Todd McShay 2022 NFL Mock Draft: Pickett, Willis, Ridder to Panthers, Steelers, Lions

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVApril 5, 2022

Quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) goes through passing drills during Pittsburgh's football pro day , Monday, March 21, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

In his latest 2022 mock draft, released Tuesday, ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay projected that three quarterbacks will come off the board in the first round.

McShay projects that Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder will all come off the board inside the top 32 selections.

The mock has Pickett going to the Carolina Panthers at No. 6, followed by Willis to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20 and Ridder to the Detroit Lions at 32nd overall.

The 2022 draft isn't considered a strong one for the quarterback position, but given its status as the most important position in the NFL, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see three signal-callers get taken in the first round, or perhaps even more.

In terms of production, it is difficult to deny what Pickett did collegiately at Pitt, especially last season. After posting fairly pedestrian numbers in the preceding year, Pickett broke out in a big way in 2021, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while also rushing for 233 yards and five scores.

The one major concern with Pickett is the fact that his hand measured 8 ⅝ inches at his pro day, meaning he would have the smallest hands of any notable NFL starter or backup.

Quarterbacks with small hands traditionally haven't fared too well at the NFL level, which could give teams some pause before drafting him.

The Panthers are in dire need of an infusion of talent in their quarterback room, though, as Sam Darnold is penciled in as the starter despite completing just 59.9 percent of his passing attempts for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games last season.

Perhaps no quarterback in the 2022 class is rising up draft boards more quickly than Willis by virtue of his pro day performance.

Willis displayed remarkable arm strength and showed he can make even the most difficult of throws, including this 65-yard dime:

Ari Meirov @MySportsUpdate

Malik Willis with another bomb at his Pro Day and look at him celebrating after. <br><br>Teams are going to fall in love with this guy. <a href="https://t.co/nmQGFlWz94">pic.twitter.com/nmQGFlWz94</a>

After beginning his college career at Auburn, Willis transferred to Liberty and showed off his dual-threat ability in two seasons as the Flames' starter.

Last season, Willis completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 picks, and he also rushed for 878 yards and 13 scores, which underscores the different dimension he brings compared to most of the other quarterbacks in the class.

Willis would seemingly be a great get for the Steelers at No. 20 since they are set to enter life without Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency, but there is no guarantee he will establish himself as the starter moving forward.

Matt Corral and Sam Howell are some of the other names that have been bandied about as potential first-round quarterbacks, but in his mock, McShay had Ridder slide into the first round as the third and final quarterback to come off the board inside the top 32 picks.

Ridder is far more accomplished than Pickett and Willis, having started at Cincinnati for four seasons. The 2021 campaign was undoubtedly his best for multiple reasons.

For starters, Ridder put up big numbers, completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for 355 yards and six touchdowns.

Also, Ridder led the Bearcats to their first appearance in the College Football Playoff, making them the first non-Power Five (excluding independent Notre Dame) team to reach the CFP.

McShay mocked Georgia defensive end Travon Walker to the Lions with the first of their two first-round picks, which would give them some flexibility to go for a quarterback with their second first-rounder.

Detroit acquired the 32nd pick in the trade that sent quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, so taking Ridder would be fitting.

The Lions also got quarterback Jared Goff in that trade, but after an unremarkable 2021 season, he has the makings of a holdover until the Lions can find their quarterback of the future.