The 2023 season ended with Kansas City’s overtime win in Super Bowl XVIII over the San Francisco 49ers. That means it’s now officially 2024 NFL draft season!
It’s still early in the process, with the combine, pro days and private interviews all still to come. But as draft season kicks off in earnest, there are a few projections and concepts that feel pretty reliable. From what happens with the first pick to who might fall the farthest from recent first-round mocks, here are a few early shots at predicting what will happen in April in Detroit.
The Bears will keep the 1st pick and trade Justin Fields instead
Last year at this time, the Chicago Bears owned the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. They traded that pick to the Carolina Panthers shortly after the scouting combine.
That pick has come back to roost. Carolina sent the No. 1 overall pick in 2024 to Chicago as part of that deal. There is considerable speculation that the Bears will once again trade the top pick for more assets. There is also considerable buzz, both in Chicago and beyond, that the Bears will look to use that pick on USC QB Caleb Williams.
That’s the early prediction here. Chicago will opt to use the No. 1 pick on Williams, and they’ll trade away incumbent starting QB Justin Fields to get more assets instead. Fields should bring back at least one Day 2 pick in each of the next two drafts, and perhaps more. There is a school of thought that the Bears could draft Williams AND keep Fields, but that seems untenable at this point .
J.J. McCarthy gets picked ahead of Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr.
At this early juncture, it sure appears that Caleb Williams and Drake Maye will be the first two quarterbacks selected. LSU’s Jayden Daniels might sneak into that conversation with a strong workout season, though that remains to be seen.
It’s the next cluster of QBs where things get really interesting. Right now, Oregon’s Box Nix and MIchael Penix Jr. from Washington are the consensus next in line. But J.J. McCarthy from Michigan is an interloper who could very well surpass them both.
Neither Nix nor Penix lit up Senior Bowl practices. Far from it, in fact. There are enough drawbacks to both of them that a prospect like McCarthy, coming off a national championship and great play in clutch games, could very well surpass them in the NFL’s eyes.
Player once projected in the 1st round who falls the farthest
Penn State cornerback Kalen King was a fixture in the first round of preseason mocks. Even as the college season ended, it was still common to see King’s name in the top 50 of mock drafts.
Based on what I saw on the field in both the college season and Senior Bowl week and have gathered in various conversations, I’m not sure King will be selected in the top 100. The blanket coverage skills and decisive instincts he showed in 2022, the traits that lifted him into top-25 contention, were in absentia in 2023. Instead, they were replaced by a grabby “guesser” in coverage who was much softer in run defense and got even worse at tackling in space. He regressed to below his 2021 first season for the Nittany Lions in all areas.
King will get a chance to answer for the dramatic falloff during team and NFL Scouting Combine interviews. He’s got some explaining to do to salvage a Day 2 pick as it stands right now.
Most unexpected first-round pick
Before the (justifiable) hype of Senior Bowl week caught fire, my pat answer here was Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell. Not that he wasn’t deserving of first-round status, but MAC cornerbacks don’t typically get much national attention with more casual fans.
Now that Mitchell has seemingly cemented himself in the top 20, it’s a little trickier to find the “surprise” first-round candidate. There was some buzz in Mobile for a player who wasn’t there: Texas WR Xavier Worthy.
The speedy Worthy might be the fastest player in the draft. He was a big-play threat for the Longhorns and has shown he can run precise routes. Currently, Worthy projects in the second or third rounds with real concerns about his size (he’s 6-1 but 172 rail-thin pounds) and drops.
We’ve seen it before, we’ll see it again: elite speed makes NFL teams ignore other flags on wide receivers. I can see that happening for Worthy in April.
Looking at a big run on offensive linemen in the second half of the first round
There is still quite a bit of sorting out to do in the offensive tackle and interior OL classes. Right now, it does feel like the top two tackles selected will be Notre Dame’s Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu of Penn State, and they both look like they’ll come off the board sometime between picks five and 10 overall.
Then there’s a confluence of team demand and draft supply that matches up pretty nicely for a big run on offensive linemen in the 15-32 overall range. The sequence in which they get picked will remain a mystery until the names are called, but it feels comfortable that all of these guys will be picked in the final 15-20 slots of the first round:
Oregon State OT Taliese Fuaga
Georgia OT Amarius Mims
Oklahoma OT Tyler Guyton
Alabama OT JC Latham
Oregon IOL Jackson Powers-Johnson
Duke OL Graham Barton
Three others who could certainly crash into the first round, too:
Arizona OL Jordan Morgan
Houston OT Patrick Paul
Washington OL Troy Fautanu
And with a strong workout/interview season, Kansas State’s Cooper Beebe and BYU strongman Kingsley Suamataia could enter the late-1st conversation, too.