The NFL draft is just three weeks away, and there’s still a lot of intrigue as to what will happen. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the first pick, and the betting odds have Aidan Hutchinson as a -250 favorite to be the first player drafted.
If you’re interested in the quarterbacks in this draft, the intrigue begins with the second overall pick. Malik Willis is a sizable -185 favorite to be the first quarterback drafted, but is there another name worth a look?
Which team will draft a quarterback first?
With the first overall pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars almost certainly will not draft a quarterback. They used the first pick in 2021 to draft Trevor Lawrence, and this doesn’t appear to be anywhere near another Josh Rosen situation. Jacksonville is projected to take Hutchinson, if you believe the betting odds.
The Detroit Lions have the second overall pick, and that’s where things become interesting. The Lions have a lot of holes on their roster, and for the most part, this quarterback class is viewed as relatively weak. It appears that drafting one of the top edge-rushers with the No. 2 pick is the consensus opinion as to what Detroit will do.
However, it’s not often you draft at the top of the draft. Jared Goff is probably not the long-term solution at quarterback, so there is speculation that the Lions will take a long look at a quarterback. They need to do their due diligence.
Behind the Lions, the Texans, Jets and Giants have picks No. 3-5. Davis Mills and Zach Wilson were drafted just last year and the Giants look like they’ll give Daniel Jones another year.
at no. 6, the Panthers are certainly in the quarterback market. Most mock drafts and draft experts can see Carolina taking a quarterback here. If you think the Lions pass on a quarterback, the first signal-caller in this draft might just go to Carolina.
These two teams are in different places
Depending on whether it’s Detroit or Carolina taking the first quarterback, the result might be vastly different.
Most draft experts project Kenny Pickett out of Pittsburgh as the most NFL-ready, highest-floor, safest quarterback in this draft class. He played in a pro-style offense and stayed in college for five years. On the other hand, Malik Willis out of Liberty is viewed as having the highest ceiling but he’s a much riskier prospect with a lower floor. He’s an athletic beast, but some question his abilities in the pocket.
If you want a comparison from the 2021 draft, Pickett might be similar to Mac Jones. He’s probably ready to start in the league in his first year, but there are obvious limitations to his game that make you question just how high the ceiling is. Meanwhile, Willis might be more similar to someone like Trey Lance, perhaps not ready for primetime right away and could benefit from being developed behind another quarterback.
Detroit has Goff in place. The Lions would have no qualms about naming him the starter next year and having a rookie learn behind him. Coach Dan Campbell also got positive reviews in his first season and there’s not any talk about his job security. He likely doesn’t need to win in 2022 to keep his job. A team like Detroit might be willing to take Willis and have him sit for a while behind Goff.
On the other hand, Sam Darnold is the Carolina quarterback. The Panthers likely would prefer a quarterback to come in right away and take over the starting job. They probably also don’t want a rookie learning anything from Darnold.
There’s also much more desperation in Carolina to win in 2022. We saw that first-hand last year when they bought in Cam Newton and it felt like they would change quarterbacks every game. Matt Rhule is firmly on the hot seat. General manager Scott Fitterer also has a strike on the ledger after giving up a second-round pick for Darnold. Owner David Tepper has a reputation as a demanding owner who wants immediate results.
Rhule almost certainly doesn’t have enough time to draft a developmental prospect. If Carolina has a bad year this year, it would be a shock if he kept his job. Fitterer probably also doesn’t feel overly secure with Tepper’s return. Carolina is probably more likely to draft a quarterback who can make an immediate impact to try and save the jobs of people making decisions. That quarterback would be Pickett.
The betting fallout
As we get closer to the draft, more and more experts are mocking Kenny Pickett to the Panthers at No. 6 as the first quarterback off the board. Bruce Feldman of the Athletic, Todd McShay of ESPN and Peter Schrager or NFL Network have all done just that over the course of the last week.
Malik Willis is -185 to be the first quarterback drafted, while Kenny Pickett is +160 to accomplish that feat.
If Detroit picks a quarterback at No. 2, I would expect them to go with Willis. However, if you expect that to happen, you can bet Malik Willis to be the No. 2 overall pick at +400 at BetMGM, which is a much more lucrative payout.
If Detroit passes on a quarterback, the next team up is likely the Panthers. As I outlined, I could certainly see the Panthers going with the more NFL-ready prospect with the higher floor in an attempt to save the job of their coach. Rhule also recruited Pickett in college, and the quarterback actually committed to Temple before de-committing when Rhule left for Baylor.
If Detroit passes on a quarterback at No. 2, I think Pickett as the first quarterback drafted at +160 is a good bet at plus odds. It’s a risk you have to take, but that’s why they call it betting.