I know it’s taken me awhile, and I hope it’ll be worth the wait, but I’ve finally put together my thoughts on the 2022 NFL Draft quarterback class. Far from an elite group but the most relevant one for Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans have followed since 2004.
The Steelers have done as much homework on the position as any team this offseason. Nothing is guaranteed but them taking a quarterback early in this draft, first or second round, is as likely as anything this year.
After getting a ton of questions about it, here are all my thoughts on the five QBs in this class the Steelers have had Mike Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert attend their Pro Day workout. The grades in the table below are mine and don’t reflect the official player profile we have on each prospect, which will be the report we immediately lean on should the team draft any of these five names. I do not have an official rating/ranking on Nevada QB Carson Strong but hope to have more thoughts on him prior to the draft.
I’ll start things off with the overall thoughts. My rankings, my grades, NFL comps (of playing style, not necessarily career arc), and the best trait I saw from each in my film study. Again, these are strictly my thoughts and not a representation of the order I think the Steelers could rank them. Those two could be separate ideas and I haven’t even thought about a list for how Tomlin/Colbert may order them.
Below is a table with my rankings. Following that, my thoughts and explanations with each prospect.
|Prospect||Grade/Round||NFL Comp||Best Trait|
|1. Malik Willis/Liberty||8.9 – 1st||Mike Vick||Off-Platform Throws|
|2. Matt Corral/Ole Miss||8.6 – 1st||Derek Carr||Quick Release/Accuracy|
|3. Sam Howell/UNC||8.4 – 2nd||Jake Locker||Toughness|
|4. Kenny Pickett/Pitt||8.2 – 2nd||Jared Goff||Situational Football|
|5. Desmond Ridder/Cincinnati||7.9 – 3rd||Alex Smith||Leadership/Winner|
1. Malik Willis – Liberty
What I Like: Dense and thick body type to make up for short stature. Huge calves, first thing you notice about him. “Arm Talent,” ability to make all the throws. Velocity and distance on his passes. Throws with accuracy on run and off-platform. Big-play ability, dynamic playmaker with arm and legs. Burst and speed, escapability, ability to go through or around defenders and keep play alive when things break down. Designed QB runs, read options/QB power. Ability to change arm angle, drop arm slot to make throws.
Dealt with adversity, constantly under pressure and made plays. Brought best out in teammates and elevated offense to keep them competitive against bigger schools. Immense upside with potential to compete with the top NFL QBs. Good road record (6-4). Road wins over Syracuse (2020) and Virginia Tech. Losses were by one point to NC State, three points to Syracuse (2021) and three points to UL-Monroe. Won both bowl games, offense put up 37 and 56 points in those games. Responsible for nine TDs in those two contests.
What I Don’t Like: Streaky player. Up and down game and needs to find consistency to be trusted by coaches. Needs to do better job reading safeties and post-snap picture when coverages change. Accuracy has to become more routine, allow for more YAC/RAC throws underneath. Lower body mechanics need cleaned up, doesn’t always set feet, got away with it in college due to arm strength but NFL will be bigger challenge. Too much “John Wayne” and running around like backyard football, will produce significant negative outcomes and loss of yardage. Lack of hitches in pocket. Needs to climb more often and reset base when he moves. Shotgun/RPO style of offense with lots of calls coming from sideline. Competition concerns.
Reason For NFL Comp: Compared to Mike Vick. Not left-handed like Vick but dynamic athlete who can make defenders look silly as a runner. Cannon arm, able to make plays no one else on the field can. But hit-and-miss player who will do too much. Still, positive plays and big moments were worth it.
Final Thoughts: Willis has the best chance to be part of that elite club of dynamic throwers like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson. Ones who have the talent to carry an offense on their back. But Willis is raw and needs a year on the bench to sit and learn, cleaning up his lower mechanics and working on pre-snap reads. There is serious bust potential, more than your typical quarterback, and on the low-end of his comp, he could be the next Aaron Brooks. But he has the best traits in the class and that’s worth betting on. A year with QBs Coach Mike Sullivan would do him well and he’d be a great fit for the Steelers, who can afford to be patient with him in Year One.
2. Matt Corral – Ole Miss
What I Like: Quickness in all parts of his game. Easily the quickest and most compact release of this class and maybe the fastest of any QB in a long time. Ball has no windup/drop and comes right off his ear. Quick snap-to-throw. Bouncy in the pocket with quick feet that almost feel like happy feet but doesn’t seem out of control, just appears to be his style. High-level accuracy, ability to hit receivers in stride over the middle for yards after the catch is excellent and consistent. Great short/intermediate accuracy and placement overall. Flashes a good arm when he throws deep with good spin. Mobile to extend the play, can be used on designed runs but not calling card, best to keep play alive or scramble if nothing is available downfield.
Tough, competitive player that’s endearing to coaches. Battled through two ankle injuries at the same time and played through it, not missing a game and repeatedly returning to games he re-injured himself, even when carted off the field (Auburn game). Played in team’s bowl game, though he got hurt again early on. Shows ability to go through progressions and make full-read throws.
What I Don’t Like: Slender and slight frame (6015, 212). Played in a more conservative offense that focused on throws 5-15 yards downfield and was choosy about taking deep shots, often used double-moves to throw long. Mobile but not a dynamic/impact runner and won’t make many miss. Quick to slide. Release is quick but low and could lead to batted passes in NFL given short height. Does show tunnel vision of underneath defenders on RPOs and other short throws. Needs to show better ball security in pocket, shows good carriage but struggled with fumbles. Bit frenetic against pressure and will need slight improvement to composure.
Reason For NFL Comp: Corral was a tougher play to comp for but Carr has a similar frame and has also shown a quick release throughout his career (Carr may also have a slightly better arm than Corral). Corral has the potential to be roughly a Top 10 QB in football if he reaches his potential as Carr has done. Considered comping him to Marc Bulger.
Final Thoughts: Corral won’t be part of that elite-elite club because he isn’t dynamic outside of structure but he’s very good within it. His accuracy is the best in the class and he fits well in Matt Canada’s offense that demands YAC throws and will also offer plenty of boots/playaction. No NCAA QB had more yards off playaction than Corral. His toughness and competitiveness is something the Steelers will also love.
3. Sam Howell – North Carolina
What I Like: Great arm strength with downfield placement. Shows velocity and zip on his throws. Thickly built body-type. Tough player especially as a runner, rare QB who can actually truck defenders and has impressive break-tackle ability. Thick middle makes him hard bring down. Took a beating in 2021 but never gave in. Desire to be “the guy” and make plays, put team on his back after losing several key players for 2021 season. Good mobility and able to extend the play. Shows ability to make full-field reads. Short-memory coming off turnovers and doesn’t stack bad plays/drives. Fumbles were occasionally streaky but took good care of the ball for as many shots as he took.
What I Don’t Like: Short, 6005. Needs to do better job reading coverages pre-snap. Lacking consistent accuracy on RPO throws/throws over the middle. Decided to run too often and too quickly in 2021, left pocket to take off as opposed to keeping eyes downfield and looking to throw. Shotgun-based offense. Regressed in 2021. Quiet demeanor, even-keeled but isn’t a fiery guy.
Reason For NFL Comp: Comparing him to Jake Locker not necessarily for career arc but Howell’s playstyle to Locker is pretty similar. Well-built, athletic dudes (both also gifted HS baseball players) who were probably too fearless, Howell’s running style – like Locker’s – increases his injury risk. Howell and Locker showed regression later in their college careers but both are tough dudes with live arms. Howell is the more accurate prospect but the RPO/quick game has been friendly to accuracy for the modern college QB.
Final Thoughts: Howell has an underrated arm with the mobility to keep the play alive. Leadership comes in different forms but Howell’s quiet style isn’t my favorite when it comes to the position. I like my quarterbacks to be a little fiery. He didn’t have his best season in 2021 but lost several of his top weapons (WRs Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome and RBs Javonte Williams, Michael Carter). His 2020 tape is stronger and Howell is a solid prospect.
4. Kenny Pickett – Pittsburgh
What I Like: Football IQ. Ability to go through all his reads, find his checkdown. “Take a profit” QB who takes what defense offers him. Coming from pro-style offense from a former NFL QBs Coach as his OC (Mark Whipple). Saw more time under center than any QB on this list. Used to shifts, motions, things he’ll do in the NFL. Good accuracy when moving to his right, made his most impressive plays rolling that way for touchdowns. Eyes/feet always connected to improve accuracy. Competitive, tough player willing to fight for yards. Enough mobility to keep play going, does well to keep his eyes downfield when on the move and look for big plays as opposed to tucking and running. Got healthy and broke out in 2021 for a big season. Good demeanor and personality. Helped turn Pitt program around, first 11-win season since Dan Marino-led 1981 squad. Great red zone/third down and overall situational football production.
What I Don’t Like: Lacks any elite physical traits or even any standout part of his game. Average arm and won’t be able to make all the throws. Doesn’t have the talent to make cross-body/cross-field throws. Drifts and gets too much depth in the pocket once he hits the top of his drop. Won’t have physical tools to bail him out and invites more pressure than he should. Lots of fumbles in college (38 total, 26 lost). Hand size (8 1/2 inches) is a concern but carriage of the football is worse. Ball drops and swings as he runs or tries to navigate pocket, fumbled a lot that way. Struggles identifying post-snap rotations. Older prospect (24 years in June) and may be close to being maxed out. Didn’t look great in rain environments (end of game vs UNC, Senior Bowl practices).
Reason For NFL Comp: Jared Goff had good size and production coming out of Cal but hasn’t had the NFL career his 1st overall pick billed him to be. Has the look of a franchise quarterback but lacked elite tools to be a top-tier quarterback. Will need a good system and supporting cast around him to elevate offense.
Final Thoughts: Due to the system he’s coming from, Pickett is arguably the most Day One-ready quarterback. But he also might be the one closest to his ceiling and doesn’t have the tools of the elite quarterbacks. Pickett has said he fits best in a West Coast system, similar to Jimmy Garoppolo, who also has a similar playing style to Pickett’s. His carriage of the football scares me more than his hand size.
5. Desmond Ridder – Cincinnati
What I Like: Leader and winner. Turned Bearcats’ program completely around. Four-win team year before he started, immediately became an 11-win team his first year. Won at least nine games every year he started (nine wins in 2020 due to COVID-shortened year) and won 11+ games three of his four years. 44-7 in time with the program. Competed and hung tough with big schools – 2021 win over Notre Dame, 2020 heartbreaking playoff loss to Georgia (lost on GW 53-yard FG). Good touch thrower with accuracy downfield, knows how and when to take the air out of the ball. Good mobility and can extend the play, tested extremely well (4.56 40, 36 inch vert, 10’7″ broad). Some pro-style concepts and a little bit of work under center. Compact release. Short-term memory. Tons of starting experience.
What I Don’t Like: Lacks big arm, average arm strength overall. Struggles on throws outside the numbers. Thinner and slighter frame. Has decent height (6033) but had more batted passes than anticipated (four in Alabama game). Lacked dynamic plays. Struggles with accuracy and placement outside the numbers and has tendency to miss high on throws over the middle of the field. Must show more consistency. Mobile with good speed (91 yard TD vs SMU) but doesn’t make many miss in open field, not a dynamic runner. RPO-based system.
Reason For NFL Comp: Feel good about my comparison to former Utah QB Alex Smith, who similarly turned around the Utes’ program the way Ridder did with Cincinnati. Smith had good mobility and a big arm but was never a top-tier quarterback and was eventually pushed out by more exciting options (Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Mahomes). Smith did make three Pro Bowls but made one in a year in which he threw 15 TDs (2016). Alex Smith of today is less attractive than an Alex Smith 10-15 years ago.
Final Thoughts: I give Ridder a ton of credit for what he did for the Bearcats’ program. He’ll never have to buy a beer there again. But what he did in college doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the NFL. He lacks the big-time physical tools with a game too unrefined for a four-year starter to make me feel confident in his growth and development into being a franchise quarterback. Capable of being a great backup and spot starter.