In the first NFL Draft Notebook of the 2024 draft cycle, we take a look at why the Detroit Lions will win their first NFC North title. The main reason: they have one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL and upgraded their weaknesses on defense. It also helps that the division lost some of its top players last year, led by Aaron Rodgers.
In addition to taking a look at the NFC North, this week’s NFL Draft Notebook also reviews the 2020 quarterback class, talks about the top signal-callers available in the 2024 NFL Draft, and much more.
NFC North Preview
The Lions are currently rising up the ranks in the NFC. Last season, Detroit finished fifth in the NFL in scoring and it added a few more weapons this offseason. The top addition is running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who they took with the 12th overall pick, and the team also added a solid tight end in Sam LaPorta on Day 2. On the defensive side of the ball, the team reworked its secondary that allowed 246 passing yards per game, which ranked 30th in the NFL. If these additions live up to expectations, and Aidan Hutchinson can produce like he did last year, the Lions should be able to contend for the NFC North championship.
After winning the NFC North last season and posting a 13-4 campaign, look for the Vikings to take a step back this season. They already had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, and the unit lost several of its starters. On the positive side, the team did add defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who is one of the smartest defensive minds in the game. The team also has plenty of firepower on offense led by Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and Kirk Cousins. If the defense can be just average this season, it should be enough for the Vikings to compete for a wild card spot.
Green Bay Packers
This is a year of change for Green Bay as Aaron Rodgers moves on and the team will likely focus more on the running game. Thankfully the roster has two solid backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. The front office also added a couple of tight ends in the NFL Draft that should allow them to play with more 12 personnel in 2023. On the defensive side of the ball, the group has several impact players. It should allow Jordan Love to lean on a strong running game and a solid defense.
While the Chicago Bears should be significantly better than they were last year, it still won’t be enough to earn them a chance to play in the postseason. A defense that ranked dead last at getting to the quarterback didn’t add any significant pass rushers this offseason. On the positive side, the team does have a young quarterback in Justin Fields who will finally have some real weapons to throw to. Look for the Bears to win six or seven games this season but to finish dead last in the NFC North.
Top Five Quarterbacks from the 2020 NFL Draft
It usually takes three years to evaluate a draft class, so over the next few months NFL Draft Notebook will be looking back at the 2020 draft class. This week we look at the quarterback position, which turned out to be an elite class. This group is led by Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Herbert, all of whom are considered top-five quarterbacks in the NFL.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
The top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was a no-brainer when the Cincinnati Bengals took Joe Burrow. Burrow has lived up to this billing as well by leading Cincinnati to the 2021 Super Bowl and earning a Pro Bowl berth last season.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Another quarterback who has taken a short time to lead his team to the Super Bowl is Jalen Hurts. Last season, Hurts was named second-team All-Pro after throwing for 3,701 yards and rushing for another 760 yards. He was rewarded for his efforts with a five-year, $225 million contract this offseason.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
The third quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft who has already established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL is Justin Herbert. Herbert was named the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2021. While he had a down season this past year, he still set single-season franchise records for pass attempts and completions.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa got his career off to a slow start only starting 21 games over his first two years. However, he had a breakout campaign this past season under new head coach Mike McDaniel. The Dolphins quarterback owned the top passing rate in the NFL and threw for a career-high in yards and touchdowns. If he can stay healthy, Tagovailoa should be the Dolphins’ long-term answer at quarterback, but if not, Miami could move on from him next season.
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
This year is finally the year Jordan Love gets to prove himself as an NFL starter. After having started one game over the previous three seasons, Love will be the full-time starting quarterback for the Packers this season. One area of concern for the future of Love is the team’s decision not to pick up his fifth-year option, which raises concerns regarding the front office’s view as Love being the long-term answer.
2024 NFL Draft Quarterback Class Preview
Top Player: Caleb Williams, USC
Going into the 2023 season, the top-rated prospect is USC’s Caleb Williams. One of the biggest reasons for this is his outstanding production, having won the Heisman Trophy last season. Over his two seasons in college, he has thrown 63 touchdowns to just five interceptions. As a prospect, he shows a strong arm, quick release, and the ability to create something out of nothing. One concern with his game is when he takes too long in the pocket if his first read is not available.
Guy I Would Stand on the Table for: Bo Nix, Oregon
A player I have rated high than most people is Oregon’s Bo Nix. The reason he carries a first-round grade is his ability to hurt teams with both his arm and legs. As a passer, he shows the ability to throw off platform, the accuracy to consistently hit his receivers in stride, and the arm strength to be a high-level NFL starter. He is also one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft, having led all FBS quarterbacks with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Overrated: Quinn Ewers, Texas
While Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers has the potential to develop into a first-round draft pick, he has yet to produce anywhere near a top-ten pick that numerous places including USA Today project him to go. Last season, he had an up-and-down season, looking like a high-caliber quarterback against Alabama but also looking like a day-three pick at times, including his game against Oklahoma State. Overall on the season he completed just 58 percent of his passes and tossed 15 touchdowns. It does sound like Ewers had a great spring, so we should see improved play from him next season. As a prospect, he is a pocket passer who has a strong arm but needs to improve his accuracy and doesn’t have the smoothest throwing motion.
Sleeper: Theo Day, UNI
Northern Iowa quarterback Theo Day is my sleeper of the year going into the 2023 season. Day has several traits that will attract scouts’ attention including his strong arm, 6-foot-5 and 225-pound size, and his overall accuracy. Last season, he was named All-MVC and was recently named the second-best quarterback in the FCS by Hero Sports. He also had some elite games last year, including throwing for 330 yards and five touchdowns vs. Southern Illinois and accounting for six touchdowns and 442 yards against South Dakota. If Day can get a Senior Bowl invite, and has a strong week, he could be a possible day-two pick.
Biggest Risk: Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
A player who has the tool to be great yet currently lacks the maturity and football intelligence to reach his potential is Spencer Rattler. Rattler started his career off on a high note at Oklahoma when he was named a 2020 Freshman All-American and All-Big 12 choice. However, 2021 didn’t go the way he wanted it to when he lost his job midway through the season, which later led to him transferring to South Carolina. In his first year with the Gamecocks, he had an up-and-down year with 18 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. His best game of the year easily was his effort vs. Tennessee when he threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also had some horrible games like his effort vs. Texas A&M where he just completed 48 percent of his passes and didn’t account for any touchdowns. If he can go to a coaching staff that can work on his mental game — both on and off the field — we could be seeing a future starting quarterback, but if not, we could be looking at a future XFL quarterback.
Breakout Player: Joe Milton III, Tennessee
A player who is primed for a big season in 2023 is Tennessee’s Joe Milton III. While this will be Milton’s first year as a starter at Tennessee, he was extremely effective last season when pressed into action and has all the tools to be a high draft pick. In 2022, Milton started the last couple of games of the season when Hendon Hooker went down with a season-ending injury. While he had just an average game against Vanderbilt, he played lights out against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. In this game, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. The top trait with Milton is his strong arm which allowed him to finish 14th in the nation in passes over 50 yards despite starting only two games. In addition to his strong arm, he also has ideal size, the athletic ability to make him a dangerous runner, and also impressive strength as a runner.
To look at all of the quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft make sure to check out Quarterback Preseason Preview.
— One of the quickest receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft, Tyler Harrell, changed homes this month. After spending last season at Alabama, and the previous three seasons before that at Louisville, Harrell will be playing for the Miami Hurricanes this season. Harrell who has been clocked at 4.19 seconds in the 40-yard dash has yet to put up NFL-type production. Last season, he missed significant time with a foot injury and only caught two passes on the season. However, if he can stay healthy, he could be the deep threat Tyler Van Dyke and the Hurricanes need this season.
— Another Pac-12 quarterback who has a high rating coming into the 2023 season is Washington State’s Cameron Ward. Ward, who established himself as a high-caliber quarterback at Incarnate Word, had a strong first season at Washington State last season. Overall on the year he threw for 3,231 yards and 23 touchdowns and was named All-Pac-12 Conference Honorable Mention. The trait that stands out with Ward is his impressive arm strength. He has a baseball-type delivery which allows the ball to fire out of his hand. Another trait that stands out with him is his ability to make something out of nothing and make the big throw when faced with pressure. Unfortunately, this also led to him hanging onto the ball too long at times last season and was one of the main reasons he was sacked 46 times in 2022.
— A player who I would not be surprised if he turns into a first-round pick is Georgia’s, Carson Beck. When looking at his spring game performance, and his limited playing time, Beck showed the traits to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football. When watching him, the first thing that stands out is his ideal NFL size, coming in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. He also has the arm strength to throw any pass in an NFL offense and has a much stronger arm than the man he is replacing, Stetson Bennett. He also shows impressive accuracy, which was backed up by his 74 percent completion rate last year and going 18 for 22 in Georgia’s spring game.
— One of the more dynamic running backs in the 2024 NFL Draft is Blake Corum of Michigan. Last season, Corum rushed for 1,463 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also was one of the better return men in college, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return. To go along with his impressive speed, he shows good vision as a runner by consistently finding the open hole. The biggest concern with Corum is that he is coming off a season-ending knee injury. He also will need to prove he can hold up as a pass blocker, which wasn’t something he was asked to do much at Michigan.
— It sounds like the Buffalo Bills are trying to find a place for rookie offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence to fit in their starting lineup. Torrence played both left and right guard in the team’s recent mini-camp and he should be able to spot opposite of Connor McGovern early in the season. This should not come as a surprise as he was the highest-rated offensive guard in the draft.
— Speaking of rookies who are looking promising, two Minnesota Vikings fit this bill. The first one is wide receiver Jordan Addison who has already shown a great understanding of the Vikings’ offense and also showed the agility the team was hoping to get in their first-round pick. Another Viking who has impressed is undrafted free agent Andre Carter. Carter had a terrific 2021, finishing the year with 14.5 sacks before having a disappointing 2022. He should be able to come off the bench and provide the team with an extra pass rusher.
— Another undrafted free agent who has stood out is Elijah Cooks. Cooks is the biggest receiver on the Jacksonville Jaguars and already made several impressive touchdown receptions in camp. This should not come as a surprise, as Cooks was able to haul in ten touchdowns last year at San Jose State. To go along with his size, Cooks is also an impressive athlete for a 6-foot-4 wide receiver and shows the raw tools to develop into a number three receiver in the NFL. For these reasons, he earned a day-three grade on my draft board.
Quote of the Week
“I was kind of eager to go to the NFL, and then I figured out, you know college football is fun.”
-Oregon quarterback Bo Nix