Draft hopefuls will begin arriving at the 2022 NFL Combine on March 1 and the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends groups will take the field on Thursday, March 3 for on-field drills and testing.
This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities.
Up first: Quarterbacks.
What to watch for
Don’t get too caught up with completions because this will be the first time most of these quarterbacks have worked with any of the pass catchers. Instead, pay attention to footwork, balance, ball placement, confidence, and leadership skills.
Additionally, what do the quarterbacks do when they’re not throwing? Are they interacting with the other players? Is there an Alpha that the other quarterbacks look to for direction? Who has the personality to keep things relaxed, but can still turn it on when they are handed the ball?
Now on to the prospects.
Malik Willis, Liberty, 6-foot-0 1⁄2, 220
Suggested by Ryan, Mike, and Hamza
The Willis hype continues to roll, and anyway you look at it, that’s good news for Detroit. If the Lions are interested in drafting a quarterback, he’s the front runner for best fit, and if they’re not interested, then a quarterback’s rising stock helps increase their draft pick value.
Willis showed great leadership at the Senior Bowl and he’ll be expected to carry that over to the Combine. If he does, that’ll be a big check on his draft profile. It’s clear he’s plenty athletic and really has nothing to prove by testing, but if he does run/measure, he’ll have a chance to further separate himself in his uniqueness.
Matt Corral, Mississippi, 6-foot-1, 198
Suggested by Erik and Jeremy
As the top underclassman quarterback in this draft class, Corral has had to sit back and watch all the other quarterbacks shine in the post-season all-star games. Now with his turn in the spotlight, can he stand out and show the moxie he displayed this past season? If anyone is going to disrupt what looks like a two-man race (between Willis and Kenny Pickett) for the top-quarterback spot, it could be Corral.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati, 6-foot-3, 207
Suggested by Morgan
Ridder let the Bearcats to the College Football Playoffs this past season and has a terrific combination of size, athleticism, vision, and the ability to consistently improve from season to season. Decision making is a skill that needs improvement, as does his accuracy, but he can improve his stock if he shows improvement in the latter at the Combine.
Sam Howell, North Carolina, 6-foot-0 1⁄4, 221
Suggested by John
Once regarded as a potential candidate for the first overall pick, Howell struggled without the NFL-level offensive weapons he had in previous seasons. Howell is a tough competitor on the field, who plays with a ton of confidence, but it seemed to be missing at the Senior Bowl. He would benefit from showing his leadership skills at the Combine. Keep an eye on his feet in throwing drills because that is an area that can get sloppy when he loses focus.
- Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh, 6-foot-3 1⁄4, 217) could be the first quarterback off the board, but he will also turn 24 years old this summer, and I’m not sure how appealing he will be for a Lions squad that appears comfortable starting Jared Goff in 2022. It’d also be nice to get a hand measurement for him, which is expected to happen.
- Carson Strong (Nevada, 6-foot-4, 226) was once thought to be “in the mix” for one of the top quarterback spots in this class, but his stock has dropped below the five listed above. Can he get himself back in the conversation?
- Kaleb Eleby (Western Michigan, 6-foot-1, 216) is one of only two underclassman quarterbacks (Corral the other) that are expected to be drafted. Can he prove leaving early was a smart decision?
- EJ Perry (Brown, 6-foot-1 1⁄2, 212) was the best quarterback at the East-West Shrine Bowl, but did he do enough to work his way into Day 3 of the draft?
- D’Eriq King (5-foot-8 1⁄2, 198) lined up both at quarterback and wide receiver at the Shrine Bowl, and struggled at each. Still, is there enough athleticism there to make a Denard Robinson-like conversion to a skill position in the NFL? With Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El making a similar transition to the pros, he’ll surely be keeping an eye on King.