(image credit: Petre Thomas - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
The 2021 college football season has reached its midpoint so it’s time to evaluate the top 11 quarterback prospects eligible for the draft. Who has improved or devalued their stock through eight games or so? Are there surefire first-round selections in this relatively light class? Who needs to do work during the second half of the season to recover lost stock? It’s a long road fraught with the haunts and horrors of defensive coordinators scheming devilish tricks to fool these guys. Who will survive and join the ranks of NFL quarterbacks in 2022?
Note: All statistics as of Week 8
1. Matt Corral Redshirt Junior Ole Miss
- Corral has been the class of the quarterback position thus far into the 2021 season. He’s a boon and a perfect fit for Lane Kiffin’s high-powered offensive attack. Given his production and the team’s performance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he is a Heisman finalist if not the winner at the end. He isn’t the most physically imposing passer but has plus-level athleticism to escape the pocket and do real damage on the perimeter. Physical traits are a big plus with an NFL-level arm and lightning-quick release. The potential to be a franchise-level passer is there if he can refine his progressions a bit further. The physical tools are there, obviously. In a weakened class, he is the top signal-caller. Also whoever drafts him will need to contact the local pro baseball team to teach him how to slide as any run isn’t too risky for him right now. Physically and stylistically, he reminds me of a bigger and much more refined Trace McSorely.
2021 Stats: 140 / 207 (68%) 1,913 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception
Round Projection: First
2. Sam Howell Junior North Carolina
- A prince that was promised since around his freshman season. Howell lit it up last season with the vast array of weapons that he had. This season has been a work in progress, to put it mildly with new pieces replacing all that production. North Carolina as a team has the look of a team that emulates their older head coach i.e. rickety at times but still effective in bursts. Howell has the physical traits including an above-average arm and decent athleticism. He profiles both stylistically and physically as Baker Mayfield. I’m just not sure if teams will see past the lack of production to justify making him a first-round pick, though.
2021 Stats: 129 / 211 (61%) 1,851 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions
Round Projection: Second to Third
3. Carson Strong Redshirt Junior Nevada
- Strong was the prohibitive favorite for QB1 honors entering the season and he has done little to dispel the notion. He has a ton of arm talent that can make every throw. Aggressive within the system. However, I do have concerns about pocket mobility since he is slow of foot. He won't be winning any races any time soon. Medical is concerning as a knee injury in high school has seemingly sapped him of any athleticism. Probably the most precise passer in the class. The system might be an issue as Nevada runs a modified Air Raid under Jay Norvell. He will need to go to a team with a standout OL.
2021 Stats: 216 / 306 (71%) 2,466 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions
Round Projection: First to Second
4. Malik Willis Redshirt Senior Liberty
- The former Auburn transfer is the most intriguing “small school” prospect in this year’s class. He has all the tools including a talented arm that can make all the throws. He’s an athlete that should test well at the Combine and other offseason events such as Shrine or Senior Bowl. Willis is a bit on the shorter side at just 6 feet even but that’s not a thing these days. Simply put, he’s a playmaker with the bean in his hands, no matter the situation. Although he isn’t as physically gifted as Kyler Murray at a similar height, with some work in the route development game, he can be molded into a discount version of Russell Wilson in time. Limitless potential in the right situation.
2021 Stats: 121 / 183 (66%) 1,679 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions
Round Projection: Fourth
5. Kenny Pickett Redshirt Senior Pittsburgh
- No quarterback has risen up the boards faster than Pickett. Not the most physically imposing prospect but he gets the job done. The improvement from 2020 to 2021 is astounding. Teams will knock him down the boards a bit due to the lack of an outstanding physical trait. He profiles as a long-term backup at the next level.
2021 Stats: 168 / 244 (69%) 2,236 yards, 23 touchdowns and one interception
6. Desmond Ridder Senior Cincinnati
- Ridder has been on the radar for a couple of years now, leading the currently undefeated Bearcats to effectively a draw against Georgia last season, and on track for a potential playoff this year. He has a ton of hype, that’s for sure. Above average in all departments but not really outstanding in one or another category. A master of none, jack of all trades type. Can he be a passer that a franchise can stake its future on? TBD. While he isn’t ever going to be Lamar on the run, he can make plays on the perimeter with few issues. The Cincinnati point man projects as a developmental backup type that could develop into a viable starter down the road in the right system.
2021 Stats: 126 / 198 (64%) 1,620 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions
Round Projection: Third to Fourth
7. Grayson McCall Redshirt Sophomore Coastal Carolina
- A fun prospect to watch in a fun not quite a triple-option but not quite your traditional spread offense. McCall has an above-average arm that can make throws to all three levels when asked. Physically he profiles similar to Colt McCoy with a bit of a stronger arm. If he declares in a weaker class such as this one, he will likely get drafted at some point on Day 3.
2021 Stats: 102 / 132 (77%) 1,769 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception
Round projection: Fifth to Sixth
8. Devin Leary Redshirt Sophomore NC State
- Leary had a long road to the starting gig for the Wolfpack and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. Not the most physically imposing prospect. He’s a gamer with serviceable arm strength in a solid pro system. He’s a natural athlete that can make a lot of things happen off-platform. The slender frame is concerning though. The NC State prospect projects as a career backup at the next level.
2021 Stats: 164 / 250 (66%) 1,844 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions
Round Projection: Sixth
9. Phil Jurkovec Redshirt Senior Boston College
- Jurkovec was well on his way to a high draft grade until an unfortunate injury knocked him out for the season. He has all the physical tools to profile as a capable starter at the next level. He has a ton of arm talent to make it but not so much pocket awareness. The former Notre Dame transfer isn’t the most fleet of foot but makes an effort to move around at least. Probably the most intriguing prospect due to injury cutting his season short. It appears that Notre Dame chose poorly when it was decision time to name a starter. With some work to polish his pocket presence, he can be a viable starter at the next level.
2021 Stats: 19 / 28 (68%) 325 yards, three touchdowns, and 0 interceptions
Round Projection: Sixth
10. Kedon Slovis Junior USC
- Slovis has been inconsistently inconsistent and missed a game due to injury. The once highly (maybe middling) touted prospect has suffered significantly as a result. He hasn’t been immune to USC’s troubles as a program and is stock down as of right now. Slovis won’t wow anyone physically but has enough juice in the arm to make most of the throws. However, given all the offensive turmoil surrounding the team, it might turn out to be a case of a better pro than a college player. He still has enough intrigue to merit a top ten selection on the board. Profiles as a long-term backup type at the next level. Master of none, jack of all trades type of passer.
2021 Stats: 162 / 248 (65%) 1,818 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions
Round Projection: Sixth to Seventh
11. Spencer Rattler Redshirt Sophomore Oklahoma
- An unprecedented precipitous fall for Rattler as he was once projected to become a top ten selection and a leading Heisman candidate. Now he has been benched in favor of his backup, freshman star Caleb Williams. Rattler has all the physical tools but the mental skills + intangibles have been increasingly questioned as we have gone along. There are allegations that he isn’t the greatest teammate. Perhaps the 2020 season was false dawn led by an ominous beginning? He has struggled in the quarterback-friendly Sooners offense that his predecessors used to launch pro careers. It remains to be seen if he opts for the NFL or transfers to rebuild his draft stock. Still, some teams may be intrigued enough by his physical skill set to draft him a lot higher than he should be. Still, he has shown enough on tape to merit mentioning on this board.
2021 Stats: 130 / 175 (74%) 1,317 yards, ten touchdowns and five interceptions
Round Projection: Third to Fourth