Going into the 2023 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs have a massive hole — both figuratively and literally — at defensive tackle. With Khalen Saunders leaving in free agency and Brandon Williams still a free agent, the Chiefs don't have a lot of depth at the position. They did resign nose tackle Derrick Nnadi, but Nnadi's snaps have diminished for four straight years.
The Chiefs have to find a better solution at defensive tackle, regardless of where the Chiefs decided to draft the position. If the Chiefs decide to wait until Day 2 of the draft to add one, South Carolina's Zacch Pickens fits the profile the Chiefs typically like in a prospect.
Here's what you need to know about Pickens:
Pickens has an illustrious background. Out of high school, he was the top-ranked defensive tackle in the country and the eighth-ranked player nationally. He had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU, but ultimately decided to play for his hometown in South Carolina.
Pickens was a four-year player for South Carolina, starting 32 games for the Gamecocks. In his tenure at South Carolina, Pickens earned SEC Academic Honor Roll four times and was voted the 2022 Steve Wadiak Team MVP while being a team captain. Pickens had 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks over his career. His best statistical season came in 2021, where he had 38 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and four sacks.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Pickens measured 6'3 5/8" and 291 lbs. with 34 3/8-inch arms (85th percentile). His listed weight at South Carolina was 305 lbs., which can be seen on his tape. NFL teams will sometimes have players come in at different weights to see how they test. That weight loss helped Pickens at the combine, where he ran a 4.89 40-yard dash (89th) with a broad jump of 9'8" (95th percentile). His other drills were solid, too — he finished in the 50th percentile or above in every metric except the bench press.
Zacch Pickens (#6, DT, South Carolina)— Nate Christensen (@natech32) April 5, 2023
- Seamlessly plays 1T and 3T
- Natural two-gapper, great play ID and gap control
- Powerful pass rusher, collapse pockets
- Push/pull move developed
- Pop in and hands and upper body strength
- Pad level and natural leverage, use of length pic.twitter.com/iPKjley2eJ
Pickens has every trait you want from a defensive tackle.
The first thing that stands out as a run defender is his length. He's not as big as most nose tackles, but he's a good point-of-attack defender. He utilizes his length well, keeping his chest clean and knocking blockers backward. Running zone at Pickens is a challenge, where he can get full extension and use his leg drive to leave guards stumbling back.
Even though Pickens is only around 300 lbs., his strength is overwhelming. Pickens might be lighter in the lower half, but his upper body strength and power in his hands are overwhelming. Pickens has a quick get-off and fires his hands into contact well. Even at a lighter size, he's a natural two-gapping defensive tackle — where he's maintaining control of multiple gaps. His eye discipline is sharp; he identifies where the running back is going and throws blockers into running backs.
As a pass rusher, Pickens is underrated. He might not be the twitchiest athlete, but he has solid lateral agility to rush with speed. His bullrush is already developed, and he converts speed to power well. Pickens will threaten to run upfield, which gets the guard to open their hips, but Pickens can use his length and attack a stumbling guard. There's a lot of room to grow as a pass rusher, but Pickens can be a quality pass rusher for a nose tackle.
How he fits the Chiefs
Pickens is a natural fit for the Chiefs. General manager Brett Veach loves players with recruiting pedigree and who played in the SEC, and Pickens has both. Pickens also has a terrific football character, which should appeal to the Chiefs. Combine that with solid athletic testing, and I think Pickens will be heavily on the Chiefs' radar.
As a player, Pickens can fill multiple roles for the Chiefs. If he gets his playing weight back to 305 lbs., I think he could fill in some at nose tackle for the Chiefs. He's also agile enough to play 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard), which means he could spell some reps for defensive tackle Chris Jones. Being able to play both spots allows the Chiefs to give Jones breathers, but Pickens can also make a positive difference playing next to Jones.
The bottom line
Pickens is flying under the radar in this draft process.
There hasn't been much hype surrounding Pickens, but he is enjoyable to watch. He might not have any dominant traits, but I don't think Pickens's game has any significant weakness. He can fill multiple spots on a defensive line, which most defensive tackles can't do. Pickens can alleviate pressure from Jones while also enabling him, which is a luxury Jones has simply not had.
If you made me guess defensive tackles who are higher on the Chiefs' draft board than consensus, I would say Pickens would be on that list. Veach likes drafting SEC athletes with impressive backgrounds, and Pickens fits the criteria.
Combine that with the ability to play multiple spots, and Pickens may be a target for the Chiefs on Day 2.