These are the Top Ten Quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Everyone wants to know who the next great quarterback is going to be. From Patrick Mahomes to Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert and Josh Allen in between, everyone wants to know who the next big then coming out of college is. The truth, the quarterback, is no different from any other position in the evaluation, scouting, and drafting process; it is a 50/50 proposition. That does not make it any less fun to predict and talk.
This class is an interesting one. There is not a "can't miss" prospect this season. No one is raving about a quarterback in this class like they did John Elway, Andrew Luck, or Trevor Lawrence. Only one team needs to fall in love with a prospect throwing against air with a t-shirt and shorts. Keep in mind that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and E.J. Manuel were first-round draft picks.
The value in this draft could be at the back end with some developmental projects. Tennessee State quarterback Geremy Hickbottom, Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass, and South East, Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelly, might not hear their names called early -- or even at all -- but they have the tools potential to play at the next level.
Here is a look at the top ten quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.
10. Bailey Zappe: Western Kentucky
It is hard to deny anyone who throws for over 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns in one season an opportunity at the next level. That is exactly what Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe did last season. The Houston Baptist transfer made the most of his one season in FBS, breaking Joe Burrow's single-season touchdown mark. Zappe played in a quarterback-friendly system at Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky, and he was productive.
What stands out most when you dive into Zappe's production is the ability to take care of the football. The Texas native threw just 11 interceptions in 686 pass attempts with a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Zappe knows where the football is supposed to go and gets it there decisively. His completion percentage improved every year he started, including a career-best 69.2% last season.
Zappe, however, does not possess any elite traits. He throws the short to intermediate pass well but struggles with the deep ball. Zappe struggles to make plays off-platform because of the lack of arm strength. Expect the former Hilltopper to be a day three pick because of the production and possibly be a QB2 down the road.
9. Brock Purdy: Iowa State
There is a lot to love about Brock Purdy. By all accounts, Purdy is a natural leader who helped propel the Iowa State Cyclones to the best run they've had in school history. This run included playing for a Big 12 title in 2020 and a Fiesta Bowl victory against Oregon that same year. Purdy was Fiesta Bowl MVP.
Purdy is a thickly built quarterback (220 pounds) who can take the physicality of the NFL game and is an above-average athlete. Purdy is a rhythm passer who can get hot and throw it all over the field.
The biggest knock on Purdy is he never got better after a stellar sophomore season (3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns). That begs the question, "Was it him or the talent around him?" Even with Breece Hall, arguably the best running back in the draft with him, Purdy was never better than he was in 2019. One could even argue that he regressed in 2020.
What Purdy lacks in pure talent, he makes up for in talent and leadership. Expect Purdy to go between the 4-5 round with the chance to make a roster.
8. Carson Strong: Nevada
Much like Bailey Zappe, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong is a scheme fit. Strong is not the prototypical quarterback for today's game; he is a throwback. If Strong were coming out of Nevada 20 years ago, he'd be one of the top prospects in the draft. That said, any team looking for a hefty (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) strong, armed quarterback could be a good fit.
There is a lot to like about Strong. The California native has an NFL-caliber arm. He can make all the throws with both touch and velocity. Lightly recruited out of high school, Strong plays with an incredible chip on his shoulder, looking to prove people wrong about him. He also plays with incredible confidence, thinking he can get the ball in any throwing window, no matter how large or small the window is. Strong was consistent and productive while the starting quarterback at Nevada, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 9,368 yards and 74 touchdowns with just 19 touchdowns.
Don't be fooled by a proposed "slide" for Strong. His surgically repaired knee and his lack of overall athleticism are legitimate concerns. Strong threw for over 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns last season on a balky knee. Teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, or New Orleans would be good fits for Strong. If Strong could go somewhere, he does not have to start year one (or year two); that could give him time to get the knee strong.
7. Kaleb Eleby: Western Michigan
Pro football gameplan founder and talent evaluator Emory Hunt always says, "Size is not a skill." That is the case with Western Michigan quarterback Kaleb Eleby. Keep in mind that height is no longer a determinant of playing the position. Eleby burst onto the scene with an impressive albeit abbreviated 2020 season. Eleby was just as good in 2021 but flew under the radar.
Most scouts love Eleby because Western Michigan ran a pro-style offense with many RPO concepts and mesh-point reads. Eleby has over 20 starts on his resume with a 4.5:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Eleby and the Broncos did not dink and dunk either; the Missouri native averaged nearly ten yards per pass attempt during his career. Two characteristics jump off the film with Eleby. First, there is no doubt that Eleby has an NFL-caliber arm. Second, Eleby did not fold against either Michigan or Pittsburgh.
That said, Eleby does not have any elite traits. He has a good but not elite arm. Eleby relies heavily on what he sees, and his understanding of the playbook and film study; neither are bad things either. Eleby eludes pressure well but is not an elite athlete. He might not be a plus in the running game but can evade pressure and make the throw adequately. Scouts and coaches loved his interviews and leadership qualities. Eleby is the type of quarterback the Packers would take back in the Brett Farve era, draft him late, see if he develops, and either becomes a solid backup or gives trade value. Think Mark Brunell or Aaron Brooks.
6. Sam Howell: North Carolina
There is perhaps no quarterback in this draft more polarizing than Sam Howell. Some scouts love him, and others think he's a backup quarterback. His draft range is anywhere from late in the first round to the fourth round. Howell would be Baker Mayfield if he were evaluated correctly. Cleveland caught a lot of flack for drafting Mayfield first overall and is now looking to trade him.
Howell is a gamer, and that is what you love about him. The North Carolina product is triple tough and will give you everything he has every game and play. Howell became a plus in the running game this season and can elude pressure. He did a great job of using his legs this season instead of forcing throws.
Howell did become a better runner, but that was primarily because he had to become better. The Tar Heels lost their two best running backs to the 2021 draft, forcing Howell to assume more responsibility in the run game. However, Howell's running prowess won't fully translate much like it didn't for Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel. Howell also thrived against some of the worst defenses in the Power Five, playing in the ACC Coastal.
A team drafting Sam Howell has to know what to put around him to ensure he's successful. That fact makes it that much more difficult to predict where he lands. A team that feels like he can be a difference-maker could draft him early; if teams view him as a bus driver who could help a team over a three to four-game stretch, he'll go in the 3rd to 4th round.
5. Jack Coan: Notre Dame
Jack Coan closes the book on the more scheme-specific quarterbacks on this list. Coan, much like Carson Strong, is a classic, tall pocket passer with a really good arm. Coan has played a lot of football at two of the country's better programs (Wisconsin and Notre Dame). It looks like Wisconsin let the wrong quarterback transfer. Coan is a heady veteran with plenty of big-game experience.
Coan has shown plenty of ability as a passer who can make all of the throws anywhere on the field. The New York native moves around the pocket well and is not bothered by trash around his feet. Coan can absorb a playbook and execute based on what a defense is trying to do on a particular play. Coan's greatest asset is how fundamentally sound he is. His throwing motion and footwork in the pocket is how you teach young pocket passers to move.
Coan wore 17 during his collegiate career but won't be confused with Josh Allen. He is a stand-tall and deliver the ball quickly quarterback. He showed more ability throwing in the middle of the field than on the sidelines. Having Michael Mayer could have a lot to do with that as well. Tennessee would be a great landing spot for Coan to backup Ryan Taneyhill and possibly develop into his successor or a trade asset.
5. Matt Corral: Mississippi
Sam Howell might be the only other quarterback as polarizing as Matt Corral. The Mississippi product came into this season with the possibility of being drafted in the first round. Other than the injury in the Sugar Bowl, it did little to disappoint. Corral cut the interceptions by over half from 2020 to last season, and the yards per attempt were nearly the same.
Corral arguably has the best arm talent in this draft. Corral has tremendous touch on the deep ball and velocity to throw the ball between defenders. The California native is not a natural runner but can pick up yards with his feet if he needs. No matter the position, few players play with as much confidence as Corral in this draft.
Corral strays the line between confidence and recklessness at times, especially when he runs. That is not great because of his slight build (205 pounds). Corral has played in a quarterback-friendly system, which has assisted his decision-making. However, Lane Kiffin's offense has not translated well to the next level. Corral struggles to make accurate throws off-platform despite being an above-average athlete. His slight frame could affect his ceiling at the next level.
His arm might be too attractive to pass up at the next level, and he might go in the first two rounds.
3. Kenny Pickett: Pittsburgh
No player in this draft had a more significant, impactful final season than Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Panthers' quarterback broke many of Dan Marino's school records and led Pitt to its first ACC Championship. Much of that success was because Pickett had one of the most prolific seasons in school and conference history. Pickett threw for over 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
The New Jersey native is as self-made as they come. Pickett was not highly recruited out of high school and developed into an NFL prospect. That development cannot be understated. Pickett could have come out of school in 2020 but bet on himself, which turned out to be a good idea.
Scouts like the size (6-foot-3 and 220 pounds) and compact throwing motion as a prospect. Pickett has above-average arm talent and is a good athlete. He can throw to every field level with touch and velocity.
You also have to evaluate Pickett in playing in a poor defensive league. The ACC Coastal was one of the worst defensive divisions in the Power Five this season. Pickett did not put up the numbers he did this season when Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Miami were better defensively. Also, was his rise the result of improved development or improved skill talent around him. There is a lot of boom or bust to Pickett. Either he will be an All-Pro or out of the league in five years. Despite this, he's likely to go in the first round and be the second quarterback off of the board.
2. Desmond Ridder: Cincinnati
There are a lot of reasons to like Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. First, Ridder has 50 career starts at Cincinnati and threw for over 10,000 yards. Every year, it seemed as if Ridder added to his game. Ridder became a better quarterback as his confidence grew. The Bearcats also became a better team as Ridder's confidence grew. As the Louisville, Kentucky native learned how to lead, the team rallied around him. For the sake of delivering a hot take, there is something very Tom Brady-like about Ridder. Guys want to be better because he is their teammate.
There isn't anything special about his arm or athleticism. However, Ridder has that intangible "it" that some players have. Let's be clear; Ridder is the second-best athlete in the draft among quarterbacks and has enough arm to play at a high level in the NFL. Ridder can pick up chunk yardage with his legs, though he prefers to play from the pocket. There are questions about his ability to throw the deep ball, but he was not asked to throw deep a lot in Mike Denbrock's or Zac Taylor's offense while at Cincinnati.
Ridder is not a day one starter. His game has grown but needs some refinement. He is fundamentally sound with his lower body but needs work on his extended release. Phillip Rivers is proof that there is no one way for your motion to look, but Ridder has too much windup, which gives defensive backs time to break on his passes. The ideal situation for Riddler would be similar to what Patrick Mahomes had in Kansas City.
Malik Willis: Liberty
Let's get a few things straight about Malik Willis. First, suppose the Baltimore Ravens were not worried about Joe Flacco playing for Delaware or the Eagles concerned about Carson Wentz playing for North Dakota State. In that case, no team should be worried about Willis playing at Liberty. If any scout or team is, have them watch the film of his run through the ACC in 2020. Willis did press a bit this season but did lose some key players from that 10-win 2020 team. There might be some who are concerned about his size. He wore number 7 at Liberty. There was another number 7 who was pretty good, playing most of his career at 5-foot-10 and around 200-210 pounds. It would be Michael Vick if you didn't know.
Willis has all the tools teams look for in the modern NFL game. He is a run threat in the RPO game and possesses an elite arm and athleticism. Willis is as dangerous throwing up the seams as throwing to the boundary. He is a plus in the run game, but teams should run very few designed runs if durability is a concern. Instead, allow Willis to run off of the RPO when the read dictates.
Willis can lean into his elite traits too much and allow his fundamentals to get a bit sloppy. His learning curve will be interesting to watch from Hugh Freeze's offense. Willis should be the first quarterback off the board and will benefit from going somewhere he can learn for a year or two before starting.