The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so signal-callers are focal points in the draft. Not only is quarterback often the most debated position, but teams are also most willing to take QBs at the top.
Of the last 13 No. 1 overall selections, 10 have been quarterbacks. The last non-quarterback to go No. 1 was edge-rusher Myles Garrett in 2017. Three quarterbacks still went in the first round that year.
The 2022 draft is shaping up to resemble the 2017 edition. Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has been trending as the top overall prospect, and while a lot will change before the spring, no signal-caller seems capable of challenging him. Teams need quarterbacks, though, and we're likely to see a handful taken in Round 1.
Which quarterbacks are most likely to go early in 2022? We'll dive into and rank the top draft-eligible prospects based on factors like experience, proven production, recent production and physical upside.
10. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
During the summer, Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler likely would have been near the top of this list. The top quarterback recruit in 2019 had an impressive 2020 campaign with 3,031 passing yards, 160 rushing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Oklahoma and head coach Lincoln Riley have also produced NFL starters in Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.
But Rattler lost the starting job to Caleb Williams in October, pushing him down the list and signaling an end to his time as a Sooner.
"Of course he's not going to be there after this year. I mean that's a no-brainer. Whether or not we declare for the draft or find another school remains to be seen," Mike Giovando, Rattler's personal QB coach, told Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic.
While NFL teams may be concerned with why Rattler lost the starting gig, they'll also be intrigued by his potential. The Bleacher Report Scouting Department pegged the 6'1" gunslinger as having the "best arm strength" among 2022 prospects, and arm talent will command attention on draft day.
9. Jake Haener, Fresno State
Fresno State's Jake Haener has exploded onto the scene in 2021. He didn't see much action in 2020—2,021 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in six games—but he's been in the spotlight this season.
He has thrown for 3,167 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the 7-3 Bulldogs. He showcased his toughness, determination and leadership ability during a 40-37 upset of UCLA in the fourth game of the season.
"Tangibly speaking, it's the way he was able to do what was needed to drive down the field and put the necessary amount of points up to win the game," Crissy Froyd of The Draft Network wrote of the game. "In regards to intangibles, it's his composure in a difficult situation while dealing with injury, confidence, and ability to rally to finish the job."
The 6'1", 195-pound Haener won't wow scouts athletically. However, the former Washington understudy—he lost the starting job to Jacob Eason in 2019—has the intangibles needed to be a high-end backup or game-managing starter at the pro level.
8. Tanner McKee, Stanford
Stanford's Tanner McKee should climb boards during the predraft process. His resume is limited—seven pass attempts before this season—and he's out with an undisclosed injury.
However, McKee has been superb in Stanford's pro-style offense despite the team's struggles. He has thrown for 1,916 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games and has shown poise and polish.
"He is a guy who has complete control of the offense," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal told reporters. "He is quick and efficient with his reads. Tremendous arm; accurate. He can run."
At 6'6" and 225 pounds, McKee has archetypal size for the position to go with a pro-ready skill set. With a small sample size—McKee spent two years on a Latter-day Saints mission in Brazil—teams have plenty of unknowns to sort through. However, if he returns to the playing field and impresses in predraft evaluations, he could be a Day 2 target similar to former Cardinal quarterback Davis Mills.
7. Carson Strong, Nevada
Like McKee, Nevada's Carson Strong has a pro-ready frame and skill set that will interest NFL teams. Listed at 6'4" and 215 pounds, Strong can stand tall in the pocket, read defenses and put the ball where it needs to be.
However, he is limited as an athlete and won't be a dual threat at the pro level.
"He's more of a traditional pocket passer with very good arm strength and throws with a good base," Drae Harris of The Draft Network wrote. "He has the mental processing to make quick decisions. Nevada's offense provides many opportunities for him to display his downfield accuracy. He has a good internal timer and he innately feels pressure on the backside."
Strong can push the ball downfield and does an excellent job of taking care of the football. This season, he has thrown for 3,197 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's a three-year starter at Nevada and has plenty of experience.
A more traditional prospect, Strong won't appeal to franchises that seek a Josh Allen or Jalen Hurts-style signal-caller. However, teams comfortable with a pure pocket passer under center could view him as a Day 2 prospect worth grooming for the long term.
6. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State
Arizona State's Jayden Daniels is a dual-threat quarterback who will appeal to teams that look to fill the modern mold of quarterback play. The seventh-ranked quarterback on the B/R Scouting Department's big board, Daniels could sneak into the second round.
Daniels' game has a lot of Lamar Jackson in it, as he's a pass-first quarterback who can burn defenses on the run. At 6'3" and only 185 pounds, his build is a concern, but Daniels is a gamer who won't shy away from the big moment.
"He plays the game with poise and a level of maturity beyond his years," Harris wrote. "He's shown outstanding situational awareness in moments over the last two years with regards to time and score. He never seems to get rattled and the moment never seems too big for him, even as a freshman."
In his third year as a starter, Daniels continues to flash his dual-threat ability. He's thrown for 1,879 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's also rushed for 482 yards and four scores.
If Daniels can add some mass and continue to improve his touch during the predraft process, he could be a prospect like Hurts who teams target for Day 2.
5. Sam Howell, North Carolina
North Carolina's Sam Howell makes for a tough evaluation, as he has both an unorthodox frame and plays in a simple Mack Brown offense centered on the run-pass option.
The Baker Mayfield size comparisons are fair as Howell is listed at 6'1" and 220 pounds. Like Mayfield, Howell has a quick release when sure of his target and enough arm talent to make any NFL-level throw. However, he isn't always willing to take what the defense gives him and possesses some questionable mechanics.
"I like the aggressive playing style, but there are times when Howell needs to rein it in a little bit," NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote. "Occasionally, he will lock onto his initial read and force the ball into traffic. He also needs to calm his feet at the top of his drop. He bounces too often and fails to set his base, which can affect his ball placement."
Howell will likely have to find the right system to thrive in the NFL—one in which he can move to find open throwing lanes—and a coaching staff willing to refine his technique. That said, he is a three-year starter with the arm talent needed to play on Sundays.
This season, he has thrown for 2,408 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions along with 700 rushing yards and eight rushing scores.
4. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The top of this quarterback class is far from settled, and it wouldn't be shocking to see any of the next four entries become the first signal-caller taken next spring.
Desmond Ridder has played a big role in the Cincinnati Bearcats' undefeated season. The talented dual-threat quarterback is the top quarterback prospect on the B/R Scouting Department's board. He has thrown for 2,121 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions this year. He has also rushed for 214 yards and four scores. Last season, he racked up 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
While Ridder has good size at 6'4" and 215 pounds and a fair bit of arm talent, he isn't the most accurate downfield thrower. He also tends to hold on to the ball too long, which could be a huge problem at the next level.
"He has a tendency to overthrow the deep ball and he needs to get more air under the football when challenging defenses down the field," Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote. "Needs to be more willing to take what the defense gives him, identify that quicker and pull the trigger—he can get greedy and try to do too much."
How will Ridder handle the pressure of leading Cincinnati in the race for the College Football Playoff? He's thrown an interception in each of the last three games. If he can get the Bearcats in and perform well on the big stage, he'll get heavy first-round consideration.
3. Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi
Matt Corral is another dual-threat quarterback in the mix to go near the top of the draft. A three-year starter at Mississippi, he is battle-tested in the SEC and has flashed the physical tools of a future Sunday star.
The second-ranked quarterback on Bleacher Report's board, Corral holds the same spot for ESPN's Todd McShay.
"He is tough and mobile in the pocket, and he has a nice quick release, getting the ball out on quick-game throws and leading receivers into extra yardage," McShay wrote.
Corral's accuracy, ball placement and fast release give him an edge over Ridder. He is more polished as a thrower, though he also possesses the physical traits needed to attack NFL defenses on the ground.
This season, Corral has thrown for 2,527 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also rushed for 528 yards and 10 scores.
If there's a red flag with Corral, it's his size. Listed at 6'2" and 205 pounds, he appears smaller on the playing field—McShay has him at 6'0". Of course, size hasn't been a major issue for the 5'10" Kyler Murray, and while Corral may not possess Murray's speed or athleticism, he is a similar prospect.
2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett may rise to be the first quarterback taken in 2022. The third-ranked quarterback on the B/R Scouting Department's board, Pickett is also tabbed as the "most pro-ready" and "most accurate" in this class.
At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Pickett also possesses a pro frame.
His experience is without question as a four-year starter at Pittsburgh and a fifth-year player. His numbers in 2020 weren't great—2,408 passing yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions—but he was hampered by an ankle injury.
This season, Pickett has been fantastic. He's thrown for 3,171 yards with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also flashed his mobility, scrambling for 234 yards and two scores. His athletic ceiling isn't the best in this class, but teams that seek a traditional pocket passer should be high on Pickett.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has named Pickett the top signal-caller on his board.
"He is accurate to all three levels of the field, has shown patience in taking the checkdown throws when necessary and has good zip on his throws," Kiper wrote. "Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has done a great job with Pickett's development. ... In a quarterback class that is far from settled, he's my new No. 1 guy."
1. Malik Willis, Liberty
Though perhaps not as pro-ready as Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis has as much physical upside as any player in this draft class—and he doesn't lack polish as a passer.
The fourth-ranked quarterback on Bleacher Report's board, Willis is the top signal-caller for McShay.
"Willis is terrific at extending plays and keeping his eyes downfield outside the pocket. His off-platform throws have plenty of 'wow' factor, as he gets the ball out from various release points with velocity and hits tight windows," McShay wrote.
Willis (173 yards, 3 INTs) was outplayed by Corral (324 yards, 1 TD) last weekend and is not a finished product. However, the Auburn transfer is supremely talented as a dual-threat signal-caller.
This season, he has thrown for 2,159 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has also rushed for 755 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Listed at 6'1" and 225 pounds, Willis is undersized, though not drastically. It will take time for him to adjust to the schemes, nuances and talent of the NFL, but the potential is there. Teams that want their version of Murray or Lamar Jackson in 2024 should target Willis next spring.