The New York Giants starting defensive line was the undoubted strength of their defense in 2023.
But as good as their group of starters was, they suffered from a severe lack of depth. Teams were often able to exploit the Giants’ defense when starters were on the sideline for rest or injury. So while they might have more pressing needs to fill in the upcoming draft, they would do well to add another defensive tackle.
South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens is flying below the national radar, but he was quietly impressive for the Gamecocks. Pickens has an intriguing combination of length, athleticism, and competitive toughness that could make him a starter at the NFL level.
Could he catch the Giants’ eye in the middle rounds?
Prospect: Zacch Pickens (6)
Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2021), vs. Arkansas (2022), vs. Georgia (2022), vs. Kentucky (2022)
Height: 6-foot 3 5/8 inches
Weight: 300 pounds
Arm length 34 1/8 inches
Hand size: 10 inches
Games Played: 43
Tackles for a loss: 11.5
Passes defensed: 4
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 4.0
Passes defensed: 3
Best: Length, explosiveness, leverage, competitive toughness, football IQ
Worst: Long speed, technique
Projection: A primary rotational interior defensive lineman with starting upside in the right scheme.
(Pickens is South Carolina iDL number 6))
South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens is a long, explosive and fiery interior defensive tackle.
Pickens has experience at a variety of positions on the South Carolina defensive line, playing everything from the nose tackle position to a 5-technique defensive tackle.
Pickens is a long, athletic, and tough defensive tackle. He has a long, athletic physique at 6-foot 4 ⅝ inches and 300 pounds, with 34-inch arms. He carries his weight well and shows good quickness, agility, and flashes impressive explosiveness. Pickens is at his best when he’s able to attack individual gaps and penetrate into the backfield. He does a good job of keying the snap and is often one of the first players moving at the snap.
Pickens has a high football IQ and generally does a good job of diagnosing the offensive play and isn’t often fooled by misdirection. He also does a good job of getting his hands up to disrupt passing lanes.
Pickens has good lower body flexibility and fires out of his stance with good pad level and constantly plays with good pad level throughout the rep. He makes good use of his length and tries to win inside leverage on blockers. He has good grip strength and is able to control blockers until it’s time to shed and make plays on ball carriers.
Pickens is a very disruptive defensive tackle who is capable of driving individual blockers into the backfield. He is capable of winning through his sheer explosiveness or through play strength, bench pressing linemen and driving offensive linemen backward.
Pickens has good play strength when he plays with good leverage. However, he can be moved off the ball when teams run directly at him. His relative lack of mass (as compared to bigger defensive tackles) shows up against double teams, and he can be moved off of the ball.
Pickens also needs to continue to develop his hand usage. He has a good understanding of how to use his length and win inside leverage. However, he doesn’t have nuanced hand usage and typically uses a bull rush or swim move. That can leave him high centered and “stuck” on the blocker or just a few instants late getting to the passer.
Overall Grade: 7.4
Zacch Pickens projects as an important rotational defensive tackle with starting potential in the right situation.
Pickens will be at his best in a “multiple” defense that’s based on one-gap principles. Whether he is playing the 5-technique defensive end or a 3-technique defensive tackle, he’s a disruptive defender when he can attack into the opposing backfield.
He’s a dangerous defensive tackle when driving offensive linemen into the backfield or attacking individual gaps to disrupt the backfield. Pickens flashes near-elite explosiveness when he’s able to pin his ears back and attack a gap. He does a good job of using his length to beat offensive linemen, either getting skinny between blockers or driving individual blockers into the backfield. Pickens does a great job of keying the snap and is often one of the first players moving off of the snap.
He is a better pass rusher than run defender, and is probably best defined as a “disruptor”. Pickens is a hand-full, and often too much) for individual blockers and frequently commands double teams. However, he lacks the mass and anchor to control double teams and can be moved off the ball when teams run directly at him. Pickens typically plays with good leverage, though he needs to improve his hand usage to consistently finish his rushes with the quarterback (or ball carrier) on the ground.
While Pickens will likely start his career as a rotational defensive tackle, his versatility, football IQ, and athleticism should make him a good starting candidate early in his career.