The 2021 NFL offseason was one of the most unique in the league's history.
Five first-round quarterbacks were drafted on top of several key veterans traded. It's clear franchises are finally making tough decisions on subpar passers faster than ever.
We're almost halfway through the 2021 season already, and we're starting to see which teams need to make their own moves in the 2022 offseason. Being aggressive now can help accelerate any rebuilding effort and end a stagnant run. But there has to be the talent to accommodate the hopes.
Problem is, the 2022 quarterback draft class isn't cooperating thus far. I've talked to several NFL executives who have been tracking the class's progress closely this season and have a good pulse on what could happen after this year. They're terrified this coming class will bring only one or two long-term starters.
With pending changes potentially needed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Washington Football Team, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks, the only way those teams can make their move is to have a legitimate replacement. The 2022 rookie class has some interesting prospects but few are sure things.
Let's run through the top prospects and decipher why they're viewed as potentially impactful starters but also have concerns about their starting ability. We'll look at them in two categories: the prospects deemed as first-round talents, and the Day 2 crew who could elevate their standing over the rest of the season and draft period.
Both Liberty's Malik Willis and Ole Miss' Matt Corral are fighting for the top playmaking quarterback spot. Willis is reminiscent of league-MVP Lamar Jackson with his excellent rushing ability, natural instinct, and arm strength. Corral has emerged as a dangerous dual-threat with a strong arm and improved accuracy.
These two play very different levels of competition and this has led to questions. Willis continually raises the play of his teammates and is entertaining. But he has a bit of the star complex that brings questions as to whether he can play within a structure while being reliable in the pocket.
I think he can and will, but Willis is a less-experienced and polished version of Jackson. It will take time and the right fit for him to develop into his potential as an above-average NFL quarterback.
Corral has struggled with decision-making throughout his career, even though 2021 has been better. He can make all the throws asked of him with his above-average arm. The concern with him is making the leap from a very friendly Lane Kiffin offense to the next level.
I don't see a star in Corral, but rather an average passer with nice tools, like Zach Wilson was out of BYU. He'll need a lot of help in the NFL, making him an awkward first-round prospect who will be considered replaceable if the surrounding pieces around him falter.
The other big name is Sam Howell. The North Carolina product is a pocket passer who has dominated throughout his career. Even after losing multiple teammates to the NFL this offseason, Howell has continued to find big passing plays and lead the North Carolina offense to relevance again.
He's mostly immobile, though, and has to win pre-snap in a way that puts a premium on his other traits. He has a good but not great arm, and his accuracy under pressure wanes a bit. His best moments are that of an above-average passer but he projects best as a system passer who will be frustrating unless his consistency rises.
Day 2 Picks
The potential Day 2 picks all have tape that vacillates between solid to great, but they have warts that could limit their potential at the next level.
The biggest wildcard is Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler. The presumed top pick prior to the year seemingly fell off a cliff and was recently benched for freshman phenom Caleb Willaims. Rattler's accuracy wanes throughout games and his inability to create big plays became a glaring issue despite getting hot at the end of 2020.
It's more likely Rattler transfers in 2022 than enters the draft, but he'd be a second-round flier at-best now.
The group of pocket passers on Day 2 brings potential fatal flaws. Media darling Kenny Pickett of Pitt has been a triumphant story as he's completed almost 70% of his passes and increased his yards per attempt average two yards to a whopping 9.4. His touchdown-to-interception rate is an astounding 21-to-1.
However, Pickett will be 24-years-old as a rookie after playing five seasons at Pitt. He also has small hands, measuring under 9", usually a death knell to quarterback prospects. We've seen how Jared Goff has struggled mightily with fumbles in the NFL and his hands are still half an inch bigger than Pickett's.
Nevada's Carson Strong and Fresno State's Jake Haener have strong, accurate arms worth developing. They have NFL bodies, and come from schemes that'll help them find some level of success in a competent situation. The struggle for Day 2 guys is they must be stellar in short order or else their team could quickly move on if they land a top pick in the next draft.
Neither Strong nor Haener are mobile, and their mental processing pre-snap is behind where it needs to be. Playing for lesser teams shows in this aspect virtually every time. Both will need to be quick studies in the NFL or else turnovers will pile up and teams could pull the plug.
Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is a Heisman Trophy contender and has all of the tools to be a great value. Something is always missing with Ridder, though. His athleticism is great and he has a strong arm but his accuracy is completely unreliable. His mechanics need major refinement before he can be trusted as an NFL starter.
Overall, the 2022 QB class is discouraging. Willis is the one clear possible star, and both Corral and Howell appear destined for good but not necessarily franchise-changing careers. There isn't a clear first-round quarterback or locked-in long-term starter beyond them, and teams are terrified at the lack of options.
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