2022 NFL draft: Three highly rated QBs face key matchups this weekend

·6 min read

The 2022 NFL draft quarterback class is an incomplete picture right now, but it most certainly doesn't carry the potential, excitement or high-end talent as the 2021 draft class did. 

And considering how some of the now-NFL rookie quarterbacks are faring so far, that should give fans a bit of pause when it comes to anointing the next batch of QBs potential saviors.

That said, there absolutely are some starter-grade prospects in the group, plus a few of them just below that record. It's too soon to throw out the babies with the bathwater, as far as we are concerned.

Three of the higher-touted prospects from this year's QB crop are in action this weekend — with potential statement matchups at hand. We suspect these will be games that are particularly well-attended by scouts and tapes that will be frequently viewed when it comes to stacking the class.

This is an important scouting weekend on the whole, but these three QBs have perhaps the biggest stages. The best part? You should be able to watch all three, even if you don't own multiple screens.

Ole Miss QB Matt Corral

No. 12 Mississippi at No. 1 Alabama

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

The closest the Crimson Tide came to losing last season technically was in the SEC title game, a 52-46 victory over Florida. But ask Alabama players and coaches which quarterback scared them most last season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to hear Corral's name more than once.

That's saying something considering the Tide faced four other quarterbacks drafted in 2021.

Corral was tremendous in last year's 63-48 loss to Bama, completing 21 of 28 passes for 365 yards and two scores, also rushing 13 times for 40 yards. It took special efforts from Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to outgun the Rebels in that game.

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral had a huge game against Alabama in a loss in 2020. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral had a huge game against Alabama in a loss in 2020. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Saturday could be a make-or-break setting for our current top-ranked QB prospect. When we moved Corral up to the top spot in our QB power rankings, we received a little guff from some readers. It felt like a leap of faith at the time, but that's suddenly not such a wild concept — one that's being accepted more and more these days.

If Corral can light up Bama for a second straight year, the lid will be thrown completely off. We truly believe that.

Corral isn't without his flaws. He had five- and six-INT games in an inconsistent 2020 season, has sub-par size, often receives wide-open looks schemed up for him and has moments where his mechanics escape him (especially under duress). 

But there's some serious juice to his game, able to spray the ball to all corners of the field with great arm talent, possessing ideal movement skills to evade pressure and scramble and a decisive, quick release to put the ball in play before defenses can get into their proper spots.

This test, against a loaded Bama defense, will be absolutely massive for Corral's draft grade.

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder

No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame

Saturday, 2:30 PM ET, NBC and PEAC

If you're intrigued by Ridder, as we are, may we suggest checking out colleague Pete Thamel's excellent piece he wrote while embedded in the Bearcats program? There's plenty about the big matchup against the Irish this weekend, as well as some terrific Ridder nuggets. Plus, it's just a fascinating look behind typically closed doors for a program very much on the rise.

Ridder is the on-field engine for Cincy's two-year swoon, and his decision to return to school (rather than leave for the NFL draft early) appears to be an excellent one. He's emerged as a leader and the face of the program, and Ridder's improvement on the field is evident, too.

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder has a tremendous opportunity at Notre Dame on Saturday. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder has a tremendous opportunity at Notre Dame on Saturday. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Looking to stop him is a Notre Dame defense that ran back two late pick sixes last week in a thumping of Wisconsin. That group might have allowed 38 and 29 points, respectively, to Florida State and Toledo in the opening two games. But defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman — who came from Cincinnati's staff last year — is playing far better now.

Freeman surely will be conducting some insider trading with his firsthand knowledge of Ridder as a player, so it will be important for him not to fall into traps and be too aggressive. But on the flip side, we've always viewed Ridder with more appreciation when he's checking down less and making more aggressive reads and throws.

So there's a balancing act with him in this game. Ridder possesses the movement ability to create out of structure and a rocket arm to thread throws all over the field. Can he have success against a talented defense, one with a potential top-five pick in safety Kyle Hamilton?

If that happens, we expect Ridder to start hearing more first-round projections after entering the season with mostly third-, fourth- and fifth-round grades from NFL scouts.

Georgia QB JT Daniels

No. 8 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

Daniels once was a QB recruit behind only Trevor Lawrence in his high-school class according to Rivals, and yet his path has taken a different course since then. After Daniels transferred from USC to Georgia, it took him a bit to get accustomed to the Bulldogs offense. When that happened, he played at a very high level down the stretch in 2020.

In 2021, the results have been less impressive. Yes, Daniels rose last week on our QB prospect power rankings, but that came after a whipping of Vanderbilt. The Hogs present a far different level of challenge. 

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has a great matchup this weekend against a stout Arkansas defense. (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has a great matchup this weekend against a stout Arkansas defense. (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arkansas ranks eighth in the country in pass yards allowed per game (144.2), ninth in yards per completion allowed (9.16) and second in yards per pass attempt allowed (4.73). Of the seven touchdowns the Razorbacks' defense has allowed, only one has come through the air.

Daniels appears to possess a good football acumen, as he generally avoids making disastrous mistakes, throws with solid to very good accuracy most of the time and puts some decent zip on his passes. On the flip side, he also is only an average athlete for the position, tends to let pressure get to him too often and lacks the rare arm talent to hit every throw with the proper velocity and placement required.

But stepping up on this stage against a very well-run defense can help Daniels' cause. He's been on the rise following a so-so opener against Clemson and can help get his name back into the upper reaches of the 2022 QB discussion in this one.