AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
The Carolina Panthers reportedly haven’t been linked to Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett as much as the other top signal-callers in the 2022 NFL draft class recently.
According to SI.com’s Albert Breer, there has been more talk about the Panthers targeting Liberty’s Malik Willis, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder rather than Pickett.
The Panthers own the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, and with Sam Darnold penciled in as their 2022 starter after struggling mightily last season, there is seemingly a strong chance Carolina could go for a quarterback with that selection.
Breer noted that other NFL teams are “convinced” the Panthers will take a quarterback with their first-round pick despite having other needs, although trading down is a possibility since the 2022 quarterback class isn’t considered a strong one.
Pickett had long been viewed as the top quarterback in the class, but that narrative changed during the pre-draft process with Willis seemingly leapfrogging him for multiple reasons.
For starters, Willis turned in a spectacular performance at his pro day and showed off the type of elite skill set that other quarterbacks in the class don’t have.
Also, Pickett’s hand measured 8⅝ inches at his pro day, which is cause for concern since he would have the smallest hands of any notable starting or backup quarterback in the NFL.
Still, there is a lot to like about Pickett, especially from a production standpoint during his final year at Pitt.
Pickett finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2021 after completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions, as well as rushing for 241 yards and five scores.
Breer added that the Panthers had a major presence at Pickett’s pro day, plus Panthers head coach Matt Rhule recruited Pickett out of high school when he was the head coach at Temple.
In fact, Pickett committed to Temple originally, but he reversed course when Rhule left the school to become the head coach at Baylor.
Even so, there may be too many red flags for the Panthers to feel comfortable taking Pickett sixth overall, especially if a toolsy prospect like Willis is still on the board.
It isn’t guaranteed that Willis will make it to No. 6, but if he does, Breer projects that the Panthers will take him.
Otherwise, trading down and targeting one of Pickett, Corral or Ridder could be Carolina’s best course of action, especially since its second pick in the draft isn’t until No. 137 overall in the fourth round.