Deep in the depths of Oxford, Mississippi, a rich history of quarterback play runs through the Manning Center. A facility that’s plastered with a family name that will forever be attached to the University, Archie and Eli will always be viewed as the two best players to don the red and blue.
Playing under center for the Rebels comes with monumental expectations because of the program's past. With the Mannings’ record-setting performances week in and week out, they set a standard that many thought was untouchable.
Every year, there seems to be a quarterback that surprisingly unlocks the next stage of their development. Joe Burrow was that player during the 2020 season while it was Zach Wilson last season. The trend has become such a popular pattern that evaluators now search and predict which signal-caller will be next. During summer scouting, many names were thrown out as potential contenders, but the one that stands alone is Matt Corral.
For Corral, it has been a long road traveled to get to this point in his career. A highly decorated player at historic Oak Christian and Long Beach Poly in California, he himself was surprised that he ended up moving all the way across the country after signing with the Rebels. Originally a USC commit, Corral’s life wasn’t always lavish, sunny, and relaxing on beaches.
Facing adversity of his own, Corral has taken other battles head-on. Involved in an altercation with the son of Wayne Gretzky while in high school—one that almost ruined his entire life—resulted in Corral being forced to pick up the pieces from a somewhat fractured image.
Recovering from the off-field hiccup, Corral hasn’t looked back since entering Oxford. After a breakout 2020 season where he recorded 3,337 passing yards and 29 touchdowns while completing 70% percent of his passes, all eyes were on the Rebels’ signal-caller entering his redshirt junior campaign.
Now, Corral is the hottest prospect in the country, amassing 997 passing yards, 185 rushing yards, and 14 total touchdowns in his first three games. All roads lead to a showdown in Tuscaloosa against the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
Faring well against the Crimson Tide a year ago, Corral finished the game 21-of-28 for 365 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 40 rushing yards on 13 carries. Falling in a thrilling 63-48 defeat, the Rebels provided a scare but ran out of gas during the backstretch.
This year’s game has a different feel to it because of the aura surrounding Corral as well as Alabama’s defense working out some early season kinks defensively. For quarterbacks looking to improve their draft stock, the Alabama game is one that’s proven to skyrocket the draft stock of throwers that play well inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Whether it was Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, or Joe Burrow, the game against Alabama has proven to be a springboard for the draft stock of quarterbacks if they play well. Winning inside those confines is seen as the cherry on top of having success in one of the loudest atmospheres in college football.
Entering a gauntlet of tough games, playing well and winning against Alabama could propel Corral into QB1 status among an inconsistent group so far through the first quarter of the season.
What’s caused the sudden jump in development for Corral? Let’s dive into many of the qualities about the Ole Miss leader that has his stock soaring early on.
Lower Half Twitch/Feet
‘Twitch’. It’s a buzzword and scouting term that’s become popular in NFL draft circles over the past five years. Become more useful in scouting lingo because it’s a universal verb that can be used for any position. In the case of quarterbacks, it describes how active a thrower's lower half is and how it synchronizes with the throws that they are trying to make.
Something that’s frequently taught to quarterbacks is aligning your front toe to your target and using it as a guide to where you intend for the ball to go. Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are the main culprits that debunk that theory, but they are two of the few individuals that can actually go against that line of teaching because of how gifted they are as passers.
Instead, the new phrase is using your belly button as a laser pointer to put the ball in range of where you want it to go. In Lane Kiffin’s attacking and creative offense, Corral’s ability to activate his lower half in an instant is a perfect match for the various types of concepts included within it.
In the clip above, it is a simple play-action pass that can be mistaken for a run-pass option. Notice Corral pointing to the linebacker telling the slot wide receiver that’s who he’s basing his read off of. Up front, the Rebels offense gives the illusion that they are running power read because of the pulling left guard who’s assigned to the most dangerous threat off of the edge, which in this case is the defensive end (5-technique). What gives this away is that no other offensive linemen are run blocking or climbing to the next level because they don’t want to be at fault for an illegal man down the field penalty. In this case, there are no worries because it’s a designed pass protection.
Now that we have an idea of the concept, focus back on Corral and how his lower body comes alive once he’s confident in his read and where to go with the football. His primary read on this play is the linebacker (No. 7). As he continues to shuffle laterally with the running back, once again, he wants to make the play look like it’s a running play (power read).
While his shoulders are parallel to the line when performing the run action, once he notices that the linebacker was suckered down on the run illusion, he quickly activates his lower body and delivers an accurate pass to the running target.
Doing background research on Corral, I was surprised to not find any history of him playing baseball. He has a lot of lower-body throwing mechanics that are reminiscent of a baseball player. The biggest being his lower-half twitch and how quickly he’s able to activate it in an instant.
The biggest stain on Corral’s resume entering this season was poor decision-making, which mainly appeared in two key games. Eleven of his 14 interceptions during the 2020 season happened against Arkansas (six) and LSU (five). Two SEC foes, but Corral had timely mistakes in both contests. Through three games, Corral has yet to throw an interception although the season is still in the early stages. The driving force behind Corral’s ability to eliminate those types of errors is his improved patience with progressions.
The clear sign of being able to tell if a thrower understands or isn’t confident in what he’s looking at is to look at his feet. If he has happy feet or if they’re moving quickly, then that’s a clear sign that objects on the field are moving too fast and the avalanche of information has toppled him. An indicator of a confident quarterback that understands what’s asked of him on certain progressions is that his feet and body position look like the long arm on an old-school analog clock. Methodically moving from one option to another in his progression, it is apparent that he’s scanning and exhausting each option prior to going to the next.
Being in a system over time allows quarterbacks to develop this skill and it’s one that Corral has learned in his third season under the tutelage of Kiffin.
In the first play of the clip above, Corral is asked to exhaust a full-field progression. The offense is running a clear out concept to the short side of the field (top) combined with a ‘smash’ concept, which is a universal route combination that consists of the outside receiver running a five-yard hitch (stop) route and the slot target running a 10-12 yard corner route.
Mainly utilized against a Cover 2 defense, Louisville switches up the defensive structure on Corral and instead plays three safeties on the roof of the defense. Knowing this, Corral doesn’t panic and instead progresses to his next option, which is the tight end running a diagonal fade aiming toward the seam prior to getting back on a vertical stem. Getting to his fifth option of the progression, he dumps it to the running back in the flats.
Yes, it was an incompletion, but the biggest positive to take away from this rep is Corral being patient enough to take the latter option in his progression. In the matchups against LSU and Arkansas, one of the biggest reasons behind his carelessness with the ball is attempting to hang tough past the expiration of his mental clock. Now, Corral is able to hear it winding down in his head and once it goes off it explodes, which signals to him that he needs to get it to his check-down options or simply take and utilize his legs. In 2020, Corral was volatile with his decision making and the rest of his game suffered as a result.
A proponent that’s become more vital than ever across the league is the mobility factor. Tom Brady continues to be an outlier as he’s always been, but for the other quarterbacks of Corral’s kind, they quickly are becoming a hot trend among NFL teams. The reason being, the days of primarily being a pocket passer that can dissect defenses strictly from that platform with their mind are quickly becoming extinct. Quarterbacks now must have some type of mobility in order to evade pressure as defensive linemen have become faster, stronger, and defensive coordinators are more tactical with their game plans in order to take advantage of their versatility.
Mobility was part of the appeal with last year’s class in Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields. The one anomaly of the group was Mac Jones, but his mobility shined within the pocket as he had a natural feel of how to avoid and reset prior to throwing the ball.
Along the lines of his predecessors, Corral’s plenty mobile enough in order to be an asset with his legs in today’s game. Ole Miss uses Corral quite frequently in the running game. Most notably in the red zone, he has the speed to outrun defensive ends when given pull reads on zone-read runs. Also a dangerous threat on QB draws, Kiffin has even gotten creative with how he utilizes his quarterback as a runner to set up easy opportunities for others.
Studying Corral over the summer, one of the first traits that jumped out about him was his throwing release. It is a bit unconventional in that it can change based on the depth of his throws. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the mechanics of it with one present quarterback because of the uniqueness of it, but it’s a mixture of Philip Rivers’ three-quarters release and Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick wrist snap.
Corral has different arm slots that he launches the ball from and he can load it up with different power levels. A change-up that he’s become more consistent with so far this season is marrying up his body with his various throwing slots. Too many times a season ago, his body didn’t align with intended targets, which resulted in inconsistent ball placement.