NFL mock draft 2024: Can question-mark QB J.J. McCarthy crack top 15 picks?

Only the NFL scouting combine could spark frenzied anticipation for February in Indianapolis.

The annual event will once again take place at Lucas Oil Stadium this week, with teams and prospects preparing for a week of interviews, medical evaluations and testing. While that last portion of the action tends to get the spotlight due to fan and media interest, the other two items prove vital in helping shape evaluations. And while the actual fallout might not become clear for some time, it's a virtual certainty that the proceedings will produce plenty of hype.

With the on-field action beginning Thursday, here's our latest 2024 NFL mock draft:

1. Chicago Bears (from Carolina Panthers) – Caleb Williams, QB, USC

At least one of the involved parties is getting sick of the speculation around the Bears' plan at quarterback. Asked on "The St. Brown Brothers" podcast about the rumors of a possible trade involving him, Justin Fields said, "I'm tired of hearing the talk. I just want it to be over." Maybe the end is near, as it would certainly make sense for the Bears and a potential trade partner to have a clear picture of their assets before free agency begins in a couple of weeks. Until then, Williams has to remain the front-runner for this slot given the change he could bring to a franchise that has been desperate for this kind of difference-maker.

2. Washington Commanders – Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

Here's what new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said in his introductory news conference when asked about what he would look for in a quarterback: "When money's on the table, you gotta be able to make some plays with your feet, move around enough to escape a bad play." Both Maye and LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels fit that bill, and Washington's decision here could shape the rest of the draft. For now, it's too hard to envision this new regime passing up a rocket-armed playmaker like Maye given the group's focus on building for the long haul.

3. New England Patriots – Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

Jerod Mayo's team is certainly one to watch in the coming weeks after the first-year coach declared the franchise was "ready to burn some cash" in free agency. What New England likely can't count on, however, is finding a quick-fix solution at quarterback on the open market. Daniels is the kind of electric playmaker this group so sorely needs, and he would help restore the excitement that went missing in the latter Bill Belichick years.

4. Arizona Cardinals – Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

Even if Harrison doesn't make it to this spot, the Cardinals look to be in a fine spot to aid Kyler Murray by equipping him with a top-tier target. There's no debate to be had, though, if the two-time unanimous All-American has yet to have his name called. He's both a potentially transformational figure for a franchise and a prospect who, save for a few surprising drops last season, has presented few problem areas in his game.

5. Los Angeles Chargers – Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

This certainly seems like the ceiling for a player who some have speculated could slide into the teens amid his recovery from TightRope surgery. But Bowers, maybe even more so than the electric receivers likely to be available here, sizes up as the kind of target Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman could be drawn to, with the dynamic run-after-catch threat possibly making Vernon Davis-like contributions for Justin Herbert and the Chargers' offense.

6. New York Giants – Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

Interesting calculation for general manager Joe Schoen here in considering whether to reshuffle his offensive line or recalibrate his receiving corps. Beyond positional questions, though, there should be little doubt about what Nabers can bring to the Giants' offense, as his arrival could unlock the big-play threat that has long been lacking during the Daniel Jones era.

7. Tennessee Titans – Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

It's hard to shake what a perfect fit this would be if it comes to fruition. Alt's instinctive style of play should give him a relatively high floor as a prospect, and he's exactly the kind of building block that first-year coach Brian Callahan needs in place for this offense.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

This has long been seen as a potential opening for the first defensive player to be selected, with Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner looking like the front-runner. But could he be overtaken by a former Crimson Tide teammate? Arnold exhibits the rare ability to thrive against an array of receivers in almost any kind of coverage. He would give Atlanta one of the league's best cornerback collections alongside A.J. Terrell and underrated 2023 pick Clark Phillips III, who could slide into the slot.

9. Bears – Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

Much as coach Matt Eberflus might like to use the second of his two top-10 selections to bolster his still-sagging pass rush, this shouldn't be a difficult decision if Odunze is available. The 6-3, 215-pound target is the perfect complement to DJ Moore, and his knack for coming down with difficult catches will be a boon to whoever is behind center for Chicago in 2024 and beyond.

10. New York Jets – Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

For a win-now team, Gang Green faces rampant uncertainty in its all-important protection plan for Aaron Rodgers. If the Jets can't haul in an established veteran to safeguard Rodgers' blind side, their best option is likely Fashanu, a fleet-footed protector whose feel for the game is still coming together.

11. Minnesota Vikings – Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama

Table the quarterback question until Kirk Cousins' future is settled in free agency. For now, reloading the pass rush for Brian Flores has to be a priority, and the explosive and quick-closing Turner could feast in this system.

12. Denver Broncos – J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) celebrates after an overtime win over Alabama at the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) celebrates after an overtime win over Alabama at the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif.

Will any college passer truly satisfy Sean Payton? Spoiled by his longtime partnership with Drew Brees – and perhaps still smarting from the Saints narrowly missing out on Patrick Mahomes – the Broncos coach has lofty standards for his signal-callers. But like most of his peers, he might not be able to ride things out until the perfect solution comes along. McCarthy is likely far more of a project than Payton would prefer, but his efficiency in both embracing checkdowns and operating out of structure should help buy him time in his development.

13. Las Vegas Raiders – Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

While quarterback has to be a consideration for the Silver and Black at some point in the draft, this spot could be a tricky one for finding a passer. Instead, the Raiders can go in a steadier route with Fuaga, who packs a serious punch whenever he gets his hands on opposing linemen.

14. New Orleans Saints – J.C. Latham, OT, Alabama

Rather than cast off any number of potential cap casualties, the Saints are once again digging in for another divisional run. With Ryan Ramczyk's availability still in question due to a career-threatening cartilage defect in his knee, Latham allows for New Orleans to plug in a powerful presence at right tackle capable of locking out pass rushers.

15. Indianapolis Colts – Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

Though the combine can't capture the full scope of what Mitchell can offer as hypercompetitive cornerback, the event should showcase his superb athleticism. Maybe the Colts will be so taken with him that they'll look to keep him in Lucas Oil Stadium for the foreseeable future.

16. Seattle Seahawks – Laiatu Latu, DE, UCLA

Still feels like Seattle could be a candidate to trade back from this slot, particularly in a draft class that's short on top defensive talent. But Mike Macdonald no doubt will want to be able to fully unleash the Seahawks' pass rush without blitzing too frequently, and adding the refined Latu would mark a significant step toward that goal.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars – Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

Though Trent Baalke said Jacksonville is "going to work toward" re-signing Calvin Ridley, that's hardly an ironclad guarantee for the receiver's return given the lucrative market that could await him in free agency. Should Ridley bolt, the Jaguars might want to try to move on with Thomas, who could form an electric connection with Trevor Lawrence given his deep speed.

18. Cincinnati Bengals – Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma

With Tee Higgins seemingly back for at least one more go-around with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, the Bengals' next order of business on offense should be addressing a potential forthcoming void at right tackle. Entrusting Guyton as a Day 1 starter could be dicey, but his high-end traits might prove too alluring to pass up.

19. Los Angeles Rams – Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

When it comes to pure coverage ability, few can match what the 6-2, 185-pound Wiggins can offer. Though he's still a work in progress when it comes to being a physical presence in the run game and at the catch point, he's the kind of prospect the cornerback-needy Rams should covet.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jackson Powers-Johnson, C, Oregon

With a rugged disposition that helps mask his pedestrian athleticism, Powers-Johnson is the picture of a Steelers draft pick. He also seems like a reasonable target for a franchise that is trying to adjust its offense while still resisting a dramatic rethinking of its approach.

21. Miami Dolphins – Troy Fautanu, G, Washington

Cornerback Xavien Howard and edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah are already being sent packing, per reports, and offensive guard Robert Hunt looks like a strong candidate to head elsewhere in free agency amid Miami's cap crunch. Fautanu could be this year's version of Peter Skoronski: a college left tackle whose frame and nastiness point him to a spot in the first round as a guard.

22. Philadelphia Eagles – Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa

Even with Vic Fangio taking over the controls to the defense, Philadelphia shouldn't stand pat on its personnel. Reinvigorating an aging secondary with a dynamic and versatile playmaker like DeJean could do the unit a lot of good in both the short and long term.

23. Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas

A souped-up front four is the foundation of DeMeco Ryans' defenses, and Houston doesn't have enough juice on the interior. Adding Murphy would resolve that problem, as the undersized but explosive defensive tackle has the tools to be a disruptive presence from the outset.

24. Dallas Cowboys – Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

Although Tyron Smith might re-sign with the Cowboys, offensive line will be a focal point for Dallas until a resolution is reached. Though he's light on experience, Mims is an enticing long-term bet. The Cowboys can bring out the best in the rare offensive tackle who has both the frame and athleticism to hold up against the full array of NFL pass rushers.

25. Green Bay Packers – Jordan Morgan, OT, Arizona

Brian Gutekunst has yet to take an offensive lineman in Round 1, but the timing seems ripe for such a move given the state of his front and Green Bay's blossoming assortment of young skill-position players. Though Morgan could end up at guard in the NFL, he also checks off a lot of boxes as a promising potential starter at left tackle.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jared Verse, DE, Florida State

A spot much earlier in the first round is entirely within reach for Verse, one of this class' most stable producers and a pass rusher whose well-rounded game should translate well to the next level. In this scenario, however, the Buccaneers would be overjoyed to scoop him up as they look to upgrade their talent on the edge.

27. Cardinals (from Texans) – Darius Robinson, DE, Missouri

The 6-5, 296-pounder hasn't been a first-round fixture in mock drafts, but expect him to be one moving forward – especially after the combine. A Cardinals defense that had only one player with more than four sacks last season should be happy to take a shot on a player with Robinson's untapped pass-rushing potential.

28. Buffalo Bills – Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State

Getting into the booming receiver market to replace free agent Gabe Davis is a tricky proposition for the cap-strapped Bills. The best avenue to provide Josh Allen some needed support would be identifying help relatively early in the draft, and the supersized Coleman could be just the right recipient for Allen's downfield shots.

29. Detroit Lions – Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

Stability in the secondary has long been a stumbling block for the Lions. What better way to address the issue than with one of this class' steadiest and savviest cornerbacks in McKinstry?

30. Baltimore Ravens – Graham Barton, G, Duke

Though Eric DeCosta hasn't been boxed in by need, Baltimore is facing the potential departures of both its starting offensive guards. Barton, who played left tackle at Duke but likely will end up at either guard or center, is one of the most pro-ready blockers available thanks to his technical refinement.

31. San Francisco 49ers – Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State

Offensive line could be a consideration here, but even in a deep class, the value doesn't measure up after an earlier run on blockers. If San Francisco doesn't hold onto Chase Young, Robinson offers them a high-upside alternative who might flourish under renowned defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

At 6-4 and 196 pounds, Mitchell has proven himself comfortable racing past cornerbacks or plucking passes over their heads. Consistency is an issue, but it should be one matter Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will work through given the potential payoff of a legitimate No. 1 receiver.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL mock draft 2024: J.J. McCarthy lands in top 15 of first round