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Welcome to the 2022 edition of the Fantasy Football Rookie Snapshot NFL draft series! In this space, fantasy football expert Liz Loza will analyze the incoming class of first-year stars and gauge their impact — be it immediate or latent — on our fake football game.
To wrap up the series, it's time to talk the most important position in the sport: Quarterbacks.
Meet the three most intriguing signal callers in the 2022 draft class!
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Size: 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds
Age: 23-years-old (6/6/1998)
Bio: The son of an All-American linebacker and college soccer star, Pickett grew up in an athletic family. He was a highly successful dual-threat QB at Ocean Township High School. Rated the nation’s No. 10 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, Pickett initially committed to Temple before going to Pitt. The New Jersey native spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, working as the Panthers’ starter over the past four years. He closed out his college career as Pitt’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,303) and passing scores while also recording a record-breaking 20 career rushing touchdowns.
Pros: Above-average arm strength, can execute as a passer at all levels of the field, upper-level mobility and willingness to improvise with his legs
Cons: Inconsistent producer, only one season of standout play (2021), takes too many sacks, the hands (*shrug emoji*)
NFL Comp: Kirk Cousins
Fantasy Fit: The phrase “practice makes progress” aptly describes Pickett’s five-year college career. From 2018 through 2020, he averaged a PFF grade of 68.5. However, in 2021, he earned a 92.3 from the analytics company. HCs and GMs love that sort of growth, making him the consensus No. 1 QB in this year’s class.
While most agree he’ll be the first signal caller drafted, there’s disagreement about where he’ll land. From his hometown ties to Steel City to his relationship with Matt Rhule (that dates back to 2017 when he was being recruited by Temple), most draftniks expect Pickett to either stay in Pittsburgh or end up in Carolina.
However, Yahoo draft expert Eric Edholm believes that Kenny P is destined for the bayou, as discussed on the Rookie Snapshot Pod. The Saints are certainly at the top of a rebuild and could be inspired by Pickett’s evolution.
That’s a trait that the team’s presumptive starter has struggled to demonstrate.
With Jameis Winston on a two-year deal (worth $28M) and only Andy Dalton backing him up, Pickett could see the field in 2022. Whether due to injury or incompetence, a few spot starts are probable outcomes for the 23-year-old.
That said, it’s unlikely he’ll provide any immediate and/or regular redraft value, regardless of where he ends up.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Size: 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds
Age: 22-years-old (5/25/1999)
Bio: Willis comes from a football family. His uncle, James Anderson, was drafted by the Panthers (Pick 88) in 2006 and played linebacker in the NFL for 11 years. For his part, Willis opted to focus on offense, passing for 2,562 yards and rushing for 1,033 yards as a senior at Roswell High School. Despite additionally lettering in baseball, Willis was lightly recruited, receiving just three offers from Power Five schools.
After initially committing to Virginia Tech and a brief stint at Auburn, the dual-threat QB transferred to Liberty. Due to transfer rules, Willis wasn’t able to suit up for the Flames until 2020. In his first year as the team’s starter, the Atlanta native impressed as a passer … but wowed as a rusher, managing 944 rushing yards and 14 TDs while being named the No. 1 ranked rushing quarterback in the country. Willis followed up his breakout year with another solid campaign in 2021, accounting for 40 total TDs over 13 games.
Pros: Elite arm strength, breathtaking escapability and strength as a runner, fantastic improvisational ability
Cons: Can seem disorganized in the pocket, scattershot accuracy and ball placement, takes unnecessary sacks, game lacks refinement and consistency
NFL Comp: Robo-Armed Jalen Hurts
Fantasy Fit: Upside. Nobody loves it more than fantasy heads. And nobody has more of it than Willis.
The Liberty product has the kind of dual-threat potential that would make even the loudest Jalen Hurts stans blush. He could be an absolute star for fake football managers — the question is whether IRL GMs are willing to give him a shot.
I’m confident he’ll get time to shine. Whether it’s sooner or later, however, depends on his landing spot. Mitchell Trubisky appears locked in as the Steelers QB1 while Sam Darnold appears to have a more tenuous grasp on the Panthers' starting job. There are rumors connecting Baker Mayfield to Carolina. Those could certainly be part of some elaborate week-of-the-draft smokescreen concocted by the Cardiac Cats.
Still, I’m more likely to bet on Willis beginning his pro career north of the Mason-Dixon line. Were that to happen, Willis would be worthy of a stash in 2QB or Superflex formats.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Size: 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds
Age: 22-years-old (8/31/1999)
Bio: Despite being ranked as the top QB in the state of Kentucky and one of the top-50 QB senior prospects in 2017, Ridder was considered just a two-star recruit by Rivals.com (he earned three stars from 247Sports.com). Undeterred, the Louisville native committed to Cincinnati where he became the Bearcats' starter as a redshirt freshman in 2018.
It wasn’t until 2020, however, that Ridder began to draw national attention, earning AAC Offensive Player of the Year honors at the close of the season. He returned to Cincy for one last campaign in 2021 and put together a career effort. Ridder became the school’s all-time leading touchdown passer while en route to the College Football Playoff semifinals (where the Bearcats fell to Alabama).
Pros: Above-average arm strength to effectively drive the ball downfield, high-end athleticism and rushing ability, fearless and determined when breaking tackles as a rusher, poised and confident in the pocket (particularly when in a rhythm)
Cons: Erratic ball placement, passes lack touch, notable accuracy issues
NFL Comp: Marcus Mariota
Fantasy Fit: From Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota to Desmond Ridder? It’s not the trajectory anyone would have predicted three months ago, but that’s the NFL (particularly in 2022). There’s a lot of overlap in skillset between Mariota and Ridder. Given the vet’s injury history (three games missed as a backup in 2021) a late-season surge courtesy of the rookie seems more probable than possible.
Considering the 22-year-old’s underdog spirit and penchant for overcoming obstacles, I wouldn’t not bet on him. Keep an eye on Ridder’s progress. He may end up being the biggest surprise at the position for Superflex fiends.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Size: 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds
Age: 23-years-old (1/31/1999)
Bio: Corral graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic (by way of Oaks Christian) and was considered a top-10 recruit in the state of California. After initially committing to USC and then Florida, the SoCal native ultimately enrolled at Ole Miss. He was named the Rebels' starter in 2019 and ended the year with a 4-8 record.
Things changed for the better when Lane Kiffin arrived on campus in 2020. Remaining the team’s starter, Corral improved his previous season numbers, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 3,337 yards and 29 TDs while additionally leading the Rebels to a victory over Indiana in the Outback Bowl.
He followed that up with another solid effort in 2021, becoming just the third Ole Miss QB to record 20 passing TDs in back-to-back seasons. Corral’s season ended on a down note, however, as the 23-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl and had to be carted off the field. Ole Miss ended up losing to Baylor, 21-7.
Pros: Above-average arm talent, can throw off-platform, good timing and footwork when scrambling, agile and elusive runner, fierce competitor
Cons: Lacks touch and anticipation as a passer, slim frame that might preclude him from being an effective rusher at the next level
NFL Comp: Baker Mayfield
Fantasy Fit: Corral is an absolute crowd pleaser, seemingly fueled by his surrounding energy. Both his person and his game, however, require structure to remain successful. That’s part of what makes his landing spot so important … not just to fantasy, but to the viability of his NFL career.
For fake football purposes, I don’t imagine his redraft stock will be at all robust. Especially if he lands in Washington — as draft expert Eric Edholm thinks he might; the depth chart and surrounding ecosystem aren’t set up for Corral’s immediate FF success.
Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF