It’s become an annual NFL Draft tradition: Regardless of the talent at the position, hype up 4 or 5 quarterbacks as the next coming of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Nevermind the fact that most draft years would be fortunate to produce two long-term starters in the league. So, as the 2022 draft approaches, we’re faced with something of an anomaly. We get brief moments of QB hype, during late season bowl games or around Combine performances, but if you didn’t know better, you’d think we were in for a replay of the infamous 2013 NFL Draft. Likely the worst QB draft in a generation, it produced such luminaries as EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, and Matt Barkley.
Things have gotten so bad this year that at least one of the prospects has come out publicly to defend his quarterback cohort in advance of the draft:
Carson Strong says this quarterback class is “getting a lot of crap” they don’t deserve. Says Malik Willis is crazy good. Also says his knee won’t fall off his body, which seems helpful.— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) March 2, 2022
So are things really as bad as they seem? Is it true that there are no QBs in this year’s draft worthy of a first round pick (Manuel was the only one taken in 2013)? According to some, this year’s draft is just bereft of top level talent across the board, regardless of position.
Interesting opinion from a scouting buddy-— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 9, 2021
10 players from 2021 draft would be first overall in 2022 draft.
But after several years of clear-cut front runners: Trevor Lawrence (2021), Joe Burrow (2020), Kyler Murray (2019), and one of the perceived deepest classes ever in 2018 (Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen, Allen, and Jackson), the 2022 draft class is without one. Is that lack of a “sure thing” coloring the way the entire class is evaluated? That, in a sense, is the contention of one writer, Jim Sannes, and analyst for numberFire.
Lower Ceilings, Higher Floors
Sannes built out a NFL Draft quarterback model that examined the college statistical performances of the quarterbacks coming out this year and compared them to the other prospects invited to the Combine since 2010. What he found was that, in general, “the average “successful” first-round pick since 2010 was in the 82nd percentile of [the] model prior to the draft. The less successful picks were in the 62nd percentile on average.” It’s not a perfect approach - it missed big on Josh Allen - but it does provide a general sense of the quarterbacks’ relative quality coming out of school.
In taking the top 5 quarterback prospects from each draft class - the 2022 class includes Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Sam Howell, and Desmond Ridder - Sannes examined the top performing QB in each class. Prior to this year’s class, that down year of 2013 had the lowest modeled top performer, Geno Smith, with an 86th percentile score. The top performer in the 2022 class? Kenny Pickett, scoring in the 79th percentile. Not great. It was the first time since 2010 that no quarterback scored in at least the 80th percentile of his model. The lack of clear, top end talent seems to be reflected in the data. Editor’s note: I have some concerns about how much the abbreviated/interrupted COVID season of 2020 may be coloring some of college performance data for the current class of players.
But there’s more to the story. As a next step, Sannes averaged the scores of the top five quarterbacks in each class to look at how the 2022 QBs stacked up. Here, the 2022 class looks better. With an average score of 67%, it’s collectively higher performing than 8 other QB draft classes since 2010. The years that were superior? 2021 (90%), 2020 (76%), 2019 (77%), and 2014 (85%). The 2014 draft class may evidence more of the limitations of the model. Recall, this is the year that Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo were the first 5 QBs selected.
The incredible score in 2021 is attributable to the fact that all five QBs scored above the 83rd percentile. Lawrence and Zach Wilson were both above the 95th percentile.
While none of the 2022 QBs are “high performers” on Sannes’ metric, most are not “low performers” either. Four of the five scored above the 66th percentile: Pickett (79%), Howell (78%), Ridder (75%), and Corral (67%), with only Willis particularly low, falling in the 36th percentile. And, Sannes concedes that Willis’ game includes elements that his model doesn’t capture particularly well. His overall conclusions are twofold:
The first is that the overall perception that this class is lackluster is fair and justified. The average successful first-rounder is in the 82nd percentile of my model, and nobody here hits that threshold. There aren’t any no-brainer options here.
The second, though, is that there are guys here who at least have quality play in their range of outcomes. It might not be their most likely outcome, but they’re not prospects we should fully dismiss.
A Range of Outcomes
This theme, describing a band of possibilities for pro quarterback play is a discussion every year, but it appears to be getting a significant amount of attention this year because one of of top options - Malik Willis - is commonly considered to have both the highest ceiling and lowest floor: A true “boom” or “bust” player.
The graphic below presents what I would say is an accurate reflection of the general consensus regarding the performance bands for each of the likely Day 1 or 2 options. As mentioned above, Willis is the wildcard, a Rorschach inkblot upon which NFL GMs can map virtually any possible outcome.
Kenny Pickett and “most pro ready” occur in almost every profile of the former Pitt QB. He’s not likely to completely bomb out, but at 24, we probably have a solid understanding of what he can achieve. Corral and Howell are less risky than Willis, but not quite as safe as Pickett. Ridder and Strong are likely future back-ups.
A Draft of Daltons
Seeing who evaluators comp draft talent to is one of the easiest ways for fans to get a handle on their potential, as many are more familiar with, and focused on, the pro game. So, how does this crop of QBs stack up against past and present NFL talent?
An interesting analysis by staff at NBC EDGE again used college production and likely draft capital for each of the top QB prospects and arrived at the pro comparisons below (% match):
- Kenny Pickett
- Drew Lock (94)
- Geno Smith (92)
- Ryan Finley (89)
- Andy Dalton (84)
- Malik Willis
- Pat White (47)
- Andy Dalton (44)
- Tyrod Taylor (37)
- Matt Corral
- Teddy Bridgewater (39)
- Colt McCoy (34)
- Andy Dalton (30)
- Sam Howell
- Teddy Bridgewater (96)
- Deshaun Watson (57)
- Andy Dalton (52)
As a couple of additional “data points,” The Draft Network and Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) comp each of these quarterbacks accordingly:
- Kenny Pickett - Andy Dalton/ Andy Dalton (in his prime)
- Malik Willis - Jordan Love (with rocket shoes)/ Jay Cutler’s arm with Jalen Hurts’ play style
- Matt Corral - None given/ Baker Mayfield
- Sam Howell - Sam Ehlinger/ Chase Daniel
So there you have it, a crop of quarterbacks with no clear cut frontrunner, a host of comps to middle of the pack NFL journeymen - though, to his credit, Dalton has accrued a 77-69-2 career record spanning over a decade - and several NFL teams still in need of a QB upgrade.
As I watch more film, and read up on each of the prospects, my sentiments are beginning to crystalize around one of the potential options, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this group in the comments.
How many quarterbacks do you think WILL be selected in the first round of the 2022 draft?
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How many quarterbacks do you think SHOULD be selected in the first round of the 2022 draft?
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