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Race to QB1: Midseason Rankings | Are there any surprises?

Sam Howell UNC 2022 NFL Draft
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) passes against Western Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In my first Quarterback rankings since my preseason list, there has been more movement than I ever would have expected. Injuries and poor play from first and second-tier prospects opened the door for four prospects who weren’t in my preseason top 10 to move into the current iteration. Without further ado let’s get into the rankings.

10. Kedon Slovis, JR, USC, 8th in Preseason Rankings 

After a freshman season that seemed to position him for first-round status, Slovis has regressed each of the last two seasons. His decision-making, ball placement, and anticipation have fallen off a cliff since 2019. His play vs quality competition is also startling, as was his brief benching. Slovis is closer to falling out of the top 10 entirely than he is to move up the rankings.

9. Taulia Tagovailoa, JR, Maryland, Unranked in Preseason Rankings

In what has been a tale of two seasons Taulia, younger brother of Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa, was playing at an all-time great pace the first four weeks of the season before throwing four interceptions to seven interceptions against two top six programs in the country in Iowa and Ohio State the last two weeks. The talent gap between his program and theirs gets him a bit of a pass here, but he’s going to need to rebound to remain on the NFL’s radar.

8. Spencer Rattler, So (RS), Oklahoma, 2nd in Preseason Rankings

You’ll have a hard time finding a fall from grace that happened as quickly as Spencer Rattler’s. From preseason Heisman’s favorite and presumptive number one overall pick to not even starting on his team. Rattler should be shifting focus from a move to the NFL to a potential transfer to rehab his ailing draft stock. In any case, he’s far too talented to fall below the eighth spot. As of today, it seems much more likely that Rattler enters the transfer portal than the NFL but if he were to enter I would be willing to bet Rattler draws interest as day two pick.

7. Desmond Ridder, Sr, Cincinnati, 8th in Preseason Rankings

Size, arm strength, mobility, and leadership ability are just a few of the reasons to love Desmond Ridder’s game, and why Cincinnati has moved from a playoff afterthought to a top-two team in the latest rankings. So why isn’t a guy with all of those positives much higher in what is considered a weak quarterback class? He has been one of the most inaccurate passers in college football over the last few seasons. In fact, this season, in tight games (score within 7 points) Ridder completed a paltry 55.7%. On tape Ridder’s mechanics have improved each season but his accuracy has been inconsistent and scattershot. Is he Josh Allen or Blake Bortles? We’ll have our answer very soon?

6. Kenny Pickett, Sr, Pittsburgh, Unranked in Preseason Rankings

Pickett’s statistical rise is in Joe Burrow/ Zach Wilson territory; his anticipatory skills and escapability remind me of Burrow as well. Even his negatives remind me some of the former Heisman winning LSU signal-caller, a lack of arm strength, limited mobility, and perception as a late-blooming one-year wonder have followed Pickett the way they once did Joe Burrow. Here’s a big difference, Burrow made up for his average arm with deep accuracy and attacked deep with impunity. Pickett however has shown hesitation to do so, even in his best games. His rumored eight-inch hands also do zero favors for a player with 24 college fumbles on his resume. Pickett feels like a safe bet to be a solid starter in the NFL but offers very little upside compared to the top four passers on this list. 

5. Grayson McCall, So (RS), Coastal Carolina, Unranked in Preseason Rankings 

I struggled greatly with McCall’s placement on this list in relation to Pickett. They are similarly sized, both are statistically dominant, both physically limited to the point of severely limiting upside, and both have documented issues with fumbles. Pickett does have the advantage of playing tougher teams, but I give McCall the edge simply because I have multiple years of tape on McCall at this level, whereas Pickett is breaking out this season after years of average level play.

4. Malik Willis, Jr (RS), Liberty, 12th in Preseason Rankings

Willis is the biggest riser in this edition of my rankings, but that’s in part, a reflection on the strength of this class. Willis for his part began the year showing great improvements as a passer. His footwork, accuracy, and ability to go through his progressions have greatly improved from last year. The last few games however have resulted in two games with three-interception games and an injury. That type of inconsistency is why I have such a hard time calling Willis a top-tier passer. If the top three passers in this class go early, Willis should be a favorite among teams looking for a potential starter among the remaining players.

3. Carson Strong, Jr (RS), Nevada, 3rd in Preseason Rankings

Strong has come into the season and absolutely answered the questions I had in the offseason about his accuracy and comfort in throwing the deep ball. He has the ideal size and arm strength to be a franchise QB. My only concern for Strong is his lack of mobility. If this were ten or even five years ago, Strong would be a top candidate for QB1 in this class, but unfortunately, mobility has a track record of making a real difference in how young NFL Quarterbacks perform early in their careers and Strong is a statue. The Nevada star has done about all he can to raise his stock and I would not fault anyone who has him listed higher, but this is probably his ceiling on my list.

2. Matt Corral, Jr (RS), Ole Miss, 4th in Preseason Rankings 

Coming into the year, I called Corral the most likely candidate to experience a Zach Wilson-like rise up the draft boards, at the midpoint of the season, Corral is now the most likely candidate to win a Heisman along the way. Corral has shown a level of patience and maturity that was sorely lacking from his game last season. In the Arkansas game especially, Corral faced the very same team and the defensive scheme that caused Corral to turn the ball over six times last season showed real growth by taking what the defense gave him when the 3-2-6 scheme Arkansas was running took away the big play. The next week, Corral ran for nearly 200 yards, fought through injuries to lead Ole Miss to a hard-fought win against Tennessee. As of today Corral has the best shot of any player to unseat Howell for the top spot in these rankings. 

1. Sam Howell, Jr, North Carolina, 1st in Preseason Rankings

Howell is having the worst season of his college career by every statistical measure and yet he is still QB1 in these rankings. Context is key here, turn on the tape and you’ll see a player who still has the deep accuracy that I applauded him for in my initial rankings, he also exudes the leadership skills you look for in a franchise QB and his preparation allowed him to make the changes to his body that have lead to four games over 95 yards rushing this season. While he remains mostly the same level of player that he was last season, I cannot pretend that his turnovers this season aren’t happening, they most certainly are. On tape Howell seems to be pressing a bit, trying to play hero ball, trying to overcome several drops, and insufficient blocking up front. The concern for me is that Howell has demonstrated that he isn’t special enough at this point to overcome a bad situation. That’s as damning for Howell as his placement atop this class is for the class as a whole.

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