The beginning of the 2022 NFL free agency period coincided with a quarterback carousel that spun fast enough to take flight. Some teams said goodbye to upper-echelon players. Some signed veteran holdovers to maintain a baseline level of competitiveness. Some continue to look for answers at the game's most important position as the 2022 NFL Draft draws nearer.
Now that the dust from the first wave of free agency has settled, I wanted to scan the QB landscape, taking into account which holes have been opened and which have been closed, to find strong team fits for some of the top QB prospects in this year's draft class.
The Panthers have not been shy about taking swings at quarterback since the Matt Rhule era began in 2020, with Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold failing to solve the position in successive seasons in Carolina. Pickett's hand size (most recently measuring 8 5/8 inches) might raise an eyebrow or two, but he is otherwise the most ready among the QBs in this class to step in and run a pro offense. And while Carolina's roster has holes, there is enough talent on offense (Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson) and defense (Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn) for this team to offer Pickett a chance to win immediately. Pickett ranked sixth in passing yards (4,319) in FBS and fourth in passing TDs (42) last season at Pittsburgh. Encouragingly for his NFL prospects, he also excelled against disguised coverages, according to Pro Football Focus (141.6 passer rating, highest among FBS QBs with 50-plus such attempts).
One wrinkle: The Panthers are currently set to pick sixth overall and then not again until No. 137, having previously traded away their second- and third-round choices in this draft. So if they want to add Pickett, they'll have to do it with the selection that represents their best chance to acquire a surefire impact rookie in 2022. But if Rhule and Scott Fitterer (who were both spotted at Pickett's pro day) are truly sold on him, they shouldn't let that fact (or the presence of Darnold, who is guaranteed $18.6 million in 2022) stop them from making yet another bold move.
After years of stability under center, Seattle dove into the realm of quarterbacking uncertainty by sending Russell Wilson to Denver. The Seahawks might ultimately decide to do whatever they can to compete in 2022 with Drew Lock (or, maybe, Baker Mayfield), and perhaps that would mean devoting their draft capital to prospects who are a surer bet to help immediately. But I like the chances of Corral (who seemed to show no ill effects from an ankle injury suffered at the Sugar Bowl during his pro day this week) to develop into Wilson's long-term replacement if the team decides to take a chance on a rookie this year. Seattle's roster is uneven, but with veteran Tyler Lockett signed for the foreseeable future and an extension purportedly on tap for young star DK Metcalf (who overlapped for one season with Corral at Ole Miss, though Corral was a backup at the time), the receiving talent should be in place to help foster Corral's development. Moreover, head coach Pete Carroll's preference for the run game should keep the offensive load from being too heavy on Corral early on, just as it did for Wilson in the first portion of his career. Seattle has three picks within the first 41, giving them multiple avenues to land Corral, whether via the ninth overall choice or a trade up into the back end of Round 1.
Mitch Trubisky solves the immediate need at quarterback created by Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, giving Pittsburgh the space to select a prospect who might need some seasoning but could really pay off down the road. The Steelers were an obvious presence at Willis' pro day this week. As is true of most of the quarterbacks in this class, Willis is far from a sure bet, with the slate of opponents at Liberty providing a limited picture of how he'd fare against top-end competition. But if Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada are given a year or so to acclimate Willis to the pros and develop a plan around his strengths, he could fulfill the potential suggested by his arm (5,107 yards, 47 TDs in 2020 and '21) and legs (1,822 rushing yards, with 27 TDs, in that span), helping Pittsburgh keep up in the AFC North, where the Bengals (Joe Burrow), Ravens (Lamar Jackson) and Browns (Deshaun Watson) each boast star-caliber QBs. There is a chance the Steelers, who hold the 20th overall pick, could let Willis come to them in the draft -- or Kevin Colbert might be moved to trade up for him as the cherry on top of his career as general manager.
The Falcons will go into the draft with the most recently adjusted quarterback room of the teams on this list, having shipped veteran Matt Ryan to the Colts this week. Team brass might want to wait until next year's presumably richer draft class to truly go all in on a quarterback plan, especially with a roster that lost firepower at receiver (with Calvin Ridley's suspension and Russell Gage's defection to Tampa in free agency). Even so, it wouldn't be a bad idea to give a rookie a spin in 2022. The Falcons have two second- and two third-round picks in their pocket, meaning Howell could be attainable as, at worst, a high-upside backup to Marcus Mariota. Among the range of plausible outcomes: Howell squeezes in a Davis Mills-like stretch of competent-to-promising play at some point in the season, giving Atlanta options going into 2023. If the strong-armed Howell manages to seize the QB1 job in camp, so much the better.
Of the QB-needy teams in the NFL, Houston might be the best-equipped to play the long game in the search for an answer under center, with the Deshaun Watson trade yielding Cleveland's first-round picks in the next three drafts. The Texans also have a relatively safe stopgap in-house, in the wake of Davis Mills' pleasantly surprising rookie efforts in 2021. But that doesn't mean they should sit out on the QB class entirely this year, especially after Mills' selection in the third round worked out so well. Mills' presence on the roster might seemingly make Ridder redundant, but it surely wouldn't hurt to bring in another young arm, provided the price is right -- and with seven picks among the first 108, the Texans have plenty of price points to potentially consider.
Ridder might not be a household name, but he did rank 19th in FBS in passing yards (3,334) while tying for 14th in TD passes (30). Plus, Houston head coach Lovie Smith just happened to be at Cincinnati's pro day Thursday. Marking the true end of the Watson era with another relatively low-cost gamble on a QB prospect would make plenty of sense for the Texans.