November 30, 2022

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The Top Prospects to Know

7 min read

Mirroring the player pecking order in the actual NFL, the highest-profile prospects each year tend to be NFL Draft quarterbacks. Most draft classes boast at least one or two QBs who (according to general consensus) are worth taking as one of the first few picks in the draft. Since 2000, a quarterback has been the draft’s No. 1 overall selection 16 times.

But the 2022 NFL Draft is a strange one. A quarterback will not be the first pick this year (unless a team’s general manager does something totally unexpected). If the actual draft order corresponds with the NFL QB rankings of media evaluators, no QB would even come off the board in the first 10 or so picks. Some analysts are even less bullish. Pro Football Focus doesn’t have a passer ranked higher than 20th on its overall ranking. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has his highest QB pick going 18th. ESPN’s highest-ranked QB is 17th. At the same time, each of those outlets sees several quarterbacks as worthy picks in the late first, second, or third rounds.

There’s no dominant, early-pick quarterback prospect this year, but there are several who could turn out to be quality NFL passers. To get you properly briefed ahead of this spring’s QB Take Wars, here’s a primer on the 2022 class’s most touted passers. I’ve sorted them by their current rank on the NFL Mock Draft Database Consensus Big Board, which aggregates rankings from across the football media-industrial complex.

2022 NFL Draft Quarterbacks: The Top Prospects to Know

No. 11: Kenny Pickett, Pitt

The case that he’ll be great: Pickett was Pitt’s starting quarterback from 2017 onward and gave the Panthers middling performances. But in 2021 he skyrocketed, leading Pitt to an ACC title and earning himself a finalist nod for the Heisman Trophy. Pickett plays with a natural, free-flowing style and can throw a gorgeous deep ball, and he’s good at fitting the ball into shrinking holes in the middle of the field. He’s also pretty mobile, as he showed while dicing up Wake Forest on a controversial 58-yard scoring run (as seen above) in the ACC Championship.

The case that he won’t: It’s not entirely clear what caused Pickett’s incredible jump in his final year at Pitt, or how sustainable it will prove to be. Pickett was indeed great in 2021. He got more accurate as a passer and made some tremendous throws look easy. But he was more decent than good for three prior seasons as Pitt’s starter, and all of that counts in evaluating him, too. Pickett also has a fearless style of play—for example, a ceaseless willingness to hold onto the ball. It served him well in college, but it could get him into trouble in the pros. Sometimes a little fear is healthy, especially when it prevents a QB from getting sacked.

No. 17: Malik Willis, Liberty

The case that he’ll be great: Willis is the most physically impressive quarterback in the draft. He’s not huge (around 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds), but he’s an elite athlete with both a strong arm and top-class running agility. As soon as Willis joins the league, he’ll be one of the three or four best ball-carrying QBs in it, along with Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Josh Allen. (As a runner, you might think of him as a faster Hurts or a more physical Jackson.) He has the most rocket-like arm of anyone in the 2022 NFL Draft class, and he’ll give his future team a lot of fun attributes to work with.

The case that he won’t: Willis didn’t show much in his college career against good teams. After transferring from Auburn, where he was a backup, he joined a Liberty program that wasn’t in a conference and routinely scheduled bad Group of 5 and FCS opponents. Willis only made five starts against Power 5 teams, and his best performances in those were in his two games against Syracuse, which often doesn’t believe in “defense.” Willis wasn’t all that impressive in LU games against Virginia Tech, NC State, and Ole Miss. All told, he averaged 7.5 yards per throw against the Power 5 at Liberty, compared to 8.3 against the Group of 5.

No. 27: Matt Corral, Ole Miss

The case that he’ll be great: Corral has a pretty throwing motion, and he can rifle the ball to receivers at short and intermediate distance. That’s mostly what Ole Miss asked him to do as a passer, along with a few downfield throws mixed in. Additionally, he’s an excellent running quarterback, and Ole Miss made him a primary ball-carrier with his own suite of designed carries. He has the skills to be a good NFL quarterback, and as a small bonus (though not a reason to draft him high on its own), he could be a gadget player who contributes at other positions.

The case that he won’t: Corral’s entire playbook at Ole Miss was more or less run-pass options, where he looked at a specific defender after the snap and decided whether he’d throw, hand off, or keep the ball himself. RPOs are harder to pull off in the NFL, which has a tighter limitation on how far downfield offensive linemen can move before the QB releases a pass. Every QB’s adjustment to an NFL scheme is a process, but Corral’s will be a demanding process. It’s hard to project how his considerable skills will translate to a system that’s very different from the one he’s used to operating in.

No. 36: Sam Howell, North Carolina

The case that he’ll be great: Howell is a lot like Corral in that he can loft an excellent deep ball and adds a ton of value as a runner. At 6-foot-1 and 220-ish pounds, Howell is built like a running back and likely has the durability to withstand a lot of hits from NFL defenders. But he might not need to, and his ability to connect on deep sideline routes could carry him far.

The case that he won’t: Also like Corral, he operated an RPO-heavy system that’s very different from how teams play in the NFL. His 2021 season was his worst of three at UNC. I think a lot of that came down to the Tar Heels’ offensive line being Swiss cheese. But you never really know, and while I don’t think Howell magically got worse at football between 2020 and ‘21, things will only get tougher as he transitions to the sport’s highest level.

No. 42: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

The case that he’ll be great: Ridder was a smooth operator at Cincinnati, where he catalyzed the Bearcats’ rise to become the most dominant Group of 5 team in the country and the first to make the College Football Playoff. He makes plans quickly with the ball in his hands and always seems to know exactly where he’s going with his throws. He can run like hell, and his leadership always drew rave reviews at Cincinnati, even by the standards of coaches and teammates who almost always praise their quarterbacks in public.

The case that he won’t: The video up above illustrates something. Ridder underthrew the pass, but his wideout beat a cornerback so badly that he had time to stop and fall to make a catch without the defender knocking the ball away. Ridder was an outstanding leader and productive player for Cincinnati, and the Bearcats were able to win with him against great teams. (Their 2021 win at Notre Dame is a good example.) But Ridder was bad against Alabama in the Playoff semifinals, and he might not be the kind of quarterback who lifts up an NFL offense on his own.

No. 79: Carson Strong, Nevada

The case that he’ll be great: By standards that were in vogue just a couple of years ago, Strong is the most prototypical NFL passer in the draft. He has the size (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds) and the strong arm to make scouts drool. He basically was the offense the last two years at Nevada, where his head coach, Jay Norvell, had him drop back 50-some times per game. Strong was also one of the country’s most turnover-averse passers, throwing interceptions on just 1.5 percent of his passes last year. And he makes his share of wowing throws, including the one above in a game at Kansas State.

The case that he won’t: QBs like Strong were in vogue, but they aren’t anymore for a reason. Strong doesn’t offer anything in the way of a running threat, which means a team that starts him will rely on a pure pocket passer who can only succeed if he morphs into one of the best processors and throwers in the league. That’s a lot to ask. He also played in the Mountain West, so he’ll face quality-of-competition questions like the ones asked of Willis.


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