We Often Say "Next Year's QBs Are Better", But There Really Appears To Be A Special Group On Deck For The 2024 NFL Draft
Yeah I know the NFL Draft just ended. Everyone's always trying to move on to the next bright, shiny thing instead of appreciating what's in front of their faces and living in the moment. As Yoda tells Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, "Still looking to the horizon. Never HERE. NOW." That's especially so in this day and age of the INTERNET and the SOCIETY that we live in.
Sorry I am, Master Yoda.
With those musings, innate understandings and Jedi wisdom acknowledged and out of the way — before I go all Our Town up in here — I can't shake the potential of the 2024 quarterback draft class. Headlined by USC Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye, this group has a chance to be among the most special we've ever seen.
How often do you have not one, but two dudes at the top who appear to be can't-miss, slam-dunk prospects? Williams and Maye are being labeled as such already. So let's take a closer look at them and the other signal-callers who could go pro to make for yet another incredibly enjoyable NFL Draft experience about a year from now. PS: Miami's Tyler Van Dyke isn't featured here. Keeping his draft hype on pause for the minute.
Caleb Williams is the next "generational talent"
CARSON PALMER on Pardon My Take gassing up his fellow USC QB. And likely the first to go No. 1 overall since Palmer went to the Bengals in 2003.
That label of "generational talent" is thrown around far too casually. Thing is, it applies to Williams in every way. There was some saying related to acting that one of my grad school professors passed on to me from Stella Adler: "You have to have a talent for your talent." Kind of barely makes sense if we're being honest but the point of it is that you need to tend to your talent garden for the seeds to grow. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. That sort of cliché.
By all accounts, the all-world physical talent that Williams has is matched or even exceeded by his work ethic. While he was still in high school. this guy was publicly journaling his meticulous development as a QB prospect with an eye on the NFL. Comparisons to Patrick Mahomes are frequent, as you saw at the top of this blog.
…Except Williams is a far superior runner and more polished in terms of mechanics and decision-making than Mahomes was coming out of Texas Tech. It's downright ridiculous how good he already is. One more full season under Lincoln Riley at USC to go, which can't hurt!
No need to spend too much more time on Williams. He's that fucking dude. All you really need to know.
Drake Maye could’ve gone No. 1 overall THIS year, too
All those PFF numbers in the above tweet are a way of saying that North Carolina's Drake Maye is every bit the passer Caleb Williams is. While I haven't seen Maye flash quite the dual-threat capabilities and dynamic athleticism of his USC counterpart — a tall order, that — he has plenty of wiggle and enough second-reaction ability to be excited about.
Maye is already an excellent intermediate and deep ball thrower and can still get better in those areas. It'll be fascinating to see how competitive he can make the Tar Heels in 2023 and whether or not he can do enough to challenge Williams for the Heisman. It's an uphill battle for sure, but Maye has the skill set to get it done. In almost any other year, he'd be the No. 1 overall pick — and like I said, might've gone before Bryce Young if he were eligible to come out just recently.
The unprecedented Quinn Ewers situation
Although he lopped off his famous mullet and burned a year at Ohio State only to transfer back home to Texas, Quinn Ewers is one of the most electrifying talents in college football. Dude left high school an entire season early to watch and learn from the likes of CJ Stroud. After a bit of a bumpy beginning with the Longhorns, Ewers has emphatically retained the starting job over already-ultra-famous true freshman Arch Manning.
With all the pressure of Manning waiting in the wings, it seems at least so far Ewers has risen to the occasion. Transferring a second time was pretty much out of the question. Manning isn't quite ready yet, and that's OK. Steve Sarkisian has to be thrilled with the way Ewers responded in the spring game, after which he was labeled Texas' QB1 by Sark.
Ewers is still so young and he could play an additional year or even two in Austin if he really wanted to. However, I think the temptation to leave for the NFL will be too great if he meets expectations in '23 and plays to his unbelievable potential. Prior to getting hurt in the Alabama game, I thought Ewers was on his way to instant superstardom. With Bijan Robinson no longer in the backfield to bail him out, the Longhorns' offense is on Ewers' shoulders. We might see McConaughey rushing the field with his shirt off multiple times in the fall.
Incredible redemption arcs for Spencer Rattler and Bo Nix?
From the high school class of 2019, we had the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB in Box Nix stay home at Auburn and the top pro-style signal-caller Spencer Rattler pursue the chance to play for Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. Let's just say the 5-star studs didn't quite live out the fairytale they had to have anticipated as such highly touted recruits.
Thanks to how active the transfer portal has become, both Nix and Rattler sought out fresh starts in 2022. It had to be tough for Nix to bail on his failed role as Auburn's savior and potential to be an Alabama state legend to go all the way out west to Eugene, Oregon. And as for Rattler? Well, we know getting benched for Caleb Williams isn't exactly grounds for shaming someone, but that infamous viral clip of Rattler from high school where he belittles and bullies his teammates hinted that he needed a healthy helping of humble pie. It sucks to be judged on something like that when you're that young. Again. Alas. That's the SOCIETY we live in.
Look how put-together and mature Rattler sounds in our in-house interview clips here:
Pretty cool to see if you ask me. Despite a suboptimal supporting cast at South Carolina, Rattler really came on at the end of last season with huge wins over Tennessee and Clemson, followed by a solid showing in the Gator Bowl as the Gamecocks fell 45-38 to Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, Bo Nix was a raging success at Oregon. Aside from a rocky debut against Georgia's unbelievable defense, he had a phenomenal bounce-back campaign in Eugene, completing 71.9% of his throws with 29 TDs to only seven INTs. Oh, and he ran for 14 scores and 510 yards. NOT BAD.
In the event Rattler and Nix continue on their current trajectories, they could really boost their draft stocks for 2024 and be a big part of the conversation. Before they set foot on the NCAA gridiron, it's been evident all the talent and tools are there for both of them.
Big Penix Energy vs. a long injury history
Couldn't explain Michael Penix Jr.'s extensive injury issues better than he did in the video above. Like Nix and Rattler, Penix benefited from the transfer portal, pulled up to Washington and promptly finished second in the country in passing yards.
Penix might've had even more yards last year had his receivers not dropped so many balls. He's reasonably accurate to all areas of the field, has a straight-up cannon for an arm and obviously battled plenty of personal adversity to keep going through numerous injury rehabs to get to this point. The big question mark will be Penix's health. Even with that, he has good enough functional mobility to evade pressure and create plays off-schedule if necessary — and has the makings of a first-round prospect.
Other stud QBs to watch
Someone who I don't mention here will inevitably blindside all of us with spectacular play. It's not like anyone had Joe Burrow ascending to the heights that he did during that historic Heisman/national title run with LSU in 2019. So with that said, here are some more studs to watch out for once college football kicks off.
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan — That crazy cross-field throw McCarthy made as a true freshman for a 69-yard touchdown — his first TD college TD pass — on 3rd and 25 will forever stick in my mind.
Ever since then it was this frustrating wait for Jim Harbaugh to plug McCarthy in as the full-time starter ahead of inferior talent Cade McNamara. Thankfully, McCarthy got the nod in '22, ran with the opportunity, and led the Wolverines to an undefeated regular season, a second straight Big Ten title, and a CFP berth. Plenty of arm. Plenty of rushing capabilities. Another year under Harbaugh's guidance should vault McCarthy into a first-round guy.
Jordan Travis, Florida State — From the little bit I've watched of Travis, he gives me Johnny Manziel vibes. And I mean that from the pure playing sense. Nothing to do with personality. If Travis anything like JFF in that regard, he'll have no chance in the NFL. Good thing he's an entirely different human being, right? That said, similar size (6-1, 201), similarly slippery in a scramble drill and comparable arm strength as well. Travis will face questions about his frame and is a rising sixth-year senior, but the buzz around him is very real.
Jayden Daniels, LSU — Don't know exactly how much I dig Daniels as an NFL prospect, yet it's notable that he damn near entered the 2023 draft before deciding to stay. Maybe Brian Kelly warned him about what he saw happen to DeShone Kizer during his time at Notre Dame. Whatever the case, Daniels has dynamic, tremendous running ability and continues to progress as a passer. Wouldn't expect him to be a super-high pick at this juncture. Then again, what a difference a year can make, right? Daniels' post about staying in Baton Rouge for one last ride gives me Jalen Hurts-esque intangible vibes.
KJ Jefferson, Arkansas — A 6-3, 242-pound QB who's rushed for over 1,300 yards and 15 scores while also throwing only nine INTs to 45 touchdowns? In a non-elite SEC program? That sounds work the look to me. Jefferson's tools are tantalizing. The question is, can he do enough to ascend in the pecking order with so many gifted field generals perceived to be ahead of him? I'll have my popcorn ready to find out whenever the Razorbacks are on.
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado — I KNOW. I present like a company shill for even mentioning Deion's son. But if the younger Sanders suddenly makes Buffaloes football relevant after two seasons at Jackson State where he threw 70 TDs, you'd have to at least consider the possibility he might jump to the NFL. I suspect he'll stay for an extra year, develop a little more against better competition and wait for the 2025 draft. We shall see!
Anyone else I've left out? Well if so, just goes to show you how stacked the prospective 2024 draft class really is! Thank you for embarking upon this journey with me. That'll do for now considering we're many months out from the college football season and many more from draft night.