About the only thing that NFL experts seem to agree on is that the four-year run of a quarterback being taken first overall in the NFL draft will come to an end in April.
There were few surprises when Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray went with the top pick in the 2018 and 2019 drafts to the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals. Joe Burrow out of LSU and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence were also heavy favorites to go with the No. 1 pick in 2020 and 2021 with Burrow leading the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in his second season.
What about this year’s QB group?
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah had Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett as the first quarterback off the board with the 18th overall pick by New Orleans. Two picks later, Liberty’s Malik Willis went to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a mock draft recently posted on the Draft Network site, Willis was the first QB selected at No. 6 by the Carolina Panthers followed by Pickett at No. 11 and Matt Corral of Ole Miss at No. 18. Willis going into the top 10 would certainly shake things up but it would be the ninth straight year that at least one quarterback was taken in the top 10. The last time that didn’t happen came in 2013 when Buffalo made EJ Manuel out of Florida State the 16th overall pick.
This year’s quarterback class is hoping to perform better than that 2013 class did as Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley were the first three QBs taken.
Pickett (+2600) and Willis (+3000) have the best odds among the top draft prospects with both coming in at +3300 which puts them well back of Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal (-110) who according to the NFL betting lines is likely to go first overall to Jacksonville.
Defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan (+165) and Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon (+500) and North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu (+600) are other top candidates to go first overall. Ole Miss lineman Charles Cross (+2200) is also ahead of the quarterbacks. Corral (+3000) and Sam Howell (+7000) are other quarterbacks listed in the odds to be the first overall pick
Here’s a look at the top quarterback prospects according to the Las Vegas odds.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Odds to be the first quarterback selected: +110
Pickett’s decision to return to Pitt for the 2021 season is going to make him plenty of money. Pickett went from throwing for 2,408 yards in nine games, completing 61.1% of his passes with 13 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions in 2020 to passing for 4,319 yards to go with 42 TD passes and seven interceptions. His completion % rose to 67.2%.
In the bizarre world of scouting, there have been concerns about the size of his hands. It is not so much that scouts think that will prevent him from making the throws that he did in college but smaller hands can translate into more fumbles which could definitely factor into the evaluation of Pickett.
Those who bet online might want to go with Pickett as the first quarterback to be drafted this year.
Malik Willis, Liberty
Odds to be the first quarterback selected: +130
The thoughts on Willis are all over the place. He could be a top 10 pick or find himself sliding down the board.
Willis didn’t help himself by throwing five interceptions in back-to-back games against ranked Ole Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette teams.
Willis, who threw for 2,857 yards and ran for another 878, had a strong showing in the Senior Bowl.
With the other top quarterback prospects playing in Power-5 conferences, Willis has the most to gain from the pre-draft process.
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Odds to be the first quarterback selected: +500
One potential concern with Howell is that his best season came as a freshman in 2019 when he had 38 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. His completion % dropped from 68.1 in 2020 to 62.5% in 2021.
Scouts typically don’t fall in love with players who regress statistically. Some of that could be a result of Howell having a pair of NFL running backs in the backfield in 2020 but with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter heading off to play for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, teams could be more aggressive in blitzing the North Carolina QB.
Howell ran for 829 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021 after managing 181 yards and six touchdowns in his two previous seasons so that is a different dimension that he could bring to the table.
Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Odds to be the first quarterback selected: +800
Corral was trending toward being one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates early in the season but injuries limited how much running the athletic Corral was asked to do.
Corral completed 70.9 and 67.9% of his passes in the last two seasons. He dropped his interceptions from 14 on 326 attempts in 2020 to five on 386 throws in 2021.
Corral had the chance to face three ranked teams in 2021 and three others in 2020 so there is plenty of footage of him playing against elite competition.
Best of the rest
The odds drop significantly after that with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder (+3500), Nevada’s Carson Strong (+6000), Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe (+8000) and Kaleb Eleby of Western Michigan (+13000).
As those odds indicate, it would be quite the shocker if any of them hear their names called on the first day of the draft. One of the issues is that Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots have invested a first-round pick in the first round in the last two drafts. There are teams in need of a franchise quarterback but that number has dwindled thanks to what transpired in the last two drafts.
Zappe had the most passing yards (5967) and touchdown passes (62) in the country in 2021. He also had the best passer rating among the quarterbacks listed. Ridder, with games against Notre Dame and Alabama, has the most tape against NFL-caliber defensive backs among this group.