Saturday, May 21, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Ranking the quarterback prospects based on a college football performance formula

There is no position in sports harder to project from the college level to the professional level than the quarterback. While we’ll probably never figure out a way to project quarterbacks with 100% accuracy, I can tell you one thing: everybody who has said that the 2022 NFL Draft QB class is weak has not been lying to you.

You see, just because we’ll never figure out a way to accurately project QBs moving from college to the NFL, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. I’ve been trying for over a decade now for two specific reasons: 

  1. I am a football nerd, and developing a statistical formula to try and solve one of life’s great mysteries is just something I would do.
  2. If it works, it’ll make me filthy rich.

For this year’s draft class, I have logged all the data, crunched all the numbers and come to the obvious conclusion that this class just isn’t good. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a player who emerges from this group that turns out to be a good NFL QB — it means it isn’t likely.

So how do I compile my rankings? Well, I use the list of quarterbacks on NFL.com’s draft page and then proceed to break down each prospect’s performances at the college level in three separate areas: against top 50 SP+ defenses, on third-and-long (and fourth downs, too) and in the red zone. These are the situations I believe are more “translatable” to what a QB will face in the NFL regularly. I then plug the numbers into a formula I’ve created and, voila, I get the scores. It’s not a perfect system; it certainly has a few glaring limitations. The first is that I don’t have access to enough reliable data from the FCS level as I do the FBS level, so I cannot include FCS players in the rankings. Another factor is that I do not include rushing in the formula, but this is a conscious decision. While being mobile is an advantage, an NFL quarterback will not survive in the league for long on rushing ability alone.

I want to figure out which quarterbacks have the best chance to succeed as passers.

I’ve been doing these rankings since the 2012 draft class. The results have been interesting in that while the system doesn’t do a great job of predicting which QBs will be good, it’s been pretty accurate in figuring out who won’t be. Of course, most quarterbacks don’t turn out to be special, so that’s no surprise. Still, there’s a substantial hit rate between players who finish with below-average scores in this system who do not go on to have excellent careers.

So far, of all the quarterbacks I’ve ranked, only two have gone on to be successful NFL QBs after finishing with a below-average score: Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

Now before I go any further, how about we get to what you came to see? Here are the rankings for the 2022 NFL Draft class. I’ll explain what the numbers mean afterward.

1.

Jack Coan

Notre Dame

5.53%

3,150 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT

2.

D’Eriq King

Miami

5.26%

767 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT

3.

Bailey Zappe

Western Kentucky

3.74%

5,967 yards, 62 TD, 11 INT

4.

Sam Howell

North Carolina

2.13%

3,056 yards, 24 TD, 9 INT

5.

Brock Purdy

Iowa State

1.83%

3,188 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT

6.

Malik Willis

Liberty

1.49%

2,857 yards, 27 TD, 12 INT

7.

Anthony Brown

Oregon

0.13%

2,989 yards, 18 TD, 7 INT

8.

Dustin Crum

Kent State

-0.60%

3,187 yards, 20 TD, 6 INT

9.

Carson Strong

Nevada

-0.90%

4,175 yards, 36 TD, 8 INT

10.

Kenny Pickett

Pitt

-2.17%

4,319 yards, 42 TD, 7 INT

11.

Desmond Ridder

Cincinnati

-2.39%

3,334 yards, 30 TD, 8 INT

12.

Kaleb Eleby

Western Michigan

-2.56%

3,278 yards, 23 TD, 6 INT

13.

Skylar Thompson

Kansas State

-3.13%

2,113 yards, 12 TD, 4 INT

14.

Matt Corral

Ole Miss

-3.85%

3,349 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT

15.

Terry Wilson

New Mexico

-4.52%

1,055 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT

Believe me, I was surprised, too. While I’ve always been higher on Jack Coan than nearly everybody on the planet who isn’t related to him, I did not expect him to finish atop this chart. Nor did I expect to see D’Eriq King right behind him. What’s more important to me, though, is the players who finished with below-average scores.

There’s been a prominent trend over the years as I’ve done these rankings: the overall scores have improved. With offenses being built around QBs at the college level and designed to make for easy decisions, this isn’t a surprise. To counter this, the player’s Fornelli Rating is what happens when I take their raw score and compare it to the average score of their current class. I do this to account for the changes in offenses and eras for each player. Coan’s Fornelli Rating of 5.53% means he scored 5.53% higher than the average, while Terry Wilson’s -4.52% means he was 4.52% below average.

Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, and Matt Corrall, all of whom have been mentioned as possibilities to be the first QB drafted or among the first, all finished below average. As I said earlier, that doesn’t bode well for their futures.

As for the class as a whole, while the average score is higher than every class before it, aside from 2021, if we look at my all-time rankings, Coan’s score of 5.53% doesn’t crack the top 15 all time. This is the first time since I began doing these rankings that at least one player in the current class has not cracked the top 10, and there are usually multiple players doing it. Here’s a list of the top 20 of all time (all time, of course, being since 2012 when these rankings began).

1.

Tua Tagovailoa

13.71%

2.

Andrew Luck

9.75%

3.

Dwayne Haskins

9.52%

4.

Kyler Murray

9.43%

5.

Johnny Manziel

8.98%

6.

Robert Griffin

8.67%

7.

Baker Mayfield

8.22%

8.

Justin Fields

8.12%

9.

Mitch Trubisky

8.11%

10.

Jameis Winston

6.88%

11.

Sam Darnold

6.50%

12.

Marcus Mariota

6.23%

13.

Logan Woodside

6.19%

14.

Jared Goff

5.62%

15.

Patrick Mahomes

5.57%

16.

Jack Coan

5.53%

17.

D’Eriq King

5.26%

18.

Blake Bortles

4.89%

19.

Jake Fromm

4.80%

20.

Mac Jones

4.71%

Now, let’s look at some specific areas of interest.

Seriously, Jack Coan?

While I like Coan and see him as a guy who can be a high-end backup at the NFL level, being ranked No. 1 in this class is a lot more about the class than Coan. His greatest strength compared to his 2022 peers is that he’s not ranked in the bottom half of any of the statistical categories I look at. Also, compared to his peers, he did a much better job of taking care of the football in key situations. So while he doesn’t have the highest ceiling, he showed less propensity to kill you.

OK, but how did D’Eriq King do so well?

King was an incredible player early in his career at Houston, starring in an offense uniquely suited to his strengths. He’s suffered multiple knee injuries since then, however, and if you remove the pre-injury years from his data set, he still scores above average compared to the class but becomes more of a top-50 score than the top 20 where he currently sits. I don’t think King would’ve ever been taken seriously at the NFL level because of his size, but he was a very talented player before his body betrayed him. He could still be a useful player in an offense with an innovative and imaginative play-caller.

What hurt Kenny Pickett’s score?

Well, the first four years of his college career, mostly. One of the knocks on Pickett from NFL evaluators is that he’s labeled as a “one-year wonder” because the numbers he put up in 2021 surpassed his performance from previous years by a wide margin. If an NFL team is going to take a chance on him, they’re saying that they believe Pickett is the player we saw last year and his performance was a sign of his improvement blended with being put in an offense that was far more friendly than the offenses he’d been in prior. It’s not a crazy theory. Pickett’s mobile and accurate, which goes a long way. So while his score in these ratings isn’t great, I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms his Fornelli Rating in the NFL.

Is Malik Willis’ score a surprise?

Yes and no. One of the problems with Willis’ score is the sample size. He didn’t go up against many of the top defenses in the country while playing at Liberty, so even if his score against the top 50 defenses ranked 6th in this class, the limited sample makes it more difficult to trust that performance. That said, Willis finished third in this class in the red zone grades despite having a career interception rate of 6.2% in the red zone. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what Willis is as a prospect. He’s as boom-or-bust as any player you’ll find in this draft, and not just among the quarterbacks.

Why didn’t Ridder or Corral score well?

Ridder was crushed by his performance against top 50 defenses and in third and fourth-down situations. His red zone score wasn’t great, but it looked better than his Top 50 Defenses score (12th) and on third and fourth downs (14th). His accuracy in those situations aligns perfectly with what draft evaluators will tell you is their most significant concern about him. As for Corral, he did well against top defenses, ranking third. That happens with many SEC quarterbacks I’ve rated over the years because they face more of them and become more comfortable. Where Corral struggled was in third and fourth downs (13th) and the red zone (14th). The tighter the windows become, the worse his numbers get, and that’s a concern for any QB moving into the NFL.

Where would I draft these prospects?

There have been plenty of seasons when I’ve said I wouldn’t draft any of the quarterbacks in the first round, knowing it was a foolish idea because the position’s value means they’ll always be over-drafted. That said, I mean it when I say I wouldn’t use a first-round pick on any of the QBs in this class unless I absolutely have to. The concerns are too great, but more than that, there just isn’t a considerable difference between them as prospects.

The odds of the guy being taken in the first round being significantly better than the guy you get in the second or third are low. As for how I rank them, it comes down to the perspective you’re taking.

I think Pickett is the safest option and the most likely to be a serviceable NFL starter. The kind of guy that won’t be a franchise QB, but somebody who can do enough to get you to the playoffs if you put a strong team around him. He’s the “high-floor” guy. 

As for ceiling, nobody in this class has a higher ceiling than Willis. A lot of refinement needs to come, and I wouldn’t want to throw him to the wolves right away, but Willis has tools nobody else in this class has. If everything clicks, he could be a superstar.

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