The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night when Round One gets underway — multiple quarterbacks will be selected before the round is over, but who will be the first quarterback drafted?
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, it looks like it’ll be coming down to Liberty’s Malik Willis (-190 odds) and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett (+170 odds), with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder a distant third at +1000.
Factoring in betting odds, chatter, and my own film evaluations, here are my top five quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
1. Malik Willis: Liberty
Willis, much like Trey Lance coming out of North Dakota State, is a raw prospect with tremendous upside. No quarterback had a more impressive NFL Combine throwing the football, be it short throws or long ones, Willis showed he can do it all — he can throw with high voltage, and he can also throw with touch.
The 6-foot-1 quarterback plays taller and stronger than his height may indicate, and he’s also as impressive of a runner as any quarterback on the planet not named Lamar Jackson. Willis rushed for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021.
There’s no denying Willis made some doozies into double coverage, it’s clear he doesn’t always read defenses all that well, but it’s also apparent that he’s the definition of a diamond in the rough. It would be surprising if Willis isn’t the top quarterback drafted.
2. Kenny Pickett: Pittsburgh
Pickett’s collegiate career was uninspiring up until last season, where he put it all together and threw for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The 6-foot-3 QB also displayed his shiftiness in the open field and that his legs can be an asset in the pros, rushing for 241 yards and five touchdowns. Pickett has a little bit of Justin Herbert to his game, but there’s one major area of concern — Pickett’s hand size. Pickett has 8.5-inch hands, and there is no QB currently in the NFL with 8.5-inch hands. This may sound like draft fodder, but it isn’t when you find out Pickett fumbled the ball 38 times in college, losing 26 of those fumbles. Ball security is a major and rightful concern.
3. Sam Howell: North Carolina
Howell is the youngest player in the top five at 21 years old, and there’s something intriguing about that considering Howell played a lot for the Tarheels. In fact, there’s no player in the top five who’s had as much production as Howell in consecutive years. Howell passed for 38 touchdowns in 2019, 30 in 2020, and 24 in 2021. Sure, his numbers slipped a bit last season, but he lost his four top targets from 2020 and his offensive line didn’t help him any. 2021 was Howell trying to make things happen on his own. Recency bias is working against Howell and bolstering the stock of players like Pickett and Matt Corral. However, it doesn’t change how great Howell was his first two years as a starter, and it doesn’t change how effective of a runner he was last year when he had 828 yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns.
Howell’s a tough and gritty 6-foot-1 quarterback with a lot of arm strength — and while his stock wasn’t as high as it was a year ago, there still has to be some teams that value him close to where they did before the ‘21 season began.
4. Matt Corral: Ole Miss
Corral was quite accurate in 2021, completing 67.9% of his throws, for 3,349 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Corral also showed he can make things happen with his feet, rushing for 614 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While Corral does a lot of nice things, has a very strong arm, it’s hard not to look past the fact receivers are wide open a lot which helps his production, it’s also worth noting that 10 of his 20 touchdowns came against lackluster teams such as Austin Peay, Tulane, and Vanderbilt, and that 4 of his 11 rushing scores came versus 2-10 Tulane.
This isn’t to knock Corral too harshly, he’s a very fun player, his rushing attempts are gutsy, he has a great pump-fake, and delivers a pretty deep ball, but the quarterbacks ahead of him on this list made more ‘wow’ plays.
Corral’s skill set is similar to Howell’s, but he’s an inch shorter, doesn’t have as impressive of a college resume from start to finish, which is why he’s ranked just behind Howell here at No. 4, but could be more ready to start than someone like Malik Willis.
5. Carson Strong: Nevada
Strong has already had two knee surgeries in his career, and some teams worry the knee won’t hold up long in the NFL. If it wasn’t for the knee concerns Strong might be higher up this list, even though he’s a statuesque quarterback at 6-foot-4. Strong had the second most impressive combine behind Willis, and those two threw the best deep balls. Strong had a less than stellar Senior Bowl after a great year where he threw for 4,186 passing yards, 36 touchdowns with just eight interceptions and a 70% completion rate.
Strong isn’t mobile, but he makes up for that in different ways — by being very accurate, getting rid of the ball quickly, and reading defenses pre snap. Strong might be able to show the world that the days of the pocket passing quarterback aren’t dead just yet.