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It is altogether possible that this year’s quarterback draft class will produce a bunch of water boys — as was projected by draft experts throughout the college season — but at the Senior Bowl on Saturday, it sure didn’t look that way.

Four quarterbacks who are projected to get picked in the first round, Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder, all helped themselves in one way or another this week in Mobile, Alabama.

It’s not easy to put on a show in the actual Senior Bowl game. The offenses are installed in a week and defensive linemen usually steamroll the offensive lines. That was definitely the case again this year but by the end of the week, each quarterback got an opportunity to build their case as a quality prospect.

Willis made the most progress. He reportedly wowed with his physical skills in practice, throwing the fastest pass ever tracked during Senior Bowl week, quickly picking up the offense and coming across well to teams.

“In interviews with teams, Willis came across as humble and coachable, to the point where one exec wondered whether Willis actually knows how good he can be,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote.

In the game, Willis had the play of the day, exploding in Lamar Jackson-ish style for a huge gain.

The Senior Bowl broadcast noted that Willis hit the fastest full running speed during practices among quarterbacks, clearing 20.5 mph.

Willis had two laser-beam passes in the first quarter that were dropped and he was forced to escape the pass rush on a number of occasions, so the Liberty QB only finished with a handful of yards through the air but his overall week caused USA Today’s Luke Easterling to Tweet: “Malik Willis ain’t getting out of the top 10.”

“He has some things to work on, but a team that goes all in on his skill set -- think about what Buffalo did with Josh Allen over the past few years -- his ceiling is high,” ESPN’s Todd McShay wrote.

There are debates over whether Pitt’s Kenny Pickett helped his stock by leaps and bounds. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler declared Pickett a winner of the week.

“I heard glowing reviews from several scouts about Pickett and the way he handled himself during interviews this week,” Brugler wrote. “For teams willing to bet on high-upside traits, Willis could be QB1 on some draft boards. But for teams looking for a quarterback ready to step in and compete for starting reps from day one, Pickett will have the edge.”

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Pickett as the first QB off the board, others think Willis will get the nod because of his upside.

Pickett reportedly had a tough day throwing during one practice that was in the rain but defensive players named him the practice player of the week for his team (Willis got the same award on the other team). McShay wrote that his good-weather practice on Thursday was very strong.

“He was in control, excelling with his reads and getting the ball where it needed to go on time,” McShay said. “The red zone work was outstanding. That's where things get tight and the reads get faster, and it was interesting to see him really put on a show there. The bottom line is you know what you're getting with Pickett. He's more polished than Willis, but his ceiling might be lower.”

During the game, Pickett led a touchdown drive in which he went 6-for-6. There weren’t too many high difficulty throws en route but he didn’t struggle with throws inside or outside of the pocket. An AFC executive told Fowler that Pickett is the most “pro ready” of the group.

Pickett and Willis appear to have put themselves ahead of North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder this week. Howell was reportedly the most consistent but lacked highlight-reel material while Ridder’s throwing at practice was up and down. In the game, Howell went 6-for-9 with 67 yards despite being under duress on nearly every play and ran for 29 yards and a touchdown. Ridder made one of the best throws of the day.

Despite a good showing, McShay said he still has Howell ahead of Ridder.

“I had him over Ridder coming into the week and I came away feeling even better about that,” McShay wrote.

PFF’s Anthony Treash saw it differently.

“[Ridder] displayed an innate ability to process defenses and get through his progressions to find the right receiver,” Treash wrote. “Ridder is making a push to be the first or second quarterback off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.”

Matt Corral of Ole Miss was not in attendance because of an injury he suffered at the end of the season. One analyst said he might have been the biggest winner because nobody had a meteoric rise that would knock him off his place as a top two or three QB prospect in the draft.

In total, there were a wide variety of viewpoints on the Senior Bowl quarterbacks, who are all projected as possibly being taken in the first round. But there were reasons on display to believe each of them has a chance to be an NFL starter.

When pundits suggest that a draft is “weak” at the QB position, it shouldn’t be taken that there is no chance any of them becomes quality starters. While that has happened before, history has gone both ways on “weak” QB drafts. It’s impossible to pin down whether this group will end up like Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen or Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson but at least we saw some moments that looked like that latter.

There’s so many examples of poor evaluations on QBs from teams and experts that we could write them every day until the end of the draft and only scratch the surface. It wasn’t so long ago that the Baltimore Ravens picked 24-year-old tight end Hayden Hurst with their first first-round pick and then selected Lamar Jackson 32nd or that NFL.com ranked Josh Allen as an equal prospect to center Billy Price.

If there was a magic formula for scouting QBs, somebody would have found it by now. What we know is that Willis, Pickett, Howell and Ridder showed some of their upside at the Senior Bowl, passing the first test on the way to being picked at the top of the draft. 

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