Even if the Panthers sound somewhat confident in Sam Darnold as next year’s starting quarterback, it doesn’t mean they won’t consider taking another Panther quarterback to replace him.
Pitt’s Kenny Pickett is viewed as one of the top signal-callers in this year’s class of QBs, and would seemingly be a strong fit in Carolina. He has a high floor and could step into a starting role early if Darnold struggles to begin the 2022 season. With Darnold entering his last year under contract with the Panthers, this would also be a chance for Carolina to not just take a quarterback option for 2022, but one for the future.
Still, there is a chance the Panthers decide to hold off on selecting the collegiate Panther with the No. 6 overall pick. The quarterback class next year is stronger, and they might decide to give Darnold one more extended look to see if he still shows just some of the potential he showed when the Jets took him third overall in 2018.
Should the Panthers pass on Pickett, how far could he fall? The Sporting News takes a look at four teams that might decide to use their pick on the strong-armed quarterback.
Seattle parted with franchise quarterback Russell Wilson this offseason, traded to the Broncos for a package that includes the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft. The Seahawks could use that pick to select Wilson’s long-term replacement.
As of now, the Seahawks would enter the 2022 season with Drew Lock as the starting quarterback. Since being selected 42nd overall in 2019, Lock has struggled in the NFL, starting 21 games — appearing in 24 — and throwing 25 touchdown passes to 20 interceptions with 4,740 passing yards and a 59.3 completion percentage. He has also rushed 72 times for 285 yards and five touchdowns.
Pickett is certainly no Wilson, but he would give the Seahawks’ deep receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf a quarterback with a strong arm, while also bringing in some of that mobility that made Wilson so dangerous. Pickett rushed for 241 yards and five touchdowns in 2021 and recorded a 4.73 40 time at the NFL Combine. If Malik Willis is still available, the Seahawks might go that route, but Pickett would also be an NFL-ready pick who could start right away.
Philadelphia has seen what one full season of Jalen Hurts as the starter is like, and while he was far from bad, he didn’t solidify himself as the franchise quarterback. He finished the 2021 season with a 61.3 completion percentage, 3,144 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, nine interceptions, 784 rushing yards on 139 carries and 10 rushing touchdowns. Perhaps they decide to look to this year’s draft to prepare for a Hurts replacement.
Taking Pickett would stray a bit from the offensive model they’ve run in recent years, but he is a better passer than Hurts, and could help the team take more advantage of a strong receiving corps. DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert would be used more in a Pickett-run offense, while the speedy Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins could be optimal deep threats with a quarterback who has a stronger arm.
The Eagles have reportedly taken a lot of interest in Pickett, even after only one season of Hurts being under center. It might make sense for them to wait until later in the draft or even next year to give Hurts another shot. If they’re ready to move on from him, Pickett could step in early for a team with eyes on the playoffs.
The Saints inked Jameis Winston to a two-year, $28 million contract that would figure to solidify his spot as the starting quarterback in New Orleans for at least the next two years, but at 28 years old, he’s unlikely to be viewed as the face of the franchise. If Pickett is available at No. 16, the Saints might opt to take Pickett.
New Orleans picking up Pickett would give the team some options for the future. The Saints can give Winston the 2022 season to further prove himself as starter quality after his injury-shortened 2021 season, while giving Pickett the chance to have a season as an understudy. They could also set the two up for a QB competition before the season starts to see if Pickett is ready to give Dennis Allen his long-time quarterback option in his first year at the helm of the team.
Winston’s two-year contract certainly adds some uncertainty over whether the Saints would look for a quarterback in this year’s draft or next year’s. But if New Orleans decides Pickett is the future, it could cut Winston to save some money in 2023 or try to trade him to a team that might be in greater need of a QB.
This feels like as far as Pickett might fall. The Steelers might even try to trade up to get him. Pickett became a Heisman Trophy finalist torching defenses at Heinz Field in 2021, and the Steelers have no long-term quarterback after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.
Pickett would feel like a natural fit in a Pittsburgh offense that is going all in on Matt Canada’s system. The Steelers are likely to run RPOs, and Pickett’s mobility will make sure he is a factor in that aspect of the game. He also has the arm strength to take advantage of receivers like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
The AFC North is loaded with quarterbacks. The Steelers have watched Lamar Jackson become an MVP for the Ravens, Joe Burrow lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl and the Browns acquire top offseason target Deshaun Watson. Mitch Trubisky might be the short-term answer for Pittsburgh, but the Steelers would love to land Pickett and make him the next face of the franchise.