2022 NFL Draft Notebook: Taking a look at the Senior Bowl quarterbacks

Carson Strong, 2022 NFL Draft,
Carson Strong, 2022 NFL Draft, /

In a couple of week’s players will start arriving in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. This year’s class of prospects includes six of the top eight quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft and features two prospects who carry first-round grades in Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis. The class also features some intriguing quarterbacks who will be taken late day two or early day three that will be interesting developmental projects.

Along with taking a look at the top quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl this week’s NFL Draft Notebook also takes a look at

  • The top wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft
  • What each AFC North team must address this offseason
  • A long snapper who might hear his name called this April
  • And much more

Senior Bowl Quarterbacks

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
In NFL Draft Notebook’s quarterback preview, it was noted that it would not be a surprise if Kenny Pickett saw a drastic rise up the draft board if he could cut down on his turnovers. Well, he did exactly that which is why he is now considered a likely first-round draft pick. This past season he only threw seven interceptions while tossing 42 touchdowns which is a much better ratio than he had in 2020 when he tossed nine interceptions compared to just 13 touchdowns. If Pickett can have a strong week in Mobile he likely will be the top quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
While Pickett is looking to prove he can be an early starter in the NFL, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder is more of a developmental quarterback. The traits that will attract scouts to Ridder are his size, athletic ability and arm strength. However, to ever develop into a starting quarterback he needs to improve his accuracy which was just average in college. He will also need to develop more of a pocket presence and prove he can play at a high level when sensing pressure.

Carson Strong, Nevada
The Senior Bowl will be a great opportunity for Nevada quarterback Carson Strong to put one of the concerns NFL teams have about him to rest which is how he operates in an NFL offense. Strong did not play in a very sophisticated offense at Nevada and will be asked to do more at the NFL level, which he can prove this week he has the skillset to handle. On the positive side look for Strong to wow spectators with his impressive arm strength and if he checks out medically should be enough to allow him to be selected in the first or second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Malik Willis, Liberty
The Senior Bowl will be a big opportunity for Malik Willis to show scouts he is an NFL caliber quarterback and not just an athlete playing quarterback. In order to prove to scouts, he has the talent to be a starting quarterback he is going to need to show consistent accuracy and take care of the ball. The fact he accounted for nine interceptions against Ole Miss, Lousiana Monroe and Middle Tennessee State can’t sit well with scouts and he will need to prove to NFL decision this trend won’t continue in the NFL. If he has a good week throwing the ball his athletic ability and outstanding arm strength should be enough to earn him a first-round selection.

Sam Howell, North Carolina
A quarterback who was hurt by a poor supporting cast this season is North Carolina’s Sam Howell. In 2020, Howell was one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC completing 68% of his passes for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns. However, after the season he lost his top two receivers and running backs to the NFL Draft. These losses had a negative impact on Howell as his compilation percentage dropped to 62% and he saw a decrease in passing yards and touchdowns while his interceptions increased.

Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
The lowest rated quarterback going into the Senior Bowl is Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. While Zappe had an impressive season this year throwing for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns he needs to prove he has the physical talent to play in the NFL. One area he will have to prove doubters wrong is that he has the arm strength to play at the next level. If he can show good zip on the ball it could be enough to convince some teams he is worth an early day three pick but if not look for teams to regard him as just a backup in the NFL.

Wide Receiver Rankings

Top prospect: Drake London, USC
This year’s wide receiver class will have a lot of injury concerns going into the 2022 NFL Draft with the top two players and three of the top five receivers coming off of significant injuries. With that being said the top receiver on the board is USC’s Drake London who is coming off a season-ending foot injury. Two things make London the top wideout in this year’s draft which is his size (6-5 210) which he uses to his full advantage out bullying defensive backs consistently for the ball. The other is his insane production having caught 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games this season.

Most underrated: Tré Turner, Virginia Tech
One of the main reasons Tre Turner is being underrated is his lack of production. This past season Turner only caught 40 passes for 675 yards and three touchdowns. However, this was more due to poor quarterback play by the Hookies than Turner’s level of play. Some of the things scouts will love about Turner include his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, his ability to go get the ball in traffic, and his reliable hands.

Most overrated: Treylon Burks, Arkansas
While Arkansas’s Treylon Burks put up outstanding production this season catching 66 passes for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns he is not worth a first pick most analysts are giving him. The reason he is not worth this high of a pick is due to his stiff hips that limit his game as a route runner and make it hard for him to run a full route tree. He lacks the ability to make quick cuts and did most of his damage for the Razorbacks on routes such as go’s and slants that do not require him to make these sharp cuts. Due to this limitation teams will have to scheme ways to get him the ball which is why I only give him a third-round grade.

Sleeper: Charleston Rambo, Miami
Charleston Rambo is a player who is just starting to live up to his potential. He saw limited time his first four seasons in college when he was playing for the Oklahoma Sooners never catching more than 43 passes in a season. This season though Rambo decided to transfer to Miami where he set Miami single-season records with 79 receptions and 1,172 receiving yards and also accounted for seven touchdowns. If Rambo can continue to improve when it comes to securing the catch he could establish himself as a number three receiver in the NFL.

Biggest risk: Justyn Ross, Clemson
One receiver who will have plenty of medical concerns heading into the 2022 NFL Draft is Justyn Ross. Ross missed all of the 2020 season due to a severe neck injury and also battled a foot injury most of this season. Despite these concerns, it would not be a surprise if a team took Ross late in the second or early part of the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Teams will be tempted to take him at this spot in the draft due to his ability to make the big play and win most jump ball situations.

Player who had a breakout year: Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky
Going into the 2021 season NFL Draft Notebook named Wan’Dale Robinson a player who would dramatically improve his stock season, and Robinson did just that. The biggest reason he saw his stock jump from a sixth-round grade in the preseason to his current second-round grade is that he transferred to Kentucky who actually knew how to take advantage of his talent. In his previous two seasons at Nebraska, Robinson split time at running back and wide receiver but at Kentucky, he was used as a slot receiver which allowed him to set school records with 104 receptions and 1,334 receiving yards.

Player who had a disappointing year: George Pickens, Georgia
After posting 36 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns in 2020, Georgia’s George Pickens suffered a major setback when he tore his ACL this spring. This injury limited Pickens to just four games this season and a total of five receptions. Despite this down season Pickens still carries a second-round grade due to his combination of excellent athletic ability and great catch radius which makes his potential too high to fall out of the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Top small school prospect: Christian Watson, North Dakota State
One of the more electrifying playmakers in college football is Christian Watson of North Dakota State. In 2021, Watson averaged 18.6 yards on 43 receptions while accounting for eight touchdowns. Watson has the ability to hurt opposing teams including picking up yards after the catch, stretching a defense with his 4.40 speed, or returning a kickoff for a touchdown which he did twice in 2020. If he has a strong Senior Bowl look for him to be an early day three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Special teams standout: Jalen Virgil, Appalachian State
While Appalachian State’s Jalen Virgil has never had outstanding production as a wide receiver he is someone who will be brought into an NFL training camp due to his ability to contribute on special teams. Over the past two seasons, Virgil has averaged 29 yards per kick return and taken three kickoffs back for touchdowns. What makes Virgil such a threat as a return man is his blazing speed having posted a 10.29 100-meter dash for the Mountaineers track team.

2022 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Overall Rankings
1. Drake London, USC (first round)
2. Chris Olave, Ohio State (first round)
3. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (first round)
4. Jameson Williams, Alabama (first round)
5. George Pickens, Georgia (second round)
6. Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky (second round)
7. David Bell, Purdue (second round)
8. Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama (third round)
9. Treylon Burks, Arkansas (third round)
10. Jahan Dotson, Penn State (third round)
11. John Metchie III, Alabama (third round)
12. Justyn Ross, Clemson (third round)
13. Skyy Moore, Western Michigan (third round)
14. Tré Turner, Virginia Tech (fourth round)
15. Romeo Doubs, Nevada (fourth round)
16. Christian Watson, North Dakota State (fourth round)
17. Khalil Shakir, Boise State (fifth round)
18. Charleston Rambo, Miami (fifth round)
19. Alec Pierce, Cincinnati LA (fifth round)
20. Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest (sixth round)
21. Calvin Austin III, Memphis (sixth round)
22. Reggie Roberson Jr., SMU (sixth round)
23. Ty Fryfogle, Indiana (sixth round)
24. Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls State (seventh round)
25. Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina (seventh round)
26. Lio’Undre Gallimore, Valdosta State (seventh round)
27. Tyquan Thornton, Baylor (seventh round)
28. Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston State (free agent)
29. Jalen Virgil, Appalachian State (free agent)
30. Isaiah Weston, UNI (free agent)
31. Britain Covey, Utah (free agent)
32. Jerreth Sterns, Western Kentucky (free agent)
33. Velus Jones Jr., Tennessee (free agent)
34. Emeka Emezie, North Carolina State (free agent)
35. Kevin Austin Jr, Notre Dame (free agent)
36. Tay Martin, Oklahoma State (free agent)

2022 NFL Draft Top Needs For AFC North

A look at the biggest offseason need for each AFC North team.

Baltimore Ravens
The biggest need for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason is offensive tackle. Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed most of this season with an ankle injury and the team has little else at this position. Look for the Ravens to add a veteran right tackle in free agency and to draft at least one offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Cincinnati Bengals
While the Cincinnati Bengals have had one of their better seasons in recent memory they do have two glaring needs they will need to fill this offseason. One of these needs is along the offensive line and the other is cornerback. Look for the Bengals to prioritize corner over the offensive line this year though as they will likely look to replace Trae Waynes.

Cleveland Browns
The 2022 season will be a big year for Baker Mayfield and his future with the franchise. If the team is to decide he is their franchise quarterback of the future he will need a big year and in order for that to happen the Browns need to add some receivers this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers
A team that needs to find a new leader of its franchise is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger will be moving on and the team doesn’t have any quarterback on the roster who could be his eventual replacement.

Scouting Notes

— A small school wide receiver to watch next week at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is Dai’Jean Dixon of Nicholls State. The first thing that stands out about him is his size coming in at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. He uses this size to his advantage as well consistently displaying the ability to win the jump ball. Another thing that will get scouts attention with Dixon is his college production having been named to the All-Southland team four straight years and being named an FCS All-American this season. With a strong performance next week in Los Angeles it could be enough to give Dixion a sixth-round grade going into the NFL Combine.

— On the defensive side of the ball, a prospect to watch is Iowa’s Zach VanValkenburg. This past season VanValkenburg recorded 5.5 sacks on the year including two in the Citrus Bowl. He was also named second-team All-Big Ten in 2020 after registering 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Two things that could allow VanValkenburg to be drafted late in the 2022 NFL Draft is his size coming in at 6-foot-4 and 267 pounds, and his overall consistent play vs. both the run and the pass.

— The past two seasons we have seen a long snapper drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, and that trend might continue this season. A long snapper who has a good chance of being drafted this year is Ross Reiter of Colorado State. Reiter possesses a great combination of accuracy and speed on his snaps which makes him one of the best long snappers in college football. He also does a good job covering kicks and shows great effort in this area.

— While the top need for the Cleveland Browns this offseason is to upgrade their receivers it would not be a shock if the team took a quarterback in the mid-rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. The team could decide to take a quarterback early on day three as Baker Mayfield will be a free agent after next season as will backup Case Keenum. Due to uncertainty at this position the team could add a player like Kaleb Eleby of Western Michigan and let him develop for a year in the hopes he could be a factor in 2023.

— One interesting note that came out about the Senior Bowl last week is that the Detroit Lions will have quarterback Malik Willis on their roster. Willis is a player who could make sense for the Lions with the late first-round pick they receive from the Los Angeles Rams or with their own early second-round pick. Willis would be a good fit for Detroit as the team needs to add a developmental quarterback behind Jared Goff which is why I projected him to go to Detroit in my latest Lions mock draft. One argument you hear against this is that they should wait to draft a quarterback like CJ Stroud or Bryce Young next year, but if these players live up to expectations they will be like top-five draft picks and I am guessing Detroit doesn’t want to be picking that high next year.

Quote of the Week

“Ahmad (Gardner), he’s very smart. Sometimes we’ll line up out there and he’ll tell me my route before I even run it. Which blows my mind — how do you know? I haven’t run it yet. It shows the preparation he puts in.”

-Cincinnati wide receiver Tre Tucker on Ahmad Gardner