Saturday, January 28

Kenny Pickett shines in limited action at Senior Bowl

Former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett played in the Senior Bowl on Saturday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama, and put in a solid performance, albeit in a brief display of his skills that was limited to two drives.

Overall, Pickett was 6-for-6 on his pass attempts and had 89 yards and a touchdown for the national team. Pickett found the end zone with a short pass to former Baylor running back Abram Smith, which Smith ran from 20 yards. That play was set up by Pickett’s 38-yard pass to former North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson. On both plays, Pickett found and exploited holes in the US team’s defense, as former Sam Houston State defensive back Zyon McCollum went down on the first play, leaving Watson wide open, and the US defense overcommitted with Watson on the next play, leaving Smith. open for easy scoring.

Just as notable as Pickett’s strong performance was former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis’ weak performance for the American team. Willis entered the game as Pickett’s main competition for QB1 status, but he didn’t live up to the hype, going 2-for-4 on passes, gaining just 11 yards through the air. Willis added 54 rushing yards and may have been the most elusive quarterback in action on Saturday. However, he was still sacked twice and failed to find the end zone.

The only quarterback other than Pickett to find the end zone in the first half was Cincinnati product Desmond Ridder, who scored on a 6-yard pass to former Colorado State tight end Trey McBride. Ridder’s performance would be marred by a fumble on the subsequent two-point conversion attempt, which failed to convert, leaving the score 13–0 in favor of the national team. However, Ridder would redeem himself with a touchdown pass to former Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson in the second half. That would make him the day’s touchdown leader, leaving the score 20-10 in favor of the National Team, which would become the final score.

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North Carolina alum Sam Howell, Nevada product Carson Strong and former Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe received extended looks Saturday, but none of them were able to throw for a touchdown. Strong would throw the first interception of the game in the third quarter, and on the following drive, Howell would score his only touchdown of the day. But Howell was far from flawless, as he fumbled twice. And Zappe, who struggled with pocket awareness, taking four sacks on the day, was the only passer to top Pickett’s yardage, as he threw for 103 yards on 13 attempts. But he ended his day with a low pass that was intercepted.

Given the way the Senior Bowl played out, Pickett may have fended off Willis’ attempt to unseat him as QB1 in the upcoming draft. However, Ridder could find himself in the conversation after putting up a solid performance, and Willis is likely to remain a favorite among teams that prioritize mobility over sheer passing ability. It remains to be seen how NFL teams view this year’s crop of signs, but a clearer picture of the pecking order should emerge after the NFL combine, which begins in early March.

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