After two consecutive drafts that have felt like they contained three or more legitimate franchise quarterback prospects; many have begun to look at this year’s class as historically bad. As someone who heavily evaluated year’s 2013, I can say with full confidence this year is much closer to the norm. In fact, it feels a lot like 2017 or 2018, in the sense that we had no consensus top five talents and were instead forced to sort through five or six options that each have all the talent to be successful on Sundays but each has one glaring hole in their game, one fatal flaw or one burning question that makes them much harder to project.
I believe that these are they years where scouts and draftniks around begin to really earn their money. We knew Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields would likely be stars when they were in middle school, Justin Herbert had a top 5 type of arm, elite size, good mobility, and the intelligence to finish his time at Oregon with a 4.0 as a biology major. There should have been little doubt on those prospects.
In this article I’ll dive into the burning question each of the top quarterback prospects heading into draft season, and break down how these questions can be answered by draft day. Prospects will be listed in order of how I currently have them ranked.
1)Sam Howell: Does Howell have a low ceiling?
Why it’s big deal: After two extremely productive seasons, Howell entered the year with expectations of an ACC title and Heisman contention. What actually happened was a 6-7 finish with Howell himself having by far his worst season statistically as a passer. We can debate whether or not those expectations were realistic, but it doesn’t change their placement on Howell’s season. In the offseason, Howell lost his top two wide receivers and top two running backs; his remaining wide receivers struggled to separate and he was routinely hit very early in his progression. Now we are faced with deciding how much of this was unavoidable, and how much of this is on Sam Howell for not lifting his team. If it’s on Howell, does that mean he has a low ceiling in the NFL?
How he can answer: I believe, without doing anything else, that Howell would rise back up the rankings as analysts and teams went back to review his tape without the outsized expectations, and the bad taste a disastrous game one left in our collective mouths. With that said, Howell participating at the senior bowl presents a great opportunity to show his game on a level playing field. If Howell can come in, make big throws on the same field with guys like Kenny Pickett and Carson Strong, and demonstrate his mobility against all star competition he can take a big step towards answering and proving his status as a first round pick.
2)Matt Corral: Does he have the right temperament to lead an NFL Team?
Why it’s a big deal: On the field, Corral feels like the safest bet to be drafted in the first round. His arm talent, mobility, accuracy, and competitive toughness remind me of an SEC version of Zach Wilson. Off the field, there are question marks. A high school fight with Wayne Gretzky’s son, multiple commitment flips and an on-field fight versus Mississippi State all paint the picture of a prospect who could be very quick-tempered. On the field this reared its head in 2020 when he threw five interceptions against LSU and six against Arkansas. When combining the on field and off field incidents it paints a picture of an aggressive, competitive kid who may not have the maturity or the temperament to lead a billion dollar NFL franchise.
How he can answer: Corral has already gone a long way towards answering this question. On the field, Corral demonstrated much more maturity, understanding when the big play wasn’t and checking down to underneath routes. Off field, Corral will have ace interviews where he will be asked hard questions. He will need to demonstrate humility and maturity. If he does, he has more than enough talent to be the first quarterback taken.
3)Carson Strong: Will his injured knee hold up to the rigors of the NFL?
Why it’s a big deal: Strong has ideal NFL size and very well could be the best pure passer in this class. However, Strong offers almost nothing in terms of mobility but that isn’t his big concern. That is in fact the long term health of Strong’s knee. Strong originally injured his knee in high school, missing his senior year, and later needed a second minor surgery prior to this season. The fear is that this injury is sometime degenerative, meaning it could follow him throughout his NFL career.
How he can answer: Combine medicals, individual team medical exams and statements from his doctors will be huge. In the meantime, Strong can use his opportunity at the senior bowl to separate himself against most of the rest of this list as the best pure passer in this draft.
4)Kenny Pickett: Can he properly grip an NFL ball with his hand size
Why it’s a big deal: Pickett was this draft cycle’s Zach Wilson or Joe Burrow, a day three pick who exploded onto the scene in his last season to potentially rise to the QB1 of this class. Pickett is very intelligent, mentally tough, mobile enough to be effective on the ground in spots, throws with elite anticipation and solid accuracy. On the flip side, Pickett’s arm is good enough to make NFL throws but I’m far less bullish on his arm talent than most main stream analysts. It’s something that could be a real concern in cold weather cities.
However, his main question mark is his hand size. I’ve never been one to care about hand size and have often considered it to be a useless measure, but there are exceptions. A player with 25 career fumbles would certainly be a candidate to pay attention to hand size, especially when there are reported measurements that his hands measure about 8.25 inches (nearly a full inch smaller than the threshold). Add in the dramatic difference in Pickett’s production after the addition of gloves to both of his hands this season and you have a recipe for a real question mark.
How he can answer: Pickett can answer this question one of two ways. 1) He can get his hands measured at the senior bowl and disprove the rumor or 2) He can take advantage of the senior bowl to prove that he can throw the larger NFL size football as well or better than the rest of the all star passers in mobile.
5)Malik Willis: Can he consistently read the field and make sound decisions?
Why it’s a big deal: Willis, depending on who you ask, is either the most dynamic player in this draft class and should be the first Quarterback taken or a multi-year project who could easily end up as a gadget player on Sunday’s. I believe the answer is somewhere between the two but for Willis to move towards the more optimistic projections he will need to demonstrate that he can effectively make reads and make the correct decisions. In 2020 Willis serves as a one read and run style QB, and while he made much more complex reads in 2021 he responded by having several multiple interception games.
How he can answer: Willis, like Howell, Strong, Pickett and Ridder will be in Mobile, AL for the senior bowl. This is a huge opportunity to show that he can run the complex NFL offense that they will be given as well as any of the more traditional passers. If he can do that, j believe his physical ability will have him firmly in the first round conversation the rest of the draft process.
6)Desmond Ridder: Can he fix his accuracy issues?
Why it’s a big deal: Ridder is one of the most experienced and productive prospects over the last few seasons, elevating a smaller school in Cincinnati to the college football playoffs. Ridder has the size, intangibles, and mobility to turn into a quality NFL starting Quarterback. What Ridder seems to lack, is the ability to consistently deliver an accurate football.
What’s troubling is, unlike most who struggle with accuracy, Ridder has very good mechanics. Even so, Ridder routinely misses easy throws. Based on his mechanics I’m unsure if this is fixable.
How he can answer: I’m not positive you can answer a question about accuracy in games without playing in games. Fortunately for Ridder, he has one more game to play: The Senior Bowl. I’m anticipating a great week of practice, but the question will be how will he throw during the game? If he throws well, I think he will rise up a lot of draft boards the way Kellen Mond did the last year.