(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of positional previews of the 2022 draft with NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell. This week’s focus: the quarterbacks)
Bad news for all the NFL teams that are going to be shopping for a quarterback this offseason. Our country’s supply-chain problems seem to have extended to the QB crop in the 2022 draft.
A year after quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the draft for only the third time in history, a year after five were taken among the first 15 picks, the selection of quarterbacks in this spring’s draft leaves a lot to be desired.
“Last year was a very deep quarterback class,” NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell said. “This is the bounce-back year where it isn’t a very deep class. It’s not deep at the top. It’s not deep in the middle. And it’s not deep in the later rounds or with priority free agents.
“Does that mean there can’t be a Hall of Famer in this class? Not necessarily. But the collective depth and the collective excitement about this class isn’t near what it was last year. In fact, it’s probably the polar opposite.”
A quarterback has been the No. 1 pick in the draft four years in a row and five of the last six years. While it’s still early and offseason workouts certainly have been known to affect things, it would be a major surprise if a quarterback goes No. 1 next April, even considering the number of teams who are going to be looking for help at the position.
Fennell’s top-rated quarterback right now is Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, but he doesn’t have him rated as highly as any of last year’s first-round quarterbacks.
“This is a Day 2 type of quarterback all day long,” Fennell said of Pickett, who threw 42 touchdown passes for Pitt this season. “This is a backup style quarterback. But Mac Jones has backup-style tools and traits and look at the success he had at Alabama and is having with the Patriots this year.”
Liberty’s Malik Willis, is second on Fennell’s quarterback list, followed by Matt Corral of Ole Miss, Carson Strong of Nevada, Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati and Sam Howell of North Carolina.
Fennell likened this quarterback class to 2013, when EJ Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round (16th to Buffalo), and just three quarterbacks went in the first three rounds.
“This is that type of class,” he said. “But this is a different NFL world today. A lot of these guys are going to get catapulted up.
“I think Vegas will set the line for number of first-round quarterbacks at 3 ½. If three end up going in the first 15-20 picks, then somebody is going to take a fourth guy on the back end (of the first round).
“The fact that you could possibly have just one less quarterback taken in a bad quarterback year compared to last year tells you all you need to know about the state of the league right now and the desperation level to address the quarterback position.”
Before the college season began, Howell and Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler were considered the top two quarterbacks in the ’22 class. But Howell had an up-and-down year, and Rattler, a pre-season Heisman candidate, was benched and isn’t even declaring for the draft. He transferred to South Carolina and will make do with his NIL money for another year.
“Four months ago, Howell and Rattler were at the top of the class and Pickett wasn’t even in the Day 1 – or Day 2 – conversation,” Fennell said. “Now, it’s all shaken up.”
Pickett likely will go somewhere in the first half of the first round, but where?
“It’s going to be interesting with him,” Fennell said. “He’s got backup tools, but there are a lot of guys playing in the NFL with backup tools. So yeah, there’s a place for him. But how much draft capital are you willing to spend on that ability, on those tools?”
Pickett is a pocket passer who will be playing in a league that seems to be favoring more athletic and mobile quarterbacks. That likely will play in Willis’ favor.
“He’s the polar opposite of Pickett,” Fennell said of the 6-1, 215-pound Willis. “He got the traits. He’s got the huge arm. He’s got the thick lower body where he can turn into almost a running back. He’s got the looseness in the open field to make guys miss. He’s the one that everybody is saying, oh yeah. That’s a playmaker.
“Pickett is not a playmaker. He’s a distributor. Which, in my mind, is a quarterback’s job. But everybody thinks you need a mobile guy and a quarterback-run guy. Well, that’s going to be Malik Willis.”
Willis began his college career at Auburn, but transferred to Liberty, an G5 school. He threw 27 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions this season in addition to rushing for 878 yards and 13 TDs.
Fennell likened Willis’s skill-set to that of former Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett, who went undrafted in 2018, spent time on a couple of practice squads, but never played in the league.
“I know that comparison doesn’t excite people, but Barrett was the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year,” Fennell said. “He could move around. He had a big arm. He was short and thick. He just never materialized as a pro prospect.
“Malik is Barrett with a little more juice and a little more unknown because he played at Liberty. But that could work to his advantage. There’s a little bit of that unknown upside you get from playing at a smaller school because NFL teams sometimes think their ceiling is greater.”
Fennell said Corral, Strong, Ridder and Howell all will fall into the top-50 discussion along with Pickett and Willis, but said there is a significant dropoff after that.
Last year, eight quarterbacks went in the first three rounds. That was the most in the history of the draft.
Ben’s Top 6 QBs
1) Kenny Pickett
Ben’s take: “Had a huge 2021 season that helped him go from a late-Day 2 guy to a likely first-rounder. Had no wide receiver help before this year. He led college football in dropped passes his first three years at Pitt. Boring traits/tools. Doesn’t have a huge arm and isn’t an elite athlete. But he’s smart, accurate, a leader. Has functional mobility. Small hands.”
NFL comp/style: Joe Burrow/Kurt Warner
2) Malik Willis
Ben’s take: “An Auburn transfer. Has SEC ability. Thick build. Live, powerful arm. Has playmaking ability with his legs. Was spoon-fed an offense with defined reads. So, his decision-making/processing needs to speed up and improve. Looked the part against top competition.”
NFL comp/style: Jalen Hurts/JT Barrett
3) Matt Corral
Ben’s take: “Loose athlete with loose arm. A lot of side-arm throws and off-platform stuff. Very accurate both on and off platform. Quick feet, quick release. Doesn’t have a big frame and doesn’t have a huge arm. Turnovers were an issue before 2021. Had 14 interceptions in 2020, but just four this year.’’
NFL comp/style: Zach Wilson
4) Carson Strong
Ben’s take: “Best pocket passer in the class. Accurate deep/intermediate thrower. Tall, upright passer. Excellent touch and anticipation. Bad eyes at times. There are questions about whether he has enough mobility to survive at the next level. Scheme-specific guy. Not a play-action boot type of quarterback.”
NFL comp/style: Kirk Cousins
5) Desmond Ridder
Ben’s take: “Loose, play-making athlete. Skinny, lean, tall body type. Struggles with easy accuracy.”
NFL comp/style: Jordan Love
6) Sam Howell
Ben’s take: “Short, thick build. RPO/vertical offense. Good downfield accuracy. His touch and trajectory are both solid. Tough, competitive kid.”
NFL comp/style: Baker Mayfield
Best of the rest
7—Will Levis, Kentucky, 6-3, 232
8—Tanner McKee, Stanford, 6-6, 228
9—Bailey Zappe, W. Kentucky, 6-1, 220
10—Brock Purdy, Iowa State, 6-1, 220
11—Jack Coan, Notre Dame, 6-3, 223
12—Tanner Mordecai, SMU, 6-2, 211
13—Dustin Crum, Kent State, 6-3, 207
14—Chase Garbers, Cal, 6-2, 225
15—Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville St., 6-3, 217
16—Clayton Tune, Houston, 6-3, 215
17—Brandon Peters, Illinois, 6-5, 230
18—Kaleb Eleby, W. Michigan, 6-1, 210
Not the usual QB factory
–Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M, 6-5, 215
–EJ Perry, Brown, 6-2, 210
–Cole Kelley, SE Louisiana, 6-7, 260
–Tyson Bagent, Shepherd, 6-3, 215
–Blaine Hawkins, Central (Iowa) College, 5-11, 210
–Malik Cunningham, Louisville, 6-1, 200
–Skylar Thompson, Kansas State, 6-2, 223
–D’Eriq King, Miami, 5-11, 195
–KJ Jefferson, Arkansas, 6-3, 245
–Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA, 6-1, 205
–Emory Jones, Florida, 6-2, 211
–Levi Lewis, Louisiana, 5-10, 184
–Eric Barriere, E. Washington, 6-1, 210
Staying in school or transferring
–Sam Hartman, Wake Forest, 6-1, 208
–Spencer Rattler, S. Carolina (via Oklahoma), 6-1, 200
–Bo Nix, Oregon (via Auburn), 6-3, 214
–Kedon Slovis, Pitt (via USC), 6-3, 205
–Jake Haener, Fresno State, 6-1, 195
–Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina, 6-3, 210
–Tanner Morgan, Minnesota, 6-2, 215
–Brennan Armstrong, Virginia, 6-2, 215
–Hendon Hooker, Tennessee, 6-4, 218
–Jayden Daniels, Arizona State, 6-3, 185
–Phil Jurkovec, Boston College, 6-5, 226