Height: 6’3 (and a quarter-inch)
40-yard dash: 4.73 seconds (72nd percentile)
Vertical: 33.5 inches (75th)
Broad: 121 inches (91st)
HAND SIZE: 8.5 inches (1st)
A 3-star recruit from New Jersey, Pickett chose Pittsburgh among 11 offers – the most notable others coming from UNC, Iowa, Boston College and Temple.
Pickett appeared in 4 games as a freshman, including 1 start. He took over the offense in 2018, starting all 14 games for the Panthers but posted forgettable numbers for a run-heavy team. Pickett racked up a 316-yard, 3-TD game against Wake Forest that November, but that marked his only outing with 200+ yards all season. Pickett reached 2 TD passes in a game just 3 other times.
Pittsburgh passed more frequently the following year, averaging 39.5 pass attempts vs. 33.7 rushes per game. That marked a significant shift from 22.6 passes and 40.8 rushes per contest in 2018. Pickett eclipsed 300 yards passing in 5 of 13 games but still managed unimpressive numbers overall in an offense that ranked 114th in scoring among 130 D-1 programs. Pickett finished that campaign by earning the Quick Lane Bowl MVP honors with 27-of-39 passing for 361 yards and 3 TDs in the win over Eastern Michigan.
Pickett started 9 of 11 contests in the COVID-affected 2020 season, missing the other 2 with an ankle injury. His passing yards per game improved from 258.2 to 267.6. But his overall production remained limited in an offense that ranked just 10th among 15 ACC teams in points per game and 13th in yards.
Pickett finally exploded in his 5th season of eligibility, winning conference player of the year and offensive player of the year. He added the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and earned 2nd-team AP All-America status. Pickett’s 4,319 passing yards ranked 6th in FBS and set a school record. His 42 TD throws set a conference record. And his big stat leap carried him to school career marks in passing yards (12,303) and TD passes (81).
Games watched: Penn State 2019, Louisville 2020, Clemson 2020, Clemson 2021, UNC 2021
Once you get past him wearing a glove, Pickett looks fine as a passer.
In his earliest samples, the Pitt QB struck me as more of a good college QB than a future pro, especially for his bouts of inaccuracy, inconsistent ball placement and some questionable decisions. There particularly seems to be a tendency to sail some throws over the middle.
Pickett also didn’t flash the best deep ball early in his career.
That play netted a long gain, but Pickett should have been able to hit his receiver over the top rather than forcing him to come back for the ball and sacrifice yardage (as well as make a more difficult catch).
Pro Football Focus’ numbers point to Pickett improving in both areas last season. Check out this progression on his deep passing …
According to PFF, he delivered “big-time throws” on 24 of 67 deep attempts in 2021 (35.8%), compared with 29 among 157 deep attempts (18.5%) over his 1st 3 seasons as starter. (PFF defines a “big-time throw” as “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.”)
Here’s some nice deep touch – on the move – for a TD against Clemson last season.
That said, here’s another downfield throw left short vs. Georgia Tech.
Overall, Pickett appeared to dramatically improve his passing in his final campaign. His total PFF passing grade leaped vs. prior years …
... and ranked 2nd among all FBS passers. Pickett also delivered career bests in average target depth, adjusted completion rate and rate of turnover-worthy plays.
Here's 1 more particularly well-placed ball.
Pickett has earned praise for his rushing and ran well at the Combine. But he’s more daring scrambler than challenging blazer on the field.
His speed did seem to improve last season, but we’re probably looking at more of a Carson Wentz-level runner than anything more.And, of course, defenses will now be ready for the fake slide.
The biggest question with Pickett might seriously be whether his hands are too small. And it does matter … just maybe not for the reason you’d think.
We could look back on the history of QBs with similarly sized hands … if we actually had any. And that’s the thing. When Pickett gets drafted, he will have the smallest hands of any QB in the NFL. (Hence, 1st percentile.) The current “leader” is Saints “QB” Taysom Hill (8.75 inches).
Of the 600 QBs in the Scouting Combine database (dating back to the 1980s), only 25 have ever measured 8.5 inches or smaller in hand size. The top NFL performers from that group? Jeff Blake, Ty Detmer, Koy Detmer and Michael Vick.
Among current pro starters, Joe Burrow, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff and Drew Lock present the smallest hands, at 9 inches (8th percentile).
How much does that extra half-inch matter? We really have no idea. And we don’t have much (any?) evidence that QB hand size matters at all.
But it obviously matters to NFL decision makers to at least some degree. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother measuring. And Pickett wouldn’t have bothered skipping the 1st measurement at the Senior Bowl. Why did he do that?
"The reason I didn't measure at the Senior Bowl was just to have those extra couple weeks, just kind of a commonsense thing, to have more time working the exercises," Pickett said Wednesday in Indianapolis.
The exercises? Yeah, a regimen focused on relaxing the hand muscles and maximizing the measurement. And he’s not the 1st QB to try it. Brandon Allen apparently succeeded in expanding his hands back in 2016 with a hand masseuse.
Now, if Pickett could grip and throw the college ball just fine with his tiny mitts, he should be able to do so in the pros as well. (Although, the ball does get slightly larger in the NFL.) So the big question isn’t really: are his hands big enough to control the NFL football?
The big question is: How much will NFL teams care?
Grinding the Mocks – which aggregates mock drafts to assess players’ expected draft position – currently has Pickett going 2nd among QBs, 11th among all players and in the top half of Round 1 (Pick 13.4).
If that comes to fruition, we’ll ignore the hand story going forward. But what if he slips to early in the 2nd round and, say, 5th in this QB class? That would be more concerning.
Of more fantasy import right now, though, is just how good a runner Pickett might be. We’ve seen individual samples of his mobility. And his 72nd-percentile 40 time backs up that he can do it. His college ground production, however, was nothing special.
This study from 2020 found rushing production to be predictive of NFL success for a QB – even more so than passing production. This makes sense. According to the study, college passing performance matters for predicting whether a QB gets drafted. But once we whittle the college QB group down to those that make the NFL, we see wider variations in rushing proficiency than passing.
At the core of the study was QB yards per carry in college. Although a flawed stat in general, college yards per carry in this case has the benefit of encapsulating both how the QB produced as a runner and how he fared at avoiding sacks.
Pickett’s career 1.9 yards per rush and 4 starting years at 2.4 or worse suggest he didn’t stand out in either area. A QB’s rushing proficiency only gets more important when we’re seeking fantasy value, because it boosts both the floor and ceiling for his fantasy scoring. And the league’s QB evolution has reached a point where you’re not so much missing out on ceiling by not having a QB who can run; you’re now in danger of falling behind all the league mates who do have one.
We’ll see about the final piece here: his NFL landing spot. But it’s tough to see right now what will make Pickett a standout fantasy asset – even if a team gives him a big thumbs up.