NFL DRAFT: Caleb Williams among a slew of quarterbacks taken in top 10 as teams go on the offensive

Ben O’Shea
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Caleb Williams poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and rapper Marshall "Eminem" Mathers at the 2024 NFL Draft.
Caleb Williams poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and rapper Marshall "Eminem" Mathers at the 2024 NFL Draft. Credit: The Nightly

A decade from now, we might look back at the 2024 NFL Draft as a single defining moment that reshaped America’s biggest professional sport.

In front of an astonishing crowd of 275,000 fans, a cameo by rapper Eminem preceded the selection of a record six quarterbacks in the opening 12 picks to cap a historic night in Detroit.

Even factoring in the league’s hit rate at the most important position on the gridiron (over two decades from 2000 it sits below 50 per cent), the quarterbacks selected today will change the futures of their respective franchises.

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No wonder the ratings for the NFL Draft typically rival the highest-rating games of the NBA and MLB finals.

The first three signal callers off the board went according to plan, starting with USC superstar Caleb Williams to Chicago, a presumptive No.1 pick since he won college football’s MVP award, the Heisman Trophy, in 2022.

The current holder of that award, Jayden Daniels, the electric dual-threat QB out of LSU, was taken next by a Commanders franchise looking to make a splash under new ownership.

The Patriots were on the clock next, and even more desperate to find a spark in the post-Brady era, and made it three passers in a row with the selection of North Carolina QB Drake Maye, who has a tantalising skillset and prototypical size for the position, but many believe needs time to develop at the next level.

Among those viewing Maye as a project was none other than former New England head coach Bill Belichick, who pushed back on comparisons with Bills gunslinger Josh Allen during a draft night broadcast on ESPN.

“Drake compares himself a lot to Josh Allen … We’ll see about that,” Belichick said.

“I think there are some comparisons with size and athleticism, but Josh Allen is a pretty special player.”

But the biggest shock of the night came at pick No.8, when the Falcons surprised everyone by taking former Washington Huskies QB Michael Penix.

Atlanta have glaring holes on defence, and had their pick of the best defensive players in the draft, but instead opted for arguably the fifth-best passer in the class, who has a significant injury history.

And this is after committing US$100 million and the next two years to veteran free agent Kirk Cousins.

Explaining the head-scratching pick, the team said it’s confident it won’t be picking this high again during Cousins’ tenure, so it had to take a shot at a top QB while it could.

With 23 of the 32 college players drafted coming from the offensive side of the ball, it reaffirms what we’ve suspected for a while – defence wins championships, but offence sells tickets.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - APRIL 25: Caleb Williams celebrates with fans after being selected first overall by the Chicago Bears during the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft at Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza on April 25, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Caleb Williams celebrates with fans after being selected first overall by the Chicago Bears. Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

And the fact not a single running back was selected, while a record-tying seven wide receivers heard their name called in the first round, illustrates the analytics-driven push towards the passing game is in full effect.

Pass-catchers Marvin Harrison Jr (Cardinals), Malik Nabers (Giants) and Rome Odunze (Bears) went within the top 10 picks and are all expected to be elite at the next level, but keep an eye on the receiver the Chiefs traded up for, Xavier Worthy, who broke a long-standing combine record to be the fastest player in this draft.

We saw what Chiefs all-world QB Patrick Mahomes was capable of when he had the speedy Tyreek Hill to throw to – Worthy could bring that game-breaking ability back to Arrowhead.

It’s hard to confidently assess winners and losers from the first round, not least because these players have yet to play a single down in the NFL, but some teams appear to have done better than others.

The Vikings came away with buzzworthy former Michigan QB JJ McCarthy and Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, who was the top defensive player on many draft boards – that’s a win.

Chicago’s haul of Williams and Odunze is similarly impressive, unlike the Broncos taking Oregon QB Bo Nix at 12.

Denver is desperate for an answer under centre, but, at 24, Nix is the third-oldest passer drafted since 1967 and there are serious questions about his limited ceiling.

The Panthers also produced a head-scratcher, trading up one spot to get into the last pick of the first round, only to take Xavier Legette, who is a big-bodied receiver, but more of a project than other players still on the board.

The NFL Draft continues over the weekend on ESPN, with Round 2-3 taking place tomorrow morning and Rounds 4-7 on Sunday.

Australian punter Tory Taylor, who was named college football’s best punter, is expected to hear his named called at some point this weekend.

Michael Penix was a shock selection by Atlanta at pick eight.
Michael Penix was a shock selection by Atlanta at pick eight. Credit: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

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