Pickett sharp, Mathis turns heads at Pitt’s 2022 Pro Day


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Quarterback Kenny Pickett throws a football at NFL Pro Day Monday afternoon.

By Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

Quarterback Kenny Pickett drew a large crowd of representatives from 31 NFL teams to the Rooney Sports Complex for Pitt’s annual football pro day on Monday afternoon. But he wasn’t the only Panther prospect on display for nearly every NFL team. 

In total, 13 Panthers participated in the workout. Each of them will watch the NFL draft, which will take place over three days starting on April 28, closely in hopes of hearing their name called.

No one potentially boosted their draft stock more than cornerback Damarri Mathis. The defensive back took full advantage of the exposure and provided scouts with a phenomenal performance, logging a 43 1/2-inch vertical jump and 11 feet, one-inch broad jump.

After recording an impressive 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL combine, both his vertical jump and broad jump at the pro day would have been the best out of all cornerbacks at the combine.

With a Deion Sanders-esque swagger, embodied by his choice of wearing sunglasses at the mic, Mathis acknowledged that he spoke with Jets cornerback and former Panther Jason Pinnock, who increased his draft stock at last year’s pro day. Mathis confidently said he wasn’t surprised by his performance.

“Yeah, I talked to him a little bit, but I was always confident in my abilities,” Mathis said. “He tested very well, and I felt like I was going to test very well as well. I just know myself and my abilities and I’m very confident in that.”

After the defensive players left the field for their portion of the workout, silence settled in among the onlookers. Scouts who had been chatting on the sidelines or on the phone with their front offices didn’t say a word as Pickett and the offense took the field.

Despite not taking part in any of the measured drills, Pickett looked sharp working with his receivers, consistently hitting them in stride with accuracy. He missed on a few deep balls, but was largely on point, particularly with sophomore wide receiver and Biletnikoff award winner Jordan Addison.

Both before and after his time on the field, Pickett talked with Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. The two first became familiar with each other when Pickett originally committed to play for Rhule during his tenure as head coach at Temple.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the only other team to send a head coach to the pro day, with head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Matt Canada and general manager Kevin Colbert all in attendance. The Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders each sent their offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and general managers. 

With constant offseason transactions, Pickett said it’s hard to predict where he might end up. Even though he has been in close contact with Rhule and other coaches across the league, he’ll have to wait until draft night to officially know where he’ll play.

“It keeps changing,” Pickett said. “I think as free agency kind of settles down you’ll have a little bit of a clearer picture, but teams still play things kind of close to the chest.”

Pickett’s hand size has been a major talking point across the football community since scouts measured them at 8.5 inches at the combine. After remeasuring them on Monday, they came in an eighth of an inch longer than the previous measurement.

Despite the criticism, Pickett and his teammates give the same message to people who hold his hand size against him — go watch the tape. Tight end Lucas Krull made sure to praise his quarterback’s ability to throw accurately with distance despite his small hand size.

“The issue I think is you know you want to find something to knock a guy on in the media if you can’t find it in the game film,” Krull said. “OK maybe he has small hands, well, he shows he can throw it 65 yards on the dot, I don’t think that’s an issue.”

Regarding his own performance, Krull was out for redemption on Monday, feeling slighted by the absence of a combine invitation. He said he used it as motivation and that he didn’t want to be overlooked.

“No disrespect to anybody, but I felt like I should have been there,” Krull said. “You grow up, it’s something you want to do, and I didn’t get that opportunity. I knew I had to come in and prove everyone wrong.”

Krull’s 4.54-second 40-yard dash would have been second best at the combine for a tight end, just two-hundredths of a second behind the top runner at the position. He also showed off his sure hands, catching each pass thrown his way from Pickett. After the workouts, he talked with several scouts and coaches, and even did a few individual drills with representatives from the Dallas Cowboys.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker John Petrishen and defensive lineman Keyshon Camp both put in solid performances. Camp produced 27 reps of 225 pounds in the bench portion of the workout, and Petrishen’s 38.5-inch vertical jump each rank highly among their position groups.

Petrishen said he attributes his jumping ability to playing basketball and strong genetics. According to Petrishen, after putting up 20 reps on bench press, he’s hitting his stride at an opportune time.

“Today I think adrenaline got me that last rep,” Petrishen said. “It’s all about peaking at the right time. When you’re training, those first few months are a grind, then last week was just recovery, so I haven’t really touched a weight since last Thursday.”

One of the most impressive performances of the day came from wide receiver Tre Tipton. Though he didn’t test off the charts, he looked solid in the offensive drills, making an impressive sliding catch, and another fingertip grab on a Pickett deep ball.

While all the players at the pro day looked to make an impact on their own draft stock, Tipton had another priority.

“My biggest goal today was to make Kenny look good,” Tipton said. “If I make Kenny look good, that means I did good.”

Tipton jokingly said that he predicted Kenny’s rise to stardom a few years ago, and had the potential to be even better than Dan Marino. While acknowledging he can’t predict the future, Tipton made sure to emphasize that the NFL team which drafts Pickett will have a solid quarterback on staff.

“That’s to be determined, I can’t give y’all all the good stuff,” Tipton said about Kenny’s potential NFL success. “He’s going to show the world what he’s capable of and whoever gives him an opportunity, they’re going to get a really good quarterback.”