NFL Combine: Poor perception doesn't faze QB prospects

Former Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett answers questions at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI
1 of 5 | Former Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett answers questions at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI

INDIANAPOLIS, March 2 (UPI) -- This year's top NFL quarterback prospects look past perception that the draft-eligible group isn't as talented as past classes.

Kenny Pickett, for example, believes he can prove doubters wrong, while Jack Coan referenced Tom Brady, who went from an under-the-radar sixth-round pick to arguably the greatest NFL player in history.


The ex-college passers who enter the off-season with lower draft-day expectations believe they possess enough talent to switch positions -- if necessary -- to make the cut on an NFL roster.

"Everyone is going to have their own opinion," Pickett, the former star quarterback at Pittsburgh, said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I think think there are great players in this class. It is what it is. Who knows? We will see down the road how it all shakes out."


Pickett, Malik Willis of Liberty, Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Sam Howell of North Carolina are among the top expected quarterback selections in the draft.

Coan, the former starter at Notre Dame, is among the players expected to be picked much later in the draft. He said he draws inspiration from Brady when asked about depth of the class compared to past years.

"I look at Tom Brady. Eeveryone knows his story and how crazy it was," Coan said. "Nobody knew he was going to be the best quarterback of all time. I'm not saying that's going to be me, but that's a guy I've always tried to emulate and have as a role model."

Coan joined Pickett, Willis, Corral, Howell, D'Eriq King of Miami and several other top quarterback prospects for news conferences at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

Three quarterbacks were selected at the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, and five went within the first 15 picks. None are expected to go within the Top 5 in this year's draft, slated for April 28-30 in Las Vegas.

This year, only one or two quarterbacks are expected to be selected within the first 15 picks.


Pickett and Willis are widely considered the top quarterbacks in the class. Corral, Howell, Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati and Carson Strong of Nevada are among the other top-rated passers.

Despite those quarterbacks' collegiate prowess, several NFL talent evaluators told Sports Illustrated in February that they don't believe any of the passers are NFL starters.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah lists just two quarterbacks in a recent mock draft, Pickett and Willis, as first-round selections.

"None of the quarterbacks just completely blows you away to say, 'OK, slam dunk, take him,'" Jeremiah said last month on a conference call with reporters.

A quarterback was selected with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick in each of the last seven drafts.

The 2013 NFL Draft was the last draft that featured a shortage of early quarterback selections. That year, the Buffalo Bills picked E.J. Manuel at No. 16 overall and the New York Jets snagged Geno Smith in the second round.

At this point of the process, the top perceived passers are measured physically and mentally with a multitude of tests in Indianapolis.

They also meet with teams for interviews and are faced by throngs of reporters. NFL team decision-makers will continue their evaluations for the next two months before they decide how they want to rank the quarterbacks on their respective draft boards.


Talent evaluators pair the quarterbacks' college resumes with how they perform in Indianapolis and/or at their campus pro days to compose those rankings, which means the quarterbacks are trying to do everything they can to perform their best at those times.

"I don't get too caught up in the ratings or anything like that," Howell said. "I know there are some really good quarterbacks in this draft class. It's been kind of cool to go along with them in this process. They are really good guys."

King is not expected to be an early-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The former Miami Hurricanes quarterback said he is willing to get creative to make the cut for an NFL roster.

"I'm here to show I can throw the ball and hopefully I get a chance to run routes," King said. "That's my plan: to show people I'm a true athlete and can do whatever you need me do to help the team."

King said he is open to playing special teams, running back or wide receiver, in addition to his primary position.

Former Southeastern Louisiana star Cole Kelley -- who is listed at 6-foot-7 -- also said he would keep his options open, though he prefers to remain a quarterback.


"People like to compare me to tight ends," Kelly said. "I don't know if I'd be a good one. I've haven't tried it too much. I have pretty good hands. Quarterbacks usually have good hands. But I think with my mind and my arm, quarterback is the way to go."

Several of the quarterbacks mentioned Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, in addition to Brady and New Orleans Saints legend Drew Brees, when asked about who they studied and after whom the tried to model their play.

Howell said he tried to emulate Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's on-field presence and leadership.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets were among the teams the quarterbacks mentioned when asked to whom they have spoken during the pre-draft process.

"I met with a lot of teams," Willis said. "I feel like, going in there at any level, you are going to have to work hard. You are going to have to learn from somebody and try to be the best you can be if you want to sustain [a career] in this league."


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