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Hot Take Tuesday: Kenny Pickett is QB1 in the 2022 Draft

Kenny Pickett has been on fire lately. Can he be the best quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft?

Who is QB1 in the 2022 draft class? That is the question every draft pundit, scout, media member and fans are trying to answer. Over the summer, most thought it would be a two-player race between Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell. Both of them have been major disappointments so far this season. Rattler was benched this past week against a Texas defense that is nothing special. His backup quarterback had to come in to lead a come-from-behind victory in the second half. There is a chance he doesn't regain his starting spot. 

Things haven't been much better for Howell. He has put up solid numbers but has three bad losses against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State. For a prospect who came into the year as "pro-ready," he hasn't looked it so far. Combine that with just solid physical tools, and it is hard to get behind him being one of the first players off the board. 

Their poor play has made it a wide-open race for QB1 in the class. One quarterback has stood out among his peers this season and is definitely in the conversation: Kenny Pickett. The Pitt star has accounted for 19 touchdowns and only one interception this season and is currently PFF's highest-graded quarterback in the nation. Pickett is near the top of every statistical category in the nation and is creeping up Heisman watchlists. 

Outside of his unbelievable numbers, there is a lot to like about Pickett as a prospect. The first is his calmness under pressure. On film, it is easy to see that Pickett is unfazed by pressure in big moments and tends to even elevate his play during them. That is what happens when a player has 41 starts in their career. Even as a true freshman, Pickett showed that calmness. He was forced into action against No.2 Miami and beat them 24-14, accounting for all three touchdowns. Pickett took a 4-7 team in his first-ever start and beat an undefeated squad, destined for the College Football Playoff. That just doesn't happen. 

Over the course of the following three seasons, Pickett flashed NFL potential. He displayed a live arm, making plays outside of structure and toughness within the pocket. At 6'3" 220 pounds, those all project well when evaluating a quarterback for the next level. 

2020 was Pickett's senior season, in which he had some pretty impressive performances on tape early on in the season. A midseason injury, 29 dropped passes, and an inconsistent run game made it difficult to show scouts what he was made of. Still, he received a Senior Bowl invite and was considered a mid-round prospect on their draft board. However, Pickett decided to take his extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

That decision has paid dividends. Pickett has torched every opponent he has faced and had maybe the best quarterback performance of the year against Georgia Tech. The tools were always there, which is why Pickett was thought of highly coming into the season; everything has just clicked. His offensive line is holding up, the ground game is better, and Pickett has a few legit weapons to throw to. All of Pickett's flashes have turned into routine plays. He has made NFL throw after NFL throw this season. 

Not only that, he has done a fantastic job of protecting the ball, with his one interception on 168 attempts. Pickett has also been very successful on money downs. When it is 3rd and long, he has picked up first downs with his arm or legs.

His athleticism has shined this season too. Pickett's mobility in and outside of the pocket has allowed him to make plays when his receivers can't get open or his protection breaks down. 

What has improved, though, is his accuracy. Pickett had solid accuracy going into this season, but it has now become a strength. He has shown the ability to place the football where he wants to all three levels of the field, a quality that is crucial in being a high draft pick.   

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This next stretch of games against Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami will be huge for Pickett. If he continues his success against them, he'll only improve his draft stock. Pickett's 2021 tape has been first-round worthy, and he is gaining more confidence by the week.       

Most of the other top quarterbacks come with their question marks. Corral, Willis and Ridder all have talent, but they come with more risk than Pickett. Pickett has the intangibles, high-floor, experience and is putting up unbelievable numbers this season. In a class with no clear-cut number one player at the position, Pickett has the talent to be the first quarterback off the board come April 28th.

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