Quarterbacks get pushed up the board. It is the most well-established unwritten rule of the NFL Draft.
Regardless of the quality of the prospects at other positions, the NFL will always find a way to elevate quarterbacks to the top of the draft.
As a league, it hasn’t had to work that hard to do so in recent years as the college game has delivered a production line of exciting prospects at the position who fit exactly where the sport is going at the pro level.
But rules, even unwritten ones, were made to be broken and if ever there was a year in which to not push quarterbacks up the board, it is this one.
Indeed, the only quarterback ranked in the top 32 on The 33rd Team Big Board is Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh. While Pickett has the skill set to develop into a starting NFL quarterback, his tools are not of a standard that is deserving of a top 10 pick.
However, from chatter around the Detroit Lions taking the almighty gamble of selecting Malik Willis at two to talk of the Carolina Panthers using the sixth overall pick on Pickett, there has still been plenty of noise about quarterbacks from a class most see as underwhelming at the position going in the top 10.
If such scenarios came to pass, what would be the knock-on effects in a draft where the unpredictability has arguably never been higher?
Kavyon Thibodeaux fall becomes a reality
Much of the pre-draft conjecture has surrounded Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and why he has fallen from potential number one overall pick to a player Daniel Jeremiah had rated only 10th on his top 150 list.
Thibodeaux is a high-floor, high-ceiling edge prospect with the tools to be an immediate impact defender in the NFL, yet, if the Lions pull a stunner and go with Willis with the second overall pick, thoughts of him sliding, at least out of the top five, could become a reality.
At three, the Houston Texans could go in any direction, with cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. connected with them by NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, while the New York Jets have previously been reported as having interest in Cincinnati corner Sauce Gardner and were recently said by Connor Hughes of The Athletic to prefer Jermaine Johnson II to Thibodeaux.
If Aidan Hutchinson is still on the board after pick four, then the New York Giants could elect to take him ahead of Thibodeaux at five and still use pick seven on an offensive tackle. The Panthers’ needs at quarterback and tackle make them an unlikely destination for Thibodeaux with the sixth pick.
The Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks would have less reason to pass on Thibodeaux at eight and nine, but if the Lions don’t take him at two, he could have a longer wait than many anticipated a few months ago.
Saints trade up
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, as the draft has approached there has been more interest in trading back in the first round than there has in moving up the board.
That is reflective of a class in which there is great depth in the later rounds but not much in the way of true premium talent at the top.
But after acquiring an extra first-round pick in a pre-draft trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints are widely regarded as a team that could vault into the top 10.
New Orleans gave up a 2023 first as part of the deal with the Eagles, suggesting there is a player in this draft whom they covet and who could be acquired through another aggressive trade on draft day.
Following the loss of Terron Armstead in free agency, that player appears likely to be either a tackle or a quarterback, with Jameis Winston only signed to a two-year contract that the Saints can move on from without much pain next offseason.
The cue for New Orleans to trade up may come with what the Panthers do at six, and a selection of Pickett at that spot would be a clear signal for the Saints to make their move.
A draft in which the Lions take Willis at two and the Panthers then choose Pickett four spots later could leave Ickey Ekwonu or Evan Neal still on the board for the Saints to potentially target and fill the gaping hole at tackle.
New Orleans has not, at least in the modern NFL, been a franchise that panics. Yet if the Saints are thinking quarterback, Willis and Pickett flying off the board in the top six may lead them to worry about failing to acquire a long-term option at the position and prompt a trade up for a signal-caller that most would see as ill-advised given the lack of quality in this class.
Rises for Ridder and Co.
If Willis and Pickett are gone, then the obvious candidate for the Saints would be Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, who along with Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Sam Howell of North Carolina would be significant beneficiaries of two of their quarterback counterparts going early.
When one quarterback is pushed up, the rest naturally follow, and if the Pittsburgh Steelers at 20 had designs on selecting either Willis or Pickett at that spot, then Ridder would have to enter their thought process in a draft where both are off the board in the top 10.
Similarly, franchises who may previously have been confident of selecting a signal-caller on day two of the draft might begin to get nervous, which would be excellent news for Corral and Howell, who could find themselves targets for teams moving up to early in the second round or even late in the first to ensure they do not miss out on landing a potential quarterback of the future.
Drafts are defined by chaos and drama. In a class where on the surface there does not seem to be much scope for either, it will take some teams to get desperate and push quarterbacks into the top 10 to make the 2022 draft one to live long in the memory.