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Mel Kiper dishes on underwhelming 2022 quarterback draft class and beyond

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Kenny Pickett Desmond Ridder

The quarterback wheel of fortune will be spinning for as many as a dozen NFL teams once the season ends. When the game of musical quarterbacks ends, what awaits the needy teams in the NFL draft that won’t have a seat filled by Deshaun Watson, or perhaps Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers? 

“If you bookend these guys with last year’s class and you look at Bryce Young for next year [2023] out of Alabama, Bryce Young would be in the Trevor Lawrence category,” ESPN’s inimitable Mel Kiper Jr. tells Serby Says. “This year, you got a lot of guys who are OK, but not great, and then last year we had the five phenomenal guys.” 

Just the Lions’ luck … not a quarterback in sight to Tank For until the 2023 NFL Draft. 

A lot can change (raise your hand if you projected Zach Wilson last December to emerge as the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft), but for now, Kiper drops back, scans the field and lets loose on the single most difficult evaluation in the sport. 

“In all of sports it’s the most important position,” Kiper says. “People said, ‘If your arm’s not strong, it’s not getting stronger.’ Well Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning all proved that wrong. Then they said … you can’t coach out accuracy issues. Well, Josh Allen proved that wrong. Where are we at right now? We’re still trying to figure this whole thing out. It’s hard. Then you get into, ‘OK what team does he go to? What offensive coordinator does he go to? What system does he go to? What’s the personnel around him like?’ ” 

Alabama Bryce Young
Bryce Young celebrates after defeating Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
AP

There will be quarterback intrigue involving the Giants, who at the moment own the sixth and seventh picks, and the Eagles, who own the 12th, 13th and 17th picks. 

Kiper’s 2021 QB class rankings: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance. 

Kiper’s top-rated quarterback for 2022 is Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh — who would have been his sixth-rated quarterback in 2021. 

Given the uncertainty of who will be conducting the draft for the Giants, and given the lack of progress Daniel Jones has displayed in his third season, Kiper was asked if the Giants should consider Pickett. 

“I like win-win situations,” he said. “If they loved one of these quarterbacks — and where the Giants are gonna be picking with those two picks, if you love one of ’em, that’s awfully high, that’s awfully rich for me — but if you love one of ’em, and Daniel Jones emerges as a great quarterback, we’re happy. If he doesn’t, then we got this guy that we feel can be really good. If you don’t feel like any of these quarterbacks are all that good, then you go forward with Daniel Jones and you wait it out. If you feel Pickett in two years can be Derek Carr, would you take him? If you think these quarterbacks had a ceiling to get to a certain level that you feel is better than where you feel Daniel Jones’ ceiling can be, then you take that quarterback.” 

Kiper has Pickett ranked 18th on his Big Board. Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati is 19th, Matt Corral of Ole Miss is 21st and Malik Willis of Liberty is 27th. North Carolina’s Sam Howell could be a second-rounder as of now. 

“They all get pushed up,” Kiper said. “I would say all these guys will probably go a little higher than I had ’em rated.” 

There is some concern about Pickett’s hand size, but Kiper looks at him and sees Carr. 

“He’s gonna be a 24-year-old rookie in the NFL, which Bill Parcells always wanted a certain amount of career starts, he’s gonna have 50 by the end of his [college] career,” Kiper said. “If you like Derek Carr, I think you’ll like Kenny Pickett.” 

Kenny Pickett Desmond Ridder
Mel Kiper has Kenny Pickett (right) and Desmond Ridder (left) as his top-two ranked quarterbacks in the upcoming draft class.
AP (2)

Ridder is the biggest boom-or-bust. “Ridder is a super-talented kid, throws a beautiful ball, he’s just not always as accurate or precise as you would want,” Kiper said. “Now you’d say, ‘Who was like that coming out?’ Josh Allen was. There’s gonna be some mixed opinion on him. There will be times where he makes a throw that leaves you kinda scratching your head. He can run the RPOs, he can beat you with running, he can really fly. He looks the part, great kid, mature.” 

Corral is only 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. 

“Toughest quarterback you’ll ever find,” Kiper said. “If you look at him from 10, 15, 20 years ago, he wouldn’t look the part. He’s not 6-3, he’s not 215, 220 pounds. But tough as nails, high pain tolerance, he can really spin it. He’s a quarterback version of [215-pound former Steelers middle linebacker] Jack Lambert.” 

Willis struggled late in the year. 

“He threw three interceptions against Louisiana-Monroe,” Kiper said. “But he’s got talent, somebody’s gonna roll the dice on him. He holds the ball too long, he takes some unwarranted sacks, he made some bad decisions this year. He’s got a strong arm, he’s really athletic, he’s a powerful kid, he looks like a powerhouse running back, he’s tough to get down. He’ll avoid, he’ll escape and he’ll shake off defenders and he’ll keep plays alive. You gotta kind reconcile the problems this year with maybe the personnel around him just wasn’t good enough.” 

Now fast-forward to next autumn. “Put it this way: a team gets off to an 0-3, 0-4 start, they’ll be talking about Tanking For Bryce,” Kiper said. “After four, five games, fans will be saying, ‘Lose ’em all, just get Bryce Young.’ ” 

Or Any Price For Bryce. “He’d be in the Trevor Lawrence category,” Kiper said. “Guaranteed No. 1 pick, generational talent. He’s gonna be talked about the same way as a Trevor Lawrence was. He’s drawing comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers already.” 

Kiper favors the Wilson comparison. 

“Very instinctive, sees the field incredibly well, incredible processor of information, great accuracy, great ball placement, great pace to his throws in terms of knowing when to take something off, when to put a little on, great leadership, studies the game, tremendous mobility,” Kiper said. 

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud would be the next coveted quarterback prospect after Young in 2023. 

“They really coached him up, and he had everything around him,” Kiper said. “But he’s a dual-threat quarterback.” 

C.J. Stroud Ohio State
C.J. Stroud
AP

Kiper thinks Phil Jurkovec (Boston College) can ascend to the 2023 first-round conversation. 

“He’s kinda like Kenny Pickett,” Kiper said. “Kenny Pickett had an ankle injury last year. He was limping the whole time he was out there. He was smart to go back. Phil Jurkovec had a wrist-hand injury surgery, came back late in the year, didn’t play well, so he’s going back to Boston College. He has the ability and the natural talent to be a guy we’re talking about.” 

Jets fans find themselves wondering whether general manager Joe Douglas should have drafted Mac Jones instead. 

“I would say definitely no,” Kiper said. “Just because Mac Jones is in a perfect situation. [If] Mac Jones was with the Jets, oh boy! It would have been awful for him.” 

Wilson’s early struggles following BYU shouldn’t have surprised anyone. 

“He played cupcake after cupcake, I said his sugar levels were at all-time high,” Kiper said. “The NFL’s trying to beat you up physically and the fans and the media are trying to beat you up mentally. So if you can overcome the physical beating that you get just by being with a bad team and you can overcome the mental beating that you get from the fans and the media and everybody saying, ‘You should have drafted this guy, this guy’s a bust.’ If you can deal with all of that noise and just don’t even listen to it, what has Zach Wilson shown that we didn’t expect? The easiest prediction in the world was saying that Zach Wilson’s gonna run into some tough moments once the bell rang and the regular-season began.” 

If Mac Jones is a poor man’s Tom Brady, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. 

“He’s one of the smartest kids you’ll ever find,” Kiper said. “He sees something, he retains it. If you say, ‘What’s his mental capability on a scale of 1-10?’ He’s a 20. He is incredibly, incredibly off-the-charts intelligent. Not many of his throws are not on the mark. The intellect is what separates Mac Jones. Brady is that 20 competitor. Mac is a 20 intellect.” 

Mac Jones Patriots
Mac Jones has 16 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions this season.
USA TODAY Sports

Kiper is certain the Bears got the right quarterback in Fields. 

“Internally, they think they know this guy’s gonna be really, really good, and if not great,” he said. 

The 49ers are grooming Lance to take over from Jimmy Garoppolo. 

“The thing he’s gotta work on is his accuracy. He’s a thrower not a pitcher right now,” Kiper said. 

There is always risk-reward when you are drafting quarterbacks. Ask the Jets (Sam Darnold). Ask the Cardinals (Josh Rosen). Ask anyone. Especially in the 2022 NFL Draft. 

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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