Inspired initially by the excitement of the four-game winning streak, for the past four weeks I have been taking an unusual approach to track the Washington Football Team’s chances of making the playoffs. I took the lead from Bill in Bangkok, whose irrepressible optimism continues into Week 17, despite the fact that all remaining playoff scenarios require the WFT to become the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record two years in a row.
The Week 16 massacre in Dallas marked a turning point for me. In fact, it was the first offensive play from scrimmage that finally burst my bubble and made it impossible to maintain the willful suspension of disbelief required to maintain the hope that the Football Team could become a playoff contender in 2021. To remind you, Terry McLaurin had beaten coverage on a downfield route. Taylor Heinicke lofted a pass in his direction, which fell about 10 yards short, gifting Trevon Diggs his eleventh interception of the season.
You can say what you want about the loss being primarily on the defense. My takeaway from that game is that, if you want to contend with the best teams in football, you have to be able to take what the opposing defense gives you. The Football Team has the receiver to make that play, but they need to find the quarterback who can hit him in stride when he gets open.
Sure the team still needs to fix some glaring holes on defense and add some weapons, but they are never going to be able to contend with playoff teams like the Packers and Chiefs on a regular basis until they are able to run a complete NFL offense; and there is no healthy QB on the current roster capable of doing that.
Having finally lost faith in the legend of Taylor Heinicke, I decided to switch tacks. As a fan for over 50 years, I’m not actually capable of cheering for the WFT to lose a game, particularly not one against a hated enemy like Philadelphia or the Giants. Now that the WFT is effectively out of the playoff hunt, however, I don’t see any harm in enjoying the fruits of their misfortune. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining.
With those thoughts in mind, for the last two weeks of the season, I will switch to tracking the Washington Football Team’s progress up or down the draft order, with particular emphasis on how they are positioned to draft one of the top QB prospects in the 2022 draft class.
Week 17 Draft Order
If the season ended today, the draft order of non-playoff teams would be as follows, courtesy of Tankathon:
The WFT currently holds the ninth pick in the draft, which might be enough to position them for one of the top QB prospects, depending on what a few teams ahead of them make of this less than stellar QB class, and barring any trades from teams seeking to move up into the top ten.
Of course, with two more weeks to go, a lot can change. Over the next two weeks, I will be tracking how the WFT jostles for position in the draft order with the other teams with similar records, with particular attention to how they are placed to select a top QB prospect. If that is what Ron Rivera is planning in April, he could face stiff competition from a few other QB-needy teams. But before we have a look at the competition, we will first need to see what quarterbacks are available in the draft.
2022 QB Draft Class
While the QB draft picture is likely to change after the All Star games and Combine, at this point of the process only one QB prospect appears to be emerging with a clear, consensus first round grade amongst the majority of analysts.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh, 6’3”, 220 lbs, 23 years old, 51 career starts
2021 stats: 4,319 passing yds, 67.2% completion rate, 42 TD/7 INT, rushing 233 yds/5 TD in 14 games
Pickett is more of a traditional pocket passer, with adequate arm strength to make all the throws in Scott Turner’s offense, combined with good accuracy, strong throwing mechanics, vision to progress through reads and excellent instincts to read and attack coverage. While he will not make his living as dual threat QB, Pickett has good mobility, allowing him to make plays out of the pocket and off-schedule, and to gain yards on the ground when needed.
One thing that stands out to me from Pickett’s scouting reports is that the excels at leading receivers into position to make plays. Fans who are worried about Terry McLaurin’s long term health and career longevity should let that sink in.
After Pickett there are five more prospects who vary widely in different analysts rankings, attracting grades ranging from first to even third round, depending who is doing the grading. If the demand for QBs in 2022 continues to be anything like recent draft years, we can expect some, if not all of these prospects to be taken in the first round, but which ones and where is anyone’s guess at this stage in the process:
Matt Corral, Ole Miss, 6’0”-6’2”, 200-205 lbs, 23 years old, 26 career starts
2021 stats: 3,339 passing yards, 68.4% completion rate, 20 TD/4 int, rushing 597 yds/11 TD in 12 games
Corral almost rises to the top tier, as a majority of analysts seem to project him to go in the first round. He drops to the second tier over concerns amongst NFL teams about whether he has NFL-level arm strength.
Fans who were caught up in the excitement of Tyler Heinicke’s improbable rise to stardom might want to think of Corral as an upgrade from coach to first class. Corral combines Heinicke’s never quit attitude, gamer mentality and mobility on the ground with excellent quick decision making, a fast release and a stronger arm with good accuracy to pick defenses apart.
This is what he had this to say about his decision to join his team in the Sugar Bowl:
Sounds like Rivera’s type of player to me. Whether Scott Turner is willing to up the tempo of his offense and add more RPO concepts to suit Corral’s strengths is less clear.
Corral greatly improved his decision making and reduced his turnover rate under Lane Kiffin’s guidance in 2021, demonstrating the coachability and drive to improve that you want to see. However, some NFL teams may still have concerns about whether he has the arm strength to drive the ball deep.
The other potential knock on Corral is that he lacks prototypical size for the position. While there appears to be some disagreement about his actual measurements, I think that is just stupid talk, considering that he is about the same size as future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, a bit taller than Russell Wilson and generally bigger than Kyler Murray.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati, 6’4”, 215 lbs, age 22, 46 career starts
2021 stats: 3,190 passing yds, 65.9% completion rate, 30 TD/8 INT in 13, rushing 361 yds/6 TD in 13 games
Ridder may be a small school prospect, but he is the QB who led lowly Cincinnati to become the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff, dispatching Notre Dame 24-13 as well as a number of other respectable programs along the way. He failed to take advantage of the opportunity to improve his draft stock in the playoff against Alabama, but still has opportunities at the Senior Bowl and Combine.
Ridder is a dual threat QB who can win from the pocket or the ground. While he has good throwing mechanics, he struggles with inconsistency of ball placement and will need further development in an NFL program.
Malik Willis, Liberty, 6’1”, 215 lbs, age 22, 23 career starts
2021 stats: 2857 passing yards, 61.1% completion rate, 27 TD/12 INT, rushing 878 yds/13 TD in 13 games
The FBS standout is the most physically gifted prospect in the 2022 QB class, and will appeal to teams that prioritise traits and have confidence in their ability to develop quarterbacks. He is described as being very raw and will need to land on a team with patience to develop his footwork, decision making and processing of coverages.
Sam Howell, UNC, 6’1”, 220 lbs, age 21, 36 career starts
2021 stats: 2,851 passing yards, 62.7% completion rate, 23 TD/9 INT, 825 rushing yards/11 TDs in 11 games
Howell is a rhythm passer with a quick release and fast decision making, who thrived in UNC’s air-raid offense, featuring a heavy dose of run-pass option concepts. In 2021 he developed a new aspect to his game, rushing for 825 yards and 11 TDs. Like many college QBs, there are questions about whether he can adapt to an NFL scheme. Scouting reports also raise questions about his ability to handle adversity and to adapt when plays don’t go to plan. He is likely to require considerable development at the next level, ideally on a team with an established starter in place.
Carson Strong, Nevada, 6’4”, 215 lbs, age 22, 31 career starts
2021 stats: 4,186 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 36 TD/8 INT, rushing -208 yds/0 TD (that is not a typo) in 12 games
Strong is a pure pocket passer with a strong arm capable of making all the throws in an NFL offense. He is a mature leader with experience at reading defences and directing a passing attack against coverages. However, he suffered from a rare medical condition in high school requiring surgery to repair a bone defect in his leg. He is a below average athlete and his passing percentage drops considerably when forced of the pocket. He is a liability when forced to make plays on the ground, accounting for -95 rushing yards in 2020 and a whopping -208 in 2021. I don’t know how that’s even possible. Fans of the WFT’s last two Super Bowl winning QBs, Mark Rypien and Doug Williams, may appreciate the throw back to a previous era.
QB-Needy Teams Picking Ahead of the WFT
Detroit (2-12-1) – Jared Goff has not turned it around in Detroit, ranking just ahead of Sam Darnold at 26th in ESPN’s total QBR. The only reason Detroit doesn’t go QB with the second overall pick is that they have glaring needs all over the roster, including edge defender, wide receiver, linebacker and secondary. It might be better to take an elite pass rusher like Thibodeau and use the rest of the draft to patch holes before picking the QBotF next year. They are a good bet to select Pickett at #2 unless they get a trade down offer that’s too good to refuse.
Houston (4-11) – With Deshaun Watson in legal limbo and Tyrod Taylor as the primary veteran starter, the Texan’s QB situation is far from settled. However, after a rocky start, rookie QB Davis Mills is starting to show signs of being starter material. Houston’s biggest draft needs at CB, edge defender and safety just happen to align with the elite prospects in this draft, so it is possible they go a different direction with the third pick.
Giants (4-11) – The Giants pick twice before the WFT is on the board. Their 2019 sixth overall pick Daniel Jones is showing few signs of developing into a franchise quarterback, ranking just behind Taylor Heinicke at #23 with an ESPN total QBR of 42.6 and ten TDs to seven interceptions on the year. The question is whether Dave Gettleman is ready to admit his mistake, or perhaps whether John Mara is ready to admit his and let Gettleman go. Personally, I hope Danny Dimes and Gettleman get big extensions. Wishes aside, the Giants are a good bet to select a QB prospect if the opportunity presents itself.
Carolina (5-10) – Sam Darnold is just terrible. Carolina has to move on. The only question is whether they address the position in the draft, free agency or by trading for a vet. I would be hard to imagine that they don’t select a QB if a prospect they like is available at the seventh pick, unless they do a deal for a premium starter before the draft.
Seattle (5-10) – The Russell Wilson trade rumors have developed to the point that pundits are now debating the order of Wilson’s preferred destinations as they relate to the no trade clause in his contract. Sadly Russell fans, Dan Snyder’s team in not one of them. If a trade does happen, Seattle could be in the QB market this draft and armed with a massive haul of draft capitol from the team that acquired him. One of Russell’s preferred destinations is the New York Giants, which currently holds the #5 and #8 picks. Adding one of those to the Seahawks’ current #6 pick would position them to make just about any move required to land their preferred QB prospect.
QB-Needy Teams on the Bubble
Five other teams with needs at QB could easily move ahead of the WFT in the draft order, depending on the outcomes of the final two games of the season.
Atlanta (7-8) – the Falcons made a curious decision to select a tight end with the fourth overall pick in last year’s QB-heavy draft, but Matt Ryan probably does have a few more years in the tank. Will they select his successor this year?
Denver (7-8) – Teddy Bridgewater is keeping the ship afloat, but Elway and company will need to go back to the well sooner or later since Drew Lock does not appear to have panned out.
New Orleans (7-8) – Does anyone believe that Taysom Hill is the long term solution in New Orleans?
Cleveland (7-8) – Bear with me here. Baker Mayfield is the player who actually fits Ryan Fitzpatrick’s reputation as the most up-and-down QB in the league. When is on he can make things happen, but when he is off that’s great for the defense. ESPN’s total QBR has him ranked two positions behind Taylor Heinicke. Cleveland might not be looking to go QB in this draft, but maybe they should be.
Pittsburgh (7-7-1) – Ben Roethlisberger has been in sharp decline and may retire after this season. The pipeline behind him includes Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins. Pittsburgh will be in the QB market very soon.
Playoff Teams that Could Trade Up
I don’t think it’s likely that any of these teams trade up ahead of Washington, and mainly include them for completeness.
Philadelphia (8-7) – If the WFT can pull off the upset on Sunday this one gets really interesting. For the time being, though, I’m assuming that Philadelphia stays behind the WFT in the draft order and might end up picking at 19 or later. Jalen Hurts doesn’t appear to be the answer. But would Howie Roseman consider trading into the top ten for a QB so soon after selecting Hurts in the second round and trading up for Wentz in 2016? Probably not this year. If they don’t make the playoffs, however, the Eagles might just need to trade up a few spots to get ahead of Washington.
Tampa Bay (11-4) – Tom Brady can’t play forever, can he? Tampa selected Kyle Trask in the second round last year, making it highly unlikely they will trade up for a QB in 2022, but not impossible.
Green Bay (12-3) – Aaron Rodgers is 38 years old and there is rampant speculation he won’t be in Green Bay next season. The team picked Jordan Love as a potential successor in the first round of the 2020 draft. We haven’t seen much of Love, aside from a pedestrian week 9 outing against the Chiefs. It would be highly unusual for a well-run team like the Packers to make a massive trade into the top ten with a recent first-round QB on the bench, but stranger things have happened.
Football Team’s Options at Pick #9
In Ron Rivera’s first two seasons in DC the Football Team has cycled through an astonishing succession of six starting quarterbacks (Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Garrett Gilbert) without finding a long-term solution at the most important position. It would seem inconceivable to many fans for the team to not pick a QB in the upcoming draft. However, there are a few reasons that they might go a different direction, at least in the first round.
By most experts’ early projections, 2022 is a weaker QB class than 2021, featuring only one or two prospects who would be likely to have been picked in the first half of most previous drafts. By the time the WFT is on the clock at #9, they could be facing a line-up of QBs with late-first to second-round grades. As happened last draft, the cost of trading up to land their preferred QB prospect could be prohibitive to Rivera as he continues his rebuild.
If the Team decides not to trade up or select the best QB available at #9, they have two other options: select the best player available at another position, or trade down for more picks.
Early analyst projections have described the 2022 draft class as lacking elite talent at the top end, compared to previous years, but there are still some top talents that might tempt Rivera’s team to pick at #9. A few standouts and players at positions of need are:
Kyle Hamilton, S Notre Dame – at 6’4” and 219 lbs with freakish athleticism, Hamilton could be the two-way safety the Team has missed since Sean Taylor’s tragic death which we were tragically reminded of this season. Some analysts and team sources suggest that he might be better suited to more of a hybrid safety-linebacker role, also something that Rivera has shown interest in featuring in his defence.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB LSU – at 6’1” and 195 lbs, with elite athleticism and quality production, Stingley has been described as a “generational talent” at boundary corner. He could possibly have been the top ranked prospect in the class if not for the foot injury that ended his 2021 season. If he falls to the WFT and no QB is available, will Riverboat Ron risk the #9 pick on an injured prospect?
Evan Neal, OT Alabama, Ikem Ekwonu, OT/IOL NC State, Charles Cross, OT Mississippi State – finding a franchise left tackle is another rebuild need. Whether one of these players is that guy, or is worthy of a top 10 pick is debatable. What we don’t know is where Ron and the Marty’s are in that debate.
Treylon Burks, Drake London, Jameson Williams, WR – Adding another receiver to complement Terry McLaurin is another top need. Is Ron Rivera crazy enough to risk the wrath of KyleSmithForGM and transgress the First Draft Commandment by selecting a potential elite playmaking wide receiver in the top ten?
Aside from picking a QB or another top prospect, another option to consider is trading down from #9 for a haul of draft picks to allow the Football team to address multiple roster needs and continue re-stocking its talent pipeline. This opportunity is most likely to come up if another QB-needy team likes a prospect that Rivera did not consider worthy of the #9 pick, or if an elite prospect like Thibodeaux, Stingley or Hamilton has an unexpected slide.
As it stands right now, possible trade partners include Atlanta, New Orleans, Denver, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Green Bay is an outside possibility to join that list. While Philadelphia might also be looking to trade up for a QB, I dobut that Rivera would be willing to do a deal to send a potential franchise QB to a division rival. If anything, they would be looking to trade ahead of the WFT.
In this relatively weak QB class, there is a good possibility that the WFT could trade down to the back of the first round to select a developmental prospect, such as Willis, Ridder, Strong or Howell, while adding more picks to address other positions. Or, they might be able to pick up a developmental QB in the second round this year, after selecting a player higher on their board in the first.
Will the Football Team pull off the upset on Sunday, with their lead back, starting left guard and superstar punter added to the already burgeoning COVID and Injured Reserve lists? Probably not. Like many WFT fans, I will be cheering for them to do the impossible, again. If they don’t, they could take a step closer to finding that elusive franchise QB or adding a stud safety or corner. Either way, WFT fans will have something to be happy about. Happy New Year to everyone at Hogs Haven.