INDIANAPOLIS — You’ve heard plenty about the 2022 NFL draft quarterback class. As in, it’s not that good.
That’s the narrative, really, in media circles and among draft enthusiasts. The real truth isn’t too far off in league circles.
Malik Willis of Liberty has some buzz but also some major projection questions. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder all have good experience and some measure of talent worth investing in — but how high?
The buzz for this year’s crop pales in comparison to the 2021 draft group that landed five QBs in the top 15 selections.
“I wouldn’t bank on any of (the 2022 draft QBs), wouldn’t assume you’re going to find a Super Bowl-winning QB this year,” one national scout told Yahoo Sports. “I just wouldn’t want to be a team that needs to take one this year. We might not sleep that well.”
That scout’s team has drafted its franchise quarterback in recent years. The year before it did so, the team had some long, hard thoughts about taking one fairly high in the previous draft.
Ultimately, the options the team was staring at — especially in the range they were selecting — let them a bit lukewarm. During their pre-draft prep they kept coming back to the idea that “next year looks better,” the scout said.
NFL teams considering drafting a quarterback high must ask itself a few questions:
How desperate are we for QB help now?
Which quarterbacks potentially could be in the next draft class?
If it’s a better class next year, can we afford to wait?
“We always task our college staff with forecasting,” San Francisco 49ers executive John Lynch said. “What are we looking at next year? Even the year beyond.”
The 49ers had pre-draft discussions a year ago and wondered whether the 2021 NFL draft was the right time to make a QB play. They quickly realized that last year’s class, headlined by Trevor Lawrence, bore rare depth at the position. That’s when the 49ers set the wheels in motion to move up to the No. 3 overall pick and eventually selected Trey Lance.
But Lynch felt that the due diligence of projecting a year out was still an important step.
“As you get a couple years out, it’s a little tougher, there’s so many things that go into that,” Lynch said. “But yes, I think you’re not doing your job if you’re not (projecting).”
Mississippi QB Matt Corral is part of a 2022 NFL draft class of quarterbacks whose buzz is less than last year’s class. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Commanders all in on drafting QB in 2022?
The Washington Commanders, then the Washington Football Team, underwent the same process a year ago. Ultimately, they felt that there was enough talent and depth with the newly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick starting and playoff starter Taylor Heinecke the first off the bench.
The move backfired when Fitzpatrick threw for only 13 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1 last season and Heinecke turned in solid numbers but failed to consistently rediscover his late-season magic from 2020.
Now Washington is again on the hunt for a QB, even after punting on the more talented 2021 NFL draft class — and Commanders GM Martin Mayhew isn’t as down on this class as some others are.
“We certainly look at all those things and we know the guys that we expect will be available next year,” Mayhew said. “I think this is a quality quarterback class this year. There’s no consensus number one, I don’t think. As of right now, I think there may be some separation here at the combine. We may see some of that happening.”
Yet even if they’re also going through the process of looking ahead, the Commanders appear pretty set on adding a quarterback this offseason, with a high draft pick not out of the question at all. Mayhew all but confirmed that Wednesday.
“We’re aware of what our options are as far as next year, too,” he said. “But we are looking to address it now, if possible. And that’s where our focus is.”
Panthers weighing how to upgrade at the most important position
One team that finds itself in a strange limbo with its QB approach is the Carolina Panthers. It’s highly likely they add one this offseason — but how? There’s a strong case for the veteran route, adding a more known quantity to a QB room that only includes Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker. (Cam Newton is also a free agent who could be back.)
A decision on Darnold’s fifth-year option is due in May. The team appears very much willing to sort through all the options of finding more help, with Panthers GM Scott Fitterer describing the team’s QB competition as “open” on Wednesday.
“Darnold needs to take the next step,” Fitterer said. “We need stability at the quarterback position, whether that is Sam or someone else, someone needs to take hold of that position and hold that. Right now, it’s open.”
Could Deshaun Watson be in their plans? Maybe. But waiting for his possible indictment delays that process and carries a lot of risk if charges are raised against him. There could be other veteran options the Panthers can explore, but is trading for a veteran QB two offseasons the best allocation of resources? That’s a big question.
But even if Panthers owner David Tepper demands that the position be upgraded, Fitterer said he doesn’t want to play too fast and loose when it comes to considering taking one in the draft.
“We’re already (projecting the 2023 QB class),” Fitterer said. “You always want to look ahead. What does it look like in the future? Because the one thing we want to do, we want to build it the right way and not force something.
“We don’t want to make the mistake of, oh, we need this right now. Let’s fix this right now. Let’s keep the big picture in mind and know what it looks like a year or two out.”
Early as it might be, the potential jewel of the 2023 NFL draft class is Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. Other potentially well-liked QB prospects next year could include Alabama’s Bryce Young (even if his height could be an issue), Boston College’s Phil Jerkovec, Kentucky’s Will Levis, Stanford’s Tanner McKee, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler and others.
At first blush, next year looks a bit deeper and stronger overall. But as evaluators warned, a lot can happen over a year’s time.
“The guy you think is good now sucks later,” the national scout said, laughing. “Or there’s an injury. Guys transfer all the time. Change of plans, whatever. Go back and look at what you thought of (this year’s QB class) a year ago. I am guessing it’s changed just a little bit, and maybe a lot.”
The scout compared it to “a ‘what’s behind Door No. 2?’ situation” where you have the knowns of this year’s group versus the promise of a yet-to-be-determined allotment.
“It’s hard,” he said, “but it’s a necessary evil.”
Drafting a quarterback in Round 1 one year doesn’t preclude a team from taking on in the first the next year — No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray comes to mind after the Arizona Cardinals traded up in Round 1 for Josh Rosen the year prior.
“You just don’t want to do that,” the scout said when offered the Murray example, “if you don’t have to. And now they’re trying to figure out if Kyler is worth extending. Basically, you’re always looking — this year, next year. It’s pretty much every year, even if you think you have your guy.”