INDIANAPOLIS — Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral isn't working out for scouts this week, as he continues to recover from the high ankle sprain he suffered in the Sugar Bowl.
But he is here at the Scouting Combine to share with teams what he knows, and to talk about how much sharing made a difference for him as he grew into a leader.
While the Panthers got a first look at the rest of the top of the quarterback class (Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and Sam Howell, among others) at the Senior Bowl, Corral wasn't there. They've caught up since — Corral was among their formal meetings here already this week — as they work to evaluate how interested they are in this class.
While Pickett and Willis grabbed the early headlines by being in Mobile, Corral's trying to stake his claim as the top quarterback in this year's class.
"I just know what separates me is my leadership," Corral said Wednesday. "Obviously my physical ability, my arm talent, but me having an understanding of Xs and Os and understanding protections. I think that's what separates me.
"But what really separates me is my ability to lead a team. I understand what it means to be vulnerable around people who don't necessarily want to be vulnerable. I was one of those guys who didn't want to talk about emotions; that's just how I was, I never talked. If I was crying, it was 'Stop crying.' I was raised with two older brothers, and it was like 'toughen up.'
"There's a lot of players on my team who weren't necessarily comfortable talking about their issues. And them seeing me be vulnerable made them feel more comfortable. And having that understanding of what I want to get out of this and what they want to get out of this and being on the same page, that's a huge thing. And taking care of the life stuff, when that's taken care of, I think football takes care of itself. That's what we saw in '21. We weren't the best team, we weren't the most talented team, but we played the best together. that's a big part of it."
Growing together as an Ole Miss team that advanced to a New Year's bowl game took some work, but he said that the ability to speak honestly with each other helped that process. At Ole Miss, they called their players-only meetings "Get Real Wednesdays," when players heard a quick message from someone and were encouraged to share.
"When something's bothering you, speak up," Corral said when asked what being available to teammates looks like. "I'd usually be the first one to talk, I wanted to show my teammates I was capable of being vulnerable and capable of showing them I'm comfortable being in that position. They look at me like their leader, and seeing their leader doing something, they're going to follow. After that, it became something that was normal to me, and I got real comfortable with it. Over time, everybody talked on that team. I think that's what made us so close."
It showed on the field for them, and it was part of the reason Corral never considered opting out of the Sugar Bowl, though other top prospects have chosen to sit out of those late non-championship games to protect their draft stock.
But when teammates asked him if he was going to sit out, Corral seemed confused, something he tries to explain to teams when they ask if he regrets playing and getting hurt.
"They've asked me if I regret it, and absolutely not," he said. "I wouldn't be in that position without those guys. I never considered opting out until teammates came up to me and asked if I was going to play or not. It was not a thought in my mind. I was going to play, regardless. Then my teammates started coming up around the Egg Bowl. Our bowl game was later on. We didn't even know who we were playing.
"That's when I made it a point to address the team to say I'm all in; I would not be in this position without them. I took big pride in being their leader."
Corral also took a big step on the field last season. Part of it was figuring out how to work around defenses that dropped eight into coverage, after he struggled with that in his junior season (particularly in a six-interception game against Arkansas).
He went from 14 interceptions his junior season to just five last year, showing a more sophisticated command of Ole Miss' RPO-heavy offense. While that will create some questions about how he translates to pro systems, Corral said he's showing teams in meetings that many of the concepts he worked with translate to what they do.
"Teams need to know that I understand the game of football," he said. "And I wanted to make it a point. It's definitely something that I wanted to show the ability I have in my head, not only my physical ability but my mental ability as well."
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah called Corral "intriguing," and put him in the conversation about the top quarterback in this year's class. While he's smaller than you might prefer in a quarterback (he's listed at 6-2, 205 pounds, though official measurements will come later this week), quarterbacks the size you might prefer are becoming rare.
"He's a little undersized, but really, really athletic," Jeremiah said. "Everything is quick: Quick feet, quick release, quick eyes.
"Corral is not as big, not as strong, but he can probably throw it a little bit better, a little more consistently at this point in time, and he does give you some of that athleticism to be able to move around."
View college photos of Jeremiah's initial list of top prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft.