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Here's what each quarterback needs to show at the Senior Bowl

Andrew Mason Avatar
January 31, 2022

Broncos general manager George Paton will head the team’s contingent at Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. this week — and he will continue to cast a discerning eye on the quarterbacks on hand.

Paton and his staff will interview as many players as they can nab. Their focus will not be on merely the quarterbacks, of course. But until and unless the Broncos can acquire a high-level veteran like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, they will do their due diligence on a class that has some intriguing talents, but no complete packages.

Enough teams crave improvement at the quarterback position to ensure that a minimum of three quarterbacks will likely go in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft — even though a consensus No. 1 quarterback has not emerged.

What does each quarterback need to show this week?


…. That his 2021 struggles arose from the environment, rather than himself: Four Tar Heels skill-position players were selected in last year’s draft, starting with Broncos running back Javonte Williams. With a new set of targets and a struggling offensive line, Howell often took the burden of galvanizing the Carolina offense on himself. He frequently attempted to buy time in the pocket and was quick to take off. That led to career highs in rushing yards (828) and touchdowns (11), but also to 48 sacks — one every 12.0 dropbacks, worse than his rate of one sack every 14.3 dropbacks in his first two seasons.

Howell has a lot to like: leadership, deep-ball accuracy, toughness and mobility. Like quarterbacks such as Wilson, Rodgers, Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes, Howell has a baseball background — he was All-State as a high-school senior — which helps him remain accurate on off-platform throws. But after spending the 2021 campaign under siege, his clock needs some fine-tuning.


…. That hand size doesn’t matter, and that his 2021 performance wasn’t a fluke: His hand size has been reported to be 8-1/4 inches, which is part of the reason why he wore gloves, regardless of the weather. That measurement will lead to concerns about his fumbles, although his fumble rate did improve over the course of his five years at Pitt.

Still, Pickett had never posted better than a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio before last season, when he threw 42 touchdowns against 7 interceptions — a 6-to-1 ratio.

Pickett’s presence should also serve as a reminder of what Senior Bowl week means. Having led Pitt to its first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference title and a spot in the Peach Bowl, Pickett pulled himself out of the bowl game, opting to turn his focus to this week’s practices.


…. That he can be more consistent in ball placement: Ridder has sufficient arm strength, deep-ball ability and mobility. His leadership is also top-notch, and every aspect of his game collectively stands as the biggest reason why Cincinnati was able to become the first Group-of-Five program to crash the College Football Playoff.

But the career 62-percent passer must show more consistency with his ball placement if he is to succeed at the next level. The wide windows he often saw in the American Athletic Conference are about to become narrower, and he will find that some of the risks he took at UC will result in damaging plays at the next level. How he adapts will determine his ceiling, and this week represents the first glimpse.


…. That his knee isn’t going to doom him: If it were not for a history of knee problems that lead to questions about whether he has sufficient mobility, Strong might be a consensus QB1 in this class. He has the arm talent, and Jay Norvell’s offense at Nevada puts enough pre-snap responsibilities on the quarterback to the point where Strong appears to possess the ability to quickly diagnose a defense and attack its weak point.

The medical evaluations at the Scouting Combine will likely have the greatest impact on his draft status, but his mobility will be scrutinized heavily this week. Strong will never be a running quarterback, but if he can’t move well enough to escape the pass rush, he will fall compared to other prospects.


…. That he can improve and quickly incorporate teaching into his game: Of the six passers on hand in Mobile, Willis could have the most upside and athleticism. He may also be the most raw. He also needs to learn to take the sensible option; during his college career, he got into trouble when he tried to rely too much on his arm talent. He also struggled to overcome mistakes, and last year had four multi-interceptions games, including a trio of 3-pick performances — one of which came in a game Paton saw in person, when Liberty faced Mississippi and its quarterback prospect, Matt Corral.

Willis also needs to learn to work within the pocket better and have better ball placement; he didn’t make tangible progress in these areas last season, which led to a slight drop in completion percentage and a higher interception rate.


…. That his skills can translate beyond a friendly scheme: Zappe had the gaudiest numbers of any quarterback on hand, particularly last season, when the transfer from FCS Houston Baptist set FBS records for touchdown passes (62) and passing yards (5,967). Zappe never failed to throw for at least three touchdown passes in a game, and against the only two Power Five programs on WKU’s schedule — Big Ten teams Michigan State and Indiana — he completed 71 percent of his passes and was never intercepted.

WKU’s iteration of the Air Raid allowed Zappe to rack up quick short-to-intermediate completions. He won’t wow anyone with his arm strength, but if his accuracy and pocket presence translate and he can show quick processing ability against a higher caliber of defensive talent, he has a chance to solidify himself as an intriguing Day 2 value pick.


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