The quarterback position has produced intrigue like one, long telenovela over the last couple of years, generating a variety of characters and storylines that have kept us engaged throughout these difficult times.
-- We've followed Tom Brady's Patriots breakup, Super Bowl win for Tampa and eventual retirement.
-- We argued back and forth about whether or not Mac Jones was worth the 49ers trading up for the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft -- only to find out they were actually moving up for Trey Lance!
If you are addicted to drama -- especially at the quarterback position -- I'm not sure the 2022 NFL Draft is going to be for you. However, just because we may not see a quarterback or two taken with one of the first three picks, that doesn't mean there won't be intrigue.
Liberty's Malik Willis, who threw at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine but didn't participate in other drills, is a well-built, durable quarterback with elite arm talent and skill as a runner, but his tape was very inconsistent this year. He needs a longer runway for development as a well-rounded quarterback, but his play traits should excite some teams.
Who will be willing to pull the trigger in Round 1? Let's set the stage.
Front-runners (20% chance)
First-round pick: No. 20 overall
Kevin Colbert is set for his final draft as the Pittsburgh Steelers' general manager, and in a way, he’s never been more free to step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Ozzie Newsome did just that in his final draft as GM of the Ravens (in 2018), selecting a quarterback in Lamar Jackson with rare run/pass talent who needed additional time for development. The quarterback-needy Steelers are unlikely to get immediate results from this year’s quarterback class regardless of whom they take, but Colbert could see Willis as a talent-rich, dual-threat player capable of making explosive plays and becoming the future face of the franchise.
First-round pick: No. 11 overall
This one really makes a lot of sense. Cam Newton was the dual-threat quarterback who helped current Washington head coach Ron Rivera get to a Super Bowl with a 15-1 record in Carolina in 2015. Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner was with Newton and the Panthers as a quality control assistant in 2011-12 and as a quarterbacks coach in 2018-19. Both Rivera and Turner will understand how a dual-threat quarterback can win games in a variety of ways on any given Sunday. Washington runs a decent dose of RPOs and play-action out of three-wideout sets, and both numbers could take a jump with Willis at the helm. Of all the teams on this list, Washington might be the one uniquely positioned to hand over the keys to the offense earlier than expected.
Need the help (15% chance)
First-round pick: No. 9 overall
Broncos general manager George Paton told assembled media at the combine that "everything is on the table" in terms of finding a quarterback for 2022. It is believed the Broncos would have a strong interest in pursuing Aaron Rodgers, should the Packers be willing to trade him, but if not, what about Willis? The Broncos have a very talented runner in Javonte Williams who should fit nicely into the inside/outside zone concept that new head coach Nathanial Hackett is likely to bring over. It just so happens that zone-read concepts are easy to run out of inside zone, while run/pass bootleg-action is the perfect complement for outside zone. Add it all up, and Willis is a potential offensive fit for the Broncos if they swing and miss for Rodgers.
First-round pick: No. 12 overall
When looking for a landing spot, it’s best to search for a team installing a new regime (both head coach and general manager), as those teams tend to be less predictable and certainly less likely to be OK with the status quo, and Minnesota fits the bill, with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah taking over as Vikings GM and Kevin O'Connell coming aboard as head coach. O'Connell’s likely offensive scheme is quarterback-friendly and happens to be a better fit for Willis than what the prospect ran at Liberty. With Kirk Cousins' contract expiring after the season, O'Connell could use 2022 to develop Willis in the background while working him into in-game packages, like San Francisco did with Trey Lance last season.
First-round pick: No. 18 overall
Pete Carmichael, who is staying on as offensive coordinator under new head coach Dennis Allen, has been in that role since 2009; he was instrumental in helping ex-coach Sean Payton develop New Orleans' passing attack with Drew Brees at the helm. Willis may not fit what the Saints' passing scheme has been in the past, but remember, the Saints have been fairly creative when designing plays and packages for Taysom Hill. New Orleans was last in the league in passing yards and 28th in yards per rush attempt in 2021, the first season since Brees' retirement. Willis may not be a finished product, but he has the ability to push the ball way down the field and will immediately infuse life into the rushing attack for any team he joins.
Outside shot (10% chance)
First-round picks: No. 2 and 32 overall
I've always believed that teams with multiple first-round picks are more able -- and likely -- to take a big swing with one of them. It's hard to imagine that the Lions are locked in on Jared Goff at quarterback, and they'll have the ability to get away from his contract after the 2022 season. Taking Willis 32nd overall, with one of the selections acquired from the Rams in last year's Goff-Matthew Stafford swap, could be a wise investment with one of their two first-round picks -- but if they really want him, they may need to maneuver up the board rather than sit back and wait for Willis to fall to them.
Long shot (5% chance)
First-round pick: No. 6 overall
The Panthers clearly need a quarterback, but if they were to draft Willis, it would likely be after trading back, if at all. If you believe head coach Matt Rhule is on the hot seat, then it stands to reason he may not be in favor of drafting a quarterback who needs future development before he's ready to take over the team.