The 2021 college football season has come and gone, but this isn’t the end for all of the players who have declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. Ahead of April, two showcases to watch are the Shrine Bowl and the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Several exciting quarterback prospects who bring different things to the table will be taking part in both events. Here’s a look into each quarterback who will participate in the latter:
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell has been an interesting case. In 2020, analysts question if his success was a product of his supporting cast. In 2021, the narrative completely flipped, with analysts instead wondering just how much of his and UNC’s bad moments could be attributed to subpar performance out of the offensive line and supporting cast. Howell enters the draft as a quarterback who has had success both in the air and on the ground, with the Tar Heels offense seeming to roll the best when he’s involved about an equal amount between the running game and the passing game. This showcase is a good one for him, considering that the supporting cast won’t affect him the way it did before—he’ll have a chance to show what he can do playing alongside players from all over the country. Howell finished the season with a completion percentage of 62.5%, 3,056 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Carson Strong, Nevada
Strong was the No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback on most big boards ahead of the season—and despite him maintaining a mostly consistent high level of play for the Wolf Pack this season, he slid downward due to long-term injury concerns which appear to be completely null at this point. Now that the rumors have been cast aside, Strong showed what he needed on the field to be considered the best quarterback in the draft. He has arguably the best deep ball, one of the highest accuracy levels at all levels of the field despite playing with an offensive line that wasn’t always at its best and a supporting cast that dropped several passes this season, the highest level of mental processing in this class, and has led some of the most impressive comeback drives in college football this season. Strong finished the year with a completion percentage of 70%, 4,186 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
This is a passer who wasn’t on much of anyone’s radar ahead of the season but has demanded respect as he’s shattered multiple records not only at WKU and within the conference but also left a lasting impact on FBS history. Zappe finished the season with a completion percentage of 69.2%, 5,967 passing yards, 62 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Those passing yard and passing touchdown totals are the most in FBS history in a single season. It’s not just the numbers, though. Hilltoppers head coach Tyson Helton called Zappe the best quarterback he’s ever been around, and that includes Sam Darnold when he was at USC. Zappe has a deep understanding of protections and it’s clear he knows what’s going to happen on a play before the ball is ever snapped. Especially with a chance to play around guys from “higher-level competition,” Zappe is going to be one of the most intriguing players to watch in the Senior Bowl across all positions.
Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Pickett stayed around the middle of the pack in most quarterback rankings up until about midseason before exploding upwards and becoming several outlets’ QB1—including TDN. It’s hard not to compare him to former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow for many reasons—the two have a similar style of play with a high level of accuracy and have the speed and mobility to both evade pressure and make plays with their legs when called upon. The other reason is the similar type of meteoric rise they have both had, going from a little more than unknown to Heisman Trophy contenders delivering game in and game out against legitimate competition. Pickett finished the season with a completion percentage of 67.2%, 4,319 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
Malik Willis, Liberty
Willis started the season off hot, looking like a rare player on the ground with the ability to make something happen in impossible situations with his legs and appearing equally effective as a passer. But he faltered, with more than one game with three interceptions against secondaries that were nothing to write home about. In terms of raw ability, Willis is the best quarterback in the draft, but he’s shown a lot of red flags throwing the ball and needs to focus on making the short and simple throws and the intermediate ones to raise his completion percentage and stop trying to play so much hero ball. He has a chance to show that he can do just that at the Senior Bowl. Willis finished the season with a completion percentage of 61.1%, 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Ridder was among the most heralded quarterbacks in college football before the 2021 season kicked off and stayed in the Heisman Trophy conversation for a whole year despite recording underwhelming numbers in numerous games during the season. Looking at Ridder’s most recent performance alone, a 27-6 loss to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, he looked largely uncomfortable in the pocket and held onto the ball too long at times, but also had some good moments, like when he placed a ball perfectly for a would-be touchdown if his receiver had maintained control of it. Ridder seems to have all the foundational tools for a quarterback who can at least be a competent NFL backup, he just needs to continue to grow and expand upon it. Ridder completed 64.9% of his passes for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.