NFL Analysis


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2024 NFL Draft: Where Would Top QBs Rank Among Recent Top Prospects?

Quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence
Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (right) greets LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow following the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 13, 2020. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2024 quarterback class looks as strong as we've seen in several years due to the depth of talent available.

The sextet of Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. have earned their flowers with stellar play at the collegiate level. But where would these top quarterbacks rank compared to the first-round passers in the past five classes?

I've created an integrated listing of the 18 first-round quarterback prospects since 2020, using my own grades and actual draft position. Some players haven't quite worked out as well as the league and I hoped, but that's the risk the NFL draft brings. There's rarely a sure thing.

From best to worst, here's how the 2024 NFL Draft's top six quarterback prospects stack up to the most recent draft classes since 2020.

Ranking Top QB Prospects Since 2020

1. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Coming off the greatest passing season college football had seen, Joe Burrow was as close to a slam dunk as we've seen in years. The explosive downfield passer completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns in his final season at LSU, leading his squad to a 15-0 mark and a national title.

Transfers are more normal now than they were then, and Burrow has become close to a poster child for how well the portal works.

Concerns about Burrow's average arm strength, mobility and late breakout were mitigated by his rare accuracy and confidence. Everything clicked into place for him in 2019, giving the Cincinnati Bengals an easy decision at No. 1 overall in a good quarterback class.

Burrow was far from just a product of having Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase, and he has quickly become one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. 

2. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

From a superstar recruit to a golden prospect, Trevor Lawrence was destined to be the top overall pick before he even stepped on the field at Clemson.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder accomplished about as much as anyone could in his three years with the Tigers, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are seeing good results thus far. The question for Lawrence is whether he can leap from being a solid player to a great one.

The tools are certainly there, and Lawrence was the lynchpin of Clemson's success. He was strong-armed, athletic, and had a big frame. Lawrence checked all the boxes teams wanted to see.

3. Caleb Williams, USC

Our first 2024 NFL Draft prospect lands at No. 3.

Caleb Williams isn't far behind Lawrence but is comfortably ahead of the next best from this timeframe. Though only 6 feet tall, Williams' explosiveness as a passer inside and outside the pocket is better than anyone else on this list. Even as a freshman, he was a dominant force and continued to carry his teams through this past season.

Williams must find the balance between being a big-game hunter and a game manager at the next level. He had a few too many instances of getting greedy for downfield plays instead of taking what defenses were giving him, but it's also a byproduct of playing for a team that couldn't help him with stops.

>>READ: Latest 2024 Mock Draft

4. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans

It's not just hindsight to say C.J. Stroud was this strong of a prospect. Every prospect has flaws, but Stroud's were molehills compared to many of his peers.

The biggest question mark about Stroud's game had nothing to do with physical traits or football IQ but rather whether he could be the playmaker teams need to create something out of nothing in key moments.

He answered that question in his final college start against Georgia. Stroud played less robotic in that battle, laying it all on the line when it mattered most. His rookie season in Houston reflected his immense ceiling and quieted concerns about whether he was a product of a terrific situation at Ohio State.

5. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Our first "bust" of the group might just be Justin Fields. Fields was phenomenal in two years at Ohio State and might've won a national title if not for a rib injury against Lawrence's Clemson squad in 2020. Fields was always the biggest, fastest, most gifted player on the field. That had some analysts ranking him as highly or above Lawrence.

Unfortunately, Fields' processing hasn't caught up to his athleticism just yet. The Chicago Bears failed Fields as much as anything, so a fresh start in Pittsburgh might still reveal a franchise quarterback. 

>> READ: Fields Is a Perfect Fit for Steelers

6. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

On paper, Justin Herbert had everything to be an elite quarterback prospect. The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder came from a traditional NFL offense that required him to be under center, turn his back to the defense, reset his eyes and make contested throws.

However, Herbert's career at Oregon seemingly regressed from 2017 to 2019 despite his numbers improving as his role and playmaking diminished in the scheme.

It turned out Herbert is a more natural player than what the Ducks’ offense showcased in 2018 and 2019. Though he's still prone to checking down too often, Herbert has exceeded expectations since being taken after Tua Tagovailoa. 

7. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

The man drafted one spot ahead of Herbert has done himself justice thus far in the NFL. Tua Tagovailoa has clear limitations as a passer, lacking his peers' top-end size, arm strength and athleticism, but what made him great at Alabama has finally been on display the past two seasons.

He's hard to compare against because he's not the freakish physical talent most others on this list are.

There are plenty of reasons Nick Saban turned to Tagovailoa over Jalen Hurts in the waning moments of the 2018 National Championship Game. His poise, intangibles, incredible accuracy, quick release and anticipation are about as good as it gets. If you gave him Herbert's size and arm strength, he'd be the generational prospect everyone always hopes to find.

8. Drake Maye, North Carolina North Carolina Tar Heels logo

Turning 22 this August with only two years of starting experience, it's important to remember that Drake Maye is still on the younger side of age and playing time.

That said, the criticism he's faced this offseason is surprising. Sure, the 6-foot-4, 223-pounder had slightly worse stats this year, but his supporting cast underwent major changes from 2022.

Maye effectively balances chasing big plays and nickel and diming defenses down the field. He's prone to a few head-scratching blunders, but so were Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.

Maye doesn't quite have the arm strength of those players, but his ability to layer passes to all three levels is nevertheless terrific. 

9. Jayden Daniels, LSU

The ranking difference between Maye and Jayden Daniels likely comes down to preference.

Maye is 1.5 years younger and much stouter than Daniels, but the latter is coming off an incredible Heisman Trophy-winning campaign. Both could be extraordinarily successful in the right situation.

Daniels' downfield passing prowess, comfort outside of the pocket, improvement from Year 1 to now and rushing ability help make him special. His arm talent is good but not great, and he'll have to become more anticipatory as a passer. But his trajectory is promising, and he could produce enough big plays to overcome the typical struggles young players face.

10. Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

Anthony Richardson was a hotly debated prospect because many evaluators were hung up on a 54.7 percent career completion rate and limited experience.

The 6-foot-4, 244-pounder had all the tools to be the best player on the field on any given Sunday, though. Surviving the hiccups could pay off, as Allen did. Unfortunately, due to injuries, we only saw Richardson in parts of four games in 2023.

Between his arm strength, advanced pocket management and terrific rushing acumen, Richardson was a prototypical developmental QB prospect. He's risky, but he has everything needed to become an All-Pro candidate, which is more than anyone lower on this list has. 

11. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

The rise of J.J. McCarthy has surprised many in the online scouting community after he was mostly along for the Wolverines' championship ride in 2023.

Strong-armed, athletic, charismatic and experienced under center, McCarthy checks many boxes scouts and coaches look for. He possesses a strong arm and the ability to move the chains with great efficiency on third down.

The rest of his game is a question mark, though. Can he handle being the driver of an offense? Will his accuracy be more consistent at the next level, or is he just naturally a scattershot power thrower? 

Those questions will determine his floor and upside, which is a scary proposition for interested teams.

12. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

I promise this isn't an overcorrection based on Bryce Young's rookie season. Despite the impressive collegiate production and highlight reel, I wasn't high on him.

Young's issues ranged from pre-snap defensive identifications to middling arm strength and late passing attempts.

Those problems were exacerbated by a terrible surrounding cast in Carolina last season. Young should improve as his situation does, and his playmaking outside of structure pushes him above his peers despite the bad start to his career. 

13. Bo Nix, Oregon

The curious case of Bo Nix will be a fascinating plot to watch unfold in the NFL. He was essentially two extremes in college.

At Auburn, he showed tremendous athleticism and arm talent but also a penchant for getting wildly out of control with his decision-making and accuracy.

That all changed at Oregon. He became a system quarterback who only had a few opportunities every couple of weeks to be a playmaker. His efficiency soared through the roof, and he responded well in head-to-head matchups against Michael Penix Jr.

Still, there's an air of uncertainty about what Nix is. His accuracy and poise under pressure will define how successful he'll be.

14. Michael Penix Jr., Washington

Few players in college football history have a journey as unique as Michael Penix Jr. He began his career at Indiana in great fashion, showing off a huge arm and ability to create big plays. However, several injuries and dips in play led him to Washington, where he transformed his identity.

Supremely explosive as a passer for the Huskies, Penix flashes excellent timing and ball placement on deep attempts. But he's not mobile, his short and intermediate placement is unpredictable and he struggles with velocity while under pressure.

He'll need a great surrounding cast to be a long-term, above-average starter in the NFL.

15. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers

The most uncommon first-round quarterback prospect within this span has to be Jordan Love. He was taken later than anyone else on this list, 26th overall, and given three years to develop. His breakout season in 2023 seemingly unearthed a star, but Love needed more work than most of his peers.

His sophomore tape at Utah State was quite promising, but his final year was rough. He struggled after a coaching change and the loss of talent around him. Always a gifted athlete with a strong arm and the knack for jaw-dropping bucket throws, Love overhauled his mechanics in order to greatly improve with the Green Bay Packers.

16. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

This is the part of the list where it's hard to justify what teams were even thinking with these prospects. 

Although Zach Wilson had the physical tools to wow scouts in practices, his breakout 2020 season at BYU was against a tremendously weak level of competition, and his film in previous years was uninspiring.

And yet, the New York Jets seemingly locked into Wilson as soon as they landed the No. 2 pick. They overlooked a young, immature player who lacked experience against higher-end athletes and complex coverages. 

Wilson needed to be eased into a job with great protection and playmakers to succeed, and that was always the case. 

17. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

The idea of what Trey Lance could be made sense.

Standing 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds with a strong arm and running like a gazelle in the open field, he was physically like a Madden-created player before freakier guys like Richardson came along. Still, Lance played in only 19 games at North Dakota State in a highly conservative offense.

Injuries and a steep learning curve put Lance behind the eight-ball in the NFL. His accuracy issues have been a hot topic in practices, leading to an overhaul of his passing motion. He's not played enough to truly know what he is, but at least the San Francisco 49ers were dreaming big when they made their massive trade for him. 

18. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Following Tagovailoa's footsteps at Alabama, Mac Jones led an absurdly good offense in 2020. The Crimson Tide were unstoppable, and Jones' pocket-passing prowess was on full display with stars around him.

Despite clear athletic limitations, having only one full season as the starter, and New England lacking a decent set of playmakers to ease him in, the Patriots took Jones 15th overall.

Since then, Jones' confidence has been shattered amidst a chaotic run under Bill Belichick. Maybe Jones could've thrived if he had landed in San Francisco instead of Lance. However, things went as poorly as they could, and Jones never could overcome less-than-ideal circumstances. 

19. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers

At least every other first-round quarterback in the last five classes had a pathway to becoming a franchise passer. That's not the case for Kenny Pickett, who headlined one of the worst quarterback classes of the past decade. Everyone seemingly knew how limited the group was, yet the Steelers spent the 20th overall pick on the sixth-year senior. 

Pickett's 2021 numbers were excellent, but he struggled with basic pre-snap reads and loved to hold onto the ball and extend plays to his right. He lacked a plus arm, and his accuracy was only decent. It's not a surprise Pittsburgh quickly jettisoned him after two poor seasons.