(Mandatory Photo Credit: Robert McDuffie - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
The Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine are done and dusted after a marathon couple of months. Pro Days are ongoing and steadily building up to a crescendo. Who are the best quarterbacks in the class that many have panned as being largely underwhelming? What changed in between the season and now? Could there be a passer who rises up the boards and usurps the QB1 throne in a derby to the wire?
If you missed the midseason edition of the QB big board, it can be found below:
1. Malik Willis 6’0 219 Redshirt Senior Liberty
- Willis is the top quarterback in the class after separating himself at the Combine. It was up for some of the heaviest debate throughout the season and the Senior Bowl but it is clear now. Will he be the first quarterback taken? While he isn’t quite there yet in terms of tools but he has an arm that will travel at the big league level. He declined to test in the counting drills thus the N/A in the RAS score but impressed in the on-field drills. Stylistically, he compares to Dallas Cowboys star Dak Prescott. There is no athletic comparison for him as he is certainly a unique prospect in that regard. He’s similarly sized to Drew Brees but has a bigger arm. I won’t compare him to the future Hall of Fame quarterback but for that one category. Could he go to a team that’s willing to redshirt him until he learns the more complicated things in the pro game ala, Trey Lance?
Round Grade: First
Player Comparison: Dak Prescott
2. Kenny Pickett 6’3 217 Redshirt Senior Pittsburgh
- The most hotly contested measurement in all of human history is finally over. Pickett’s hands measured in a less than ideal 8.5”, sparking yet another debate about his viability in cold weather situations. Still, he trails ever so slightly to Willis in terms of QB1 but could be drafted higher than him. The Pitt signal-caller made explosive gains in terms of production from his junior to senior season despite a slight dropoff in surrounding talent. He tested very well, scoring a 9.24 in RAS. He doesn’t have the arm talent like the others in this class. Athletically, he profiles similar to longtime Steelers backup Joshua Dobbs. Stylistically and frame-wise, he resembles Andy Dalton or Mac Jones in terms of IQ and arm strength level. Still, he should be a first-round selection, even possibly beating out Jones in draft placement.
Round Grade: First
Player Comparison: Joshua Dobbs / Andy Dalton or Mac Jones
3. Sam Howell 6’0 215 Junior North Carolina
- Howell is likely the most polarizing prospect at the position due to the severity of differences in film from 2020 to 2021. Most of which can be explained by the talent drain that was graduated to the league. The lazy comparison is Baker Mayfield as both have similar frames and play styles. In hindsight, given the extreme circumstances he was in, he held the line rather well. A theme that is prevalent in this class is undersized and Mr. Howell fits the bill. Profiles as a better passing Sam Ehlinger but similarly constructed Gardner Minshew. He performed at a good rate in Mobile so there’s that going for him. He ultimately settles in the second round.
Round Grade: Second
Player Comparison: Sam Ehlinger / Gardner Minshew
4. Carson Strong 6’3 226 Redshirt Junior Nevada
- Strong has the biggest arm in the class by a country mile but just as concerning medical issues. The knee injury wasn’t a big issue in college but did limit his once-average athleticism. He manipulates the pocket very adeptly despite all that. When he’s right and given time to throw, it’s a work of art. If not for the knee issues, he would be solidly QB1 in the class. Production is off the charts good. The former Nevada passer resembles Donovan McNabb both in play style and physical stature. Let’s all hope that he has a lengthy career like the former Eagles and Commanders signal-caller once did.
Round Projection: Second
Player Comparison: Donovan McNabb
5. Matt Corral 6’2 212 Redshirt Junior Ole Miss
- Corral had a precipitous fall down the boards after the injury he suffered in the bowl game raised questions about his long-term durability. He is slight in stature but is a hardcore never say die gamer in the mold of Detroit era Stafford. The mind is willing but the body isn’t applied in his situation. He comes from a talented offense that often led the nation in offensive numbers at The Grove. Once touted as a possible QB1, he has fallen to QB5 on this board. I like his game but am concerned about his physical limitations and durability of frame. However, he could be selected on Day 1 but is trending more towards Day 2. Playstyle reminds one of Jalen Hurts or Tyrod Taylor.
Round Grade: Third
Player Comparison: Tyrod Taylor / skinny Jalen Hurts
6. Desmond Ridder 6’3 211 Senior Cincinnati
- Ridder is probably the most consistently inconsistent quarterback in this class. The highs are really good but the lows are deeper than the Marianas Trench. He tested as the best at his position in terms of RAS. The clubhouse leader in the 40 with a 4.52 but we all knew that he was a pretty good athlete. The biggest question is that can he put it all together for an entire game. He has pretty good arm strength and can make throws to every level. The former Bearcat passer’s range is anywhere from the second to fourth rounds, depending on team fit. He projects as a developmental starter that could do well after a redshirt year or two behind an established veteran. He profiles athletically and stylistically to former Hawai’i passer Cole McDonald.
Round Grade: Fourth
Player Comparison: Cole McDonald
7. Bailey Zappe 6’0 215 Redshirt Senior Western Kentucky
- The prolific passer from Western Kentucky via Houston Baptist was the topic du jour entering the offseason among the draft world but he fell off kinda fast and furious once the all-star portion started. Zappe just doesn’t have the physical tools to start effectively for more than spot start or three but can be a Colt McCoy type who can get you through a game if need be. The arm talent is below par. He’s undersized for the position even by modern-day standards and will need to hit the weight room as soon as he gets to his new team. Could he turn into Gardner Minshew 2.0?
Round Grade: Sixth
Player Comparison: Colt McCoy
8. Kaleb Eleby 6’1 208 Redshirt Sophomore Western Michigan
- Eleby was a Senior Bowl invite where he performed marginally and followed it up with a similar showing in Indianapolis. He has some physical traits like average arm and athleticism that will likely get him drafted really late on Day 3 as a developmental project type. A jack of all trades, master of none type of passer. Accurate in the short to intermediate ranges but is lacking in arm talent to get to the deeper zones. Like many on this list, he is undersized by some degree and isn’t the physical force as a runner. Was once a sleeper prospect to get the lofty heights of possibly sneaking into Day 2 but has settled as a Day 3 selection. He’ll be a backup for a couple of years but probably won’t get a start unless an emergency happens.
Round Grade: Seventh
Player Comparison: Zac Thomas / Aaron Murray
9. Jack Coan 6’3 218 Redshirt Senior Notre Dame
- Coan was the last starter at the position before Brian Kelly decided that he needed to display his comedic efforts at forming a Southern dialect in the Bayou and dancing with recruits. The former Wisconsin transfer took over for current rising sophomore Saint Ian Book in South Bend. He has close to ideal size and arm strength but is wholly inconsistent, to put it mildly. The former Irish / Badger signal-caller profiles similarly athletically and stylistically to Nathan Peterman. Let’s hope for his sake that he has a coach in his corner like the currently castigated and serial offender of all things moral Jon Gruden had for him. At best, he earns a UDFA deal but nothing more than that.
Round Grade: UDFA
Player Comparison: Nathan Peterman
10. Brock Purdy 6’0 212 Senior Iowa State
- Purdy had a scintillating 2020 season but crashed down to earth in 2021 along with the Cyclones who had more or less the same talent returning. Purdy clearly isn’t the most physically gifted passer or athlete in the class and it shows. He profiles similarly to former University of Washington quarterback Jake Browning. Athletically, what you see is what you get with him. Undersized, below-average arm talent, and has enough to move around the pocket. It’s extremely likely that he won’t get drafted even with the perceived talent drain in the class at his position. At best, he gets a priority UDFA deal but it’s trending more towards rookie minicamp tryout. If everything were on the level, he would be a little-used career backup like a discount Chase Daniel.
Round Grade: UDFA / Rookie Minicamp Tryout
Player Comparison: Jake Browning