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High-Flying, Complete Performances and Big(ger) Hands: Winners from Pitt’s 2022 Pro Day

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Kenny Pickett drew the crowds on Monday, but it wasn’t just Pickett who stood out during Pitt’s Pro Day at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. While Pickett connected on tightly thrown deep balls, Damarri Mathis and Johnny Petrishen rose some eyebrows.

Mathis continued his stellar NFL Combine experience from earlier this month while Petrishen finally got to show off for NFL scouts, coaches and executives after being snubbed an invite to Indianapolis.

It wasn’t just Mathis and Petrishen who stood out Monday, with Phil Campbell III, Melquise Stovall, Lucas Krull and Keyshon Camp also testing well, but the defensive stalwarts in 2021 showcased a blend of athletic prowess and crucial measurements that should complement strong careers in Pittsburgh.

Mathis, who measured in at 5-foot-11 1/8, 198 pounds at Pitt’s Pro Day, showcased his talent as one of the most athletic cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. After his 4.39 official 40-yard dash time at the Combine, he didn’t run again Monday, but his testing was off the charts.

With a 43.5-inch vertical, no one jumped higher at the Combine, and an 11.1-foot broad jump Monday, Mathis still would’ve liked to jump higher than he did — pointing to his personal best of 45 inches — but he was pleased with his general performance.

“I was always confident in my abilities,” Mathis said after Pro Day. “(Jason Pinnock) tested very well, and I felt like I was going to test very well as well. I just know myself, know my abilities and I’m very confident in that.”

While Mathis may not have been too impressed with his high-flying vertical, he could tell the scouts, coaches and executives in attendance — along with his teammates — were very impressed.

“I feel like everybody’s impressed, when I jumped, everybody was like, ‘Woooo!’ So, I’m happy for that,” Mathis said.

Despite the strong performance, Mathis is taking it one step at a time. Instead of worrying about the what-ifs, he’s controlling what he can and letting his performance at Pitt, the Combine and Pro Day speak for itself. And after those performances, he said he’s spoken with everybody over the last month — including the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s close, I know it,” Mathis said about the Steelers’ organization. “I’ve done lived here for five years now. They’re a real aggressive defense, I feel like I’m an aggressive player. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Regardless of whether or not Mathis’s Pro Day performance impressed the Steelers, it should help increase his draft stock as March shifts into April.

Another strong performance came from Petrishen, who like Mathis, felt like his already stellar vertical could have been even better than it was.

“Vertical jump, I hit 40 last week but where we were training, we went you go as many times as you can until you miss,” Petrishen said after his Pro Day performance Monday. “Where here you only got two jumps. So, sometimes the first jump you don’t go full out, you kinda just go up to get a baseline.”

Petrishen, who measured at 6-foot-0 7/8 and 227 pounds, gave Mathis a run for his money with a 38.5-inch vertical leap, and he added 20 reps on the bench press, a 4.55 40-yard dash time and a 10-foot broad jump while displaying excellent quickness in the three-cone and shuttle drills.

After a breakout season at linebacker in 2021, making the jump from safety to Star ‘backer in Pitt’s defense, it was the type of performance — at 230 pounds — that could really open NFL teams’ eyes.

“I heard today that, everybody said I really helped myself out today,” Petrishen said. “People said I could run my way into the draft with my numbers today. I talked to a lot of teams, they said they like me a lot … maybe I’ll have a few texts to get back to.”

It was a day that was important for Petrishen, after not participating at the NFL Combine as he was not invited, but at the end of the day, he just went out and competed.

“I haven’t seen the official numbers yet, but I had a lot of fun,” Petrishen said. “Obviously, for me, no matter what my numbers would be, I obviously wanted to do better because that’s how I am.”

Petrishen said he liked some of his numbers, and others not so much, but his vertical — again at 230 pounds — was one that he liked — and it came from playing a lot of basketball while growing up and good genetics. He said that some people thought he had springs in his shoes after his vertical, but that’s just the results of hard work and genetics.

While Petrishen obviously prepared basically his whole life for his Pro Day performance, working just as hard since Pitt’s season ended in late December, he still had to keep himself focused — not getting too high or too low. Despite the eyes on him, he just wanted to take Pro Day for what it was and appreciate the opportunity.

“I was telling my dad, it’s probably the most important interview of my life today,” Petrishen said. “You know, doing this in front of everybody. I kinda like having all eyes on me, it gives me more energy, more adrenaline.”

Like Mathis, Petrishen was able to interact with the Steelers’ staff over the years, but getting to actually work with Mike Tomlin and his staff Monday was a whole new experience. Being called “JP” by the NFL coaches was a surreal experience at the end of the day.

While Petrishen still has a long way to go to the NFL Draft in April, his Pro Day performance cemented him as a legit NFL-caliber player. And it only takes one team to pull the trigger and take a chance during the seven rounds.

With Mathis and Petrishen performing in the hopes of either rising or jumping onto draft boards, Pickett is already one of the top prospects in the draft. Consistently ranked among the very best quarterbacks in the class, impressing at the Senior Bow, Combine and now Pro Day, he’s well on his way to being highly drafted.

With a strong day at the Combine, measuring in at 6-foot-3 3/8, 219 pounds, he showcased a big arm, strong athleticism and increased poise in managing his throwing drills. He even saw another measurement

After measuring at an 8 1/2 inch hand at the Combine, his hand size grew an eighth of an inch to measure at 8 5/8 inches Monday. Of course, Pickett’s hand size has raised a national uproar, but he wasn’t concerned about the measurement.

“You can’t control that kind of thing, and I’ve really enjoyed just this whole process,” Pickett said after Pro Day Monday. “I grew up watching the combine with my dad on Sundays and Saturdays and Saturday morning, so it’s all a dream to me being here and everything. I always hoped to be here, so it’s been an awesome experience.”

With a strong day of throwing in front of staff from nearly ever NFL team, including a very strong contingent from the Carolina Panthers, Pickett thought it was a great day.

As Pitt players performed well across the board Monday, it was a great day for Pitt football as a whole.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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