NFL draft 2024 predictions: the stars, the needs and the lower-round gems

<span>(Left to right) North Carolina quarterback <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Drake Maye;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Drake Maye</a>, <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Caleb Williams;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Caleb Williams</a> of the USC Trojans, LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels.</span><span>Composite: Getty Images</span>

Caleb Williams will almost certainly be picked No 1. But who will go No 2?

It feels like a lock that it will be LSU’s Jayden Daniels, thought I wouldn’t put it past the Commanders to fall in love with Michigan’s JJ McCarthy. Daniels is a funky prospect; he was a starry duel threat at LSU, but it’s tough to see whether the best elements of his game – his running, his deep ball – will smoothly transition to the NFL. He doesn’t possess Lamar Jackson-esque breakaway speed and has a brittle frame. As a thrower from the pocket, he has a snappy delivery but struggles to shift to his second and third reads. There is some RGIII to his game. Do Washington really want to tread that path again? OC

Congrats to Kliff Kingsbury because the Washington offensive coordinator is going to have a blast with Daniels, who is coming off a spectacular year with the Tigers. His explosive playmaking is evident, but his play in the pocket has vastly improved. This kid is just getting started. MJ

North Carolina’s Drake Maye has more upside, but Washington, riding 20-plus years of stink, need a quarterback with wins in his arm, now. Daniels is the fast track to respectability: a speedy, mobile, creative force at LSU, he ran for 10 touchdowns last season and threw with deadly accuracy. DL

Drake Maye. The buzz suggests Washington are in love with Jayden Daniels but when head coach Dan Quinn searches his feelings he will find Maye bears striking similarities to his former QB in Atlanta, Matt Ryan. The UNC star has a cannon for an arm (both a blessing and a curse, leading to accuracy issues) and is the unflappable franchise leader the Commanders need. GS

Related: Forgotten picks to gas mask bongs: the strangest NFL draft moments

This will be a good draft for

Teams looking for offensive line help. The top cluster of linemen is as good as in any recent year. At tackle, Joe Alt, Taliese Fuaga, Troy Fautanu, Olu Fashanu, JC Latham, Tyler Guyton and Amarius Mims should all hear their names called in the first round. Graham Barton, Zach Frazier and Jackson Powers-Johnson are interior players who could also hear their names called on the first night. There’s a drop-off after the top group, though, meaning teams will be jockeying to jump up the draft board. If there are trades on opening night, it will be for the big fellas. OC

Feels like we say this every year but the wide receivers in this draft are special. It starts with Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr, an electric, and more importantly, complete talent. Add in guys like LSU teammates Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr, not to mention Texas’s Adonai Mitchell and Washington’s Rome Odunze, and we could see up to eight wideouts in the first round. And there’s much talent to be mined in later rounds as well. MJ

Teams in the top 10 that don’t need a quarterback, with top quality offensive linemen and a deep class of wide receivers widely available. You can often count on one top receiver in the Top 10, but in 2024 there are three candidates: Harrison, Odunze and Nabers. If the offensive line is your hole, you can pop Joe Alt or JC Latham in and consider it filled for a decade. DL

The wide receiver wave. Before the Los Angeles Rams picked up Puka Nacua with the 177th pick last year, 19 pass catchers came off the board, with four going in the first round. Many had excellent starts to their careers but Nacua outstripped them and every one since as he unbelievably set four rookie records. This year’s vein of receivers appears just as rich so expect GM prospectors to strike early and often. GS

The best non-quarterback in the draft is

Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame. The Notre Dame left tackle has everything teams covet in a blindside protector: size, tenacity, slick feet and a solid base. He can also bring some oomph to the run game. OC

Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame. The man mountain from Notre Dame is a plug-and-play talent at a premium position. Alt’s size – 6ft 9in, 320lbs – is off the charts but so are his explosiveness, flexibility, and football IQ. It’s no wonder Jim Harbaugh and the Los Angeles Chargers are smitten. MJ

Malik Nabers, WR, LSU. If you’re a team with poor pass protection, like, say, the New York Giants, you need a receiver who can get open as fast as possible. That’s Nabers, whose super strength is the near-instant separation he gets while terrorizing teams’ top cornerbacks. Tyreek Hill is the high bar comparison. DL

Marvin Harrison Jr, WR, Ohio State. Offensive talent is the name of the game this year, and one player stands head and shoulders above the rest. Whoever drafts Harrison is going to be very happy indeed. He is bigger, faster and stronger than his Super Bowl champion father so, if he aligns with a QB near Peyton Manning’s level, greatness could follow. GS

Team most in need of a good draft

It has to be the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas did next to nothing in free agency, losing some key difference-makers, and they have a big money extension on deck for Dak Prescott. Dallas’ 2023 draft class was brutal, ramping up the pressure on this year’s batch of rookies. If they’re to put together a deep playoff run, they need to find players who can make an impact in year one, a tricky needle to thread. OC

The clock is ticking on the Josh Allen-Sean McDermott era. The Buffalo Bills shipped away Stefon Diggs and several players who had been key members of the secondary. The Bills only have two picks before the fourth round but 10 in total. They must nail those top picks and find some gems in the lower rounds if they want to remain a Super Bowl contender. MJ

That’s the New York Giants, who are still asking the same tired old question: is Daniel Jones our quarterback? If the answer is yes, they must replace their cornerstone playmaker with a star wideout and fix the leaky o-line. If the answer is no, they must trade up for Maye or McCarthy. If NY do draft a QB, it’ll be another long year. If they don’t, it’s win now with GM and head coach jobs on the line. DL

The Denver Broncos desperately need a superb draft similar to Houston’s transformative haul from 2023. Quarterback is the most pressing concern, even with the addition of Zach Wilson, who hardly crushed it during his time with the Jets. Big names are good though the high risk/high reward tactic of finding a talent like Lamar Jackson (32nd pick in 2018) later in the draft is better. Michael Penix Jr or Bo Nix may be the ticket. GS

Team most likely to trade up

The Minnesota Vikings have done all but lobby President Biden for some government intervention to move up and nab a quarterback. Drake Maye played for new Vikings’ quarterbacks coach Josh McCown in high school and seems like the prospect they most covet. OC

Of the many quarterback-needy teams, the Vikings at No 11 will feel the most pressure to jump up to the top five. Maye is the likely target, but JJ McCarthy, who has a history of winning may be attractive, too. Waiting until No 11 is way too risky. If they nail this pick, losing a first-rounder in 2025 won’t hurt too much. MJ

The Denver Broncos, fresh off their Russell Wilson debacle, desperately in need of a cap-friendly star quarterback. Instead of settling for a Bo Nix type, why not make a splash, trade up into the top five, and select the quarterback of their dreams. Such a bold move could completely revitalize the franchise, or alternatively, totally crush it, a la Carolina. DL

The New York Giants trade up for a fresh look at quarterback. The move likely leaves them with only one day-two pick at 70 but if you grab a franchise leader in McCarthy or Maye then the price is worth it. GS

A lower-round gem to watch is

Mike Sainristil, CB, Michigan. Sainristil is an undersized slot cornerback. The NFL still values corners who play mostly on the perimeter more than those who feature in the slot, for reasons that remain unclear. More and more of the game’s best receivers are shuffling inside. And outside quarterback, slot corner is the most demanding position on the field. Sainristil is a pocket rocket who doesn’t have the prototypical size or deep speed for a corner but who is a fighter up on the line of scrimmage, a willing tackler and an elite blitzer. He’s the kind of guy teams pass over for a prospect at a more ‘valuable’ position … and then shake their heads when he’s making plays in the playoffs. OC.

Jaden Shirden, RB, Monmouth. You know what they always say, don’t sleep on guys from Monmouth. That’s far from true but Shirden could be a small-school steal on day three. He is tiny for an NFL running back but is a sneaky, explosive threat. MJ

Kamren Kinchens, S, Miami. Scouts have years of tape on Kinchens, but they want to believe a bad day at the combine is what defines him? If this day one defensive backfield anchor sinks into the lower rounds, the team that grabs him will enjoy first-round product at the position. DL

Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina. The mock draft mystics have Rattler slithering off the board in round three which feels a little low considering his upside. He showcased his eye-popping range and deadly accuracy at his pro day while launching 65-yard bombs on a dime. Lack of size and athleticism is a knock but his arm talent is comfortably in the top five of the draft. GS

Related: A national champion to an English giant: the NFL draft’s most intriguing prospects

The team who drafted best last year was

The Texans and Rams crushed last years draft. But for the sake of variety, let’s give some credit to the Green Bay Packers. They grabbed receiver Dontayvion Wicks in the fifth-round, pinched receiver Jayden Reed in the second-round and overhauled their tight end room with the additions of Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. In one draft, they reset their timeline around Jordan Love – and that reset has already started to come good. OC

The Houston Texans is the obvious answer but the Los Angeles Rams 2023 draft was a masterclass considering they didn’t have a first-round pick. They struck gold with wideout Nacua in the fifth round. When you add in other picks who made an immediate impact like guard Steve Avila in the second, interior defender Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young, the Rams basically fast-forwarded their rebuilding phase. MJ

As usual, the Rams didn’t have a first round draft pick in 2023. It mattered not, because LA landed Nacua in the fifth, and all he did was become an elite receiver while setting rookie wideout records. They also hit it big with Avila in the second round, Young in the third and Turner, also a third-round pick. The Rams have won seven playoff games and a Super Bowl since their last first-round pick in 2016 (Jared Goff). So, really, who needs’ em? DL

The Detroit Lions won a first playoff game for over 30 years thanks to Sam LaPorta and Jahmyr Gibbs’s contributions to a high octane attack while Jack Campbell and Brian Branch punched up an abject defense. General manager Brad Holmes absolutely nailed his first four picks last year. GS

The top 10 will be*

1) Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams, QB, USC

2) Washington Commanders, Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

3) New England Patriots, Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

4) Minnesota Vikings, JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan (via trade with Arizona)

5) Los Angeles Chargers, Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

6) New York Giants, Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

7) Indianapolis Colts, Marvin Harrison JR, WR, Ohio State (via trade with Titans)

8) Atlanta Falcons, Byron Murphy II, DL, Texas

9) Chicago Bears, Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

10) New York Jets, Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia OC


1) Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams, QB, USC

2) Washington Commanders, Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

3) New England Patriots, Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

4) Minnesota Vikings, JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan (via trade with Arizona)

5) Los Angeles Chargers, Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

6) New York Giants, Marvin Harrison Jr, WR, Ohio State

7) Tennessee Titans, Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

8) Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama

9) Chicago Bears, Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

10) New York Jets, Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia MJ


1) Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams, QB, USC

2) Washington Commanders, Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

3) New England Patriots, Drake Maye, QB, NC

4) Arizona Cardinals, Marvin Harrison Jr, Ohio State

5) Minnesota Vikings, JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan (via trade with Chargers)

6) New York Giants, Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

7) Tennessee Titans, Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

8) Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama

9) Chicago Bears, Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

10) New York Jets, JC Latham, OL, Alabama DL


1) Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams, QB, USC

2) Washington Commanders, Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

3) New England Patriots, JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan

4) Arizona Cardinals, Marvin Harrison Jr, WR, Ohio State

5) LA Chargers, Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

6) New York Giants, Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

7) Tennessee Titans, Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

8) Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama

9) Chicago Bears, Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

10) New York Jets, Rome Odunze, WR, Washington GS


* This is what our writers think the order will be, rather than what they think it should be.