Kenny Pickett's Joe Burrow Vibes

Pittsburgh Panthers QB Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Panthers QB Kenny Pickett
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Super Bowl - MOBILE, ALABAMA: The unofficial 2022 draft season was less than 10 minutes old when all hell broke loose.

"He's got a really cool way about him," Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy said of University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett at Tuesday's introductory press conference. "Kinda reminds me a little bit of [Joe] Burrow … guys just gravitate to him. He's a leader."

Pickett was already embroiled in a "hand size" controversy—that most majestic of all pre-draft controversies—when he declined to have his hand measured at Monday's weigh-ins. Now he was being compared to Joe Burrow just hours after Burrow led the Bengals to the Super Bowl?

"That's a helluva comparison," Pickett joked when asked moments later Nagy's statement. "I'm gonna have to have Jim intro me like that everywhere I go."

The Pickett = Burrow questions from the press continued until Nagy felt the need to unpop the balloon. "Kenny, sorry for opening up the Burrow floodgates," Nagy shouted from offstage. Then, to the press pool: "I meant as a 'guy.'"

Draft hoopla is off and running, folks!

Pickett entered Senior Bowl week as the VERY provisional QB1 on the FO Forty, the all-new centerpiece of Football Outsiders' draft coverage which will debut in a few weeks. He's a fifth-year super-senior coming off a 42-touchdown season after a middling 2020 campaign. Pickett is not a Burrow-level prospect by any means, but he reminds Walkthrough a lot of the young Andy Dalton on tape. Don't laugh: Dalton was an immediate starter who led his team to the playoffs as a rookie and for several seasons afterward.

An extra year in college would be a negative for prospects at other positions, particularly wide receiver. But our QBASE metric is likely to love Pickett's 48 starts over the last four seasons. Naturally, Pickett himself sees his experience as beneficial. "The amount of football I have seen is a huge positive going into the next chapter," he said.

Pickett needed that extra year in college. He nearly participated in last year's Senior Bowl and entered the 2021 draft before consulting with Nagy and others. "I was really straight-up with Kenny," Nagy said. "Based on what we saw and heard from the NFL, he was gonna be a Day 3 player."

"Everything I was hearing was Day 3," Pickett said. "And I just was thinking of myself as a higher player than that. So I wanted to come back and really improve my game and have no regrets."

Pickett played through an ankle injury for much of 2020, which hurt both his mobility and his draft stock. "He's just a different player on tape," Nagy said. "He's getting out of the pocket a lot more this year. Showing a lot more mobility. Bouncier in the pocket. I thought his arm strength had improved this year, it showed a little more zip.

"When you boil it down, he knows how to play the position."

As for the hand size thing, Pickett plans to be measured at the combine. Walkthrough isn't going to get involved into a hand-size brouhaha unless he measures in at 8 inches or something. (Nine inches is the established minimum: below that, an NFL-sized football truly does become hard to grip in the rain or cold). "The good news is that I played in Pittsburgh," Pickett said. "Anyone who has been to Pittsburgh knows it's not the nicest place to play in October and November." Indeed, Pickett led the Panthers to an impressive 30-23 overtime victory over North Carolina in a steady Thursday night downpour last November.

One might say the performance was downright Burrow-esque.

We promise to keep that sort of hype to a minimum during this year's Football Outsiders draft coverage. But I have covered enough Senior Bowls to know that quarterbacks are drafted as much based on how they come off during team interviews as how they look on the practice field or film. If Pickett gives off Burrow vibes to evaluators, he's going to end up near the top of lots of draft boards, even if his "ceiling" appears rather low.

Pickett admittedly had a rocky day of practice on Tuesday. So did all of the quarterbacks here in Mobile. Shaky Tuesday practices aren't unusual down here, and they are forgiven when a quarterback shows progress throughout the week or if he tears it up in interviews. Pickett appears to have that second part down. "He's gonna crush this process," Nagy said of Pickett.

In a way, he already has.

Senior Bowl Notes

Tuesday's practices sucked.

Both the Jets-coached National team and the Lions-coached American team went out of their way to show scouts, the media, and themselves as little as possible. There were few offense-versus-defense drills. The National team did not even bother with a 7-on-7 session. I don't think I have ever attended an NFL practice of any kind without a 7-on-7 session before Tuesday. Each practice ended with a few brief 11-on-11 series. Otherwise: long stretching sessions, lots of special teams installation, and tons of practice against air.

At one point, the Lions-coached team lined up for some half-field reads work (two receivers and a quarterback versus three defenders), managed a few fitful reps between long stretches of disorganization, then spent about three minutes simply mulling around waiting for the linemen to show up for full-squad sessions. If actual Lions practices are that turgid, the team won't reach the playoffs again until 2034.

It didn't used to be this way, mind you: Senior Bowl practices of the past, even in shells, featured lots of spirited receiver-versus-cornerback drills, "pit" sessions, and 7-on-7s. Folks around the campfire tell me that East-West Shrine Game practices (featuring lower-caliber prospects) were designed to give both scouts and reporters more of what we want out of what amounts to a three-day player evaluation exercise. Senior Bowl coaches have lately treated the week like the first three days of July training camp, which negates much of the advantage those coaches are supposed to get when stocking their draft boards. NFL coaches have become so secretive that they would deny themselves knowledge in their quest to deny it to others.

Anyway, it was hard to come away with many meaningful impressions under the circumstances. But darn it, I'm gonna try.

  • Liberty quarterback Malik Willis has the best arm in Mobile, and it's not close. He rifles off medium-range passes, both from the pocket and on the run, with little effort. Willis doesn't have an off-speed pitch, however, and his accuracy was scattershot on Tuesday. Still, some teams are about to have visions of Trey Lance-meets-Josh Allen dancing in their heads. Some Eagle-eyed observers noted Howie Roseman paying particular attention to Willis.
     
  • Colorado State tight end Trey McBride is every darn bit as good as advertised: athletically smooth, with the hands of a wide receiver and the ability to make catches in traffic. He's no Kyle Pitts, but he's going to be a first-round pick.
     
  • Mizzou running back Tyler Badie and Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford were impressive for the National team. Badie is swift and looks like he's going to be a handful as a receiver out of the backfield. He also displayed a little patience as a rusher, ducking behind Minnesota mammoth Daniel Faaelele and just disappearing before reemerging like he had just run through the Chunnel for one big gain. Ford, like Badie, has great burst and good vision, and he displayed a few highlight-stick combo moves. Keep in mind that this was a shells practice; it's hard to evaluate running backs with no live tackling.
     
  • As for Faaelele, he weighed in at 387 pounds on Monday, and no one is wondering where he hides it. Faaelele looks quick-footed for a medium-sized hillock, but he didn't dominate in pit drills. Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning is doing much more to help his stock among offensive linemen this week. Faaelele's size set off the Aaron Gibson alarms in Walkthrough's subconscious: a veteran like Jason Peters can play at around four bills late in his career, but a younger player such as Faaelele won't be able to maintain quickness and stamina if he can't stay on the svelter side of 350.
     
  • South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert put on a show with several deep catches at his home stadium. Tolbert provided the final highlight of an afternoon with few of them: after Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe bounced a few intermediate passes over the middle in full-squad sessions, Tolbert tracked a slightly overthrown Zappe pass up the right sideline and adjusted to it for a nifty reception.
     
  • Walkthrough will have more on the quarterbacks later in the week. Based on Tuesday, none of them looks capable of winning an NFL opening day starting job, which is not surprising. Even Zappe, who is so lean that he looks like Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet compared to the others, mixed some wobblers with a few pinpoint passes. No one looks undraftable either. That said, the first day of Senior Bowl practices can be misleading because quarterbacks are throwing to unfamiliar receivers and such.
     
  • Two defenders who dominated in the pit drills: Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie and Oklahoma's Perrion Winfrey.

Quotebook

Nagy on Alabama defensive tackle Phidarian "Phil" Mathis: "To see what this guy's mind is like during pregame, how he's bouncing around, getting his teammates feeding off of him, that will mean something on draft day aside from his talent. If he can affect other people on that [defensive] line, that's a certain position group where if you can get a guy that other people feed off, there's value in that."

Phil Mathis on Alabama running back Brian Robinson: "He's a hard runner, going up against him every day. Hitting B-Rob is like hitting an old-school Cadillac hard body."

Comments

44 comments, Last at 07 Feb 2022, 7:23pm

1 Finally

Draft szn!

This years asinine highlight: hand size! Will it be more annoying than Kylers height? We'll see, now off to the comments.

2 hand size

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

So is hand size the new Wonderlic?  C'mon Mike, leak his hand size measurement!

3 If only it were treated as such!

In reply to by jds

But they were measured 8.25 a couple months ago. Too bad because the NFL doesn't allow gloves. 

Also silly me, we had this convo last year with Devonta Smiths weight. Turns out he's good. Weird how he played all 18 games too. Why didn't someone just pick him up and break him like a stick?!?!

36 Like Alex@ said

The league allows them, yes they help him. His hand measurements (especially without them) are almost useless at this point in his career. He either can sling or not. We aren't talking about him as a first rounder, and indeed a top 10 pick just because...reasons. It's because he's good. Just like Kyler and Devonta who were outliers. And look, they're fine! They were exceptions for a reason! We're not talking about Kevin Davidson level play here!

4 Hand size does matter for a…

Hand size does matter for a quarterback; NFL balls are bigger than the college ones.  If Pickett's handspan is only 8 and 1/4 inches, he would be a massive outlier.  However, there is a caveat; Pickett has a double-jointed thumb which helps him hold the ball.  Here's my source: 

https://www.profootballnetwork.com/will-kenny-picketts-hand-size-impact-his-2022-nfl-draft-stock/

 

9 Kyler Murray's handspan is…

Kyler Murray's handspan is over 9 inches.  He has bigger hands than Joe Burrow; his handspan is exactly 9 inches.  Burrow's handspan is also the smallest of all the starting quarterbacks in the NFL.  

Height doesn't matter that much.  Obviously no one is going to draft a 5'5" quarterback in the first round.  There are baselines that player need to meet to be a draftable prospect; one of these is having an NFL caliber arm, which Mac Jones barely passed last year (seems to be doing fine in the NFL, thank you).  Another for quarterbacks is to have a handspan at 9 inches or above, because if they don't there are issues as to how well they can grip the NFL ball, which is bigger than the college one.  If Pickett has a handspan under 9 inches, he's not getting drafted in the top ten, unfortunately.  I write unfortunately, because I'm hoping he gets drafted at 4 after the Jets rip off whatever team wants to trade up for him.

11 Yeah

And the threshold was met long before this point. Just like Kylers height. 

If they're good they're good! Russ didn't go in the first two rounds because of his height but turns out it was Silly! And then a 5-10 Murray came around and people were screaming you cant select someone that short that high. Thankfully for AZ they ignored those people. Because his height would've been filtered out long before the draft process. But it didn't affect him!

12 I think Mell is making the…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

I think Mell is making the point is that hand size is something NFL decision makers (wrongly) still make a big deal about, thus affecting their draft stock.

From the article: "This notion that hand size matters for quarterbacks is based on anecdotal evidence from old football coaches and executives."

The smallest hand size in the article is Jared Goff's at 9 inches, and people were making a big issue about that during the 2016 draft (although it obviously didn't bother the Rams).

13 Don't think so

He mentioned ball size getting bigger multiple times. Which is the point of my Kyler comparison with taller NFL players. It's not significant. Definitely wouldn't be confident in saying he won't go in the top 10 when Denver, Carolina, etc naturally exist. 

18 I'm disagreeing with both of…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

I'm disagreeing with both of you on this.  It is relevant only if the prospect has a handspan too small for the NFL.  Height doesn't matter as much; Flutie was ok while only being 5'9".  The offensive and defensive lineman are taller than the quarterback whether he is 6'6" or 5'11".  But the quarterback has to be able to grip the ball.  My point is that the only footage we have is of Pickett throwing the smaller NCAA ball.  If his handspan is below the baseline 9 inches, than he will have problems gripping the NFL ball, which will lead to accuracy and fumbling issues.  Of course, the double joints in his thumb may mitigate this, but saying that this isn't an issue is foolish.  It absolutely is.  NFL evaluators making a big deal about this are not misguided and foolish.

20 By the way, I want this not…

By the way, I want this not to matter to NFL people.  Because I want the Jets to trade down from #4 and get a good deal.  Because none of the guys going in the top 10 are surefire blue chippers other than Sauce Gardner, and it's not a given he goes that early.

23 It shouldn't matter

just like height shouldn't.

Like I'm trying to saying, this stuff is filtered out LONG before this point. I'm not saying it doesn't matter. Obviously someone with 1 inch hands can't do anything but they aren't playing QB 5 years in college! And it also misses the point if he's allowed to wear gloves to mitigate it. And it is allowed. And guess what? They use an NFL ball at the senior bowl and I'm pretty sure combine too. So far there is no concerns with him ripping it in Mobile. Weird. 

Do you think since it's below 9 he suddenly is going to fumble every...other play or something? Because there's no significant correlation for those 9+. 

33 Seriously .

What did I do to you? You aren't funny yet you never provide anything but lame snark. 

But go ahead and be a hand size truther too.

Show me on the tape where Kylers height consistently impacts his play. Devonta Smith his weight. And Pickett his hand size. Not that you will actually respond...

21 Yep, handspan is much like…

Yep, handspan is much like arm length for offensive linemen. I forget the exact numbers, but essentially there's a length at which no matter how good one's technique, your arms just aren't long enough to consistently be able to affect the caliber (and size) of defensive linemen in the NFL. Longer arms don't necessarily make one better, but below the threshold your ability to be effective rapidly decreases. Most physical measurements (including height and weight) function this way - it's not that value correlates with them, it's that once you start to fall outside the band of "acceptable" values they tend to dominate any other talents or abilities you have.

 

EDIT: of course, this isn't to say the evaluators always have the right thresholds - see the QB height examples brought up in this thread for that.

22 Not really

“The offensive and defensive lineman are taller than the quarterback whether he is 6'6" or 5'11"

Certainly true 5’11”, but the number of linemen on either side of the ball 6’7” or taller is really, really small.  

38 Kyler's height is still…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Kyler's height is still within the range of other NFL QBs and Pickett's hands are a significant outlier. The more natural comp would seem to be if we were discussing the viability of a QB who was 5'5" or 5'6". Logically there is a point where hand size and height inarguably do matter. 

40 Kylers height is in the 0th percentile

The same as Pickett hand size. Theyre both in the same range.

That is not a natural comp to Pickett hand size. And like I said above, and stress, this stuff...is filtered...before this point.

A college, HS, or peewee coach is forcing them to switch positions long before we see them in their 5th year in college. Unless they are good. Which they are and how they got this far. 

Again, I challenge yall to find on their tape where it consistently affects them. 

41 This isn't from college tape…

This isn't from college tape, and I haven't watched any of the Senior Bowl practices myself, but here is what Pro Football Network said about Pickett on Wednesday's practice, when it was raining:

"While all the signal-callers from the West seemed to struggle gripping the ball in today’s wet conditions, Kenny Pickett seemed to struggle the most. He delivered several nice short and intermediate passes, but he also seemed most adversely affected by the weather than any other quarterback this morning."

As far as Murray and DeVonta Smith, you're not going to hear anything from me.  I don't remember commenting on Murray going so high, or if I had any opinions on Smith either.  Again, I'm hoping you are right that it doesn't matter, because the trade down from #4 would be great (also, if someone takes Pickett before that, then hopefully the Jets get Hutchinson or Thibodeaux).

42 And I linked above.

And even Tanier says he's been better.

Concerned about maybe 2 games a year but can't find it on tape when he played for sunny Pittsburgh (an actual NFL city that very well could draft him since they need a QB). And then there's this article

If you wanna talk thresholds, talk about Carson Strongs mobility. 

19 Different issue.  No one…

Different issue.  No one starting in the NFL has a handspan below 9 inches.  The only starting quarterback I could find who did in the past is Michael Vick.  Obviously he had other strengths.... and flaws.

5 Not good to hear that the…

Not good to hear that the Jets practices are slow.  Hoping this is just the slow start of the week and practices pick up-like now.

10 It's the first day

Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices are usually clunky.  Coaches with players they just met, who in turn are learning new plays/assignments on the fly.  From reading about prior years, disorganization, false starts, and flubbed snaps are pretty common at first.

14 If actual Lions practices…

If actual Lions practices are that turgid, the team won't reach the playoffs again until 2034.

Optimist!

27 I've watched Pickett play a few times

And he looked pretty impressive. That said, I watched Burrow at LSU in 2019 and it was, IMO, the most impressive QB season I've ever seen. I felt it would have been shocking if Burrow was a bust, he was clearly the best QB prospect in a long, long time. Pickett is nowhere close to that level, at least not right now.

37 Burrow was the best prospect…

Burrow was the best prospect since Luck. No one like that this year, but then such prospects are few and far between. There've been plenty of QBs I've liked coming out—and obviously several who have gone on to do much better in the NFL—but for "can't miss” prospects this century for me it has been Palmer, Luck, and Burrow.

44 Yeah

Lawrence, despite being younger, was good before Burrow was, who wasn't anything til his 5th year. While Lawrence lead his team to a chip his true freshman year.  

But hindsight/recency bias is killer.

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