It makes more sense than ever for Detroit Lions to go young at QB

Detroit Free Press

Defensive players like Michigan football’s Aidan Hutchinson and the bulk of Georgia’s star-studded draft class owned the NFL pro day spotlight last week.

It’s quarterbacks this week, including one who will throw in front of scouts for the first time this offseason.

Matt Corral, who did not take part in drills at the NFL scouting combine in early March because of a high ankle sprain suffered in Ole Miss’ Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor, is expected to be a full participant at the Rebels’ pro day Wednesday.

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Corral is one of six quarterbacks who could go in the top 50 of April’s draft, five whom will be on display this week.

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett held his pro day workout Monday, with Lions quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell reportedly expected to be in attendance. Liberty pro day, where Malik Willis will be the star attraction, is scheduled for Tuesday. And quarterbacks Carson Strong of Nevada (on Monday) and Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati (Thursday) also have pro days this week.

North Carolina’s Sam Howell is slated to work out next week.

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Corral said at the combine his ankle started to feel 100% in mid-February, but he opted not to do drills because he only recently resumed taking dropbacks. Unlike Pickett, Willis, Strong, Ridder and Howell, he did not play in the Senior Bowl, where scouts would have been able to assess his transition to a pro-style offense.

At Ole Miss, Corral played in a scheme heavy on run-pass options, though he insisted at the combine “quite a few” of the concepts he ran in college will carry over to the NFL.

“Just because it was an RPO offense and we did run a lot of it … doesn’t mean I don’t understand defense,” Corral said. “That was part of the reason why I came (to the combine), so teams knew I do understand the game of football.”

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While NFL teams have been lukewarm on this year’s draft crop of quarterbacks, signal callers tend to get pushed up boards closer to draft day, and the recent explosion of the quarterback market could cause some teams to reassess their appetite for going young at the position.

Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins all signed extensions last week worth at least $35 million annually, and the Cleveland Browns traded for Deshaun Watson and gave him a new five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed deal despite Watson sitting out all of last season and with 22 allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual assault still outstanding in civil court.

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By comparison, a rookie taken No. 2 overall (where the Lions pick) is in line for a five-year contract worth $39.6 million total, with a $7.2 million cap hit for 2022, according to Spotrac.

Having a cheap, young quarterback has allowed teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers to spend freely in free agency in recent years in an effort to bolster other areas of their roster.

One of Willis, the most unique athlete of the quarterbacks atop the draft class, or Pickett, the most pro-ready of the group, is likely to be the first quarterback drafted, though Corral could push his way into that conversation the next few weeks.

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A two-time 3,000-yard passer who also ran for 614 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, Corral said his leadership ability is what separates him as a prospect.

“I really understand what it feels like to be vulnerable around people who don’t necessarily want to be vulnerable,” Corral said. “There are a lot of players on my team who weren’t necessarily comfortable talking about their issues and them seeing me be more vulnerable made them feel more comfortable. Having that understanding of what I want to get out of this, what they want to get out of this and us being on the same page, I think that is a huge thing. When you take care of the life stuff, I feel that is when football takes care of itself. That is what we saw in ‘21. We weren’t the best team. We weren’t the most talented team but we played the best together, and I think that was part of it.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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