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Kenny Pickett’s most valuable trait made him worth the Steelers first round pick

Looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 first round draft pick.

North Carolina v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

There’s a lot of things that get discussed when we talk about quarterbacks and the traits that make them good NFL quarterbacks. Things like accuracy, arm strength, and of course, 2022 Steelers buzz-word, mobility. The kind of traits players can show off when they run fast, throw the ball really far and and go through drills throwing on-target balls to un-defended receivers at the combine. Kenny Pickett isn’t exactly a slouch in those areas.

Kenny Pickett is moving to his right by design here, and shows off some nice arm strength with a quick flick of a throw that is on target and covers roughly 40 yards in the air. Mobility, Accuracy, Arm Strength. There’s enough of all three on this play to show he can play in the NFL.

But this film room isn’t about arm strength, or accuracy or mobility. If those were the traits the Steelers were drafting for they would have taken Malik Willis. This film room is about the trait(s) that Pickett has that made him the best quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.

This is what the modern NFL wants. Pickett evades a free rusher, rolls out to his left, gets his eyes up-field and makes an off-platform throw for a touchdown.

My favorite part of this play is how he makes the throw. No time to set his feet, no way to get his body into proper alignment for a normal throw, so he jumps off his back foot, and if you watch, you can see his shoulders square up to the throw and his body stays square throughout the jump, mimicking good upper body technique as much as possible in that situation.

I also like how he never looks directly at the rusher, and once he escapes he gets his eyes back up to look downfield. Quarterbacks are first and foremost passers, and Pickett is always looking to make plays with his arm.

Another escape, multiple adjustments to defenders, and yet his eyes are downfield the whole time, and he ends up finding a target for a big gain.

Watch the timing and movement he takes before running out of the pocket, the lateral move inside baits the outside rusher inside more, where Pickett can get by him. Pickett shows the awareness of a running quarterback to bait defenders into places where he can escape them, but the whole time he is looking downfield for a throw to make.

It doesn’t always mean running out of the pocket for Pickett either.

Love the slow movement to his left here, he sees the rush breaking through and moves to put more of his blocker between him and the rush, buying time for a big downfield throw that ends up incomplete.

This is the kind of movement and footwork Ben Roethlisberger was great at. He would extend plays with subtle movements that helped his blockers buy him more time.

Even here, on this quicker throw, you can see Pickett move to his left to counter the rush on his right before making this throw.

And what really stands out to me is how well he can read the defense while dealing with pressure.

His pocket is disrupted from the start, and he ends up with bodies to his right and a rusher to his left here, and yet he makes this throw. This is a really good read on the defense from Pickett, on a play where his pocket wasn’t clean and orderly.

The deep safety to the bottom of the screen is the read here. The routes are attacking that safety first with the underneath route from the furthest inside receiver and secondly from the receiver Pickett throws to, who is open because that safety attacked the underneath route.

Pickett has pressure in his pocket, but makes the read and gets the ball out in time to complete it. One of the reasons teams value pressure creation so much is it throws off the timing of the quarterback. Most quarterbacks, even in the NFL, will deal with pressure and then have to re-orient to look downfield and find their target. Pickett is more like a Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rogers in how he handles disruptions in the pocket.

Yeah, I know, I just compared Kenny Pickett to Aaron Rogers and Ben Roethlisberger. So now I have to qualify that Pickett is way behind those two in physical gifts like arm strength, elusiveness in the pocket, hand size, and even accuracy. Just like almost every other quarterback in the NFL has been during those two quarterback’s best seasons.

Pickett isn’t those guys, but his ability to navigate a messy pocket, keep his focus and find the right throw is reminiscent of those great quarterbacks.

And yes I brought up the specter of Kenny Pickett’s hand size. So let’s address that real quick. First off, we always hear that small hands won’t be able to throw in cold weather, but that ignores the fact that the ball deflates and becomes easier to throw when the weather is cold. The ball deflates and is easier to grip. Just ask Tom Brady.

The rain is a bigger issue, but Pickett has played well in the rain in college, and while he didn’t at the Senior Bowl practices, I’m pretty sure they can find him the right gloves to wear in the rain in the NFL.

The biggest negative about hand size I’ve heard recently is Kenny Pickett’s fumbles. He does have a good number of them, but in the NFL and college hand size and fumbling doesn’t correlate, or we’d be talking about hand size for running backs a lot more. The issue isn’t hand size, it’s how you hold the football.

Here’s a fumble from Pickett, he’s trying to navigate the pressure, but gets caught from behind and fumbles the ball. Take a look at the replay.

That’s how you fumble, you hold the ball away from your body, nose down. Bigger hands aren’t going to save you there, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled when he got hit like that.

Will fumbling be a problem for Pickett? Probably. But that’s because he’s a quarterback who even when he scrambles is thinking about throwing the ball, instead of protecting it like a running back. It’s not his hands being slightly smaller than Joe Burrow’s hands that causes that problem.

There is a reason that Kenny Pickett fell over the draft process in many mock drafts. Because actual football stopped, and football in shorts started. Football in shorts is about who runs faster, throws farther and can hit targets when you don’t have to worry about defenders hitting you.

Kenny Pickett lags behind other quarterbacks in football in shorts ability. But when an actual football game breaks out, the traits that NFL quarterbacks really need, Kenny Pickett has.