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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

ESPN’s 2022 re-draft lands quarterback Kenny Pickett with the Saints

A burden of success is that others tend to take notice. ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters collaborated on a do-over of the first round in the 2022 NFL draft, which cost the New Orleans Saints their top prospect but brought them a hopeful franchise quarterback in Kenny Pickett, who they passed on twice last April before the Pittsburgh Steelers called his name at No. 20 overall.

Young star receiver Chris Olave was picked by the Saints last year when they traded up on draft day to No. 11 overall, but they didn’t have that mobility in this exercise and were forced to watch him go off the board to the Houston Texans at No. 13. With the Saints stranded at No. 16, ESPN’s Katherine Terrell chose to select Pickett. Here’s what she wrote of that match:

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“The Saints have struggled to find the right quarterback for the past two seasons and, with no 2023 first-rounder plus limited salary-cap space, their options aren’t great. With Chris Olave off the board, they could use the first of their two picks on a quarterback instead of starting over for the third straight year. Pickett’s numbers aren’t great — seven touchdown passes, nine interceptions — but he and the Pittsburgh offense improved down the stretch.”

Pickett was one of the worst starters in the league last year, but much of that blame goes to ineffective play-calling by his offensive coaching staff. But he did beat the Saints head-to-head and he led the Steelers into four game-winning drives, finishing the year with a 7-5 record as a starter. A stronger supporting cast could see his stock improve.

What about their other first-round pick? New Orleans bet big on left tackle Trevor Penning at No. 19, but the hole at receiver was too big to ignore, so Terrell took the best pass-catcher available in Jahan Dotson. He isn’t Olave, but he still had an impressive rookie year and he’d be welcome in New Orleans:

“Penning has a lot of potential, but injuries at the beginning and end of the season delayed his progress and limited his playing time. With Chris Olave already taken in this scenario — and with Michael Thomas‘ future in question — this team needs to add a receiver. Dotson’s seven touchdowns were tied for the lead among all rookie wideouts and would have tied tight end Juwan Johnson as the Saints’ receiving leader.”

Pickett and Dotson might be an effective combo to build an offense around, but the Saints are betting differently in searching for Olave’s quarterback. That might lead them to veteran starter Derek Carr, or to an option in the 2023 draft (one scenario, unlikely though it may be: trading up for Olave’s college quarterback C.J. Stroud). Hopefully Penning can heal up and prove New Orleans was right to invest such a high draft pick in him.

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