The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
It's the start of the third season in the Ron Rivera era, and the Washington Commanders have a pristine opportunity to strengthen their roster.
In his first season as Washington's head coach, Rivera took Chase Young, who became the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the No. 2 overall pick. The next season, he drafted Jamin Davis with the No. 19 overall pick, and the former Kentucky Wildcat showed promise in his first season.
Now, the Commanders have the No. 11 overall pick, and analysts are predicting them to go with a plethora of positions, from linebacker to safety and quarterback, at that spot.
In anticipation for that selection, Commanders.com will highlight one mock draft from a draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. After highlighting wide receiver Garrett Wilson, here's a look at Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew have made it clear they want to address the quarterback position in some fashion during the 2022 offseason, and all options are on the table. That includes finding an answer on the roster, finding a veteran in free agency or looking into the draft pool for young talent.
If the Commanders do decide to take a signal-caller in the first round, Pittsburgh' Kenny Pickett, who played in 52 games over the course of his five-year college career, is among the most experienced.
"Pickett may not be the flashiest prospect, but he had a nearly flawless redshirt senior campaign," wrote Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner in his latest mock draft. "He took a massive leap in accuracy, with his adjusted completion percentage going from 73.7% in 2020 to 78.8% in 2021."
Renner is correct in pointing out that Pickett, who was recruited out of Oakhurst, New Jersey, had an exceptional 2021 campaign. He had the sixth-most passing yards in college football (4,319) to go with 42 touchdowns, leading his team to its first ACC championship. The Panthers finished the season with 11 wins, which is the most since Dan Marino played for the program (for reference, that was in 1981).
That's not to say that Pickett's previous years weren't impressive. The Panthers' went to back-to-back bowl games in 2018 and 2019 with him as the starter. After falling to Stanford in the Sun Bowl, 14-13, he helped the Panthers pull out a 34-30 win over Eastern Michigan in Quick Bowl by throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass in the final minute.
"He's a fairly toolsy pocket passer with good mobility," wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his draft profile of Pickett.
Pickett came to Pittsburgh as the 10th-ranked high school pro-style quarterback in the country, according to 247sports. His only start from his freshman season came against the No. 2-ranked Miami Hurricanes, and not only did the Panthers upset Miami in a 24-14 victory, but Pickett also scored all three of their touchdowns with an 88.5 QBR. In addition to his 193 yards through the air, he also carried the ball 13 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
"You don't think your first start is going to come against the No. 2 team in the country and you upset them at home. It's an unbelievable feeling and I'm real happy we got it done for the seniors," Pickett told the Associated Press.
Still, it's clear that Pickett's 2021 season was the exclamation point on his college career. He earned a slew of awards for his performance, some of the most notable including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the best senior/fourth-year quarterback and ACC Player of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award, which is given to the nation's most outstanding player.
"He has such a better understanding of the offense and what he's looking for from the defense," said ESPN's Todd McShay. "He's more decisive, and he's pushing his receivers hard on where to be given what the defense is showing, and that's what a veteran leader should be doing."
In the Senior Bowl, which included most of the 2022 quarterback class, Pickett was one of the top performers, completing all six of his passes for 89 yards and scoring the National team's first touchdown.
Heading into the week of preparation, consistency was one of the main things Pickett wanted to prove to scouts.
"I think everyone knows the kind of year I just had, and it was a lot different from the previous three years," he said. "So I just want to show that playing at a high level for 13 games isn't kind of a luck thing. You gotta be the same guy every single week, and I want to be the same guy now."
Pickett is the top quarterback in this year's draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Like the class overall, there is a belief that he will need some time to develop. However, Kiper points out that he would be the most comfortable with Pickett at the starter.
"There's a lot to like with his improvement," Kiper wrote, "and his ability to use his legs to maneuver the pocket and scramble when he has to is underrated."