South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens enters the 2023 NFL Draft cycle as one of the more underrated positional prospects in his class. Some mocks have Pickens falling to Day 3, but will he even make it that far? Here’s more on Pickens’ profile and his projection.
Zacch Pickens NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: South Carolina
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’3 5/8″, 300 pounds
- Length: 34 1/8″
- Wingspan: 81 7/8″
- Hand: 10″
It’s fair to wonder if Pickens would have more buzz had he gone to a school like Alabama, Clemson, or Michigan. The five-star recruit, who some likened to 2019 first-round pick Christian Wilkins, had offers from all three schools. But hailing from Anderson, South Carolina, Pickens instead chose to stay in-state and play for the Gamecocks.
It’s not like South Carolina doesn’t have a track record on the defensive line. They’ve produced several early-round prospects on the defensive front, including 2014 first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw. But interestingly, even with this history, Pickens himself has gone overlooked.
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The surface-level factors are kind to Pickens. He’s a five-star talent at an SEC program that’s produced quality defensive linemen before. On top of that, he has solid production (80 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks since 2021), and the tape matches as well.
After a strong final season, Pickens’ play earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he again flashed his promise. He’s trending up as the draft cycle carries on, but based on the film, where does Pickens ultimately deserve to go off the board?
Zacch Pickens Scouting Report
- Well-built defender with a great combination of natural leverage and proportional length.
- Explosive athlete with a quick get-off at the snap and easy momentum generation.
- Combination of explosiveness and proportional length amounts to stellar power capacity.
- Can recover after initial displacement with his stout lower body and lateral athleticism.
- Flashes brutal knock-back power with hands, slabbing help blockers with violent swims.
- Has the strength and leverage to control single gaps, then wrench free from blocks.
- Has great hand placement and initial alignment as a one-gap DL, anchoring quickly.
- Can use swims, clubs, and rips on top of power, and flashes good ankle flexion.
- Disciplined run defender who also has the lateral agility to redirect past moving blocks.
- Hot-motor rusher off the snap who brings great urgency and energy into contact.
Areas for Improvement
- Does show minute hip stiffness at times, failing to roll past blocks after extending.
- Stiffness sometimes prevents him from recovering after initial pass-rushing moves stall.
- Sometimes drifts upright quickly after contact, stalling power rushes and drive inside.
- Sometimes gives up too much surface area trying to surge through gaps in run defense.
- At times, can more effectively get outside pulling guards and activate torque.
- Placement of initial pass-rushing moves can be cleaner and more precise.
- Brings solid energy in pursuit, but visibly lacks elite pursuit speed and range.
South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens Current Draft Projection
Pickens grades out as a potential top-75 talent in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s one of many intriguing Day 2 defensive tackle prospects and should go on to be a quality 3-tech in the league, with some measured alignment versatility beyond that.
More than anything else, a DT’s purpose is two-fold. As a pass rusher, you displace and disrupt the pocket. As a run defender, you hold your ground and obstruct blocking schemes. Pickens is one of the more reliable DTs in the draft when it comes to both displacing and holding his positioning.
Pickens’ stout, well-leveraged frame, sturdy lower body, core strength, and proportional length all serve to grant him exceptional ability as a run defender. But when he can pin his ears back and rush the passer, he shows off eye-popping quickness off the snap and can combine that with his length to generate awesome power and force at contact.
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There is still room for further refinement for Pickens with his hand usage and leverage management, but he’s not a project by any means. He has a working pass-rush arsenal on top of his raw power, and he’s very consistent with his initial leverage acquisition.
Right away, Pickens can be a valuable rotational piece with starting utility, both as a 4-3 DT and a 3-4 end. In time, he has the upside to be an impact starter in multiple phases.