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Why Matt Corral might be the perfect draft choice for the Steelers

With his arm talent, mobility, offensive system experience and lower cost, the Ole Miss product might slot right into the Steelers’ plans.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Allstate Sugar Bowl - Baylor v Ole Miss Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With under one month to go until the 2022 NFL Draft, late March is a season rife with speculation, prediction and clues-hunting. As pro days continue, teams begin to be linked to prospects based on the number and type of personnel they send as well as the players they pass over for others.

In the case of the Steelers, the theme has been rather obvious: attending every major quarterback’s Pro Day, and sending their highest brass for it. On March 21, it was watching Kenny Pickett in the Steelers’ own practice facilities; on March 22, it was Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert smiling at a gorgeous pass from Liberty’s Malik Willis; and on March 23, it was dining with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.

One name missing that you might have glossed over: Ole Miss’s Matt Corral.

A redshirt junior entering the 2022 Draft, Corral has largely been forgotten about in the pre-draft process. As you may recall, Corral injured his ankle in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, an injury that prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl or from testing or throwing at the Combine. Consequently, many seem to bypass Corral entirely, instead favoring Willis, Pickett, Ridder or even North Carolina’s Sam Howell.

While fans may be neglecting the 2021 Golden Arm Award finalist, NFL teams, including the Steelers, are not. Tomlin and other members of the Steelers’ brain trust made the trip down to Oxford, Mississippi, chatting with Corral on March 23 rather than heading to Columbus, Ohio to watch Ohio State’s pro day.

Based on Pittsburgh’s pre-draft itinerary thus far, the team figures to select a quarterback, especially early. Tomlin confirmed as much in a recent interview, mentioning that the Steelers anticipate adding a fourth quarterback through the draft.

Although fans, draft experts and media members may be ogling Willis’ tremendous upside, Pickett’s progression or Ridder’s intellect, Corral may be the most logical option of them all. In this piece, I’ll break down what Corral offers as well as why the Steelers might be infatuated.

Let’s start the evaluation of Corral by discussing him as a passer, one of two ways in which he can torch defenses.

One of the first elements of Corral’s game that drew my attention was his arm strength.

This throw on 1st and 10 against Tennessee was one of the better examples of Corral throwing an absolute laser. After collecting the snap, Corral scans right and turns his attention to the left, twisting his shoulders and uncorking a frozen rope that lands right into the chest of his receiver in stride. While the ball is (unacceptably) dropped, the pass is scorched 42 yards on a line rather effortlessly and extremely accurately.

Moreover, in terms of his mechanics, Corral is definitely in a superior position compared to some of his quarterback peers. The Ole Miss product’s footwork is clean and crisp overall, and his release is quick with little wasted motion.

Corral’s arm often works in concert with his ability with withstand and evade rushers in the pocket. The following two plays against Alabama perfectly demonstrate Corral’s persistence and balance meshing with his cannon.

In the first example late in the third quarter, Corral is immediately greeted by immense pressure due to poor blocking, facing not just any ordinary edge rusher; in fact, that’s Will Anderson, a surefire top-three pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Corral deftly spins away from Anderson, recovers, sets his feet and launches a ball nearly 45 yards in the air. Despite having to leave the pocket and roll to his left, Corral drops a dime over the outstretched defender — yet the ball is somehow, yet again, dropped. While Corral can unleash some fiery passes, this throw is a good example of his ability to implement arc and touch.

Down 42-14 with under four minutes remaining against the Crimson Tide, most players would begin to pack it in, but not Corral. On 1st down, Corral feels Anderson off the edge and steps up, only to have a defensive lineman bear down on him. Fear not: Corral escapes the ankle tackle, plants his right foot and delivers a seed into the hands of his open receiver. Considering that his base is far from level and the velocity needed to get the pass in the open window, this throw is highly impressive.

Most quarterbacks in this year’s draft class are faulted for their pocket awareness, and Corral isn’t scot-free’ he is guilty of not always feeling pressure or even scampering too early. At the same time, he has consistently shown an ability to step up and buy himself more time. On this snap against Arkansas, Corral works his way forward, avoiding pressure from the right side before slinging a sidearm pass between two defenders. Another positive is the ability to change arm angles, something which Patrick Mahomes and other NFL quarterbacks have flashed as an elite and sometimes necessary trait.

Given his three years starting in the buzz saw that is the SEC, Corral has had to understand when to put his team on his back, especially in critical moments. These instances are when Corral’s football IQ and trust in himself take over.

On this play against the Volunteers, Corral looks left and utilizes a quasi-pump fake before reorienting himself and stepping up in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield. Even though the 212-pound Corral endures the full brunt of 290-pound LaTrell Bumphus, the QB stays upright, transfers the ball to his left hand and lets it go to avoid the sack. I’m not sure how many college, let alone NFL, quarterbacks would be able to execute this as Corral did.

Moreover, this snap against Alabama truly showcased Corral’s composure. On 4th and 3 of the opening drive of the game in Crimson Tide territory, ‘Bama shows a six-man pressure but only ends up sending five – a type of simulated pressure that NFL defensive coordinators have adopted in recent seasons. As the Ole Miss OL slides left, the Tide is able to land four rushers in the backfield; even then, Corral drifts to his right and goes sidearm, hitting his RB in stride to pick up the first down on a screen. Sure, the actual read isn’t too difficult (and Corral arguably should have audibled to change the line direction, if he had the power to do so), but it would be easy to get flustered and not make a good throw to prolong the possession.

While Corral is generally a polished passer, one area of his throwing prowess that needs work is the deep ball.

According to Pro Football Focus, Corral was just 21/52 (40.4%) on passes 20+ yards downfield in 2021, relative to a 58.9% completion rate on medium (10-19 yards) and 71.7% on short (0-9 yards) throws. Granted, this is something that most other quarterbacks experience, but Corral’s deep completion percentage was lower than all 2022 QBs other than Howell (who was at 32.4% — yikes).

Overthrowing a deep ball tends to be less harmful than tossing a boneheaded interception or having accuracy issues in short and intermediate range, as the ball can bounce out of reach. However, these two throws are well off target and would be missed scoring opportunities in the NFL. The issue may stem with Corral’s weight transfer, which seems a bit imbalanced.

On occasion, Corral will also make a poor choice, whether in how or where he throws the ball.

Take this pass against Texas A&M in which Corral lobs the ball to 5-foot-8 receiver Jahcour Pearson. The only way this ball could have been caught is if Corral led Pearson along the sideline with a bullet pass, but floating this should have resulted in an interception.

I do think part of the reason people have written off Corral is a bit of a shaky quarter in the Sugar Bowl. In the opening 30 seconds, Corral threw this hideous pick into what appears to be triple coverage. It’s hard to see exactly what Corral was looking at, but he definitely gets skittish and throws one up despite nobody being open.

Overall, though, Corral generally avoided plays such as this — in fact, he had just a 1.8% Turnover-Worthy Play rate in 2021, per PFF.

Turning to Corral’s mobility really opens one’s eyes regarding his potential. Not only is Corral built for the modern NFL, but he also has the chance to be a really special runner.

When on the move, Corral possesses excellent speed, acceleration and vision, hitting holes with aggressiveness and a head of steam. He’s also fairly elusive: in this gallop against Baylor, Corral displays tremendous change-of-direction by planting his foot, cutting on a dime and surging ahead.

Notice, too, how Corral finishes the run: by lowering his shoulder and fighting forward for extra yardage. The Ventura, California native has a rare blend of quickness and power, especially in terms of a running quarterback.

In Lane Kiffin’s system, Corral had no shortage of chances to show off his skill as a designated runner. Start with this QB Draw against Arkansas in the red zone, where Corral barrels over one Razorback and churns his legs to find his way in for six.

Corral is especially dangerous involving plays with misdirection and motion. On this fake jet sweep, Corral keeps the rock, explodes up the middle of the field, guides his blocker and ultimately is helicoptered to the turf.

A concerning element about Corral is the punishment he allows himself to take for his size/stature, standing at 6-foot-1 5/8 and weighing 212 pounds at the Combine. As a franchise gunslinger, you should probably try to avoid serious licks, especially when in the 21st percentile of height and 18th percentile of weight of quarterbacks, per Mockdraftable.

Corral does have a bit of a worrisome injury, battling an ankle injury for much of 2021 as well as bruised ribs in 2019. Even then, his running style is innate, and his ability to protect himself shouldn’t compromise his outstanding physicality.

After reading the film breakdown of Corral, you’re probably intrigued by his high-level starting experience, arm, mobility, lack of mistakes and toughness. Besides the traits, the Ole Miss man makes additional sense for the Steelers.

One of Corral’s major criticisms exiting Oxford is his seemingly difficult adjustment to an NFL scheme that isn’t laden with one-read throws. For context, 19.7% of Corral’s throws were screens this past year; the next-closest among major NFL quarterback prospects is Carson Strong at 16.4%. Corral also experienced a tremendous rate of play action — 60.4%, to be exact — making his job somewhat easier by getting defenders to bite earlier.

If Corral is selected by a team that wants to run a more traditional offense, he may be in for a bit of a rude awakening. However, by all measures, the Steelers are not set to follow that path; with Matt Canada still at the helm in 2022, Pittsburgh is likely to continue utilizing RPOs, motion, play fakes and play action. In fact, Canada will probably significantly increase the percent of play action and RPO snaps without Ben Roethlisberger under center. In 2021, Roethlisberger ran play action on just 18.5% of snaps, the second-lowest rate in the NFL among QBs to drop back at least 400 times.

It’s no secret that Tomlin and Canada have been eyeing a mobile quarterback since they’ve known 2021 was Roethlisberger’s swan song, and Corral provides exactly that. His ability to be utilized in options and draws would add much-needed dynamism to Canada’s offense, electricity that surpasses what Mitch Trubisky offers.

While I rate Corral fairly highly — I think he should be taken in the first or second round — I do slot Willis higher under the assumption that a team can harness his ridiculous talents as both a passer and a runner. NFL pundits are growing more confident in teams’ ability to groom Willis, as most mocks have Willis landing in the top 10, if not five. The Steelers would have to trade up — likely with the Jets or Giants, who each have two picks in the top 10 —in order to get Willis, if not Pickett, and that could be a tough ask for a Pittsburgh team that needs to make multiple key selections this year.

Considering his lower profile, Corral should be available at Pick 20. While some may deem him a consolation prize, Corral might be the Steelers’ top choice all along — and for good reason.