Best and Worst Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Quarterback Prospects

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 12, 2022

Best and Worst Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Quarterback Prospects

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    The situation in which prospects are placed often dictates whether they are a success or failure at the NFL level. 

    Talent only goes so far. A new coaching staff, surrounding cast and system have a dramatic effect on a young player's development. This past year's rookie supporting cast showed just how important these things are in regards to a quarterback's development. 

    Trevor Lawrence was the most touted quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The Clemson product has every tool a team could ever want, hence why he became the No. 1 overall pick. But his rookie season was a disappointment because he landed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where one of the league's worst supporting casts and turmoil within the coaching staff basically ruined the 22-year-old's first season. 

    Conversely, Mac Jones heard his name called fifth in the 2021 quarterback class. Jones emerged as the best rookie signal-caller because he fell to the New England Patriots, who feature one of the league's best coaching staffs and a system perfectly suited to the quarterback's skill set. 

    With this in mind, the current quarterback class is already considered weak by typical standards with no surefire top-10 prospect, which makes the situations in which they land even more important to maximize each prospect's capabilities. 

    Entering the offseason, six franchises—the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team and possibly the Houston Texans—will be actively searching for a new starting quarterback. Just because openings exist within these squads doesn't mean they're all good landing spots for the top six quarterbacks counted among Bleacher Report's Top 100 prospects

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

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    Best Fit: Denver Broncos

    As the predraft cycle kicks into gear, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is QB1 in Bleacher Report's position rankings. His current standing is important when looking at the barren quarterback landscape. 

    Even as QB1, Ridder isn't billed as a top-15 talent. But the possibility of an organization taking a chance on him much earlier shouldn't be ruled out. 

    The Broncos are a prime example of a QB-needy franchise and are owners of this year's ninth overall pick. From a financial and status perspective, the possibility of being slotted that high makes it an ideal landing spot. But a proper fit extends beyond simply going as high in the draft as possible. 

    Currently, the Broncos don't have a head coach. However, the team's personnel should be looked at as favorable. Denver had multiple weapons in the passing game and a strong running attack, with Javonte Williams expected to be a focal point in the coming years. 

    Ridder may be one of the more advanced prospects at his position, but landing in a situation where he won't be forced to shoulder the load out of the gate could prove massively beneficial. 


    Worst Fit: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers, who also own a top-10 selection, essentially fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from a personnel standpoint.

    As Ridder's performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide showed, constant pressure will limit his effectiveness, as it usually does with young players. But the Panthers are far from settled up front, particularly along their left side, and likely need plenty of help to fix the problem. 

    After cycling through Sam Darnold, Cam Newton and P.J. Walker this season, Carolina also doesn't seem to have a plan on how to build around its quarterbacks, which became obvious when head coach Matt Rhule chose to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady midseason. 

    The chance for instant success in Carolina, despite having Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson on the roster, seems far less likely with an undue amount of pressure to be placed on any potential first-round choice. 

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

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    Best Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Of all the available quarterbacks in this year's draft class, Kenny Pickett best fits the descriptor "NFL-ready." 

    Pickett emerged as a legitimate first-round possibility during his final season on campus by throwing 42 touchdowns, which was three more than he threw his first four years. More importantly, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner showed how he grasped passing concepts, could throw with anticipation and displayed excellent pocket awareness and the ability to create outside of structure. 

    Normally, a season like Pickett experienced would push him to the top of the class, much as it did with Joe Burrow. At the same time, an evaluation must be true of an individual's capabilities. In Pickett's case, he'll turn 24 before he ever plays an official NFL down, questions about hand size will arise, his overall arm talent isn't elite, and his ball placement can be consistently better. 

    For the Steelers, the organization doesn't need an elite quarterback prospect. Pittsburgh simply needs someone who can orchestrate the offense efficiently and effectively. The roster already features a number of playmakers, as well as the help of an always aggressive defense. 

    Pickett can continue to play at Heinz Field and possibly become a cog in the Steelers' ongoing success. 


    Worst Fit: Houston Texans

    The Texans are in an interesting situation (which we'll get into more with another prospect) because they seem to have something in Davis Mills. At the same time, he's a third-round pick and far from a sure thing. 

    But an investment in a prospect like Pickett, who's older and has played in a pro-style scheme, would scream automatic transition. Granted, Houston would have to move off of this year's third overall pick to make this a logical match. 

    However, the Texans should move forward by drafting an elite prospect at another premium position with their top pick, thus significantly improving the roster elsewhere and giving Mills enough runway to see if he really can be the organization's long-term starter. 

Matt Corral, Ole Miss

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    Best Fit: Washington Football Team

    A basic understanding of what makes Matt Corral the prospect he is would be a good start to finding his best landing spot. 

    The Ole Miss Rebels operate a simplified offense that schemes open targets for their quarterback. This isn't a slight against Corral, because he's doing exactly what he should by executing what's asked of him and capitalizing on the opportunities in a quarterback-friendly system. He makes some excellent throws, too. 

    Whichever team drafts him must know there will be a transition period. But the implementation and possibly heavy usage of run-pass options and half-field reads would help Corral's development.

    In the case of Washington, offensive coordinator Scott Turner has a history of implementing RPOs, having worked with Cam Newton and Taylor Heinicke. Washington posted a respectable performance regarding success rate with RPOs that turned into passes this season, per Pro Football Focus' Eric Eager

    Turner can fashion the system to take advantage of Corral's strengths as the rookie transitions to the professional game, which makes this landing spot more desirable than squads like the Panthers and Broncos, who don't have coordinators in place. 


    Worst Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Aside from the potential schematic issues that may arise, questions about Corral's durability and how he'd hold up against NFL punishment will be considered. His slight frame is worrisome. 

    Ole Miss lists Corral at 6'0" and 200 pounds. He's not nearly as solid as Baker Mayfield or as athletic as Kyler Murray. His Sugar Bowl appearance ended prematurely when he suffered an ankle injury. 

    Despite Corral's mobility, the idea of him playing behind a shaky offensive in Pittsburgh with the potential to take a beating definitely isn't in his best interests. 

Malik Willis, Liberty

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    Best Fit: Houston Texans

    The Texans may not be settled at numerous positions, including quarterback and head coach. For now, the team has two placeholders in Davis Mills and David Culley. 

    Both are important when considering the possible addition of a prospect like Liberty's Malik Willis. 

    Regarding Mills, the organization can go into next season with a starter already in place while simultaneously planning for the future in Willis if its current option doesn't pan out. Willis is a project as a pocket passer. He comes from a simplified offense and made multiple poor reads this season despite what amounted to an excellent performance overall. His real value derives from his plus athleticism, which leads to a potential connection with Culley. 

    The Texans' current head coach spent the previous two seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. He helped fashion an offense around Lamar Jackson's dual-threat capabilities. 

    Furthermore, Willis won't be in consideration with the third overall pick. Thus, he won't be pressured right out of the gate. Instead, the Texans can make a move a little later in the draft to acquire Willis and not rush him into the lineup.


    Worst Fit: New Orleans Saints

    Because of what was mentioned in regards to Willis' progression as a passer, the idea of him stepping into Sean Payton's precision-based passing offense is an act of folly. 

    Could Payton build around Willis' skill set and make the most of the situation? Probably. After all, the team has tried to make Taysom Hill into a starting quarterback for a couple of seasons now. 

    In this case, no reason exists to fit a square peg into a round hole when other options should be available to the franchise. 

Sam Howell, North Carolina

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    Best Fit: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers have to do something at quarterback. They clearly can't stand pat with Sam Darnold, though the franchise is basically stuck with him for one more season after picking up his rookie fifth-year option. 

    Even with Darnold in the fold, the Panthers can hedge their bet at the game's most important position and they don't necessarily need a first-round pick to do so. 

    Currently, North Carolina's Sam Howell is rated as a third-round prospect and the fifth-best incoming quarterback by Bleacher Report. Position value is expected to drive up his ranking to some degree, but Howell won't be in consideration early in the first round. Thus, the Panthers can find a way to secure his services a little later in the process, either through a trade up or a Day 2 selection. 

    In doing so, they'd acquire a quarterback who stepped onto campus as a true freshman and helped turn around a program that had won a total of five games the previous two seasons. An argument can be made that Howell's best season came in 2019 when he threw 38 touchdowns. But his supporting cast has severely diminished, particularly this season.

    To Howell's credit, he transformed as a performer and became far more of a runner this past fall to help a ground game that missed Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. 

    Considering his toughness, movement skills and local ties, maybe Howell is the right guy to give the Panthers hope again. 

    Worst Fit: Cleveland Browns or Minnesota Vikings

    More often than not, Baker Mayfield serves as Howell's pro comp. But Howell wasn't as good at North Carolina as Mayfield was at Oklahoma.

    Mayfield left college football as one of its all-time most efficient operators, whereas Howell struggles with consistency, particularly in the intermediate passing attack. His competition percentage fell under 63 in two of his three collegiate campaigns. 

    Both the Browns and Vikings will probably move forward with Mayfield and Kirk Cousins, respectively, behind center, but the option of investing in another quarterback is plausible. However, the timing and rhythm of the passing attack found in both outside zone schemes does not fit what Howell does best. He'd be much better suited in a vertical passing game. 

Carson Strong, Nevada

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    Best Fit: Arizona Cardinals

    On the surface, this may seem an odd pairing since Carson Strong and Kyler Murray are basically polar opposites. And sure, their physical profiles and skill sets don't align. But their experience in an Air Raid system does. 

    Matt Mumme served as Strong's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during his entire collegiate career. Mumme is the son of the Air Raid's innovator, Hal Mumme. The Wolf Pack's offensive scheme leaned heavily into these principles, along with sprinkling some of Chris Ault's famed pistol offense into the mix. 

    So, the genealogy of the scheme can be seen every weekend through Matt Mumme and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who played for Mike Leach after he worked alongside Hal Mumme from 1989-98. 

    From a schematic standpoint, the transition shouldn't be nearly as great compared to others who make the leap. Plus, the Cardinals could be looking for another quarterback to serve as Murray's backup since 35-year-old Colt McCoy is a pending free agent. 


    Worst Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

    AFC North quarterbacks need to be big, strong-armed types, right? Carson Strong should fit right in. Wrong. 

    Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield aren't statuesque passers, and each has experience in the division, albeit to varying degrees. 

    The fact Strong is a 6'4" traditional pocket passer with the ability to drive the ball down the field doesn't make him a good fit in the Steel City. Strong is immobile, with well-documented knee problems, while the Steelers field the second-worst offensive line in pass block win-rate, per ESPN Analytics.

    Ben Roethlisberger survived the last couple of seasons by speeding up his internal clock and getting the ball out as quickly as any other signal-caller. The same can't be asked of a rookie quarterback who also lacks the pocket movement to make life easier on his front five.