Prospect Pick’em: Quarterbacks

Now that the 2021 season is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start preparing for the start of the new league year. 

Unfortunately, given the Titans’ current salary cap situation, it’s unlikely that Tennessee will be spending well over nine figures to bring in multiple free agents like they have in previous years.

That is why the Titans are in dire need of nailing a draft class that provides instant impact rookies upon arrival.

Over the previous two years, Tennessee has failed to get significant contributions from the majority of their last two draft classes.

Cornerback, Elijah Molden, has been the sole rookie drafted from the past two seasons that truly made his presence felt on the field.

It’s crucial for Tennessee to add impact rookies this year if they’re going to take the next step this fanbase is desperately yearning for.

That is why over the next 10-weeks, you will have the chance to vote on which prospect you would select if the choice was yours.

Each week we will provide a little background information on four different prospects from the same position group.

Shortly after, a poll will be posted on our Social Media pages so you all can vote on which prospect you’re leaning towards.

This week, we’ll start with seemingly the most polarizing position of the offseason: Quarterbacks.

QB Malik Willis, Liberty

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Expected draft range: 1st round (possible trade up)

Career stats & accomplishments at Liberty University:

  • 23 games played at Liberty
  • Completed 62.4 percent of his passes
  • Threw for 5,107 yards 
  • 8.5 yards per attempt
  • 47 passing touchdowns
  • 18 interceptions
  • Career passer rating of 153.2
  • 70.0 QBR
  • 37 ‘Big Time’ throws
  • MVP of 2020 Cure Bowl
  • MVP of 2021 Lending Tree Bowl

Brief Background on Willis

This draft class isn’t particularly QB heavy, all of them are likely going to need some time to groom. With that said, Malik Willis may be the one who’s worth the gamble if you’re selecting one early solely due to his massive upside.

Willis is currently more of a project player with all the necessary tools in the shed than he is a viable day-one starting NFL quarterback. He will be a big project for whichever NFL team selects him—albeit a fun project for anyone willing to bet on his upside.

Theres no denying that the Liberty product has the best arm-talent in this draft class.

Willis possesses everything that you could want in a modern day quarterback. His question marks are aimed more towards the cerebral part of his game.

The Atlanta native played in a simple offense in college, so he’ll be facing a huge jump in complexity of not only the offense he plays in but the defenses he will be facing as well. And his lack of anticipation and consistency even on simpler route concepts is worrisome.

Nonetheless, the former Auburn Tiger is an exciting player to watch due to his rare arm strength combined with his dynamic playmaking ability as a runner.

As intriguing as Willis is as a prospect, it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that the team who selects him is committed to being patient with his development if they truly want to get the most out of him.

Putting the Liberty product on the field before he’s legitimately ready would be a disservice to both himself and his new team.

The young quarterback will need a lot of work when it comes to polishing up his pocket movements, progression on dropback concepts, and throwing with better anticipation — especially when attacking the middle of the field. He also has the occasional habit of trusting his arm talent too much at times rather than relying on his fundamentals.

Its clear that Willis wont be an overnight project, but if a team surrounds him with adequate weapons and are patient with his development, they could be reaping the benefits down the line if he ever ends up maximizing his full potential.

QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati 

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Expected draft range: 1st-2nd round

Career stats & accomplishments at Cincinnati:

  • 50 games played at Cincinnati 
  • Completed 62.1 percent of his passes 
  • Passed for 10,239 yards
  • 7.9 yards per attempt
  • 87 passing touchdowns
  • 28 interceptions
  • 145.8 career passer rating 
  • 71.9 QBR
  • 2X Offensive Player of the year for the American Athletic Conference (AAC)
  • AAC Rookie/freshman of the year (2018)
  • 2X First-Team All-AAC
  • MVP of Birmingham Bowl (2020)
  • Led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoffs — First G5 school ever 

Brief Background on Ridder

Desmond Ridder may be the safest quarterback in this draft class. Although some believe that he may not have the long-term ceiling of someone like Malik Willis, a strong argument can be made that Ridder’s short-term floor is much higher than the rest of his draft-hopeful peers.

The Cincinnati product is a competitive and experienced player who showed steady improvement throughout his career.

The Louisville native is an athletic quarterback who is mobile enough to hurt the defense with his legs when necessary.

Ridder also displayed a cognizant understanding of Cincinnati’s pro-style offense with his pre-and-post-snap operation.

The Cincinnati quarterback always seemed to get his offense into the correct situation more often than not. He hardly ever appeared overwhelmed with how opposing defenses tried to defend him throughout his collegiate career.

That type of even-keel composure is why he never gets flustered into making a backbreaking mistake.

This was extremely evident during Cincinnati’s College Football Semifinal matchup against an obviously superior Alabama team.

The Bearcats’ offense was completely outmatched from a personnel standpoint, especially in the trenches.

Despite being sacked six times, the Cincinnati quarterback never turned the ball over and showed that his ability to protect the football was no fluke — even against a defense littered with NFL talent.

Ridder’s natural ability to operate from the pocket with his polished movement and balance, while still maintaining the athleticism to create plays when things break down, is something that will undoubtedly intrigue plenty of NFL teams.

The former Bearcat is able to operate on time with rhythm while also possessing the necessary arm strength to drive throws down the field, which allows him to attack all areas of the opposing defense.

One of his most notable flaws occurs at the beginning of games when he appears to be too amped up. At times, he tends to start games with accuracy issues that could ultimately become a much bigger issue at the next level if he doesn’t clean that up.

Fortunately for him and his team, Ridder usually settled in as the game prolonged and he often shined the brightest during crucial moments when the Bearcats needed him most.

The Cincinnati legend already has a plethora of experience within a pro-style offense and shows enough advanced play that he is probably the only rookie quarterback in this class who realistically has a chance at starting for an NFL team in 2022.

QB Carson Strong, Nevada

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Expected draft range: 2nd-3rd round

Career stats & accomplishments at Nevada:

  • 31 games played at Nevada
  • Completed 68.1 percent of his passes
  • Threw for 9,368 yards
  • 7.5 yards per attempt 
  • 74 passing touchdowns 
  • 19 interceptions 
  • Career passer rating of 147.5
  • 64.5 QBR
  • 2× Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021)
  • 2× First-team All-Mountain West (2020, 2021)
  • MVP of 2020 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Brief Background on Strong

Carson Strong has the size and mental processing of an NFL starter. He’s cognizant of how defenses are trying to defend him and counters them by getting rid of the ball with timing and precision.

Unfortunately for him, his athletic and arm limitations are hard to overlook in today’s NFL.

Despite his physical limitations, Strong is accurate at all three levels while also possessing a genuine understanding of various passing concepts.

While Strong has the size and toughness to stand in the pocket when things are collapsing around him, he has trouble escaping from defenders due to his lack of speed and stiff running style.

The Nevada product struggled whenever he was forced to try and create something off-script at the collegiate level and things will only get tougher against faster, stronger, & smarter NFL defenders.

Theres no denying that the potential and upside are all there with Strong, but similar to most of the quarterbacks in this class, he will likely need an extended period of time to fine-tune his game before he’s truly ready to step on the field.

QB Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky

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Expected draft range: 3rd-4th round

Career stats & accomplishments at Houston Baptist (2018-2020)

  • 33 games played at Houston Baptist
  • 8,171 passing yards at HBU 
  • 63 passing touchdowns at HBU
  • Led nation in 2019 with 35 passing touchdowns
  • Second in the nation with 317.6 passing yards per game
  • Southland Co-Offensive Player of the Year (2020)

Career stats & accomplishments at Western Kentucky (2021):

  • 14 games played at Western Kentucky
  • Completed 69.2 percent of his passes
  • Threw for 5,967 yards in 2021 (FBS record)
  • 8.7 yards per attempt
  • 62 passing touchdowns last season (FBS record)
  • 11 interceptions
  • 168.9 passer rating
  • 78.6 QBR
  • First-Team All-Conference USA
  • MVP of Conference USA (2021)
  • Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award (2021)
  • Broke the FBS single-season records for passing touchdowns and passing yards in his sole season at Western Kentucky

Brief Background on Zappe

Bailey Zappe isn’t some electrifying athlete by any means. He doesn’t have the type of raw arm-talent that some of the other draft-eligible quarterbacks possess.

However, Zappe is one of the more cerebral quarterbacks in this draft class. He mastered Zach Kittley’s offense at both Houston Baptist and at Western Kentucky where he produced eye-popping/record setting numbers along the way.

The former Hilltopper understands his physical limitations which has allowed him to maximize his skillset to its fullest potential by focusing on what he can do, rather than focusing on what he can’t.

Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player of the 2021 campaign consistently operated his offense with very good rhythm and showed a masterful understanding of the concepts he ran in college.

The Western Kentucky record holder naturally throws with anticipation — mostly out of necessity. He tends to get the ball out of his hand well before his receivers break on their route, while his ball placement often gave his weapons a chance to maneuver after the catch.

Zappe has very good accuracy on short and intermediate throws, even when he’s forced to throw off-platform or forced to create something off-script.

While he doesn’t have the arm strength to consistently drive the ball down field, he does throw a catchable deep ball by getting the throw out early.

The former Houston Baptist quarterback is fundamentally sound from the top-down. This will give Zappe a legitimate chance to compete against the more athletic defenses at the professional level.

He plays with good footwork and balance from the pocket which enables him to be in a strong throwing position at all times.

Zappe’s lack of size, arm strength, and limited athleticism may restrict his upside and viability to be an every-week starter as of right now.

Nonetheless, his raw intelligence of the position combined with his natural passing precision would make him a valuable addition to any quarterback room.

Add in a little patience, combined with professional quarterback grooming, and Zappe could prove to be one of the hidden gems of the 2022 NFL Draft when it’s all said and done.

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