2022 NFL Draft
Farabaugh: 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Rankings
The 2022 NFL Draft is around the corner, and the Steelers are right in the middle of the quarterback sweepstakes. As such, it appears they are on a collision course to taking one in an effort to get their next guy at the position. Watching the 2022 quarterback class is frustrating. All of the quarterbacks have parts that are easy to love about their game, but they are overshadowed by otherwise huge flaws in their games. There may be a good quarterback to come out of this class, but this is not necessarily the class to be dipping one’s toes into heavily.
The value for these quarterbacks will always be pushed up the board regardless. Quarterbacks are the most valuable position in the sport of football.
Here are Steelers Now’s top five quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
5. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell is a fascinating player. He is ranked the worst out of the consensus top-five here, but there is plenty to like about Howell. Howell has plenty of moxie, toughness, and his intangibles are through the roof. Moreover, Howell can really push the ball down the field. For offenses looking to expand their downfield passing attack a bit more, Howell has that sauce. Something that really shined for Howell in 2021 was his squatty build and toughness aiding him in the rushing attack. Howell is not an elite athlete, but he can make things happen in the open field. The three traits to draw anyone to Howell are his toughness, deep ball, and poise.
However, Howell is a frustrating prospect in part due to his inconsistent processing. There will be times that Howell goes through his progressions and is either too late or misses off that first read altogether. In addition, his footwork can get rushed and sloppy, especially when under duress. Howell is willing to take the hits, but he will drop his head to run a little too early. His natural footwork through his drops needs work as it stands. If Howell is going to want to take that next step at the NFL level, his mental game has to improve, and he must improve his footwork. That can be fixed, it just will not be easy, and Howell is likely to sit for at least the first year of his career.
For the Steelers’ sake, Howell would be great value in Round 2 if they have not selected a quarterback by then.
4. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
If the intangible qualities in a quarterback are what a franchise really values, Matt Corral might be their guy. A tough, fierce leader that puts his body on the line, sometimes too much, Corral is the definition of a gamer. A true and blue competitor, Corral has seen all the adversity he’s needed to see. Add in his twitchy athleticism, and this is a player that can really make some plays happen with his legs. Corral has proven he can make things happen out of structure and off-script, which is a boon. Moreover, he is ready for the RPO-heavy NFL given his quick release, good sense of rhythm, and a solid arm. He especially hits most of his balls within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. His accuracy is quite solid.
However, that same RPO-heavy offense will make his transition to the next level one of the biggest questions. Corral lived and died off of one-read throws and pre-determined reads. That is not to say he can not move to pro-ready offenses and live in a world where he has to go through progressions, but it is just not on his tape often. That is a massive question mark to have. When he was asked to do it, Corral add some of the worst decisions of his career. Add in the fact that Corral is not a guy who shows a ton of anticipation when he throws, and this is where his issues creep in. Corral has to take a massive leap in his mental process to the next level.
His potential is there, and he exemplifies leadership in the locker room. Corral is going to need time to adjust, so that makes spending a first round pick on him a tough sell. If a team has to spend one, it should be late in the first round.
3. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Ridder is such a fascinating player. However, the surface-level pros are all there. Ridder is an athletic player with a stout build. He was not used in designed runs a lot but has upside in that vein. Moreover, he is a proven winner. Ridder helped build Cincinnati as a program into a winner at its helm, and that does mean something. Unlike Corral and Howell, Ridder’s mental processing is fantastic. He has shown the ability to read through progressions and do it well. It is rare that Ridder does not process a changing picture from pre-snap to post-snap. A huge area of growth for Ridder this season was eye manipulation. He was able to really use his eyes to move defenders and open up windows. With a good arm, that is a plus tool for Ridder to have. Against pressure, Ridder finds his hot route most of the time. He is just really NFL-ready from that mental perspective.
However, his accuracy problems are well documented. His base gets too wide and he has a long delivery. Oftentimes, Ridder has almost an extra hitch that makes him a second late. Ridder throws with good anticipation, but that long delivery slows him down. An inconsistent base and mechanics make his accuracy untrustworthy. Without the sense of timing or clean mechanics, it is hard to completely buy into Ridder the prospect. Add in the fact that while he reads hot on a lot of his blitzes, his internal clock can run a little longer and get him into trouble, and there are plenty of issues here.
Ridder will be ready to play year one, and fits Pittsburgh’s style a little more. There is tangible upside here for Ridder to improve, and he has the hardest part of the mental game down already. That can make him worthy of a later first-round pick if a team thinks they can make work out of his issues.
2. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Pickett is another one of those guys who has all-star intangibles. His toughness and game spirit are two of his best qualities. Though, the bigger thing with Pickett is just how polished he is from most perspectives. He is an extremely accurate passer to all three levels of the field. His accuracy has improved ever so greatly over the years and it is now maybe his best trait. As an improviser, Pickett can throw off-platform and do it well. Everything about Pickett’s process is efficient and he almost always gets his eyes to where they need to be. Pickett has done a marvelous job of understanding how to work through hot reads and combat pressure in that way. Lastly, his anticipation is something that has really blossomed throughout his career, and it showed up a lot in 2021.
The issues for Pickett are almost all derived from his physical traits. His arm is just average, and there are plenty of guys in this class who can drive the ball just a little bit more. Pickett’s arm is not bad, but he has a little too much confidence in his arm at times. Some tight-window throws he made in college are going to go the other way at the NFL level. His deep ball is accurate, but it is not a dynamic deep ball. In addition, Pickett can be a tad late when reading to the backside of the play. That is going to be something he has to work on from a mental processing perspective. The real concern with Pickett will be if he can trust his protection at the next level and stand in the pocket. At times, he gets jittery in the pocket and tries to slide out the backdoor too early. He will need to improve that in order to reach his potential.
Hand size was not mentioned once here because while it matters for ball security, it never actively hinders Pickett. Pickett is the pro-ready option of the bunch, and is a guy that is likely to be what he is right now. That is a decent NFL starting quarterback, but he might not be the franchise guy.
1. Malik Willis, Liberty
Willis’ skillset needs no introduction. When it comes to what he brings from a physical standpoint, no one else in the class compares. Between Willis’ rocket arm and dynamic athleticism, the upside he brings is fantastic. When it comes to his arm, this is the next-level type of arm. Willis is in the same tier as Justin Herbert and others with the amount of velocity he can throw with. The interesting thing is he has shown the ability to put some touch on the football, which will help. Willis can be used as a play extender or as a designed runner given his dynamic ability. The intangibles for Willis are all there too, as he has been long cited as being a quick, dedicated learner. Willis has the ability to make all the throws in the NFL. The one thing that really makes him interesting is his confidence in receivers. Willis is all about letting the ball rip and giving his receivers a chance. That is an admirable trait for any quarterback to have.
The issues here are stark. This is a double-edged sword for Willis. While the talent is insane, he has not proven to be productive from the pocket. He bails the pocket too early and he can run himself into overtly negative plays. In addition, the mental processing just is not there yet. Willis misses reads, makes mistakes when reading a changing picture from pre-snap to post-snap, and does not use his eyes to manipulate the field. His accuracy is a work in progress with his wild footwork that can be off rhythm, thus causing him to be late on a read or throw. Willis just has to improve his general feel for the game above the neck. The list is long in this area, but he truly is about as raw as they come here. Trey Lance was more polished coming out last year, and he did not play in 2021. Willis has to improve his decision-making, anticipation, and mechanics, which is a steep ask.
However, Willis is the dynamite option for these quarterbacks. He may have an innately higher floor due to his athleticism. Still, his upside as a franchise quarterback is what is worth taking the home run swing on. His tape has a lot of warts, but betting on that upside is what is going to happen. That upside is why he is QB1 here. It is all about that projection. But Willis is a quarterback that is fraught with risks. He will not play year one, that is for sure. In order to unlock the potential, it will all be about coaching.