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NFL Draft

Kenny Pickett Is Demanding Your Attention

  • The Draft Network
  • October 6, 2021
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Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett is among the risers so far this season—and he’s been red-hot. He finished out his latest performance with a completion percentage of nearly 64% with 389 yards and four touchdowns.

In his four performances before this past week, Pickett threw for 403 yards, 382 yards, 285 yards, and 272 yards.

If there’s one thing to know when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, it’s that the stat line doesn’t tell the story. But in this case, it kind of does—Pickett is having a huge breakout year after making slow progress. Here’s a look at Pickett’s stat line by the year from 2018 to now.

2018: 180-of-310, 1,969 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT

2019: 289-of-469, 3,098 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT

2020: 203-of-332, 2,408 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT

2021: 121-of-168, 1,731 yards, 19 TD, 1 INT

Quarterback trainer Tony Racioppi has been working with Pickett since the signal-caller was about eight years old, and the two still get together and work on things whenever Pickett gets a break and comes back home. Racioppi has witnessed it all, from the time that Pickett “saved the city of Pittsburgh” with a big outing as a freshman, to the ups and downs, to a potential meteoric rise we could be witnessing now right before our eyes.

Over time, Racioppi noticed a jump in Pickett’s game. He’s got a solid supporting cast around him at Pitt that helps him do his job, but they’re not getting it done alone for him by any means.

Heading into this last week’s matchup against Georgia Tech, Pickett was second in passing touchdowns (15), second in passing efficiency (195.6), third in points responsible for (102), fifth in total offense (365 yards per game), fifth in completion percentage (74.2%), and sixth in passing yards per game (335 yards) among the nation’s quarterbacks.

This is a story of personal forward progress, not a simple screen pass on every play or YAC that is misleading on paper.

“It’s a pro-style offense. There are some spread concepts, but it’s the type of offense that you’re not going to see overly inflated numbers in,” Racioppi said in regards to Pickett's numbers and what they mean. “It’s not like he’s throwing a ton of balls behind the line of scrimmage and guys are just making plays for him. He’s getting the ball out quick and he’s going through his progressions, both areas he’s improved a lot in. Keeping the space in the pocket… I think he was younger, like a lot of guys do, he wouldn’t fully go through his progressions and then he’d take right off. He’s a good athlete… I think a lot of times they get used to that.”

Bailing from the pocket too early hasn’t been a large issue for Pickett in 2021, and it’s something that’s easy to see to Racioppi, as well as watching Pickett go through those progressions. It’s important to note the athletic ability Racioppi spoke of here as well, though—we’ve seen him use it when he is flushed out of the pocket and he’s shown that he can make plays on the run when he is outside of the pocket.

“This year, you see the one, the two, the three,” Racioppi said. “Standing in there, moving around, staying balanced, and making accurate throws. Being able to go beyond your first progression and make it all the way through transmits to Sundays.”

If there’s any one word to describe Pitt’s offense as of late, it’s “explosive.” A lot of that has to do with Pickett’s ability to orchestrate and having receivers that will follow through around him. One of the other things for him is deep ball accuracy. That’s a combination of him getting better as a passer and having better guys around him.

Looking at the other side of things, the intangibles, everything about Pickett says “quarterback.” From his leadership ability to the way he carries himself, these are things that can’t be taught but also things that a player at this position can’t be successful without.

“His intangibles are off the charts,” Racioppi said. “His confidence, his work ethic, he’s got the traits that guys who play in the NFL for a long time have.”

Nearly halfway through the season, Pickett has made a resounding statement and demanded attention, finding himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation. In the midst of a quarterback class that could go in multiple different directions, Pickett is a player once under-the-radar who has demanded to be noticed and could be a much bigger name than he’s being given credit for when April comes around.

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