INDIANAPOLIS — One team’s trash can is another team’s franchise quarterback.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis — the headliners of a quarterback draft class that has been called the worst to enter the league since 2013 — each told the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday that he thinks the he is expected to be the first setter selected on April 28.
“Someone is always going to think you’re trash,” Willis said. “I’m just going to continue. I don’t play for their approval.
Possible destinations for Pickett, Willis and the other rookies won’t be known until the pieces are in place in the veteran quarterback market: Is Aaron Rodgers looking for a trade? Will Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray be available? Where do Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo land?
After the dust settles, teams looking to the draft must decide how to weigh Pickett’s pro preparation against Willis’ high ceiling. Or Pickett’s precision versus Willis’ athleticism. Or, in isolation, Pickett’s monster senior season versus his junior years.
“I think knowing how to win is key. That’s the No. 1 thing in this position,” Pickett said. “And all my hard work over the years has culminated in this last season. It wasn’t an overnight thing. I didn’t wake up and it all fell in my lap. It was years and years of hard work with my teammates and my coaches.
After throwing for 38 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 35 career games, the 23-year-old Ocean Township, NJ native exploded for 42 touchdowns and cut his interceptions total to seven in 13 games en route to be a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I always said I would. I had faith that I would be here on this stage somehow,” Pickett said. “My road did not last three years. I had to do the five years. A lot of people think I’ve been in college for six years. Everyone’s journey is different. I was convinced from day one.
Willis’ journey included moving from Auburn to Liberty, where he rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons and threw for 48 touchdowns with 18 interceptions. What makes him the best quarterback in the draft?
“I just think it’s my willingness to learn,” said Willis, 22. “My willingness to try to be awesome and the physical tools that I’m blessed with. And my work ethic. I think [I should be the first quarterback picked], but I don’t make those decisions. I hate that for me.
Multiple league sources like Pickett’s pairings with the Broncos at No. 9 — if Rodgers’ reunion with head coach (and former Packers offensive coordinator) Nathaniel Hackett doesn’t materialize — and Willis with the Steelers on an exchange of No 20. The commanders at No 11 are a wildcard.
“Pickett is a proven winner who should be a good starter for a long time, so he should start,” an NFL talent evaluator told the Post, “but some teams might fall in love with Willis’ traits.”
Other sources suspect the cold-weather-based Broncos could be turned off by Pickett’s small hands — which will be measured for the first time on Thursday — and fear grabbing the NFL-sized ball. No first-round quarterback has had hands smaller than nine inches from thumb to little finger since the combine began measuring. Pickett admitted that he does exercises designed to expand his hands.
“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about it in all the formal and informal interviews I’ve had so far this week,” Pickett said. “Whatever he measures, he measures. I’m sure it won’t be the last [the talk], but this will be the last step I will take. Your tape is your CV. All of those other things are the boxes you need to check before the draft.
The Broncos’ Hackett is a West Coast-based offensive discipline, and Pickett has expressed a preference for that system. Willis, who will throw drills but not run the 40-yard dash, has an easier-to-understand offensive preference.
“The one who scores points,” he said.
New York Post