Pitt football: Kenny Pickett should return in 2021

Pitt football has been led by quarterback Kenny Pickett since its final game of the 2017 season. Pitt has relied on Pickett being both a leader on the field and someone who can carry the offense during his time as the Panthers signal-caller. With the 2020 season being Pickett’s senior season, it was expected he would be heading to the NFL following this season. That was until the NCAA offered an extra year of eligibility for all Division I fall sports athletes, opening the door for Pickett to return to the team for a fifth season.

Over his time at Pitt, Pickett has completed over 60% of his passes and has thrown for over 7,000 yards. He has also picked up 47 touchdowns, 34 through the air and 13 on the ground. He has shown he is capable of using his legs to make plays and can sit in the pocket and sling the ball downfield. Over his three years as a starter, he has been very good but has not gained much national attention, probably due to the fact Pitt football hasn’t spent much time inside the top 25 during that time. Still, Pickett is drawing attention from teams in the NFL.

He is popping up in some mock drafts and is ranked the ninth quarterback on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board. Although his draft stock will likely continue to rise throughout the rest of the season, he won’t become one of the first three or four quarterbacks taken no matter how impressive his performances are. It is likely he would be ranked higher in the 2022 draft, a draft lacking star quarterbacks such as Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. In fact, putting up another excellent season and a weaker quarterback class in 2022 could see Pickett as one of the top three quarterbacks in the class.

With it being likely Pickett would be drafted if he decided to enter the draft this year it makes sense for him to consider it. Being drafted would guarantee him some money and allow him to move forward and get one step closer to possibly becoming a starter in the NFL. On the other hand, if he were to stay another year and found himself as a first or second round pick in 2022, he would earn a larger contract and would likely be in a better position to become a starter for the team that drafts him.

There is the possibility that instead of putting up another impressive season, Pickett could struggle or could be struck with a serious injury. Both possibilities seem rather unlikely though since Pickett has improved significantly every season of his college career and hasn’t suffered any significant injuries. He has picked up minor injuries to his ankle and shoulder but has never missed much time and has shown he has the toughness to play through those smaller injuries. It seems almost certain Pickett would show even more improvement with another season at Pitt and his draft stock would skyrocket, making him a top quarterback in the 2022 draft.

Given that he is not regarded as an early-round pick in the 2021 draft and that the chances of hurting his draft stock by returning to Pitt for another season are low, Pickett should come back for one last ride with the Panthers. He would give the team another year of excellent quarterback play and could lead it to a very successful season, which could help him gain some national recognition and help his draft stock even more.

In the end, the decision comes down to what Pickett feels is right for him, and he has stated he will not be making a decision until after the season. Pitt fans and NFL general managers will be waiting eagerly for his decision, both hoping he will be a part of their team next season.

Photo by Kaycee Orwig | The Pitt News

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