The Senior Bowl may have served as a barometer for the quarterback position this year more than any other in recent history. With the exception of Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, all of the perceived top draft prospects were in Mobile, Alabama, performing on an equal playing field that became sloppy as the week progressed due to inclement weather.
From watching practice tape and consulting with Ryan Wilson, here is one thing that was learned of each of the six quarterback prospects:
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell’s draft stock has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. He was projected as a potential No. 1 overall selection coming into the season after a standout season with Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. His first two seasons were defined by multiple late game comebacks and a fiery spirit. In the absence of those players, Howell really struggled initially. He remains one of the best deep-ball throwers in the game but there are concerns based around the idea that he could be a product of the talent around him. Those types of players can find success in the NFL but they will never rise to the level of being one of the game’s best. Wilson felt as though Howell helped his stock in Mobile.
According to TruMedia, Howell ranked second to last in sack rate at 12.9%. By comparison, Justin Fields had the highest percentage among the quarterbacks drafted in the first round round last year at 8.9%. The rest were at 4.0% or lower.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pickett’s hand size is expected to be well below the general threshold of acceptability by traditional NFL standards. When the weather turned sour, Pickett struggled to drive the ball, but that was also true for every quarterback prospect not named Malik Willis. The way that translates to the field has been fumbles. TruMedia credits the quarterback with 36 fumbles over the past four years, which is tied for the second most behind Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez.
There is plenty to like in regards to his ability to process in the pocket. He has never thrown more than nine interceptions in a season. According to TruMedia, he ranked No. 51 among all quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts in sack percentage (5.9%). To his credit, over the last four seasons when Pickett has been the starter, Pittsburgh led all programs with 137 dropped passes. In 2021 alone, the Panthers were credited with 38 dropped passes. According to Wilson, he was said to be impressive in team interviews as well.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Accuracy may or may not be an issue for Ridder depending upon who is talking. For some, like myself, it is a concern. He improved over the course of the week and certainly did nothing to hurt his case. His touchdown to interception ratio is not as staggering as Pickett’s, yet TruMedia credits him with the same number of fumbles (36) as Pickett over the last four seasons. The Bearcat has been overlooked throughout his playing career and comes across down-to-earth. There is no doubt that he likely interviewed well with teams.
Since sack rate is one metric used to compare these quarterbacks, Ridder is relatively middle of the road at No. 61 with 6.5%.
Carson Strong, Nevada
The hope coming into the week was that Strong separated himself as a passer. He has the worst mobility — a previous knee injury could be playing a role — of any draft-eligible quarterback so his talents as a passer needed to overcome that deficiency. Unfortunately, he did not blow Wilson away. Although his lack of mobility has been well-documented, he ranked just No. 70 in sack rate at 6.9% so at least he is not holding the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks.
Malik Willis, Liberty
Willis was known for his speed and mobility as a draft prospect long before the week in Mobile. However, it was interesting to finally put some numbers to that for context. It was said that he clocked 20.58 miles per hour at practice over the course of the week. Only Arizona’s Kyler Murray clocked a faster time, 20.78 miles per hour, as a quarterback in the NFL last season.
His arm strength and mobility were evident but so was his inclination to hold on to the ball too long in the pocket. According to TruMedia, among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts last season, the Auburn transfer ranked dead last (No. 110) with a 13.1% sack rate, which was nearly twice as high as it had been a year earlier (7.0%). Teams may be enticed with the rare athletic traits but he remains a work in progress as a pocket passer.
Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Coming into the week, Zappe, a Houston Baptist transfer, had shown an ability to throw with touch and anticipation. Although highly productive at both schools, there were concerns about his arm strength. While he is certainly not in the conversation as having a cannon like Howell or Willis, the Texas native showed marginally better arm strength than expected.
According to TruMedia, Zappe had the lowest sack percentage (2.1%) of any quarterback with at least two pass attempts. The Hilltoppers’ offense was predicated on getting the ball out quickly but that further emphasizes that it is not sticking in his hand. The Texas native completed nearly 70% of 686 pass attempts for 5,967 yards, 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.