Having considered the position in the last draft, quarterback surely sits atop the list of needs for the Washington Football Team in the 2022 NFL Draft. While that much was surmised before Ryan Fitzpatrick was escorted from FedExField with a potentially severe hip injury, it now becomes abundantly clear. Washington’s next full-time starter isn’t on the roster right now. So, who could they target in the 2022 NFL Draft to replace the magic of Fitzpatrick?
Quarterback sits atop Washington’s 2022 NFL Draft needs
When Fitzpatrick signed a one-year, $10 million contract back in March, it was evident that he would probably be Washington’s QB1 for this season and this season alone. Even with Taylor Heinicke earning an $8.75 million contract extension with his playoff heroics, quarterback was near the top of Washington’s draft needs for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Despite this, with an abundance of holes on the roster, they never pulled the trigger on a passer while on the clock in Cleveland. It’s not that they didn’t consider it. In a post-draft interview with Cris Collinsworth, head coach Ron Rivera essentially admitted that they were priced out of pursuing their preferred passer.
However, Rivera’s comments to reporters pre-draft perhaps hold a clue to a grander plan. It’s so often the case that teams throw a young quarterback into a terrible situation and try and build around them. What if, Rivera mused, you put a team in place first and made the quarterback the final piece of the complex roster puzzle. The Washington head coach pointed to lessons learned in the past as a key to what could be in the future.
“At that point, we had not put all the other pieces around Cam Newton. I’ve always thought, wow, if you could do it the other way where you put all the other pieces around and then you get your quarterback. Man, that might be a pretty good situation. This could be one of those situations where we put all the other pieces in place and a year or two from now the right guy is there and we make that move.”
Will the right guy be there in the 2022 NFL Draft?
With quarterback set to be the biggest of Washington’s draft needs in the 2022 NFL Draft, what constitutes the right guy? Situation and scheme are as important as talent when finding landing spots for prospects in the pros. What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander. One size does not fit all.
Thankfully, offensive coordinator Scott Turner has a broad outlook on what scheme Washington runs. While his background is rich in “Air Coryell” history, he believes in tailoring his offense to the players at his disposal. As a result, there are multiple traditional schemes layered into his offense. Yet, he’s also spoken about finding a quarterback who plays with decision-making and accuracy while being able to drive the ball downfield.
Although Turner runs the offense, Rivera ultimately has the final say on personnel calls. Importantly for the success of the Washington offense, there appears to be synergy between coach and coordinator. A multi-Super Bowl-winning QB like Tom Brady is a rarity. Still, Rivera points to efficient passers who avoid turnovers and step up to make big plays in the most significant moments as the model for even one-time championship-winning passers.
Which quarterbacks fit Washington’s needs in the 2022 NFL Draft?
There isn’t a more exciting quarterback in the upcoming class than Malik Willis. He probably has the best arm in the entire class. Arm talent is often confused with arm strength. Being able to throw a ball 60-plus yards is having a strong arm. Whipping it on a rope 60-plus yards with velocity and throwing from multiple arm angles — that is arm talent.
Willis has arm talent for days. Already this season, we’ve seen incredible, NFL-caliber throws from the Liberty signal-caller. His 9.0 career adjusted passing yards per throw is one of the best in the class.
However, Willis is also blessed with insane, game-changing ability as a runner. Although he’s significantly smaller, Willis is the closest thing to Newton that Rivera will ever find. He can conjure up big plays, by air or by land, and he’s led Liberty to the biggest wins in program history. Regardless, it remains to be seen whether his accuracy and decision-making can make the grade for Washington.
The essence of Washington’s offense is being physical in the ground game and driving the ball downfield in the passing game. Sound familiar? Last year, the North Carolina Tar Heels dominated their opposition on the ground while allowing Sam Howell to air it out downfield.
As a result, Howell developed the reputation as one of the best downfield passers in college football. No quarterback in the nation had more 70-plus-yard passing plays last season. Being able to drive the ball downfield, however, isn’t enough. Thankfully, Howell shows impressive ball placement on his deep pass.
While Howell doesn’t possess the same level of mobility as Willis, he’s a tough runner on the move. At 6’1″ and 225 pounds, he has a similar build as Fitzpatrick. Like Fitzpatrick, he’s more of a tough runner than athletic, but he gets the job done using that physicality.
When Turner was hired as the offensive coordinator, he banged the table for Ken Zampese as the quarterbacks’ coach. Turner was impressed by the work he’d done with multiple NFL quarterbacks, most notably Baker Mayfield. Sam Howell’s most frequent draft comparison? Baker Mayfield.
Let’s go back and revisit Turner’s quarterback checklist quickly. Accuracy. Decision making. Ability to drive the ball downfield. Imagine you’re holding a clipboard with this checklist on it. You turn on USC quarterback Kedon Slovis’ 2019 game tape to evaluate whether he meets Washington’s criteria for a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Accuracy — check. Slovis is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in this class. Despite struggling through an injury last season, Slovis has completed 69.5% of his career passing attempts. The USC QB excels with accuracy and ball placement.
Decision-making — check. Slovis was coached in high school by Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, and it shows. He exudes football intelligence and puts it to excellent use on the field.
Ability to drive the ball downfield — check. Slovis has shown the ability to move the ball downfield with not only strength but impressive ball placement. Although his arm didn’t look the strongest in 2020, the assumption is that injury hampered him. The current college football season will be crucial to see which year was the outlier.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the 2022 NFL Draft quarterback class. While it’s a deep class, there isn’t the same top-end quality level as last year. Other prospects like Carson Strong, Matt Corral, or even Desmond Ridder could be considered targets for the team.
One thing is for sure, quarterback should be at the top of Washington’s draft board in April.