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NFL Draft

Battle For QB1 Sets Stage For Fascinating 2022 NFL Draft Cycle

  • The Draft Network
  • June 24, 2021
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Few things generate more chatter in the NFL draft space than the prospect of a good quarterback battle. Last year at this time, the general consensus was that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields would be duking it out for the title of QB1. The year before that was the “Tank for Tua” campaign—which, of course, was a party crashed by Joe Burrow before it was all said and done. 2019 generally considered Oregon’s Justin Herbert to be the best in class before Kyler Murray rose through the ranks and Herbert scorned the league for another go-round at Oregon. The year before that saw Sam Darnold nearly go wire to wire as the presumed QB1 before Baker Mayfield snatched the title on draft night.

The presumptive QB1 of the summer doesn’t always bring home the title the following spring, but that player ended up a highly coveted quarterback nevertheless.

But this year? For the 2022 NFL Draft?

Good luck. Because this year’s group is more wide open than any year in recent memory. Some will tell you Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler is the top quarterback. Others will point to North Carolina’s Sam Howell. Liberty’s Malik Willis has all of the physical tools to make the leap and become QB1 as well. Mississippi’s Matt Corral is a sleeper to watch at this point as well, as he’s a productive passer in Lane Kiffin’s offense and appears poised for yet another big year.

This doesn’t even get into some of the other talents at the position; although TDN’s Scouting staff isn’t quite as high on the likes of USC’s Kedon Slovis, Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough, and others at this point.

And yet, their candidacy is what makes this quarterback class so fascinating from top to bottom; as no one was pounding the table for Burrow in June of his senior season. Murray was considered to be a baseball player parading around as a college quarterback. And 2021’s QB2, Zach Wilson, was generally perceived to be an early Day 3 prospect in the same light as Burrow and Mayfield were entering their respective final seasons.

You just don’t know. And this year feels like the year we know less about the quarterback field than any year in recent memory. The domino effect of this year’s QB1 race will be felt beyond the quarterback room as well. It will have been half a decade since we saw a player who didn’t play quarterback go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft next April; with Cleveland’s Myles Garrett serving as the last man to tempt a team away from a passer with the top pick. Two of the brightest young talents at quarterback across the entire league, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, were later drafted in the same class. Could this year be the next opportunity for someone else to hear their name called first overall?

Since 2000, we’ve only seen five non-quarterbacks get drafted No. 1 overall: 

  • DE Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns (2017)
  • DE Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans (2014)
  • OT Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs (2013)
  • OT Jake Long, Miami Dolphins (2008)
  • DE Mario Williams, Houston Texans (2006)
  • DE Courtney Brown, Cleveland Browns (2000)

The respective QB1 (in draft status) in those respective years?

  • Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (No. 2 overall)
  • Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 overall)
  • EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (No. 16 overall)
  • Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (No. 3 overall)
  • Vince Young, Tennessee Titans (No. 3 overall)
  • Chad Pennington, New York Jets (No. 18 overall)

The track record for quarterbacks in a non-QB first-overall selection year isn't great. Of course, 2017 still yielded Mahomes and Watson, and Tom Brady was a member of the 2000 NFL Draft (the ultimate exception to the rule), but 2013 might be the worst quarterback class in recent memory and the 2006 class is quite dire beyond Jay Cutler as the headliner. A non-quarterback being drafted first overall should be considered an indictment of the quarterback class just as much as it is a compliment to any player (Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux?) who gets the call instead.

So you can choose to look at the wide-open state of affairs at quarterback entering the 2021 season in one of two ways: It is an exciting sprint to make the meteoric rise we’ve seen from recent QB1s of the actual NFL draft or it is a looming cloud on the horizon that threatens to interrupt the steady flow of promising young talent to the most important position on the field that we’ve seen in recent years.

Either way you slice it, the dynamics at play starting in August will provide plenty of fireworks. And I, for one, can’t wait to watch it all go down.

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