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Projecting the 2022 QB Class in Dynasty

Matt Corral fantasy football rankings NFL draft rookies draft sleepers

Truly, no position in any sport trumps the value of the quarterback position in football. After all, there is a reason that the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is reserved for quarterbacks; a team, historically, can only go as far as the play of their quarterback allows. Thus, in every NFL Draft, the focus centers around the incoming quarterbacks. Last year, for instance, we were blessed with five quarterbacks (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones) being selected in the first fifteen picks, which was a much-needed rarity. Those five franchises got much more optimism regarding their future, and while the returns haven't been promising for most so far, that optimism still hasn't withered.

Unfortunately, the 2022 NFL Draft was a much different story. For most of the draft cycle, there was a lot of discussion about the lack of impact talent at the quarterback position this season. That being said, the over/under was still set at 2.5 quarterbacks to be drafted, heavily juiced to the over. While there weren't as many likely suitors in the quarterback market, as usual, it was expected that they would still be pushed up draft boards. Thus, what actually occurred during the NFL Draft came as a surprise. Not only was there just one quarterback selected in the first round, but only one was taken in the first two rounds.

This certainly is not ideal for Superflex dynasty leagues, where, similar to real life, having stability and talent at the quarterback position is of the utmost importance. In a lot of ways, from an analysis standpoint, it also adds an interesting layer to the analysis. Will the one first-round quarterback prove to be significantly superior to the other quarterbacks? Can one of the later-drafted quarterbacks defy the odds and work his way into a starting role? There is a lot of unknown with this draft, and it's up to us to unpack it.

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Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Drafted: First Round (20th Overall)
  • College: Pittsburgh

The aforementioned first-round quarterback? That would be Kenny Pickett, who'll get to stay home and succeed Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. With rumors circulating that the Steelers were even willing to trade-up to select him, will their faith in him be rewarded? It's a mixed bag.

On one end, Pickett was fantastic this past season at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a 92.2 overall PFF grade with very little volatility on a game-to-game basis. As a passer, he was quite efficient (8.6 yards/pass attempt) with strong accuracy (78.8% adjusted completion rate), which would appear to give him a safe baseline in that perspective. On the other hand, his tendency to hold onto the ball too long (career 3.07-second time-to-throw) leads to a lot of sacks, while he also doesn't take risks down the field (9.2 average depth of target) as much as you'd hope for given the long time-to-throw. Add in the fact that his only season of high-end production came as a fifth-year senior, and it's easy to have concerns.

Meanwhile, in terms of fantasy value, there are also some questions about Pickett's rushing upside. He's certainly not going to be a threat in the designed rushing game, although he scrambled enough (50 scrambles in 581 drop backs) to where you can buy him not being a complete zero as a rusher. The mobility he has is more likely to be used as a passer out of structure than as a dynamic rushing talent, so you're mainly banking on the fact that younger quarterbacks tend to scramble more than seasoned veterans.

In a Superflex league, the fact that Pickett is the only quarterback with a secure future starting spot makes him the only reliable target overall. That being said, with the upside being so limited in terms of fantasy value and him not having the most polished of track records, there are also a lot of negatives without much of a pay-off. There's a decent chance we could see him on the field immediately, with his only competition being Mitchell Trubisky, but what  happens from there? That's the question that is far too difficult to answer currently.

Outlook: Safe Bet To Start At Least 2-3 Years, Though Doesn't Profile As a Future Top-18 Option

Comparison: Early Career Ryan Tannehill 

 

Malik Willis, Tennessee Titans

  • Drafted: Third Round (86th Overall)
  • College: Liberty

Remember when Malik Willis was supposed to be drafted in the first round, solidifying himself as a potential fantasy football superstar? Those were good times. Considering he was the favorite to be the first quarterback selected and once had an over/under in the top ten, to say that this was unexpected would be greatly understating the shock.

So, how did we get here? Ultimately, concerns about him as a passer won out over the perceived "upside". Despite playing at Liberty, Willis' 77.4 PFF passing grade as a fifth-year senior, and there are serious concerns about his accuracy (career 71.7% adjusted completion percentage). Meanwhile, a pressure got converted into a sack over 30% of the time, a very large amount, while Oliver Hodgkin's scouting report of him at Pro Football Network perfectly summed up some of the concerns about:

"Like multiple quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, Willis is a work in progress from a decision-making standpoint. He needs to learn when to take the easy option as a passer. He’s guilty of frequently trying to take the difficult option, maybe as a result of arm-arrogance. He’ll try and thread the ball into receivers when they genuinely aren’t open. It’s an issue compounded by an inability to quickly scan the field, although the Liberty QB showed some impressive progression development during Senior Bowl week.

This decision-making development also extends to pocket management. While it’s worth pointing out that the Liberty offensive line was dreadful this season, Willis is prone to flee a clean pocket to make a play with his legs rather than work through passing options. He needs to be mindful of stepping up in the pocket rather than working backward in it where he puts himself at risk of giving up significant yardage at the next level.

Another area of regression this season was with accuracy. Again, the statistical element of accuracy analysis is hindered by an uninspiring WR group. However, film study shows that Willis is guilty of being high and wide more regularly than you’d like to see from a leading prospect. The Liberty QB needs to improve his accuracy even on simpler, shorter throws"

These are legitimate reasons as to why NFL teams weren't as eager to anoint him as their franchise quarterback as many anticipated, and as a result, his chances of being a full-time starter go down significantly. In fantasy land, should he ever have a chance to secure a starting gig, the upside is through the roof. This is a player who ran for 1000 yards in back-to-back seasons, better rushing numbers than even Jalen Hurts, while he also takes chances down the field with a career 11.2 average depth of target and 9.1% big-time-throw rate. The combination of elite rushing numbers and big-play ability would make him a top-12 fantasy option in any week he started, though if that ever happens remains the million-dollar question.

For what it's worth, the Titans did trade up a few slots in the third round to select Willis, but Ryan Tannehill is likely under contract for two more seasons and Tennessee was comfortable passing on Willis once in the third round. To me, that doesn't speak to someone they trust as a franchise quarterback, and more so as a developmental option who will constantly have to prove himself to earn the starting gig. There is a legitimate ceiling to chase here in dynasty, though the floor is about as low as it gets.

Outlook: Unlikely To Start, But Elite Fantasy Skill set If He Does

Comparison: Combination of Jalen Hurts and DeShone Kizer

 

Matt Corral, Carolina Panthers

  • Drafted: Third Round (94th Overall)
  • College: Ole Miss

Last year's gamble with Sam Darnold, which involved them packaging a second-round pick in this year's draft to trade for him, did not go as planned. The Panthers again found themselves back in the quarterback market, albeit with little ammunition. After losing out on the Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson sweepstakes, the expectation was that they'd target a cheaper (in terms of trade cost) veteran, such as Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.

Rumors of them being in deep discussions with the Browns for Mayfield went late into the second day of the draft, but ultimately, they opted to trade a future third-round pick to move up and select Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral. All of the sudden, despite being a third-round pick, he may very well end up starting right away, which is quite the turn of events.

Is Corral up for challenge? It's easy to see what the Panthers liked with him. Over his final two seasons as a starter, he averaged 9.35 yards/pass attempt, earned PFF grades of 86.1 and 90.5, respectively, over his final two years. Not only did he have similar accuracy numbers to Pickett, but he offers much more out of structure, an intriguing combination.

Although Corral played in a quarterback-friendly scheme, the consensus opinion appears to be in support of his abilities as a passer, but he offers rushing production as well. He averaged over five designed rush attempts per game this season, and added in plenty of scrambles (55 in 472 dropbacks) as well. If both start immediately, there is a legitimate chance he outperforms Pickett, and quietly is also a green long-shot Offensive Rookie of the Year bet as well. For dynasty, he easily has the best chance of the three third-round quarterbacks to earn a starting job, which holds tremendous value, and he certainly could profile as a future high-end streamer at the very least. In Superflex leagues, that's enough of a ceiling worth chasing.

Outlook: Potential High-End Streaming Option In 1QB Leagues, Better Chance To Be a Future Starter Than Draft Capital Suggests

Comparison: Mitchell Trubisky

 

Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons

  • Drafted: Third Round (74th Overall)
  • College: Cincinnati

When the wait on a quarterback to be drafted started following the Pickett selection, it was widely anticipated that it would be ended by a team selecting Malik Willis. Instead, in a bit of an upset, it was Desmond Ridder who ultimately was the second quarterback drafted. Similarly to Corral in Carolina, Ridder goes to a franchise without a long-term quarterback option, so there is some optimism that he can solidify himself as such.

After all, Ridder did earn an 87.1 PFF passing grade with a 6.5% big-time throw rate and 2% turnover-worthy play rate this past season. That being said, there are also plenty of red flags, such as the fact he didn't exceed a 68 PFF passing grade in each of the previous two years and hasn't rated out great in terms of accuracy numbers (career 72% adjusted completion rate). Meanwhile, although he got rid of the ball quickly in college, he also had a career 24.3% pressure-to-sack rate, which is not ideal; he clearly struggles to evade sacks, which is going to hurt what he brings to an NFL offense.

Furthermore, although Ridder tested out well athletically, he doesn't scramble (20 in 435 drop backs) as much as we would like. Throughout his college career, Corral actually slightly outperformed him as a rusher, and has the better overall passing profile. There is enough rushing upside here to be intrigued if he were to have the opportunity to start in Atlanta, which he may have a chance at getting against Marcus Mariota penciled in as the starter for this season, though there are enough question marks to be queasy about selecting him in a rookie draft or startup draft. Hopefully, he can get "Ridder" those concerns.

Outlook: Mid-Tier Streaming Option In Games He Starts, Notable Risk Without Significant Reward

Comparison: Arbitrage Daniel Jones 

 

Sam Howell, Washington Commanders

  • Drafted: Fifth Round (145th Overall)
  • College: North Carolina

At this time last year, Sam Howell was seen as the favorite to be the #1 overall pick. Going from that to not even the fifth quarterback drafted and a fifth-round pick is quite a precipitous fall, and I'm not sure that is was completely called for.

Statistically speaking, a case can be made for Howell being the best quarterback prospect in this class. Not only was he the only true junior of this bunch, but his production starting as a true freshman has been impressive:

  • Freshman: 82 PFF Grade, 6.7% Big-Time Throw, 3.5% Turnover-Worthy Play
  • Sophomore: 92.3 PFF Grade, 8.8% Big-Time Throw, 2.2% Turnover-Worthy Play
  • Junior: 91.1 PFF Grade, 6.1% Big-Time Throw, 2.2% Turnover-Worthy Play

Howell experienced a massive drop-off in overall supporting cart this past season, with receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, along with running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, all departing for the 2021 NFL Draft. That being said, while he didn't repeat the gaudy numbers he had in 2020, which had him in conversation to be the #1 overall pick, he certainly accomplished enough to be drafted significantly earlier than he was.

Plus, in an interesting development, Howell also ran for over 1,000 yards this past season, working both in the designed rushing game (76 rush attempts) and as a scrambler (60 in 462 dropbacks). From a fantasy perspective, this offers a significant extra layer of upside had he been drafted much earlier, as he's an accomplished passer who takes chances down the field and also isn't afraid to take off and run.

Sadly, though, there is the elephant in the room, which is Howell's draft capital. NFL teams have access to information that we do not, so perhaps there is a legitimate reason that Howell fell to day three. Regardless, his draft status makes it very unlikely that he ever gets a chance to start, which is quite unfortunate. There would have been a lot to be intrigued about earlier, but we cannot control what NFL teams do, as much as we would like to, and they speak with their actions. Even if we probably shouldn't be dealing with this conundrum given Howell's expected draft status, it's all about playing the odds, and they certainly aren't in his favor.

Outlook: High-End Streaming Option If He Got Chance To Start, But Very Minimal Chance He Ever Does

Comparison: Some Combination of Jameis Winston and Mason Rudolph with Jacoby Brissett's Mobility



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