First and foremost, three days of practice and an all-star event shouldn’t completely change how you view a prospect. Especially with the quarterback position. These quarterbacks battle all season against a plethora of talent. Not everything will be picture perfect while learning new verbiage of an offense. Meanwhile, their timing with new pass catchers takes time to be established.
Looking back at my notes from the Senior Bowl, it only feels right that we jump right into the quarterbacks for the 2022 NFL Draft. While the quarterbacks get all of the attention in the NFL Draft, the quarterbacks in this class are truly a mixed bag.
There’s plenty of talent available, but each quarterback showed their inconsistencies this week. Some would even say that Matt Corral from Ole Miss was the biggest winner because he didn’t have to showcase his flaws in front of all 32 NFL teams. Here are my notes on the quarterbacks from the Senior Bowl and how their draft stock may or may not have been affected.
Could we have our QB1 and QB2 established?
For starters, the quarterback that seems to still have a grip on the top quarterback spot is Kenny Pickett from Pittsburgh. Pickett has been rumored to have been a great interview from multiple scouts and that the Carolina Panthers are “enamored” by the quarterback. While much of the buzz early in the week was around his hand size not being measured because his thumbs are double jointed, he still made some excellent throws during practice.
On the second day of practice, the weather haunted the QBs, and Pickett struggled with bad throws and bad snaps. But on the other days of practice, he did throw with good anticipation to Bo Melton (Rutgers WR) a few times and displayed plenty of zip on multiple pass attempts. While he didn’t do anything to lose his top spot, he pretty much gave us what I project from him at the next level anyways, and that is “what you see, is what you get.”
The one quarterback that generated plenty of buzz and potentially improved his draft stock the most was Malik Willis from Liberty. He put his mobility on display but also delivered plenty of timely throws and showed the arm strength we’ve seen so many times on tape. When re-watching the practices, you can see Willis working through progressions but also trying to throw with more touch. That will come with time.
While he had some true ups and downs in practice, there’s a lot to work with and he was put into high regard from the Lions coaching staff. The rumor coming out of the Senior Bowl is that the Steelers love Willis but from what I’ve gathered is that he won’t be available at the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
To me, the ideal landing spot for Willis is the Atlanta Falcons with the 8th overall pick. He could sit behind Matt Ryan for this upcoming season and in fact, he gave Ryan some praise at his interview during media day. He said that Ryan was someone he watches because he “admires his anticipation.” After this week, there could be a list of teams coordinating a plan to try and land Willis somewhere in the top-15 of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Pure speculation after a steady week from Sam Howell
It’ll be interesting to see where North Carolina QB Sam Howell ends up. While he could have a consensus day two grade, there’s a chance that he lands in the first round. Teams such as New Orleans at 18 or Pittsburgh at 20 make sense for teams in the market for a quarterback.
One team worth keeping tabs on is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While they took Kyle Trask in the 2021 NFL Draft, they could be interested in Howell as their next quarterback with Tom Brady retiring form the NFL. Now this is total speculation on my end but I think it could end up being an interesting draft nugget if there’s any truth to it. As we know, Howell played for Mack Brown at North Carolina.
With how long Brown and Arians have been coaching, maybe there’s a friendship or connection worth looking into there. They both coached against each other back in the early 1980’s (Brown was at LSU and Arians was at Alabama). The mutual connection between the two long time coaches would be the Beamer family. Bruce Arians was destined to get the Virginia Tech head coaching job back in 1987 but the Hokies ended up with Frank Beamer instead. It’s no secret that Beamer and Brown are very close friends and maybe, just maybe, they’ll all be tied together somehow for Arians and the Bucs to land Sam Howell.
As for his performance at the Senior Bowl, he made some nice throws deep downfield to Jalen Tolbert and Calvin Austin. Much like every quarterback at the event, his timing was off at times and he even misplaced a few passes during the 7-on-7 portions of practice. During the game, Howell did display good mobility and pocket movement to avoid being sacked or for stepping up and delivering a strong pass over the middle of the field. Despite Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis having one of the strongest weeks for the position, it’s worth noting that Sam Howell still performed well and could hear his name called on the opening night of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Desmond Ridder got better every day
We’ll call a spade a spade here; the first day of practice for Desmond Ridder wasn’t pretty. His ball placement was sporadic and it looked as if he was rushing through all of his progressions. Throughout each day, he seemed to settle down and it felt like he got better every single day.
Ridder did check into the Senior Bowl at 207 pounds so depending on who you ask that could be a cause for concern. For comparison, Ryan Finley checked into the 2019 Senior Bowl at 208 pounds. Fortunately, Ridder looks to have a stronger lower half and he put together a good final day of practice and his performance in the Senior Bowl game was encouraging.
Desmond Ridder continuing to look good throwing on boots. Likes to set his feet, not continuing to boot into pressure, and let it go. This time shows some nice touch hitting Nevada’s Romeo Doubs for a first down. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/ZYC8hLTNV3— Tyler Wise (@TriggeredWise) February 5, 2022
He showed the ability to roll-out and complete a touchdown pass to Trey McBride but he also threw with good touch on a few different passes. Right now ball placement is the biggest issue with Ridder but if he can become more consistent in that area, he has the tools be able to take steps forward at the next level. While he didn’t have the best week of the bunch, he got better every day and it feels like he’s done enough to be a top-60 pick by the time we get to the 2022 NFL Draft.
The late second or third day options at quarterback
For starters, Bailey Zappe from Western Kentucky had his best day on the third day of practice. He found Jalen Tolbert in the end-zone on the 7-on-7 drill for a nice touchdown. But he also made improvements on just about every throw from the previous two days. The best part is that Zappe acknowledges that he can get better and that he hasn’t really “hit his peak yet.” The player that first comes to mind when watching him in Mobile is Kyle Lauletta. He seems likely to be a day three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Whichever team drafts him will hope that they can tap into his skillset to try and replicate some of his college production.
Nice pass from Bailey Zappe but check out Jalen Tolbert on the route. Space release (power-skip) from Tolbert vs soft press - forces the defender to flip his hips towards the QB. This gives him enough separation to bring this down on the fade. pic.twitter.com/MaL4l1TJKA— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 5, 2022
Lastly, we have Carson Strong from Nevada. He did impress us with a couple of runs during practice. I got so excited to see him move, I felt like I cashed a player prop bet for him over 4.5 rushing yards. As for what we saw his arm do, I was a bit underwhelmed. He had a ton of passes that were under-thrown and he needed a lot of help from a pass-catcher downfield. Outside of that, it felt like some of his best completions were to his college teammates in Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner. He did move around the pocket better than anticipated but I was left wanting more from him after each practice and we just didn’t get that. Some team will draft him but it’ll take some time for me to be comfortable with him as a starter.