'He’s got moxie:' How do the NFL scouts view Kenny Pickett?
We check in on Bob McGinn's conversations with scouts around the NFL on Pickett, Chris Olave, George Pickens, Travon Walker, Sauce Gardner and Christian Watson. There's always an edge to the honesty.
Ready or not, the Kenny Pickett Era begins Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.
Head coach Mike Tomlin probably wishes he could’ve rolled with Mitchell Trubisky longer than 3 1/2 games, but this is a Pittsburgh Steelers offense in desperate need of a spark. So, Pickett it is. The 20th overall pick will start his first game against the Buffalo Bills. His team is a 14-point underdog. Sean McDermott’s defense typically rolls vs. first-year quarterbacks.
The task is tall.
So, as we head into Week 5, this seems like a perfect time to see how NFL scouts viewed Pickett and rookies from around the NFL. Our Bob McGinn is the most connected draft analyst in the country. Once again, he placed No. 1 in The Huddle Report’s annual top 100 contest. Subscribers can read the full archived series at GoLongTD.com, and you can also count on McGinn doing the same thing for the 2023 draft.
Below is how personnel men from across the league viewed Pickett and other rookies of note one month into this season.
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Replacing Trubisky, the rookie Pickett played well against the New York Jets. His three interceptions were quite misleading. Most encouraging? Pickett wasn’t afraid to take a shot to the jaw and deliver the ball downfield. Here’s what McGinn had on the No. 1-rated quarterback in a weak class. Scouts do not see a sure thing.
KENNY PICKETT, Pittsburgh (6-3, 219, 4.71, 1): It’s the most common comment made by scout about Pickett: he’s the most ready to play of all the quarterbacks. How good he will play is the question. “There’s nothing there that says he’s going to be a top-half of the league starter,” said one scout. “I don’t think you’ll take him and think, ‘We solved our problem here.’ When you’re in quarterback purgatory it’s not a good place to be. I wouldn’t be mad about taking him. But if I’m the GM I wouldn’t be thinking I’m saving my job.” Came from prospect oblivion in 2021, enjoying by far his best season. “He hadn’t really done anything in his career and he had a hell of a year,” said a second scout. “You’ve got to give that to him. The production and the winning and the playmaking that he showed. He makes good decisions. He’s got moxie. I just don’t think that he’s talented physically. He’s a need-everything-to-go-perfect-for-you starter, not an upper-echelon, I’m winning-games-because-of-you starter.” Rated merely the 11th best overall prospect in New Jersey (Oakhurst) as a prep. Fifth-year senior, four-year starter. “Yeah, he is (the best), but he’s reached his ceiling,” a third scout said. “Mark Whipple (Pitt’s offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach the past three seasons) has done everything he can to get him ready. He’s done a magnificent job. He will wind up like Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the physical comparison.” Entering 2021 with an NFL passer rating of 82.9 before registering 116.6 in his swan song. His career mark was 92.9. “His arm is plenty good enough to be efficient,” said a fourth scout. “He can make every throw he needs to make. He’s a good athlete for the position. If he had 9 ½-inch hands I don’t think we’re having this discussion in terms of is he a first-rounder.” His hands measured a tiny 8 ½, largely the result of being born with double-jointed thumbs. “That (rainy) weather day in Mobile, it was embarrassing,” said a fifth scout. “It was like he was throwing a watermelon. He couldn’t grip the ball.” One scout said the difference in the football from the college to pro game and the later NFL season resulting in more rough weather could make his small hands even more of an issue. “He’s produced the most and been the most efficient,” a seventh scout said. “That’s the only reason I put him No. 1. I wouldn’t take him in the first round with the hands. He wears the gloves all the time. He has a chance to bust.” Scored 17 on the Wonderlic.
Meanwhile, at wide receiver, the New Orleans Saints might’ve nailed this pick. Chris Olave, the third-rated receiver on McGinn’s WR rankings, has 21 receptions for 335 yards with one touchdown.
CHRIS OLAVE, Ohio State (6-0 ½, 185, 4.45, 1): Four-year player started for 2 ½ seasons. “I would take him by a fraction over Wilson,” one scout said. “He’s a really nifty athlete. Very smooth, really good route runner. What I like about Olave, this guy has been a major producer at a major program in big games for years. We’re leery of juniors with one-year production. Olave has legit three years production at a high level. He doesn’t have a great body type. That’s the biggest thumbs down on him. But he does not lack toughness. Used to cover kickoffs, used to be on the front line on kick returns. He’s really dangerous in the red zone because he’s such a good route runner and has good body control.” Caught 176 passes, third in Buckeyes’ history, for 2,711 (15.4) and 35 TDs. “He’s more of a smooth athlete whereas Wilson is more of a twitchy athlete,” said a second scout. “Not quite as strong and as tough after the catch as Wilson. There’s a gap between him and Wilson, but I do think he’ll be a good pro.” A third scout called him the safest wideout in the draft. “He could track down the field,” a fourth scout said. “He had good hands. I wish he caught a little more around his frame, though. He lacks strength in his play. I still think he’s a solid starter.” Wonderlic of 22. “He’s going to be a better pro than Wilson,” said a fifth scout. “I say that because for some reason the quarterbacks loved Olave. It’s probably dependability.” From San Ysidro, Calif. “He moves the sticks,” said a sixth scout. “He has a feel for zone. Clean in his routes. He can get vertical and produce against single coverage. Like him as a gunner covering punts. He’s not a true Round 1 player. He’s a No. 2 to a No. 3 wide receiver. More second- to third-round range. You just want to see more explosion and make-you-miss after the catch.”
He already owns the catch of the year. And against the Jets, George Pickens really came alive with six receptions for 102 yards. Will he be Pickett’s favorite target? Pickens was the ninth-rated receiver in McGinn’s rankings.
GEORGE PICKENS, Georgia (6-3, 200, 4.51, 2-3): Third-year junior led the team in receiving as a freshman non-starter. Finished with 90 catches for 1,347 (15.0) and 14 TDs. “He’s not a speed guy like Olave but he does have enough speed to run the full route tree,” one scout said. “He make catches at the high point. He can develop into a No. 3 rotational starter. Kind of a boom-or-bust prospect. A lot of his issues come off the field. Work habits, how he’s going to fit on a team. His talent level is up there with guys in the second and third round but a lot of people have him further down because of his football makeup and personal character.” Was thrown out of one game and suspended. Removed from one team’s draft board because of off-field issues. “Very talented,” a second scout said. “There’s some boom or bust with him. The injury, and being sort of coddled at Georgia … there’s maybe some football character concerns.” Suffered a torn ACL in 2021 spring practice and missed the first 11 games of the Bulldogs’ title season. “He’s got great ball skills,” a third scout said. “I wouldn’t take him in the second. He’s got a big ego. He’s not a bad guy.” A fourth scout said Pickens was his top-rated receiver coming off 2020 tape. “I kind of squashed him a little bit,” said a fifth scout. “He’s got talent, a shitload of talent. But Georgia receivers never pan out.” From Hoover, Ala.
The No. 1 overall pick was a mystery. At Georgia, Walker’s production was average. But Jaguars GM Trent Baalke loved the edge rusher’s combination of size, speed and power. Walker quickly showed why he went first in the Jags’ season opener with four tackles, one sack, one PBU and one interception. As you’ll see, the NFL wasn’t completely sold on Walker.
TRAVON WALKER, Georgia (6-5, 270, 4.59, 1): Third-year junior, one-year starter at DE in a multiple-front defense. “He’ll be a 4-3 D-end, especially if he goes in the top 10,” one scout said. “A 4-3 team will take him. You’re not going to take him as a 5-technique or try to stand him up. He had five (actually six) sacks this year, then showed up at the combine and had a phenomenal workout. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by that … Georgia is a little bit more of a two-gap scheme than get up the field. There’s a theory among coaches that run 4-3 that this guy is going to thrive in an attack front. He very well might. There are clips where he’s super impressive chasing the ball. He can run for a big man. But when I see him going second, first, third or fourth, I’m, like, ‘Wow, he’s going to go higher than his sack total.’ That’s unheard of. People of this generation have forgotten about Mike Mamula. If he goes (high) you might be saying, ‘OK, maybe this guy is Mike Mamula.’” Started all 15 games in 2021 after playing in 21 games in 2019-’20. “He excites you,” another scout said. “Loved watching his tape. He’s not even close to his potential. He played zero, 3-tech, 5-tech and rushed from 7. If they just ever turn him loose he’s going to be a problem. He plays his ass off. His upside is incredible. With his motor, it’s going to be hard for him to fail unless there’s something in his makeup that allows him to.” His arm length (35 ½) and hand size (10 ¾) led the position. Wonderlic of 11. “He’s a D-end that when you rush the passer he can rush inside,” said a third scout. “He could be (Za’Darius Smith). He doesn’t have the most ideal rush productivity but the guy’s disruptive. Pressures, hits, knockdowns … those things are just as important. He needs to be going forward. They get drafted to go get the quarterback.” Finished with 65 tackles (13 for loss), 9 ½ sacks, one forced fumble and four passes defensed. “I just don’t see a guy that’s going to make a clear-cut difference in your football team,” a fourth scout said. “Is he a Bosa? No. He has more twitch than Hutchinson. He’s not Von Miller by any stretch. I don’t see a well thought-out arsenal of pass rush. I’m not sure that 3-technique isn’t where he belongs.” From Thomaston, Ga.
The top-rated cornerback in McGinn’s rankings has arguably been the most impressive rookie in the entire 2022 class one month in. Next up? Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
AHMAD “SAUCE” GARDNER, Cincinnati (6-2 ½, 193, 4.46, 1): Described by one scout as a faster, more athletic Richard Sherman (6-2 ½, 194, 4.53). “He does have the long arms (33 ½ inches),” one scout said. ‘He’s somewhat narrow-framed. He’s definitely fast enough. Is he a bona-fide, top-10, No. 1 corner like a Champ Bailey? I don’t feel that. He’s a little stiff. All these tall guys definitely have that. This guy’s better than Kevin King because he’s a little more twitchy but he’s still going to have some of that hesitation or gathering in transition. He’s a willing tackler. He does enough. He’s a good player, but he hasn’t had to cover a lot of brand-name players. At least there’s video evidence that at one point Stingley could do it (in practice against LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase).” Third-year junior, three-year starter. “Plays hard, good player,” said a second scout. “He has a little air about him, which is fine. No question, he’ll tackle. He’s not a killer but he’ll tackle. He tackles well for a corner.” Finished with 99 tackles, nine interceptions and 27 passes broken up (PBUs). “Physically, he’s what you’re looking for as a press corner,” a third scout said. “He can play off, too. His closing burst isn’t very good because he’s such a tall, high-cut kid. He can’t plant and drive on the ball.” Scored 17 on the Wonderlic. From Detroit.
It’s been a roller-coaster for the Green Bay Packers’ second-rounder. In Week 1, Christian Watson dropped a touchdown. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t gone back to him much — the wideout has just 10 targets on the season. But he did score his first touchdown against New England on a 15-yard jet sweep and Rodgers has admitted he sees Watson getting open. Maybe the deep threat starts getting more chances this second quarter of the season. Watson was McGinn’s 11th-rated wideout.
CHRISTIAN WATSON, North Dakota State (6-4, 208, 4.32, 2-3): Lightly recruited out of Tampa, he redshirted in 2017 and caught just nine passes in ’18 before starting for three years. “He’s a beautifully sculpted mold of clay that’s going to have to be developed,” one scout said. “He’s got the skill set and traits. Unfortunately, he played in an offense that runs the ball and never showcased his skills. He’ll be a really good slot receiver in the NFL.” Posted a career-best 43 receptions in 2021, pushing his career numbers to 105 receptions for 2,140 (20.4) and 14 TDs. His 40 time and Wonderlic score (38) were the best among the top 12 wideouts. “Reminded me a lot of Marquez Valdes-Scantling,” said a second scout. “Another 6-4 guy who ran 4.3. He’s going to need a lot of polish. Issue I have is, he played at North Dakota State and at one point he had a top-3 quarterback (Trey Lance) and he was never a dominant player. He had a lot of really good flashes but he never dominated. Most of the corners at that level are running 4.6, 4.7. Maybe some of that had to do with the offense. Guys with those traits that come from that level, like Vincent Jackson, they dominate.” His 11-4 broad jump led the position. “He doesn’t play as if he knows how to play or play aggressively,” said a third scout. “He plays like a small-school guy that’s got some decent tools. He’s a fifth-year guy so I don’t know how much upside he has. He’s a linear, straight-line, build-up speed guy. I don’t see him as a starter.”
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