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Kenny Pickett prepared for being first quarterback taken in NFL Draft

'I'm in a much better position now this year than I was last year'


Indianapolis – Kenny Pickett was a fair amount of time behind schedule Wednesday morning for his media availability at the NFL Combine, and he knew it.

"Sorry I'm late guys," he said, "got held up on the medical stuff."

NFL teams very much are interested in crossing all 'Ts and dotting all 'Is' when it comes to the player who projects to be the first quarterback selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. Much like Pickett – who was at the University of Pittsburgh for five seasons and started the final four years and 48 games, breaking Dan Marino's school records along the way to totaling 12,303 passing yards and 81 touchdowns – made sure to complete his tasks before leaving Pitt.

He was eligible to enter the Draft after the 2020 season, when his career totals stood at 7,984 yards and 39 touchdowns, with 25 interceptions and a completion rate of 60.4 percent.

But a sage adviser – New Orleans native Peyton Manning – helped Pickett make a decision after 2020, when he completed 203 of 332 passes for 2,408 yards and 13 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

"The decision to come back to Pitt, after the 2020 year, Peyton gave me a lot of insight to help me make that decision and the best decision for me was to go back to school," Pickett said. "Obviously, I'm in a much better situation now this year than I was last year if I had decided to come out. So I'm really grateful for all the advice that he gave me."

In that extra season, Pickett completed 334 of 497 passes for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

"I think just all the hard work over the years kind of culminated in that last season," Pickett said. "It wasn't just an overnight thing. I didn't just wake up and all of that fell into my lap. It was years and years of hard work with my teammates, my coaches and we really went out there and had the season that we all expected to have.

"It's all the hard work, kind of growing into that last season, having my third season with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Mark) Whipple, mastering the offense, taking more ownership of our team and our offense. Being more of a vocal leader in terms of throwing sessions and film sessions and teaching our offense to our guys and they're hearing it from my voice instead of a coach, so we're all on the same page when we went out there every Saturday.

"So I think a lot went into it. Definitely was not just a 'me' thing. Great teammates, great coaches. I think all of that came together for a special season for us."

The Panthers finished 11-3, their first 10-win season since 2009, and Pickett said he hopes to carry that success with him into the NFL.

"I think knowing how to win is key," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing at this position.

"Coming from a pro system, I feel like I'll be able to adapt well into whatever system – hopefully a West Coast system, which is what I came from with Coach Whipple. So I think I'll be able to come in and learn an offense quickly and be able to adjust that way."

The Senior Bowl Most Valuable Player also has dealt with criticism of undersized hands, and to counter he has undergone stretching exercises in hopes of increasing size.

"It is what it is," Pickett said. "I think the media runs with it a little more than NFL teams do. There really isn't much talk about that in all the formal interviews and the informal interviews that I've had so far this week."

But he has been diligent about the hand exercises.

"The reason I didn't measure at the Senior Bowl was just to have those extra couple of weeks, just a common sense thing to have more time working the exercises," he said. "So whatever it measures, it measures. I'm sure that won't be the end of it but that'll be the last measure I'm sure I'll take of it."

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