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The 2021 NFL draft is only two months in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to prepare for next year’s draft.
Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round, marking just the second time the feat has been accomplished in the 21st century. While the 2022 draft may not be as highly-touted at the position heading into the upcoming season, there is not shortage of quarterback talent.
The likes of Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell have been consistently ranked among the top returning quarterbacks in college football. Kedon Slovis, JT Daniels and Matt Corral have also seen plenty of hype as gifted, Power 5 signal-callers. Outside of the Power 5, Malik Willis, Carson Strong and Desmond Ridder have made their fair shares of appearances in the first rounds of early 2022 mock drafts.
However, there’s always a quarterback or two that breaks out with a stellar season and shoots up draft boards. While it’s difficult to predict said breakout candidates with incredible precision, there are a handful of quarterbacks with major sleeper potential.
Here are three quarterbacks who could shoot up boards in the 2022 NFL draft:
Emory Jones | Florida
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Though he served in a backup role behind Kyle Trask in 2020, Jones showed in flashes the potential to be a high-quality quarterback for the Gators. With Trask taking a vast majority of passing reps, Florida used Jones on designed quarterback draws and options, where his athleticism flourished. He offers impressive ball-carrier vision when running in between the tackles, great open-field agility to make defenders miss, and the breakaway speed to explode for a huge gain. On his 92 carries over his three collegiate seasons, Jones has rushed for 514 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He may not have had many reps to showcase it, but Jones is also a promising passer. He possesses natural arm strength and is able to deliver throws with eye-opening velocity, regardless of whether his feet are set or not. Jones' arm talent allows him to fit passes into tight windows and deliver the deep ball with ideal distance and a quick release to stretch the field. Jones is very unproven as a passer at this stage, and his overall pocket presence and ability to scan the field seem to be a bit raw. Despite his shortcomings, his physical prowess and flashes as a dual-threat quarterback are tantalizing, to be sure. With a breakout season starting against SEC competition, he could propel up draft boards in no time.
Kaleb Eleby | Western Michigan
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
A shortened 2020 season may have limited his exposure on a national scale, but Eleby put together an impressive campaign in his first season as Western Michigan's starter. Eleby didn't see any action in 2019 and played five games in relief as a backup in 2018, but any concerns regarding relative inexperience didn't show up often last season, if at all. In six starts, he threw for 1,715 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions with a 64.7 completion percentage. With him under center, the Broncos averaged 41.7 points per game: the 9th-highest total in the FBS. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has one of the strongest arms in the 2022 class, as his throws have significant zip behind them, and he is able to stretch the field and hits receivers deep with ideal ball placement. Eleby has polished mechanics, delivering passes with a compact throwing motion and good weight distribution in his lower half. He is able to throw passes with very good anticipation both inside and outside of the hashes, and he also brings sneaky mobility in the pocket and out in space. Having a small sample size, there isn't a lot of tape of Eleby looking past his first read or going through full-field progressions. He will need to prove capable of making those decisions, as well as fine-tuning his ball placement under pressure. However, Eleby looked the part of an early-round draft pick in 2020, and with a strong full season under his belt, he could be the next quarterback outside of the Power 5 to rise into the first round come 2022.
Connor Bazelak | Missouri
(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
It's not very often an SEC Freshman of the Year winner falls under the radar nationally, but that's exactly the case with Bazelak. He wasn't the Week 1 starting quarterback for the Tigers in 2020, but Bazelak quickly proved to be capable of holding that role in the weeks to follow. He completed 67.3 percent of his passing attempts last season, proving capable of completing the tasks assigned of him. A smart thrower who offers polished situational awareness at the collegiate level, Bazelak does a good job of exploiting soft spots against zone coverage and making full-field reads. Bazelak's throws come backed with very good timing and a sound delivery from a mechanical perspective. He offers a compact throwing motion and is quick to get the ball out. His ability to hit hit his targets in stride from the short-to-intermediate range is borderline automatic, and his pocket presence and underrated mobility allows him to evade would-be tacklers. The concerns surrounding Bazelak stem from two things: his production and his ceiling. He threw just 7 touchdown passes to 6 interceptions in nine games as Missouri's starter, and the team's offense struggled with splash plays with him under center. On tape, he fits the role of "game-manager", for better or worse. His arm strength won't wow the opposition, and he has a tendency to either underthrow the deep ball or deliver throws that defensive backs have enough time to make a play on. He has some kinks to iron out, but with a strong 2021 campaign, Bazelak could come into the national spotlight. He has the mental acuity and natural timing needed for him play at the NFL level.