We continue to dig into this incoming rookie class for Dynasty Rookie Drafts, startups, and even the potential these young players can have on the 2022 seasonal formats. Even prior to the actual NFL Draft in April, rookies are available in Best Ball formats across all platforms. This week, we looked at the top-10 wide receivers and the receiver depth of this class, the top-10 running backs and the backfield depth, as well as the tight ends. Now we go in on the quarterbacks.
Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied to athletic models and used to shape out the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
Setting up some more of the process here, although I do prospect models for each of the skill positions and will share the ranks for the players in those models, my personal ranks do not strictly follow those models linearly. I use the prospect models in a similar fashion as I do projection models for the NFL season. We are looking for immediate market inefficiencies in leagues where we are drafting rookies prior to the actual NFL draft.
The quarterback model has done me well in fantasy, too. I play in a lot of SuperFlex Dynasty leagues. Through recent seasons, the model has given me some solid hits. It had Patrick Mahomes as the QB1 in the 2017 class, Russell Wilson as the QB3 in 2012, and Dak Prescott as the QB3 in the 2016 class. You can check out the 2020 and 2021 versions of this post.
The quarterback position for fantasy is also much different than that in real life. Scouting and analyzing how collegiate passers will translate to the next NFL has been a long-losing endeavor. For fantasy, we have been able to place the variance of prospects hitting at the position on the shelf because it has long standing been the position we did not need to invest in, opposite of actual NFL teams.
With SuperFlex and 2QB formats rising in popularity to add relevancy to the position, the top of the position has become more pertinent. But until those formats become industry standard, top-down the quarterback position still remains a supply and demand game that lends favor to suppressing incoming rookies at the position since so many leagues are still one starting quarterback formats.
Post-draft, we will have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout. That will be relevant for this class, especially, because objectively this is one of the softer quarterback classes of the past decade.
1. Malik Willis, Liberty, Final Year Age: 22.8 (Model Rank: QB3)
Willis transferred from Auburn after two seasons of sitting behind Jarrett Stidham, missing the 2019 season due to those transfer rules. Moving over to Liberty, Willis led the team to a 9-1 record, accounting for 34 total touchdowns.
Entering 2021 with potential Heisman hype, Willis took a step back, seeing his completion rate, touchdown, rate, yards per pass attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio all dip from the previous season. And that is where we are with Willis. He has the peripheral tools that are intoxicating from a big arm and elite rushing production, but he still takes significant projection as a passer.
No quarterback threw a higher rate of their passes 20 or more yards downfield in this class than Willis at 20.4%. He comes off rushing for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons as a starter, giving him a 96th percentile career rushing score in the prospect model. With the weight given to rushing production in fantasy football, Willis can find a path to relevancy even without passing progression, although failure in the latter will inevitably cost him starts at the next level if we don’t get that.
That’s because Willis enters this draft ranking in the 33rd percentile in final season completion percentage and 27th percentile in TD-to-INT ratio for all passing prospects since 2000. He does show up in a better light in yards per pass attempt (63rd percentile), but we are essentially in the Josh Allen zone of banking on all of the physical tools to get us there via projection.
Willis had the lowest on-target throw rate (70.4%) this past season for all quarterbacks in this class per Sports Info Solutions, dragged down by an anemic 45.8% on-target rate on intermediate throws 10-19 yards downfield. Not only was that the lowest in this class, but for context, the next lowest was at 64.0%.
For all of his physical attributes, Willis also struggled outside of the pocket, completing 47.8% of his passes (eighth in this class), averaging 6.9 yards per pass attempt (seventh), with a 4.5% interception rate (12th) and 20.2% sack rate (13th).
Like Allen, all of those troubling accuracy issues came against lower-level competition. Allen is the really only prospect with his profile to work out, but the rushing floor and the surrounding cast of limited options in this draft class have pushed Willis up as the option having the upside.
2. Sam Howell, North Carolina, FY Age: 21.6 (MR: QB1)
Howell is the youngest quarterback in this class, turning in a productive three seasons at North Carolina in which he threw for 9.2 yards per pass attempt with 92 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. For all prospects since 2000, Howell ranks in the 93rd percentile in career yards per attempt and in the 88th percentile in TD-to-INT rate. While those marks are strong, he is not squeaky clean as he ranks in the 65th percentile in career completion rate, closing his final season out in the 41st percentile.
Howell posted an 82% on-target rate from a clean pocket this past season per SIS, in a season in which his offense lost a ton of talent to the NFL. That was the highest rate in this class. Unfortunately, Howell did not catch too many clean pockets as he was under pressure for 35.1% of his dropbacks in 2021, the second-highest rate in this class, throwing for just 5.5 yards per attempt on those dropbacks (second to last).
All of that pressure undoubtedly played a role in seeing Howell run more than ever last year. After 181 rushing yards and six rushing through two seasons, Howell jumped up to 828 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns, something nice to have in your back pocket should that spill over into his NFL career.
Howell is all about pushing the rock downfield, positing the highest average depth of target (11.0 yards) in this class with 49.3% of his passes past the sticks (third in this class).
Howell has had a wider range in preseason mocks, so if he fails to get into the first round then it can prolong his path to playing time over first-round selections.
3. Matt Corral, Mississippi, FY Age: 23.3 (MR: QB2)
After a massive 2020 season, Corral was another quarterback with preseason Heisman aspirations that took a step back in 2021.
In his first season paired with Lane Kiffin, Corral completed 70.9% of his passes for 10.2 yards per attempt with 29 touchdowns. Corral then came back in 2021 and completed 67.9% of his passes for 8.7 Y/A with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Even with the regression from his 2020 output, Corral still closed his career in the 88th percentile in completion rate (67.3%) and 91st percentile in yards per attempt (9.1 Y/A). Where he takes a hit is that he is 50% percentile in TD-to-INT ratio (2.5:1), but that was the one department where he improved in 2021.
Digging into Corral’s 2021, 33.5% of his passes came at or behind the line of scrimmage, the highest rate in this class while no quarterback threw short of the sticks on third down (68%). As much as this offense propelled Corral’s breakout, it also may have aided some poor habits.
Keeping the theme going with this class, although there are not pristine passing resumes, Corral is another passer here that can add production on the ground. Corral rushed for 506 and 614 yards the past two seasons with 15 touchdowns.
Corral is another quarterback, like Howell, that could sneak into the first round or slide a bit, leaving us at the mercy of that draft capital impacting how projectable the immediate path he has to start.
4. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh, FY Age: 23.8 (MR: QB4)
Though four years at Pitt, Pickett posted pedestrian output, never having a season with a higher completion rate than 61.6%, a higher yards per attempt than 7.7 Y/A, or more passing touchdowns than 13. Then in 2021, Pickett spiked for a 67.2% completion rate, 8.7 Y/A, and 42 touchdowns through the air.
Even with that massive final season, Pickett still closed his career with a 51st percentile completion rate, 52nd percentile TD-to-INT rate, and 29th percentile in yards per attempt.
Under the hood, Pickett was seventh in this class in on-target rate (78.2%), with his biggest issues coming under pressure. Pickett saw his completion rate fall 27.5% under pressure (12th of 14 in this class) with a loss of 3.5 yards per attempt (11th).
I suppose we also cannot talk about Pickett without at least bringing up the hand size stuff. Actually, I’ll just let Mr. Sharp lay it out.
perspective on Pickett’s 8.5 inch hands
of 663 QBs w measured hand sizes since 1987, only 9 had smaller than 8.5″ hands
there is no QB in the NFL with 8.5″ hands
there has been no QB to enter the NFL in at least 5 yrs w 8.5″ hands
last successful QB w 8.5″ hands was Mike Vick
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 3, 2022
Pickett is double-jointed as an out in this department, and of course, we are not solely going to run away on a hand measurement on its own. Like the model, I do prefer the raw upside of Willis, the youth of Howell plus multiple years of production and the multi-year production from Corral, but Pickett is also almost universally expected to be at worst the QB2 selected in the draft, giving him more of a locked-in runway to accelerate him starting in the NFL.
If Pickett ends up a top-15 pick and both Howell and Corral fall to the back end of the first or even to Day 2, it will be harder not to support Pickett as the QB2 in that scenario.
Pickett is also another passer here that isn’t a zero in the run game, rushing for 801 yards and 20 touchdowns over his career.
5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati. FY Age: 22.4 (MR: QB6)
Ridder is a four-year starter, opening his career at Cincinnati starting 12 of 13 games as a redshirt freshman, averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt and 20 touchdowns to five interceptions. He closed his career out with a career-high 8.6 yards per attempt and 30 passing touchdowns to just eight interceptions.
Protecting the ball has been his best attribute in college, posting a career TD-to-INT ratio in the 73rd percentile, making up ground for a 49th percentile completion rate (62.1%) and 48th percentile yards per attempt (7.9 Y/A).
Digging into the metrics this past season, Ridder was pressured on just 23.2% of his dropbacks per SIS, the second-lowest rate in this class. When under pressure, however, Ridder posted an on-target rate of 51.8%. That rate was not only the lowest rate in the class, but a full 10% lower than the next closest quarterback.
Ridder had the largest differential in on-target rate under pressure (-23.2%) as opposed to when kept clean. That showed up the past two seasons when Cincinnati was forced to punch up in weight class as Ridder struggled in both season finales against Georgia in 2020 (5.6 Y/A) and Alabama (4.5 Y/A) this past season when playing outside of the American Conference.
Ridder does come with some mobility, rushing for 2,180 career yards, and his 43.6 rushing yards per game for his career are third in this class. Ridder backed that up by showing out as the best athlete at the combine (Malik Willis did not work out), registering an 89th percentile physical score, running a 4.52 forty, which was the fastest time for a quarterback in Indy since Marcus Mariota in 2015.
6. Carson Strong, Nevada, FY Age: 22.4, (MR: QB5)
The model likes Strong coming out of this class due to his consistent resume as a passer. He comes out of Nevada with a career completion percentage (68.1%) in the 93rd percentile while his 3.9 TD-to-INT rate is in the 87th percentile.
Strong ranks third in this class in on-target rate (79.4%) but playing at Nevada aided his production as he faced pressure on just 27.1% of his dropbacks (third-lowest) which covered his completion rate dropping 27.3% under pressure (only Kenny Pickett had a larger differential among passers we have covered so far). Finding examples of Strong facing solid Power-5 programs over his career is nearly non-existent.
The first thing that hurts Strong here is that he is the lone pure pocket passer we have covered so far. He is a complete zero in the run game in the ilk of Philip Rivers levels. Strong also has the lowest projected draft investment here, something that will be impacted by his medical issues.
Rest of the Class…
7. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan, FY Age: 21.8 (MR: QB7)
8. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky, FY Age: 23.2 (MR: QB8)
9. EJ Perry, Brown, FY Age: 24.0 (MR: QB9)
10. Brock Purdy, Iowa State, FY Age: 22.2 (MR: QB10)
11. Dustin Crum, Kent State, FY Age: 23.3 (MR: QB11)
12. Jack Coan, Notre Dame, FY Age: 23.1 (MR: QB12)
13. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State, FY Age: 24.6 (MR: QB13)
14. D’Eriq King, Miami, FY Age: 24.4 (MR: QB14)
The remaining passers in this class are all anticipated to be selected on Day 3. If that happens, then they fall into a bucket where they will have to cut their teeth as QB2 or QB3 options on their rosters, leaving them with fantasy appeal in 2QB and SuperFLEX formats with later-round picks.
Bailey Zappe is the most decorated player here, passing for a ludicrous 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns this past season. Zappe threw the ball 686 times in a pass-heavy scheme, channeling the ghosts of Graham Harrell and Anthony Gordon. Zappe was pressured on just 14.8% of his dropbacks this season, by far the lowest rate in the class. Not projected to come with draft investment, we are hoping to run into an outcome similar to Case Keenum.
Kaleb Eleby has a 92nd percentile career yards per attempt mark (9.2 Y/A) to pair with an 89th percentile TD-to-INT rate.
E.J. Perry is one of the oldest quarterbacks in this class, but that is not a huge surprise coming from a small school. Perry was second in this class in career rushing yards per game (48.1) while having a strong combine to reinforce those yards as he was the second-fasted quarterback at the combine, running a 4.65 forty.