Nason’s Prospect Primer Series: Quarterback

With the college football season coming to a close this coming Monday, it’s time to start taking a look at the top NFL Draft prospects that you will want to know come this April. This series will take a look at my top 5 players by position, and there’s no better way to start than with the most important position in football… quarterback.

1. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh, Rs Sr.

Measurements: 6’3, 220

2021 Stats: 13 GP, 334/497 (67.2%), 4,319 Yds, 42 TD, 7 INT, 98 Att, 233 Yds, 5 TD

Awards/Accomplishments: 2021 ACC Offensive POY, 2021 ACC POY, 2021 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, 3rd in Heisman Voting 2021

Pickett has had a Joe Burrow-like rise this season, from a guy not on most people’s radars to arguably the top ranked QB in this class. Pickett started for 4 years at Pitt and steadily improved each year before taking a monster leap into the Heisman conversation in 2021. Pickett has ideal size for an NFL quarterback, can make plays with his legs, and is accurate with the football. His arm is not the strongest, but similar to Burrow, he can place the ball well downfield. Overall, Pickett isn’t where I had the top 5 quarterbacks from the 2021 class, and would have been 6th at best last year, but he projects as a solid NFL starter and should take advantage of a weaker class and be a top 15 pick in April.

2. Matt Corral, Ole Miss, Jr.

Measurements: 6’2, 205

2021 Stats: 13 GP, 260/384 (67.7%), 3,343 Yds, 20 TD, 5 INT, 152 Att, 614 Yds, 11 TD

Awards/Accomplishments: 7TH in Heisman Voting 2021

I want to start by saying I love that Corral decided to play in the Sugar Bowl this year, even though he certainly didn’t need to, and most sane college football fans would have completely understood if he didn’t. Yes, he was injured in the game, and it looked bad, but the good news is it sounds like it was simply an ankle sprain, and it will not affect his draft stock. Corral is a great runner of the football with a strong, NFL caliber arm who made huge strides as a passer this year under Lane Kiffin. Most significantly, he cut down his interceptions significantly, from 14 in 2020 to 5 this past year. A quick release will help him as h adjusts to the speed of the NFL game. My favorite thing about Corral is his personality. This kid was a leader on Ole Miss, dealt with adversity when he arrived and was splitting time at quarterback, and showed a real love for his teammates by playing in the Sugar Bowl. To me he looks like a future starter who would benefit a lot from learning behind a veteran for a year or so, but certainly a 1st rounder.

3. Sam Howell, North Carolina, Jr.

Measurements: 6’1.25, 220

2021 Stats: 12 GP, 217/347 (62.5%), 3,056 Yds, 24 TD, 9 INT, 183 Att, 828 Yds, 11 TD

It’s strange to see Howell at number 3 here, and lower on other boards, after most pre-season mocks had him as almost a consensus top 5 selection, but that’s the beauty of football, things change. Howell has a strong arm that can make basically any throw an NFL quarterback needs to, and he is accurate with the football and showed this year how much of a threat he is as a runner, which I would compare to Bills quarterback Josh Allen. He has decent speed and isn’t afraid to put his shoulder into a defender. Pocket presence and decision making are the main concerns with Howell that popped up this season, given, a year after he lost 2 running backs and 2 wideouts to the NFL draft. NFL teams will need to be patient with Howell, who will be coming from a true college offense, but he has the physical abilities to be a starting caliber quarterback.

4. Malik Willis, Liberty, Rs Jr.

Measurements: 6’1, 225

2021 Stats: 13 GP, 207/339 (61.1%), 2,857 Yds, 27 TD, 12 INT, 197 Att, 878 Yds, 13 TD

I had Lamar Jackson way to low when he came out and I am not going to make that mistake again, as we have seen what quarterbacks with elite mobility and physical traits like Willis can do in the NFL. Willis is a dynamic runner with an absolute cannon for an arm but lacks accuracy and touch with the football. Willis can be successful in the NFL if a team can treat him like the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson, be patient, adapt the offense to his running ability, and slowly work on his passing. Willis, who played against generally lower competition at Liberty, is a high risk, high reward prospect.

5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati, Sr.

Measurements: 6’4, 215

2021 Stats: 13 GP, 251/387 (64.9%), 3,334 Yds, 30 TD, 8 INT, 110 Att, 355 Yds, 6 TD, 1 Rec TD

Awards/Accomplishments: 2020 & 2021 AAC Offensive POY

I’m lower on Desmond Ritter than most of the draft community, and that isn’t to say I don’t like his game, but I see him as a mid-round 2 player rather than a 1st rounder as most do. Ridder enters the NFL as a seasoned 4 year starter for the Bearcats, with above average athleticism for the position and ideal size. He can make most NFL throws with average arm strength and has improved each year with his accuracy. Ridder has generally taken care of the football throughout his career but will still put the ball in harms way on a few too many throws. Overall, there isn’t anything bad about Ridder’s game, and he should have no problem commanding an NFL offense from day 1, but he’s lower for me than most because of a lack of spectacular traits. To be fair, I had similar feels about Mac Jones, and that worked out well.

Honorable Mentions:

Carson Strong, Nevada

Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

Image: (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

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