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NFL Draft Debate: Malik Willis or Desmond Ridder

As NFL teams finalize their draft boards ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft in late April, they must assign a grade to each prospect which determines where they should be drafted.

As NFL teams finalize their draft boards ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft in late April, they must assign a grade to each prospect which determines where they should be drafted. Apart from that grade, the depth, or lack thereof, at a certain position group can alter draft strategy. Some teams may be high on a day two running back, but know that it's a deep class and will be happier to draft a different back at a better value on day three.

This article intends to provide mock debates, where you ask which prospect should be drafted over another and I come up with the final verdict. To potentially get your suggestion in the next piece, look out for next Monday when I ask for your scenarios on my Twitter: @Texans_Thoughts. Now, let's begin.

@JustBeige asked: "Malik Willis in the top-three or Desmond Ridder in the third-round?"

This one's a doozy. Willis certainly possesses the top athletic traits in this quarterback class and had a strong Pro Day, representing Liberty. However, his film is littered with mental mistakes, accuracy issues and a diagnosed allergy to throwing towards the middle of the field.

There are reasons for hesitation in taking Willis, let alone as high as the top-three. He's a "boom-or-bust" prospect whose success depends heavily on the environment he's drafted into. Teams that have a proven quarterback coach, allow for a patient development plan and have the offensive talent to aid Willis can certainly make it work.

Are the Lions (2nd overall) or Texans (3rd overall) in a position to forego adding a "safer" prospect? I'd argue they'd be better off stealing Cincinnati's Ridder in the third. The quarterback with the third-most wins in college football history, Ridder has plenty of traits and intangibles to bet on as well.

Like Willis, Ridder is a talented runner with over 2,000 rushing yards in his career and he ran a 4.52 40-yard-dash which was the fastest mark among quarterbacks at the 2022 combine. He's also got plenty of arm strength to make every throw on the field and is far more advanced with the mental aspects necessary to succeed as a signal-caller.

While Ridder has his own accuracy issues and decision-making concerns to improve upon, taking that bet is much safer in the third round. As a reminder, this doesn't mean Ridder is necessarily the better prospect but is a better value than Willis in this hypothetical scenario.

Final verdict: Desmond Ridder in the third round.

@GMFanatic asked: "Jameson Williams in the first round or Christian Watson in the second round?"

Williams and Watson are both in the top five of my final wide receiver rankings. This tight gap in talent makes me advise Watson as the better value here. There are not many players who have raised their stock throughout the offseason as much as Watson has.

The NDSU product answered the lack of elite production and lower competition questions by thriving as the best receiver at the Senior Bowl. Furthermore, he's made evaluators feel better about his athletic ability by crushing the NFL Combine.

On the other hand, Williams' late-season ACL injury creates some sense of uncertainty regarding how he'll look athletically, post-recovery. This is a noteworthy case because of how much Williams' game revolves around his blazing speed.

Final verdict: Christian Watson in the second round.

@JoshStanleyKC asked: "Jermaine Johnson II in the first-round or David Ojabo in the second-round?"

Two of the top pass rushers in this class, Johnson II and Ojabo are almost polar opposite evaluations. Johnson II, the fifth-year senior, has had a long and winding collegiate career - starting at JUCO, heading to Georgia and finishing strong with Florida State.

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Whereas Ojabo, the Nigeria native, was raised as a soccer player in Scotland. He only started to play American football in 2017 and logged 26 snaps in his career, before breaking out in 2021.

Johnson II is the pro-ready EDGE who has an NFL frame and thrives versus the run. Ojabo is leaner, just, unfortunately, tore his Achilles at his pro-day last week and is a weaker run defender.

This scenario is all about risk/reward and I'd happily take Johnson II who is a safe prospect that also has room to expand his game. He can become a double-digit sack producer with more hand usage refinement and he'll have a year head-start on Ojabo to develop.

Final verdict: Jermaine Johnson II in the first round.

@Randomness asked: "Ahmad Gardner in the top-five or Tariq Woolen in the third-round?"

This is a tougher debate than I initially anticipated. Gardner has every physical trait you want in a potential CB1 and the resume to back it up. He measured in at the 96th percentile in height (6'2 3'4") and the 97th percentile in arm length (33 1/2") while also running a 4.41 40-yard-dash. Furthermore, over his three years as a starter, he's played over 1,000 coverage snaps and never gave up a touchdown.

Woolen, the UTSA product, is even freakier. He measured in at the 99th percentile in height (6'4 1/8") and the 97th percentile in arm length (33 5/8") while also running a 4.26 40-yard-dash. This athletic profile makes Woolen seem like a good bet to make in the third round and hope he can grow into what Gardner has already shown.

However, development is not a guarantee and many NFL teams have been burnt by believing in potential rather than a proven commodity. Other athletic defensive backs with alluring measurements like Obi Melifonwu (2017 2nd rounder) or Lonnie Johnson (2019 2nd rounder) have not translated to the NFL world as the Raiders and Texans hoped. 

Woolen is a moldable ball of clay, but he's nowhere near a polished final product like Gardner. Take the safe bet and go with the corner who has the far superior film and resume versus better competition.

Final verdict: Ahmad Gardner in the top-five.

@thedexraven asked: "Trey McBride in the second round or Jake Ferguson in the fourth round?"

This is an interesting discussion as McBride and Ferguson are both tough, hard-nosed tight ends who offer different strengths and who won't be confused with elite athletes. McBride was Colorado State's primary option in their passing offense, while also being a dependable blocker. Whereas Ferguson was a pillar of Wisconsin's dangerous run game, while also displaying dependable hands as a receiving outlet.

This debate should really come down to which skillset a team is looking for from their tight end position. In a general lens; however, Ferguson is the better value in my eyes. My decision loops back to their respective athletic traits.

To continue to thrive as a receiving threat, McBride's below-average athleticism will simply always limit his potential. Whereas Ferguson's mediocre athleticism won't be as detrimental to his bread and butter - blocking. In the end, I believe Ferguson will have to adjust his game less at the NFL level and provides better value.

Final verdict: Jake Ferguson in the fourth round.


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