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USATSI

First-round quarterback prospects are not created equally. It is too soon to say how these prospects will eventually stack up but it is safe to say that a Trevor Lawrence-type does not exist. The love of Zach Wilson and Mac Jones was little more than a glisten in the eyes of talent evaluators this time last year so it is entirely reasonable to suggest another ascension might happen out of nowhere. 

Here are some of the early season impressions of the top quarterback prospects:

Malik Willis, Liberty: Stock Up

Consistency is important for Willis. Many quarterbacks are able to string together impressive performances but few are able to sustain it. The Auburn transfer has proven that last season was not a flash in the pan. Not a perfect prospect by any means, Willis has displayed good arm strength, great mobility and has put his teammates in a position to succeed. 

Similar to Zach Wilson at BYU last year, Willis is prone to holding onto the ball too long and not knowing when to end the play. Against inferior competition, it can be easy to believe individual talent will win the day and that occasionally leads to bad decisions. On the surface, the junior's statistics against Syracuse (14-of-19 completed passes for 205 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions) look fantastic but he was sacked six times as a result of holding onto the ball too long. Willis has thrown 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions in 2021. His athletic traits are enough to make talent evaluators excited but he stands at 6-foot-1 and still requires some development in the pocket. At the end of the day, the skepticism surrounding his sustainable potential is waning. Mobile quarterbacks in the NFL have shown that their legs are able to buy them time until they figure out the processing and decision-making aspects of the position. 

Jake Haener, Fresno State: Stock Up

Haener signed with Washington as a mid-three star recruit in 2017. He served in a backup capacity leading up to a 2019 quarterback competition with Georgia transfer Jacob Eason. The Huskies opted to roll with Eason and Haener took advantage of his right to transfer, which is how he ended up at Fresno State. 

The Bulldogs narrowly lost to No. 11 Oregon and have since upset No. 13 UCLA. Haener, and running back Ronnie Rivers, is a big reason for the team's success this season. In that upset win over the Bruins, he gutted out a hip injury. 

Through five games, he has 1,842 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has been sacked just eight times in comparison to Willis above.

The California native is neither the prototypical NFL quarterback at 6-foot-1 nor does he possess elite athletic traits like a Spencer Rattler or Willis. However, he is incredibly tough, in addition to throwing with touch, accuracy and good decision-making. He leads the nation in passing yardage, is second in passing touchdowns and eighth in completion percentage. 

Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma: Stock Down

On any given Saturday, Oklahoma has more talent than their opposition on each side of the ball. The offensive line is good and the skill talent collective is among the best in the nation. Yet, outside of a game against Western Carolina, Rattler has thrown just three touchdowns and three interceptions in three games. Lincoln Riley's team has yet to play a road game and has won three games against West Virginia, Nebraska and Tulane by an average of five points. The defense is averaging only 16 points allowed per game. 

The fans in Norman have grown impatient, going as far as booing the sophomore and chanting "We want Caleb [Williams]" in reference to the nation's No. 2 ranked high school quarterback signed by the Sooners last year. 

Rattler is a bit undersized but arm talent is evident in his ability to throw from different arm angles. At some point, it has to be questioned if the murmurs of personality concerns are warranted. 

Graham Mertz, Wisconsin: Stock Down

Mertz was regarded as a top 100 prospect by some recruiting outlets and many called for him to see action over Jack Coan early in his career, including myself admittedly. Coan is limited but the grass is not always greener on the other side. In some cases, there are benefits to playing the safer option. The Wisconsin coaching staff has been validated in their cautious approach. Since his first start in which he completed 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions, Mertz has thrown five touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 

Wisconsin was beating Notre Dame, 13-10, at the start of the fourth quarter. The sophomore threw three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in the fourth quarter alone. He kept throwing opposite field and Notre Dame was just sitting on those routes. His decision making has to improve. The Badgers lost 41-13. 

The 2022 NFL Draft will be the first in which Mertz is eligible. He still has two years of eligibility. The young quarterback has plenty of time to develop at his own pace.