Do you want the quarterback with the highest ceiling to develop? Or do you need the QB with the highest floor to start right away?
A needy team's answer to that question will help determine whether Liberty's Malik Willis or Pitt's Kenny Pickett ends up being the first quarterback off the board when the 2022 NFL Draft kicks off next Thursday night in Las Vegas.
Both Willis and Pickett are expected to be Round 1 picks. Some combination of Ole Miss' Matt Corral, North Carolina's Sam Howell and/or Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder could slip into Thursday night, too. And all five of those top QBs seem destined to be taken before the end of Round 2 -- in line with numbers in recent years, even without a clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the mold of a Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow or Kyler Murray.
It's an older QB class, with all but one of those top prospects (Howell) set to begin their rookie seasons at age 23. It isn't regarded as a deep QB class, either, though there are a few likely to be taken on Day 3 and potentially another late-round flier or two.
Here's the full breakdown of the 15 quarterbacks with the best chance to get drafted next week, based on conversations with NFL executives, scouts and coaches, all speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide a blunt assessment:
1) Malik Willis, Liberty
It's a projection, and the size (6-foot 1/2, 219 pounds) isn't ideal, but Willis' cannon arm, running ability and overall playmaking skills give him the nod here over Kenny Pickett. "There's really one guy that's got true NFL traits," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "Willis] can run. He can throw it. It's a once-every-couple-years type of arm -- it's not quite [Josh Allen I don't think, but it's damn close. He can create plays. For a 6-foot-tall guy, he doesn't look small, because [he has a thick build]. Good person. Smart. He's an energy-giving type of guy."
Said an AFC general manager: "To me, he's the No. 1 guy in the class. And for whatever people want to talk about in terms of readiness or all this other stuff -- it was the same thing with Josh Allen, it was the same thing with Patrick Mahomes. I think people are a little short-sighted with that kid." A transfer from Auburn, Willis made the most of his two seasons starting for the Flames, putting up 6,929 total offensive yards (sixth in FBS) and accounting for 74 total touchdowns (47 passing, 27 rushing). "He's the only one with the talent level that deserves to go Round 1]," an NFC coordinator said. "Now, there's some holes in his game. [But] to me, he's a better prospect than [Trey Lance was a year ago and a better prospect than Justin Fields was a year ago." Other scouts and coaches echoed the comparisons to Lance and Fields, who went No. 3 overall to San Francisco and No. 11 to Chicago, respectively -- they were the third and fourth QBs taken in that draft, both after trades up involving future first-round picks.
"If I had to take a quarterback this year," an AFC coordinator said, "I would take Willis, because at least he's got the talent to get himself out of a jam when things don't look pretty." No doubt, there will be a learning curve for Willis, who, like many in this class, played in a college offense that doesn't require a lot of bandwidth from the QB. Much of his production comes off go-balls and scramble drills. And Willis' athletic ability gave him an out many times against a lower level of competition. (Liberty is an FBS independent.)
"He can unleash power (with his lower body). He's got a great arm," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "But when you watch him play, I don't see a lot of the things we would ask him to do. He's played two top-25 programs in the last two years: One was Coastal Carolina, which he beat, and Ole Miss, which he lost to. Against those two teams, he had zero touchdown passes, he had five touchdown runs, and threw five picks. That concerns me. [But] he's got this bounce in his step, he's got this smile. Hey, this kid can be electric, and when he is electric, the dudes in the locker room are going to go to him. This is the epitome of a boom-or-bust pick." Willis finished his college career as a 62.8 percent passer for 5,176 yards, 48 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, including 12 last season. "Malik obviously is super talented," an NFC scout said. "I just have issues with his processing and the instincts. He knows his O-line's bad, but he still just stands there. He's not feeling [rushers] coming up on him and really escaping and getting the ball downfield. There's flash plays. There's a lot of bad stuff. He's definitely a project, and anybody taking him really high is going to have to fully commit to that."
There were some questions during the process about the circumstances around Willis' departure from Auburn in 2019. But the answers teams heard from the school and Willis himself were pretty straightforward: His preparation wasn't good enough, and he simply got beat out by true freshman Bo Nix (who has since transferred himself, to Oregon). "You visit with him, he owned it, he's accountable," an AFC scout said. "It was good to hear him talk about his growth. It sounded like he became a better worker, a leader, more committed to the process, preparing, studying. He's got a likeable personality when you meet him -- very easygoing, laidback, confident, some charisma to him. People gravitate to him. He gives off a little bit of [naivete], maybe a little bit too loose. What you're wondering [is], can he be a little bit more focused and locked in like a franchise quarterback?" Willis didn't participate in any pre-draft timing or testing. But he helped himself at the Reese's Senior Bowl. He put on a show with his throwing sessions at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day. He's one of the cleanest prospects, medically, in this draft. His interviews with teams have won over a lot of people, too.
"Willis is such a fun personality. He's a cool kid, talking to him," another NFC coach said. "And I think he can learn. He's a smart kid." It seems like a long shot, but speculation has increased in league circles this week that Willis could go as high as No. 2 overall to the Lions, who coached him at the Senior Bowl and had him in for a visit Tuesday. "If there's any of them that you're going to look back and say he turned into a really difference-making player at the position, the one guy that has a chance to do that is probably the Liberty guy. But there's also a chance that he just doesn't develop as a passer the way he's going to need to and he flames out," another AFC coach said. "He's got a wide range of ways that his career could go. But he's a guy that you see some special plays on tape with, stuff you can't coach -- off-schedule production, extending the play. He's an outstanding runner. He'll be a top-five runner, maybe a top-three runner at the position from Day 1. And then he's got all the arm in the world. It's just going to be about whether he can hone that in and learn to play the way a team's going to need him to play in the pass game, just in terms of decision-making and playing fast."
2) Kenny Pickett, Pitt
No quarterback enters this draft with more experience than Pickett, who appeared in 52 games (49 starts) over five college seasons, ran pro concepts under former NFL assistant Mark Whipple at Pitt and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting amidst his breakout season last fall. "Pickett is the most ready to play, so people may not want to pass on him like Mac Jones last year," an NFC GM said. "Everybody's like, what's his ceiling? Well, that's what everyone was thinking about Jones]," who went to the Patriots at No. 15 overall in 2021 -- as the fifth QB taken -- and finished runner-up to [Ja'Marr Chase for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"The Pitt kid's athletic. He's got plenty of arm. He's really got all the tools that you need," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "I don't think he's got great instincts in the pocket. I don't think he's a really quick decision-maker, sees it super clean or] gets the ball out fast. But he can get on the edge and make some plays with his legs. It's almost the opposite of Mac Jones from last year. Because Mac was a super quick decision-maker, you could tell he saw it fast, super accurate from the pocket and just missing the get-on-the-edge type stuff, whereas this guy is the other way. Both of them are probably bottom-half-of-the-league-type starters if it works, and obviously Mac had a good year." Other scouts and coaches referenced [Joe Burrow, who was regarded as the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick in 2020. Like Pickett, Burrow had smallish hands (9 inches), good-not-great arm strength and strong leadership traits, and he enjoyed a massive jump in his play in his final college season, with improved talent around him. Pickett threw for more touchdowns in 2021 (42) than he did from 2017 to 2020 (39), while his completion percentage jumped from 60.4 to 67.2.
"Just his demeanor, coming away from center, how he handled everything, Pickett was the most impressive," an AFC executive said. "He was the biggest guy, strongest stature -- he just felt like a quarterback. But then your concern is the arm. There's nothing special about it. What's he going to look like when he's getting his ass f---ing blitzed and having to throw off-platform, and he has to win with his arm only? He's mobile enough. He can move, he's not lot like a statue. If you had to have a m-----f----- play right now, it's Pickett, but he doesn't have any goddamn upside."
Pickett's hand size also became a topic during the pre-draft process; he told me at the Senior Bowl he has "double-jointed" thumbs and was doing joint mobility exercises to stretch them out. The baseline for NFL quarterbacks has long been considered 9 inches; Pickett measured 8 1/2 inches at the combine and 8 5/8 inches at his pro day three weeks later. (His hands are said to measure bigger when wrapped around the football.) "I know this: I watched lot of film on Kenny Pickett," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "He doesn't fumble the ball. He doesn't throw bad balls." Said an AFC GM: "People are quoting the fumble stats (38 in Pickett's college career), but people don't realize this guy played five years. Even the whole gloves (issue) -- he played in Pittsburgh for five years, and the elements weren't a problem. People get focused on the wrong s---." For hand-size enthusiasts, a rough Senior Bowl practice in the rain backed up the argument on Pickett (though it's worth noting most of the QBs struggled that day). "The kid couldn't even throw when it was wet," an NFC scout said. "It is a concern and will be an issue. The kid, you love. The production, you love -- but it was really just this year. Physically, I don't see him as an NFL starting passer."
Pickett's interviews ranked at or near the top of the list for many coaches and scouts that spent time with him. He was a two-time team captain. He plays with moxie and confidence. He recently got engaged and comes across as mature. All the intangible boxes seem to be checked. "If you put a real good team around Kenny Pickett, he can function at a winning level right now," an AFC coordinator said. "He's just real close to his ceiling." Said an AFC scout: "The guy that's closest to being ready is Pickett. But he's kind of (in the) Kirk Cousins mold. Does he really excite you? Is that the direction you want to go?"
3) Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Few players helped themselves more in the pre-draft process than Ridder (6-3 3/8, 211), who tested off the charts -- leading all QBs at the combine with a 4.52 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical and 10-7 broad jump -- and consistently impressed in interviews with teams. He started 49 games for the Bearcats, who won 43 of them and reached the College Football Playoff in 2021. "I want to like him more than I do," an AFC executive said. "He elevated a program. He's a mobile guy. His arm's not elite -- it's inconsistent as all get-out, too, the accuracy and just the arm strength. But he's the one you're like, all right, maybe he's got a little something."
Ridder completed 810 of 1,304 passes (62.1%) for 10,239 yards over four college seasons, breaking the school record for touchdown passes (87), with 28 interceptions; he ran for another 2,180 yards and 28 TDs. The primary hang-up for many coaches and scouts is whether Ridder can become consistent enough as a passer to develop into a solid NFL starter. "Leaving the ball a little bit behind a crosser or throwing it a little bit ahead of a [receiver sitting down in a zone] -- those are the completions that you've got to see translate to NFL ball," an AFC coach said. "And I think he's got one really bad trait, that when he feels the pocket start to collapse or he feels off time, he gets his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage and looks for an escape path." Multiple scouts and coaches remarked that Ridder's delivery is a little robotic. His pro-day throwing session drew mixed reviews. But he rose to the occasion again in the Senior Bowl, leading two of the National team's three touchdown drives. One NFC scout said he could feel Ridder's presence on the field all week in Senior Bowl practices, too, immediately leading a bunch of guys he'd just met.
"There's a savviness to him," another NFC scout said. "He'll have some inconsistencies at times throwing the ball downfield. But he has got a pretty good skillset, and he's probably the most calm and collected guy that kind of looks the same from the first play to the last play in every game. If he makes a wrong read or makes a bad play, you don't feel any panic from him. He just played with more poise." Said an NFC quarterbacks coach: "I think he can make all the throws, and he's physically gifted for this class -- but when you look around the league at those type of players, where does he stack?" Ridder is tall, long (32 3/4-inch arms) and has 10-inch hands, though his build is a little on the leaner side. "I don't see a lot of splash plays on tape that would lead you to believe he's a high-end starter," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "But he's certainly going to get a chance to start at some point, because he has the tools and he's athletic, he can run. He's not real laterally twitchy and elusive. He's a straight-line athlete. So you can get him out on the edge on bootlegs and some different concepts and he can use his speed that way."
Ridder's mother had him when she was 15, and they lived with his grandmother -- whom he credits for teaching him how to throw a football -- when he was growing up. He got engaged to his high school girlfriend in 2018, and the couple had a daughter, Leighton, last year. "Ridder's a grown-ass man. He's mature," another NFC coach said. "I just don't love the way he throws the ball. But then I go back and I'm like, this guy's won a hell of a lot of football games now. I'm not going to just get rid of that."
4) Sam Howell, North Carolina
A three-year starter, Howell was an early favorite to be the top prospect in this year's draft class before an exodus of offensive talent -- including 2021 draft picks Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome -- contributed to a disappointing 5-7 record for him last fall. Howell's passing line (62.5 percent completion rate for 3,056 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions) was the lowest of his career, but he also ran for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns on a team-high 183 rushing attempts.
"Boy, he's a tough sonofabitch now," an NFC coach said. "When his team needed a play, they just called on him. Now, he did it more with his legs than his arm (in 2021). But I like him. He's a low burn. You're not going to rattle him. He's not going to give you a lot of juice. But there's something there." Howell threw a touchdown pass in all 37 college games he started (20-17 record), missing one game last season with a shoulder injury. He opted to play in the Duke's Mayo Bowl before announcing his intention to declare for the draft as a true junior, finishing his career with 10,283 passing yards and 92 touchdowns with 23 interceptions. "The kid's super tough, super competitive, has no quit in him," an AFC scout said. "He's mobile. He's actually a pretty sturdy-built quarterback for a smaller guy (6-0 5/8, 218) and he can shake off some tackles. But he doesn't protect himself at all. When he gets to the NFL, he might get his f---ing head knocked off the first game. He'll hold the ball, take some sacks. You still want to see him boom-boom get the ball out."
The Tar Heels' rudimentary scheme hasn't done any favors for Howell's development in terms of understanding and reading coverages. He's plenty smart, accurate and throws one of this draft's best deep balls. But at times, his instruction at UNC was essentially to look for the first read or else take off running. "It's a simpleton f---ing offense," an AFC executive said. "But I think he had better processing. Howell's  tape I thought was pretty good;  was a little bit better. He didn't have any protection. His all-star game (the Senior Bowl) was not good. He feels much more f---ing small when I watch the combine. How good's he ever gonna be?"
A common comparison among scouts and coaches is Baker Mayfield, another 6-foot quarterback known for his accuracy and competitive streak who went No. 1 overall in 2018. Personality-wise, Howell couldn't be more different than Mayfield. His flatline interviews with teams at the Senior Bowl left many wanting more, but his even-keeled nature is mostly viewed as a positive trait. Multiple scouts and coaches said Howell's pro day was the best of the bunch. "I think [Howell] can throw it the best after Malik," an NFC coordinator said. "I do like the way he throws the deep ball. If you look at his film from a year ago, it's a lot better than what you see from this past year. But he lost all of his players, so obviously that makes it harder on him. I just don't know what his ceiling can be."
5) Matt Corral, Mississippi
Corral led FBS in total offense per game (384.3 yards) as a redshirt sophomore in 2020 and finished seventh in Heisman voting in 2021, when he threw for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for 11 more TDs on a Rebels team that went 10-3 and reached the Sugar Bowl. Multiple scouts and coaches said Corral's tape was the best of all the QBs. "Release, arm talent, grit, toughness, playmaker," said an AFC executive who ranked Corral No. 1. "I think he's a starting quarterback in the league." Said another AFC scout: "He quietly might be the top guy. Who knows about the scheme and everything, but it seems like he's got enough instincts, accuracy, arm for people to get behind."
Yet, Corral is polarizing, both on and off the field. Start with the high-speed Ole Miss offense. "It is Lane Kiffin gimmick s---," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "I know the numbers and the completion percentage is high (69.2% the past two seasons under Kiffin) -- it is a lot of like bubbles and short little quick things. I can see you where you could easily say, mechanically and aesthetically, man, [Corral] can look really pretty throwing it. It's a nice tight spiral, he turns the ball over. And look, he's athletic, man. He gains yards running for it. [But] he has some accuracy issues. Even the ones that are completions are back-hipped or a little off. He's the type of player that I could put together 25 plays and you'd be like, well s---, let's sign him. And I could put another 50 plays [together] and you'd say no f---ing way."
Reviews were mixed on the football portions of Corral's pre-draft interviews with teams; some say Corral struggled with recall on basic concepts and protections, while others say there were no major issues. "A lot of what Lane did with him was get to the perimeter quick or take a (deep) shot. There wasn't a lot of progression reads, and that's a fact of the offense," an NFC scout said. "He's got an odd little motion where he's really trying to aim it and there's not a lot of natural anticipation and ball placement. But you saw way more turnovers in 2020 than 2021 (cutting his interception total from 14 to five), so he definitely cleaned that up. He's got the moxie and [is] the competitor you want. Taking him in the first round is kinda scary. But once he gets out of the top 20, people will be like, f--- it."
Corral's toughness and competitive nature are unquestioned. (Look no further than his decision to play in the Sugar Bowl, where he suffered a significant high ankle injury that prevented him training for the combine; he threw at his March 23 pro day instead.) But his smaller build -- he bulked up to 212 pounds on his 6-1 5/8 frame before the combine -- is a consideration for teams, especially with his fearless playing style, even if he's certain to scale back his bruising running approach in the NFL. "He's got a strong arm. His accuracy's all over the place. Heavy RPO (offense)," another AFC exec said. "I am less worried about all the s--- in his background, because I do think he's tough as s---, he's a leader. It's just the accuracy, the small frame, he's hurt. He's a little man."
There was more background work required on Corral than any other quarterback -- and most other players -- in this draft for a multitude of reasons. The scrap with Wayne Gretzky's son that led to Corral's transfer in high school. The commitments to USC and Florida before finally choosing Ole Miss. Unreliability on and off the field early in his time at Oxford. Corral told CBSSports.com that he grappled with "a depression" in the early part of his college career, but that he realized in 2020 he wanted to make a change because "I got tired of feeling like that. Just tired of making excuses. I got tired of having vices for my problems, like drinking. It f---ed with me. I don't even drink anymore."
Said an AFC executive whose team has done background work on Corral: "It's not clean. I don't think it's deal-breaker. It's just a lot of immaturity, Joe College kind of stuff early in his career. Doing things college guys do off the field, and then on the field, just not what you want out of a quarterback, prep-wise." But Corral won over coaches and teammates at Ole Miss, where it's hard to find anyone to say a bad word about the person, player and leader he is now. "Malik Willis is talented, but I think Matt's probably the most talented overall -- and the guy who's actually done it," another NFC scout said. "He's got a big arm. He's tough as s---. Guys like him. He's a real guy -- like a dude. And it's not fake. He relates well with everybody. He's got leadership to him that way. Guys respond to him. And he cut down on the turnovers this year. Managing a game is paramount. He might have the most upside out of all of them."
6) Carson Strong, Nevada
A three-year starter and two-time Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Strong (6-3 3/8, 226) put up big numbers as a redshirt junior last season (70 percent completion rate for 4,175 yards and 36 touchdowns) despite playing barely six months after a major knee surgery that often requires a 12-month recovery, severely limiting his mobility. "He's got a huge arm, but he can't move and he's got those questions about his leg," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's been productive and he's pretty smart and he makes plays on tape. He's more a traditional pocket passer, which is just hard -- you've got to be perfect if you're going to be that guy."
Strong missed his senior season in high school following surgery for an osteochondritis dissecans lesion in his right knee; one of his bones was 70 percent detached from his knee cartilage, and doctors inserted eight biodegradable nails to stabilize it. In February 2021, according to a person with knowledge of the procedure, Strong underwent an osteochondral allograft -- a cartilage transfer from a cadaver to replace his own cartilage. Another procedure during fall camp, reported vaguely at the same time as a scope, was to take photos showing the cartilage was structurally sound and help Strong gain clearance to play.
Strong told me at the Senior Bowl he already felt his mobility was 100 times better than it was last season, and the hope is it will continue to improve as he regains strength in his quad. A recent MRI showed the cartilage surface looks good, according to the person with knowledge of the procedure, and Strong's short-term prognosis is good. The long-term outcome of the procedure is less predictable, which is why Strong is being downgraded on many draft boards. But there are 32 teams with 32 team doctors and 32 levels of risk tolerance, and it only takes one to decide the talent is worth it and come up with a maintenance plan to keep Strong on the field.
Strong wasn't a particularly mobile guy to begin with, which probably is part of the reason he could perform so well just six months after surgery. But some teams simply aren't looking for that style of quarterback in a league that continues to favor QBs who can create and extend plays with their legs.
"His lack of mobility is a fatal flaw and the knee is probably a major reason for it, if not the reason for it," an AFC executive said. "I don't think you can play with him. He just can't move." Even with those challenges, Strong was 20-11 in three seasons as the Wolf Pack's starter, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 9,368 yards, 74 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He plays with anticipation and keeps the ball out of trouble. He has projected a supremely high degree of self-confidence in interviews with teams. "He's a different personality. And that might not be a bad thing, but he's a different cat," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's got a lot of talent. He was very, very productive in that offense. That Nevada offense, there's a learning curve there (to go to the NFL), too. But he slings it now."
7) Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
A transfer from Houston Baptist, Zappe shattered NCAA records in his lone season with the Hilltoppers by passing for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns -- two more than Joe Burrow threw at LSU in 2020 before going No. 1 overall. "He's kind of a sleeper," an AFC scout said. "He's got probably a bigger arm than people think. Smart. High football IQ. He's accurate. He's instinctive. That's all going to help him. The mechanics still need a little bit of work. He's not the biggest (6-0 1/2, 215). He's not the most mobile. But he's pretty savvy as a passer."
In all, Zappe played in 51 college games (50 starts) and passed for 15,971 yards and 140 touchdowns with 50 interceptions, capped by a six-TD performance to earn Boca Raton Bowl MVP honors. "He threw for a million yards. He seems like really smart kid," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "For me, it's hard to get past the look test with him. He just doesn't look the part. I don't think he throws it all that well. Production's a little bit inflated. He may prove me wrong. He may be a guy who sticks as a 2 and finds his way into some playing time and maybe he's just one of those guys that overcomes the lack of measurables." Zappe actually has large hands (9 3/4 inches). His 4.88 40 and 30-inch vertical at the combine were average.
"The system helps him numbers-wise, no doubt about it," an NFC quarterbacks coach said of Zach Kittley's Air Raid derivative offense. "But watching him, I liked him. He's incredibly smart. He goes the right place with the ball. That's a guy that could grow to be a great backup in the league and someday he'll probably be a great quarterback coach and get me fired and take my job." Said an AFC executive: "I think somebody's going to take a shot on Zappe. His arm's like a noodle, but he's a little playmaker." Whatever Zappe lacks in arm strength, he makes up for with his fast processing and instincts. In the NFL, he profiles as a solid backup with possible starter upside. Think Gardner Minshew without the schtick. "He is unbelievably accurate," another AFC coach said. "He can't hardly move. He's only 6 foot tall. It's not a strong arm. But if you were picking a flag football team, he might be No. 1."
8) EJ Perry, Brown
The Bushnell Cup Award winner as the top offensive player in the Ivy League last season, Perry (6-1 5/8, 211) has helped himself through the pre-draft process, including winning Offensive MVP honors at the East-West Shrine Bowl in February. He also tested well at the combine, leading all QBs in the 20-yard shuttle (4.18) and three-cone (6.85) and ranking second in the 40-yard dash (4.65), vertical (34 1/2) and broad jump (10-3). "Somebody's going to take a flier on him," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's exactly what you would think of a Brown quarterback: He's uber-smart. He'll have the playbook known; you'll send him the iPad and before rookie camp have it done and memorized. He was bigger in person than I thought. He can make all the throws. I think he has a toughness to him. He's a kid that you're not going to worry about."
A one-time Boston College recruit who appeared in six games over two seasons with the Eagles before transferring to Brown, where his uncle James is the head coach, Perry was just 4-16 as the Bears' starting QB in 2019 and 2021. (The school didn't play in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns.) But he set an Ivy League record with eight consecutive 300-yard games and twice earned first-team all-conference honors, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 6,258 yards and 47 touchdowns with 27 interceptions. Still, "it'd be hard to draft him, just upside-wise," an AFC coach said. "All-in, just not good enough. Look, he was the Ivy League Player of the Year and went 2-8. Is there anything more Ivy League than that?"
9) Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Purdy broke 32 school records -- including passing yards (12,170), touchdown passes (81) and QB wins (30) -- and led seven fourth-quarter comebacks as a four-year starter for the Cyclones, who beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl his junior year after the 2020 season. "I think Purdy will [get drafted] just because he's a smart dude that made plays at Iowa State," an NFC executive said. "But he's f---ing tiny (6-0 5/8, 212). It's gonna be a, hey, this guy could turn into our 6-foot third-stringer in a quick amount of time and could be the No. 2 for a team that never loses their quarterback."
Purdy's 71.7 percent completion rate last season ranked fourth in FBS as he earned second-team All-Big 12 honors, though there are questions about his accuracy. His pre-draft interviews impressed NFL coaches. "He won a lot of games, a gamer, put up big numbers," an AFC executive said. "But I don't think his talent says he gets drafted. I think that's more, you like the guy, like what he brings to the room." Said an AFC coach: "To me, he was like a lesser Ian Book: a guy that's behind the 8-ball from a measurable standpoint, doesn't have high-end athleticism to make up for it. Just kind of a good college player that's going to have a long, uphill battle in the NFL."
10) Jack Coan, Notre Dame
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
A transfer from Wisconsin, Coan (6-3 1/4, 218) posted the third-highest completion percentage (65.5%) in Fighting Irish history last season while passing for 3,150 yards and 25 touchdowns on a team that went 11-2, narrowly missing the College Football Playoff. "Coan's got some arm strength. He's just kind of an up-and down-player," an NFC scout said. "But he did fight off some other talented guys at Notre Dame, and he's a phenomenal leader, he's super smart. He could be a CEO-type quarterback, but he's just not overly athletic outside the pocket. He's more your traditional pocket passer, but he can spin it a little bit, and he did have a pretty good week out at the East-West (Shrine Bowl)."
In all, Coan was 23-8 as a college starter, including 10-4 in his lone full season leading the Badgers in 2019 before he missed 2020 with a broken foot. "He kind of goes in and runs the offense and does fine and does enough," an AFC executive said. "He looks like a No. 3 quarterback."
11) Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
Thompson (6-1 7/8, 217) made 39 starts (23-16 record) over five seasons with the Wildcats, passing for 7,134 yards and 42 touchdowns with 16 interceptions and scoring another 26 TDs rushing. "He would be interesting, just because of the athletic ability," an NFC scout said. "He's got some arm strength. He's got some running skills." Thompson will be 25 when the 2022 NFL season begins, and his past two seasons were impacted by injuries (surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2020 and a right knee injury in 2021). His 4.91-second 40-yard dash at the combine was the slowest among all QBs. Multiple scouts raised questions about Thompson's leadership traits, but teammates voted him a captain three years in a row. "He'll be a good free agent," an AFC scout said. "He actually threw the ball well at [his] pro day."
12) Chris Oladokun, South Dakota State
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
Few players had a more unique college journey than Oladokun, who played at three schools in his career, appearing in 22 games with two of them in 2021: He played in seven (one start) in Samford's COVID-delayed spring season, then made 15 starts in the fall at South Dakota State, earning honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Conference honors. "Supposedly he's an all-around squared-away kid," an NFC coach said of Oladokun, who began his college career at South Florida. "He was just trying to find a place where he could go play." Oladokun is a little undersized (6-1 1/4, 207) with small hands (8 7/8), and he tested just OK at his pro day (4.7 40, 32 1/2-inch vertical, 9-3 broad jump). But he threw for 3,164 yards and 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his lone season with the Jackrabbits. That landed him on NFL teams' radars, and he has been busy in recent weeks, with a half-dozen visits and private workouts. "He's got a chance," another NFC coach said. "There's something to him. He's got some traits that might translate."
13) Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
There aren't many quarterbacks built like Kelley, a towering presence at 6-7 3/8, 249 pounds with 9 7/8-inch hands and an 81 1/4-inch wingspan. He started six games over two seasons at Arkansas before transferring to FCS Southeastern Louisiana, where he threw for 7,786 yards and 62 touchdowns with 14 interceptions in 2021, making seven starts in the COVID-delayed spring season and 13 more in the fall. "His tape's actually pretty f---ing good," an NFC coach said. "He's big as s--- and he can really [sling] the ball around. He's a very high intellect. He's obsessed with football." A one-time four-star recruit, Kelley also ran for 38 touchdowns over his five-year career, a unique stat for a big man who clocked a 5.1 40 at his pro day. What he lacks is "just consistency with probably a little bit of everything," an NFC scout said. "Got some physical traits. Was kind of productive at that level, but not a real projectable type guy."
14) D'Eriq King, Miami
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
A one-time four-star recruit who kept Bucs quarterback Kyle Trask (a second-round pick by Tampa Bay last year) on the bench in high school, King has the makeup NFL teams want, and he's been productive when he's been on the field at two college stops. But he stands just 5-8 3/4, 196 pounds, with 4.6 speed, and he's suffered season-ending injuries in three of the past four seasons. "I've heard really good things about that kid from an intangible standpoint," an AFC coach said. "He's just a really good kid, smart, great leader. You're just talking about a 5-8 1/2 guy -- where does he fit? With injury history."
Several teams have conducted pre-draft workouts with King -- including the Cowboys, who also had him go through drills as a wide receiver. King split time at receiver as freshman at the University of Houston in 2016 and also took some reps there at the East-West Shrine Bowl. "It'll be really hard for him. He just doesn't throw it well enough consistently. But he's got a lot of football to him," an AFC coach said. "He's not like a great, fantastic runner. I saw him working out as a receiver -- it doesn't look like it's natural for him. But a super kid. He's only 5-8. That's a tough history. Who is it, Doug Flutie?"
King spent four years at Houston and had his best year in 2018, when he threw for 2,982 yards and 36 touchdowns and ran for 674 yards and 14 more scores in 11 starts before a torn meniscus cost him the last two games. On the advice of coach Dana Holgorsen, King stopped playing four games into the 2019 season to preserve his eligibility and transferred to Miami, where he threw for 23 touchdowns and ran for four more in 11 starts -- then suffered a torn ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl. King returned to school and started three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder. He also missed the Las Vegas Bowl in 2016 after an injury while weightlifting and lost two games in 2017 with another injury.
"He's just so damn small," an NFC scout said. "You've got to want to work with his skill set, you've got to move him outside the pocket. He throws best out to the perimeters just because he struggles to see throwing lanes in between the tackles downfield, down between the hashes. To me, he's just kind of a guy. He's not that kind of athlete. He's one of those too-short quarterbacks that is what it is."
15) Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M
ROUND 7 OR PRIORITY FREE AGENT
A first-team HBCU All-American in both the 2021 spring and fall seasons, Glass has NFL size (6-3 3/4, 233) and a lot of experience, having started all 46 games in his five seasons with the Bulldogs and passing for 12,136 yards and 109 touchdowns with 41 interceptions. "The Glass kid is intriguing just because he's big and he does have a pretty good arm," an NFC scout said. "The [concern] was the accuracy (58.3% career completion rate). Even at the [NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl] it showed up a little bit too -- the processing and the decision-making. But he's got some physical tools. He would be one guy that has the physical traits that I can see somebody -- if they were going to take a flier on a guy, it'd be that guy in the seventh." Glass' hands are surprisingly small (8 5/8) and he didn't test well at his pro day (5.24 40, 23 1/2-inch vertical). He'd be the first HBCU QB drafted since the Vikings took the late Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State in the second round in 2006.