NFL Draft 2022: Sleeper quarterbacks add value to later rounds

Bailey Zappe at the NFL Combine
Bailey Zappe at the NFL Combine

The 2022 NFL Draft isn’t blessed with a truly elite quarterback class. However, that shouldn’t stop teams from attempting to find value at the position in the later rounds.

At best, there will be two signal-callers taken in the first round, and these are likely to be Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis, with the latter being the subject of an awful lot of speculation after the Seattle Seahawks traded Russell Wilson.

Yet, beyond that, there are some eye-catching passers on offer who could be afforded development time in a more relaxed environment and become starters in the NFL down the line.

2022 NFL Draft Quarterback sleepers

Following on from Wednesday’s Sportskeeda Mock Draft, here are four sleeper quarterbacks who could be attracting teams needing a long-term project at the position:

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#1 - Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky (Projected 4th rounder)

The 2021 college football season was dominated by quarterbacks who are due to be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Yet, one of the statistical outliers who has declared for 2022 is Bailey Zappe coming out of Western Kentucky.

While considered a player with glaring rough edges, the Western Kentucky signal-caller had an outstanding season where he threw for 62 touchdown passes and 5,967 passing yards. To put this into context, his touchdown passes total is 15 and 18 more than Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, respectively, both of whom are in line to be picked at #1 in 2023.

Standing at just 6 feet, 1 inch, Zappe is below the average height for an NFL quarterback and has below-average arm strength. However, as we’ve seen in the NFL before, there are a lot of prospects who overcame similar issues once in the league.

While playing at a lower level in the Conference USA, Zappe has put up some impressive numbers in 2021, which can’t be ignored.

He broke the FBS single-season record for passing touchdowns and passing yards last season and has shown he is an accurate passer. There is a lot for a team to work with here: he shows a good understanding of the playbook, is reliable in making routine passes, and doesn’t hold the ball too long.

League scouts don’t believe Zappe can ever become a regular starter in the NFL, but you can look at franchises that aren’t desperate for an immediate solution right now as possible destinations to try and develop what a natural aerial-throwing talent is.

#2 - Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (Projected 2nd rounder)

This year, the Cincinnati Bearcats were one of the best teams in college football, mainly due to the defensive play of potential top-10 pick Ahmad Gardner. However, they had Desmond Ridder, who enjoyed a positive season at quarterback, where he threw 30 touchdown passes.

Mistakes led to heavy concerns over Ridder’s NFL suitability, but a fantastic throwing arm makes him a viable prospect for any team looking for value in the second round. He needs to clean up his accuracy, with eight interceptions blotting his record last year.

Despite his performances in 2021 improving on his previous years with the Bearcats, Ridder has seen his draft stock fall in the run-up to the 2022 NFL Draft. If teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints seek to use their first-round selections on better all-round players, they could use their second-round picks on Ridder and hope he can outplay expectations. It must be remembered that some analysts had him as QB1 in this class for a short time.

#3 - Carson Strong, Nevada (Projected 2nd rounder)

Strong is likely to be a solid Day 2 quarterback who could perhaps be of use to a team in the 2022 season.

Rather like Ridder, Strong could identify both Pittsburgh and New Orleans as possible destinations, while Tampa Bay could look to secure a Tom Brady successor and give him a year to learn from perhaps the greatest to ever play the position.

Throwing 36 touchdowns with Nevada made for a positive 2021 season for Strong, and he has improved year-upon-year with Nevada. He’s clean and excellent in the pocket, although his 35 sacks last year are a concern. He struggled to deal with prolonged pressure from pass rushers, and 2021 saw him have issues producing positive plays.

Strong is a project quarterback with perhaps the biggest ceiling outside Willis and Pickett in this draft class. With Indianapolis looking for a starting quarterback after trading Carson Wentz, they could do worse than select Strong in the second or third round and pair him with a veteran free agent at the position.

#4 - Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan (Projected 3rd rounder)

Eleby’s physical stature is a concern, similar to Zappe's, with the Western Michigan quarterback standing at just 6 feet, 1 inch. From an athletic perspective, he isn’t a great runner and would have to settle at a team with more of a traditional offensive scheme.

Short passing is where Eleby thrives. His accuracy is impressive, and his throws create significant opportunities for Yards after Catch bonuses for his receivers.

If you were to look at purely throwing skills, Eleby is one of the cleaner prospects in this draft class, but his weaknesses under pressure have seen him drop to a 2nd/3rd round pick and problems with his mechanics. His ball release is often inconsistent, with passes lacking speed and force at times, with this being a dream for defenders in the secondary.

Reading defenses is a weakness and why being paired with a veteran QB could benefit from one or two seasons in Eleby’s development. There are raw skills for teams to work with here, and it has to be said that any of the quarterbacks in this class would represent a gamble, but Eleby needs to marry being a good thrower of the ball while being a smarter football player.

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Edited by Jay Lokegaonkar
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