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Saturdays Are For The Scouts: 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

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Welcome to the 15th entry in the scouting notebook I call, Saturdays Are For the Scouts. With this edition of SAFTS, we get the ball rolling with the 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback class. We’ll recap my film sessions studying Nevada’s Carson Strong and Liberty’s Malik Willis.

The 2021 NFL Draft behind us, the 2022 Draft Cycle is now officially in full swing. We’ve got four months of summer scouting ahead of us before the season kicks off. This is a key time to set our opening draft boards and get to know the class before their final seasons.

The 2022 class is very crowded when we look at the names that can possibly declare following the season, but where do these guys actually rank if we were to assign pre-season draft grades? Let’s find out.

You can find my QB rankings as of this week and the remaining watchlist at the end of the article.

2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

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Carson Strong, QB, Nevada Wolf Pack

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Background

Carson Strong is a good athlete, playing high school football and basketball at Wood High School in Vacaville, California. The former three-star prospect missed his senior season following a right knee injury that required surgery, limiting his recruitment offers. Carson Strong accepted Nevada’s scholarship offer early in the process joining the team in early spring of 2018.

After a redshirt season in 2018, Carson Strong took over the starting role in 2019 and showed off terrific leadership and maturity for a redshirt freshman. He kicked off his collegiate career with a phenomenal performance against power-five program Purdue, leading the Pack through a second-half comeback. Nevada came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Boilermakers 34-31 late in the fourth quarter, behind a 295 yard, 3 touchdown performance from Carson Strong. The type of first collegiate start that puts you on the map.

Carson Strong went on to throw for 2,335 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 starts, closing out the season with a 403-yard performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Strong broke out last season, leading the Wolfpack to a 7-2 season and earning First-Team All-Mountain West and Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year recognition. Strong threw for 2,858 yards, 28 touchdowns, and a 70.1% completion percentage last season.

Carson Strong will open his 2021 campaign in Berkeley against California (4th of September), which should be a significant matchup for his final draft grade, should he choose to declare.

Scouting Report

Games Watched: vs Purdue (2019), @ Wyoming (2019), vs San Diego State (2020)

Film Analysis

Standing at almost 6-3, 215lbs, Carson Strong is a big presence with plus functional athleticism in the pocket. Although not necessarily quick or twitchy with his pocket movement, he developed a good feel for space and pocket manipulation to move around and escape the pocket. He has a natural habit of not always looking for the back door but stepping up and under edge pressure which is great to see.

I love Strong’s release of the football. He possesses a strong arm with a snappy and very quick release that flashes a ton on film. His spiral isn’t always super tight though, which may have been the source of some drop trouble throughout his film. Strong can sling it on a rope, allowing him to hit tight windows over the middle and hit some nice hole shots against cover two.

His eye manipulation and read processing are really enticing. He frequently shows the ability to get off his primary reads with good timing and work the entire field with his eyes. Strong’s pre-snap diagnosis and quick decision-making enable him to exploit leverage throws with plus timing and anticipation. He flashes the ability to hold safeties and linebackers with his eyes repeatedly. The potential as an in-structure processor stands out.

Lower body mechanics remain an area to improve on, and his general accuracy and precision should follow suit. He has a bad habit of back-pedaling into his dropbacks, slowing down his set-up. His base can get wide on some throws. He also doesn’t show a ton of natural arm ability and accuracy on the move, needing time to set up and throw. He often takes that extra step on his set-up on the move that disturbs timing too often and makes throws more contested than they should be.

Bottom Line

Overall, Carson Strong is a quick processor with a live arm and a very quick release. I love his ability to get through reads and throws with good timing and anticipation. For next season, I’ll want to see cleaner lower body mechanics and footwork, and the accuracy should follow.

Pre-Season Grade: 7.8 (Rd 2)



Malik Willis, QB, Liberty Flames

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Background

Malik Willis is a former three-star recruit out of Atlanta, Georgia, playing baseball and football in high school. Willis received offers from 11 FBS programs, including two power-five schools (Auburn and Virginia Tech), and opted to join the Tigers in the SEC.

After spending two years as the backup to Jarrett Stidham, Willis went the transfer route and chose to take over as the Liberty Flames quarterback. Malik Willis broke out in 2020 putting his name on the NFL’s radar, after sitting out the 2019 season due to the NCAA transfer rules.

Malik Willis’ made some noise against good competition (Syracuse, VA Tech, NC State, Coastal Carolina) in his first season starting for the Liberty Flames, throwing for over 2250 yards, 20 touchdowns, and adding over 900 yards on the ground and 14 scores. His 34 total touchdown season pushed the Flames to a 9-1 record, with a 2-1 record against ACC competition. Malik Willis’ Flames also notably ended Coastal Carolina’s undefeated run in a thrilling overtime matchup at the Cure Bowl, two weeks after the Chanticleers took down Zach Wilson‘s BYU.

In 2021, Malik Willis and the Liberty Flames will look to go after another undefeated run, as they’ll face another enticing schedule with two power-five matchups: Syracuse and Ole Miss (September 24th and November 6th).

Scouting Report

Games Watched: @ Syracuse (2020), vs Southern Miss, @ Virginia Tech (2020), @ NC State (2020)

Film Analysis

Malik Willis is a super athletic passer, with twitch and quickness that transcends through the film. For all the damage Willis makes with his legs, you have to appreciate the fact that he’s a talented pass-first quarterback.

The arm talent and baseball background stand out. He can sling it on a rope with a ton of velocity both on and off-platform. He’s smooth with his footwork and set-up, with a clean follow-through. I love his ability to vary arm angles and throw over/past pressure. He’s clearly fearless under pressure. Willis occasionally flashes impressive ball placement but will need to turn the flashes into more consistency in 2021. His accuracy on short/intermediate outbreaking throws is below average as things stand.

Willis does a good job side-stepping and eluding pressure with quickness and twitch. He’s a quick and smooth operator when executing the zone-read heavy offense that Liberty runs. He’s explosive and creative to use his athleticism and extend plays outside of structure. He reads and processes the field really well, working through reads with urgency. He’s lacking a little bit in the anticipatory and timing department and tends to need to see it before he lets it go, leading to some late, dangerous throws. Willis’s quickness, speed and physicality past the line of scrimmage make him an electric design-runner.

Malik Willis is a gunslinger, constantly in hunting mode, and does occasionally show questionable decision-making. While his athleticism is an asset when escaping pressure, he does seem to elude the pocket a bit too systematically at times. His feel for pressure in the pocket isn’t super developed either, and he can be loose with the football which is a bad combination. His ball security concerns is alarming as things stand: two dropped snaps and three fumbles. It’s definitely something to monitor next season.

Bottom Line

Overall, Malik Willis is an elite athlete at the quarterback position with shortstop footwork, a ton of arm talent, and aggressiveness to tap into. He’s a dangerous ball carrier past the line of scrimmage and offers a modern skill-set that should excite a lot of NFL offensive coordinators. His film is still slightly inconsistent when it comes to general accuracy and decision-making, but the potential is definitely exciting.

Pre-Season Grade: 7.6 (Rd 3)

2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Class Watchlist & Rankings

Rankings:

  1. Carson Strong, Nevada – 7.8 (R2)
  2. Malik Willis, Liberty – 7.6 (R3)

Watchlist:

Saturdays Are For The Scouts

I’ll be back next week with more 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback class breakdowns!

You can find me on Instagram for the film, and Twitter for the takes!

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About Selyan Lonqueux

Junior NFL Draft analyst, and aspiring football coach. Active Wide Receiver across the pond, in Europe. The truth lies in the tape, the whole tape and nothing but the tape.

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