Pitt’s Kenny Pickett at Senior Bowl out to prove he’s no one-year wonder

MOBILE, Ala. -- Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett didn’t like the news he received from Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy last year.

Pickett was told he’d be a Day 3 -- rounds 4 through 7 -- draft pick. He went back to college and after a monster season, he’s considered the top quarterback in the draft class entering Senior Bowl week.

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The 73rd annual Senior Bowl, the premier pre-draft All-Star game, is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium. NFL Network will televise the game.

Pickett (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) was a three-year starter at Pitt, but hadn’t distinguished himself in the ACC. He was invited to the Senior Bowl after the 2020 season.

“I never B.S. these players,” Nagy said. “I shoot them straight. I think a real problem with college athletes and football players is that everyone tells these guys what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

“So, I was really, really straight up with Kenny, you know, just based off what we thought and from getting grades back from the NFL. He was going to be a Day 3 player.”

Pickett didn’t necessarily agree, but took the information in stride. He went back to Pitt, and torched every defensive back in the ACC.

He was spectacular in a 52-21 rout of Georgia Tech on Oct. 1 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. He completed 23 of 36 passes (63.9%) for 389 yards and four touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets.

He made good use of an extra season of eligibility and tossed 40 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He completed 334 of 497 passes for 4,066 yards as he set several school records.

He finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

“Jim gave me great advice,” Pickett said. “Everything I was hearing was Day 3. I just looked at myself as a higher player than that. So, I wanted to come back and really improve my game and have no regrets in this process. I gave everything I had one last time.”

Nagy first spotted Pickett at the Manning passing camp three summers ago.

“I didn’t even know who he was,” said Nagy, a former NFL scout. “I was down there (watching) Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and that group.”

While the top prospects were working, Pickett was alone working on his footwork.

“Saw a big, good-looking guy that was out there doing extra work,” Nagy said. “He was putting it in. That just stuck with me right away. Then we connected the next year.”

Pickett is one of the six quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Nevada’s Carson Strong will play for the National team.

North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Liberty’s Malik Willis (from Westlake and Roswell high schools), and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe will play on the American team. Willis started his career at Auburn.

Pickett could be the first quarterback taken in the draft.

“He’s just different player on tape,” Nagy said. “He’s just getting out of the pocket more this year, showing a lot more mobility, bouncier in the pocket. The thing that’s always stuck out with Kenny, if you just boil it down, he knows how to play the position.

“The game happens slow for him. He’s got really good instincts. He sees the field. He feels the pocket. He’s just, I mean, he just knows how to play.”

Pickett also displayed more arm strength and had a little more zip on his passes last season. The Falcons hold the eighth overall pick and will heavily scout the quarterbacks, with Matt Ryan set to return for his 15th season at age 37.

“He had some really good playmakers to get the ball to this year,” Nagy said. “They were making more plays down the field.”

Nagy likes Pickett’s personality and compared it with Burrow’s style.

“He’s got a really cool way about him,” Nagy said. “Kind of reminds me a little bit of Burrow. When I got to know Joe through this process, you see guys just gravitate to him. He’s a leader. It comes easy to him.”

Pickett’s hand size has been called into question. He didn’t have his hands measured and will do so at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

“You know, the good news is I played in Pittsburgh, anyone that’s been in Pittsburgh knows it’s not, you know, the nicest place to play in October, November,” Pickett said. “So, I’ve experienced playing in tough weather.”

Hand size is important to NFL scouts because players with bigger hands can control the ball better in rain and snow games, theoretically.

Pickett started interviewing with the NFL teams an hour at a time Monday. He knows they will scrutinize his every move during the practice week. He wants to show that he can be consistent after basically being a one-year wonder at Pitt.

“Everyone knows the kind of year I just had, and it was a lot different from the previous three years,” Pickett said. “So, I just want to show that playing at a high level for 13 games isn’t, you know, kind of a luck thing. You got to be the same guy every single week, and I want to be the same guy now, down here in Mobile and just show consistency.”

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