If the Detroit Lions do decide to move on from Jared Goff despite his recent improved performances,
I like Kenny Pickett as a replacement option.
There are an infinite number of timelines for the Lions at quarterback going forward. I’ll borrow Marvel Studios’ latest concept to be thrust from nerd fandom into the zeitgeist of popular culture for this. It is the job of Detroit Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes to chart which path forward gets the team to where he wants it to go. His is an entirely results-based position. I am going to say something here that will likely trigger some readers. Bob Quinn did a great job in every way but that one way. He revamped the player experience off the field in a positive way with new workout equipment and better food, lured a hot coaching candidate to Detroit, and assembled a roster that would enact the sacred scheme of that coach. It did not work, obviously, in the one way that really matters: W-L-T.
Holmes needs to be better, and that needs to start happening soon. One way to do that is to that; is to get the team’s most important position handled. I am going to go through a few different methodologies of doing that as the season goes on so that whatever path Holmes takes, I will understand what he is going for. I invite you to take the journey with me both on the site and the postgame podcasts. Unless Jared Goff finishes out with nothing but great games after being reunited with Josh Reynolds, I think we can all agree at this point that something needs to be done regarding the future of the team at quarterback. His 2 TD performance in week 12 was his first multi-score game since week 4 Today’s 3 TD pass game also came along with an interception and yet another fumble. I am going to discuss my personal favorite option to replace Goff if the Lions go that way, assuming he regresses back into the timid and error-prone QB we’ve seen for most of 2021.
This is not a profile of Kenny Pickett’s traits. I will reference them, and I’ll link you to his TDN profile, but that is not what I am most concerned about. I am going to tell you why I think Kenny Pickett the person is going to be successful more than anything. I settled on Kenny Pickett as my QB1 in this draft a couple of months ago in a preliminary ranking that I haven’t really published anywhere but our Patreon slack chat. Such a ranking isn’t set in stone. As I watch more of other players I might see things that elevate them, but right now I think if there is a QB worth the first pick of round one, it is Kenny Pickett. Just to get it out of the way: Pickett > Corral > Howell is my current ranking, and that’s the list of likely NFL starters I see in this draft to this point. We are a long way from the draft though.
Pickett the Leader
First, I applaud his decision to go back to school. I do not do this as some kind of amateur sports purist. I think NCAA players have been stolen from by their schools for decades. I could not be farther from that guy who hates the transfer portal and NIL deals. I think Quinn Ewers who just leveraged being “the next guy” at Ohio State into a million dollars worth of NILs and will now go to the school he actually dreamed of attending as a kid is a genius, not a monster. Young men, go get your money and let the haters hate. But for Kenny Pickett, the decision to return to Pitt for another year rather than chasing short-term gain as an NFL quarterback was absolutely correct.
In hindsight, the fall of Clemson from glory paved the way for Pickett to showcase his skills on the best team in his conference. In hindsight, his personal performance is better than last season to the tune of 1909 yards, 29 TDs, and he’s thrown 2 fewer interceptions despite playing 4 extra games before Pitt even takes part in a bowl game. And, before you attribute the statistical output to extra games, that’s an increase of 64 yards per game (2.9 per attempt as well) and 1.8 TDs per game. In hindsight, he made the right choice. But even without hindsight, he made the right decision.
Pickett would have been competing with five other quarterbacks who went in round one last season, and it is difficult to envision him unseating any of them after last year. True, he was the first QB in Pitt’s history to ever have two 400+ yard games in a season, but Pitt was not a good enough team to push him into the conversation. Pickett also lacked the mythos that pushed Trey Lance into the first round without playing more than one game in 2020. Pickett might have unseated Davis Mills as the guy who got a shot in Houston this season after Tyrod Taylor was injured, but that was the highest spot he could have hoped to replace a drafted player. He saw the opportunity and smartly said “nope.”
Pickett was asked after the team’s ACC championship win last night whether in his wildest dreams he ever envisioned coming back to have this level of success, and his answer tells us something we should like about him. “Honestly yes, I mean, that was why I came back.” was his answer before he added, “this was absolutely everything that I had envisioned.” Pitt did not have Utah State’s NCAA high 19 super seniors coming back, but the first of their 13 super seniors to announce his return was QB Kenny Pickett. I believe him when he says that he saw this timeline unfolding when he made the choice to return. “At the end of the day, it was such a broad spectrum of where I could potentially wind up getting drafted,” Pickett said in March, “I think more highly of myself than where I was projected.” The sporting world loves a guy who bet on himself and won. Pickett is that guy.
Pickett the Prospect
Pickett’s skill set is that of the modern NFL quarterback. He is mobile and creative. He pushes the ball downfield, but he’s accurate on underneath stuff as well. His arm is not a Matthew Stafford howitzer, but it is a very good arm. The words I have been using to describe him are that he is a 90% Joe Burrow. The parallels are more than just traits and playstyle. Both were 24 years old for their senior season, both were regarded as day 2-3 prospects entering the year, both had incredible runs during their final season of college football. Heck, If Pickett had Joe Brady as his offensive coordinator with Jamar Chase and Justin Jefferson as his top two receivers, maybe he would have actually had Burrow’s level of senior season, but he did not.
And it’s that success without the elite talent (both coaching and playing) around him that I like about Pickett as a prospect for the Detroit Lions. The Lions will spend money and draft picks to improve their receiver corp next year, but it’s not going to be elite in all likelihood. The Liosn will in all likelihood move on from OC Anthony Lynn during the offseason after stripping him of his playcalling duties midseason, but we can’t be sure that Dan Campbell is going to get the next great offensive mind to come to the Lions. Of course, Joe Brady just got fired by the Panthers so he might be in Detroit next week. In any case, the next Lions’ QB has to be ready to carry the team.
Pitt does run a spread offense, but it’s not some gimmicky thing designed to put up stats. The same scheme that handed him 13 TDs in 2019 and 2020 was in place for 2021. Pickett is running West coast offense concepts in addition to the spread stuff in a hybrid of old and new ideas. He does have to read defenses, he does have to make audibles. He does have the freedom to run when he needs to, but his primary job is that of a pocket passer. In 2021, Pickett figured out how to do all of that. The NFL is an extremely difficult league to learn anything in. The modern QB is expected to leap out of the box as the guy, and if they do not teams, coaches, and fans get really testy, really quickly. If you want to dispute that look at Tua Tagovialoa in Miami’s stat line and tell me why it seems that everyone wants him gone 16 starts in. Of the QBs in this draft, Pickett is the one poised to most effectively carry an offense immediately.
Pickett the Human Being
When I was single, I had a rule. If on the first date, someone was rude to the staff, there was a zero percent chance of a second date. Everyone has their bad days, but if you can’t keep the facade of respect for the dignity of your fellow human beings up when you know someone is judging your every action, what kind of monster are you when nobody is looking? We only get the most cursory look at prospects as people, so much like NFL combine, we’re really only looking for surprises and a minimum acceptable standard in their press conferences and interviews. We want their teammates to talk about how great they are, and Pickett’s teammates use the word “love” when discussing how they feel about him.
NFL scouts though, talk to equipment managers, support staff, and everyone they can dig up on campus to get a better idea of who a prospect is. All we get are the anonymous reports from those people, which are usually just teams trying to manipulate the press and other teams’ perception of a player. I would like to draw your collective attention to the above interaction that Pickett had with a sideline reporter after a game that saw Pitt beat Clemson for the first time in a long time. He gives honest answers, perhaps too honest. He steps back for a moment to acknowledge James Skalski, a linebacker he has battled for three seasons, as the beaten Tigers leave the field, and gets right back to the reporter without drawing it out. But the thing that seals this as a very good interaction is the very end. He thanks her, by name, before he leaves to join his teammates in celebrating a massive accomplishment for their team.
It’s a small thing. but if he knows her name, you can bet he knows the janitor’s name, the assistant to the assistant equipment manager’s name, the lunch attendant’s name, and they all know that he knows them. His regular press interactions are all similar. He is having a conversation, and it is a fun conversation. He is not the reluctant hero, he embraces the role. I believe that Kenny Pickett the person can handle the rigors of being the Detroit Lions quarterback. And we’ve seen how heavy that burden can be. The timeline where Kenny Pickett is the Lions’ next QB is a good one.
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