NFL draft: high demand and supply set to create a glut of first-round QBs

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jayden Daniels;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jayden Daniels</a> is expected to be selected in the top five at this year’s NFL draft.</span><span>Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP</span>

On 25 April in Detroit, Michigan, the 89th annual NFL draft will begin. As team owners, general managers, coaches and scouts pore over the best prospects preparing to jump from college to the pros, there is a strong possibility that four quarterbacks will be selected in the top 10 for just the third time in history. In fact, for what would be the first time ever, the top four picks could all be quarterbacks.

That’s partly a function of the talent available at the game’s most important position this year. Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner coming out of the University of Southern California, is considered a generational prospect with a skillset that has been compared to Patrick Mahomes. He is almost certain to be taken No 1 overall by the Chicago Bears.

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

Then there is the man who won the Heisman for the 2023 season, Jayden Daniels. The 23-year-old played at the college level for five years, beginning with Arizona State before blossoming over three seasons with Louisiana State University. Last year he emerged as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks to declare for the draft since two-time NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, throwing 40 touchdowns and rushing for another 10.

Drake Maye was less impressive in his second season as the starter at the University of North Carolina than he was the year before, when he broke the school record for passing yards and equalled the Tar Heels’ record for touchdowns. But his size, arm talent and athleticism have seen him earn comparisons to Josh Allen. Expected to be the fourth quarterback drafted, JJ McCarthy lacks the statistical resume of the other three, but he led Michigan to a national championship last season. There is a chance, too, that one or both of projected second-round picks Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr could be taken within the first 32 selections.

For all the talent on offer, though, the clamour for quarterbacks in this year’s draft is as much a result of rare levels of desperation among teams to find franchise stars at the position.

In a clear indication of their intent to draft a quarterback with the No 1 pick, the Bears traded Justin Fields, their starter last season and the 11th overall pick from three years ago, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a 2025 sixth-round pick. The Washington Commanders, picking at No 2, made a similar move when they traded last season’s starter, Sam Howell, to the Seattle Seahawks. And, picking third, the New England Patriots are expected to take a swing on another quarterback after their 2021 No 15 pick Mac Jones failed to ignite the post-Tom Brady era at Foxborough and was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason.

Beyond the teams owning top-three picks, there are a number of quarterback-needy franchises primed to offer future draft capital to trade up into the top five. The Arizona Cardinals own the fourth overall pick but, with Kyler Murray already on their books, they don’t need a quarterback. The same is true of the Los Angeles Chargers, who sit at No 5 and have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Justin Herbert.

The Minnesota Vikings, who lost Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, are chief among the contingent who do need a quarterback though. They appeared to signal their intention to compile an attractive package of picks for trading up when they added the Houston Texans’ 23rd overall pick to their own No 11 selection last month. Combining those two picks with a future first- or second-rounder may be enough to persuade the Cardinals, Chargers or even the Patriots to trade back.

But there is also the New York Giants, who may move on from the injury-prone Daniel Jones at the end of next season. They have the sixth pick and face the conundrum of whether to use their first-round selection to address another area of grave need – such as wide receiver, a position at which the 2024 draft is packed with talent – or else trade up to secure one of the top-rated quarterbacks, or stay put and hope one falls to them.

The Denver Broncos, who last month absorbed the biggest dead cap hit in NFL history to release Russell Wilson, are also in the hunt for a new quarterback, though that calculus may have shifted after they traded for Zach Wilson on Monday. The Las Vegas Raiders, sitting one spot back, are another quarterback-hungry team, despite signing the journeyman borderline starter Gardner Minshew in free agency.

Like most sports, the NFL is a league in which the chasing pack attempts to emulate the perceived best practices of recent winners. When it comes to drafting quarterbacks, there are two philosophies in fashion – either search for the next Mahomes by throwing draft capital toward selecting the most talented player available and then building around them; or collate a strong roster of offensive linemen and pass catchers, then find a competent game manager, with a cheap rookie contract, further down the draft to knit them together. That cheaper contract makes it possible to field multiple stars in other positions, as Brock Purdy has for the San Francisco 49ers.

But Mahomes and Purdy are imperfect examples of the methodologies they have come to represent. Mahomes was not a top pick: he went 10th overall in the 2017 draft. And the Chiefs traded up to get him, meaning he joined a strong team who had been 12-4 the previous season. He was able to sit out the majority of his rookie season and learn from the experienced Alex Smith, before stepping into an offense that included Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and was overseen by one of the great offensive minds in Andy Reid.

And the Niners drafted for talent at quarterback when they traded three first-round picks to move up in 2021 to take Trey Lance at No 3 overall. Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 draft, was never meant to be the starter – he only got his chance when Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo went down with injuries.

Chicago are well positioned for the best of both worlds. They are able to take Williams because they own the first overall pick thanks to a trade last year with the Carolina Panthers, who finished the 2023 season with the NFL’s worst record. The Bears have added depth and experience to a receiving corps that already included DJ Moore with the free-agency signing of six-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen. They also have the ninth pick, with which they can further bolster their cabal of pass catchers or improve another department.

But still there are no guarantees when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. There was a similar level of hype surrounding the 2021 draft class, which saw three quarterbacks taken with the first three picks and five in the top 15.

Four of those five – Lance, Fields, Jones and Wilson – have already been traded away by the teams that selected them. That year’s No 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, was regarded as the best quarterback prospect to enter the draft in almost a decade, but even he hasn’t yet met the lofty expectations that accompanied his selection by the Jaguars.

This year’s draft will deliver a supply of talent at quarterback better than most classes, but whether that supply can satisfy the high demand for franchise stars is far from certain.