror, we can definitively say that Pickett underwent the necessary development. He’s now a viable first-round prospect and a QB1 contender in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Pickett doesn’t have Josh Allen or Trey Lance-level physical upside as a prospect. Nevertheless, he still passes the physical threshold required to be an NFL starter. He’s a great positional athlete with the short-range burst and agility to extend plays. He has a supremely elastic arm, which he uses to generate velocity and accuracy off-platform. Most importantly, Pickett visibly refined the mental and mechanical part of his game in 2021, showing that he’s worth a long-term investment.

Heading into the season, Pickett — who’ll be a 24-year-old rookie — was a solid developmental Day 3 pick. Now, however, he’s showing new polish and consistency to go along with his traits. With his frame and athleticism, he slightly resembles Derek Carr, although his arm might not be quite as strong. But with his toughness, off-script ability, and mental work, he’s a quarterback you can win with in the right situation.

Pickett Player Profile

Pickett’s NFL Draft upside was first visible in high school when the future Pitt QB became one of the most productive passers in his area. Over the course of his career at Ocean Township High School in Oakhurst, New Jersey, Pickett amassed 4,670 passing yards and 43 passing touchdowns. He also earned 873 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.

With a 4.77 40-yard dash and a 34.6-inch vertical jump at around 6’2″, 193 pounds, Pickett became a coveted dual-threat quarterback. A three-star recruit, Pickett received scholarship offers from Iowa, Temple, Boston College, Buffalo, and Connecticut. But for Pickett, the opportunity to play for the Panthers was most enticing.

Pickett’s career at Pitt

In 2017, Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers were faced with the task of replacing Nathan Peterman, who’d thrown 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions the previous year. USC transfer Max Browne and Ben DiNucci traded off somewhat in the season’s early months, but true freshman Pickett got his chance in late November against the vaunted Miami Hurricanes. Pickett led the Panthers to a win in his first start. From that point onward, he was entrenched in the starting role.

In 2018, Pickett started all 14 games, helping lead the Panthers to a Coastal Division title in the ACC. He picked up 1,969 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions with a 58.1% completion rate. In 2019, Pickett reprised his role and took a slight step up. He missed one game due to injury but still started 12, earning 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions on a 61.6% completion rate.

2020 looked as though it was going to be a breakout year for Pickett. In fact, he started the season with four straight games above a 120 rating. However, three of his final five games fell below that mark — largely due to a Grade 3 high ankle sprain. Nevertheless, Pickett still saw a career-high in rating, and his yards per attempt improved from 6.6 to 7.3. All told, Pickett amassed 2,408 yards, 13 scores, and 9 picks in nine games. He also added 8 touchdowns on the ground for a total of 21 trips to the end zone.

Pickett’s remarkable 2021 season

Entering 2021 as the elder statesman in the ACC, Pickett wasn’t included in the first-round conversation at first. It’s especially rare for three-year starters to take a leap in Year 4 when they’ve been middling prospects for the majority of their career.

Unexpectedly, however, Pickett defied expectations in 2021. He honed his craft in the offseason, refining his mechanics. And with a strong offensive line and dynamic weapons like 2023 prospect Jordan Addison, he put together a fantastic season. In 13 games, Pickett completed 334 of 497 passes (67.2%) for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 7 picks. He averaged a career-high 8.7 yards per attempt and passed Dan Marino and Alex Van Pelt on the Pitt all-time passing list.

Pickett’s 2021 season featured a barrage of individual accomplishments. The Pitt QB won ACC Player of the Year and finished third in Heisman voting, earning a place as a finalist for the award given to the best player in college football. He also became Pitt’s all-time leading passer and led the Panthers to their first ACC championship title since joining the conference in 2013. It was a true “walk into the sunset” campaign for Pickett. And soon after, he set his sights on the NFL Draft.

Pickett’s NFL Draft ascension

Pickett’s 2020 season is a story of disappointment on the surface — no doubt because of the lofty expectations that Pickett carried for himself. But it’s also a story of resilience. Pickett came back from that high ankle sprain — which traditionally takes at least six weeks to heal — in 26 days. Painstakingly, he gutted through the final four games and threw for 404 yards against Virginia Tech. He led Pittsburgh to a winning record, but more importantly for Pickett, he came back to his teammates.

At first, Pickett wasn’t going to come back in 2021. Yet, after getting fifth- and sixth-round grades from evaluators, he decided he was better than that. Pickett was hell-bent — not just on earning coveted success for his Pittsburgh team, but also on achieving the breakout season he sought for three years. Pickett did both in 2021. Now, it’s on to the NFL. If he can answer questions about his hand size at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, he can compete to be the first quarterback off the board.

Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Kenny Pickett

Positives: Highly celebrated quarterback coming off a sensational senior campaign. Displays incredible patience in the pocket, scans the field, and goes through progressions. Possesses outstanding vision, consistently finds the open wideout, and displays a sense of timing. Looks away from covered targets, naturally looks off the safety, and is always in control of the situation.

Throws with an over-the-top delivery, effectively sets up screen passes, and puts the ball where only his receiver can come away with the reception. Protects the football, does not make poor decisions on the field, and shows great wherewithal. Consistently takes the safe, underneath outlet if nothing else is available. Drops into the pocket with proper footwork, takes a big hit in order to get the throw away, and pulls himself off the ground and gets back into the huddle.

Senses the rush and is elusive enough to avoid defenders. Buys as much time as possible and consistently keeps his eyes downfield, even when outside the pocket.

Negatives: Needs to put in a lot of extra effort to get speed on throws and get the ball downfield. Cannot drive long throws, which leads to a loss of opportunity. Hand size will be an issue for some teams.

Analysis: Entering the season graded as a Day 3 prospect, Pickett turned in a great campaign and was the leader of the Panthers football team, carrying the offense on his shoulders. He shows great intuition as well as football intellect, almost always making proper decisions and protecting the football. My concern is that Pickett is more of a game manager for the next level. Although he is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft, he lacks great upside.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

FEATURED
PFN NEWSLETTER

Every day, get free NFL updates sent straight to your inbox!