- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — After hyping an aggressive plan to land an upgrade at quarterback over the past few months, Commanders coach Ron Rivera admitted it wouldn’t be “ideal” if Washington had to settle for a rookie. 

But, with most of the rest of the roster in place, Rivera insists he’d have no problem playing a first-year signal-caller, just as he did with Cam Newton in Carolina. 

“I would be comfortable,” Rivera said. 

Rivera’s apparent openness in starting a rookie next season is only part of the equation. For that to happen, the Commanders not only have to draft a quarterback but also find one that they deem ready to play now. In a muddled year of quarterback prospects, opinions are split regarding which quarterbacks would actually be ready to start from Day 1. 

Enter Kenny Pickett

Seen by most as the top quarterback in this year’s top quarterback, Pickett has earned that label in part because most think he’d be ready to execute an NFL offense right away. At Pittsburgh, the 23-year-old played in a pro-style offense — separating him from other high-profile prospects like Liberty’s Malik Willis and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. 

Pickett, too, has plenty of experience. He started 49 games — going 33-16 — and finished his five-year college career with 1,674 attempts.

By comparison, Dwayne Haskins, the last first-round quarterback that Washington drafted, had only 590 attempts at Ohio State to go along with 14 starts. 

Pickett has more than doubled those totals.

“Coming from a pro system I feel like I’ll be able to adapt well into whatever system,” Pickett said. “Hopefully it’s a West Coast system. That’s what I came from with Coach [Mark] Whipple. Being able to come in, learn an offense quickly and adjust that way, that’s No. 1.”

College stats, to be fair, don’t always tell the full story. Haskins threw for more touchdowns (50) and yards (4,831) than Pickett did in any individual season, but the former Washington starter was waived not even before the end of his second year. Pickett, meanwhile, was slow to develop — and his most recent season did a lot to improve his stock.

In 2021, Pickett appeared to make massive strides in his performance. His accuracy improved by a full six percentage points, jumping from 61.1% to 67.2%. His 42 passing touchdowns were more than what he threw in his first four seasons combined (39). 

“All my hard work over the years culminated in that last season,” Pickett said. “It wasn’t an overnight thing. I didn’t wake up and all that fell into my lap. It was years and years of hard work with my teammates and coaches. We went out there and had the season we all expected to have.”

That sudden growth is why some are hesitant to crown Pickett. Is he a one-year wonder? Haskins, coincidentally, is the poster child for tempering those kind of expectations. But Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray, on the other hand, also lit up college football for one year. And both have continued to do well in the NFL

Burrow and Murray were both drafted first overall. Pickett almost certainly won’t go No. 1 — the Jaguars have Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville is unlikely to trade the pick — but he could be gone before Washington picks at No. 11. 

Carolina and Denver, two quarterback-needy teams, pick ahead of Washington. In Carolina’s case, Panthers coach Matt Rhule recruited Pickett in college — with Pickett committing to play for Rhule at Temple before decommitting when Rhule left for Baylor.  Pickett said he got a chance to catch up with Rhule this week at the combine, adding it was “awesome” to reconnect. 

Elsewhere, it wouldn’t be a typical combine without one quarterback facing questions over his hand size. That honor belongs to Pickett, whose hands measured at 8½ inches. At that measurement, according to ESPN, Pickett’s hands would be the smallest of any current NFL quarterback.

Pickett didn’t seem concerned over the perception he has small hands. But he admitted to working on getting a precise measurement. He previously held off on getting his hands measured at last month’s Senior Bowl because he was double-jointed. 

“There wasn’t much talk about that in all the formal interviews and informal interviews I’ve had so far this week,” Pickett said. 

Hand size likely won’t matter to the team that convinces itself Pickett is the right quarterback.

Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said a player’s game film is the ultimate indicator of whether they’ll be ready to start from Day 1. The Commanders have dug deep into this year’s class, meeting with various quarterback prospects.

“I think this is a quality quarterback class this year,” Mayhew said. “There’s no consensus number one. …  There may be some separation here at the combine.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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