Saturday, July 20, 2024

This NFL Draft’s QB class can make history… with a ‘polarising’ star no-one can agree on

Must read

Last year was supposed to be the year NFL history was made.

Instead, Will Levis was made to wait, and wait some more, until his name was finally called as the Kentucky quarterback was drafted by the Titans at 33rd overall.

This time around though there is again the very distinct possibility that four quarterbacks could be drafted with the first four picks for the first time in league history.

The Bears and Commanders looked all-but locked into staying put at first and second overall respectively and have a glaring need at quarterback.

Watch every pick of the NFL Draft, first round beginning 10am AEST on Friday April 26, on ESPN via Kayo. New to Kayo? Start Your Free Trial >

The Patriots need a long-term solution at the position too, although there are plenty of holes in their roster so trading back could be an option.

The same goes for the Cardinals, who don’t need a quarterback but will certainly be fielding calls on draft night from needy teams.

With that in mind, profiled the top-four quarterback prospects in this year’s draft along with their strengths, weaknesses and potential draft destinations.

There are also a handful of key numbers to know about each prospect, with thanks to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and his in-depth 324-page guide to this year’s NFL draft.



College: Alabama

Class: Junior

Age: 21

Height: 6-foot-1 (185 centimetres)

Weight: 214 lbs (97 kilograms)


While Williams is able to play inside of structure, what makes him particularly special is his ability to create plays outside of it — and that was often a necessity for him to survive given the state of the offensive line he was playing with at USC. Williams will have better protection at Chicago, especially if the Bears drafted one of the top offensive tackles with their ninth overall pick. But the knowledge that Williams can create off-script and generate explosive plays regardless of the environment he finds himself in has to be a positive. According to ESPN, Williams threw for 11 touchdowns and had a QBR of 81.5 on plays outside of the pocket. While Williams is able to extend plays with his legs, he has a good habit of keeping his eyes up and looking for the pass first while scrambling, waiting for receivers to get open in what he said the team calls “Baller Mode”. “It’s always active in between the white lines. When things go downhill in a play, go make a play,” Williams said in an interview with GQ. Williams also stepped up on the money downs for USC, not throwing a single interception on third or fourth downs from 199 pass atempts according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.

Caleb Williams is expected to be taken first overall. David Becker/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP


If there is one weakness in Williams’ game it is his ball security, having led the FBS with 33 fumbles in 31 college starts. Williams’ biggest strength — his ability to create explosive plays out of structure — can also be an issue if he gets overconfident in chasing them instead of taking the easier option. But ultimately it is a case of taking the good with the bad because there are a lot of prospects who won’t have the ability to make those big plays in the first place and it is the job of a good coach to both embrace that aspect of Williams’ game while also teaching him the importance of when to rein it in. You look at someone like Patrick Mahomes, who Williams has been compared to, and the way he has evolved his game with the state of his receiving corps over time to more recently work his way down the field with underneath and intermediate passes.

Possible draft destinations

Chicago. There is not much else to add here because it has been trending this way all summer. The Bears traded away Justin Fields so obviously they will be taking a quarterback with the first overall pick and there has been no suggestion they are seriously considering trading back or taking one of the other top prospects. Williams is considered to be in his own tier ahead of Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels with the arm talent, accuracy, vision and incredible improvisational skills that make him a high-ceiling, potentially transformative prospect. The ability to produce outside of structure and extend plays with his legs also gives him a high floor. With D.J. Moore and Keenan Allen on deck, Williams already has one of the best wide receiver duos in the league and it could only get even better if Chicago drafts another pass catcher with the ninth overall pick.

Numbers to know

– Led the FBS in touchdowns (120) over the last three years (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– He also led the FBS in fumbles (33) over that span (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Heisman Trophy winner in first year at USC after throwing for 4,537 yards, 42 TDs and just five interceptions while running for 382 yards and 10 touchdowns

– Backed that up in 2023 with 3,633 passing yards, 30 TDs and five interceptions while rushing for 142 yards and 11 TDs

What the experts are saying

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler: “Overall, Williams needs to be more consistent working on-schedule from the pocket, but you live with the hiccups because the positives are special with his dynamic passing skills and instinctive ability to create. Though stylistically he is like a really impressive karaoke-style version of Patrick Mahomes, he is truly unique as a playmaker.”

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: “His creativity makes him special, but he will need to play more on schedule at the next level. Overall, Williams has areas in which he needs to improve, but he has franchise-altering upside.”

The Ringer’s Danny Kelly: “Williams is one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in recent memory. It’s not just because of his high-end physical traits or his top-shelf production over the past three seasons or because of his list of awards and accolades. He’s exciting because of the unorthodox style in which he plays: an off-beat, dazzling riff on quarterbacking that’s defined by out-of-structure brilliance and impossible-arm-angle throws that make you sit up in your chair. It’s a style that can make him very difficult to defend and one that could make him the next NFL superstar. But it’s also a style that comes with plenty of big question marks.”



College: North Carolina

Age: 21

Height: 6-foot-4 (193 centimetres)

Weight: 223 lbs (101 kilograms)


Maye has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and it isn’t hard to see why that is the case on the physical potential alone. At 6-foot-4 at 230 pounds, Maye has size, arm and running ability to be a solid starting quarterback from the jump with room for more. That rushing ability is particularly important given the rise of dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, with Maye accounting for a combined 42 first-down carries on third and fourth downs in the past two seasons, according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler. Crucially, he also understands when to slide and protect himself so as to not put his body through too much, something which LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels needs to do more often. Another thing working in Maye’s favour has to be the state of his receiving corps in his final season at North Carolina, having lost Josh Downs and Antoine Green. He was still able to put up solid numbers without them and clearly has the arm talent to produce at a high level with the right supporting cast, having thrown for 4,321 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven picks in 2022. Maye isn’t afraid to absolutely sling it either, with a fearlessness and ability to extend plays that makes him a high-ceiling prospect in this year’s class.

Drake May isn’t afraid to launch it deep. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


But it also makes him a quarterback that will require some patience. Fearless is the way to describe Maye if you are looking at it from a glass half-full perspective. A glass half-empty approach though would lead you to conclude reckless is a better term to describe him. When Maye misses, he misses bad and he struggled in particular with his accuracy into man coverage, completing only 41.7 per cent of passes against those looks according to ESPN. The national average, meanwhile, sat at 51.1 per cent. Like Williams, you do take the good with the bad and a home-run hitter like Maye is going to produce plenty of highlight reel throws during his career. It will just be a matter of ironing out some of the bad habits. For example, there are also concerns over inconsistent footwork and how it impacts the accuracy of his ball placement.

Possible draft destinations

Early on in the summer it seemed like Williams and Maye had separated themselves as the clear top two quarterback options in this year’s class. But then 2023 Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels started to climb up draft boards while Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy has also been one of the biggest risers, generating potential second overall buzz recently. It casts some doubt over whether exactly Maye could land, although both the Commanders and Patriots at second and third overall make plenty of sense. Washington would be the better landing spot for Maye — and really any quarterback in this year’s class — simply due to the fact the Commanders are in a better position with the state of their receiving corps. The Patriots, on the other hand, were one of the most ineffective offences in the league last season and are at the start of what will likely be a long rebuild. New England does have a genuine starting-calibre quarterback in Jacoby Brissett though, which would allow the Patriots to sit their rookie QB at the start of the season should it be the best move for their development. The Patriots are a trade-down candidate, with the Vikings and Giants two of the more likely teams to move up to select Maye. Either way, Maye shouldn’t fall lower than third overall.

BURNING QUESTIONS: Why record QB frenzy looms as teams plot desperate gamble

Drake Maye has high upside. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Numbers to know

– Combined 42 first-down carries on third and fourth downs the past two seasons (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– 56 rushes of 10-plus yards the last two seasons, second most in the FBS (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Set school records for completions (342) and passing yards (4,321) in a single season (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Only FBS quarterback with over 9,000 yards of total offence over the last two seasons (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Ranked second in FBS for completions on throws (63) of at least 15 yards downfield (Source: Reid, ESPN)

What the experts are saying

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

Jeremiah: “Overall, Maye has some things to clean up, but he has every ingredient to be a top-tier starter at the game’s most important position.”

Kelly: “Maye is big, has a strong arm, and brings a playmaker’s mentality; he has the moldable traits to develop into a top-10 quarterback. [But] he plays out of control at times and tries to do too much.”



College: LSU

Age: 23

Height: 6-foot-3 (193 centimetres)

Weight: 210 lbs (95 kilograms)


Daniels is the definition of a big play waiting to happen, having accounted for 90 plays of 20-plus yards in 2023 according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler. A lot of that comes back to his rushing ability and speed. But Daniels also excelled as a deep passer, completing 67 per cent on his throws of 20-plus yards in 2023 for 22 touchdowns and no interceptions. The high-end comparison is often reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, although they are different kinds of runners. The best word to describe Daniels as a runner is slippery while Jackson is stronger and shifty enough to maneuver his body in a way to avoid too many direct hits, something which Daniels needs to improve. But more on that later. The point is that having a home-run running threat like Daniels changes the way opposition teams defend.


Now, going back to taking too many hits. Not only does Daniels need to protect his body but he also needs to be more open to creating second-chance throws as opposed to immediately scrambling and trying to win using his legs when he is pressured. Sacks are drive killers in the NFL and Daniels took a lot of them. In fact, he took a sack on 24.5 per cent of his pressure drop-backs, which his pressure-to-sack rate marking the worst of any first-round quarterback since 2019.

Possible draft destinations

At this stage, reporting seems to suggest Daniels is the pick for the Commanders instead of Maye. “I think the signs continue to point to Jayden Daniels being the second overall pick,” ESPN insider Adam Schefter said on his podcast earlier this month. “Seems like he’s popular in the scouting community, seems like he’d bring a lot of the attributes that the Commanders would like. “It’s hard for me today — today — to see Jayden Daniels sliding much past pick No. 2. So, let’s pencil him in there.” John Keim of ESPN, meanwhile, reported on April 11 that a dozen NFL scouts and executives he has spoken to told him Daniels is “the most likely pick”. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported similar last week, writing that Daniels has the “slight edge” on Maye due to his “readiness to play”. If not, Daniels again is a candidate to land at New England or alternatively he could be a target for one of the quarterback-needy teams (Vikings, Giants, Broncos, Raiders) looking to trade up.

Jayden Daniels poses with The Heisman Memorial Trophy. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Numbers to know

– 90 plays of 20-plus yards in 2023 (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– 67.0 percent completions and 22-to-0 touchdown-to-interception rate on throws of 20-plus yards in 2023 (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Heisman Trophy winner with 3,812 passing yards, 40 passing touchdowns and four interceptions

– Completed 71.1 per cent of throws with 17 touchdown passes and zero interceptions when blitzed in 2023 (Source: Reid, ESPN)

– First player in college football history with 12,000-plus passing yards and 3,000-plus rushing yards in a career (Source: Comer, The Ringer)

– Took a sack on 24.5 per cent of his pressured drop-backs

What the experts are saying

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.”

Jeremiah: “Overall, Daniels took a massive leap in 2023 and now offers both a high floor and ceiling.”

Kelly: “Daniels is a prolific, playmaking quarterback who is accurate and aggressive pushing the ball downfield; he’s a force multiplier in the run game. [But] he has a thin frame and opens himself up to devastating hits; he lacks elite arm strength and is already 23 years old.”



College: Michigan

Age: 21

Height: 6-foot-2 (191 centimetres)

Weight: 219 lbs (99 kilograms)


Putting the football aside for a second, the one area McCarthy was always going to make an impression was the intangibles. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, NFL teams describe him as a “winner” and it’s hard not to see why as the quarterback of an undefeated national championship team. In fact, one NFL scout told Brugler that before he signed with Michigan, McCarthy told other recruits “they wanted to party and chase girls, go somewhere else”. “His class was going to be the one that restored Michigan. To have that mentality and then actually go achieve it? He’s different,” the scout added. As for the football itself, McCarthy didn’t have to do a whole lot in Michigan’s run-first offence but when he was required to make plays he stepped up, with 48.1 per cent of his pass attempts on third or fourth downs resulting in first downs, according to Brugler. Specifically on third downs, McCarthy had a 67.1 completion percentage while averaging 9.2 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and no picks. McCarthy may not have the ceiling of the other prospects in the draft but he was generally accurate within structure, setting a Michigan record with a 72.3 per cent completion rate over his last 12 games of the season without a single interception.

J.J. McCarthy and head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate after defeating the Washington Huskies during the 2024 CFP National Championship game. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP


The biggest question mark over McCarthy is just how he will fare in an NFL team that will require him to do more than what was needed at Michigan, having only recorded 713 pass attempts in his college career. In comparison, Maye had 952, Williams had 1,099 and Daniels had 1,438. Now obviously that was a product of Michigan’s run-heavy approach and is not necessarily a reflection of McCarthy’s limitations. But can McCarthy be more than just a quarterback you win with? More specifically, can he be a quarterback you win because of? Take a team like New England, for example, who have Jacoby Brissett as an option to let McCarthy sit early on in his career but should he struggle with New England’s barren receiving corps the external noise will only grow to throw the rookie in, even if it may not be the best thing for his development. A landing spot like Minnesota though, with Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockensen, a strong offensive line and mastermind coach in Kevin O’Connell would be ideal for a project quarterback like McCarthy.

Possible draft destinations

It is hard to see McCarthy going as high as second overall, although the hype is certainly growing for the Michigan quarterback, who The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave a first to second-round grade. It isn’t rare though for quarterbacks to be pushed up the board as was the case for Will Levis last season. He didn’t end up being taken in the first round. Could McCarthy be facing a similar fate? It is unlikely. The Vikings, with the 11th pick, have a glaring need at quarterback and would absolutely take McCarthy if he is still available at that point. The same likely goes for the Broncos and Raiders at 12th and 13th respectively. The Giants at 6th are a bit more of a mystery given the other holes in the roster, especially at wide receiver. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote that McCarthy is a “polarising” prospect, with some NFL executives buying into him and others sceptical he is worth such a high pick after initially being viewed as a borderline first-round talent. Most mocks have McCarthy going inside the top-10 but the debate among talent evaluators is whether he is worth the high draft capital.

J.J. McCarthy has the intangibles. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Numbers to know

– 48.1 percent of his pass attempts on third or fourth down resulted in a first down in 2023 (Source: Brugler, The Athletic)

– Specifically on third downs, McCarthy completed at 67.1 per cent, passing on average for 9.2 yards with six TDs and no interceptions (Source: Reid, ESPN)

– Off-target on just 8.1 per cent of his throws in 2023 (Source: Reid, ESPN)

– 2,991 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 202 rushing yards and three rushing touchdown in Michigan’s undefeated national championship season

What the experts are saying

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.”

Jeremiah: “Overall, other quarterbacks in this class have more volume in the passing game, but it’s hard to argue with McCarthy’s results. I see some similarities to Alex Smith coming out of college.”

Kelly: “McCarthy is a confident, aggressive passer who attacks the middle of the field and thrives out of structure; he’s clutch on high-leverage downs. [But] he’s thin framed and inconsistent with his ball placement; he was not a high-volume passer at Michigan.”

Latest article