After scouting the top quarterbacks in this year’s class at the Senior Bowl, my biggest takeaway might be just how divided we are on some of these prospects. In a class with no perceived franchise quarterbacks, many have labeled Pittsburgh star Kenny Pickett as the best of this group, while others have concerns about his ceiling as a pro. Which view of Pickett is right? Let’s have an honest conversation about Kenny Pickett.
A Pro Ready “QB1”
Many of the strongest proponents of Pickett as the top passer in this class point to him as the most “Pro Ready” prospect in this class. With five seasons and 52 career starts, that’s certainly understandable. That concept is pretty clear when you watch the tape, Pickett for his part, is years ahead of some of the other passers in this class when it comes to seeing pass-catchers before they are open, and throwing them open. His anticipation and decision-making leave me very comfortable with the idea of Pickett going to a team where he may be asked to start as a rookie and not being overwhelmed (Think Mac Jones). Pickett has everything a scout in any previous era would look for in a first-round QB, in the sense that he has the vision and decision making to know where to go with the ball and although he doesn’t have elite accuracy, he’s accurate enough to all three levels to get the ball there.
There are some issues in this narrative however when you take a look at Pickett’s pocket awareness. There have been several instances in the games I’ve watched where Pickett either bails from a clean pocket too early, will sometimes drift into pressure, and in general, has a tendency to get “happy feet” in the pocket. All of those flaws are totally correctable and considering how advanced he is as a passer, I believe it will be corrected.
A Low Ceiling Prospect
Despite Pickett’s great play in 2021, there are real concerns about just how good Pickett can be as a pro. The first thing I notice while watching Pickett is that he often will pass up deeper routes coming open for throws that are shorter and easier which left me questioning his arm strength. Most of the mainstream attention has gone to Pickett’s rumored historically small hands (8.25 inches), and why wouldn’t it? Pickett’s play dramatically improved when he added gloves to both hands and has at least 28 career fumbles. The fact that the pro ball is a little larger than the one they use in college hasn’t helped things.
Good News for Pickett is that he got the opportunity to throw a pro-sized ball at the senior bowl and threw one pretty well. On day one in normal conditions and day three indoors anyway. Day two, in inclement weather was a different story, Pickett was easily the worst QB on the field that day. Was that hand size? Maybe. I personally believe that this was more of a reflection of the arm strength concerns that I voiced at the top of this section because even on the good days, his deep ball tended to die out at the end.
Regardless of the reason, those concerns carried over into the game when Pickett had a great game on paper going 6/6 for 89 yards and a touchdown but threw short rhythm passes, including a seven-yard throw on 3rd and 13 that left some questioning why he was so conservative. Whether it’s the arm, the hand size, or just a safe, conservative mindset; I believe that there is some validity to the concerns over Pickett’s ceiling.
So how do we view Kenny Pickett?
Just like with Malik Willis, I believe that both of these narratives have merit. Pickett is likely both a pro-ready passer that could probably start for an NFL team early in his career and low ceiling starter that may not be capable of competing with the elite physical talents at the position today.
Look at guys like Mac Jones, Teddy Bridgewater and Kirk Cousins as examples of passers that are capable of winning a lot of games in the national football league and you could see a real blueprint for a guy like Pickett to come in and have success early in his career. Like all of them, Pickett feels pretty safe, but no one of them feel like the driving force on a championship squad.
Before the departure of Sean Payton, Pickett felt like a natural fit in New Orleans, in that system, in a dome stadium where Bridgewater himself seemed capable of becoming the most dynamic version of himself. Still, a west coast style system that emphasizes short to intermediate timing routes, preferably in a dome or a warm-weather city will give Pickett and his great anticipation a very high chance of success in the National Football League.