Happy Thanksgiving! We’ve got a stuffed issue of NFLTR Review this week for you to go ham on:
- Diving into the 2022 QB class and whether it’s as bad as everyone says
- Why the Saints gave Taysom Hill so much money
- The Broncos got a team-friendly deal with Courtland Sutton
Draft Season: The 2022 QB Class
Lacking. Underwhelming. Weak. If you asked for a one-word association for the 2022 quarterback draft class any time over the past several months, that would be the general theme. The prevailing narrative is that 2022 is a bad year to need a young quarterback.
Some of that is due to just how highly the 2021 class has been hyped — after all we had a generational prospect go No. 1 and a total of five guys go in the first 15 picks. We entered the 2021 college football season without any slam-dunk prospects or big-time college stars at pipeline programs. And since 2018, 17 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round. Some sort of letdown or draining of the talent pool feels inevitable.
The parallels to the nightmare quarterback class of 2013 have been easy to draw. The discussion that year acknowledged a group headlined by E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and everyone’s favorite sleeper Ryan Nassib was lacking comparatively speaking. Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson, among several others, had just entered the league over the previous couple of years.
The demand for strong quarterback play was expected to push the group as a whole up the board. Instead, Manuel was the only first-round selection and no one in the class made an impact as much more than a backup.
There is some optimism 2022 might not be as bad as 2013, though. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport recently polled a number of general managers and other senior personnel executives, and there was a general consensus that three quarterbacks minimum would go in the first round come April. They acknowledged the perception of this class but one exec pointed out you could just as easily draw parallels to 2017 — another “bad year to need a quarterback” sandwiched in between the 2016 and 2018 classes.
So what’s the truth? What can you expect if you’re one of the many teams that need a quarterback this year? I’m not a professional scout but I do a fair amount of evaluating offensive skill players as a hobby while playing dynasty fantasy football. I took some time to dig into the 2022 class, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think there’s a good chance the narrative on this group is going to change in the next five months.
Here are my takeaways, including how I’d rank the top prospects in this class, where I think the league will grade them and pro comparisons.
1 Ole Miss QB Matt Corral
- Snappy, quick release, and the ball jumps out of his hand. Thrives in the RPO game, makes great reads and quickly resets his base to throw an accurate ball most of the time.
- Can thread the needle in the intermediate game with touch to get it over underneath defenders and heat to beat the safety to the spot.
- His arm is above average. He should be able to access most throws he’ll need to make and his ball placement is generally solid as well.
- One of the best in this class at using his eyes to move defenders underneath to open up a window to deliver the ball, including no-look passes. Shows that he recognizes what defenses are trying to do and has a plan to attack.
- He has the mobility to get to the edge and threaten defenses. Legitimate dual-threat weapon.
- Tough as nails player, shook off a gnarly ankle injury to come back in the second half against Auburn this season and muscled 30 carries against Tennessee.
- Real problem with interceptions in 2020 that would come in bunches, including games with six and five, respectively. Gets in trouble when he locks onto a player who the defense has smothered and throws the ball anyway. Improved a good deal in 2021 in this area but there are still kinks to work out.
- In a similar vein, he’ll take sacks trying to make a play at times. He improved the game management aspect of knowing when to take the easy yards and when to push in 2021 but the team that drafts him will have to be aware to not let old habits crop up again.
- It happens enough to make a note of, but once or twice a game he’ll just derp a short pass, like a fullback leak or screen pass, something that should be a gimme. Could be some mechanical inconsistencies to iron out.
Corral’s aggressiveness and gunslinging nature will earn him some comparisons to guys like Jets QB Zach Wilson and perhaps even Mahomes. But I see a lot of Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa with how crisp and snappy Corral is in the RPO game. He is more of a running threat than Tagovailoa, which could help him have more success translating his game to the NFL level. On tape, Corral looks like a first-round pick and I could see him end up in the top 10 by the end of April.
2 Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett
- A five-year player with four years of starting experience and will be 24 as a rookie, so shouldn’t be a risk in terms of inexperience or maturity. Took a major statistical leap in 2021 as a senior.
- Prototypical size for the quarterback position, listed at 6-3 and 220. Thickly built with a strong arm that’s good enough to attack most areas of the field, though it’s not elite.
- Thrives in empty sets where the defense is spread out and he can identify the best matchup to attack. Consistently shreds opponents whenever Pitt goes to this look. Generally does a good job of identifying coverages
- In a little bit of a paradox, he has good mobility and his sizzle reel is filled with plays where he is on the move and throwing strikes down the field. From down to down, though, he’s far more likely to check it down to the back or take the first read than he is to run around and wait for a big play downfield.
- Some real physical, gutsy runs, especially late in games and against big opponents. You can play 11-on-11 in the run game with him situationally.
- Accuracy is usually a strength of his. He flashes some real touch on some throws down the field and he does a good job hitting his receivers in stride to allow yards after catch opportunities. Most notably, when he misses, 90 percent of the time he’s giving no one else a chance to catch the ball beside his intended receiver.
- Sometimes it seems like he almost goes to his checkdown too quickly when there are opportunities to deliver the ball further down the field. Loves throwing to his running backs for better or worse.
- Has a tendency to flush to the right when he’s pressured in the pocket, could do a better job of climbing and giving himself more time and options to attack.
- Sometimes he will get caught staring down a receiver and giving the defense a chance to jump a route.
- For whatever reason, there are a ton of times where he passes up open receivers in the middle of the field to pivot to another option. Not sure if it’s just something where a particular look isn’t as clean as he likes or he’s failing to diagnose coverage openings. He errs on the side of not making a mistake, but there are a lot of opportunities he’s missing in this area.
When I watch Pickett, I don’t see someone who can be a top-five quarterback barring a special season where everything comes together. But he has the makings of a very solid starter, with promising game management skills and the physical talent to be a little bit more if the situation calls for it. This isn’t an original comparison, but there are so many ways in which Pickett reminds me of Bengals QB Joe Burrow, from his career arc to how he thrives in empty sets to just generally the style they play the game with. It would be a surprise if Pickett isn’t a first-round pick.
3 Nevada QB Carson Strong
- Another passer in the prototypical size bucket at over 6-4 and 215 pounds. Enough athleticism to buy a little bit of extra time in the pocket, not a statue.
- Strong arm to stretch the field and to drive into slim windows over the middle.
- Snappy release to get the ball out quickly and he puts up a lot of production in the quick passing game. Speaks to his ability to diagnose and find the correct receiver quickly.
- Very accurate in the short passing game, enables YAC opportunity with his ball placement.
- His accuracy extends to the deep areas of the football field. Has some dimes where he is giving his receivers chances to win targets even if they don’t always follow through.
- Trends toward being just a pure pocket passer, is not a huge threat to create. Winning from the pocket remains the most important aspect of NFL quarterbacking, especially for stable, long-term production, but Strong will have less of a margin for error early on because he won’t be able to compensate for his growing pains by producing in other areas.
- Over the middle of the field, he’ll sometimes get too bold and throw into windows that are closed, resulting in picks.
Strong doesn’t fit the new-age model of mobile, sandlot-style quarterbacks. He’s a classical throwback in a number of ways and old-school evaluators in particular could be drawn to him. There’s a lot to like here. He’s accurate, has a big arm and reads defenses reasonably well for where he is in his development. He’s more mobile than Drew Bledsoe but he wins in the same way. It’s easy to wonder how he’d be regarded if he were somewhere like Alabama or Ohio State instead of Nevada. Going in the first round is not out of the question.
4 North Carolina QB Sam Howell
- Strong arm, can deliver the ball with zip up the seam or bomb it down the sidelines. He has the touch and accuracy to be deadly in these areas of the field as well.
- Thick, stocky build. Probably not that much taller than 6-0 but that matters less in the NFL these days. He’s been a starter since Day 1 as a true freshman in a scheme that asks him to air it out a lot, so experience is a major plus.
- He’s mobile enough to do damage even if I would hesitate to call him a true dual-threat quarterback. His build helps him shed weak tackle attempts and he’s fast enough to pick up chunks and first downs when the opportunity arises.
- Flashes at times the ability to dictate coverages with his eyes but it’s something you’d love to see more.
- Falls in love with his rushing ability too much at a detriment to the whole of his game. Needs to pick his spots more and learn when to let go on a play to avoid it snowballing into something worse.
- His reactions to pressure in the pocket are often exaggerated and he runs himself into other trouble. Needs to have calmer feet. Has a little bit of the Jay Cutler backpedal to his footwork instead of a classical drop.
- His accuracy in the short and intermediate game tends to be more general than pinpoint and leaves opportunities for completions and yards after the catch on the field.
- The idea of a “pro-style offense” matters far less than it did 10 years ago in evaluating college quarterbacks but Howell’s offense at UNC has been heavy on RPOs, bubble screens and the like while being light on NFL passing concepts.
- Lapses in decision-making that leave you wondering what the heck he could be thinking.
In the summer conversation, Howell was seen as a leading candidate to potentially propel his stock high enough to go No. 1 overall in 2022. In that sense, I think the disappointment that has been the 2021 Tar Heels season could be helpful in the long run for Howell, as it lessens any unrealistic expectations being placed on him. There’s a lot to like about his game. He has some of the downfield throwing ability of Burrow and looks like a carbon copy of Browns QB Baker Mayfield, both the good and the bad. Ultimately, though, the athleticism, beautiful spiral and brain-dead moments on the field led me to a comparison I can’t shake: Panthers QB Sam Darnold. It’s not a rosy comparison, but Darnold did have some real promise in a better ecosystem. Hopefully, Howell gets a chance to do better.
5 Liberty QB Malik Willis
- Athleticism jumps off the tape. He’s a dynamic playmaker in the run game and also scrambling to buy time for his receivers. In terms of long speed, he might “only” be in the high 4.5s or 4.6s in the 40-yard dash but he’s got the burst to rip off chunks.
- At 6-1, 215, he’s got a strong build and he’ll shrug or spin off tacklers who don’t get a good grip. Slippery to tackle. Can also lower his head and move the pile some.
- Great arm strength. Can fit the ball into tiny windows down the field, like the Cover 2 gap between the corner and safety. From a physical package standpoint, the most compelling quarterback in the class.
- Flashes some moments of pinpoint accuracy, whether it’s on bombs down the field or tight, contested windows. Realistically, his supporting cast at Liberty let him down a fair amount on these types of plays.
- From 2020 to 2021, there appeared to be a genuine effort to play within himself more, though he wasn’t always able to stick with it through the entire game.
- Helter skelter player. Can play frenetically and out of control, which leads to bouts of inconsistency, especially with his accuracy. Some real painful, wide open misses on his tape. He’ll settle in but his accuracy can come and go.
- I don’t love his decisions pre-snap, in his 2020 tape especially. There are times where I’m not sure why he’s making the decisions he is based on what the defense is showing.
- Like most quarterbacks blessed with his gifts, he’ll hold onto the ball way too long trying to make a play. Needs to do a better job understanding when to cut his losses and live for the next down. He will do it sometimes but like other parts of his game, he needs more consistency with it.
Willis is a very different player from Bills QB Josh Allen. Stylistically, he’s much closer to Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, perhaps a little more physically gifted. But in terms of where Allen was in his development track coming into the league, Willis is right there. He has tremendous raw physical skills and is in need of refinement to be able to harness them. A team that drafts him — probably be in the first round unless he interviews poorly — would do well to follow Buffalo’s blueprint of managing Allen through his first couple of seasons. Still, it’s worth remembering that the type of improvement Allen has showcased, especially with his accuracy, has been the exception rather than the rule.
6 Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
- Ridder might have the strongest arm in this class. Would instantly be top-shelf in the NFL
- Tall, leggy, long-striding quarterback who can chew up ground in a hurry. Nearly 500 carries and 28 rushing touchdowns in college. Qualifies as a dual-threat guy. Gritty player.
- Starter since his redshirt freshman season. Loads of experience in an ascending Cincinnati program.
- Play-making gene. Will scramble to buy time and is willing to give his guys chances in very tight windows. Some “no, no, no, yes!” to his game.
- There are times on film where he’s throwing with excellent anticipation before his receiver comes out of his break. Shows impressive accuracy at times, hitting guys in stride and in small windows.
- That accuracy comes and goes unfortunately due to mechanical inconsistencies, especially throwing to his left. Opens his hips too much.
- Puts the ball in harms way with his throws a lot more than you’re comfortable with.
- Takes a lot of sacks holding onto the ball waiting for a play to develop
- Style of play invites injuries.
- Just a streaky player
Stylistically there’s a lot of Colts QB Carson Wentz to Ridder’s game, especially when Wentz was younger and healthier. At this point, the NFL seems to view Ridder as more of a project pick on Day 2 than a serious contender for the first round. But if Ridder has a good showing in the College Football Playoff, assuming the Bearcats hang onto the final berth, he could start to build some momentum.
This Week In Football
- Lots to get to this week, but we’ll start in New York where the Giants drew the first coaching blood of the season by firing OC Jason Garrett after a debacle on Monday night. I can’t say that this is an unexpected outcome from when the Giants hired Garrett just last season, as nothing in his time in Dallas suggested he’d be capable of coordinating an innovative, modern offense. Still, this makes it crystal clear big changes are coming for New York.
- It was a big week for extensions for a few different teams. None got more attention than the big deal the Saints gave to Taysom Hill, though. To get the full max value of $95 million, Hill has to start at quarterback and play fairly well, in which case the Saints will be content with the ROI. At a minimum, New Orleans signed on for four years and $40 million for Hill in his current, jack-of-all-trades role. That’s No. 8 compared to tight ends and bridge starter money when it comes to quarterbacks. Hill isn’t even playing at quarterback right now and his season-high is 53 percent of the snaps. The player just above him in salary, Browns TE Austin Hooper, has never played less than 60 percent of the snaps and usually is above 70 percent. To understand why New Orleans gave a gadget player so much money, it’s crucial to understand two things. One, Saints HC Sean Payton loves Hill and the wrinkles he can bring. Two, an extension marginally helps the cap situation in 2022 by avoiding an $8.9 million dead money hit. New Orleans can restructure his $10.1 million base salary and come away with probably around half of what he would have originally been scheduled to count against the cap.
- The Eagles signed a group of players to extensions as they lock up the players they believe will form their core going into the next few seasons. The headliner is TE Dallas Goedert who inked a four-year, $59 million extension. The $14.25 million per year makes him No. 3 in the NFL behind Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Not bad for Goedert. His long-time roommate, Eagles CB Avonte Maddox, also got a nice payday. Maddox’s three-year, $22.5 million deal breaks down to an APY of $7.5 million a year, which is right underneath the top of the market for slot corners. Philly clearly believes these two are going to play in line with those deals.
- The Broncos are building quite a receiving corps, as in the span of two days they signed both Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton to lucrative second contracts. Patrick got three years and $30 million while Sutton signed for four years and $60.8 million. And still, there’s an argument the Broncos got the good end of those deals. Both were scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2022. Patrick might not have made dramatically more than $10 million a year, maybe just $1-$2 million a year more. But Sutton turned down at the very least a $19.7 million franchise tag and his deal slots in 16th at the position. Giants WR Kenny Golladay got $18 million per year from New York last offseason and that seems like a reasonable comparison for Sutton. That said, it’s his prerogative to not risk injury, especially coming off a torn ACL in 2020.
- There was a contract update with the Ravens and QB Lamar Jackson in the sense that it was a non-update saying the two sides still have not progressed toward a new deal. Given that Jackson is representing himself and has a lot going on right now, it stands to reason there won’t be much traction here until the offseason. At this point, there’s a real chance Jackson meets or exceeds Mahomes’ league-leading $45 million a year, only on a shorter pact than 10 years. Consider that Buffalo gave Allen $43 million a year and Jackson could have more MVP trophies than Allen and Mahomes combined by the end of this season. For Baltimore, getting this deal done as quickly as possible behooves them, not only to lock in a price but to figure out what they have to budget for other extensions for players like C Bradley Bozeman and FB Patrick Ricard.
- There’s never a good time for injuries. But we’re reaching the part of the calendar where they carry an extra level of insidiousness for a few reasons. Major injuries like Packers OL Elgton Jenkins’ torn ACL carry lengthy rehab timelines that can jeopardize the following season. You don’t even have to leave the offensive line meeting room in Green Bay for an example, as All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari remains sidelined from a torn ACL sustained on New Year’s Eve in 2020 and just had another scope on his knee. Seahawks RB Chris Carson also needs neck surgery, and whenever the spine is involved it raises the specter of a career-ending issue. The timing stings a little extra for Seattle as they won’t have their best running back as they try to cling to the last thread of their playoff hopes. And in Chicago, Bears OLB Khalil Mack’s season-ending foot surgery raises questions about the elite pass rusher’s future in Chicago that might have been moot had he been able to stay on the field and play at his accustomed high level.
- It’s not often that a 27-year-old running back with two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume is available in late November. But the Texans clearly decided they were ready to part ways with veteran Phillip Lindsay and the Dolphins were the beneficiary. It’s an interesting landing spot for Lindsay. Miami’s backfield is the equivalent of the island of misfit toys with all the unheralded but competent players they’ve collected. Lindsay had a forgettable tenure in Houston but he has a chance to make some noise ahead of another run at free agency in 2022.