It is rare to witness all top quarterback prospects performing in the same, and possibly the most prominent, all-star college football game. The Reese's Senior Bowl is a scout's heaven and one of the first looks that NFL teams will have at some of the top draft prospects. This year's Senior Bowl features five of the six (QB Matt Corral is a redshirt junior) top quarterback prospects this year.
Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Carson Strong (Nevada), Sam Howell (North Carolina), and Malik Willis (Liberty) are all expected to play this Saturday. The issue is that there is a lingering narrative of this quarterback class being underwhelming, as no clear-cut number one quarterback is coming out. So while yes, this is an obvious opportunity for each quarterback to boost their profile, which quarterbacks have the most at stake this weekend?
Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder (22) is a 6'4" prospect who has had one of the better college careers from a win-loss standpoint, going 41-5 as the Bearcats starting quarterback. Ridder's buzz had quieted down some over the past year due to the rise of Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and Matt Corral. Nevertheless, his athletic ability, arm strength, accuracy beyond the short level, football IQ, and experience level drew the NFL scouts toward him. He can work on his ball placement skills and performance under pocket pressure and will ultimately provide more context to scouts this weekend.
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder was as inconsistent as his tape showed all season today. But this is a nice rep here. Went through progressions and threads the needle on this throw to the dig. It’s these flashes plays that get ppl giddy on Ridder. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/hBMSDLWJfu— Jared Feinberg (Burrow stan) (@JRodNFLDraft) February 2, 2022
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder at his best using his legs. Good pass on the run despite the rain in Mobile— Kam (@KamranMoos) February 2, 2022
Catch the #SeniorBowl live on NFL Network on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 1:30 p.m. CT. pic.twitter.com/2JPFXbXepK
Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett (24) is a 6'3" prospect who had improved each season as the Panthers quarterback from a technical and production standpoint. As a result, he has become most draft analysts' top quarterback prospect.
Coming off of two consecutive seasons in which Pickett threw just 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, he exploded in his final season for 4,319 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, seven interceptions and was a Heisman Trophy finalist at season’s end. Pickett's coming into this weekend as a quarterback who performs well in the pocket from a mechanical, processing, and mobility standpoint. Pickett also has started 50 games in his collegiate career, which is an important note to showcase his experience level and ability to process many different defensive looks and how to attack them.
What Pickett will provide more context on this weekend will be his arm strength. There is a belief that Pickett may not always be able to win with arm strength but more with anticipation and precision. Additionally, there is a lot of noise about his hand size and handling situations in the rain or defenders swiping at the football in the pocket. Finally, he will need to showcase how he overcomes his deficiencies from a play strength standpoint.
Some Senior Bowl QB reactions to Washington’s new name:— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) February 2, 2022
Sam Howell, UNC: “I like that one. ‘Commanders’ sounds cool, you know?”
Bailey Zappe, WKU: “I wouldn’t mind being a Commander.” Also joked “I’d take all 32, if I could.”
Kenny Pickett, Pitt: pic.twitter.com/6hLZnccu5G
Kenny Pickett fumbling and throwing a wobbler on back-to-back plays in the rain isn’t gonna help make the hand size narrative slow down anytime soon— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 2, 2022
Nevada's Carson Strong (22) is a 6'4" prospect with elite arm strength. Strong, who threw for 4,000 yards, 36 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in 2021, can attack defenses on all levels of the field at any moment from the pocket. Heading into this weekend, Strong is a pocket quarterback with good pre-snap processing and an overall leader on the field. His aggressive, competitive mindset allows him to challenge tight-window situations. However, on Saturday, Strong will provide much more context on his ability to perform after a play breakdown that requires him to extend and execute outside of the pocket. His accuracy dropped significantly when throwing outside the pocket compared to throwing from within it.
North Carolina's Sam Howell (21) is a 6'1" quarterback with above-average athleticism. However, Howell was arguably one of the most efficient ACC passing quarterbacks during his time as the Tar Heel starter. Further, like Strong, Howell is a good pre-snap processer with exceptional play speed in his ability to connect what he sees on the field with reacting to the post-snap movements by defenders. His arm strength is good enough to compete in the NFL, as he can attack defenses on all levels of the field.
Howell rushed for 181 yards his first two seasons as the Tar Heels starting quarterback, and in 2021 alone, he rushed for 828 yards. This weekend Howell will provide more context on his ability to keep plays alive once things break down; determining if he can continue incorporating his legs and athleticism to get positive yards in those situations will be critical.
Liberty's Malik Willis (22) is a 6'1" quarterback with elite athleticism, rushing for 944 yards in 2020 and 878 yards in 2021, respectively, as the Flames starting quarterback. Additionally, Willis boasted top-tier arm strength and threw for 27 touchdowns in his senior season with the Flames and has thrown 47 total during his time with Liberty. He is as fast and elusive as Lamar Jackson but has a thicker frame than him. Willis is raw, but his potential if all critical elements come together for him will make him a headache for defensive coordinators at the next level.
This weekend Willis will provide more context on his decision-making and level of understanding for coverages, which will ultimately tie in with one another. Additionally, scouts will be able to evaluate where Willis currently is with his footwork as a passer, which ultimately will give scouts a starting point on how much their teams may need to work with Willis to improve that deficiency.
Everyone is raving about Malik Willis right now— Louie DiBiase (@DiBiaseLOE) February 2, 2022
He is clearly the best QB here
Everything is in sync even in the rain
Timing, mechanics, impressive. pic.twitter.com/KH02QOtYnB
On a rope from Malik Willis to Calvin Austin pic.twitter.com/NpKT1r0AS0— Cory (@realcorykinnan) February 2, 2022
Willis and Strong are the two quarterbacks with the most at stake this weekend. Willis is not a consensus first-round quarterback; however, playing on the national stage this weekend will show everyone what he can do against top-tier competition, as he did not consistently see such while playing at Liberty. If Willis can showcase his elite athleticism this weekend, he will help change some people's minds, but if he can create and make plays as a passer, he can quickly increase his draft stock and become a top 15 pick.
Strong's arm strength is elite, which gives him an edge over the other four quarterbacks competing against him. Strong completed 70 percent of his passes in 2020 and 2021, but if he can display good accuracy on the move with solid athleticism throughout the day, he can boost his draft stock as a possible late first-round option for a team.
This weekend's common intrigue for the five quarterbacks will be the competition level. Each of the five will have an opportunity to play against the same top-tier defensive prospects and give scouts a chance to evaluate their mental processing and competitive toughness, which are two critical traits to succeeding in the NFL.
Stay tuned for post-game analysis following Saturday's Senior Bowl, as we determine winners and losers at the quarterback position.
Which quarterback prospects are you more intrigued to see this weekend and why? Let us know your thoughts.