Even though the rollercoaster ride that was the three-day, chaotic bonanza called the 2023 NFL Draft just came to a stop on Saturday, the league’s 32 teams have already turned their eyes toward the 2024 Draft. This year, there was plenty of debate in the lead-up to the draft centered around the best quarterback prospect, with four of them receiving support to be the first overall pick: Alabama’s Bryce Young (taken first overall pick by the Carolina Panthers), Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (the second overall pick by the Houston Texans), Florida’s Anthony Richardson (the No. 4 overall pick by Indianapolis Colts), and Kentucky’s Will Levis (the 33rd pick by Tennessee Titans in Round 2).
The 2024 NFL Draft won’t have any such debate about the top overall pick and the top quarterback prospect. The unanimous answer to both of those questions is the the 2022 Heisman Trophy Winner, USC quarterback Caleb Williams. College football’s total touchdowns leader last season (47 overall; 37 passing and 10 rushing) will be draft eligible in 2024, and even though he has yet to play his junior season, Williams is already drawing comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. Noted quarterbacks coach Tom House told ESPN’s Adam Schefter in December that Williams is “the second coming of Patrick Mahomes.” Williams isn’t phased by the lofty praise, and he even openly agrees with it.
“It’s pretty cool, I’d say, just because everybody watches Patrick and sees all the cool things he can do,” Williams said in December. “I always said, even in high school, and obviously he’s special, but I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do that he’s doing out there. I think it’s really cool, like I said. I’ve had comparisons to a bunch of other people, and since I have, Patrick is pretty cool.”
Given that Williams is viewed as having the potential of being one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, here’s a ranking of the five teams who have the best chance to end up with the number one overall selection and the rights to take him in 2024, based on where the NFL landscape is today. Plus, three honorable mention, dark horse teams that might trade the farm for his draft rights, should they have disappointing 2023 campaigns.
Face-of-the-franchise Kyler Murray could miss as much as half of the 2023 season after tearing his ACL and meniscus and undergoing surgery to repair both in January. Starting the beginning of 2023 with soon-to-be 37-year-old Colt McCoy or rookie fifth-rounder Clayton Tune at quarterback could lead to some early losses piling up under first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon. The heart and soul of the Cardinals defense, All-Pro safety Budda Baker, wants out unless the rebuilding franchise makes him the NFL’s highest-paid at his position. Plenty of uncertainty on both sides of the ball.
Plus, Arizona has the Houston Texans’ 2024 first-round pick after trading out of the third overall pick in 2023, allowing the Texans to select Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. That gives them two shots at ending up with the first overall pick, controlling the first-rounder of two rebuilding teams that were bottom-three teams in the NFL in 2022. Between a lack of talent on defense — the Cardinals allowed 26.4 points per game in 2022, second-most in the NFL — as well as the absence of Murray and a lack of clarity of what he could look like after a significant injury, Arizona is well-positioned to end up with the opportunity to select Caleb Williams.
The Buccaneers are a team primed to fall in Year 1 of Tom Brady’s real retirement. They averaged 76.9 rushing yards per game in 2022, the fewest in the entire league, causing their offense to average 18.4 points per game (25th in the NFL). That was with Brady at quarterback. In 2023, Tampa enters with a quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and 2021 second round pick Kyle Trask, who has played in one NFL game. Top pass rusher Shaq Barrett is coming off a torn Achilles and may experience some rust in his return to football. The Buccaneers are a team primed to struggle after not having much cap room to add reinforcements in free agency. They’re squarely in the Williams sweepstakes.
Three teams made the playoffs out of the NFC East in 2022, and none of them were the Commanders. Washington enters assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s first season calling playing in the nation’s capital with a training camp quarterback competition between 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, who has played one career NFL game, and journeyman Jacoby Brissett. While Bieniemy’s play-calling will likely raise the ceiling of this offense, he’s not working with much outside of Pro Bowl wideout Terry McLaurin.
The Commanders improved their porous secondary — their 60 passing touchdowns allowed across the last two seasons are tied for the most in the NFL — through the draft with the first and second round selections of cornerbacks Emmanuel Forbes and Jartavius Martin, but both may face a tough period of adjustment in their rookie years. Washington could easily be the NFC East’s punching bag once again, putting them in a position to fall off a cliff and into the top overall pick in 2024.
The Atlanta Falcons have committed to 2022 third-round pick quarterback Desmond Ridder as their guy in 2023, punting on the opportunity to purse Lamar Jackson before he signed the richest contract in NFL history. Atlanta may struggle to come together defensively in 2023 with all the turnover on that side of the ball. They have new defensive coordinator coming over from the New Orleans Saints, Ryan Nielsen, as well as a number of new pieces in free agency, highlighted by safety Jessie Bates III. If head coach and play-caller Arthur Smith continues to fail to incorporate tight end Kyle Pitts in the passing game, who is also coming off a season-ending knee injury, their passing game could flounder once again.
The addition of the draft’s top running back Bijan Robinson is nice, but it may not translate to wins in 2023 since the Falcons’ third-ranked rushing offense in 2022 helped yield a 7-10 campaign. Adding Williams could be the missing piece that elevates youthful playmakers like receiver Drake London, Pitts, and Robinson. Atlanta should have an opportunity to bottom out at the end of the year if things don’t go their way early on.
Quarterback Justin Fields wasn’t selected by general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, making 2023 an audition year for him. His rushing prowess is strong: Fields’ 1,143 rushing yards in 2022 were the second-most in a single season by a quarterback in NFL history. There’s still plenty of room to grow for him as a passer with 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two seasons. Fields took 55 sacks last season, tied for the most in the NFL with Russell Wilson. Chicago has improved both his receiving core, trading for receiver D.J. Moore, and offensive line, signing guard Nate Davis and drafting Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright 10th overall.
Plenty of resources were poured into the defensive side of the ball in free agency with the signings of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (four years, $72 million) and T.J. Edwards (three years, $19.5 million). This is a team that ended 2022 with 10 consecutive losses and 14 overall, both the worst in a season in franchise history. Their defense ranked last in the NFL in points per game (27.3), third down conversion percentage allowed (49%), passing yards per attempt (8.0) and sacks (20). If their defense doesn’t improve by much and Fields doesn’t evolve as a passer in 2023, Chicago could have a strong shot at Williams. Especially since they possess the Panthers’ 2024 first-round selection as well, as Carolina rebuilds.
The Dolphins should be improved in 2023 after trading for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and adding renowned defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to their squad. However, everything comes down to the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. His concussion issues are so worrisome that he’s been studying judo in order to learn how to fall more safely. Even the normally stoic Nick Saban, Tagovailoa’s college coach, is concerned about his former pupil’s head injuries. If he fails to stay healthy again this upcoming season, Miami may pull a YOLO trade and send all the draft capital they have for the right to select Williams first overall.
Williams himself has listed the Dolphins as his top NFL destination, throwing more fuel on the fire that Miami could look into doing what it takes to go get him in 2024.
The Patriots’ offense hit a new low in their life without Tom Brady, averaging 18.2 points per game in 2022, their fewest since 2000. That was Bill Belichick’s first season as head coach. Their red zone woes were a huge culprit, converting drives inside the 20 into touchdowns 42% of the time, the lowest rate in the NFL. Yes, longtime defensive coach Matt Patricia running the offense is a legitimate excuse for quarterback Mac Jones‘ and the entire offense’s regression following Josh McDaniel’s departure to become the Raiders head coach.
Should Jones struggle again with Bill O’Brien calling plays, maybe Belichick’s patience with his 2021 first-round pick runs out, and he trades to the top of the draft for Williams. Belichick may hate how he has looked like the lesser of the dynamic duo he and Brady made, with the latter winning a Super Bowl on his own. That displeasure could perhaps lead Belichick to trade all the way up for another generational quarterback to pair with his borderline top-10 defense to get back to the winning standard he’s set in New England.
The Packers will have a Week 1 starting quarterback who isn’t Hall of Famer Brett Favre or future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers for the first time in 31 years in 2023. As such, Green Bay allocated plenty of draft capital to replenish their receiving core in the 2023 Draft, spending four picks in the first five rounds on wide receivers and tight ends. That makes the Packers only the fourth team in the Common Draft Era (since 1967) to do so. Love likely won’t flame out given Green Bay has provided him with two strong running back in Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and AJ “Quadzilla” Dillon, and some huge tight ends (Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, both 6-5 or taller) in addition to promising, young receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. However if he does struggle mightily, maybe the Packers decide they don’t want to go without a generational quarterback for an extended amount of time after only having all-timers at the position for decades.
If that’s the case, the Packers are well-equipped to trade up thanks to likely receiving the Jets‘ 2024 first-round pick (contingent on Aaron Rodgers playing 11-12 games in 2023) in addition to having their own.