This is not a good year to need a quarterback. The 2022 NFL draft has a few prospects that definitely intrigue as players who could work out and become solid NFL starters, but it lacks any surefire standouts or franchise saviors.
For reference, this year’s QB1 would have been ranked behind last year’s QB4, which was Mac Jones on my board.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss--Experienced, intense but slightly undersized quarterback with a lot to like but some legit questions. Corral improved quite a bit as a senior in 2021, making better decisions with the ball and making them faster, too.
The upward trend elevates Corral to the top of the class. Maintaining the growth curve is imperative. He has above-average arm strength and showed a better grasp of how to deploy it, understanding when to unleash the fastball and when to take something off in 2021. The accuracy on short and intermediate routes is very good and consistent to either side of the field. The deeper accuracy is less consistent but did improve. He’s mobile and aggressive with his legs, capable of running away from trouble and moving the sticks. Ole Miss used him as a designed runner and on RPOs a lot, something that shouldn’t be relied upon nearly as much in the NFL. In that vein, he’s capable of throwing outside the pocket and extending plays but his decision-making and accuracy decline when he’s doing that. He’s got a consistent, clean and quick arm motion.
Corral does not lack self-confidence and will outwardly show it, something that isn’t for everyone. He’s coming off an ankle injury that has put a spotlight on his smallish stature and hyper-aggressive playing style, two hands that don’t often come together successfully for long. In prior seasons he struggled much more with making the right read and timely decisions with the ball. He still will hold the ball too long on deeper routes and trusts the arm strength a little too much for more conservative schemes.
Overall, Corral is exciting and maturing into a better prospect by the game. His leadership and proven ability to take coaching are quite appealing, as is his mobility and playmaking mentality. He’ll need to continue to make smarter decisions and avoid the dumb mistakes that plagued his earlier Rebels career. If he does, Corral can become a very good NFL starter. Top-15 talent but one with more risk than often desired with that high of a pick.
2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh--Pickett is the most polished and ready-to-roll of this draft class. That often gets couched with concerns over his developmental upside, a fair critique of the Pitt passer.
Pickett won nearly every collegiate quarterbacking award in 2021 after a monster season for the Panthers where his consistency improved. He’s got a strong arm that comes easily and without the need for a lot of space to throw. The ball placement is very impressive to all layers of the field, able to hit receivers in stride and away from the defense. Pickett has strong legs and excellent pocket manipulation skills, able to move either subtly or dramatically to avoid the rush. Very good understanding of his options and best matchups to exploit. Has the height, strength and desired bulk for the position. Pickett has enough athleticism to scramble for yards.
There are drawbacks. He’ll be 24 as a rookie. Pickett has unusually small hands (8.5 inches) and short arms (30.75 inches), which leads to ball security and handling issues. His productivity spiked as a senior, which coincides with an upgraded supporting cast. Separating Pickett from that is tricky. He doesn’t always reset his feet when forced to move and it impacts his accuracy, though that got better during Senior Bowl week. There are some late decisions to escape the rush, too.
Pickett is a high-floor prospect with impressive traits, but there sure feels like a ceiling a la Jared Goff or Matt Schaub--good, reliable quarterbacks who can successfully manage talented teams but don’t elevate lesser ones. First-round worthy.
3. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati--There’s a lot to like about Ridder. A four-year starter who proved a very capable leader of men for the Bearcats, Ridder comes from a pro-friendly offense that has prepared him to make NFL reads and NFL throws against NFL coverages. He’s got good enough size and decent athleticism, proved he can take off when given a lane though he’s not an aggressive runner. His pocket movement is often very good, though there are lapses where he freezes up (see Tulane game).
I like Ridder’s arm strength and his realistic confidence in it. He knows what he can do and what he can’t. His Cincinnati coaches played to that awareness. He doesn’t have a cannon and his release time from the moment he decides to throw to letting it leave his fingers is slower than ideal. He can alter his throwing platforms and footwork but it does impact his accuracy more than it does others. The accuracy isn’t pinpoint to begin with, though Ridder is almost never completely off-target. He will make his receivers work for some catches that should be easier. Will miss high over the middle at times and oddly misses very short throws often.
The leadership, the maturity, the football intelligence are all exactly what coaches want. Ridder is competitive and inspires confidence amongst his teammates. If he’s capable of improving his accuracy and speed up his delivery, Ridder has the ability to be a good NFL starter. High-floor, medium-ceiling QB in the vein of Ryan Tannehill. Late 1st-early 2nd round.
4. Malik Willis, Liberty--Drafting Willis is an exercise in projecting athletic traits versus actual game film. There’s not a QB with higher upside in this draft class, and his ceiling is so far above any other. There’s also not a QB who will be drafted who has as consistently rough performances on the field.
Willis is dripping with athleticism. Shorter than ideal at 6-1 but not small, Willis has elite-level arm strength. His acceleration and straight-line speed are both exceptional for the position. He runs like a speedy RB and has good vision as a runner. The blend is perfect for RPOs with speedy WRs on the outside. There isn’t a more dangerous QB outside the pocket in this class; between his instant acceleration and his arm strength on the move from awkward platforms, he’s very good at making something out of nothing. Willis also has a natural charisma and comfortable leadership to him that shone during Senior Bowl week and the Combine.
Alas, those aren’t the only results from the last two years at Liberty. Willis struggled with ball placement but especially touch on his throws. He’s often very late to pull the trigger and as a result, has to throw at max velocity. Much better at attacking off- and zone coverages, doesn’t have the placement or touch versus press or man that is desired. Holds the ball too long, a trait that was made much more problematic playing behind a bad OL (especially in 2021). Misses way too many easy reads and throws, lacking both anticipatory vision and accuracy. Doesn’t throw the ball on timing and anticipatory routes well; has to see it before he throws it, and that leads to bad interceptions and missed opportunities. Holds the ball way too long even when not pressured, and can also be late to tuck and run when nothing is open.
Willis faced very little future NFL competition and struggled badly as a passer against better defenses. In matchups vs. Ole Miss, MTSU, Louisiana--the 3 best teams he faced--Willis went 47-of-89 with a 6.2 YPA average, 4 TDs and 8 INTs. I watched those 3 games, Army, Louisiana-Monroe, UAB and Syracuse from 2021 and NC State and Coastal Carolina from 2020. Other than as a fantastic runner and the phenomenal arm strength, I wouldn’t have known I was watching a top-100 prospect, let alone a guy in consideration for the top 10.
And that’s the rub with Willis. It’s a complete projection based on the hope that he winds up dramatically improving at things the NFL doesn’t typically develop well. He’s easy to root for and there’s no denying the potential. The challenge is not too big for him to handle. But he’s got so far to traverse. Reminds me quite a bit of Jake Locker, who earned the No. 8 overall pick in 2011 on very much the same terms--tremendous athlete, great person--but could never overcome his gross deficiencies as a passer. Worth a Day 2 lottery ticket for a team that doesn’t need a QB in the short-term, but Willis will be long gone before the first round ends. Extreme boom/bust prospect.
5. Sam Howell, North Carolina--Experienced, athletic starter with a great arm and playmaking panache. Powerfully built though shorter than ideal (6 feet), and he plays with strength and balance. Howell has good-not-great accuracy from the pocket, but his touch on intermediate and deep throws is best-in-class. Can uncork the fastball with good in-pocket and in-phase mechanics, proved he can make tight-window throws and sizzle timing throws between layers of a zone. Got better at anticipatory throws and touch with more chemistry with his receivers, though it’s still an area for improvement. Very effective runner who sells fakes well and consistently makes the right decision on RPOs and multifaceted reads.
Howell definitely has some room to improve. His vision and mechanics break down when pressured. Gets impatient and will tuck and run, doesn’t keep his eyes up well when avoiding pressure. Powerful runner but not always prudent in avoiding hits. Serial ball-patter before he throws, an annoyance at the college level that becomes a problem against the speedier defenses in the NFL. Much rawer of a passer when pressured and doesn’t feel the pressure on time consistently. He battles and is a great leader, but Howell hasn’t shown he can elevate the talent around him. Accuracy under pressure is suboptimal and never really got better despite his experience.
He’s better than the first impression he gave to most in 2021, a rough night vs. Virginia Tech with an all-new team around him. Some of his midseason game tape (Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh) offers glimpses of the guy often touted as QB1 entering the season. But his ability to read pre-snap and manipulate the defense post-snap must improve. Coachable but needs it; would love to see him paired with a veteran starter and experienced QB coach/OC for a year before letting him play in the NFL. That’s unfortunately unrealistic for a top-50 overall prospect these days. 2nd rounder somewhere in the Jalen Hurts/Taylor Henicke pantheon level.
6. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State. Thompson is a frustrating prospect because he’s got some fantastic tape but also some major deficiencies that rear their ugly heads more than they should. Made the best throw I saw any college QB make all year, and he’s got several highlight-worthy deeper throws. Can buy time for himself and does a great job keeping his eyes up and options open under pressure. Great touch on deep throws, can throw receivers open. Active and alert in the pocket. Accuracy comes and goes from throw to throw, and his short-range accuracy is the most inconsistent. The mechanics aren’t consistent, either; doesn’t always rotate the hips and base into the throw and he doesn’t have the huge arm to pull it off.
Thompson challenges the defense, for better and for worse. Will flee ghosts in pressure, pocket and read/ progression impatience. Good runner, eats up yards with long-striding speed. Needs to sell play-fakes and run-options better. Engaging and easy leadership skills and his game improved each year at KSU. Very good in-rhythm thrower with anticipatory throws. Lacks ideal size and has battled injuries, and he’s also a 25-year-old rookie. Shades of Andy Dalton and Geno Smith as players, but older and smaller than both as prospects. 4th-5th round.
7. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky--An incredibly prolific passer from an up-tempo, shotgun spread offense, Zappe is the most consistent passer from the pocket in this class. He has excellent touch and velocity to hit receivers in stride at the short and intermediate levels. Better arm than he’s credited for, but it’s average unless he labors to put some extra mustard on deeper throws. Comes from an intricate, fast-paced passing offense that he had complete mastery of, one that doesn’t translate easily to a lot of NFL systems. Accuracy is good but not always pinpoint, especially on out-breaking routes. Not very mobile and undersized, a rough combination. Looked unimpressive during Senior Bowl week, couldn’t adapt quickly to better talent and different offense. Has a solid chance to be the next Case Keenum in a Shanahan/Kubiak derivative scheme. 5th-6th round.
8. Carson Strong, Nevada. Strong offers a very good arm, good control of the arm and can deliver strikes from the pocket on time and with anticipation. Not afraid to challenge down the field, though he puts too much air under longer throws at times. Consistently makes the right decision with the ball. Very good touch in the red zone and the ball placement is better than average too. Major knee issues and multiple surgeries dating back to high school render him undraftable for several teams. Has no movement skills or functional athleticism other than a slow-footed sidestep. Uses different arm angles to try and create throwing lanes and avoid pressure, a lot easier to do in the MWC than the NFL. Will need a great offense line to make it work. The arm talent is there, the rest is the problem. 7th round.
9. Dustin Crum, Kent State. Plucky, athletic, experienced starter and respected leader. Accurate on intermediate and deeper throws and can deliver strikes on the move outside the pocket. Arm strength is below-average and Crum doesn’t help himself by keeping the ball low, which prolongs the release time. Not a risk-taker almost to a fault. Oddly spotty accuracy on short throws and will telegraph his choices pre-snap when working quicker routes. Can become a fan-favorite, sprightly backup if he cleans up the mechanics. Potential Mr. Irrelevant.
10. E.J. Perry, Brown. Shrine Bowl MVP helped raise his profile and proved he can elevate his level of play against tougher competition. My exposure to Perry beyond that is limited to just two games (Penn and Yale). Showed he can run and elude tacklers in the open field. Slowish release and prolonged loopy windup on his throws, but Perry delivers an accurate pass and can hit anticipatory routes. Doesn’t have a great arm, can’t drive the ball into small windows in the red zone. Very quick to tuck and run. Has some “poor man’s Ryan Tannehill” to him, something a scout who’s seen him a lot told me before I watched Perry and I can’t unsee it. Priority free agent who could get drafted late.
11. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan. Good touch passer and football-smart leader, but Eleby lacks size, athleticism and arm strength. Saw him in person a few times over his years in Kalamazoo and I like his college game but not his NFL potential. Great candidate for the USFL, and I do not mean that in a negative way.
12. Cole Kelley, SE Louisiana. Giant (6-7/249) gunslinger with a see-it/throw-it mentality that often ignores the defense. Effective power runner and red zone weapon. Touch, accuracy and field processing are all below-average.
The rest: Jack Coan, Notre Dame; Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M (only saw one game, incomplete eval); Brock Purdy, Iowa State; Levi Lewis, Louisiana