Pitt redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett’s draft chances have been a hot topic since he was likely a Day 3 prospect before the 2021 NFL Draft. In choosing to return to Pitt for his last ride, he’s not only catapulted the Panthers into the College Football Playoff race and himself into the Heisman race but he’s also boosted his draft stock beyond compare.
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released a new big board for the 2022 NFL Draft, and Pickett was the new top quarterback on his list.
New 2022 Big Board … and a new No. 1 quarterback. https://t.co/DiuWS5IdEY
— Mel Kiper Jr. (@MelKiperESPN) October 26, 2021
While Pickett was previously unranked on Kiper’s Top 25 big board, he pointed to the win over Clemson in propelling Pickett into the list and past the other quarterbacks on his list, writing:
“Pickett is making a leap not unlike Joe Burrow’s from two seasons ago. After his impressive performance against Clemson, I’m ready to put him on my Big Board. The fifth-year senior has been tremendous this season, completing 68.9% of his passes with 23 touchdowns and just one interception. He ranks third in the country in QBR (88.1). He has 18 career rushing touchdowns. Pickett was up and down the past two seasons, throwing 18 picks and averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. He’s up to 9.2 this season. He is accurate to all three levels of the field, has shown patience in taking the checkdown throws when necessary and has good zip on his throws. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has done a great job with Pickett’s development.
Now, he has started 43 games in his Pitt career, so NFL teams will like that he has experience. (The last first-rounder with that many starts was Baker Mayfield with 46.) But Pickett does have some bad tape on his résumé, so scouts and execs are going to have to be comfortable with his improvement and believe that he’s a different quarterback. The signs are there, and his ability to use his legs to maneuver the pocket and scramble when he has to is underrated. I really like Pickett’s 2021 tape. In a quarterback class that is far from settled, he’s my new No. 1 guy.”
A top-ranked quarterback designation from Kiper, a noted NFL Draft analyst, bodes well for Pickett’s chances this year. And while he’s most likely a fringe first round selection as of this moment, his stock should continue rise as he flashes his improved mechanics, deep ball accuracy and scrambling ability later into the season.
Pro Football Network’s Ben Rolfe wasn’t as high on Pickett in his 2022 mock draft article, but he did project Pickett as a first rounder to the Detroit Lions with the 28th pick.
2022 NFL Mock Draft 🚨
Another week of the Mock Draft Simulator and Kenny Pickett is working his way into the first round ⤵️https://t.co/4bFM6XKJGZ
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) October 26, 2021
Rolfe noted how the Lions passed on a quarterback with their earlier first round selection and couldn’t pass again, writing:
“The Lions passed up a QB at the top of the first round, but they cannot do so again at the back end of the round. Another fast riser this season has been QB Kenny Pickett, and he could rise even higher in the first round yet. Question marks remain around several elements in Pickett’s game, but he has certainly opened eyes so far with his play in 2021.”
Ole Miss’s Matt Corral, Liberty’s Malik Willis, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Nevada’s Carson Strong were all picked ahead of Pickett in the mock draft, being selected third, eighth, 12th and 18th before Pickett was selected 28th.
So far this season, Pickett has passed for 2,236 yards and 23 touchdowns on 168-of-244 passing attempts — 68.9 percent completion at 9.2 yards per attempt. He’s only thrown one interception, and he’s rushed for an additional 195 yards and three touchdowns.
With Pitt sitting at 6-1 and ranked 17th in the country, Pickett and the Panthers are firmly in control of the ACC and appear destined for a clash against No. 13 Wake Forest in the ACC title game in a handful of weeks. If Pickett continues to thrive, he should be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy too.
Pickett’s draft stock could continue to skyrocket should his play lead Pitt to an ACC championship and Heisman appearance.