College News & Analysis

Early 2022 NFL Draft quarterback rankings and class overview

Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler (7) scores a touchdown during a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Oklahoma won 41-13. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] Photo 7

The 2022 quarterback class may not feature the same level of household names we had going into last season, but there’s a ton of intrigue toward the top.

And everyone wants to know who this year’s Joe Burrow or Zach Wilson will be. Well, let's take a guess at that while ranking the top quarterback prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft and diving into the position group as a whole ahead of the 2021 college football season.

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1. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (RS Sophomore)

The growing trend in the NFL of quarterbacks making plays outside the pocket and outside of structure comes to a head with Rattler. It’s damn near his entire game. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re as good at it as Rattler is. He went an absurd 53-of-76 for 830 yards with nine touchdowns and only one pick outside of the pocket last season. That was 228 more yards outside of the pocket than any other quarterback in college football.

Of course, he gets this ranking because he can also sling it inside the pocket.

Despite not having plus size at only 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Rattler very much has a plus arm. His size will likely be the biggest point of scrutiny against him going forward.

Along with making throws outside the pocket, Rattler can also do some work in the running game. He won’t be confused for a running back anytime soon, but he'll certainly be involved in an option attack at the next level.

2. Sam Howell, North Carolina (Junior)

Howell burst onto the scene last year with the second-highest season grade from a true freshman in the PFF College era. His 82.0 overall grade that year trailed only No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence’s 90.7 mark. Howell has field-expanding arm strength that the North Carolina offense consistently takes advantage of. He racked up 637 yards on pure go-balls last season — 213 more than any other quarterback in the Power Five.

That stat isn’t necessarily a positive, though. A big portion of the knocks on Howell will center on the offense he plays in. While dropping the ball into a bucket is a good skill to have at the NFL level, it’s not what makes or breaks a quarterback prospect. Howell played in a “college-y” offense that called more RPOs than any other offense in college football. He completed 83 passes for 993 yards on RPOs last year — both figures that led college football. We simply need to see more high-level performances against top-flight defenses this year, unlike the Notre Dame and Texas A&M games last season.

3. Malik Willis, Liberty (RS Senior)

Willis has the best physical tools of any quarterback in this draft class. Between his creativity as a runner and cannon as a passer, Willis has the uncoachable playmaking ability that everyone wants in the NFL nowadays. He uncorked one of the farthest throws you’ll see in college football last year  — a bomb that traveled nearly 70 yards in the air against Louisiana-Monroe. Those kinds of jaw-dropping bombs are not uncommon on his tape.

He also is quite easily the best runner among the top 2022 quarterback prospects, earning an 83.1 rushing grade this past season while averaging 8.7 yards per carry for his career. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Willis has a running back build that makes it seem like his mobile skill set will translate to the league.

It’s the consistency and mechanics in Willis’ game that are the issue. It’s why he managed only one more big-time throw (20) than turnover-worthy play last season (19). He tries to make plays to a fault sometimes and needs to learn when nothing is there. He’s got a long way to go, but for his first season as a starter, 2020 was very encouraging.

4. Kedon Slovis, USC (Junior)

Slovis is going to have to show up far more consistently in 2021 than he did in 2020 if he wants to put his hat in the ring atop this quarterback class. His calling card is his accuracy, but while he didn’t miss a lot of throws in 2020, he put the ball in harm’s way more than we’d like to see from a top prospect. He averaged over two turnover-worthy plays a game, with 13 in six contests.

His pinpoint accuracy earns him a spot on this list, though, as he’s managed an adjusted completion percentage of 80.6% for his career — a strong mark for only a freshman and sophomore. Slovis is already adept at the minutiae of the quarterback position and gets through his progressions swiftly.

The one thing that will limit how high he can rise in this quarterback class is his arm strength. It’s easily the weakest of anyone in this top five. In fact, the farthest pass he’s ever thrown in his career traveled only 48 yards past the line of scrimmage, and it was far from being on a line. That’s simply not where the NFL game is trending.

5. Carson Strong, Nevada (RS Junior)

The difference between Nos. 3-5 on this list is really splitting hairs. All have the physical ability to move up considerably with big 2021 seasons. Strong has already seen a meteoric rise from his first year as a starter in 2019, when he earned a 61.7 overall grade, to this past year, when he posted an 85.2 overall mark.

The Nevada quarterback combines tremendous mechanics with a boomer of a right arm. No quarterback in the country targeted more passes 50-plus yards past the line of scrimmage last season than Strong. His 10 such attempts were double that of anyone in the 2021 quarterback class, and his four such completions were double that of anyone else in the country.

The level of competition will obviously be a factor, as Strong was the beneficiary of wide receiver Romeo Doubs, who you’ll be hearing about quite a bit next year. Doubs made Strong's life easy downfield. Improving his pocket presence and showing more poise under pressure will be the biggest things to watch with Strong in 2021.

Wildcard: Emory Jones, Florida (RS Junior)

Jones gets his own tier here because he’s the only quarterback on this list to have never started a college football game. He’s taken only 95 dropbacks in his three-year career, as he’d come in either as a change of pace or at the end of the game for mop-up duty. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he’s a dynamic add-on in the running game and has all the physical ability to be a top passer. The only real extended taste we got of him was in a bowl game against Oklahoma last year, but some of the throws he made in that contest were enough to put him on our radar.

Names to Watch:

Matt Corral, Ole Miss (RS Junior)

The Rebels' big-armed 2020 breakout quarterback is far more than just a product of Lane Kiffin’s offense. He’s a toolsy 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who put some lights-out performances on tape down the stretch last season. His outings against Vanderbilt and South Carolina formed about as dominant a two-game stretch as you’ll see, with him earning passing grades of 94.0 and 93.0, respectively. That wasn’t the guy we saw weekly, though, as his seven turnover-worthy plays against Arkansas and five against LSU were off-putting.

J.T. Daniels, Georgia (RS Junior)

Once a top recruit in the country, Daniels lost his job at USC to Kedon Slovis before transferring to Georgia last season. In only four games for the Bulldogs, Daniels came out firing with 10 big-time throws in his first three outings. It was his bowl performance against Cincinnati that leaves us needing to see more, though, as he consistently heaved the ball into double coverage downfield. He’ll have to reel that in because his 12.7-yard average depth of target from last season isn’t sustainable.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (RS Senior)

Ridder is a long 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who has always been a weapon as a runner but turned into a similar threat as a passer last season for the Bearcats. Even with that improvement, Ridder is still well below the accuracy thresholds of a top quarterback prospect. Only 53.5% of his passes targeted past the line of scrimmage last year were deemed accurate.

Brock Purdy, Iowa State (Senior)

Purdy is a physically limited quarterback, but he’ll have as much experience as anyone in the country when he declares for the draft. He’s been playing high-level football since his true freshman year, although his passing grade has declined in every season of his career.

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College (RS Junior)

Famously called by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly the best quarterback prospect he had ever signed, Jurkovec didn't even start a game for the Irish before transferring to Boston College. That recruiting pedigree and his mobility at 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds puts Jurkovec on the map as a prospect. He actually graded out higher last season outside the pocket, earning a 76.9 passing grade there compared to a 62.4 mark inside. He'll need to make a massive leap in 2021 to justify leaving early for the draft, though.

Jayden Daniels, Arizona State (Junior)

An uber-athlete, Daniels may not be a realistic prospect in 2022 solely from a physical standpoint. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he needs to put on about 20 pounds of muscle before anyone is realistically putting him behind a center in the NFL. He can still fly, averaging more yards per rush in four games last season (9.9) than per throw (8.3).

Superlatives

Strongest Arm: Malik Willis, Liberty

There’s a few notable rocket launchers in this draft class. Sam Howell, Carson Strong and Ole Miss’s Matt Corrall all can put it with zip 60-plus yards downfield. Willis, however, takes the cake. He heaved a near 70-yarder early in the 2020 season against Louisiana-Monroe and consistently flashes an elite howitzer of an arm.

Most Accurate: Kedon Slovis, USC

As far as PFF's accuracy charting goes for the past two seasons, there’s Joe Burrow and then Slovis. He’s been deemed accurate on 63.0% of his passes targeted past the line of scrimmage in his career  — a figure that bests even Mac Jones and Justin Fields in the 2021 draft class.

Best Outside of Structure: Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

Rattler is not only the best in this class here, but he may also be the best we’ve ever seen from outside of structure by the end of his college career. He is almost more comfortable on the move than from a standstill.

Best Runner: Malik Willis, Liberty

Technically, the correct answer here is Ole Miss’ John Rhys-Plumlee, but he’s neither the starter anymore nor a realistic quarterback prospect, so we’ll ride with Willis. On 69 designed runs in 2020, Willis averaged 7.1 yards per carry, broke 21 tackles and led the country with 11 scores.

Best Pocket Presence: Brock Purdy, Iowa State

Purdy hasn’t exactly been blessed with a world-beater offensive line, yet he took only 14 sacks on 410 dropbacks last season. For comparison, Justin Fields took 21 sacks on 281 dropbacks even with multiple linemen drafted in 2021. Purdy converted pressure to sacks only 9.9% of the time in 2020 and has done so only 12.1% of the time for his career. The man knows how to operate in tight quarters.

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