Every team in the NFL came into the 2021-22 season with a plan at quarterback. Some of those plans have gone awry and some of those plans have proven unsuccessful. The Texans, Football Team, and Saints have seen injuries dismantle their plans for Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jameis Winston, respectively. The Giants, Panthers, and Lions hoped for promising seasons behind youngsters Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, and Jared Goff, respectively, but a lack of success has left them disappointed. The Broncos might not see Teddy Bridgewater return after a one-year deal. And teams like the Falcons and Steelers have aging veterans in Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger, respectively, that may be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Any of these teams may stick it out and see their plans through, and any teams that seem set at the quarterback position may decide that some young talent may improve their franchise. Well, there’s only one place to go for young football talent, and that leads us to the pool of top quarterback prospects presumed to be available in the 2022 NFL Draft.
When you look at the list of college quarterbacks preparing to enter the NFL next season, you’ll notice something a little different from years past. There is no Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow or Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield. That is to say there is no unanimous top quarterback prospect with star power that led their team to the College Football Playoffs. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder did achieved what was seemingly impossible: guiding a Group of 5 school into the College Football Playoffs, but most GMs in the NFL do not see him as a first-round pick.
Instead, NFL GMs and evaluators seem to have narrowed it down to two quarterback prospects most likely to be taken on day one of the NFL Draft: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss’s Matt Corral.
Pickett spent most of his freshman season in 2017 as a backup with his first start coming against the visiting Miami Hurricanes who were ranked second in the country by the College Football Playoff Committee going into the last week of the regular season. Pickett introduced himself to the college football world by leading the 4-7 Panthers to a huge upset over the Hurricanes. Pickett took over the starting job and never looked back. The next couple of years were nothing to brag about as he threw 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in both his junior and his senior seasons. But COVID-19 granted him a fifth year of eligibility and he made sure to take advantage. In his final year, Pickett completed 67.2% of his passes for 4,319 yards, throwing 42 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Pickett led the Panthers to their first ever ACC Championship and finished third in Heisman voting.
Corral spent his freshman season backing up current Washington practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and took a redshirt after only appearing in four games. He took over the next year as the Ole Miss starting quarterback and led the team to a 4-8 finish completing 59.0% of his passes for 1,362 yards and throwing 6 touchdowns to 3 interceptions as a redshirt-freshman. Corral developed over the next two years completing 69.5% of his passes for a combined 6,670 yards and throwing 49 touchdowns to 18 interceptions over his redshirt-sophomore and -junior seasons. The intrigue with Corral comes from what he adds on the ground. Over those final two seasons, Corral added 1,103 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing the ball. It should be noted the Corral hasn’t technically announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft, but he posted an announcement calling Ole Miss’s matchup against Vanderbilt his “final game” at the Rebel’s home stadium, a strong indication of his intentions.
While those two are widely considered the most likely quarterbacks to go in the first round, it is also a fairly popular opinion that three quarterbacks could be taken on day one of the Draft. Who that third quarterback will be is up to a lot of speculation.
Two of the more common names to pop up in that conversation are Nevada’s Carson Strong and Liberty’s Malik Willis. Strong had a breakout performance in the COVID-shortened season and built off of that success in his redshirt-junior year completing 70.2% of his passes for 4,186 yards and tossing 36 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 2021. Willis transferred from Auburn to Liberty for the 2020 season and led the Flames to a 10-1 season and a final ranking of 17th in the AP poll in Liberty’s third season in the FBS. Like Corral, Willis brings a lot to the table with his legs as well as his arms. In two years with the Flames, Willis threw for 44 touchdowns and ran for 25 more. He led quarterbacks in rushing yards in 2020 and finished third in that same category this year.
One of the two quarterbacks who finished with more rushing yards than Willis this season, is North Carolina’s Sam Howell. Before the 2021 season was played, Howell saw his name frequently in the top 5 of “way-too-soon” mock drafts. Many expected, with Howell as a third-year starter, that the Tar Heels would stake their claim at the top of the ACC, but a down year for the team hurt Howell’s draft stock. While Howell saw his passing numbers drop a bit from past seasons, he found a new talent for rushing the ball piling up 825 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The last name that seems to find its way into the conversations is Desmond Ridder. Yes, I said that most GMs don’t see Ridder as a first round pick, but most doesn’t mean all. Ridder has produced every season as a four-year starter saving his best year for last. And while he didn’t run the ball quite as much this year, he’s shown his abilities in past years racking up 650 yards in 2019 and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2020. Perhaps most importantly, Ridder knows how to win, achieving a 44-6 record in four years as a Bearcat, with the possibility of adding two more wins to that total.
So buckle up for an intriguing leadup to the 2022 NFL Draft. With so many differing opinions and valuations, chaos is sure to ensue as teams try to gauge just how long they can wait for their favorite quarterback prospect. The headline names may not be sexy and the certainty of teams’ decisions won’t resemble what we saw in 2012 when Indianapolis and Washington informed Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III of their decisions days before the Draft, but that shouldn’t make April 28, 2022, any less entertaining!