Kenny Pickett is expected to be one of the first names called in the NFL draft by a quarterback-needy team. He’s already a rarity, and not just from his tremendous 2021 production. Pickett is 23 years old, and played for five seasons at the University of Pittsburgh thanks to the NCAA rule that allowed an extra year of eligibility after the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Most elite quarterbacks will declare for the draft after three seasons and may have only started one or two years. Pickett was a true four-year starter and had his first start in the final game of his true freshman season when the unranked Panthers beat the No. 2 ranked Hurricanes.
He set all the passing records for the school, including 12,303 yards and 81 touchdowns. He added 20 rushing scores. He played in the same system all four years and showed growth and progress as a passer, enough so that his 2021 season saw their offense rely more on his arm with great results.
Weight: 220 pounds
40 time: 4.67 seconds
Pickett saw success as a pocket passer but did himself great favor by staying at Pitt for that extra year of eligibility. He had been a good quarterback but exploded in 2021, passing for 4,3129 yards and 42 touchdowns. He won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was named as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year.
Table: Kenny Pickett NCAA stats (2019-21)
- Mature and experienced
- Gunslinger mentality but not reckless
- Composed in the pocket
- Highly accurate at all levels of the field
- Pocket passer but can gain rushing yards if needed
- Great leader
- Consistently improved his game
- Excellent timing on passes beats coverage
- Can make tight throws even on the run
- Patient passer that reads defenses as they evolve on plays
- High football IQ
- Extends plays with his feet
- Smallest hands at the NFL Combine spawn concerns in wet or cold games. Also fumbled 38 times over his five seasons.
- Only one elite season at Pitt
- Heavy pass rush can make rattle him
- Occasionally overconfident in his ability to thread the needle
Pickett was a likely middle-round NFL draft pick until 2021, when his level of play greatly increased, and he displayed the form that suggested he could succeed at the pro level. Expectations are that he’ll be a first-round pick to a QB-needy team, and he’s even the top quarterback on at least a few draft boards.
Whether his hand size is an issue remains to be proven. It is troublesome that he fumbled 38 times in college and that could be an issue by itself, not even factoring in how many rain or cold games he might play. But he’s excelled at the NCAA level and shown solid progress in all his years.
Pickett can extend plays via the run and score the short touchdown, but his fantasy value and NFL value will be tied to what he can do as a pocket passer. The teams expected to upgrade their quarterbacks via the NFL draft (Falcons, Panthers, Steelers, Seahawks) have decent receivers, but none are expected to produce upper-half of the league stats this year.
Several other NFL teams could consider an early quarterback – Commanders, Saints, Eagles, Giants and Texans. Playing at Pitt for five years means that Pickett is more mature and experienced than any of the other top quarterbacks in the draft, so he’ll almost certainly be selected with the expectation of a Week 1 starting role.
Pickett is most associated with the Steelers and he’s visited the Lions as well. The majority of scouts believe either he or Malik Willis will be the first quarterback taken. But the Panthers and Seahawks will also be potential landing spots.