2022 NFL Draft: Under-the-radar quarterbacks who can rise to become the next Zach Wilson

In each of the last six NFL drafts there has been one quarterback ultimately selected within the top three overall picks who was barely on or completely off the radar before his final college season. 

Last year it was Zach Wilson, the year before that, Joe Burrow. In 2019, Kyler Murray. In 2018, Baker Mayfield. Mitchell Trubisky was that dude in 2017. And in 2016 it was Carson Wentz. 

Therefore, it’s a smart practice to scour the college football landscape in August to identify possible rise-from-obscurity passers before their ascension begins. 

Remember, too, none of the quarterbacks listed above were necessarily “well-known” draft prospects many believed could be high first-round selections.

So, these are the quarterbacks I’m labeling as “too mainstream” to be considered for this article: Florida’s Emory Jones, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Nevada’s Carson Strong, Georgia’s J.T. Daniels, UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels. 

Let’s dive deep. Real deep. That’s where we’re most likely to find the next Wilson or Burrow. (You’ll also notice the transfer portal has become a hell of a drug.) I present to you this year’s Day 3 to Top 3 candidates.

Jack Sears, Boise State

Recruit ranking: No. 4 pro-style (2017)
Best statistical year: 85.1% comp, 12.3 yards per attempt, 3 TDs, 0 INTs (Boise State 2020, three appearances)

Sears was a highly regarded prep star who committed to USC and threw 28 passes as a redshirt freshman in 2018. He was miles away from securing the starting job in 2019 — JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis ahead of him on the depth chart — and transferred to Boise State. 

I won’t lie to you — I don’t have definitive opinions on Sears as a passer right now. He’s started two games — one at USC, one at Boise State. But both of those starts were thoroughly impressive displays of arm talent, decisiveness, and maneuverability inside and outside the pocket. 

He diced Air Force’s defense last season with the Broncos for 280 yards and three touchdowns without a pick on 20 attempts. The full arsenal was on display. He was in complete command. In 2018 with the Trojans, he connected on 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns without a pick against Arizona State, and one of his scores was a 60-yard launch late in the fourth quarter. Looking back, I’m surprised Sears wasn’t listed as a dual-threat recruit because his two starts are littered with explosive scrambles and effortless bootlegs. 

He’s currently in a classic quarterback competition with Hank Bachmeier, and no one’s exactly sure who’ll win the starting gig. But if Sears emerges victorious in camp, I’ll be pumped to watch him as a draft analyst this season on the Smurf Turf. He’s very talented.

Chase Garbers, California

Recruit ranking: No. 12 pro-style (2017)
Best statistical year: 60.9% comp, 8.2 yards per attempt, 14 TDs, 3 INTs (2019)

Garbers has been hovering near the draft radar for some time. After redshirting as a freshman, he took the reins of the offense in 2018. Garbers took a step forward as a sophomore, but like many passers in last year’s abbreviated season, his growth screeched to a halt in 2020, which is why you likely haven’t heard much about him heading into this draft cycle. 

There’s quality arm talent to his game, although that won’t be characterized as a strength during the pre-draft process. I love how Garbers has a secondary throwing motion, a lightning quick, three-quarter delivery to get it out with zip in a hurry. And his touch at the intermediate level is exquisite. He regularly steps up into the pocket and often takes off. Garber’s lack of hesitation helps to accentuate every ounce of his athleticism as a scrambler. The receiving talent around him is mediocre at best, which could cap his productivity in 2021. 

Jarrett Guarantano, Washington State

Recruit ranking: No. 1 dual-threat (2016)
Best statistical year: 59.1% comp, 8.4 yards per attempt, 16 TDs, 8 INTs (Tennessee, 2019)

Guarantano was a huge get for the Tennessee program. Why? Well, he chose to be a Volunteer over heading to school in Columbus, Ohio, and nearby Rutgers. He’s already thrown 808 passes — scouts will love that. 

And while he never met the lofty expectations set by his recruit ranking at Tennessee, he was hardly an inept passer with the Volunteers. In fact, three of his four seasons there went over 60% completion, but the 2019 campaign featured the best yards-per-attempt average. 

He’s a mostly poised, pocket passer with a rocket arm. His coverage-reading skills are … lacking. He has to process quicker, too. At Washington State, he’ll be placed in a spread offense that features plenty of downfield strikes. If he makes better decisions and plays more assertively, Guarantano could slowly ascend big boards across the league. 

Recruit ranking: No. 23 dual-threat (2016)
Best statistical year: 59.1% comp, 9.1 yards per attempt, 9 TDs, 2 INTs (Boston College, 2019)

One of the more experienced passers in this collection of passers, Brown has attempted 703 throws heading into the 2021 season as Oregon’s starter. 

The 6-foot-3, 225 pounder is a big play waiting to happen on the ground. That was his forte at Boston College. During his time there, he gradually played more confidently as a passer. Brown played extensively for Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State and looked comfortable. 

He was blessed with an easy, flick-of-the-wrist release that routinely produces a rifled spiral and has designed-run game athleticism. Oregon will be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 this season. Brown will be in the spotlight, always a positive development for a quarterback to ascend draft rankings. And he fits the mold of a quarterback becoming increasingly popular at the NFL level. 

Jarret Doege, West Virginia

Recruit ranking: No. 55 dual-threat (2017)
Best statistical year: 63.8% comp, 7.3 yards per attempt, 12 TDs, 3 INTs (Bowling Green, 2017)

With nearly 1,100 attempts to his name at the college level, Doege’s the most experienced member of his quarterback grouping. He’s probably the least naturally talented in athletic gifts and arm talent. 

And that’s OK. Burrow doesn’t have a cannon. Doege’s in a gimmicky offense that loves screens and utilizing the short passing game to methodically move the ball down the field. However, Doege has been good down the field when West Virginia has taken those shots in his two years as the starter there to date. 

He needs to sell himself as a hyper-accurate, rapid decision-maker with the experience necessary to hit the ground running in the NFL to go higher in the draft than anyone initially expected. 

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College

Recruit ranking: No. 4 dual-threat (2018)
Best statistical year: 61% comp, 7.6 yards per attempt, 17 TDs, 5 INTs (Boston College, 2020)

In the scouting community, Jurkovec is probably the most well-known name on this list, although he’s relatively new to the field in college. I’m allowing him to pass through the prerequisites because he’s barely started. Jurkovec committed to Notre Dame out of high school and threw a grand total of 18 passes over two seasons as Ian Book’s backup for the Fighting Irish.

He jumped onto the draft radar — albeit more as a Day 3 type — in his debut season on Chestnut Hill last fall. At 6-foot-5 and 230-ish pounds, Jurkovec fits the “big, toolsy” prototype. His release looks a bit labored but it delivers fastballs and high-arcing bombs 50-plus yards downfield with ease. Jurkovec moves like quarterbacks much shorter and lighter than him, too, which is another reason he’s a legitimate dark horse to land in the first round.

Lastly, he’ll have Zay Flowers, a dynamic junior wideout, as his top target. Jurkovec has already demonstrated NFL talent. With better accuracy and pocket presence, he can land early in the first round. There’s that much inherent ability to mold. 

Max Duggan, TCU

Recruit ranking: No. 5 dual-threat (2019)
Best statistical year: 60.8% comp, 7.5 yards per attempt, 10 TDs, 4 INTs (TCU, 2020)

I’ll be honest — the main memory I have with Duggan materialized while watching Jalen Reagor during the 2020 draft process, and it was not a good one. Duggan, then a true freshman starter, significantly hindered Reagor’s production in his final season with the Horned Frogs. It was a Greg Focker meeting Jack Byrnes esque first impression. 

But Duggan improved across the board at TCU in 2020. He played with more patience, calmness, and accuracy. He joined the program as a highly touted recruit, indicating the natural talent has long been there. The arm talent is noticeable and it’s impossible to watch a Duggan-started contest without being impressed by his wiggle and explosiveness as as runner. 

There’s not much electricity in the pass-catching contingent at TCU this season, but Duggan’s legitimate dual-threat style could generate serious buzz during the 2022 pre-draft process if he decides to declare early after a big junior campaign.