Daniel Kelly spent four years in pro scouting with the New York Jets. He is the published author of the book “Whatever It Takes,” the story of a fan making it into the NFL.
Much of the blame for Pittsburgh’s woes is attributed to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, but there’s only so much Canada can do with Kenny Pickett at quarterback.
I put a fifth-round grade on Pickett, the Steelers’ 2022 first-round pick, after evaluating his 2021 film at Pitt against Western Michigan, Georgia Tech and Clemson. Pickett appeared uncomfortable in the pocket — he almost looked spooked. I also didn’t like his downfield ball placement.
Then, 56 days before the draft, concerning intel came out from ESPN: “Pickett’s right hand was measured at 8 1/2 inches, which would be the smallest of any quarterback currently in the NFL.”
This was alarming given the size of a regulation NFL football is larger than the ones used in college, as wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said on Bengals.com, “The ball is different because it is bigger.”
Pickett threw seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions during his rookie season. In 2023, he has thrown five touchdown passes and four interceptions in games against San Francisco (Sept. 10), Cleveland (Sept. 18), Las Vegas (Sept. 24), Houston (Oct. 1) and Baltimore (Oct. 8).
It could’ve been worse. I charted 12 additional disrupted passes in these games (three against the 49ers, Browns and Raiders were sure interceptions dropped by defenders).
The game film this season revealed three problematic areas in Pickett’s performances:
1. Inconsistent mechanics in the pocket
Pickett is best throwing from a clean pocket when he can drive the ball into the intermediate-route level (11-19 yards) or launch it deep. However, those ideal throwing conditions don’t often exist. Downfield inaccuracy (59.7% completion percentage overall) begins when he throws off his back foot or doesn’t set his feet. There are also times he lacks spatial pocket awareness and releases with pass-rushers being too close to him, which clouds his line of vision.
2. Pre-occupied with the pass rush
The more Pickett “hears footsteps” closing in, the less he maintains his focus on making downfield reads and throws. At times, he bails out and escapes, but more often he easily submits to the will of pass-rushers and folds. Pickett is tied for the ninth-most sacked QB in the league (14 sacks), per StatMuse.