Mel Kiper NFL Mock Draft 2022: Willis, Pickett Go Round 1; Corral, Ridder Fall to 2nd

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVApril 13, 2022

MOBILE, ALABAMA - DECEMBER 18: Malik Willis #7 of the Liberty Flames throws the the ball during the LendingTree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Liberty's Malik Willis is the first quarterback off the board in the latest mock draft from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., going sixth overall to the Carolina Panthers.

Other quarterbacks selected in Kiper's two-round projection, released Wednesday, include Pitt's Kenny Pickett to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 40 and Ole Miss' Matt Corral to the New Orleans Saints at No. 49.

Willis presents the most upside of a quarterback class without a surefire superstar. His dual-threat playmaking ability is an ideal fit for the modern NFL, though there are questions about his accuracy and height (6'1'').

It's a risk worth taking for the Panthers, who finished last season with 14 touchdowns and 21 interceptions combined between its three signal-callers—Sam Darnold, Cam Newton and P.J. Walker.

Willis started his college career at Auburn but transferred to Liberty after two seasons in search of an opportunity to start. He compiled 74 total touchdowns (47 passing and 27 rushing) across 23 games for the Flames, albeit against lesser competition than he would have faced in the SEC.

The 22-year-old admitted during his interview at the NFL Scouting Combine he didn't expect to find himself in this position after leaving the Tigers.

"I thought I was done," Willis told reporters. "I thought I was finna go have fun and play my last two or three years, but I'm here now, so I'm happy."

Meanwhile, Pickett to the Steelers is one of those projections that just makes sense. Pittsburgh is looking for a long-term answer at quarterback following Ben Roethlisberger's retirement and can land an NFL-ready prospect who played college football in the city.

Although the 2021 ACC Player of the Year would likely sit behind Mitchell Trubisky initially, he could take over the offense as a rookie if the former Chicago Bears starter struggles.

Ridder would be in line to compete for the starting job in Seattle despite falling to the second round, with Drew Lock and Jacob Eason the only other quarterbacks on the Seahawks roster.

Corral may start third on the depth chart behind Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton if he lands in New Orleans, but a year on the sideline wouldn't be the worst thing for his development with an eye toward potentially leading the offense in 2023.

The NFL draft is set to kick off April 28.