NFL combine takeaways: Three QBs who could pull off draft-day surprises

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder jumps as he prepares to run the 40-yard dash
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder prepares to run the 40-yard dash Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

A year after quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft, and Bill Belichick took one in the opening round for the first time, an eerie quiet has settled over the position.

Yes, there’s talk about where veteran quarterbacks could be playing next season — Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr — but there’s precious little buzz about this year’s prospects.

In a word, the 2022 quarterback class is … meh.

Then again, as we’ve been reminded time and again, sometimes the best NFL quarterbacks glide under the radar.


“We predict what these quarterbacks are going to do, but then one can go [No.] 199 and become the greatest player of all time,” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said, referring to Tom Brady, his quarterback of the last two years, who called it a career after the Rams eliminated the Buccaneers from the playoffs in January.

Greg Cosell examines strengths, weaknesses of the top six quarterbacks available in the NFL draft next month.

March 7, 2022

So while the spotlight might be focused on other positions at the top of this draft — namely pass rushers and offensive linemen — some of the best quarterbacks such as North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Matt Corral of Mississippi could make an impact.

“This is an interesting class,” Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said. “You have five or six talented guys, and they’re all different. So we just really need to hone down and sort it out and stack them and see who’s best …”

Among other quarterbacks who could make a splash:


Malik Willis, Liberty

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis passes during a drill Thursday.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Willis got positive reactions to many of his passes during workouts, particularly for his touch on deep throws, but got much more attention for something he did outside the stadium: He opened a suitcase of Nike swag and gave some shirts to a homeless woman. The interaction was captured on video from across the street and posted on Twitter, where it got more than 3 million views.


“I walked past her on the way to the Nike suite, and I chopped it up with them and I walked out with a suitcase and whatnot,” Willis told the NFL Network later, saying he was unaware he was on video.

“And I felt bad because I saw her son. It was a pregnant lady, and she was homeless. And I was just like, ‘Shoot, I don’t have no money, but I can give you a couple of shirts.’ ”

A dual threat on the field, Willis threw for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns last season and rushed for 878 yards and 13 scores.

His completion percentage dropped from 64.2% as a junior to 61.1% as a senior. Although there are lingering questions about his accuracy, Willis attributed those issues to footwork problems he’s been working through this offseason.

“Somebody always is going to think you’re trash,” he said. “That’s just the way the game goes. I’m just going to keep on going. I’m not playing for their approval.”


The NFL is dropping its COVID-19 protocols, the league and NFL Players Assn. jointly announced Thursday in a memo to all 32 clubs.

March 3, 2022


Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett throws during a drill Thursday.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Some people want to talk about hand size, but Pickett prefers people concentrate on the body — his body of work, that is. He completed 67.2% of his passes last season for 4,319 yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 42-7. In his career at Pittsburgh, he set records for most 300-yard passing games (16) and 400-yard passing games (five).

Still, teams like quarterbacks to have big hands to better grip the ball, and Pickett’s right hand was measured at 8½ inches, which would be the smallest of any current NFL quarterback. The same question hounded Joe Burrow, whose hand measured nine inches. Cincinnati wound up using the No. 1 pick on Burrow, who guided the Bengals to the Super Bowl in his second season.

Burrow recently joked on Twitter that he was “considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands.”

Pickett didn’t seem too concerned about the hand-size issue when asked by reporters about it last week.


“The tape is your resume,” he said. “The rest of this stuff is just boxes you have to check. There hasn’t been much talk about it in the formal interviews that I’ve had.”

With the 2021 season over, what’s next for the NFL as it moves toward the 2022 season? Here are the people, places and issues that will be talking points.

Feb. 16, 2022


Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder warms up at the scouting combine Thursday.
(Steve Luciano / Associated Press)

Ridder is the winningest college quarterback in this class, with his teams going 44-6 during his four years as a starter. He’s also a father, as he and his girlfriend, Claire Cornett, have an 11-month old daughter, Leighton Elizabeth.

Ridder told reporters that parenthood has made him a better leader.

“She makes me the most selfless person that I can be, and it really helps me improve my game,” he said. “I just work that much harder. When she’s out there crawling around and doing what she does, it just makes me excited to be her father and be able to go to work every single day to work for her. My teammates may not know it, but they get all that hard work out of me because of her.”

Ridder’s mother was 15 when she gave birth to him, and the quarterback told USA Today that “she’s made me who I am today.”


On Thursday night, Ridder covered 40 yards in a blistering 4.49 seconds, meaning he was faster than a lot of the wide receivers out there.