Quarterback is not only the most important position on a football team, it’s arguably the most important position in all of sports, so when you can draft a great one, you do so. Now, finding a great quarterback is much easier said than done, and we have seen plenty of teams swing and miss when selecting a quarterback at the top of the draft. But even if you do miss on a quarterback, it's vital to step back up to the plate, as in most cases you are only as good as your quarterback.
Over the last few years, it’s been a bull market for teams looking to find a franchise signal-caller. Since 2018, there have been 17 quarterbacks drafted in the first round and outside of a few glaring busts, the results have been solid. Not including the five quarterbacks picked in the 2021 class and Jordan Love, I’d say comfortably we have five home runs with Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert. We then have some quarterbacks who have shown promise but need to prove to be more consistent before we can classify them as rock-solid franchise quarterbacks. That group includes Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, and Tua Tagovailoa. So, nine out of the 11 quarterbacks included in this exercise either are franchise quarterbacks or trending in that direction. That’s just an incredible number given the history of first-round quarterbacks panning out and again, that’s not including the class of 2021 which was widely regarded as one of the best quarterback classes in recent history.
The recent hit rate of first-round quarterbacks is likely due to a few factors. One is the evolution of the high school and college games and the quarterback specialization we have seen at the youth stages of football.
Like AAU star basketball players, quarterbacks are now being groomed since grade school to be franchise quarterbacks—instead of allowing kids to play both ways or even multiple sports, parents of potential quarterbacks will instead have their kids play year-long 7-on-7 tournaments and practice with their private quarterback coach. Quarterbacks are also asked to throw the ball more than ever before and there just isn’t much they haven’t been asked to do by the time they enter the pro ranks. This, coupled with the fact that NFL coaches have never been more open to instilling college and spread principles to their offenses, makes adjusting to the pro game easier than ever before.
As we finish up summer scouting and start to turn our attention to the NFL season as teams report to camp, I wanted to quickly touch on my initial thoughts on a few of the top signal-callers in the class of 2022. Here are some of my notes upon evaluating these quarterbacks and how I would rank them heading into the season.
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma Sooners
Rattler is an undersized quarterback with just above average overall athleticism. He has a quick release and is accurate to all three levels of the football field. A gunslinger who isn’t afraid to take some chances, Rattler has rare arm talent to make all those throws from all sorts of angles. Rattler’s decision-making is good for the most part, but there are times he tries to do too much rather than just taking what the defense is giving him. Additionally, Rattler needs to clean up his footwork in the pocket as a drop-back passer as there are times he will drift and fall back for no reason rather than stepping into the pocket. Overall, Rattler offers the playmaking ability and arm talent to put stress on defensive coordinators but his lack of size, top-level athleticism, and lack of maturity from the pocket are cause for concern.
Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels
Howell has just average height but is sturdy throughout his lower body. He plays the game with good overall athleticism and has a very good arm. Howell’s best attributes are his deep ball, where he displays outstanding touch and placement, and his accuracy, as he is a pinpoint passer at the short and intermediate levels of the field. He has a quick release, excellent mechanics in the pocket, and has shown to be able to go through full-field progressions. He’s a playmaker who will never give up on the play and has the athleticism to create and escape the pocket when things go off-script. Howell doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he can make all of the throws and drive the football into tight windows. His issues arise from his willingness to give his receivers chances and test the defense. Too often Howell will throw into double and triple coverage. While his receivers were able to bail him out on occasion at North Carolina, that likely won’t be the case in the NFL. His decision-making needs to be cleaned up and he also needs to prove that he wasn’t just a product of a stacked offense for him to cement himself as a first-round quarterback.
Carson Strong, Nevada Wolf Pack
Strong is a physically gifted quarterback with outstanding size and arm talent. He operates the majority of the time from shotgun and shows that he has full control of the offense. He is very good pre-snap as he consistently puts the offense in the best play and will audible and switch to the hot route. He has excellent vision and awareness when reading defenses and seeing plays develop. Strong possesses an outstanding arm and can drive the football into tight windows with ease. While his arm is strong, he does a nice job of putting touch on the football and is able to layer it over defenders’ heads in the intermediate areas of the football. Strong isn’t afraid to take hits and will stand tall and firm in the pocket and deliver strikes with rushers in his face. Strong is more of your old-school pocket passer as he doesn’t have the mobility and athleticism to consistently escape and elude pressure. He isn’t a threat with his legs on the ground and lacks creativity off-script. There are also times where Strong’s drop back is rushed as he will feel pressure that’s not there—and because of that, his ball placement will suffer. Strong’s size, arm talent, and accuracy make him one of the more intriguing passers heading into the season.
Matt Corral, Ole Miss Rebels
Corral is another undersized quarterback but he is an excellent overall athlete who has a very good ability to escape and elude pressure with his legs. He has outstanding instincts and awareness as a passer and has an innate feel for feeling pressure in the pocket. A gamer who plays like he’s in his backyard, Corral’s creativity within and out of the pocket separates him from his peers in this class. Corral’s arm is above average and while he won’t keep defenses up at night with his velocity and ability to stretch the field, he can make all the throws required of him to be a successful quarterback at the next level. He’s a smooth and loose thrower of the football who is very accurate to all levels of the field. Corral is also a threat with his legs and can be used on zone-read and designed quarterback keepers. His decision-making needs improvement, as his backyard play style will often result in putting the football in harm's way rather than living to see the other down. I’m a fan of Corral’s game and the moxie he plays with, but his lack of size, lack of top-level arm strength, and inconsistent decision-making make it hard for me to fully buy in on his potential as a franchise quarterback.
Malik Willis, Liberty Flames
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the quarterbacks from this year’s class, Willis possesses a unique blend of athleticism and arm talent but lacks the polish to consistently win from the pocket at the next level. Willis lacks the prototypical size, but he is a well-built together prospect who has the frame and density to take hits from the pocket. Willis possesses an outstanding arm and will make defenses cover every blade of grass. He is best at throwing on the run and is very accurate down the field. He is creative and is prone to making big plays happen late in the down. He flashes above-average overall accuracy and is a good decision-maker for the most part. Willis simply needs to continue to develop as a passer because his ability as an athlete is outstanding. Willis needs to learn touch and when to take things off the ball. He needs to continue to work on his footwork and make sure he has a firm base when he sets up to deliver the football—he needs to not rush his process. He has too much confidence in his arm at times and will look to make the impossible throw rather than take the easy five-yard completion. Willis has a lot to improve on, but his physical gifts are head and shoulders above everyone else in this class.
Based on my early exposure to some of the top guys, it’s clear that this year’s class isn’t on the par of 2021 or even 2020. Every one of the quarterbacks listed has some redeeming qualities, but they all also have some flaws, and this leads me to believe that come draft day, there won’t be a consensus No. 1 quarterback like we have had the last three drafts. As a matter of fact, this class will likely look like the 2018 class where you could ask five different evaluators about who their QB1 is and get five different answers.
We are a long way from the 2022 NFL Draft, but you can believe that we will be watching these quarterbacks this fall to see how they develop with another year of football under their belt.