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Kenny Pickett announces he will return to Pitt in 2021

The Pitt quarterback threw for 2,408 yards and scored 21 touchdowns in 2020

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett announced on Tuesday night that he would return for a fifth season with the Panthers in 2021. The surprising news came shortly after a handful of Pickett’s teammates declared for the 2021 NFL draft over the weekend and should greatly benefit an offensive unit that was staring down the barrel of an uncertain future without him.

In his return, Pickett will once again be relied upon as the star of the Pitt offense. He will also face some new challenges, as his two most dependable offensive linemen, Jimmy Morrissey and Bryce Hargrove, have announced plans to move on, as has slot receiver D.J. Turner, who ranked second on the team in receiving yards in 2020, with 634.

With that said, Pickett will still have rising star Jordan Addison as a target, and Addison led Pitt in receiving yards during a breakout freshman year in 2020, with 666 yards to go with four touchdowns. The signal-caller will also get promising tight end Lucas Krull back from an injury that cut his first season in Pittsburgh short, and with Mark Whipple likely back to call the plays, Pickett should connect with the two pass-catchers often.

As for Pickett himself, 2020 was one of the best seasons of his career, as he threw for 2,408 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games. He also added a new wrinkle to his game, as he scored eight touchdowns on foot and relied heavily on his mobility to propel Pitt’s offense down the field. But Pickett also threw nine picks for the second straight season, and the frequency of his turnovers increased despite his otherwise solid play. So while some aspects of his performance were great, he had some areas where he could improve.

As a result, Pickett was on the radar of draft analysts, but opinion was mixed on what he might offer NFL teams. ESPN ranked him as the No. 157 overall prospect and the No. 11 quarterback expected to be available in the draft, while CBS Sports ranked him No. 86 and No. 8 at his position. And while walking away from a potential shot at the NFL for another year is undoubtedly a risk, Pickett has been moving on an upward trajectory and may well improve his draft stock in year five at Pitt.