Why aren’t Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III playing in the Peach Bowl?

Opt-outs in today's college football have become increasingly common, but why did Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker opt-out of the Peach Bowl?

Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III won’t be in action when their respective teams face off in the Peach Bowl on Thursday. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for the bowl game, each team, and their college football fan bases as the Panthers’ and Spartans’ most polarizing players will not participate. However, it’s the right decision for Pickett and Walkers’ future careers.

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Kenny Pickett could be QB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft

The reason for Pickett to sit out of the 2021 Peach Bowl is simple: preservation. There is no more difficult position to play in team sports than quarterback, and the risk of injury is too high for Pickett. He’s preparing for the next step of his football journey — potentially becoming the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Pickett explained his decision to forgo the Peach Bowl in a social media post. He started by thanking the man who started it all for him.

“To the University of Pittsburgh, thank you for all that you have given me over the past five years. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi, thank you for being by my side throughout my entire career and teaching me life lessons every step of the way.”

Pat Narduzzi and Pickett have had an incredible relationship. Narduzzi stuck with Pickett through it all, and it led to a historic 2021 season. Pickett threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns en route to a bevy of season-ending awards and an ACC Championship. With that in mind, Pickett let his intentions be known for skipping the Peach Bowl.

“I am incredibly proud to say I was a part of the team that brought back another trophy to the City of Champions. With love and gratitude, I have decided to forgo the Peach Bowl and begin training for the 2022 NFL Draft.”

Pickett will now go through the offseason gauntlet of workouts and examinations. He’ll be one of six quarterbacks at the 2022 Senior Bowl and a shoo-in for the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. How it all shakes out is going to be compelling to watch. Forgoing the Peach Bowl was just another step in Pickett’s journey to the NFL.

Kenneth Walker III could also be the top player at his position

Don’t look now, but there is a world that Walker could be the top running back selected. Sure, he ran for 1,636 yards on the ground and wasn’t quite featured in the passing game as much as you’d like for an RB1. But the fact remains that Walker is a breed of his own.

He is now a record holder at Wake Forest and Michigan State. His ability to evade defenders while somehow accelerating through his breaks is special. Like Pickett, Walker thanked his head coach and explained his decision to forgo the Peach Bowl in a social media post.

“It has been a true honor to represent Michigan State University and wear the Green and White. I am beyond grateful to Coach (Mel) Tucker and the entire staff for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to shine under their leadership. As the regular season has come to a close, I would like to announce that I have decided to forgo playing in the Peach Bowl to begin preparation for the NFL Draft.”

In the same vein as Pickett, preparation for the NFL Draft is paramount for a running back. The shelf life of an RB in today’s NFL is arguably the shortest of any position. And the risk of injury is too severe. Walker now has four months to showcase his abilities off the field.

If he can advertise what made him so special on the field for the past three seasons, look for Walker to hear name called first next April. He’s already being mentioned with Isaiah Spiller and Breece Hall, and that’s some elite company.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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