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Senior Bowl QB Scouting: Notes from the week of practice

Malik Willis Liberty Former Auburn QB
Does the 2022 NFL Draft have a new top quarterback in town? Yes, Malik Willis the Liberty gunslinger should be considered a top quarterback in the draft.

With all three days of senior bowl practice, we have had the opportunity to see each of these six top quarterbacks in a variety of situations. Day one was outdoors and windy, Day two was outdoors in the cold and rain, Day three? well, that was indoors. That provided a look at many things that I didn’t anticipate getting to see this week. As a result, I come away feeling as though I have learned everything and yet almost nothing. Let’s break down how each of the prospects leaves the practice week.

Stock Up

Malik Willis, Liberty

There was not another player at any position that generated the amount of national buzz that Malik Willis did. After starting the week as the very definition of up and down on the first day, Willis managed to capture the attention of scouts and media alike with how much more velocity he had on his throws than any of the other top QB prospects in this years group. The ball just looks different coming from Willis than it does from the rest of them. Day two however was the best single day that anyone had all week, Willis drove the ball well through the inclement weather, and what’s more stunning, seemed more accurate in those conditions. It was a look at what Willis could develop into as a pro and nearly everyone was salivating. Day three saw Willis encapture what we saw of him on film, as he made some great throws but missed more reads than he made. There were multiple examples of Willis staring at a wide-open pass-catcher only to pass up the throw for a harder one. Still, you can’t not hear the buzz from NFL teams. Willis went a long way towards locking up a top 15 selection with his play this week.

Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

Staring at the roster for this prestigious event, it almost seemed as if Zappe’s didn’t belong next to the more talked about players in Mobile, Alabama. It didn’t take long to prove that he more than belonged in this group. Though, I leave this event even more convinced that he lacked the arm strength to develop as a long-term starter in the NFL; I can say that his decision-making and accuracy cemented him as the Prospect any team looking for a QB in the 3rd or 4th round to target. He’s going to have a long career in this league as a backup capable of winning you games or a low-end starter for a team that plays in a dome.

Carson Strong, Nevada

The first day of practice was ablaze with people impressed with the arm strength of Strong. He also saw the field really well and was accurate with the exception of a few misses in 7 on 7’s. The next two days were a mixed bag. His accuracy dipped tremendously in the rain, and he showed a tendency to throw balls way harder than they needed to be thrown, resulting in easy drops. But, his arm was impressive, even to those who expected it coming in and he played without a knee brace and even ran it a few times. Seeing the knee hold up, leaves Strong in the winner’s column, at least until we get more answers during the combine medicals.

They are we thought they were

Sam Howell, North Carolina

Howell was the most consistent of the QB’s in Mobile and has a reasonable argument for having had the best week on the field of anyone not named Malik Willis. So why isn’t his stock rising? Because nothing he did was different than his tape suggests. He made some beautiful deep balls in 1 on 1’s, moved well, was pretty accurate to all three levels, and showed off his quick processor (even though he can sometimes miss a read). But he failed to win any particular day of practice, Strong took day 1, Willis day 2, and Zappe day 3, and as a result, I’m not sure he separated himself enough to raise his stock at all. He’s my QB1 but buzz right now has him most likely going at the end of the first, beginning second-round range.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

After starting the week with the worst day any QB had this week, Ridder rebounded very nicely on days two and three. What impressed me most with Ridder is how well he sees the field, he has very very mature eyes and anticipates much better than I believed coming into the week. The problem is, he demonstrated the same fatal flaw in his accuracy that plagued him all throughout his college career. What’s most concerning is that for the most part, Ridder is pretty polished mechanically, he just misses easy throws. On that note, I’m not sure it’s fixable. Leaving me about where I was with Ridder before the week began.

Stock Down

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Pickett entered the week with the opportunity to lock up the QB1 spot for several national media outlets (my QB4 for what it’s worth) if could prove his hand either weren’t historically small as rumored (8.25 inches) or that they wouldn’t prohibit him from effectively throwing an NFL sized football. He refused to do the hand measurement, and while throwing reasonably well on day one, Pickett was probably the worst QB on either team on day two. His accuracy dipped, his deep ball died early, he was overly conservative and appeared to be concerned with keeping his grip on the ball. Pickett was considerably better on day 3 indoors, showing his trademark vision, anticipation, and touch on multiple occasions. I have a feeling the hand discourse isn’t going away anytime soon. Personally, I believe his grip is fine and the hands aren’t as big of a deal as I feared. The real concern should be with his arm strength. I’m just not seeing the arm talent or the trust in his arm to take and make some of the deep shots he has available on tape. Pickett, more than anyone, needs a big game on saturday.

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