Former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett played in the Senior Bowl on Saturday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama, and he put on a solid performance, albeit in a brief display of his abilities that was limited to two drives.
All told, Pickett went 6-for-6 on his pass attempts and accrued 89 yards and one touchdown for the National team. Pickett found the end zone with a short pass to ex-Baylor running back Abram Smith, which Smith ran in from 20 yards out. That play was set up by a 38-yard pass from Pickett to former North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson. On both plays, Pickett found and exploited holes in the American team’s defense, as ex-Sam Houston State defensive back Zyon McCollum fell down on the first play, leaving Watson open, and the American defense overcommitted to Watson on the next play, leaving Smith open for an easy score.
Just as notable as Pickett’s solid performance was the weak performance by former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis for the American team. Willis entered the game as Pickett’s top competition for QB1 status, but he did not live up to the hype, as he went 2-for-4 on passes, gaining just 11 yards through the air. Willis did add 54 yards on the ground 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 six-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 was not converted, 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, and it would make the score 20-10 in favor of the National team, which would go down as the final score.
North Carolina alum Sam Howell, Nevada product Carson Strong and former Western Kentucky passer Bailey Zappe all got extended looks on Saturday, but none of them were able to throw for a touchdown. Strong would throw the game’s first interception in the third quarter, and on the next drive, Howell would run in his only score 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 finished his day with an underthrown pass that was picked off.
Given the way the Senior Bowl unfolded, Pickett may well have fended off Willis’ attempt to unseat him as the QB1 in the upcoming draft. However, Ridder could find himself in the conversation after turning in a solid performance, and Willis will still likely remain a favorite among teams prioritizing mobility over pure passing ability. How NFL teams view this year’s crop of signal-callers remains to be seen, but a clearer picture of the pecking order should emerge after the NFL combine, which is set to get underway in early March.