Up until the 2022 NFL Draft, the No. 1 overall selection has been a quarterback in 18 of the past 24 drafts. That recent group includes Baker Mayfield (Cleveland, 2018), Kyler Murray (Arizona, 2019), Joe Burrow (Cincinnati, 2020) and Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville, 2021).
This draft class could go against this trend. After a recent spate of quarterback musical chairs (DeShaun Watson from Houston to Cleveland; Russell Wilson from Seattle to Denver; Carson Wentz from Indianapolis to Washington; Matt Ryan from Atlanta to Indianapolis; and Mitch Trubisky from Buffalo to Pittsburgh), this class could land a few players in Round 1. Or this year might be only the third time in 25 years without a quarterback selected within the top three; and the first time since 1996 that Round 1 is completed before a QB is selected.
The Jets will be spectators in this category -- perhaps until later rounds, if then. The Jets believe that in Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick in 2021, they have their quarterback of the present and of the future. Each of his backups -- Joe Flacco and Mike White -- re-signed with the club during the offseason. Flacco and White saw action, and performed credibly, last season when Wilson missed four games with a knee injury.
Top of the Class
Kenny Pickett (6-3, 217), Pittsburgh -- Hand size matters for an NFL quarterback and measurements of Pickett's right mano diverged at the Combine (8.5 inches) and then at Pitt's pro day (8.625 inches). How big a deal is it? Probably not enough to stop this 23-year-old, four-year starter from being one of the first QBs drafted this year.
He broke Dan Marino's school record and Deshaun Watson's Atlantic Coast Conference record for most passing TDs in a season (42), while throwing only 7 INTs. He departs the Panthers' program as the career leader in passing yards (12,303), completions (1,045) and TDs (81). He moves well for a QB of his size, has a strong arm and has impressed with his ability to cycle through his progressions.
Malik Willis, (6-1, 219) Liberty -- Willis saw limited action during his two years at Auburn (11-of-14 passes completed, 1 TD), but blossomed at Liberty after sitting out the 2019 season following his transfer. He became the Flames' starter in 2020, leading the team to a 9-1 record as he completed 170-of-265 passes for 20 TDs against 6 INTs. He also ran for 944 yards and 14 TDs. Last year, he completed 207 of 339 for 2,857 yards, 27 TDs and 12 INTs and rushed for 878 yards and 13 scores.
He has a strong arm and impressive speed, which could appeal as the position in the NFL evolves and off-schedule production becomes more of a factor. Perhaps the downside to Willis is his size and Liberty's relatively soft schedule. That said, he impressed in the on-field drills at the Combine, but did not run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. He is said to have reminded scouts and talent evaluators of Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson in terms of mobility and of Jay Cutler in arm strength.
Best of the Rest
Desmond Ridder (6-3, 211) Cincinnati -- Ridder capped his four years as the Bearcats' starter by leading them to the College Football Playoff semifinal (a 27-6 loss to Alabama), where he completed 17-of-32 passes for 144 yards. He amassed 44 career victories while passing for 10,239 yards, 87 passing TDs (28 rushing and 1 receiving). Though he is more of a typical pocket passer, his 4.52 speed (and 2,160 career rushing yards) in the 40 at the Combine is enough to keep defenses honest. And 10-inch hands don't hurt either.
Matt Corral, Mississippi (6-2, 212), Mississippi -- Injured in the Sugar Bowl, Corral, a redshirt junior, did not throw at the Combine. He has a quick release and above-average arm strength. He finished his career at Ole Miss, starting 37 games, completing 612-of-910 passes for 8,281 yards, 57 TDs and 23 INTs. He threw 14 INTs in 2020, but cut that number to 5 last season (against 20 passing TDs) as he led the Rebels to a 10-2 record. He declared for the draft before sustaining a leg injury in the Sugar Bowl.
Day 3 Diamond
Brock Purdy (6-1, 220), Iowa State -- Purdy is the school leader in career passing yards (12,170). He blossomed in his sophomore season when he logged career highs in passing yards (3,982) and passing TDs (27). Overall he started 48 games, completed 993-of-1,467 passes for 12,170 yards, 81 TDs against 33 INTs. He had a career-high 27 TD passes in his sophomore season. His appeal is more as a pocket passer in an offense that leans more toward play action. More of a developmental project who is likely to appeal to teams in later rounds.