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Lions getting a good look at top QB prospects at Senior Bowl

MOBILE – The Detroit Lions are getting a good look at most of the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL Draft class this week. In fact, six of the top seven quarterbacks in this class are here at the Senior Bowl, including Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Malik Willis (Liberty), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), Carson Strong (Nevada) and Bailey Zappe (Western Kentucky).

"I think it's a huge advantage for our coaching staff and our personnel department – Dan (Campbell) and Brad (Holmes)," Lions quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell said Wednesday. "We're spending more time with these guys than any other team in the NFL (Lions are coaching Willis, Howell and Zappe), so it's a great advantage for us."

The Lions feel good about veteran Jared Goff, 27, leading their franchise in 2022, especially with the way he played the second half of the year. But this is a quarterback-driven league, and teams are always on the lookout for the next great talent. At the very least, Detroit could also be in a position where they'll need a young backup with Tim Boyle and David Blough scheduled to be free agents this offseason.

View photos from the second day of practice at the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The six quarterbacks down here for the Senior Bowl know how big of an opportunity this is to showcase their skills playing football and not just running drills at the NFL Scouting Combine or throwing scripted throws to familiar receivers at their pro days.

"I think we all have different play styles and it's hard to judge us the same way," Willis said. "We all think differently. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. I don't know, I feel like I'm a really blessed individual, and I think I'm the best, and they should as well."

Willis, the Auburn transfer with eye-popping stats the last two years at Liberty, is trying to prove he can play well against better competition. He was the best quarterback among the six in rainy conditions on Wednesday.

Both Pickett and Ridder talked Wednesday about how consistency is the biggest trait they want to show off to the Lions, Jets and the 30 other teams watching from afar.

"Everyone wants to say last season was kind of a flash in the pan," Pickett said of his 2021 season. "I think if you play at a high level for 13 games, I don't think that's by luck, so I want to come down here and show how consistent I am and play at a high level."

Pickett's probably been the most consistent through the first two days of the six QBs down here.

Ridder led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoffs after a terrific 2021 campaign that saw him throw for 3,334 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight picks.

"Just accuracy and consistency," Ridder said of what he wants to show teams this week. "I just want to be able to stack days on top of days. That's something we talk about when I'm training out in California and that's something that I bring here, I'll bring to minicamp and training camp and rookie camp. Just stacking days on days to show consistency."

View photos from the first day of practice at the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The Senior Bowl is a tough week on quarterbacks. They have to learn a new offense in five days and get six hours of practice time with all new pass catchers to try and figure it all out and make a good impression. It's not easy.

But playing quarterback in the NFL isn't easy either, so the Lions are on the lookout this week for which quarterback adjusts the best. Who picks it up in the meeting room and translates it to the field? Who mitigates the mistakes best? It was only a couple years ago Justin Herbert took the Senior Bowl by storm and was the all-star game's MVP. That has translated pretty well to the NFL so far.

Holmes, Campbell, Brunell and the rest of the Lions front office and coaching staff are taking a close look at this quarterback class this week. With three picks in the top 34 in April's NFL Draft, it certainly makes sense to exhaust as many resources as possible to see if one of the six QBs down here deserves to be in their long-term plans.

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