NFL mock draft roundup: Experts agree on Washington's pick in QB-rich first round

The Scouting Combine and the biggest deals of free agency are in the books for the 2024 NFL offseason. With those key events over, the 2024 NFL Draft takes the stage as the next landmark event of the offseason.

Free agency answered some quarterback questions and raised even more. Kirk Cousins cashed in with Atlanta to give the Falcons an upgrade at the position. In turn, Minnesota signed Sam Darnold to take his place under center for the Vikings. New England traded Mac Jones to Jacksonville, Gardner Minshew signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Baker Mayfield re-signed with Tampa Bay on a three-year deal. Jacoby Brissett didn't re-sign with Washington and instead will return to New England this year.

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The latest quarterback move Thursday involved the Commanders sending 2023 starter Sam Howell to Seattle and trading multiple draft picks as well. Seattle will get a fourth- and sixth-round pick and Washington receives a third- and fifth-round pick in the deal as well.

That move clears the way for first-year general manager Adam Peters and coach Dan Quinn to secure a quarterback of the future with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft this April. The latest mock drafts from USA Today's Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz and Nate Davis agree that the team will do just that with one of the best quarterbacks in college football from last fall.

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Howell, a fifth-round draft pick in 2022, stepped into the starting role last season after making one start as a rookie. His sophomore campaign wasn't easy and Howell led the league in interceptions (21), pass attempts (612), and sacks taken (65).

Enter 2023 Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels of LSU, who both Middlehurst-Schwartz and Davis predict will become the Commanders' next quarterback of the future.

Daniels had a prolific season in 2023 and led the FBS in yards per attempt (11.7), yards per play (10.7) and passer rating (208.0). He completed 72.2% of his passes in 2023 but his deep ball accuracy was a step above most others in college football. On 34 completions of 20 or more air yards, he had 22 touchdowns to zero interceptions.

He also excelled under pressure at LSU. When blitzed, Daniels completed 71.1% of his passes with 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His game-changing athleticism helps him elude pressure and make big plays, as he did against Army.

There is some worry about his slight frame - 210 pounds at 6-foot-4 - but his mobility will help him avoid many big hits.

Peters has made moves in his first free agency period to shore up the support around a future quarterback like Daniels as well. Washington signed guard Nick Allegretti from Kansas City as well as center Tyler Biadasz from Dallas to improve the offensive line. The Commanders also signed Austin Ekeler to pair with Brian Robinson Jr. in the backfield and Zach Ertz to shore up the tight end position.

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Daniels is one of many signal-callers to make the first round of both mock drafts. Both Middlehurst-Schwartz and Davis have 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams going No. 1 overall to the Chicago Bears ahead of Daniels at No. 2 to Washington.

Both experts agree on two more top-10 quarterbacks in their respective mock drafts: Drake Maye (North Carolina) and J.J. McCarthy (Michigan).

Like Williams, Maye has long been considered a lock for the first round. In Middlehurst-Schwartz's mock draft, the former Tar Heel makes it three quarterbacks in a row to start the draft by going No. 3 overall to New England. Davis has him falling a bit farther to No. 8 overall to Atlanta.

McCarthy's another riser in the pre-draft process after winning a national championship with Michigan last fall. His youth and potential make him an intriguing prospect at the position. Middlehurst-Schwartz has him landing in Minnesota at No. 5 overall following a trade between the Vikings and the Los Angeles Chargers. Davis' mock draft has him going a pick later at No. 6 to the New York Giants where he'd be able to sit behind Daniel Jones as a rookie and develop.

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Middlehurst-Schwartz stops at four quarterbacks in his first-round mock draft. Davis' mock draft continues at the position with a pair of Pac-12 signal-callers: Oregon's Bo Nix and Washington's Michael Penix Jr. He has them going No. 12 overall to the Denver Broncos and No. 16 overall to the Seattle Seahawks, respectively.

Denver hasn't made many big moves in free agency. The Broncos traded wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to Cleveland but have stood relatively pat on offense since then. Nix was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football history in 2023 and, in this mock draft scenario, would compete against Jarrett Stidham for the starting job at quarterback.

Seattle brought in Howell but could double down with another young quarterback in the draft, similarly to how the Seahawks signed both Geno Smith and Drew Lock during the 2022 offseason. The Seahawks need help on the offensive line but have a strong skill position group. That'd make things relatively easy for a quarterback like Penix Jr. to develop into a starter once Smith's contract is up following the 2025 season.

There were concerns over Penix Jr.'s medical examinations following multiple injuries in college but good results from the combine have put a lot of those questions to rest.

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These latest mock drafts see many of the top prospects like Williams, Maye, Daniels as well as wide receiver standouts Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze staying in the top 10 of the first round. But beyond that point, there are some players rising up the board.

Texas standout Byron Murphy II is a top-15 player and the first interior defensive lineman off the board in both mock drafts. Middlehurst-Schwartz has him going No. 14 overall to New Orleans to pair with Bryan Bresee, the Saints' first round pick from last year. Davis has him going one spot earlier to the Raiders and building on a newfound strength after Las Vegas signed Christian Wilkins this week.

Staying with the Longhorns, both experts predict a Texas wide receiver is selected in the first round in a loaded class but with different players. Middlehurst-Schwartz tabs Adonai Mitchell going No. 28 overall to the Buffalo Bills as a replacement for the departed Gabe Davis (now in Jacksonville) in his mock draft. Davis' mock has the fastest player in NFL combine history, Xavier Worthy, going No. 32 overall to the defending champion Chiefs.

The 2024 NFL Draft is six weeks away. With multiple pro days and plenty of time for drama until then, more players could rise up these rankings by the start of round on April 25.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL mock drafts: Experts agree on top picks in QB-rich first round