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2022 NFL draft: How high can Pitt's Kenny Pickett rise in QB power rankings?

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Each week during the college football season, we'll stack the quarterbacks with 2022 NFL draft eligibility based on their pro potential — and nothing else.

Some of the players we list below may not enter next year's draft, but we'll list anyone who has a remote shot to declare early.

Here's how we see the NFL QB prospect hierarchy stacking up after the first seven weeks of college football.

1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss

(Last week: 1st)

This was a fascinating game to watch on Saturday. Corral felt and looked at times like he was the best player on the field Saturday night at Tennessee. He was dominant as a scrambler and runner. Corral made some big-time throws in the face of adversity. 

This was a dangerous college QB willing his team to victory, despite a leaky second-half defense, a slew of bad drops (PFF charted the Rebels with seven on his 40 attempts) and some burdensome pressure that forced him into four throwaways, numerous scrambles and four sacks.

But there's also the fair criticism of what happens when Corral plays outside of structure. Things tend not to go quite as well — especially when Corral is throwing and not running. It's just something we are going to have to address with him. 

This game was a great snapshot of Corral's alluring traits and his clear shortcomings as a prospect.

2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

(Last week: 4th)

Pickett really has ascended to the level of prospect where the first round isn't out of the question. Whether he deserves to be taken that high in a "typical" QB year is up for debate; it's pretty clear to most observers that this year's class is going to be a beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder lot.

But there's no denying how he's evolved as a passer and improved in several little areas to this point. Experience has helped him immensely, and we suspect Pickett will be rewarded in a big way for his decision to come back to school, even with the inevitable hand-size questions coming.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has been on the rise more than any other senior QB this season. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has been on the rise more than any other senior QB this season. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Even with a hypothetically strong Senior Bowl and post-season performance a year ago, we didn't see him as a first-, second- or third-round pick then. Now it's becoming clear he's likely landing in the top 50 selections in 2022 at the rate we're going.

Pickett was in command Saturday at Virginia Tech against a good defense. He made throw after on-target throw, even if several were dropped — six by PFF's count, and that might be kind. Despite that, he took what the defense gave him, executed TD drives of 94, 81 and 52 yards, plus a 76-yard drive to close the game out.

3. Malik Willis, Liberty

(Last week: 2nd)

We listed Willis in our midseason draft winners and losers post last week, despite Willis' uncharacteristic three-pick game against a sub-par Middle Tennessee State defense. Well, Willis once more threw three more into the wrong team's hands Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

MTSU has had five other INTs all season. ULM has had three. These were not good pass defenses he faced.

There's an argument to be made about Willis' surrounding talent. It's really nothing special. His go-to receiver is a freshman. That's all worth pointing out.

But Willis has suddenly turned scattershot the past two weeks and undercut what had been a zero-INT season with very few careless throws and decisions prior to the past two games. It's a strange development, and we suspect we'll need to do a full, deep dive on Willis, watching five or six of his games back to back, to have a great feel for who he actually is as a prospect.

That picture is less clear now than it was a few weeks ago.

4. Sam Howell, North Carolina

(Last week: 3rd)

Howell is having a strange season. He's lacking in the big-play department and seems good for at least one "what was that?" decision per outing. That one came on his telegraphed swing-pass INT early in Saturday's game against Miami this weekend.

He also very clearly was the victim of some poor protection, which has been a theme all season, some passive play calling and some wicked dropped passes, such as an on-target slant in the second quarter that probably should have resulted in a 64-yard TD.

Every game seems like this. Like Willis, Howell will be a fascinating study — one whose virtues and warts must be weighed readily and carefully together during a mass tape-viewing session at season's end. Could he be a first-round pick? Sure. But have we unearthed some hidden traits in Howell's game so far this season? No, we have not.

5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

(Last week: 5th)

Ridder's pedestrian stats (13-of-23 passing, 140 yards, TD; four rushes, 14 yards) mask what was a pretty decent performance. His TD pass to Alec Pierce was a thing of beauty. Ridder took care of the football well, but should have had more yards thanks to three dropped passes.

Plus, the Knights were operating with some light boxes and two high safeties a big chunk of the time, so the Bearcats clearly were going to take the run — 346 yards' worth.

Some evaluators favor Ridder over Howell and other QBs in this class. His experience will be a big benefit when it comes down to separating prospects. But there also are scouts who wonder just how high Ridder's ceiling is. He's a potential top-50 pick but also a taste-specific prospect.

6. Carson Strong, Nevada

(Last week: 6th)

We reserve the right to move Strong up further, but there are concerns about his lack of mobility and the health of his knee, which might not pass muster for every club once they're able to do a full medical workup.

His arm talent is downright exciting. Strong can sling the rock all over the yard with an easy throwing motion, a clean release and quality decisiveness with his trigger. He lit up Hawaii this weekend with perhaps his cleanest all-around performance of 2021, even with a few overthrows and so-so reactions to pressure.

Nevada quarterback Carson Strong (12) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Hawaii in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong (12) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Hawaii in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

In an era where mobile quarterbacks are all the rage, he's a different kind of prospect. Strong's final placement is tricky because of the unknown health factor, and how teams accept his fiery, heart-on-his-sleeve style will vary from one team to the next.

But the intrigue remains fairly high for him as a prospect. He could be a late first-rounder. He also could slide a bit. Stay tuned. 

7. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State

(Last week: 8th)

Daniels played well overall and was hindered for a second straight game by his team's inefficiency and penchant for fumbles and penalties. But he also suffered through some struggles in the second half, missing some shot-play opportunities that were there for the taking against a good Utah defense.

Daniels is a fascinating quarterback and one we'd like to see stay in school to develop, add strength and gain some more consistency. He's played well on the whole this season, and we appreciate his ceiling as a prospect. But Daniels just isn't close to hitting it yet and could use some more seasoning. The talent is there.

8. Tanner McKee, Stanford

(Last week: 9th)

Despite the upset loss at Washington State, McKee did a lot of good things. He threw for two TDs, ran for another one and also run in a two-point conversion. It was clear that when the chips were down, head coach David Shaw was more than willing to place his faith in the arm of McKee, who delivered an 85-yard TD drive midway through the fourth quarter to give Stanford a late lead on the road.

McKee also took an opening-play sack on the final drive of the game that really hindered the Cardinal's chances of winning, and another sack (and fumble) two plays later ended the game.

He's a fascinating study but one who needs more work following a two-year mission in Brazil and a redshirt season in 2020. Get your 2023 NFL draft lists updated with McKee's name on it, although we've heard he still could declare for this upcoming cycle depending on how the season pans out.

9. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

(Last week: 10th)

McCall and the Chanticleers were on bye last weekend.

10. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

(Last week: 7th)

Oklahoma's Caleb Williams wowed in his first start. On Twitter, I made the analogy of Williams rendering Rattler into the next Kelly Bryant, as this felt like when true freshman Trevor Lawrence replaced a fairly highly rated Bryant at Clemson — and never looked back.

Bryant then took a grad-transfer season at Mizzou, and we suspect this is the route Rattler will take, barring an injury or similarly unforeseen development for Rattler's legacy to change. Assuming that's the case, this is the final week you'll see him in our top 10.

What can we say? We jumped the gun on Rattler. He hasn't met expectations, and he'll have a lot to prove whatever he decides to do — hopefully transferring in an amends-making year elsewhere, perhaps at a school closer to where he grew up near Phoenix.

Just missed the cut

Jake Haener, Fresno State; JT Daniels, Georgia (injured); Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky; Brennan Armstrong, Virginia; Kedon Slovis, USC; Brock Purdy, Iowa State; Will Levis, Kentucky; Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M; Phil Jurkovec, Boston College (injured); Jack Coan, Notre Dame; Malik Cunningham, Louisville; Levi Lewis, Louisiana; Tyler Shough, Texas Tech; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA; Emory Jones, Florida; Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland; D’Eriq King, Miami (injured); Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan; Sean Clifford, Penn State (injured); Tanner Morgan, Minnesota; E.J. Perry, Brown; Dustin Crum, Kent State; Myles Brennan, LSU (injured); Chase Garbers, California