Friday, May 24, 2024

2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: How top QBs Caleb Williams, Drake Maye rank overall

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The 2024 NFL Draft could set records for the number of offensive players drafted in the first round. That’s especially true at the top of the first round where top prospects at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line are expected to go early and often.

Quarterback prospects begin with USC’s Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and heavy favorite to go first overall to the Chicago Bears. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels of LSU has risen to the top of many mock drafts as the second pick behind Williams.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye has been in the conversation for the top picks since his first standout season as a starter in Chapel Hill. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy is rising up mock drafts to the point of being a potential top-five pick.

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That group of four, along with Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., are considered the top prospects at the position. But how do they rank in the draft class as a whole? Here’s how big boards from draft experts at USA Today, ESPN, The Ringer, Pro Football Focus (PFF), and The Athletic rank the group:

2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: Caleb Williams, USC

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 1 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 1 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 1 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 1 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 1 overall

The only consensus of the group sees the Trojan quarterback at the top. His raw talent, athleticism, and production make him a slam-dunk first overall selection that some evaluators think could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player as a rookie.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “For some, the escape-artist highlights and signature deep strikes are the primary selling points for Williams, one of the most heavily anticipated draft prospects in some time. Yet a good portion of what makes the 6-1, 214-pounder so alluring is rooted in basic tenets of good quarterback play: calm footwork, pinpoint accuracy and exceptional awareness.”

Kelly: “Williams has below-average height but a thick, muscular build and a rocket launcher for an arm. His arm talent is one of his defining features: He can throw frozen ropes to all three levels of the field; he flashes touch on deep shots; and he can get the ball where he wants it to go from pretty much any platform—whether he’s off-balance, falling away, getting tackled, or even jumping up in the air, he’s able to whip the ball downfield with velocity.”

Sikkema: “Williams is an incredibly talented player with natural gifts even other previous QB1s do not have. His issues are more from a lack of consistency than ability in any area. This is a QB with franchise-changing talent that is worthy of a No. 1 overall selection.”

2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: Drake Maye, North Carolina

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 5 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 5 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 2 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 3 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 4 overall

Maye’s not as uniform as Williams but still a consensus top-five talent in this year’s draft regardless of position. His prototypical size (6-foot-4, 223 lbs.), arm strength, and mobility have drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. But there are some plays on tape that leave evaluators concerned about his consistency at the next level.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “Maye is volatile both as a passer and a projection. Ultimately, few college quarterbacks in recent years have been able to take control of a game the way the 6-4, 223-pounder can with one of his downfield darts or throws made on the move. That unique aptitude only goes so far if problems with ball placement and decision-making persist, but it’s hard to shake the possibilities Maye can open up for any offense.”

Yates: “Maye has a flamethrower arm, ideal size and very good mobility — he led UNC in rushing in 2022 (698 yards) and scored 16 rushing TDs over the past two seasons. And he threw 22 go-ahead touchdown passes over the past two seasons, tied with Michael Penix Jr. for the most among my top six quarterbacks.”

Brugler: “Overall, Maye needs to cut down on the reckless decisions, but he is a well-put-together passer with the on-field command, athletic instincts and arm talent to create solutions for the problems that NFL defenses present. With his physical gifts and smarts, he is cut from the same cloth as Justin Herbert and has a similar ceiling as an NFL player.”

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2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: Jayden Daniels, LSU

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 7 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 2 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 9 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 22 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 8 overall

The 2023 Heisman winner has the biggest variance so far among experts. His deep-throw accuracy, mobility, and development over five seasons of college football have some evaluators excited about his NFL projections. Others are concerned about his leaner frame, age (he turns 24 years old in December), and the receiving talent at LSU helping his production.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “Despite vexing defenses as a runner with 1,134 rushing yards last season, Daniels is perfectly content to pick apart opponents from the pocket with his cool and composed approach. Deep passes, however, won’t come as easily given his pedestrian velocity, and he’ll have to learn how to work between the numbers more often while also speeding up his processing.”

Yates: “The best player in college football last season can put your defense in a bind with his ability to both carve up a secondary as a thrower and scramble past any defender as a runner. Daniels picked apart zone coverage in 2023 (21 TD passes, 0 INTs) and thrived when blitzed (17 TD passes, 0 INTs). And he is surgical as a downfield passer.”

Brugler: “Overall, Daniels is a smooth point guard from the pocket when his eyes stay on schedule, and his dazzling run skills make him a problem for defenses. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but NFL scouts say he forces opponents to defend him like Lamar Jackson.”

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2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 17 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 21 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 23 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 28 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 21 overall

McCarthy breaks into the top 25 of most boards thanks to some of the flashes he showed with limited production at Michigan. He’s made some pinpoint throws in big-time games, has above-average athleticism, and played well in a system that translates well to the NFL level. Similar to Daniels, he has a leaner frame, and doesn’t have nearly the number of throws on tape as the other prospects on this list.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “The NFL draft’s ultimate mystery box is somehow a two-year starter for the reigning national champions. McCarthy lacks the other-worldly physical traits and creativity that typically vault quarterbacks into the top five picks of the draft, but there’s still reason to believe that there’s another level within reach… Becoming a quicker and more reliable decision-maker might be the key factor for a player whose game likely will stay rooted in efficiency rather than a high volume of splash plays.”

Sikkema: “McCarthy is not a finished product, but he is a growing quarterback with experience in a pro-style offense and good tools (physical and mental) to be a starting QB in the NFL.”

Brugler: “Overall, McCarthy’s evaluation feels incomplete, which creates even more projection than normal, but his passing skills, pocket athleticism and mental makeup are all ascending and create optimism for his NFL future. Although bumps along the way should be expected, he has the package of tools to become an NFL starter early in his career.”

2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: Bo Nix, Oregon

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 31 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 37 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 40 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 33 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 44 overall

In contrast to McCarthy, Nix holds the FBS record for games started (61) and has nearly 2,000 career attempts on his resume. He set the FBS record for completion percentage in 2023 at 77.4% but some worry that was more due to Oregon’s screen- and short throw-heavy system. He has an NFL-caliber frame and arm talent with above-average athleticism.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “Nix remains somewhat of a conundrum due to an Oregon offense that afforded him ample easy looks, with a good chunk of his production coming on throws behind the line of scrimmage. As a 24-year-old whose downfield passing is a work in progress, Nix might spark questions about how much room for growth he truly has left. But his skill set could prove alluring to teams in search of a starter.”

Kelly: “Nix has always had good tools, and he’s put all those starts to good use, showing considerable improvement over the past two seasons… Nix’s footwork suffers when he’s pressured, and he has a tendency to drift away from throws when he doesn’t need to. He got away with it for the most part last season, but he seemed a little too confident in his ability to throw back across his body and the field when moving outside the pocket.”

Sikkema: “Nix’s experience manifests in the form of pre-snap reads, play under pressure, and avoiding negatives. His footwork needs to be more disciplined, and he will take some time to really read progressions better in the NFL, but he is a QB with starting-caliber tools in his arm and his legs with added out-of-structure playmaking.”

2024 NFL Draft big board roundup: Michael Penix Jr., Washington

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: No. 36 overall

Field Yates, ESPN: No. 43 overall

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 31 overall

Trevor Sikkema, PFF: No. 46 overall

Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 52 overall

The 2023 Heisman Trophy runner-up put up gaudy statistics for Washington en route to the College Football Playoff national championship game. He plays aggressively and loves to throw deep but generally avoided turnovers. But he played with three future NFL wide receivers and the best offensive line in the country, a talent advantage he likely won’t have at the professional level. He’s also suffered multiple season-ending injuries.

Middlehurst-Schwartz: “Things can get dicey when he’s forced off his spot or tries to operate over the middle, with his ball placement occasionally veering toward wildly erratic. A quarterback who will turn 24 in May and has already suffered four season-ending injuries – two torn anterior cruciate ligaments and two shoulder ailments – won’t be the right fit for every team. With the right supporting cast and scheme, however, Penix could be an intriguing option behind center.”

Yates: “Penix lit up college football during his two seasons at Washington and has a rocket for an arm. Some teams will be more comfortable with his medical history than others, as Penix has torn the same ACL twice and had two notable shoulder injuries. But he can flat out spin the football and threw for over 4,500 yards in each of the past two years, making him the first FBS quarterback to do that since Patrick Mahomes.”

Kelly: “He knows where to find his outlets, is savvy about sensing and avoiding pressure, and has an extraordinarily quick trigger and release, helping him whip the ball out without much wasted movement and without having to reset his feet… He has an unorthodox throwing motion (though it does look less wonky when you mirror the video to make him right-handed). He is more comfortable throwing outside the numbers, and his numbers in the intermediate middle of the field are concerning.”

NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Where is Michael Penix Jr. predicted to go?

When is the 2024 NFL Draft?

Where: Campus Marius Park at Hart Plaza in Detroit, Michigan

When: April 25-27, 2024

Cable TV: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network

Streaming: NFL+; ESPN+; fuboTV

How to watch: Catch the NFL Draft this year with a subscription to fuboTV

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