After an opening night that saw only one quarterback (Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett) taken in the NFL draft, the second round came and went without a single passer hearing his name called. Then came the third round, where a trio of passers originally projected significantly higher finally had their waits come to an end.
First, the Atlanta Falcons used the 10 pick of the third round to select Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Then, 12 slots later, the Tennessee Titans took Liberty’s Malik Willis, and eight spots later, the Carolina Panthers took Mississippi’s Matt Corral.
The selections played out quite differently than NFL insiders and analysts predicted entering the draft.
Throughout the pre-draft process, Willis drew praise as one of the best prospects at his position. As recently as Wednesday, multiple NFL scouts and coaches believed he had a chance to go as high as second overall to Detroit. If not, Willis at the very least had a good shot at going in the mid- to late-first round alongside Pickett, with Corral and Ridder landing somewhere after that.
In the eyes of many NFL talent evaluators, none of this year’s leading quarterbacks are viewed as Day 1 starters. Instead, some believe that each passer will need time to develop.
Ultimately, the limitations in the quarterbacks’ games prompted the decision-makers to place higher priorities on acquiring players at other positions, who had fewer questions surrounding them and could aid their teams more quickly.
As the second round passed without the drafting of a single quarterback, some NFL insiders expressed surprise. But by the night’s end, many of those teams in need of passers had found their guys without having to pay quite as richly to acquire them.
Now, it’ll be interesting to see how the developmental processes play out for each and how they will initially fit with their teams.
Here’s a look at the prospects for each of this year’s leading quarterbacks now that they have found their homes.
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Kenny Pickett – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency, and he will most likely land the starting job. But 6-3, 217-pound Pickett could push him. Many talent evaluators regard Pickett as the most NFL-ready quarterback of this year’s class. However, because of issues with accuracy, touch and poise, he isn’t regarded as having a very high ceiling. Pickett has drawn comparisons to Andy Dalton, who has had a decent career as a starter. Armed with a strong run game and formidable defense, he could prove solid for Pittsburgh once properly seasoned.
Desmond Ridder – Atlanta Falcons
Very few would have projected the 6-3, 211-pound Ridder as the second quarterback off the board. However, after passing on a quarterback at No. 8, 38 and 58, the Falcons traded up to No. 74 overall to take Ridder. A four-year starter at Cincinnati, Ridder has good athleticism and leadership skills. However, he needs work when it comes to developing consistency, and his arm strength was an issue on deep throws in college. The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota in free agency and plan to start him. Ridder, meanwhile, will work to refine his skills. He eventually could develop into a Ryan Tannehill type, but with a weaker arm, some NFL scouts have said.
Malik Willis – Tennessee Titans
NFL talent evaluators agree that Willis boasts the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the draft. His size, athleticism, strength and skill set as a dual-threat passer prompted those projections as the top in his class. But for now, the 6-0, 219-pound Willis remains in need of refinement after playing in a simplistic offense at Liberty. Willis did display elite scrambling and rushing ability along with a big arm. His skill set reminds some NFL talent evaluators of the late Steve McNair’s. Others see Russell Wilson similarities, although Willis is bigger. But he needs time to learn the nuances of the position, including working through progressions and reading defenses. Playing behind Tannehill will afford Willis that time to learn and sharpen his skills. Tannehill has two years left on his deal, although the Titans could move on from him following this season. If Willis develops like the Titans hope and as many NFL scouts believe that he can, he could position himself to take over as the long-term face of the franchise.
Matt Corral – Carolina Panthers
The Ole Miss product is a fierce competitor who plays with gutsiness. He reacts quickly, but struggles with ball security at times. The 6-2, 212-pounder isn’t as physically gifted as some of his peers, and that causes some limitations. There also are some concerns about how he will hold up in the more physical NFL. Corral could, however, develop into a solid starter. The Panthers have Sam Darnold penciled in as their starter but had made inquiries on Baker Mayfield. However, following the selection of Corral, it’s believed that they could be content to roll with Darnold while letting Corral further sharpen his skills and acclimate himself to the NFL game.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft’s top QB’s endured steep slide. What’s next for them?