2024 NFL draft: Early questions, top prospects, QBs to know

ByJordan Reid, Matt Miller and Adam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Thursday, May 4, 2023

It's time to close the books on the 2023 NFL draft and begin looking ahead to next year's group. And the 2024 class is looking pretty, pretty good. The quarterback class could be even deeper and better than 2023's was, there are potential franchise options at receiver and tight end, and next year's defensive tackle class could be among the best we've seen in a while.

Of course, the 2024 draft is still 12 months away, and there is a lot still to learn about the class. Over the next few months, you'll learn more about the top names available and their strengths. But for now, let's take a quick introductory look at what could be an outstanding group of prospects.

NFL draft analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid, along with national college football reporter Adam Rittenberg, are here to answer seven big questions about the top players, from who could go No. 1 overall to who is flying under the radar in the early going. Get your notebooks ready -- it's time to start evaluating the 2024 class. And for more on what to expect from the 2024 class, check out Todd McShay's way-too-early mock draft of Round 1.

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Top QBs| Other top names

Sleepers| Class strength

Team to watch

Who are the top quarterbacks in the 2024 class?

Miller: Caleb Williams, USC. Williams was the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and has already received comparisons toPatrick Mahomesfrom NFL scouts. Time will tell if he's that type of NFL quarterback, but as a prospect there is plenty to get excited about. Williams (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) threw for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdown passes to just five interceptions last season. He also rushed for 382 yards and another 10 scores. That was all in his first full season as a starter after replacing Spencer Rattler midway through his true freshman season at Oklahoma in 2021. The early scouting report on Williams is very flattering, and he's the favorite to be the No. 1 pick next year.

Reid: Drake Maye, North Carolina. At 6-4, 225, he was only a redshirt freshman last year, but you wouldn't have known it when watching him. Earning ACC Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year honors, Maye finished the season with 4,321 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes while adding another 698 yards and seven scores on the ground. I was in attendance for his first college start during the season opener against Florida A&M. Even though it was an FCS opponent, his five-touchdown performance made it clear that he was a player to keep an eye on in the future.

The early name most associated with Maye isJustin Herbert. The Tar Heels' signal-caller's frame isn't quite as big as Herbert's (6-6, 236), but their skill sets are nearly identical. Maye has the arm strength to easily push the ball down the field but is also a capable runner who can escape and make plays outside of structure.

Rittenberg: Michael Penix Jr., Washington. After leading the nation in passing yards per game (357.0), Penixreturned to fine-tune his skills even more. He will be throwing to one of the nation's best receiving groups, led by 1,000-yard receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan. Penix's arm strength jumps out -- some in the Pac-12 think he's even better than Williams in that area. He will deal with durability questions throughout the NFL evaluation process, but a second productive, injury-free season in coach Kalen DeBoer's offense should enhance his pro stock. "I don't think he loved where his draft grade was; he thinks he's a better player than that," offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb told me.

Which prospects could end up being the top non-QB in the class?

Reid: The early outlook on offense for the 2024 class looks very good at the top of the draft. Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will be the non-QB prospect talked about the most, but I'm going to the other side of the ball with Florida State defensive end Jared Verse. Many evaluators were really surprised to see him return to schoolbecause he was likely a top-15 pick in the 2023 draft. Now back in Tallahassee for his senior season, he's expected to anchor an exciting Seminoles defense.

Verse, who transferred from Albany, was an immediate success at the FBS level. At 6-4, 248 pounds, Verse finished with 16.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks in 2022. He's a long, physical and disruptive player off the edge who's expected to have a bigger role next season. The Seminoles haven't had a defensive player drafted in the top 10 sinceJalen Ramseywent No. 5 in 2016. Verse could end that streak and become the next great defender from that program.

Rittenberg: The buzz around Harrison is incredible, especially because Ohio State has produced so many great wide receivers in recent years. I had people in the program telling me midway through last season that Harrison would become the best of the immensely talented bunch, and he didn't disappoint with 1,263 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 77 receptions. Harrison has all the elements NFL teams want in a receiver and stands out in big games, as he showed against Penn State, Michigan and Georgia last season.

Miller: Adam nailed it with Harrison, who already has scouts buzzing, but what about Olumuyiwa Fashanu? The Penn State left tackle was receiving buzz as the potential top tackle in the '23 draft class before he surprised evaluators and went back to college for another year. At 6-6 and 321 pounds, there will be no arm-length questions or power concerns from scouts. Fashanu has the length, mobility and poise to be a star left tackle. After surrendering just two pressures and zero sacks in 2022, there's a great chance for him to be the top non-quarterback next year.

Who are some early draft sleeper picks who could rise this season?

Rittenberg: Ennis Rakestraw Jr., CB, Missouri. After producing just one draft pick (defensive endIsaiah McGuire) this year, Missouri will be a much bigger factor in the 2024 draft. Rakestraw is one of several Tigers defensive backs who could rise up draft boards. Fully recovered from a 2021 ACL injury, Rakestraw had three forced fumbles, 13 pass breakups and an interception last season. He's always around the ball and has very good speed, testing well in Missouri's offseason program.

Miller: Calen Bullock, S, USC. The 2023 safety class didn't have a standout player, as none were drafted in the first round, but Bullock could be that guy in 2024. A 6-3 free safety, he has range and ball skills. He had five interceptions, including a 93-yard pick-six, and six passes defensed in his true sophomore season. Scouts are already buzzing about his awareness and instincts in coverage.

Reid: Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have become accustomed to producing dynamic prospects, especially on defense. At 6-5, 253 pounds, Robinson figures to be the program's next great edge rusher. He recorded 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season, and Robinson is a ready-made pass-rusher whose pass-rush regimen continued to get better with more playing time. He generated the highest mark among FBS pass-rushers in pass rush win rate (12.1%). That shows he's getting to passers quickly and often.

What is the early strength of the class?

Reid:For the first time in a while, defensive tackle. The 2019 draft had the last strong defensive tackle class, as six players came off of the board in the first round. I'm not saying the upcoming class will match or surpass that lofty number, but the early projection looks very good.

Maason Smith (LSU), Jer'Zhan Newton (Illinois), Kris Jenkins (Michigan), Michael Hall Jr. (Ohio State) and Leonard Taylor (Miami) are names that have already generated buzz, but there are plenty of others scouts believe could have early-round potential. Tyleik Williams (Ohio State), Ruke Orhorhoro (Clemson) and Nazir Stackhouse (Georgia) are three guys to keep an eye on. It seems like forever since we've had an interior defensive line class to get excited about, but this year's group could be one of the strongest in the 2024 class.

Miller: I'll go with quarterback. We highlighted three exceptional players earlier, and they're just the tip of the iceberg for a class that is both rich in terms of star power and depth. Williams, Maye and Penix will be the front-runners, but thanks to NIL deals convincing juniors to return to college and a strong group of underclassmen, we have a heavy load of quarterbacks to evaluate. Quinn Ewers (Texas), Bo Nix (Oregon), Tyler Van Dyke (Miami), Sam Hartman (Notre Dame) and Jayden Daniels (LSU) have already received hype from scouts I've spoken with. A lot can and should change in the next 12 months, but the quarterback class looks very strong.

How does the 2024 class compare to the 2023 group?

Miller: There are a lot of things we don't know right now that we'll discover during the next year, but I'm comfortable saying 2024 looks better. The top two quarterbacks are considered to have more potential than this year's group. The same goes for left tackle and wide receiver, where Fashanu and Harrison are elite prospects. I can't wait to dig in on the top players this summer, but my initial list looks substantially better at quarterback and offensive tackle than it did in 2023.

Reid: It's still way too early to say because there's a lot of projecting right now with the 2024 group. What I will say, though, is there are a lot more instant-impact players at the top of next year's draft. Outside ofBryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson Jr. and Bijan Robinson, the 2023 class lacked instant star power at the top. In 2022, we had a feeling prospects like Aidan Hutchinson and Sauce Gardnerwould be stars right away. I have that same feeling for a few players at the top of the 2024 group, particularly on offense.

Williams and Maye look like immediate-impact quarterbacks, but Harrison and tight end Brock Bowers (Georgia) have the potential to step in right away and provide prime pass-catching help, too. I'd also add that we're in for an interesting battle for the top offensive tackle. Both Fashanu and Joe Alt (Notre Dame) could be challengers to be the first non-QB drafted next April.

What is a sneaky college team to watch for 2024 prospects?

Rittenberg: Washington and Florida State don't necessarily qualify as sneaky, but both will populate the 2024 draft. After having no draft picks this season, Washington could be the Pac-12's top producer with Penix, Odunze and McMillan, edge rushers Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui and possibly other linemen on both sides of the ball. Florida State had just one player (safetyJammie Robinson) drafted this year but should see a spike with Verse, interior lineman Fabien Lovett and a host of offensive players, including quarterback Jordan Travis, running back Trey Benson and wide receiver Johnny Wilson.

Which prospect's tape are you excited to watch when you start setting your preseason board?

Reid: Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama. While studying Anderson, the player on the opposite edge kept popping on the screen. At 6-4, 242 pounds, Turner is next up in a long lineage of Crimson Tide pass-rushers. He finished last season with 8.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks in 13 games played (10 starts) but is expected to fill Anderson's starring role. Turner is a lanky, rangy rusher who has the unique ability to bend and corner the quarterback but still needs to gain strength in all parts of his frame.

Miller: J.T. Tuimoloau, DE, Ohio State. The true sophomore had just 3.5 sacks in 2022 but will step into a larger role withZach Harrisonoff to the NFL. Tuimoloau put on a dominant performance against Penn State, recording four pressures, two sacks and a forced fumble that gave us glimpses of his upside. The 6-4, 270-pound pass-rusher also had two interceptions last year, showing his versatility in space.

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