Analysis | Projecting the first-round QBs, including J.J. McCarthy to Washington

Analysis | Projecting the first-round QBs, including J.J. McCarthy to Washington

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The NFL draft is less than a month away and there may be an unprecedented first-round quarterback class, which means there have been higher-than-usual levels of scuttlebutt, rumor and speculation about how the first 32 picks will unfold. Recent conversations with general managers, high-ranking team officials and agents intimately involved in the draft process, coming off the gabfest at last week’s owners meeting in Orlando, reinforced what a quarterback-dominated first round this stands to be — and how many franchises are deeply invested in the evaluation process.

Quarterbacks will probably be the first four selections, with at least one trade likely within the top four slots. I anticipate six quarterbacks — Caleb Williams, J.J. McCarthy, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix — will be selected in the first round, no matter what mock drafts are projecting. The appetite for this QB class will only grow as the players visit team facilities and spend considerable time with coaches, general managers and, most importantly, owners.

At least a quarter of the league’s franchises are preparing for the possibility of grabbing a quarterback in the first round: Chicago, Washington, New England, the New York Giants (and possibly the Jets, depending on whom you speak to), Minnesota, Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans and perhaps Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams.

“I told you in November there were going to be six [first-rounders]. Everyone is catching up now,” said a longtime evaluator for a team that is looking at quarterbacks. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t permitted to speak about the process.

“I can’t tell you exactly what order they’re going to go in after Chicago takes Caleb Williams,” an agent for one surefire first-round QB said, “but they will go one, two, three, four. And once that happens, the other two probably don’t have to wait that long.”

Here’s how I would project the order in which these six quarterbacks will be selected — and what I’m hearing about their potential suitors.

No need to belabor this one. Everyone I spoke with was convinced the Southern California product was the pick, with the Bears’ ham-handed trade of former starter Justin Fields just further confirmation. “He might not be on his own tier, the way a lot of people would have evaluated this class before the season,” said a longtime scout who has watched this class closely, “but he’s the consensus best QB in this class, and I don’t think it’s all that close.” One GM said, “He’s the pick.”

Another GM noted that Bears GM Ryan Poles “isn’t looking to make shock waves here. He’s telling you who he is going to take.”

J.J. McCarthy, Washington Commanders, No. 2 overall

Sometimes the betting markets reveal impeding reality, and I am inclined to believe there is merit to the Michigan QB’s rising odds to go second overall. McCarthy being a top-five pick shouldn’t come as a shock if you’ve been reading along — even with his opportunities limited by Michigan riding its running game — and his maturity, coachability and overall quality are shining through in the staged environment of scripted spring showcases.

When I asked the second evaluator for comparisons for the top four QBs, he said this about McCarthy: “Looks like another [Brock] Purdy to me.” Commanders GM Adam Peters was part of the brain trust that took Purdy in San Francisco, although that was in the final round.

Some also have used Kirk Cousins — whom 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan drafted and championed in Washington — as a comp. “He’s the kind of point guard who really fits that offense,” the first evaluator said of McCarthy, noting that Peters also was a staunch supporter of trading up for the less-polished but more athletic Trey Lance with the 49ers, a transaction that failed miserably. One agent, who got to know most of the leading men in this class as he recruited them but who does not represent McCarthy, said: “His maturity is off the charts. Owners will fall in love with him.”

And this from a GM who was at Michigan’s pro day but does not anticipate being in position to take a QB this high: “He kind of blew me away. I wasn’t really expecting it. It was an elite, elite performance.”

Jayden Daniels, New York Giants (trade), No. 3 overall

Both GMs and both agents I spoke with were convinced the Patriots, who hold the third pick, are open to trading down.

“I don’t get the sense they feel like they have to take their guy now,” said one agent who had discussions with Patriots brass during the free agency process. How far down they would be willing to go is the question, but this scenario only requires a drop back of three spots.

“The Giants are not married to Daniel Jones, I can promise you that,” said the agent for the first-round QB. “They are looking to move on.” The second GM said, “The Giants want a quarterback.” I continue to hear the Giants are highest on McCarthy, but acquiring him might not be possible. Could Giants Coach Brian Daboll, who became a household name for his work with Josh Allen in Buffalo, lean into Daniels’s dual-threat possibilities? He’s more polished and accurate than Allen was at this point, though no one else possesses Allen’s mix of size, speed and strength. Still, Daniels could end up the best of this bunch. One evaluator told me he “runs like Lamar [Jackson] but throws like [C.J.] Stroud.” Sounds like a Daboll QB to me.

Drake Maye, Minnesota Vikings (trade), No. 4 overall

The Vikings telegraphed their intent by cutting ties with Cousins and making an early trade to accumulate more 2024 first-round draft capital. The Cardinals, who hold the fourth pick, have needs all over, but they are keeping Kyler Murray at quarterback, and the Vikings could make an offer Arizona can’t refuse. New Vikings quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, an accomplished QB and freak athlete himself, coached Maye in high school and knows him inside and out.

According to multiple people who have talked to Vikings officials this offseason, ownership has made it clear that after going year-to-year with Cousins, it wants a 15-year solution now. The industry believes young GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is feeling some heat, and Maye would be the last of the top four QBs in this scenario. There would be no excuse for not moving up again at this point.

Michael Penix Jr., Las Vegas Raiders, No. 13 overall

Raiders owner Mark Davis doesn’t care about perception or conventional wisdom. Two GMs told me they are convinced the Raiders badly want to move up from the 13th pick to land Daniels, whom Coach Antonio Pierce knows well from their time together at Arizona State. But they aren’t well positioned for such a move.

“They want to move up and take a QB — trust me,” one GM said. “But I don’t think they pull it off.”

While rumors swirl of Penix’s medicals being an issue, one GM for a team that doesn’t intend to take a QB told me, “He’s clean for us.” Another (whose team is also not in the QB market) said, “No significant red flags.” I’m inclined to believe that Minnesota, if unable to trade up from No. 11, would take Penix over Bo Nix. Some believe the Seahawks, with proximity to the Washington program where Penix starred, could grab him as well. Seattle has the No. 16 pick.

Bo Nix, Denver Broncos (trade), No. 30 overall

I feel more strongly Denver is where Nix ends up than I do about what team the Broncos go through to acquire him. I’m not sure the Broncos will trade down from the No. 12 pick, because there is a chance Sean Payton’s old team — the Saints, who have the 14th pick — would make a play for Nix. Another team also could be involved. But at a certain point, if the Saints pass and Nix is still on the board, this looks like a fit.

“That’s a Sean Payton QB,” one GM said. One of the evaluators said: “You could see a little Drew Brees in there. He’s a smart kid, can make the reads and spread the ball around.”

The Broncos are short on draft capital, so they probably have to grab their QB on the draft’s opening night — and in this scenario, by trading with the Baltimore Ravens at No. 30, they would mortgage future picks to do so.

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