Pitt in the Pros: Trio of Panthers have much to gain at NFL combine


AP Photo/Butch Dill

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett throws a pass during the NCAA Senior Bowl football game on Feb. 5 in Mobile, Alabama.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

The NFL combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis and three former Panthers — quarterback Kenny Pickett, defensive back Damarri Mathis and long snapper Cal Adomitis — will attend. All three players have much to prove if they want to increase their draft stock. Here’s what to look out for from each player.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett

Pickett had two choices last year — enter the NFL draft as a projected late round pick, or bet on himself and return to Pittsburgh for a final season. Pickett chose the latter and went on to have one of the most prolific seasons ever by a Pitt quarterback, culminating in an ACC Championship and a Heisman ceremony invite.

The future now looks bright for Pitt’s all-time passing leader, as Pickett is a projected first-round selection. But Pickett will still have to put in work at the combine to solidify his position. Concerns around Pickett’s hand size circulated during the Senior Bowl last month. Unfortunately, Pickett can’t miraculously spurt larger hands before the Draft. Pickett will need to demonstrate that small hands will not affect his throwing or ball security abilities in the NFL.

Look for Pickett to also try and prove himself as an athlete in the 40-yard dash and bench press drills. Pickett’s creativity and toughness were on display all season, especially after fake sliding his way to a 58-yard rushing touchdown in the ACC Championship game.

Even though this year’s class of signal callers is generally considered weak, Pickett will not run through the combine without competition. Pickett will feel pressure from other quarterbacks such as Malik Willis of Liberty and Matt Corral of Ole Miss, who are both projected first round selections. Pickett will also be closely watching North Carolina’s Sam Howell. The pair dueled in November, with Pickett and the Panthers gaining the upper hand, but Howell’s stock has continued to rise since, making him a possible first round selection too.

Several teams seem interested in selecting Pickett in the first round, including the Carolina Panthers, Washington Commanders and New Orleans Saints. The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be a dark horse in the Pickett sweepstakes. If the Steelers look to the draft to replace long-time field general Ben Roethlisberger, then Pickett could be a potential target for their 20th pick.

Projected Pick: Round 1, Pick 6 Carolina Panthers

Defensive Back Damarri Mathis

After sitting out the 2020 season with an injury, Mathis fought hard all season to earn a spot in the NFL combine. The former Panther defensive back earned an All-ACC honorable mention and played a crucial role in the ACC Championship game victory. But Mathis will have to continue fighting if he wants to hear his name called in the draft. Mathis is a projected last round pick, making his performance in the combine absolutely crucial.

One critical drill for Mathis in the combine will be the 40-yard dash. Mathis did not run the drill in the Senior Bowl, making the combine his first and only recorded performance before the draft. This drill is often regarded as the most important event for defensive backs, as speed is absolutely crucial for the position. Mathis will likely need to run a sub 4.50 in the event to be competitive with other defensive backs.

Pitt’s neighbors at their South Side practice facility may be the favorites to land Mathis. The former Panther recently expressed interest in staying in Pittsburgh and the Steelers are in the market for support in the secondary.

Projected Pick: Undrafted Free Agent Pittsburgh Steelers

LS Cal Adomitis

Adomitis won’t face much competition in the combine, as he will be the only long snapper in attendance. But Adomitis will still need to perform well to earn a spot in the draft. Only two long snappers were drafted in 2021, meaning Adomitis’s position puts him at an automatic disadvantage.

Still, the most decorated long snapper in Pitt history has proven himself worthy of a draft. Adomitis earned first team All-American status in 2021 as well as the Patrick Mannelly Trophy for best long snapper in the country last season.

The Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Chargers could be looking at Adomitis this week, as both teams have aging long snappers. Admonitis will likely fall to the later rounds, as long snappers typically are picked in the 5th to 6th rounds.

Projected Pick: Round 6 Cincinnati Bengals

The combine will commence on Feb. 28. Quarterback drills will take place on Thursday, while defensive back and special team events are scheduled for Sunday. Coverage will take place all week on NFL Network.