While the 2022 NFL draft class is widely seen as being a down year at quarterback, league executives believe at least three and as many as five signal-callers could go in Round 1.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport spoke to 10 executives, all of whom view three as the bare-minimum number.
"I don't know that all of them are truly worthy of getting picked in Round 1, but everybody needs them, and you aren't getting one in Round 2. Not as deep as last year, but three for sure—Corral, Willis and Pickett—plus a wild card," one executive said.
Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Kenny Pickett (Pitt), Malik Willis (Liberty) and Sam Howell (North Carolina) are the strongest bets to go in Round 1, with Nevada's Carson Strong also having a shot.
None of the quarterbacks are expected to go with the No. 1 overall pick. That distinction seems to be Kayvon Thibodeaux's to lose. The Oregon defensive end is the draft's consensus top player and is on pace to become the first non-quarterback to go No. 1 overall since Myles Garrett in 2017.
Once Thibodeaux is off the board, though, all bets are off. The draft may play out similarly to 2017, which saw three teams trade into the Top 12 to land their quarterback. The Chicago Bears grabbed Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 and the Houston Texans landed Deshaun Watson at No. 12. Two of those three draft picks worked out on the field, despite the 2017 class also being viewed as weak at quarterback.
The NFL's rookie salary scale heavily incentivizes teams to take risks on quarterbacks who wouldn't otherwise go in Round 1. Trevor Lawrence earned $36.8 million over four years for being the top pick in this year's draft, about $41 million less than what Sam Bradford signed for in 2010. While all of Lawrence's contract is guaranteed, $50 million of Bradford's $78 million was guaranteed.
Over the same time period, the NFL salary cap has gone up more than $60 million. (Note: We are using 2011 for this comparison because 2010 was an uncapped year; it's also worth noting that the NFL salary cap went down in 2021 by 7.9 percent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
A decade ago, taking a swing and a miss at quarterback could set your franchise back for the next five years. Now teams are incentivized to swing big and hope they hit a home run.