Bears’ third-round pick Zacch Pickens has big plans: ‘I can be one of the greats’

The South Carolina defensive tackle — a five-star recruit who was rated ahead of Travon Walker in high school, says he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential. “I can be 10 times better than I was in college,” he said.

SHARE Bears’ third-round pick Zacch Pickens has big plans: ‘I can be one of the greats’
South Carolina defensive tackle Zacch Pickens (6) was a second-team all-SEC selection last season, when he had 42 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

South Carolina defensive tackle Zacch Pickens (6) was a second-team all-SEC selection last season, when he had 42 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Butch Dill/AP

Zacch Pickens was the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the country as a high school senior in Anderson, South Carolina — rated ahead of future No. 1 pick Travon Walker. After getting passed by Walker and others in a productive but unspectacular college career at South Carolina, spanning coach Will Muschamp, interim coach Mike Bobo and coach Shane Beamer, he knows he has a lot more to give.

“I’m going to be 10 times better than I was in college,” said Pickens, the Bears’ third-round draft pick (No. 64) Friday night. “I never had a consistent coach in high school, either. So I’ve been bounced around, taking stuff in bits and pieces with each coach I learned from, and I was grateful that I had coach Beamer for two years.

“But I haven’t reached the level I could be [at], and I’m definitely going to hold myself accountable for everything I do, especially going to the Bears. So I’m going to be at my peak and make sure I’ve got everything right.”

After taking Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter in the second round (No. 53), the Bears continued to address a need on the D- line with the 6-4, 291-pound Pickens. And even if he didn’t live up to lofty expectations after coming to South Carolina as the No. 8-ranked high school prospect in the nation for all positions, he’s confident he can reach his potential.

“I can be one of the greatest if I check all my boxes,” Pickens said. “If I do everything right, and I know I will, I can be one of the greats. I’m not holding that back. I’m so for real. If I check all the boxes — and when I do — I promise you I’m going to be the best defensive interior tackle. And that’s exactly what I’m going to bring — my best every day.”

With Dexter and Pickens, the Bears have two quality athletes with versatility. Both figure to have a chance to become starters or at least key rotational contributors in 2023.

“I can play anywhere — 3-tech, shade, wherever the team needs me,” said Pickens, who was listed at 305 pounds at South Carolina last season.

Pickens started the last seven games of an abbreviated COVID season as a sophomore in 2020 but emerged as a bigger force under Beamer in his last two seasons. He started 25 games — opting out of the Gamecocks’ bowl game last year in anticipation of going to the NFL — and had 80 tackles, 6½ sacks, four pass breakups and nine tackles for loss.

Still, Pickens knows he will have work to do to make it in the NFL. But with his athleticism, the upside is high.

“My physicality — I’m gonna bring all that,” Pickens said when asked what he needs to show to make an impact in the NFL. “I know I shot it sometimes, and that’s one thing I’m practicing on — to be more consistent, being a guy [they] can count on more than just, ‘OK, he showed flashes.’ I’m gonna be more accountable, holding myself to a higher standard than I ever did in college.”

Bears general manager Ryan Poles is confident Pickens can be a more consistent player in the NFL.

“It’s technical work, hand usage, ability to lock out even better,” Poles said. “He’s got 34-inch arms — once he’s able to clean that up, he’ll be able to keep his frame clean and get off blocks even better.

“The one cool thing is his ability to self-assess, notice his strengths and weaknesses. And that’s important to us because he can attack his weaknesses and get better.

“Just being open to coaching and knowing where you’ve got to improve, he’s got that. With [Pickens and Dexter], there’s a lot of upside, a lot of meat on the bone for them to get even better.”

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