It may seem like the 2022 draft class has started to sort itself out but history tells us it is far from over. Albeit, the studs at the top like Aiden Hutchinson, Kyle Hamilton and Kayvon Thibodeaux have firmly planted their elite potential, however, the QB class is surrounded by a long list of question marks. Luckily, the most important stage in the draft cycle for QBs has yet to come.
It’s easy to watch a guy on tape and say “that’s an NFL arm”…it’s just the most (and only) straightforward part of the evaluation. Does he have the arm strength? Check. Does he have the accuracy? Check. Does he make throws on all three levels? Check. What about timing and footwork? Check, check. It doesn’t take a genius to know if a quarterback has the tangible assets to make it in the NFL, however, the other side of the evaluation is a lot more complicated.
Quarterback is not only the most important position in football, but it is arguably the most important position in all of sports…it takes a very special person to thrive at this spot in the NFL. There’s a reason why quarterbacks are making crazy contracts and almost exclusively winning the league’s MVP Award annually. It’s because they are hard to find; they have exorbitant value. If you can successfully find a franchise guy, then you’re probably in the top third of the league in terms of longevity. This also means that you have one of the most priceless assets in the world. Are you starting to catch my drift as why this position is so hard to scout? It’s typically not the tangibles that fool us, it’s the intangibles.
Every year we see it; a QB with a rocket arm getting over-drafted by a team that is either desperate to fill that hole or overaggressive at landing the next “generational” asset. I don’t even want to calculate the bust ratio over the last decade, but it is highly due to guys falsely convincing NFL executives that they have the intangibles to make it work at the next level.
This is the reason why ranking the class in November is basically next to pointless. We have seen what they can do on the field, but we don’t have a great understanding of who they are off the field. How dedicated is he to his craft? Is he a leader that can handle the media? How high is his ceiling? How low is his floor? The point is that teams have just started their process of getting to know this class of prospects and there is a long road ahead in the ensuing months before anyone is coming close to making a decision on a QB. That being said, it is December and bowl season is among us…so how do these guys stack up at this stage?
Guys I Love
Sam Howell | North Carolina, JR
Consensus Rank: 29
Entering the season, I had Howell highly ranked and despite his dip on many Big Boards, his ranking has stayed true for me. Last year he was surrounded by one of the best supporting casts in college football. He had two reliable RBs that now are playing major roles in the NFL, but the guy he likely misses the most is standout WR Dyami Brown. I absolutely love the arm talent that we’ve seen displayed from Howell, but what is somehow still a bit slept on is his rushing and scrambling ability. Through 11 games he carried the ball a shockingly high 170 times for 815 yards and 11 TDs. Howell likely isn’t ever going to be a run first QB in the NFL, but it is refreshing to see that dual threat ability from a QB. I hate making NFL comparisons, but Howell has a lot of Russell Wilson in him, which you love to see from any prospect.
Kenny Pickett | Pittsburgh, RS SR
Consensus Rank: 33
If you were to tell me in September that the Pitt Panthers would be playing in ACC Championship this weekend, I probably would have called you crazy. However, the team now sits at 10-2 with a large part due to the improvement of Super Senior Kenny Pickett. Pittsburgh lost a week 3 heartbreaker to Western Michigan, but has turned it around and won 8 out of their last 9 games, including a big win against Clemson. It’s easy to say a lot of QBs have improved, but for Pickett it is on a whole different level. Through the regular season, he has thrown for 1,000 more yards and 17 more TDs than any of his prior seasons as the starter, while also throwing 2 fewer picks. This Saturday will mark Pickett’s second trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship, however, his last time ended in misery in 2018 when the National Champion Clemson Tigers held him to just 8 yards passing.
Pickett has ideal size (6’3″ 220 lbs), but the biggest question is likely going to be revolving around his smaller than average hands. Many measurables in the NFL Draft can typically be overlooked or at least taken with a grain of salt, but one of the most important and transferable is hand sizes for quarterbacks. It has been rumored that he is working with as small as 8¼ inch mitts, which would rank amongst the smallest in the NFL (Drew Lock’s hands were rumored to be a concern at 9 inches, however, Joe Burrow’s are the same dimensions). Outside of hand size, I really haven’t seen too much on tape that worries me. He’s making quick, fluid decisions and moving around really well in the pocket. His accuracy has really improved throughout the season and although he doesn’t have an absolute rocket of an arm, the elite zip is there on intermediate throws. I am a huge fan of Pickett and believe that he will climb towards the top of this group and outperform expectations throughout the offseason draft process. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but keep in mind that Pickett will be playing in front of the QB-Needy Carolina Panthers’ front office this Saturday in Bank of America Stadium and also once committed to Matt Rhule at Temple…
Higher On Than Most
Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati, JR
Consensus Rank: 51
Ridder’s biggest weakness this season has been his inaccuracies through the air, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some analysts have made it out to be. Entering this season, one improvement I really wanted to see was for him to truly take over games. If he is truly the best player on the field, then I wanted to see him prove it and dominate. He hasn’t truly been tested while facing a schedule with just two P5 opponents, but now has all the stars aligned in front of him to make the playoffs and truly display his potential on a much larger stage against other NFL talent. His raw arm strength and athleticism alone makes up for some of the inconsistencies, but Ridder very likely is an NFL project. He has just one loss in the last two seasons, which is extremely impressive regardless of the situation. His story is far from finished and his final few games of college football likely will make a huge impact on where Ridder’s stock lands heading into the offseason.
Grayson McCall | Coastal Carolina, RS SO
Consensus Rank: 156
McCall hasn’t gained the hype that I wanted him too, but I still think he is an NFL talent at the position. He missed a couple of games in November, but bounced back with a 5 TD game against Texas State while completing roughly 80% of his passes. McCall’s been knocked for the run heavy scheme he is in, but he’s still completed 154 passes and 23 TDs while throwing just 3 picks…his efficiency is laudable regardless of what scheme he is in or who his opponents are. The NFL zip and accuracy are absolutely there and although he has a somewhat frail frame (6’3″ 210 lbs), he is only 20 years old and no slimmer than Trevor Lawrence. McCall will be downgraded for throwing just around 200 passes this season, but how would he transfer to an offense like Alabama or Clemson? I think rather well.
Lower On Than Most
Matt Corral | Ole Miss, JR
Consensus Rank: 8
Don’t get me wrong, I still really like Corral. However, I am not sold on him as a top 15 prospect this year…I am not truly sold on ANY quarterback in the top 15 this year! Corral has dazzled crowds with his flashy play-style, but I have him graded is as a jack of all trades, but master of none. He’s solid…the timing and especially the accuracy of the deep ball is impressive and he scrambles as well of anyone. He’s rushed for 500+ yards an 11 TDs, which has been necessary for this Ole Miss team to thrive, but I just don’t see that ability transferring over well into the NFL where the defenders are much faster and bigger. It reminds me too much of Johnny Football running around the field at Texas A&M…that style of play simply just doesn’t often work in the NFL. I think if you take away that rushing threat, then his game starts to crumble, which became clear against Auburn when Corral went down with an ankle injury and Alabama when the team held him to 3 yards…he’s not the type of passer who can sit back in the pocket and surgically dissect a defense.
Malik Willis | Liberty, SR
Consensus Rank: 20
Willis is a prospect that has baffled me since late 2020, when he was building up steam as the QB1 for the class. I never understood this methodology…how could a guy from a non P5 school, who was beaten out by Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood, be considered anywhere close to the top of the list? While Willis has certainly evolved as a QB since leaving Auburn, I still am not sold on his arm abilities or consistency. He has struggled to keep his completion percentage above 60% and has thrown twice as many interceptions (12) as he did in 2020. Contrary to my opinions on Corral, I believe that Willis does have the rushing ability that is transferrable to the NFL…I just don’t think he has the arm. Someone could take a chance on Willis and the big flash plays have been there his entire career, but I don’t think his stock or potential should be viewed any higher than a 2nd or 3rd round pick.
Carson Strong | Nevada, JR
Consensus Rank: 31
It’s easy to fall in love with Strong; he’s got the size and arm, has controlled the football and his stats are impressive. He’s completed over 70% of his passes in each of the past two seasons and has thrown for 63 TDs to just 12 interceptions, all while keeping his QB Rating around 150 for his CAREER. The numbers are spectacular, however, that’s not what matters most when trying to get drafted into the NFL. The Nevada offensive is a bit simplistic, but offers a lot of great tape on vertical passes and deep shots, which just so happens to be Strongs’ biggest strength. Through 3 years as a starter, Strong has faced just two ranked opponents. He lost both of those matchups and averaged just 220 yards, 1.5 TDs and an interception, which is a far cry from his typical game. There is a lot to like about Strong, but I am discouraged by his processing abilities and quickness when it comes to decision making. He is big, but also lacks mobility to ever work out in a zone read offense, which has become next to mandatory when selecting a QB in the first round these days. Lastly, Strong has had questions already arise about his health, particularly his knee, which has been an issue for him since high school. If we are already hearing concerns about this in the fall, then there is a good shot that this will be a major topic of interest once he commits to going pro. I think there is certainly upside when grading the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, but it’s far too early to have this guy graded as a first round pick.