Pitt QB Kenny Pickett an underrated potential starter in the NFL Draft

The search for the 2021 NFL Draft's QB4 continues to intensify, and after four weeks, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is starting to make some noise.

Kenny Pickett’s progression work and ball placement

A quarterback with natural talent, at times, is a double-edged proposition. Quarterbacks with natural talent are generally preferable, as they can simply do more. But these quarterbacks sometimes get by only on their natural talent and don’t progress to a level that can make them successful on the NFL stage.

Of course, every development arc is different, and while Kenny Pickett still has a ways to go with the mental side of the game and its consistency, he’s shown promising strides early on in 2020. Pickett has not only reeled back areas where he proved volatile in the past, but he has also added to his arsenal and maximized his gunslinger style.

First, let’s take a quick look at Pickett’s improvement with his progression work. Pickett’s had trouble at times becoming more than a one, two-read quarterback, but in 2020, he’s displayed growth as a processor, with the ability to see the field fluctuations at the short, intermediate, and deep ranges. Below, Pickett displays precise timing in the short-range, striking a pass catcher for a first down.

Precise timing and decisiveness are particularly important when working within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, but when working with other ranges, different traits apply. Quarterbacks always need to be decisive, but when the intermediate and deep ranges are in play, eye discipline and patience also take precedence, and a quarterback can’t be too risk-averse, or he’ll leave big plays on the table.

Pickett, with his poise and throw velocity, relishes the opportunity to spread the field, and especially when he has a clean pocket, he’s shown immense improvement at scanning the field and pulling the trigger in a timely manner.

Here’s another example of Pickett working his progressions and adapting when he sees an open man. Again take note of his throw velocity; Pickett’s arm strength allows him to hit deep windows that other quarterbacks can’t. Pickett buys receivers time with his arm, and that’s something not a lot of quarterbacks can say.

Pickett can also buy his receivers space, and in 2020, he’s shown quite a few flashes of exceptional ball placement. Some quarterbacks with arm talent lack the ability or the discretion to adjust the placement of their throws, and some avoid the risky throws that demand this type of fine-tuning.

As we’ve established, however, Pickett isn’t risk-averse. He’s confident in his abilities, and in 2020, he’s been methodically pushing the limits of what he can accomplish. This throw was scaling the edge of that range, as the Pitt QB used his velocity to fit it into an extremely tight, high window, where only his receiver could go up to grab the ball.

That throw from Pickett? Nope, can’t pick that.

Pickett’s ball placement on that pass was precise in a way that brought the ball just past the fingertips of a reaching 6-foot-4 linebacker. Employing that placement is impressive, and that’s not the only kind of placement that Pickett has brought to the table.

On this next play, Pickett completes a pass that’s popular at the next level: the back shoulder throw. Again, he puts the ball where only his receiver can catch it, and while the receiver was ruled down short of the end zone, Pickett’s ability to push the pass outside the defensive back’s reach, without making it uncatchable, speaks to the precision his arm elasticity lends.

In the NFL, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the prototypical pocket passer archetype is fading, and that quarterbacks who can do more, either with their athleticism or with their arm, are simply better investments. While the debate rages on about other draft prospects and their ceilings, Kenny Pickett has already proven that he can do more, by definition.

Can Pitt QB Kenny Pickett become QB4 in the 2021 NFL Draft?

This film breakdown has largely focused on the positives, so it’s important to note that Pickett still has work to do. His fearless play style can have its drawbacks, as he will undoubtedly test some windows that close too quickly. Pickett’s trigger can also be a hair late on occasion, and while the velocity he generates can make up for that, that margin of error won’t be so easily traversable in the NFL.

But the progression in 2020 speaks for itself. Pickett is on pace to shatter his career passing records. Through four games, he has 1,122 yards, six touchdowns, and just two interceptions. His QB rating is up to 146.0 from his junior figure of 122.4, and his average yards per attempt is up from 6.6 to a healthy 8.4.

Additionally, Pickett is coming off his first career 400-yard game, and while that game was a loss, Pickett did everything possible to lead the Panthers to a win. He even delivered an accurate, well-timed pass on Pitt’s final two-point conversion to put Pitt up 31-24. His receiver dropped it, and after the defense allowed a touchdown on the ensuing NC State drive, Pitt lost 30-29.

Kenny Pickett might never achieve the name recognition that other passers have on the collegiate stage, but as an NFL Draft prospect, the Pitt QB deserves far more attention than he’s currently getting.

Pickett needs to show more long-term consistency before he can be considered a sleeper to sneak into the back of Round 1, but Pickett is no doubt a contender to take the QB4 mantle, and if his development follows its current trend, he may take it sooner rather than later. And regardless of where he finishes the 2020 season, Pickett is a quarterback prospect with positive physical traits and eventual starting potential.

If you’re an NFL decision-maker pondering whether Kenny Pickett should be your next Day 2 quarterback selection, I’ve got a quick, easy answer for you.

Yes. Pick’em.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.