MOBILE, Ala. (AP) – The Senior Bowl quarterbacks are vying for the No. 1 spot.
In an NFL draft where passer-by isn’t likely to be the overall top pick, that means a rivalry between players like Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Malik Liberty’s Willis will be the first quarterback to be made.
They will wrap up their week-long auditions for NFL teams with Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mississippi’s Matt Corral was also a contender for the No. 1 spot, but he couldn’t make it to the game because he was an undergrad.
Cincinnati full-back Desmond Ridder said: “Iron grinds out iron. “We are all competing for our number one spot. They are all competing for the best squad.”
The Nationals will be led by Heisman Trophy finalist Pickett, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Ridder, who led the Bearcats to the College Soccer knockout round and took the lead 44-5.
Howell, Willis and West Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe are the quarterbacks of the US team. Strong has his favorite college goals on his Senior Bowl team, Nevada’s tight-finishing Cole Turner, and broad receiver Romeo Doubs.
While there’s no solid No. 1 pick like Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow in the mix, the game features six of the top promising quarterbacks.
They’ve all spent three days of practice and a whirlwind of meetings trying to prove they’ve got what it takes to be an NFL quarterback on and off the field.
“We all have different strengths and weaknesses,” said Willis, who started his career at Auburn. “But I don’t know, I feel like a really lucky person. I think I’m the best and I think they should be too.”
Willis wants to get rid of the small school label, which he feels is overblown. But he didn’t get much of a chance to shine in two games against the Power 5 teams, being fired nine times against Mississippi and six times against Syracuse.
“You have to go out and play,” he said. “Like all of you make us dirty because we are a small school. But football is football. They exercise every day. I do exercises everyday. I mean our schedules while I was in Auburn and Liberty were pretty much the same.
“You all focus on that a bit too much, in my opinion. I mean, it’s just more people in the game. ”
That small college group will include Zappe, a transgender player from the Houston Baptist who raced past 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions last season.
Pickett won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for top quarterback or fourth year, leading Pittsburgh to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship before opting out of the Peach Bowl. 11 wins is the most since the team was led by Dan Marino in 1981 and he set a league record with 42 touchdown passes.
Pickett appears to have emerged as a possible first-round pick after returning for one more season upon hearing predictions that he might not hear his name until Day 3 of the draft.
“I thought of myself as a taller player than that,” Pickett said. “I want to come back and really improve my game and have no regrets in the process and give everything I had last season, win the championship and then attack the process. “
Howell has set 27 school records, including 10,283 career passes and 92 touchdowns despite only playing three seasons. But Tar Heels placed 6-7 after opening the season in 10th place.
“I just wanted to show people who I am, who I am as a player and who I am,” Howell said. “I think as a player I am a great leader and I can put together a better team than anyone else. I just want to show that I have no physical or mental limitations. I can handle an NFL system.
“I can handle any system the dispatcher wants to run and I can make any throw on the field.”
They are all looking to show Saturday why they should be first in midfield in April.
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