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Saviors to Follies: Grading the 1st Round Picks of the Draft

Draft grades
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The third most anticipated day of the NFL calendar behind only the Super Bowl and Opening Day arrived last night, and all 32 teams and fanbases were either happy with how the proceedings turned out or trying to rationalize questionable moves. From stud quarterbacks to fans who want their money back, here are the grades for each pick and trades from the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

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

Though the team in this spot hasn't been certain, Williams being picked No. 1 overall has almost been a foregone conclusion since 2022, possibly even halfway through 2021 for those with a deep eye for talent. With The Bears earning the No. 1 overall pick via Carolina, Williams has been penned in as Chicago's QB of the future since he declared for the draft.

It's perfect for a team with a total of two half-decent signal-callers over the past 50 years to land the best QB prospect of the past decade. Williams is the latest in a line of young QBs whom the media has tried to dub "The Next Patrick Mahomes," but Williams looks to be ready for the challenge.

Flamboyance and questionable style choices aside, Williams excels at making off-platform throws from any angle, buying time whenever the play breaks down and doing serious damage on the ground if the situation calls for it. In other words, he's former Bears QB Justin Fields if Fields could read a defense and throw like an NFL starter. Going into 2024, the Bears are the only team in NFL history yet to have a 4,000-yard passer, as well as a 30 TD season through the air. For a team essentially bereft of great QB play since the 1940s, Williams is a slam-dunk pick.

Grade: A++

2. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU (Washington Commanders)

The Commanders are a team who have also struggled to find franchise QB play, though not to the degree of the Bears. Regardless, the position has been shambolic since Kirk Cousins left for Minnesota in 2018. The unfortunate story of Dwayne Haskins, to the hilarious and inept stories of Carson Wentz and Sam Howell, have painted a picture of a team who has no idea what they're doing. They still seem somewhat clueless given the hiring of retreads Dan Quinn and Kliff Kingsbury, but at least now they have a potential franchise QB to work with.

Daniels is the only QB in the class who can match the dynamic highs of Williams right off the bat, but his lackluster production in his first four seasons combined with his slight frame are cause for concern. By far the best pure runner out of all QBs in the class, Daniels pairs his athleticism with a big arm and a tendency to take risks that payoff big-time more often than not. However, Daniels was lucky enough to throw to the arguable No. 1 WR of the class in Malik Nabers, and another first-round talent in Brian Thomas Jr. Daniels also needs to learn how to slide and get out of bounds as he is prone to take big hits that he won’t survive at the next level. It remains to be seen how well Daniels translates to the pros, but with the proper coaching the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner can blossom into the franchise savior that the Commanders drafted him to be.

Grade: A

3. Drake Maye, QB, UNC (New England Patriots)

The Patriots are the benefactor of Daniels' Heisman hype, as they land my QB2. Maye was the consensus QB2 behind Williams for most of his scouting process for a reason. Maye is possibly the most physically gifted QB in the class. Though his accuracy waned in 2023 with the loss of Josh Downs, Maye has age on his side and could have the highest upside in the class if developed properly.

Maye is a physical specimen who stands strong in the pocket and on the move, but his accuracy concerns make him a boom-or-bust prospect. Regardless, there is a clear degree of separation between the first tier and second tier of QBs in this draft, and even the entire QB class next season. If you need a QB, and you think you can put that QB in a position to succeed, you take that shot 10 times out of 10. That’s what New England believes, and I think this was a great move for them.

Grade: A

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

This was a no-brainer pick for the Cardinals. Quarterback Kyler Murray needs weapons, as his best football came with the short-lived tenure of DeAndre Hopkins. MHJ is the most NFL-ready player overall in the class with stunning physical tools and a work ethic that could only be instilled by having a pro for a dad. Harrison could immediately be a WR1 for all but five to seven teams in the league. A superb route runner who plays to his size, has baseball mitts for hands, has a catch radius from the grass blades to 4 feet above his head, MHJ will be a top WR for the next decade and at minimum, is the most bust-proof player in the class.

Grade: A+

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

Alt has been lauded as the best OL of the class for the past year or so. Color me uninspired. Alt is a gigantic mass of a man who has elite footwork for his size, stemming from his TE background. However, the gaudy size and athleticism masks a huge red flag, which is his inability to mash and maul in the running game. Partially due to leverage and physics, Alt just cannot seem to grip his man and drive them backward or into the ground. Far too often will a DL just skirt across his face on gap-scheme runs where Alt has to down-block, and aggressive pass rushers can take advantage of Alt’s more passive nature.

Alt is much better on plays where he has to pull, as his movement skills shine in space and physics take over when he makes contact with someone 100 pounds lighter. Alt may develop into a fine player depending on coaching, but a blue-chip, 100 percent pro-ready tackle he is not. If the Chargers are expecting an Orlando Pace/Joe Thomas-like figure to eliminate any threat that comes his way, they are sure to be disappointed early on. The worst part about this pick isn't who they took though, it's who they could have taken instead. The Chargers have arguably the worst WR corps in the league, and they have a significant lack of speed and yards after catch ability. Nabers was right there. Instead, they picked the new Eric Fisher.

Grade: D+

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

Nabers is the next in line of freak LSU WRs who can seemingly score on any given play. This guy dominated the SEC and set the record for receiving yards at a program that featured some of the best college WRs in recent memory. Nabers blew the roof off his Pro Day too, leaving everyone with the collective thought “I knew he was fast but I had no idea he was that fast,” after running a 4.35 40-yard dash to pair with a 42-inch vertical, 15 reps on the bench press and a solid 6-foot, 199-pound stature. MHJ may be the best overall WR, but Nabers is the most explosive and dangerous. They’re both special players, and it completely comes down to preference which pick you like more. The only problem with Nabers is he has to catch passes from Daniel Jones, though that is sure to change by 2025.

Grade: A+

7. JC Latham, OT, Alabama (Tennessee Titans)

Latham is one of the best run blockers in the class, but his footwork is just not good enough to play tackle at the next level. He’s a guard. You don’t pick a guard with better options on the board. With Tennessee's lack of defensive firepower and much better options at right tackle in the class, this is a total head-scratcher.

Grade: D-

8. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington (Atlanta Falcons)

This is plain ridiculous. The Falcons signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 Million contract to lead them into contention over the next four years. At the end of Cousins' contract, Penix will be 28. If you're going to draft a guy to sit and wait, why not go for a guy with more growth potential, physical traits and isn't already older than the rest of the draft class?

Penix was very fun in college, but he is absolutely not an NFL starter. Penix has too many red flags. He didn’t produce until he got to throw to three NFL-caliber WRs, has had multiple knee injuries, is old and has an awkward release which could lead to many swatted passes at the line. Penix is also nowhere near as good out of structure as you’d like out of a gunslinger-type. I suppose the plan is to have these traits coached out of him over four years, and mimic a dollar-store version of the Green Bay Packers with Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers to Jordan Love? This was just dumb.

Grade: WTF

9. Rome Odunze, WR, Washington (Chicago Bears)

You kind of have to feel bad for Rome Odunze. In any other year, he would be the clear-cut #1 WR and teams would be fighting for the right to take him. Instead, he’s the “consolation prize” for missing out on the MHJ/Nabers duo. Sign me the hell up for that consolation. While not quite in the tier of Nabers and Harrison, Odunze is the best jump ball WR in the draft, and pairs that with very snappy route running for his size and above average YAC ability. Though he could use some more polish to guarantee and extend separation, Odunze has all the tools to be a productive pass-catcher for their new Franchise QB. Don't be surprised when Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze are leading the OROY race in December.

Grade: A+

10. JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan (Minnesota Vikings from New York Jets)

Lauded by the "Wins are a QB stat" crowd, McCarthy was also this year’s “QB who shoots up draft boards in the 3 months between bowl season and the draft when no football was actually played,” akin to Zach Wilson and Will Levis. McCarthy was a perfectly acceptable QB for the Wolverines on their way to a 28-1 record over the past two seasons.

McCarthy showed flashes of high accuracy and athleticism when Michigan needed him to, but they were largely a defense- and run-oriented team. You can watch any Michigan game over the past two seasons, and maybe twice you will come away thinking that McCarthy was the most impactful player on the field. McCarthy was asked to throw 30 or more passes just six times in his career and eclipsed 300 yards just three times.

I had McCarthy graded as a fourth rounder. The bottom line is that though McCarthy never messed things up for the Wolverines, he was much more of a passenger than a driving force behind their success. He’s a step above past game-managers such as Gino Toretta, AJ McCarron and Ken Dorsey due to his plus-arm and above average athleticism, but if the Vikings think McCarthy can come in and throw to guys who aren’t three tiers above the corners covering them from the beginning, adapt to having 3 seconds to throw instead of 5, and consistently lead a team to victor down by 4 points with 3 minutes to go, they’re in for a rude awakening.

Given the chance to sit and develop, McCarthy may turn into an average to above-average starter. However, that’s not the type of guy you take in the first round. That’s the guy you pick in the fourth. It is especially not the type of player you trade up to go get, though the price wasn't as steep as it could have otherwise been.

Grade: C-

11. Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State (Jets from Vikings)

Fashanu is a better LT than Alt and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. Despite struggling against tougher competition, Fashanu features a more compact frame and an explosive lower half, gaining lots of ground with his kick-slide and preventing speed rushers from beating him outside. He needs much improved hand usage to truly become a franchise LT, but he has the physical tools to make it happen. The bottom line is that Rodgers was under pressure during the entirety of his cameo with the Jets in 2023, so now they'll try to keep him upright and throw to the solid array of weapons they already have.

Grade: B

12. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon (Denver Broncos)

Possibly the most “starts 11 games, 6.2 yards per attempt, 7 TDs, 12 INTs, had a cool 43-yard TD run, never gets another chance to start again” type of QB to come out of the draft since Bailey Zappe two seasons ago. Nix played 61 games in college and many still can’t put a finger on if he’s good or not. Fun college player, but he has a style of playing out-of-structure without the elite arm talent of a Mahomes or Williams, and that is not going to translate at all. Coach Sean Payton seems like he has no idea what he's doing.

Grade: F

13. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia (Las Vegas Raiders)

The Raiders did a great job of not letting previous drafts dissuade them from taking the best player available. Bowers is one of the most atypical hyped-up TE prospects in recent memory. Lacking prototypical size, standing at just 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds. Bowers makes up for his size with elite YAC ability for the position and great hands. His blocking leaves much to be desired, but that’s fine as the Raiders are likely to deploy him as more of a “big slot” WR in order to maximize what he does best—catch and run with the football. Michael Mayer, the TE they selected in the second round last year, is a fine blocker and should allow Bowers to play his best role as a roaming weapon to do damage in space. Subpar blocking and a lack of combine testing were the only things preventing him from going even higher.

Grade: A

14. Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State (New Orleans Saints)

An unpopular opinion, but Fuaga is my No. 1 OT and leagues above the other consensus first-round right tackles. Combining a thick, barrel-chested build with surprising footwork skills and a penchant for nastiness, Fuaga is the type of big mauler teams would love to have hold down their right side, a la Penei Sewell or Lane Johnson. The only issue is fit. Fuaga is a natural right tackle and the Saints already have Ryan Ramczyk, one of the best in the league. A move to the left for Fuaga could be in the cards, or sliding inside to guard before tacking over for Ramczyk in a year or two. Regardless, this is solid pick to get the best OL in the draft.

Grade: A-

15. Laiatu Latu, DE, UCLA (Indianapolis Colts)

Latu is a technically sound pass rusher who uses his length and strong base to great effect, beating tackles to either get to the QB or maintain outside containment. He’s not as explosive or dominant as one would expect out of a top DE, but it’s a relatively weak class. That’s not to say Latu or any of the other DEs are bad or underwhelming either, there’s just no Myles Garrett or Chase Young-level prospect to be found this year. Latu is a solid pick who will provide a steady foundation for the Colts pass rushing packages, as well as good run defense. Indianapolis allowed the fifth-most points last year at 24.4 points per game, so it makes sense for them to take the first defensive player of the draft. Their DE room is filled with more situational pass rusher types rather than well-rounded players, so he'll fit right in as a needed archetype. Getting DE1 at pick 15 is great value.

Grade: A

16. Byron Murphy II, DL, Texas (Seattle Seahawks)

Murphy is a curious case. He plays like a project with raw technique and winning with intensity instead of hand usage, but doesn’t really have elite measurables to go with it. He does have great strength from head to toe, but can that make up for his size disparity against guys a half foot taller and 40 pounds heavier? Aaron Donald could, so all Murphy has to do is become the greatest defensive player of all-time. Tough task. In all seriousness, new coach Mike MacDonald is a defense-focused coach who needs to repackage a poor Seahawks DL. Regardless, Murphy needs lot of seasoning and coaching to reach his potential.

Grade: C+

17. Dallas Turner, DE, Alabama (Vikings from Jacksonville Jaguars)

Turner is an elite athlete with a ridiculous motor, which is a great start for a pass rusher. Turner can often rely too much on pure athleticism instead of his technique to win, which isn’t great for the next level. However, the aforementioned athleticism gives coaches a great lump of clay to work with. There are three good QBs that the Vikings need to shut down within their division. However, the price seems rather steep given the totality of needs on the team and the possibility of who could have fallen to them at 23.

Grade: B-

18. Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)

Mims is another mammoth in a class full of them, and now he joins an OL room full of them as well. If you want a guy the size of Alt who can actually use it on drive blocks, Mims is your guy. If you’re looking for the pass blocking footwork of a guy like Alt, you’re out of luck. Mims' flaws (such as sitting too high in pass protection) seem more coachable than Latham’s, delaying/preventing a move to guard. Given the fact he may not need to start right away, Mims can get valuable reps against NFL veterans in practice to work out his mechanical kinks. Still, first round is a tad too rich for such a project.

Grade: C

19. Jared Verse, DE, Florida State (Los Angels Rams)

Verse is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. I understand the concern about his age, but he might be the best speed-to-power DE in the class. Verse plays angry but controlled, and his bull rush either leaves tackles stumbling backward or flat on their rears. Verse will be a strong and viable DE against both the pass and run for years to come. This is a great pick for a team that will need more pass rushing chops with the loss of the Hall of Famer Donald.

Grade: B+

20. Troy Fautanu, OT/OG, Washington (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Fautanu is an undersized and aggressive tackle who uses every bit of his 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame. However, he seems likelier to succeed on the inside rather than taking on lengthy pass rushers on the outside. The best tackle left on the board, Fautanu fits a run-first team like the Steelers.

Grade: B

21. Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State (Miami Dolphins)

Robinson is the epitome of the phrase “boom-or-bust." Either he will finish his career with upward of 80 sacks or absolutely zero—no in-between. He speeds around the edge with ease, usually requiring no technique. When you get hands on him, his play is wrapped up. He also adds very little as a run defender, so you’d better teach him some pass rushing tools. He can blow the roof off the place if he reaches his potential, but it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition. The Dolphins have shown that they love speed on offense, so now they add a lot of speed off the edge. I don't love it, but his upside is ridiculous and should add nice depth to a dangerous pass rushing package.

Grade: C+

22. Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo (Philadelphia Eagles)

Mitchell is in the running for best athlete of the draft class. Combining a 6-foot height with 4.33 speed and 20 reps on the bench press must have Philadelphia’s DB coach, Christian Parker, salivating. The biggest question mark on Mitchell is the level of competition he faced. Toledo doesn’t get to play against the future Justin Jeffersons and AJ Browns of the league. However, the potential is definitely there, and he has the athleticism to shadow any pass catcher in the league if he develops properly. Still, this feels like a reach given that Terrion Arnold was on the board, and Mitchell's pro-readiness is questionable.

Grade: B-

23. Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU (Jaguars from Cleveland Browns via Houston Texans, Vikings)

A true height/weight/speed freak, BTJ can break out a big play almost any time. Unfortunately, his freak athleticism overshadows his deficiencies with the “playing WR” part of playing WR. He’s the type of player who is not going to get open a lot, but still averages 18-20 yards per reception. In other words, he’s Gabe Davis. The Jaguars just gave Davis a fat contract. WR is a need, but a different skill set seemed to fit better.

Grade: C-

24. Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama (Detroit Lions from Dallas Cowboys)

The Lions landed the best player at their position of highest need. Arnold is the clear CB1 for me despite his lack of elite athleticism. He has enough to make up ground if he loses a step on his man, but his IQ and hip swivel makes that an unlikely occurrence. Arnold has the potential to be a top 10 CB in the league and is amazing value here.

Grade: A+

25. Jordan Morgan, OT, Arizona (Green Bay Packers)

Morgan is stuck in a tough spot, lacking ideal tackle length, as well as ideal guard strength. I feel the best fit for him is to put up with his subpar arm length and utilize his footwork skills on the outside. Regardless, he has work to do to help his anchor and become a starter. The Packers have had great OL development recently, so I have faith in them turning Morgan into a solid starter to protect Jordan Love.

Grade: B-

26. Graham Barton, IOL, Duke (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Barton is an all-rounder with quality experience at tackle and center. Wherever you want to put him, he can likely become at least a competent starter. Short arms are a problem, but his elite speed testing means he could still play tackle if you want to make that work. His ceiling is somewhat limited due to a lack of elite strength, but it’s hard to see Barton become a flat-out bust. Given Ryan Jensen's retirement, Tampa likely wants to make Barton their center of the future, however that seems like a reach with Jackson Powers-Johnson still available.

Grade: B

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

Robinson is a guy who needed to go to a scheme fit, and I think Johnathan Gannon's hybrid 3-4 scheme is a solid one. His pass rushing tool bag is rather limited which makes him poorly miscast as a full-time DE. I feel he will be best suited as a solid run defender on the outside who kicks inside to the five- or three-technique in passing situations. There is potential, but his stiff movement can inhibit his ceiling.

Grade: C+

28. Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas (Kansas City Chiefs from Buffalo Bills)

Worthy built up a ton of hype after a great freshman season, lost a ton of it after a lackluster sophomore season, regained some of it after a fine junior season, but was mainly an afterthought after breaking John Ross’ 40-yard dash record at the combine, blazing a 4.21. Worthy is a solid WR overall, but he has a surprising lack of YAC ability for his athletic profile.

If he has to make a man miss, all of a sudden it looks like he runs a 4.58. Worthy seems like a “love-him-or-hate-him” sort of prospect. I’m inclined to hate his inadequate juice, but I’m more indifferent than anything. The Chiefs seem to always get the most out of speedy WRs with unfulfilled potential though. Pairing 4.21 speed with Patrick freakin' Mahomes is sure to be scary, so watch out.

Grade: B+

29. Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma (Cowboys from Lions)

Guyton has essentially every measurable you could want, but is he raw. Picking Guyton is a large vote of confidence in Dallas' OL coach. I don't like this move in a "win-now" window that the Cowboys should be in with Dak Prescott's contract running out and Mike McCarthy on the hot seat.

Grade: D+

30. Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson (Baltimore Ravens)

Wiggins has speed, and lots of it. You want somebody to cover the Worthy’s of the world? Apparently the Ravens do, which is why they slightly reached for him. Usually 170-pound corners are hard to put a lot of faith in, but if Wiggins can bulk back up and maintain his speed, he could very well turn out to be a nice pick and compliment to Marlon Humphrey.

Grade: B-

31. Ricky Pearsall, WR, Florida (San Francisco 49ers)

This feels like a big reach in the first round. This seems like a sign that the 49ers can't work out a deal with Brandon Aiyuk and they're looking for an insurance policy. Pearsall is a solid player with spectacular catch ability and can zip through the field with the ball in his hands. Given coach Kyle Shanahan's uncanny ability to scheme up YAC for the offense, Pearsall fits in San Francisco, but 30 to 40 picks later, not pick 31.

Grade: C

32. Xavier Legette, WR, South Carolina (Panthers from Chiefs vis Bills)

Instead of giving Bryce Young a rock of protection in the middle like Jackson-Powers Johnson or Zach Frazier, or even a reliable slot WR with YAC ability like Ladd McConkey, Carolina doubled down on big-body receivers who can't separate. Legette is one of my least favorite players in the class. He turns and cuts like he’s in a vat of molasses. He may have the occasional big play if he actually manages to catch the ball, but he’s Laviska Shenault 2.0.

Grade: F

Winners and Losers

Winners: Chicago Bears

Pairing a franchise QB with a top WR talent sets both of them up for a monster season and possible playoff berth. Simply put, the Bears knocked it out of the park and hardly had to lift a finger.

Losers: Atlanta Falcons

When Atlanta said "enough is enough" and pulled the plug on the Desmond Ridder experiment to acquire Cousins, one would assume they were in win-now mode. The move they made to draft Penix is something that would only make sense if it were the last year of Cousins' contract. It makes less than zero sense to draft an old passer with limited upside to sit behind your freshly-extended QB who you expect to compete for championships with.

Winners: Detroit Lions

The board fell the Lions way, and they pulled the trigger to trade a third to get the best player at their biggest position of need for the entire Dan Campbell era.

Losers: Denver Broncos

"Cut your mediocre, but serviceable starting QB to give yourself the largest dead cap hit in NFL history, and then draft QB6" is far from a winning strategy. Payton must be smoking that Colorado green if he thinks he can turn Nix into a franchise QB or build a team against the constraints of the Russell Wilson debacle.

Losers: Los Angeles Chargers

Who is Justin Herbert going to throw the ball to? Himself?

He may have to at this point. Unless the Chargers are going to pick three WRs over their next eight picks, I don't get it. I understand that Jim Harbaugh wants to run the ball, but defenses can stack the box with eight or nine all day if your best pass-catcher is Josh Palmer. Besides, if you want to run the ball, maybe pick somebody besides the fourth-best run-blocker in the class, or a natural right tackle, or both.

Losers: Buffalo Bills

You willingly trade with the biggest obstacle in your path to the Lombardi Trophy and let them grab the fastest WR in the draft. Have you no shame?

Winners: Kansas City Chiefs

The rich continue to get richer. Not only that, but the peasants beneath them get poorer, as well. The Chiefs just won the Super Bowl with their worst group of pass-catchers since Mahomes entered the league, and now they get their hands on record-setting speed. Not only that, the Bills waltzed out of the way to let it happen, the Broncos stuck themselves in QB purgatory, and the Chargers want to fight a space war with sticks and stones. This is how dynasties continue to dominate.


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