The rising quarterback class has been under the microscope for the last seven months with most evaluators having a lukewarm perspective on the options available. My personal rankings of the position group look totally different today than they did entering the season, but when that initial board was set, it was clear that someone needed to emerge to claim the QB1 spot. That’s exactly what happened when it comes to Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
While it’s never a guarantee, we’ve seen a quarterback have a meteoric rise in just about every recent season. Last year it was Zach Wilson, in 2020 it was Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield flew up the board in 2018, and Mitchell Trubisky had a massive jump in 2017.
Having kept track of Pickett since 2017, I didn’t expect this to happen. Studying him during the summer before this season, I came away thinking he was a mid-round prospect that could serve as a reliable backup in the NFL. After evaluating his 2021 season and writing my final film assessment on Pickett, I expect him to be the quarterback I pound the table for when it comes to the 2022 class.
Let’s examine why I’m IN on Pickett.
The 2021 Season
Pickett had the best season of any draft-eligible quarterback and it’s not particularly close. Re-writing the Panthers’ record books, Pickett assembled arguably the best season in ACC history for a quarterback. Completing 67.2% of his passes, Pickett threw for 4,319 yards with 42 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions, and an NFL passer rating of 116.6.
Running a pro-style system that saw Pickett exhaust progressions, challenge all levels of the field, display comfort under pressure, and consistently produce week in and week out, he was impressive in 2021 en route to being a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Pickett completely changed the narratives surrounding him as a prospect based on a dominant 2021 campaign and he left no doubt. He outshined every other draft-eligible quarterback and separated himself from the pack.
With a modest supporting cast, no new influx of talent, and the same offensive coordinator since 2019, Pickett’s personal growth as a player is the No. 1 reason why he achieved the results that he did in 2021. While it’s challenging to foil 2021 against his previous three seasons as a starter, the bottom line is that he proved that he’s an ascending talent that played his best football during his final season.
While so many college quarterbacks leave school early and struggle during their rookie season in the NFL, Pickett stayed in school and worked out many of the kinks. Collecting 49 starts at Pittsburgh and logging more than 1,600 passing attempts, Pickett allowed his college career to play out and gained valuable reps in a pro-style system that set him up favorably to take his game to the next level.
Among my favorite areas of growth that I have observed from studying Pickett is his confidence and command within the offense. He’s grown so much as a decision-maker and leader, and making those strides before being in an NFL locker room is such a benefit to him as a quarterback.
If the player we watched in 2021 is what Pickett will be moving forward, there is no doubt about his ability to develop into a franchise NFL quarterback.
The Skill Set
Not only did Pickett demonstrate significant growth in 2021 and assembled the best season of any quarterback in the class, but it all comes back to his ability on the field. That’s what solidifies why I’m in on Pickett as the top quarterback in the 2022 class.
I loved the way he played in 2021. All season long, Pickett consistently worked progressions and was unbothered by the chaos around him. He surveyed the defense and confidently slotted throws to all levels of the field with outstanding ball placement. His entire process as a passer is synched up and coordinated. His upper and lower body are in unison, he got himself aligned to targets, and dealt the football all season long.
The Pittsburgh offense didn’t elevate Pickett. There is very little in the way of manufactured or schemed throws to create cheap production. He embraced the philosophy of “read it and rip it” while showcasing himself as a progression-style passer.
Pickett brings good size and mobility to the table and is comfortable working off-script and hitting throws outside of structure. At his core, Pickett is a gunslinger but I appreciate how he blends that aggressive mentality with sound decision-making.
The bottom line is this: Pickett brings good size, mobility, accuracy, poise, toughness, and leadership to the table. That combined with the growth, results, time on task in a pro-style system, and how he separated himself from his peers on the field is why I’m in on Pickett as an NFL quarterback.