2022 NFL draft: Ole Miss' Matt Corral might be QB1, but it's a drop from recent drafts
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 10 weeks of college football.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
(Last week: 2nd)
Corral has been in the No. 1 spot longer than any quarterback this season. We've seen the easy arm velocity, the precision on RPO throws, the mobility and the ability to strike downfield readily — all of that is exciting.
There's a good-to-very-good NFL prospect in there. But in what's becoming all too clear, even to still-casual draft fans, is that Corral would probably represent one of the weaker QB1s in recent memory. (The same would apply to Kenny Pickett, or any other QB in this class.)
It struck us late in the game against Vanderbilt when Corral threw a poorly timed red-zone interception when the Rebels had their foot on the neck of the Commodores. Now let's be clear: One throw does not an evaluation make. But it's the kind of play that gives us the willies with Corral as any kind of immediate contributor in 2022. He's had just enough of these types of throws to give us pause, even as we appreciate his tangible upside.
Corral is all in on the 2022 NFL draft, and he likely will go moderately high. In the right setting, with the right surrounding cast and time to develop behind the scenes, Corral could be a weapon. But like with Zach Wilson — whom Corral most resembles, we believe — expecting overnight success might be a dangerous proposition.
Our view: Corral simply can't be placed at the same level of prospect as the past four QB1s: Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield.
2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
(Last week: 1st)
The Pickett-Brennan Armstrong battle (more on this one below) was an absolute gas, a 48-38 shootout that came down to the wire. Pickett once again lit up the scoreboard with 340 yards and four TDs. But he also had some concerning moments as well, as he often tried to do too much or failed to handle pressure well.
His interception before the half was strange but not offensive; it was, after all, a pseudo-Hail Mary (even if it came on second down and there were 19 seconds left as he launched the prayer). But the pick that immediately followed early in the third quarter was a classic "what was that?" throw into heavy traffic. It never should have been attempted.
But the more pressure UVA threw at Pickett, the less comfortable he looked. He does a nice job resetting his feet and delivering strikes, but we've seen Pickett get greedy at times and hold onto the ball too long, allowing too much pressure to enter his kitchen.
On what ended up as the game-clinching TD pass, Pickett (throwing across his body) underthrew Jordan Addison and frankly should have been intercepted, with the precocious receiver bailing out his QB with a great play on the ball. We remain Pickett fans on the whole, but there are some concerning elements to his game that can't go overlooked.
3. Sam Howell, North Carolina
(Last week: 3rd)
Howell sat for the game against Wofford with a chest injury after taking a beating the week prior against Pitt. The Tar Heels have Friday's game against North Carolina State left, and they're now bowl-eligible, so Howell could still have two games remaining in his college career.
4. Carson Strong, Nevada
(Last week: 4th)
As he does nearly every time out, Strong unleashed some gorgeous throws this weekend. Arm talent-wise, there might not be a better prospect in the 2022 class. But watching him limp around through the 3OT loss to Air Force, taking seven sacks and several more hits along the way, reminded us of two things:
1. Strong simply isn't healthy now, slogging through a long season with a chronic knee issue.
2. He's tough as heck.
.@Jordan_jack57 with another 𝐬𝐚𝐜𝐤‼️ pic.twitter.com/yIT8hmuxvH
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) November 20, 2021
Strong's interception was on him — and he knew it — underthrowing his receiver over the middle by a few yards; it was just a poor decision. He also had another ball that should have been picked, but the Air Force defender just dropped it. But there were plenty of other highlight-reel throws that will be embraced by the NFL community and keep him in the fascinating category as a prospect.
We're ambivalent with him overall, but Strong has some Jay Cutler-ish tools that must be respected.
5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
(Last week: 6th)
Saturday's win over SMU was arguably Ridder's best game of the season. It's at least in the running with the Notre Dame and Tulsa games. Ridder completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 and three TDs, ran for 46 yards and a score and even caught a 5-yard TD pass, hitting for the rare cycle.
He's done just about everything you could ask from a QB prospect in his final season, improving incrementally and putting out very little poor tape — and a lot of good tape — against decent competition, even if the playoff committee doesn't fully agree.
The question NFL evaluators have kicked around: How much better can he get? The answer to that will be borne out in his final draft spot. If pressed, we'd suggest he has an excellent chance to be taken in a similar range as Drew Lock and Jalen Hurts, but a strong postseason circuit could push Ridder into the late first-round picture for the right team wanting an experienced, athletic, relatively high-floor prospect.
6. Malik Willis, Liberty
(Last week: 4th)
Every game you watch of Willis he seemingly makes two or three hair-raising plays that remind you why he's considered a fascinating NFL prospect.
One from Saturday's game against a good Louisiana team was a first-down strike on 3rd and 11 against tight man coverage in which he came off his first read and then went back to him after the receiver uncovered.
Another was a big-league throw amid heavy pressure early in the third quarter, launching a ball 40 yards into a perfect spot for a touchdown.
But there also are concerning plays, such as the near interception backed up in his own end in the first quarter, plus two actual picks, the second of which simply was a bad decision. Willis also botched the final possession of the first half, down 21-0 and getting knocked out of scoring range after three sacks. (The Flames also had some penalties and poor protection work against them.)
Right now, he's an uber-talented prospect who absolutely cannot be thrust into an NFL lineup prematurely. We're getting second-round vibes here, unless he absolutely blows up his postseason circuit.
7. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
(Last week: 8th)
Just another day at the office for Zappe: 39 of 49 passing for 470 and six touchdowns in a win over Florida Atlantic. Yes, there were two interceptions, too, and we've noticed Zappe being a tad loosey-goosey with the ball in some recent outings, but that certainly is bound to happen with a high-volume passer that plays so much up-tempo.
Nonetheless, our evaluation remains the same on him. We view Zappe as a Chase Daniel-Gardner Minshew type of backup with replacement-starter capabilities who could carve out a pretty nice, respectable NFL career.
8. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
(Last week: 7th)
What do we make of his struggles at home against FSU on Saturday? Jurkovec was under assault much of the afternoon, as BC's vaunted offensive line let him down more than once. Even so, Jurkovec was holding onto the ball too long at times, taking hits he didn't need to and forcing him to rely on his scrambling ability too often.
The late interception under heavy pressure came on fourth down — a prayer of a throw we absolutely can forgive him for. But time and time again in the game, Jurkovec struggled on third downs and left some opportunities on the field.
Then again, we know Jurkovec is playing hurt and has only three games under his belt since returning early from the hand injury. We're still torn on whether he should (or will) enter this year's draft.
9. Jake Haener, Fresno State
(Last week: n/a)
Off last weekend. They close up the regular season on Thursday at San Jose State.
T-10. Aidan O'Connell, Purdue and Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
(Last week: n/a)
O'Connell and Armstrong both had terrific games on Saturday and have kept their surprising seasons rolling nicely.
O'Connell dominated Northwestern at Wrigley Field, completing 29 of 39 passes for 423 yards and three TDs. He was spraying pretty passes most of the game, including a pump and go for a TD to give Purdue some breathing room late in the third quarter.
The former walk-on has been coy about his postseason decision, whether to come out or make the leap to the NFL. But O'Connell has done everything he possibly can to make scouts pay attention to his ability.
Armstrong returned from injury to deliver a big-time performance in the close loss at Pitt. He matched Kenny Pickett throw for throw and arguably had a better game all around. We're still not sure what to make of Armstrong' total package as a prospect, but the sheer number of tight-coverage throws he completed is making us think long and hard about it.
Just missed the cut
Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina; Hendon Hooker, Tennessee; Brock Purdy, Iowa State; Kedon Slovis, USC; Sam Hartman, Wake Forest; Devin Leary, North Carolina State; EJ Perry, Brown; Tanner McKee, Stanford; Will Levis, Kentucky; Jayden Daniels, Arizona State; Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma; JT Daniels, Georgia; Sam Hartman, Wake Forest; Skylar Thompson, Kansas State; Jack Coan, Notre Dame; Dustin Crum, Kent State; Malik Cunningham, Louisville; Levi Lewis, Louisiana; Chase Brice, Appalachian State; Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M; Tyler Shough, Texas Tech; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA; Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland; D’Eriq King, Miami (injured); Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan; Sean Clifford, Penn State; Tanner Morgan, Minnesota; Chase Garbers, California