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Each week from here on out during the college football season, we'll be stacking the quarterbacks with 2022 NFL draft eligibility based on their pro potential — and nothing else.
Some of the players we list below may not enter next year's draft, but we'll list anyone who we think has even a remote shot to declare early.
Here's how we see the NFL QB prospect hierarchy stacking up after the first five weeks of college football.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
(Last week: 1st)
Alabama stopped Ole Miss on three fourth-down tries in the first half, and that was pretty much the game. The Rebels were hyper-aggressive coming into the game, and they were not about to change who they are against the best team in the country.
It hindered the ability of Corral and the offense to atone for a defense that was gashed by the run, putting Ole Miss in a 28-zip hole at halftime. Corral was not bad, but he didn't connect on many downfield shots and had his scrambling ability limited by Bama's loaded fronts. He finished 21-of-29 passing for 213 yards and a TD, plus only 3 net rush yards on 10 carries.
Corral also played without injured receiver Jonathan Mingo, who was second on the team in receptions, yards and TDs and first in yards per catch. But Corral can't blame his lost fumble on anyone else. It was a so-so outing overall, but one that likely won't damage his draft stock.
2. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
(Last week: 3rd)
Another week, another very respectable showing, even if OU fans don't appear to be infatuated with the guy. All Rattler did was complete 22 of 25 passes (88%) for 243 yards, two TDs and a pick, also rushing eight times for 24 yards in a 37-31 win at Kansas State.
After finishing the West Virginia game on a 15-for-16 streak, do the math and you'll see he's completing 90.2% of his past 41 pass attempts. And this was not a barrage of screens, short stuff and wide-open looks; Rattler was fitting some passes into tight windows — NFL windows — and has been highly efficient of late.
Rattler isn't a perfect prospect but he has received way too much unfair criticism after a summer of outrageous hype. Just sit back and enjoy the show. Rattler shouldn't try to be Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts, and fans shouldn't expect that either.
3. Malik Willis, Liberty
(Last week: 4th)
Willis bounced back from the loss at Syracuse to surgically dismember UAB on the road. Once more he was a beast with his legs (15 rushes, 144 yards, two scores) and his dangerous arm (13 of 19 passing, 287 yards, TD) vs. an overmatched defense.
Through five games this season, Willis has one turnover. In 2020, he had fumbled eight times and thrown a pick through his first five (and would put the ball on the ground five more times in game No. 6 in 2020). His ball-security improvement has been phenomenal, and he's getting better at smelling pressure and getting rid of the ball faster.
We see a young, fascinating playmaker with a unique style. Willis will be the most fascinating QB evaluation in the 2022 class, assuming he comes out. He and Rattler are neck and neck.
Never left a live game exposure on a QB prospect with the main takeaway being how physically strong they were. Happened tonight with Malik Willis. So hard to get him on the ground, which will allow him to extend plays when he gets to next level. Unique player. Have no comp.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 3, 2021
4. Sam Howell, North Carolina
(Last week: 2nd)
Howell threw for 321 yards and three TD passes in a cakewalk win over Duke. He also misfired on 14 of his 32 pass attempts, and only two of those were credited as drops by PFF. Howell also was battered around (seven sacks) for the second straight week, taking five or more sacks for the third time in five games.
He didn't make many special throws. He didn't make many cringeworthy ones either. It was a strange game for Howell in a strange season for Howell. There's a strong NFL prospect here, but one who must master handling and smelling pressure better, even if his offensive line is a sieve.
5. Carson Strong, Nevada
(Last week: 5th)
Strong threw for 263 yards and a touchdown in a good win at Boise State. What I've liked best about him so far is his taking care of the football following a shaky first half in the season-opening win over Cal. Strong also was able to be productive in this game despite losing wide receiver Elijah Cooks to a season-ending injury.
Strong still has good weapons and doesn't need to key in on Romeo Doubs every big play. Justin Lockhart (five catches, 94 yards) stepped up, and Cole Turner (six catches, 67 yards, a one-handed TD) looks like a monster. Strong seems to trust whoever is open, which is a good thing.
We could be looking at a first-round prospect here, although Strong still has work to do to get there.
6. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
(Last week: 6th)
Ridder turned in a very good game overall in Cincinnati's massive win at Notre Dame. His fourth-quarter TD run absolutely silenced the Irish faithful, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive. He threw for 297 yards and two TDs against a good defense (with a coordinator who knows him well) and had only one turnover, a fumble that led to a Notre Dame TD.
That's four very respectable outings for Ridder. Hard to complain about that. There are still some in the scouting world who question his overall upside, and Ridder's throw-to-throw accuracy is far from elite, but he is turning in an excellent final college season and doing as much as he can to boost his stock in the NFL's eyes.
7. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
(Last week: 7th)
The big surprise this season has been Pickett's high-level performance. We've always been fans to a degree, especially after some encouraging patches in 2020. This season has been one big leveling up for Pickett, whose arm strength appears improved and his consistency worlds better.
Pitt pass catchers still seem to, uh, not always catch passes they should — four more drops in the win at Georgia Tech. Even with 10 Panthers drops (per PFF) through five games, Pickett is completing 72% of his passes with a 19-1 TD-INT ratio and an average of 10.3 yards per attempt (up from 7.3 a year ago).
He entered the season earning mostly fourth- and fifth-round grades. He has risen above that level so far.
8. Tanner McKee, Stanford
(Last week: NR)
A new name to the list, McKee is only a true sophomore but is technically draft-eligible in 2022 because he spent two years on an LDS mission in Brazil before enrolling. Well, he's brought some Carnival-level excitement to the Cardinal with his play this season, with an 11-0 TD-INT ratio, a massive upset over Oregon and some eye-opening skills.
At first blush, he has the potential to be better than Texans third-rounder Davis Mills, we suspect. But in a perfect world, he'd stick around Palo Alto for more starts (11) than Mills had. McKee is nearly 6-foot-7, surprisingly athletic and uncannily accurate for a player who is making his first starts since high school three years ago.
9. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State
(Last week: n/a)
Don't look now, but Daniels is heating up. We've always been fans, but a bizarre 2020 season for the Sun Devils rife with COVID issues hindered his ability to shine. Now that that's out of the way, Daniels has been on a little bender of late, with big performances against Colorado and UCLA.
Daniels is painfully thin but has vastly improved his pocket awareness and prevented big hits. He has also dramatically improved his accuracy (from 60.2% his first two seasons to 71.9% this year) while making more downfield connections. Keep an eye on this guy.
10. Jake Haener, Fresno State
(Last week: 8th)
Haener barely stays in the top 10 this week after a five-turnover performance in a bad loss to Hawaii. He didn't have the comeback magic after coughing up a late fumble (right before Hawaii took its first lead) and throwing a late pick inside the 5-yard line to end the game.
That INT was not Haener's fault; it glanced off Ty Jones' hands right into those of a Hawaii defender with fewer than 10 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs well within game-tying field-goal range. But Haener had five turnovers on the game and might still be feeling the effects from getting clobbered the previous few games.
He has played very well this season on the whole, but Saturday night was not not Haener's finest hour.
Just missed the cut
Phil Jurkovec, Boston College (injured); Brock Purdy, Iowa State; Jack Coan, Notre Dame; Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina; Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky; Brennan Armstrong, Virginia; Malik Cunningham, Louisville; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA; Kedon Slovis, USC; Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland; D’Eriq King, Miami; Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan; Dustin Crum, Kent State; Myles Brennan, LSU (injured)