Since the Colts drafted Peyton Manning with the top pick in 1998, quarterbacks have been selected with the first pick in 18 of the past 24 NFL drafts.
During that same 24-year span, the first quarterback was off the board within the first three picks in all but two drafts. Chad Pennington (18th in 2000) and EJ Manuel (16th in ’13) were the exceptions.
This draft class is set to buck that trend. Barring something unexpected, 2022 will mark the third time in the past quarter century without a quarterback selected within the top three.
Unlike the past couple of drafts, with Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence locks at the top, a lack of consensus on the draft’s QB1 adds a little extra intrigue.
Given the number of teams searching for improved quarterback play and how the position gets pushed up the draft board, however, the top five quarterbacks should all get some first-round considerations. I’ll be publishing a new mock draft later this week, but my version 1.0 from before the combine had four quarterbacks in Round 1.
Here are my quarterback rankings for the 2022 NFL draft.
1. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (rSR, 6' 3", 217 pounds)
A four-year starter, Pickett broke Dan Marino’s school record and Deshaun Watson’s ACC record for most passing touchdowns in a season (42) while cutting down on interceptions (seven) in 2021. In his first four seasons (’17 to ’20), he threw 39 touchdowns and 25 interceptions combined. Some teams will have issues with his hand size (8.5"), and he’s an older prospect who will turn 24 before training camp. But Pickett has good arm strength and mobility, throws well on the move and moves quickly through his progressions. Among the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft class, none may be more ready to start early in their careers than Pickett.
2. Malik Willis, Liberty (rSR, 6' 1", 219 pounds)
If Pickett has the highest floor among this year’s QB prospects, Willis has the highest ceiling. While he didn’t run at the combine, his elite speed and dynamism as a runner puts tremendous stress on opposing defenses. Willis needs to improve his consistency, accuracy and touch as a passer, but the ball jumps out of his hand. Not only did he impress during on-field drills at the combine, this viral video captured off the field shows his character and why it’s easy to root for Willis.
3. Matt Corral, Mississippi (rJR, 6' 2", 212 pounds)
Improved decision-making and ball placement helped Corral cut down on interceptions (five) in 2021 compared to the previous season (14). In fact, Corral had a pair of games with five-plus interceptions in ’20. While he has benefited from playing in Lane Kiffin’s offense, Corral throws with a quick release and has above-average arm strength. His dual-threat skill set allows him to evade pressure and extend plays or be a weapon on designed runs. While it’s easy to appreciate his competitive nature on the field, that along with his relatively slight frame has the potential to lead to increased durability risk in the future.
4. Sam Howell, North Carolina (JR, 6' 1", 218 pounds)
His passing numbers declined year over year as most of North Carolina’s skill-position players had departed for the draft last spring, but Howell is arguably the best deep passer in this year’s draft class. His mobility allows him to extend plays, and he rushed for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns, both of which ranked top seven in the ACC last season. In fact, he finished with 98-plus rushing yards in seven of 12 games in 2021. Per PFF, Howell’s 65 forced missed tackles last season are the most by a Power 5 QB since ’14.
5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (rSR, 6' 3", 211 pounds)
Ridder’s strong work ethic and character have helped him improve every season. A four-year starter with 44 career wins, he led the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff in 2021. There are some issues with accuracy and ball placement, but Ridder has the ability to process what he sees quickly and to make throws to all three levels of the field. While he looks to win from the pocket first, defenses also need to account for his 4.52 speed.
6. Carson Strong, Nevada (rJR, 6' 3", 226 pounds)
7. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky (rSR, 6' 1", 215 pounds)
8. Jack Coan, Notre Dame (rSR, 6' 3", 218 pounds)
9. EJ Perry, Brown (rSR, 6' 2", 211 pounds)
10. Dustin Crum, Kent State (rSR, 6' 1", 210 pounds)
11. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan (rSO, 6' 1", 210 pounds)
12. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State (rSR, 6' 2", 217 pounds)
13. Brock Purdy, Iowa State (SR, 6' 1", 212 pounds)
14. Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M (rSR, 6' 4", 233 pounds)
15. Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana (SR, 6' 7", 249 pounds)
Kevin Hanson is contributing mock drafts and position rankings to The MMQB during the 2022 NFL draft season. His mock drafts have been graded as the seventh-most accurate (tied) over the past five years, per The Huddle Report. His ’15 NFL mock draft was graded as the most accurate.
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