Monday, May 27, 2024

2024 NFL mock draft: J.J. McCarthy or Drake Maye for Patriots at No. 3?

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If the drama surrounding the 2024 NFL draft seems tempered, know that the window remains open for a shake-up.

The pre-draft process has thus far been relatively muted, with the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans’ swap of a first-round pick standing as one of the few moves that reshaped the outlook for the early portion of the order. This year hasn’t featured the rampant uncertainty that was prevalent in 2023, when the mystery of the Texans’ plans only grew heading into Day 1. Instead, consensus has largely prevailed; think of how long Joe Alt to the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Turner to the Atlanta Falcons have been fixtures of 2024 NFL mock drafts.

But a big move still might be looming. With demand for top-flight rookie quarterbacks again far outpacing supply, it’s only natural to envision one team making a jump into the top five, thereby transforming the rest of the first round.

With less than two weeks left until the Chicago Bears are put on the clock in Detroit, here’s our latest 2024 NFL mock draft:

1. Chicago Bears (from Carolina Panthers) – Caleb Williams, QB, USC

Being able to project another choice or possible trade here would have provided some entertainment at any point throughout mock draft season, but the short-lived and flimsy Justin Fields hypotheticals were the only obstacle in Williams’ wire-to-wire run as the expected No. 1 pick. Draft day itself will serve as the long-awaited coronation, with Williams set to be on hand in Detroit. At least there’s some mystery awaiting Chicago not too much later in the first round.

2. Washington Commanders – Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

It’s a long way away from a consensus, but Daniels is hard to shake as the Commanders’ potential target at No. 2. The Heisman Trophy winner’s command from the pocket and ability to rip off big gains as a runner will be attractive features to whichever team drafts him. And while it would be a misnomer to call any quarterbacks “safe” picks, Daniels stands above the competition for this slot in his readiness to serve as an offensive engine from Day 1. 

3. New England Patriots – J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

Might the Patriots’ potential decision between McCarthy – who is being hosted by New England on Monday, according to multiple reports – and Drake Maye be the inflection point of the entire first round? New coach Jerod Mayo has raved about the latter signal-caller, but McCarthy’s continued ascent – both as a player and prospect – could take him all the way to the top three. No matter the pick, however, New England might not want to throw its rookie quarterback into the fray right away unless it can significantly upgrade its skill-position talent later in the draft. 

4. Arizona Cardinals – Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

Monti Ossenfort is no stranger to moving around the draft board after pulling off two draft-day trades in the first round last year. Will the Cardinals GM again shake things up by engineering a deal with a team desperate for a rookie quarterback? Passing up on Harrison would be extremely difficult given that the decorated receiver prospect could change the entire complexion of the offense, so Ossenfort should be happy to stay put if he’s not bowled over by an offer. 

5. Minnesota Vikings (via proposed trade with Los Angeles Chargers) – Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

Unless Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can somehow pry the No. 3 pick from the Patriots, the Vikings might be limited in their likely options at quarterback – and getting into position for whichever top passer is left could still prove mighty costly. Quarterbacks coach Josh McCown coached Maye at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, and it’s easy to see why Minnesota would be excited about adding a rocket-armed signal-caller comfortable operating on the move, especially as the franchise turns the page from the Kirk Cousins era. For Maye, there might be no better situation for his development than learning under McCown and Kevin O’Connell while having Justin Jefferson on the receiving end of his deep bombs and Christian Darrisaw keeping him clean.

6. New York Giants – Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

John Mara has given Big Blue brass the green light to make a bold move for a quarterback if there’s one to leadership’s liking. Regardless of whether the team actually pursues that route, there’s a clear mandate to waken a dormant passing attack. The electric Nabers can do exactly that for a receiving corps that could lose tight end Darren Waller, who is still mulling retirement.  

7. Tennessee Titans – Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

One year after undergoing something of a half-measure in his rebuilding effort, Titans GM Ran Carthon can celebrate a more complete roster renovation by snagging Alt. The 6-9 blindside blocker sizes up as the savvy left tackle who can help Tennessee move past its ill-fated buy-in of Andre Dillard, who was cut after one year. 

8. Atlanta Falcons – Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama

This projection dates all the way back to USA TODAY Sports’ way-too-early mock draft last April, and it’s still hard to shake. Bringing aboard a blur off the edge in Turner feels like the most reasonable answer for an Atlanta team that has merely been scraping by with its pass rush for far too long.

9. Bears – Jared Verse, DE, Florida State

The allure of equipping Williams with another top-tier receiver will be strong, especially if Nabers or Rome Odunze are still available. But both Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus know how difficult it is to find premium pass rushers after they paid up at the trade deadline last year to land Pro Bowler Montez Sweat. Verse could step in as a complementary piece and quickly make his mark both in generating pressure and holding firm against the run. 

10. New York Jets – Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

A first-round receiver is a fitting welcome-back present for Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback unquestionably would relish having an alpha target capable of consistently securing jump balls, even if Odunze will have to win over a player known for being tough on rookies.

11. Chargers (via proposed trade from Vikings) – Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

In trading back, the Bolts gain additional resources to rebuild a roster that’s decidedly in transition. Meanwhile, Fuaga figures to be exactly the kind of aggressive, overpowering force at right tackle that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman will prize in establishing a rugged running attack.

12. Denver Broncos – Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

Trading back and still landing a quarterback of their liking in the top 40 picks seems like the optimal route for the Broncos, who are without a second-round selection due to the Sean Payton trade. But who wants to move up this high with the top quarterbacks spoken for? Denver stays put and scoops up Nix, an experienced and discerning signal-caller whose ability to make plays on the move should aid him as he figures out the pro game.

13. Las Vegas Raiders – Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

Taking a hyperathletic cornerback with a knack for generating big plays seems like a page out of the Al Davis playbook, but Mitchell’s coverage credentials would make him a fine first pick to kick off Tom Telesco’s tenure. His addition would serve as a nice final piece to a burgeoning secondary. 

14. New Orleans Saints – Oluwuyima Fashanu, OT, Penn State

Even in a deep class for offensive tackles, New Orleans needs to prioritize the position given the protection problems left by Trevor Penning’s ineffectiveness and Ryan Ramczyk’s uncertain health outlook. Though Fashanu is still finding his way as a blindside protector, proper coaching should shore up many of his issues and put him on the track toward becoming a promising starter.

15. Indianapolis Colts – Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

The two-time Mackey Award winner’s range seems to begin at No. 10. If he gets past that point, however, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact landing spot in the middle of the first round. Indianapolis, however, would have to take a long look at Bowers, who could significantly ease Anthony Richardson’s learning curve.

16. Seattle Seahawks – Troy Fautanu, OT, Washington

Laken Tomlinson’s signing fills one hole at guard, but the Seahawks’ shaky interior is due for additional investment. Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb shouldn’t have trouble helping his fleet-footed former Huskies pupil navigate the move from left tackle to the inside.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars – Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

With the passing attacks throughout the AFC South only growing more formidable, Jacksonville has to find more solutions for a pass defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed. Able to handle a wide variety of receivers in man coverage, Arnold would open up a lot of possibilities for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

18. Cincinnati Bengals – Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas

Whether it’s more protection for Joe Burrow or an additional push on the interior, Cincinnati seems like a good bet to focus on bolstering one of its lines. While the 6-1, 297-pound Murphy isn’t the typical solution for a run defense that ranked 30th in allowing 4.7 yards per carry last season, he can still throw opposing attacks off balance by shooting gaps and creating havoc in the backfield. 

19. Los Angeles Rams – Laiatu Latu, OLB, UCLA

Staying local seems like a no-brainer for the Rams when the available option is a player like the caliber of Latu, this class’ most refined pass rusher. There aren’t many better bets for an instant-impact defender, which should be attractive to an outfit looking to stay competitive with 36-year-old Matthew Stafford at the helm. 

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – JC Latham, OT, Alabama

Omar Khan made a decidedly un-Steeler-like maneuver to shake up the quarterback room with Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. Now, it’s back to business with Latham, a jolting right tackle who fits Pittsburgh’s offensive identity and would allow 2023 first-round pick Broderick Jones to shift back to the left side.

21. Buffalo Bills (via proposed trade with Miami Dolphins) – Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

To ensure a shot at one of the top five receivers, the Bills move up in a deal with their AFC East foe. The 6-3, 209-pound Thomas figures to bring an explosive element to any passing attack after leading the Football Bowl Subdivision with 17 touchdowns last season while averaging 17.3 yards pre reception. Josh Allen would surely appreciate how much the receiver can open up the offense after the Stefon Diggs trade.

22. Philadelphia Eagles – Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma

After breaking from his ways to sign Saquon Barkley, Howie Roseman gets back to business with his standard approach. Lane Johnson has already mentored Guyton and could pass the torch at right tackle to his Sooner protégé. Philadelphia also has long planned ahead in its investments along the offensive line. 

23. Chargers (via proposed trade with Vikings, from Cleveland Browns via Houston Texans) – Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

The consternation regarding the state of the Chargers’ receiving corps will only amplify if Harbaugh and Co. trade back to a spot outside of the range of the top three wideouts. In this scenario, however, Los Angeles is able to land a potential go-to target in Mitchell, who should give Justin Herbert the fluid pass catcher he currently lacks. 

24. Dallas Cowboys – Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

Tough spot for Dallas, which has to wait behind several other teams in the market for an offensive tackle before getting its shot. Mims is still an unknown and unfinished project after tallying just eight starts at Georgia, but Jerry Jones might be captivated by the upside of a smooth-moving 6-8, 340-pound blocker.

25. Green Bay Packers – Graham Barton, G/C, Duke

Versatility and stability are Barton’s calling cards after a career in which he flipped from center to starting left tackle. Now, however, he looks set to slide back to the interior, and the Packers should be drawn to him as they seek additional reinforcements up front to match their impressive collection of young skill-position talent. 

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State

GM Jason Licht has shown a willingness to spend heavy draft capital in a pass rush that still hasn’t panned out. Pairing YaYa Diaby with Robinson could provide massive dividends if the two electric athletes can fine-tune their techniques. 

27. Cardinals (from Texans) – Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

There’s no arguing against Arizona adding an elite receiver with its first pick if Ossenfort stays put, but it’s time to build out a defense that’s woefully underdeveloped. If the 6-1, 173-pound Wiggins can hold up against more physical receivers and become a more reliable presence against the run, he’ll be a significant difference-maker on a unit that has few to speak of. 

28. Dolphins (via proposed trade with Bills) – Johnny Newton, DT, Illinois

Trading back would afford some flexibility for GM Chris Grier, who currently faces a gap of more than 100 picks between his second-round selection and his next choice in the fifth round. Newton is no one-for-one replacement for Christian Wilkins, but his disruptiveness would come in handy for a Dolphins defense in transition.

29. Detroit Lions – Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa

What better way to follow up last year’s addition of Brian Branch – and this offseason’s loss of C.J. Gardner-Johnson – than with another multitalented defensive back? DeJean could be a dynamic playmaker in Aaron Glenn’s scheme while filling a key void at outside cornerback, and his stout play against the run would endear him to Dan Campbell.

30. Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Morgan, OT, Arizona

Nice marriage here between filling a void and adhering to Eric DeCosta’s approach of best player available. Morgan could step in at right tackle or serve as Ronnie Stanley’s eventual replacement, though kicking inside to guard is also a distinct possibility.

31. San Francisco 49ers – Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

With the run on offensive tackles complete, San Francisco doesn’t force the issue and instead pivots to another of its few problem areas. McKinstry projects as a solid No. 2 cornerback who should enjoy a smoother transition to the pros than many of his peers will thanks to his steady approach.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia

Kansas City already looked ripe for another receiver even before Rashee Rice’s arrest, which likely will lead to a suspension. McConkey fits the bill of what the Chiefs need for their current era under Patrick Mahomes: a polished pass catcher who can consistently break free and move the chains.

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