We put this piece off as long as we could.
But with the New York Giants limping into the home stretch, with Daniel Jones sidelined with a neck injury and portions of the fan base wondering if the organization should see what they have in Jake Fromm rather than start Mike Glennon this weekend, it is probably time to take a look at the quarterback options in the upcoming draft.
Again, going quarterback early in this draft cycle might not be the most appealing avenue or approach. Obviously mock drafts are worthless — especially this time of year before the draft order is even set — but the first time I sat down to put one together I went with the double-OL approach for the Giants. Here’s what our own Ed Valentine said about going quarterback early this week:
If you LOVE the quarterback and you think he’s a franchise-changer you take him. You don’t talk yourself into taking him for ancillary reasons.
Most analysts are still saying that any quarterback taken in the top 10 is a reach. To me, the better course of action is to use those two top-10 picks to add two studs to the roster. Maybe two offensive linemen. Maybe an offensive lineman and a pass rusher. Maybe an offensive lineman and a hybrid safety like Kyle Hamilton of Notre Dame. Whatever. Build the roster. Don’t take a quarterback swing right there unless you are 100 percent convinced the guy you pick will be an upgrade over what you have.
Yet, despite the indicator lights, the combination of the season winding down and the draft cycle heating up has led us to this point.
So, today we offer some brief introductions to the quarterbacks who are likely in the mix for first-round selections.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett faced a decision last spring. Having finished his senior year and secured an invitation to the Senior Bowl, he could enter the draft despite being viewed as a late-round pick. Or he could take advantage of the opportunity for a “Super Senior” year and return to campus.
He decided to go back to school, and is probably glad he did.
Pickett, who secured the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award this week as the best upperclassman quarterback, rewrote major portions of the Pittsburgh record book this season while leading the Panthers to an ACC title. He is now Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,303), pass completions (1,045), total offense (13,112) and passing touchdowns (81), and his 20 career rushing touchdowns are the most ever for a Pitt quarterback.
Many of those records were previously held by Dan Marino, who was a pretty good quarterback himself.
Pickett’s rise, which seems similar to those of Joe Burrow and Mac Jones before him, was built on his decision-making in and around the pocket. Pickett can work through reads well and respond to changes in the coverage post-snap. This video breakdown dives into some of those traits during a win over Clemson:
Those with hesitation might point to the previous seasons Pickett put on film, and contemplate whether he is more of a “one-year wonder.” From where I sit, however, I think his final collegiate year is more indicative of his development. Of course, there is also the “hand size question,” but from watching him on film and seeing him play in weather, I do not think this is a concern.
Matt Corral, Mississippi
Another quarterback who has taken a big step forward this season is Matt Corral from Mississippi. Last year, despite some impressive flashes, there were two huge red flags to his game: A five-interception performance against LSU and a six-INT game against Arkansas.
This year, Corral nearly eliminated the mistakes from his game, completing 68.3 percent of his passes and throwing 20 touchdowns, against just four interceptions. While he sees a lot of opportunities playing in Lane Kiffin’s offense — and as such will face a schematic adjustment to an NFl system — he shows the kind of arm talent and athleticism that the league is trending towards at the position. Furthermore, he showed this year an ability to work through progressions and make full-field reads from the pocket, which you can see in his game against Louisville:
While Corral might not have delivered the kind of resume-building win over Alabama that some were hoping for, there were still positives to take from the loss to the Crimson Tide:
So while there might be a schematic developmental curve necessary for the team that drafts him, the arm talent, athleticism and growth he showed this season are reasons for excitement.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
In the 2021 NFL Draft there was a big gap between the five quarterbacks who were selected at the top of the board, and the sixth passer taken, Kyle Trask at the end of the second round. Many, myself included, believed that if Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder entered last year’s draft he would have been the passer to bridge that gap.
Instead, Ridder stayed on campus and is part of the first Group of 5 team to secure a berth in the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats will take on Alabama in a few weeks, but Ridder might have played himself into the first round of this draft class. This season he has improved in terms of ball placement and decision-making, and is also an athletic quarterback who can fit with the modern trend towards athleticism at the position.
For more on Ridder’s game, you can dive into this breakdown of his performance against UCF:
Malik Willis, Liberty
In terms of pure upside, Malik Willis has potential that is off-the-charts. He has a cannon for an arm and is an elusive, yet powerful, athlete with the football in his hands. This year for Liberty he completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns, a career-high mark for TD throws.
Yet, he also threw 12 interceptions, also a career-high number.
In some ways, his 2021 season mirrors that of Matt Corral in 2020. Of his 12 interceptions, nine of those came in just three games. Willis threw three against Middle Tennessee State in a win, three against Louisiana-Monroe in a loss, and three more in a loss to Corral and Mississippi.
Still, there is no denying the talent. In the right environment and with a bit of patience, Willis could develop into a star. The question is, will the NFL provide him with that kind of environment, and is New York the right landing spot?
For more on Willis, here is a dive into that game against MTSU:
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Sam Howell might be the most fascinating prospect to contemplate at this point in the draft cycle. Coming into the 2021 campaign he was one of two passers discussed for the coveted QB1 spot.
Both of those players struggled early, and now there might be more questions than answers. The other quarterback, Spencer Rattler, was eventually benched and has entered the transfer portal. As for Howell, his struggles against Virginia Tech early in the year might have caused the draft community to look elsewhere for QB1.
Yet interestingly enough, after that three-interception performance against the Hokies Howell settled in, and played much more consistent football the rest of the season. He finished the year having completed 62.7 percen of his passes for 2,851 yards and 23 touchdowns, along with nine interceptions. I terms of areas where he improved from 2020, Howell’s ability as a runner shined this season. After running for 146 yards in 2020, Howell ran for 825 yards and 11 scores in 2021, and was the team’s second-leading rusher. He showed not just athleticism, but power, with the football in his hands.
This breakdown of his game against Florida State gets into that aspect of his game, and more:
Howell faces an interesting decision this winter. He could roll the dice and enter the draft, despite his stock taking a bit of a hit at the start of the year. Howell is set to graduate this month, so he could find himself with a Senior Bowl invitation and a chance to improve that stock. Or he could return to campus for a senior season, play with receivers he now has a bit of familiarity with, and work on building that stock back up to Top Five levels.
Carson Strong, Nevada
Perhaps he is a darkhorse first-round candidate. Perhaps not. But another name Giants fans should familiarize themselves with is Carson Strong from Nevada. The Wolfpack passer put together an incredible junior campaign, completing 70.2% of his passes for 4,186 yards and 36 touchdowns, all of which represent career-high numbers, along with eight interceptions.
In terms of his strengths as a passer, it begins with his arm. Strong has one of the best arms in the class, and it stands out on almost every throw. A concern? His knee injury history. He missed his senior year in high school when an MRI showed an “osteochondritis dissecans lesion” which required surgery. Specifically, eight biodegradable nails were inserted to mend a crack in his lateral femoral condyle bone.
I’m not a doctor but that sounds like a lot, to use a technical term.
Strong has endured two more surgeries to the knee since then, and according to that above report he has also needed to have the knee drained at times, and also sometimes observes practices from a golf cart.
So...the medicals are going to be big.
But on film, you can see the allure:
Recently, I came across an interesting comparison for Strong: Drew Bledsoe. Getting a comparison to a player who was drafted first overall is rarely a bad thing. However, 1993 was a lifetime ago, and the NFL has changed. Perhaps due to his knee injury history, Strong is not the most athletic of quarterbacks. Will teams be satisfied from a medical, and mobility, standpoint that Strong is worthy of an early selection?