School: University of Pittsburgh
DOB: 6/6/1998 (23 years old)
Year: Redshirt Senior
Kenny Pickett, a 5th year Senior, is an athletic improvisor type QB, improving vastly from his fourth to fifth year at Pitt, throwing 29 more touchdowns and two less picks. This effort not only helped Pittsburgh win the ACC and have their first 10 win season since 2009, but it made Pickett a Heisman semifinalist and propelled him from a 5th round projection to a day one to two pick. There are many positives to Pickett’s game, and the only true negatives are his small hand size and inconsistencies in various aspects in his game.
Pickett’s hands are about 8 1/4 inches from the end of the pinky to the end of the thumb, which is very small for NFL quarterbacks. The NFL football is larger than the NCAA ball, and this debate has surfaced multiple times over the last few years – most notably with two members of the Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow, in his hand measurement, measured in at 9 inches, significantly below the 9.5 inch mark preferred by NFL teams. This preseason, in his first NFL action, Ja’Marr Chase had many key drops. These lead to many within NFL media raise concerns about the Bengal’s fifth overall pick, but it’s safe to say Chase has been just fine, as he has 68 receptions for 1,163 yards in his first fifteen games in the league.
While these situations are similar, Pickett’s hands are 3/4 of an inch smaller than even Burrow’s, and an inch and a quarter than the preferred size.
Despite emphasis on hand size overall being a myth, with Pickett measuring in at 8 1/4 inches, it is a notable concern, especially for cold, wet environments who could be in the market for a QB, like the Steelers, Browns or Lions (yes they play indoors, but have to play divisional road games too). Overall, hands shouldn’t be a reason to pass on Pickett, but rather the inconsistencies in his game – despite his remarkable potential in this league.
Film Report: Kenny Pickett (Pitt)
Pickett flashes many strengths in his game, from physical traits like arm strength, athleticism as a runner, extending plays, and great accuracy on every throw, to technical traits like reading a defense before the snap, pocket presence and his decision making. The reason he is not a top five pick is the inconsistencies in executing those traits. Here at The SportsHeadlines Show, we pride ourselves in recognizing and explaining prospect’s strengths and weaknesses, and grading each of them on an eight point scale.
As a runner, Pickett has shown the athleticism time after time to escape sacks, extend plays and be shifty in the open field, and this will be an asset for him at the NFL level. We grade him as an average to above average NFL level athlete at quarterback, with traits good enough to get the edge on linebackers and be incorporated into an offense’s rushing attack.
Overall, Pickett has reliable mechanics, featuring good hip/shoulder separation, good drive off his back leg and finish. These can be improved upon- specifically his hip/ shoulder separation and drive off his back leg. Pickett occasionally steps into his throws downfield but doesn’t drive and transfer his weight from the inside of his back knee, leaving balls underthrown. These throws will frequently lead to interceptions from in phase and out of phase NFL DBs and sometimes a highlight for his receiver. Pickett also can struggle with his hip/ shoulder separation and rhythm, which results in throws outside the numbers and/or downfield being off target.
Pickett, while in the pocket, has a good grasp on sensing pressure, stepping up and leaking out of any gap that pass rushers vacate. He will, however, occasionally neglect to step up when edge rushers come flying around and instead bails the pocket. This could be a problem in the NFL as more experienced defensive coordinators and head coaches will run stunts and blitz or spy a linebacker or defensive back to the side they want Pickett to evacuate the pocket, leading to a forced throw, throwaway or sack.
Pickett projects to be a capable play extender at the NFL level, but he is no Aaron Rodgers. While extending plays Pickett’s eyes can drop to those rushing him instead of looking for a receiver down field, which is an immediate red flag for a quarterback. If a quarterback’s eyes drop, he almost guarantees a scramble, and voids any potential big play or conversion, both limiting the offense and allowing the defense to rally around him, making his scramble attempt harder. Pickett is also predictable, as he generally escapes to the right side of the formation – his throwing side.
Pickett’s processing will need time to adjust and get up to NFL speed once drafted. His pre snap reads are fine, but once the ball is snapped, Pickett rushes or doesn’t see a disguised defense. This is best shown in their game against Tennessee, when the Volunteers gave a two high safety look, signaling a cover two or four, then drop one safety into a cover three. Pickett would either rush to a checkdown, extend the play, or throw the ball to the receiver that he was eyeing pre-snap. That type of throw is the throw that gets intercepted by an NFL defender. Pickett also occasionally struggle to get through his reads or else eliminate 1/2 of the field and only read (mostly) the right side.
As a thrower, inside and outside the pocket, Pickett can make some very good decisions and follow them up with great throws. It is the mistakes, however, that cost your team and Pickett has and will make them. Weather it’s throwing the ball when he shouldn’t, or even not throwing the ball when he absolutely should. As a quarterback there is a time and a place to take chances, and two QBs who do that best is Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow. Pickett will flash this potential at times, throwing a great lead pass with anticipation around a linebacker and in front of a DB, but there are other times where Pickett forces a ball in an unfavorable situation (1st and 10, 2nd and short, etc) that puts them behind the chains or turns the ball over. This cannot happen at the NFL level, or Pickett will turn into a Teddy Bridgewater (best case) to a Nathan Peterman.
Pickett often flashes a brilliant ability to throw the ball on the run, 50 yards downfield into the bucket, but there are other times where Pickett will set his feet and throw a wobbling, slow ball and it either falls short or gets batted away. This can and likely will improve, given better coaching and a focus on his mechanics, but as a rookie at the NFL level Pickett projects to have a slightly above average arm.
Throw Under Pressure
Kenny Pickett has good ability to throw with pressure, and deliver NFL caliber throws on target with a little mustard on ’em. When a defender gets a hand in Pickett’s face, he can still finish throws accurately with power to his receiver, and that is a good trait to be skilled at as a prospect, as you will likely be drafted by a team with a porous offensive line. Pickett grades out as an above average NFL passer under pressure. This, combined with his ability to improvise, run and recognize blitzes should lead to good things in the NFL.
Quick Throw Accuracy
Quick passes, while seemingly the easiest to complete, do come with their challenges. In order to successfully complete these, a QB must have a good release and true shoulders, and Kenny Pickett has that. He grades out well on short passes, but a notable weakness in this factor of his game is quick passes outside the numbers, especially when there is a chasing defender. He tends to lead his receiver to much, or airmails/spikes the ball, leading to an incompletion or diving catch. When Pickett’s throws are accurate, they are often without placement, and in an inconvenient spot for the receiver. Throws without placement either lead the receiver into a defender, or don’t allowing him to run after the catch by making the receiver slow down or turn his upper half to catch, giving the defender an extra step to catch him.
NFL Throw Accuracy
For those who are not familiar with this term, an “NFL” throw is one that requires good arm strength, usually in the 20-50 yard distance includes yardage behind the line of scrummage, so if a QB drop 10 yards and throws a twelve yard comeback outside the numbers, the quarterback will have to throw the ball about 30-35 yards for that diagonal throw. On these throws, Pickett grades out just fine, although he does tend to underthrow balls because of mechanics (referenced above) and his placement is often in the right spot, although he is not inaccurate and can still hit said throws. His ability to throw with touch and anticipation will help him tremendously once his processor speeds up to the NFL game.
Deep Throw Accuracy
Pickett has enormous potential to have a good NFL deep ball – especially while improvising. That being said, his lapses in mechanics and lack of placement on his throws will keep his deep ball inconsistent until they are fixed. Pickett’s ability to throw with anticipation and touch will help him push the ball down field. For instance, throw a post or corner rout in front of the deep defender but over the shallow man.
Off Platform Throws
One of Pickett’s signature talents is his ability to improvise, and with that comes amazing, highlight reel off platform throws. He is especially good to his right, almost assuredly because that is his throwing side. Pickett is the type of quarterback who will escape a sack attempt, dodge a rusher, sprint right and throw 40 yards downfield and hit his receiver. By no means is he Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but he has the potential to make unreal plays in year one in the NFL.