The 2022 NFL Draft quarterback class was wide-open ahead of this past season, and with the event less than two weeks away, several are still debating who QB1 is.
There has been a lot of talk of this not being a strong class overall and while there are a lot of question marks that surround a lot of the passers within it, there are a handful of players who have shown a lot of high-end backup potential and it’s hard not to get the feeling that one of them is going to hit and unexpectedly become a successful long-term starter – it’s just hard to pinpoint who that could be at this point.
Here’s a look into where the floor and the ceiling could lie for QBs 1-3 in my position rankings.
1. Carson Strong, Nevada.
Few quarterback prospects in this draft class have had a rougher go at it ahead of the draft – and that doesn’t have anything to do with his performance. Strong has been surrounded by unsubstantiated concerns that his knee may be degenerative, despite the fact it has been publicly released that he has been cleared by a Los Angeles Rams doctor. That hasn’t stopped analysts from continuing to knock him for it, though.
To add to that, Strong also deals with the “Air Raid quarterback” stigma that surrounds passers who put up high numbers coming out of the offense with worry that they won’t translate to the NFL. What’s failed to be recognized is that there is no other offense that demands quicker processing, a faster release, a higher level of accuracy and a quarterback who can do a lot from the mental aspect than the Air Raid because of how reliant it is on throwing the ball well. Many of these players are pocket passers – which also are surrounded by a stigma of their own, regardless of which offensive scheme they play in. Despite that, current New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who is a pocket passer, had the most successful rookie season of any quarterback from the 2021 class and he and Strong bear a lot of similarities.
Strong essentially became coach on the field in the last couple of seasons of his college career and is the most developed passer in this class, also showing that he had more escapability than previously thought with the ability to keep it himself when absolutely necessary throughout the Senior Bowl, the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine and pro day. If he can continue to build upon this and he lands with a team who can give him the protection he needs, there’s high potential for him to become a solid starter in the NFL.
Ceiling: Very High
2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh.
Whichever team picks a quarterback first, which seems most likely to be the Carolina Panthers or the Detroit Lions, will have to make a direct decision between the ceiling and the floor. The first quarterback to come off the board is expected be Pickett or Malik Willis and they’re direct opposites of one another in that Willis has the highest ceiling in the draft while Pickett presents the highest floor. Pickett is above-average in every aspect of quarterbacking, and did nothing to hurt himself or raise his stock in all pre-draft events – there’s a reason why his quarterback trainer, Tony Racioppi, refers to him as “Johnny Consistent.”
Pickett saw a meteoric rise in 2021 after staying under the radar for the preceding seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Panthers, and looking at the tape, it’s clear to see Pickett was not a beneficiary of any type of offensive system and that the eye-catching numbers he put up in multiple games last season weren’t a direct result of anything like the talent around him or receivers putting up sky-high numbers after the catch – this progression is credit to Pickett and no one else.
While Joe Burrow seems more of a generational talent, Pickett has drawn comparisons to him both from a mental aspect and with his playing style that features the same type of “sneaky mobility,” along with the way the two both quickly rose. It will be interesting to see how well Pickett can build upon the good set of foundational traits he’s shown, but he should be at least a high-end backup looking at the long-term.
Floor: Very High
3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss.
There’s no question that Corral operated the Ole Miss score-from-far offense as perfectly as anyone could have hoped for in 2021, and he took more than just a notable step in his decision-making and release time. The offense fit him well, featuring RPOs and play-action, though some analysts are skeptical as to if he’ll be able to perform at the same level under a different type of offense at the NFL level. It doesn’t help that Corral didn’t meet the eligibility criteria to participate in the Senior Bowl, an offseason showcase he surely would have been invited to had he met said eligibility criteria and he also made the decision not to throw at the combine, opting to show more at his pro day.
The argument can be made that Corral would be more talked about in way quarterbacks like Pickett and Willis have been as of late if he would have made more use of the combine to throw to players he didn’t play with at Ole Miss, but the injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl should also be taken into account when evaluating that decision.
Looking at the tape and pro day, Corral showed a great amount of mobility and toughness while using it, using his legs to make plays to get his team out of bad situations – even when playing in adverse situations and while playing hurt. There’s also a lot to like about his arm strength and what Head Coach Lane Kiffin called “video game-like accuracy” before the 2021 season.
Several questions will be answered about Corral by how he adjusts once in the NFL, if he can remain as effectively mobile at the next level and if he can maintain consistency after the step he took, throwing just five interceptions in 2021 after throwing 14 interceptions in 2020.
Corral prides himself in the mental aspect of his game and is confident in what he brings to the table.
“I think where I separate myself is my work ethic and my ability to dissect the X’s and O’s part of the game, Corral told CBS Sports. “(Jeff) Lebby and (Lane) Kiffin did a great job of that. I have talked to a lot of guys that have been in the same position. I am not necessarily content with where I am but I am in a good spot.