The 2021 season has been in the books for a while now with the CFP National Championship and all the thrill associated with it coming and going at the beginning of the month. But for several players entering the 2022 NFL Draft, things are just really getting rolling with preparation and showing what they can do in front of scouts. Here’s a look into one thing we’d like to see from each Senior Bowl quarterback ahead of the February showcase. Carson Strong, Nevada: Continued Consistency On the Deep Ball Strong didn’t leave much to be desired this season and is the most put-together passer in this year’s draft class. It’s hard to name another quarterback who is more solid on the deep ball or who can lead 90-yard drives down the field in less than a minute to put his team in the best position possible. Like some other quarterbacks (and players at other positions) in the Senior Bowl, some of the question marks with Strong lie in the level of competition he faced. Expect his already-high stock to skyrocket when he gets the chance to not only show that he’s fully healthy—putting what appear to be unfounded injury concerns to rest—but that he can more than hold his own against higher-level competition. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: Continued Solid Decision-Making Around Different Players It’s hard to knock Pickett for, well, much of anything after his meteoric rise. Pickett has looked a lot like former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in multiple ways in his playing style, showing a high level of accuracy at all levels of the field and mobility to both get himself out of bad situations and to make plays in his own right. Pickett is a quarterback who can both evade pressure and be used on designed quarterback runs at the next level. However, there are some scouts who seem to believe Pickett’s offensive line made up for inconsistent timing on throws and that he sometimes resorts to a run when he should stay in the pocket and get it off to a receiver instead. He’ll have a chance to continue putting doubts like that to rest with yet another chance to shine at the Senior Bowl. Malik Willis, Liberty: Improvement as a Passer Willis was a hot name early on this season, looking just as effective of a passer as he was a pure athlete. The latter is something he’s received a lot of praise for because of his Houdini-like ability to get out of seemingly impossible situations using his legs, then going and making a play on the ground or finding someone to get the ball off to. However, Willis’ game through the air quickly deteriorated as the season went on—something that’s obvious in both the film and the stat sheet—and he had three games with three interceptions against secondaries that were far from anything to write home about. Looking at his last three games of the season, his highest completion percentage was just over 54%. The argument has been made that Willis doesn’t have the right supporting cast to showcase his abilities through the air, but he’s also lacked touch and has made questionable decisions throwing the ball. Bailey Zappe, WKU: Success Against Higher-Level Competition Like Strong, Zappe put up big numbers this year, but some still haven’t bought into the FBS record-breaking passer because he played in an “easier” conference. Zappe gets the ball out quicker than just about any quarterback in this draft class and his confidence and control over the offense are evident in how quickly he reacts. Head coach Tyson Helton, who also worked with Sam Darnold at USC, says that Zappe is the best quarterback he’s ever been around, praising his deep understanding of protections and ability to know in a matter of seconds what’s going to happen on a play before the ball is ever snapped. While Zappe isn’t going to have the same type of mobility as some of the other “modern era” quarterbacks, his stock should go up with the chance to show his solidness as a passer against “higher level” defense players in the Senior Bowl. Sam Howell, UNC: What Can He Do With a Different Supporting Cast? In the 2020 season, there were questions about whether or not some of Howell’s good fortune had to do with his level of supporting cast. Since then, the switch has flipped as Howell largely found himself in situations where he had to overcome the shortcomings of his offensive line (he was sacked five times in the season finale alone) and supporting cast. The Tar Heels’ offense seemed to be at its best when Howell was getting in equally on the ground game and the passing game this past season—two areas he’s had a lot of good moments in. While Howell himself wasn’t perfect in 2021 with some of his passing decisions, it was easy to get the sense by the end of the season that he was one of the most important pieces of the offenses and that UNC’s downfalls on that side of the ball weren’t all on him—and perhaps things could have been a lot worse if he wasn’t the one taking the snaps. Howell will have a chance to show what he can do with different offensive players around him in the Senior Bowl and will be able to showcase not only the grit and toughness that has made him so respectable, but what he can do with more competent players around him. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati: Consistent Accuracy/Explosiveness Ridder was a name that several scouts had their eyes on this season, but he’s been lackluster overall in several games. He’s failed to add consistent explosiveness to a Cincinnati offense that has needed a little something more, passing for less than 200 yards in four different games in 2021—including the AAC Championship and the CFP Semifinal, the two most important contests of the season for Cincinnati. Ridder has had some bright moments delivering what should have been some nice long completions if it weren’t for his receivers failing to catch and control the ball in some instances, he has also been spotty with accuracy at points in the season. He’ll need to show he can elevate a team in his own right with what he brings to the table at the Senior Bowl and will need to take care of the football and put it in the right spots on a regular basis.
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