It is officially the best part of the NFL year. With the NFL Combine in full swing, the NFL Draft season is now underway. Like I’ve always done on my own — but now here on WCG — that means I’ll be revealing my positional rankings week by week, with the quarterbacks kicking it off. Though this year’s class certainly leaves a lot to be desired, it is not entirely of complete waste. There are still a few guys with borderline superstar ceilings and others who are sure-fire top 10-type quarterbacks at the next level. But who are those guys, and (perhaps more importantly) will their mechanical deficiencies get in the way of their success? Enough talking. Let’s start from the top.
1. Malik Willis, Liberty University
In a race that is far closer than many realize, Liberty Quarterback Malik Willis wins the honor of my top quarterback. First, the positives. Though he isn’t quite as good as advertised athletically, he is still an excellent athlete nonetheless. His running ability is exceptional, and his size (laterally-speaking, at least) is outstanding, hence why his arm is incredibly strong. Where he is slightly overrated is in his quickness and ability to change directions.
He isn’t quite as good at accelerating or making people miss in close quarters as you would think for a guy who is said to run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash time. That, however, will not prove to be a big issue considering that he is a quarterback rather than a running back. Mechanically-speaking, he certainly has his flaws, but I don’t look at any of them as wholly unfixable. The vast majority of his issues stem from the lower body. Far too frequently, he locks out his plant leg, lacks smoothness in his drop, and stagnates, all three of which diminish both his power and accuracy. The good thing is that these issues are all correctable so long as there is somewhat of a synchronization between the upper and lower halves, and Willis certainly has that.
His upper body mechanics are very consistent but require a bit of refinement. For the most part, he preserves a 90 degree angle between his upper and lower arm, generates good shoulder turn, and finishes high and across the body with his arm to add extra pace to his balls. It is for these reasons that he throws a very catchable ball and has excellent accuracy for the most part. At times, however, he can get a bit lackadaisical with these principles. His arm can be an “independent contractor,” leading to improper sequencing in his right arm, and his front shoulder can come untucked at times, causing the occasional missed throw. However, these issues are not glaring enough to the point where I look at them as insurmountable. As long as his quarterback coaches relentlessly emphasize the importance of these principles, they should be correctable.
Now, to the mental part of the game. Though not perfect, he is not nearly as raw in this aspect as many make him out to be. He shows the capability of processing information at a high level. Is it as consistent as you would like? No. But the mere fact that he is capable of doing it efficiently lends me to believe that — much like his upper body mechanics — he will pick this up at the NFL level. As for pass protection knowledge and blitz rules, he is, in fact, very raw. But I can teach a guy when to check to a half-slide, full-slide, check and release for the back, or short motion for a tight end. What I can’t teach are the physical tools, mechanical capabilities, and ability to process. Willis has all of those things. Will it take him a year or two to fully iron out these minor mechanical and mental flaws as well as adjust to the speed of the NFL game? Yes. But once he does, he will be a star — much in the same sense that a poor man’s Russell Wilson would be.
2. Kenny Pickett, University of Pittsburgh
1a to Willis’ 1 comes University of Pittsburgh Quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett, though not as talented as Willis, is as NFL ready as they come and has a borderline-star quality ceiling.
It is Derek Carr- and Kellen Mond-ish from all angles. Athletically, he has great size at 6’3”, 220 lbs., moves very well, and has exceptional arm strength. All three of these things allow him to throw in the pocket with people around him (which will be very critical at the NFL level) and throw into extremely tight windows.
Perhaps more importantly, his mechanics — much like Willis — just require a few minor touch ups before he can become a machine. He has a smooth and quick drop-back that always keeps him on rhythm, his arm angle rarely breaks from the 135 degree angle throughout the throwing motion, he always stays on the balls of his feet, and he routinely generates very good shoulder turn, all of which culminate with a high across-the-body finish. These core principles allow him to throw catchable balls that are almost always on the money.
As far as his flaws, he can let his arm get too long at times and throw from an “over the top” position at times, but — much like Willis’ flaws — these aren’t glaring enough to the point where it is uncorrectable. He can also lock out his plant leg and be a long strider, but as previously stated, feet are an easy fix at the NFL level.
From a mental standpoint, he is exceptional. He processes information at a very high level and is a very good decision-maker. He does need to learn pass protection calls and blitz rules, and his pocket presence needs work as well, but — again — as previously mentioned, both of those are very teachable so long as he is willing to put in the work necessary.
Overall, he is certainly more than worthy of being the first quarterback off the board. The width of separation between him and Willis is smaller than a hair, and frankly, it all comes down to situation and personal preference. Would you rather take the guy with a very high ceiling who is somewhat raw but has issues that are very fixable or the guy who has a decently high ceiling and will be a major contributor almost immediately? Personally, I prefer the former, but I can’t blame you if you prefer the latter.
3. Carson Strong, University of Nevada
At the 3rd spot in these rankings comes a bit of a shocker with Nevada Quarterback Carson Strong. There is no question that Strong’s athleticism puts a hard cap on his top-end talent, but his ability to take advantage of all that’s there to be had puts him ahead of the remaining three quarterbacks on this list.
Outside of the speed-related athletic traits (i.e., straight-line speed, acceleration, agility, quickness, elusiveness, etc.), Strong has physical tools to succeed in the purest aspects of the position. Size is a skill, and he has plenty of it standing at 6’4” and a legitimate 216 lbs with exceptional arm strength.
Mechanically, he is as flawless as anybody in this class. His motion is concise, his arm never breaks from the 90 degree angle, he always generates opposites through a great turn of the shoulder, and he has a high and across the body follow through. As far as his lower body goes, his feet are always within the proper framework for balance and timing, and he has already shown the ability to match them up with his progressions. These strong fundamentals (no pun intended) allow him to deliver the ball with unbelievable accuracy and pace at all times.
From a mental standpoint, he is arguably the best processor of information in this class and demonstrates an acute ability to check into the right route concepts, pass protections, and more. He has a great feel for the pocket, and is a better mover than one would think.
Overall, I really like Strong. He is very NFL ready and will likely reach his ceiling. The obvious problem, however, is that that ceiling is capped at a top 15-type quarterback, which in today’s NFL, is as insecure a job as you will find.
4. Sam Howell, University of North Carolina
It is at this point where my rankings suffer a massive drop-off with University of North Carolina Quarterback Sam Howell. There’s no denying that he has big-time talent. His size, particularly his thickness, ensures that he will be very durable at the next level. He is a good athlete in terms of speed, elusiveness, and quickness and has a very strong arm. The problem is that his throwing is more raw than I expected, and — due to his mechanical flaws — I’m not sure how much better things can really get.
He has a very smooth drop-back and generates good shoulder turn on a consistent basis, resulting in the vast majority of his balls coming out very catchable. He is also capable of throwing a variety of balls, which is crucial because it widens the breadth of offense a team can run.
However, his motion is extremely long, which will prove fatal from the phone booth-like pockets in the NFL, and he is an over-the-top thrower, which drastically diminishes his throwing power and accuracy. It is for these two reasons that he often finishes low and unbalanced in the lower body. On short balls, his arm is a bit of an independent contractor, hence why he often loses control of the ball on throws in this area of the field. Now, I know what you are thinking. Why am I so high on Willis and Pickett despite both having similar flaws as Howell? The answer, as is usual in the draft process, lies in the consistency. Willis and Pickett are consistent enough at doing things the right way that I don’t look at these flaws as insurmountable. For Howell, however, these flawed principles are the essence of his throwing motion, hence why I see them as being extremely difficult to overcome, even with NFL-caliber coaching.
Mentally, he is capable of processing information, but requires greater refinement for consistency, and his pass protection knowledge is quite lacking at the moment. But these aspects are teachable, so they aren’t too much of a concern. The problem lies in the lack of consistency with the physical aspects of his game. He certainly has talent, and I’m rooting for him to prove me wrong, but I have to see it to believe it first.
5. Matt Corral, University of Mississippi
Like Howell, there is no questioning that Corral is incredibly talented. In fact, in terms of pure mechanics, Corral is far and away at the top of this group as of now, and that is certainly a big advantage he will have at the next level. He is also more than capable of processing information, and — much like Willis and Howell — just requires some refinement to do it much more consistently.
My primary concern deals with the athlete itself. Yes, Corral has a very strong arm, allowing him to throw into tight windows with laser-like accuracy. But I would be shocked if his size and running ability translated to the next level. He is currently listed at 6’2”, 205 lbs., and frankly, looks much smaller than that on film. His legs and arms are in the same stratosphere of spindliness as Josh Rosen, hence why both players struggled with injury problems in both college and the NFL. Moreover, he is a car crash-type runner. Corral’s running style is predicated upon bulldozing through linebackers and safeties, which — for a guy his size — will be disastrous against the grown men in the NFL.
Again, there are definitely aspects of his game that I like. It’s just that his singular flaw is so glaring that I have no choice but to rank him at #5.
6. Desmond Ridder, University of Cincinnati
Perhaps the most boom-or-bust prospect in this year’s draft class is Cincinnati Quarterback Desmond Ridder. As you might guess based on this ranking, I project that he will bust rather than boom.
In terms of things he has going for him, his athleticism is exceptional. He has phenomenal size at 6’4” and looks slightly thicker than his 216 lb. frame would lead you to believe. For a guy his size, he moves exceptionally well, and to top it all off, he has arguably the strongest arm in the draft.
I understand what you’re thinking. Both Ridder and Malik Willis are “toolsy”-type prospects, so why have I ranked Willis at #1 and Ridder at #6? The answer lies in the fixability of their flaws. Many of Willis’ flaws are either inherently easy fixes or aren’t glaring enough to where they are unfixable. Ridder’s flaws, however, are the complete opposite. The elongation of his arm and “independent contractor” aspects are both the essence of his throwing motion, hence why I look at them as unfixable. As demonstrated in his college film, it is for these two reasons why his short ball accuracy is all over the place. Too frequently, he misses slam dunk completions by an amount that is just scary, and can lose control of the ball more frequently than one would like.
Overall, he certainly can be a top-10 type quarterback. But as of now, I would bet on him being more Blake Bortles than Trevor Lawrence.
There you have it. Those are my official 2022 NFL Draft quarterback rankings (fitting for my first post on Windy City Gridiron). Per usual, only time will tell on each of these guys. As underwhelming as this class may look on film, it could be a completely different story on the field.
For an audio-only podcast episode in which I cover each of these guys in far greater detail, check out Season 2, Episode 9 of my Bears Review Show.