2024 NFL mock draft: What sources say about Williams, Daniels, McCarthy and other prospects

Having spent much of the past six weeks speaking to dozens of college football coaches and NFL sources, I put together my fourth annual first-round mock draft based on all that intel, as well as team needs.

The evaluation process is always an inexact science. My aim with this project is to provide unique insight directly from the rival coaches who have scouted, game-planned for and then faced each of these prospects. Those sources, granted anonymity to speak freely about the prospects, know exactly what they’re dealing with and what they’ve tried to do to them in real game situations.

(Note: An asterisk indicates a proposed trade.)

Chicago made room for a new franchise quarterback when it sent Justin Fields to Pittsburgh. The Bears have laid some nice groundwork for Williams, with a young standout offensive tackle in Darnell Wright, a first-rounder last year who made the NFL all-rookie team, plus newly acquired star wideout Keenan Allen to pair with D.J. Moore.

Williams’ talent is tantalizing. He threw 72 touchdowns the past two years and has a jaw-dropping highlights package of one remarkable throw after another. On third downs the past two seasons, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 16-to-0. His TD-to-INT ratio in the red zone during that span: 46-to-1.

He had a spectacular debut season for the Trojans in 2022, winning the Heisman Trophy. In 2023, Williams threw 30 touchdowns and five interceptions and connected on 69 percent of his throws for more than 3,600 yards … and it really felt like a down year for him because the Trojans foundered. He lost five of his final six college games. (In fairness, the USC O-line was much worse last year, and the team’s defensive issues hung over the entire program.) It felt like Williams thought he had to be Superman every time out to rescue the team. Did he pick up some bad habits because of that? The feedback I got was mixed. No doubt, there is some stuff about Williams that seems to rub some folks the wrong way, but as I heard at the NFL combine from staffers, it wasn’t the kind of stuff they saw as alarming or even troubling.

The Coaching Intel

“That kid is magician. He just pulls stuff out of his ass. That program (USC) was in disarray. Without Caleb (last year), I think they go 4-8 easy. I think he is phenomenal. He’s extremely accurate off of his back foot, and on the run. He needs to keep working on throwing on time and getting on rhythm.”

“He’s faster than you think. It’s really impressive how he can elude defenders and keep his eyes down the field. I think he knew he had to make a lot of plays with his legs because their O-line was not good.”

“He has to improve how fast he gets the ball out. Two years ago, I think the stat was that he held on to the ball the second-longest of FBS quarterbacks. In the NFL you can’t afford to do that.”

“We tried to force his hand. The second time we played him, we still brought pressure but we did it from different looks. We wanted to test how good his post-snap movement was, and he wasn’t as good as some. I think he’s an elite athlete in terms of making plays with his feet and staying active on the run like (Patrick) Mahomes. I don’t think he has the arm like Mahomes. If you’re talking about elite arm talent in this class, that would be (Michael) Penix. If Caleb can get better at getting rid of the ball quicker, at standing in the pocket and getting it out and get better at diagnosing post-snap movement, I think that’ll be a really good pick.”

This group of quarterbacks has had some wild journeys in college. Daniels left an imploding Arizona State program for the SEC, where he turned some heads with a strong debut season in 2022. The following season, he put up staggering numbers and won the Heisman. In 2021 at Arizona State, he threw 10 touchdowns and just as many picks. Last year at LSU, he threw 40 touchdowns and four picks, running for 10 more TDs and over 1,100 yards. Colleague Alec Lewis had a terrific story on the high-tech German VR flight simulator that helped spark Daniels’ special season.

Daniels has a tight repeatable release to go with unbelievable feet and the ability to stay balanced. Where LSU coaches saw the most growth was in his trust in his progressions. Daniels isn’t as thick as Williams or as big as other QBs in this draft. He arrived from ASU at a wiry 187 pounds, but he played at 207 pounds last year.

The Commanders have new leadership with GM Adam Peters and head coach Dan Quinn (and new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury). Last year’s starting QB Sam Howell was traded to Seattle. Washington has a bunch of QB options from which to pick. WhetherLSU coach Brian Kelly did indeed tip the hand on which quarterback the Commanders are taking remains to be seen, but our hunch is they grab the other Heisman winner in this draft, a player whose mobility will give defenses headaches.

The Coaching Intel

“I tell people this: Outside of Patrick Mahomes, I haven’t coached against someone like this. He’s just very hard to defend. We tried to force him to run it to take it out of his hands. The throws he makes and the timing he has, I thought was second to none. He throws the deep ball extremely accurately.”

“As a junior (in 2022), he would just hang onto the ball, but he got so much better playing quarterback. Without him, with as bad as they were on defense, I think they’d win six games. Tops. If there’s a concern if you’re an NFL team, it’s that he will take some shots and he is narrow. How well will he hold up?”

“He improved a lot. He’s a really good deep ball thrower with more than above-average arm strength. Those 15-, 20-yard touch throws were better than I thought. He didn’t look like he was that fast, but he just glides and runs by people, and he outruns their angles. Florida wasn’t very good last year but they still had team speed, and even when they had angles on him, he’d run by them. When you eyeball him before the game, he doesn’t look very big, but he’d lower his shoulder and could take punishment.”

“Outside of Patrick Mahomes, I haven’t coached against someone like this,” said one college football coach of Jayden Daniels. Photo: Melina Myers / USA Today

The Patriots figure to get some offers for this pick, but as they begin the post-Bill Belichick era, passing on a franchise quarterback will be tough. Maye is a very gifted prospect. The 6-foot-4, 223-pounder didn’t put up as impressive of a stat line in 2023 (63 percent completion rate, 24 TDs, 9 INTs) as he did in 2022 (66 percent completion rate, 38 TDs, 7 INTs), but it should be noted that he was transitioning to a different system. It also didn’t help that UNC’s O-line hasn’t been great throughout his time as the starter.

Maye did struggle late in 2023. In UNC’s only two games against ranked opponents, he completed 51 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions in a pair of double-digit road losses: one at NC State, the other at Clemson. The feedback I received was really mixed, reflecting a younger quarterback who has a smaller sample size than the rest of the first-round crop.

The Coaching Intel

“Really good arm. Love his pocket presence. His awareness of where all the rushers are — whether it was four, five or six (coming) — was off the charts. It made him hard to pass rush. Any risk you took, whether it was going above and trying to turn the corner, or going inside, he felt it and was able to expose you. He could make you pay on just about anything you do. Pretty soon, he’d force you into pass rushing without aggression. He was really hard to deal with. I wouldn’t say he’s Trevor (Lawrence) but he’s probably the best we’ve seen since Trevor.”

“I think he could be a better quarterback than Caleb Williams if you can protect him. He throws the s— out of it, but the last two years we could tell that he really doesn’t like all that stuff around him. He gets a little bit scared back there, in my opinion. He is a good athlete, big, really good arm. But I thought (former UNC QB) Sam Howell was a tougher kid. He’s not as talented as Drake Maye. Sam could run it but he would stay in that pocket and be effective. But I didn’t think Kenny Pickett was worth a s— and he got drafted in the first round.”

“He checks all the boxes. Can roll left, can roll right; can be on the wrong foot, can throw off-platform. He’s great laterally. Was very busy with his feet earlier in his career; he got better quieting that down. That seemed to help his decision making and accuracy, but it looked like he regressed with that and got a little erratic.”

“Preseason, I was super impressed watching him on film. He played pretty good against us. He wasn’t super accurate. I think there were growing pains with his footwork and fundamentals, trying to adjust to a new system.”

Kirk Cousins is off to Atlanta. Kevin O’Connell needs a new quarterback to utilize a talented group of receivers. I hear the Vikings are very interested in McCarthy, who went 27-1 as the Wolverines starter and led Michigan to the national title last year. The 6-2 1/2, 219-pound McCarthy didn’t put up the gaudy stats that the rest of these first-round quarterbacks did, but he operated in a different system and has honed pro-style footwork after three years in Jim Harbaugh’s system. There were also several conference games in which he played just one series in the second half of a blowout win.

In two seasons as Michigan’s starter, McCarthy threw 44 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s got good wheels, too, having run for nine touchdowns and more than 500 yards. His agility showed up in Indianapolis, where he posted a 6.82 3-cone drill time — sixth fastest among all players at the combine and best by a quarterback in five years. His completion rate improved from below 65 percent to over 72 percent last year. He put some more air on his deep ball, making him more accurate. Michigan coaches loved his leadership skills and his demeanor, with one saying: “He doesn’t have a bad day. And if he does, he doesn’t let anybody know it, and that’s the mark of a good leader.” Even more impressive, coaches say, is his intellect and his understanding of coverage. After a drive, his coaches would ask what the coverages were, “and he’d be exactly right.”

The Coaching Intel

“I think too many people are getting caught up trying to look at box scores instead of watching film. He makes a lot of plays for them after the play breaks down. There’s some ‘wow’ stuff in there. He’s on a dead sprint, and he makes some perfect throws. When he has to get out and make a play, he can really do it.”

“We thought he throws a little bit of a flat ball and you wouldn’t see much of him layering it in there. But he’s really dynamic. You wanted to keep him in the pocket but he’d still get out whenever they needed him to, and he’s great throwing on the run. He could get out to his left or his right and get you, but especially going to his right.”

“I thought he was great. You could tell he was the alpha male on that team from a leadership standpoint. He was coached up well on how to make throws and make the decisions very fast. He throws very well on the run. He did have a really good O-line and a good defense, but we didn’t think their wide receivers were great, and he made it all go.”

One of Jim Harbaugh’s first big challenges in L.A. will be to help ultra-talented quarterback Justin Herbert continue to ascend. Losing two big targets in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams this offseason won’t make that any easier, but this draft has a very good crop of wideouts. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Harrison checks every box. He’s got good length, strength, burst, polish and competitiveness. Of all the great wide receivers who have come out of Ohio State in the past decade — and there have been several — Harrison is the most complete and best of the bunch. (Quick pivot: If everything I’ve heard from people I trust inside the Buckeyes program the past few years is spot on, newly enrolled freshman Jeremiah Smith will end up surpassing Harrison.)

But make no mistake: Harrison is special. He also has an interesting connection to Harbaugh, who played in Indianapolis with his father, the great Marvin Harrison Sr. And even though he played for Michigan’s hated archrival, Harrison shined in two games against the Wolverines, catching 12 passes for 238 yards and two TDs. Harrison took over the Buckeyes’ win against Penn State, with 11 receptions for 162 yards after going 10 for 185 in Happy Valley a year earlier. In Ohio State’s 2022 College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia, he was terrorizing the Bulldog defense for 106 yards and two TDs before being knocked out of the game in the third quarter with the Buckeyes up by two TDs. Based on everything I’ve seen and heard, Harrison is one of the two players who I’d say are the closest to a “sure thing” in this draft.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s really good. Really, really good. He’s bigger than you think when you see him in person. He’s strong, quick, he’s fast. At the line of scrimmage, he’s a beast. He’s hard to stay in front of. He gets in and out at the top of routes. I don’t what he can’t do.”

“He was such a problem for us. They were moving him around. He was as good as the hype. He’s got the explosion, a big catch radius. He separated well. He makes catches in traffic. He was bigger than I thought.”

“His body control is special. He catches a lot of contested balls. He made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen live. I don’t know how fast he really is. I think he’s a 4.5 guy, not a sub-4.4 guy. But he is really, really good. He’s wickedly polished. Far and away the best (receiver) they’ve had there.”

6. New York Giants: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

The Giants have an underwhelming quarterback situation with Daniel Jones returning and Drew Lock now in the mix. I could see them tempted to get into the top three for a promising QB, but receiver is also a big need, and here they’ll have their choice of two studs in Odunze and Malik Nabers. Both are dazzling, but after drafting a blazer from the SEC last year in Jalin Hyatt, the hunch is they go for the bigger, more physical Odunze.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Odunze isn’t quite as fast as Nabers, but he is really explosive. The former track standout from Las Vegas clocked a 4.45 40 at the combine with a 1.52 10-yard split, a 39-inch vertical and a 4.03 shuttle time. His film is even more impressive than his workout numbers. Last season, he had 92 catches for 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns. Everyone who has been around him comes away impressed. His ball skills are truly elite.

“His focus is awesome,” a former Washington assistant told The Athletic, adding that Odunze would come back to the sideline and could tell coaches exactly how many times the ball rotated before it got to him. From the feedback I got from NFL folks and others who had been around him during the combine run-up, I came away thinking that Odunze is the other receiver alongside Harrison closest to being a can’t-miss prospect.

The Coaching Intel

“(He is) as good as we’ve faced (in two decades as a college coach). Unbelievable with the ball in the air. Fantastic hands. Very good route runner. Good size. Good competitor. He is as good at tracking the ball as I’ve ever seen. That 50-50 ball, he had to have been 85 percent or better at those.”

“He can play inside or outside and eat you up. He’s very polished and has a lot in his bag. He makes great adjustments and is very, very strong. He’s the alpha receiver who bullies guys whenever there’s a contested catch. I know people talked a lot about Marvin Harrison and we never played him, but if he’s better than this guy, man, that’s really saying something.”

If Tennessee believes Will Levis has a legitimate chance to emerge as its long-term quarterback, it has done some heavy lifting to help him this offseason. The Titans have added wide receiver Calvin Ridley, running back Tony Pollard and center Lloyd Cushenberry. Adding Alt, the best O-line prospect in this draft, to go with last year’s top pick Peter Skoronski should give the Titans a promising foundation up front.

The 6-foot-9, 321-pound Alt, who won’t turn 22 until after his rookie year, started three seasons at left tackle for the Irish. He put on an impressive display in Indianapolis, running a 5.05 40 with a 1.73-second 10-yard split. His 7.31-second time in the 3-cone drill was the best among all offensive tackle prospects at the combine and the best in the past two years there.

The Coaching Intel

“I like him a lot. He’s as good as I’ve coached against in a long time. He’s athletic. He’s big. He’s strong. He moves his feet real well. He’s never in a bad position and he’s never on the ground. Some of these guys, you can get them moving. This dude always had his pads square and played with low pad level.”

“He was the best lineman we played all year.”

The Falcons could snag speedy Malik Nabers for even more juice for Cousins (Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London are all already on the roster), but new coach Raheem Morris could really use a pass-rushing spark, and Turner’s an ideal fix here. Turner was the most disruptive player on the Crimson Tide defense, producing 14.5 TFLs and 10 sacks to go with 13 QB hurries and two forced fumbles in 2023. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he doesn’t have great size for an edge, but Turner does have 34 1/2-inch arms and superb explosiveness, clocking a 4.46 40 with a 1.54-second 10-yard split in Indianapolis along with a 40 1/2-inch vertical and a 10-7 broad jump.

The Coaching Intel

“He takes some plays off but he also played like 900 plays this year. I’m not building in an excuse but that’s a s—ton of plays. There are times the guy gets tired and looks lazy. That’s the only knock. But on average, it’s 60 plays in the NFL compared to 80 or 90 in college. It’s a different deal. His A to B quickness, his hip fluidity, his length, his willingness to play physical is all so impressive. He can beat a block in a number of ways, not just with speed.”

“He’s violent with his hands and is the best pass rusher we’ve faced the last two years. He’s freaky athletically. We thought he was very versatile.”



College football Freaks List 2023: Bruce Feldman’s rankings with a true freshman at No.1

9. Chicago Bears: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

Chicago could upgrade at edge rusher with either UCLA’s Laiatu Latu or Florida State’s Jared Verse, but instead the Bears provide even more firepower for their top pick Williams. Nabers is coming off of a fantastic showing at his pro day, in which he roared to a 4.35 40 and posted a 42-inch vertical and 10-9 broad jump. Nabers dominated last season, catching 89 passes for 1,569 yards and 14 TDs. Against Alabama, which had the best secondary in the nation, Nabers had 10 catches for 171 yards.

The Coaching Intel

“He can separate like nobody else. He has super speed and explosiveness. He’s got this big lower half and is so scary in the open field. He is elite with the ball in his hands.”

“He’s a f—— dawg, man.”

“Explosive, but a really good route runner. His ability to sink his hips and separate at the top of routes is elite.”

Aaron Rodgers returns to action, and the Jets gift him another playmaker. Bowers is the best skill player Georgia has produced since Kirby Smart took over in 2016. The tight end from Napa blew up nearly from the moment he put the pads on in Athens. In 2021, he was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-American. He was Georgia’s leading receiver that year, with 56 catches for 882 yards (a 15.8 average) and 13 TDs — all school records for a tight end.

He accounted for 31 total touchdowns over three seasons and would take over games when the Bulldogs needed the spark. The 6-3, 243-pounder had four catches that went for at least 70 yards in his first two college seasons. He doesn’t have a freaky size-speed ratio, but he is simply a terrific athlete.

The Coaching Intel

“What separates him is on the 50-50 balls, he’s just such a competitor. He seems to have that ‘clutch gene.’ Watch their Auburn game. When the game was on the line, he took it over. [Georgia trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter on the road. On Georgia’s next three series, Bowers caught six passes for 148 yards and a TD, and the Bulldogs won 27-20.] He’s probably a mid-4.5 (40) guy, but I just think he’s a better football player than athlete. He’s a willing blocker. I think he’s a true off-the-ball H-back.”

“He was such a problem because when he’s running routes, he’s as good as there is. He can really separate. They’d pound you in the running game and then hit you with the play-action pass, and he’d eat you up. His speed put so much stress on your defense when they might be in 12 personnel but you had to play it like 11 because he’s like a 240-pound receiver because of the way he moves. They’d line him up all over the place, out wide, in the backfield, as an in-line. The other thing you don’t really get a sense of until you see him in person is how physical a runner he is with the ball in his hands. He’s a violent runner, breaking through tackles and picking up speed.”

“He’s pretty special with the ball in his hands. Like he runs routes like a wide receiver and once he gets the ball, he runs like a running back.”

Arizona moves down seven spots to get added value with another pick, knowing there are other elite receivers available in the middle of the first round, and it works out for them. Thomas put on a spectacular showing at the combine, running a 4.33 40, vertical jumping 38 1/2 inches and broad jumping 10-6. His 10-yard split of 1.50 was just .01 seconds behind Xavier Worthy. Thomas had 68 catches for 1,177 yards and led the FBS with 17 touchdowns in 2023. He also had three catches of 70 yards or longer. Thomas has really impressed NFL folks with how football smart he is, something that has shined through in the draft process, from what I’ve heard.

The Coaching Intel

“He is a great jump-ball guy. Really good in the run zone. He is freakishly athletic. Not surprised the (40) time he ran at the combine. We were not as worried as him running the immediate routes. We thought he was the least polished of the top receivers we saw.”

“Potentially, I think can be really good in the NFL. He was a red zone nightmare. Even if you were in great position, he could still win those 50-50 balls. But he didn’t scare you with (yards after catch) like Nabers did.”

Can the Broncos trade into the top four so Sean Payton gets a franchise quarterback? I’m not sold Denver will see Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr. as the right fit at this spot. But in Mitchell, they can add another defensive back gem opposite Patrick Surtain. The Florida native backed up all the buzz that had built around him entering Indianapolis. Mitchell, who came in at No. 46 on the Freaks List last year, was expected to fly in the 40, and he did just that, posting a 4.33 (with a 1.51-second 10-yard split) at 6 feet 1/8 inch and 195 pounds. He had a 38-inch vertical and did 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Two years ago, he burst onto the national scene when he had four interceptions and two pick sixes in a game against Northern Illinois. He set a Toledo record with 20 passes broken up that season. Coaches in the MAC can’t stop gushing about how special Mitchell is.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s a phenomenal football player. I’m actually showing a tape of him in our team meeting later this week. His technique, the aggressiveness that he plays with, are things you can study to help your game. He’s a very physical player, plays with good anticipation, very good change of direction, good feet, great ball skills. The most impressive thing I thought are his instincts. It’s hard for DBs to look and lean and still be able to make a play on the ball, and he does it effortlessly. He plays like an offensive player on defense. You don’t see many guys that can transition the way he transitions. He’s a game-changer on one side of the field.”

“He was a dominant player in our league. His instincts are phenomenal, but so is his athleticism. I thought he’s the total package.”

13. Las Vegas Raiders: Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

The Raiders added Gardner Minshew to battle Aidan O’Connell, but I think Penix’s arm talent, game and makeup will be really tough to pass on at this point. Penix was spectacular for Washington the last two seasons, lifting a team that was 4-8 the year before he arrived to a 25-3 run the past two seasons. He went 10-1 against Top 25 opponents and led the nation with 4,903 yards, completing 65 percent of his passes with 36 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while operating in an offensive scheme that thrived on downfield throws and vertical shots. Prior to coming to Washington, Penix led Indiana to its best football season in over 50 years.

Penix’s health is a polarizing subject in draft circles. He had four season-ending injuries at IU, but his medical evaluations did get a thumbs up, according to sources. Penix has been very candid about battling through adversity stemming from those injuries and has responded remarkably well after that, which bodes well when he’s likely to face more adversity in his NFL career — something that has caused many a first-round QB to buckle.

At Washington’s pro day, Penix opened a lot of eyes that didn’t see much of his wheels at Washington. His 40 was somewhere in the range of 4.46 to 4.53 to go with a 36 1/2-inch vertical and a 10-5 broad jump. For the quarterbacks who had trained with Penix in Southern California leading up to the combine, word of the sub-4.5 40 was no surprise. They told The Athletic he was showing that kind of speed in their training.



Michael Penix Jr.’s journey isn’t only about football — it’s overcoming fear

The Coaching Intel

“His arm talent is as good as I’ve ever seen. He can throw every single ball on a rope. I just wanted to blitz him. I felt like he didn’t handle pressure as some others. We lived and died by the blitz, but he got his yards.”

“You watch them and there’s so much tape where you’re just blown away by all the throws he’s making into windows and with the touch he has. And he’s just so accurate on all these big throws. He also didn’t need much room to throw it. The people around him didn’t even faze him.”

“All the throws he makes are insane, but his ability to read coverage and manipulate pressures is high-level stuff.”

Trevor Penning, the No. 19 pick in 2022, has struggled at tackle and started only six games since the Saints drafted him. Nabbing Fuaga here should make the Saints giddy. Their O-line needs to upgrade at tackle, and the 6-foot-6, 324-pounder is too good and too nasty to pass up. Once ranked by recruiting sites as the No. 145 offensive tackle prospect in the Class of 2020, Fuaga played on a high school team that didn’t win a game his senior year, but he went to camps and got offered by USC and Oregon. The Beavers were sold on him after watching him play as a D-lineman, noticing his agility and quickness. They also loved how driven he was to improve, describing him as a football junkie who despite his soft-spoken demeanor was still voted a team captain. He played right tackle, but his coaches thought he was more than capable of playing on the other side and could also be a dominant guard. Other offensive tackles tested better, but few are as impressive on film.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s so physical and very explosive. He is a friggin’ powerhouse. He really moves people in the run game. He’s not super long, but he has quick feet and good awareness and balance. I thought he improved a lot last year, especially as a pass blocker.”

“He’s really good. Tough, tough dude. I think he’s been really well coached. I love their O-line coach (Jim Michalczik, now at Michigan State). He’s one of the best in the country.”

Taliese Fuaga during the 2024 NFL Combine. Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today

The Colts need help at corner, and the hope was that Mitchell would still be on the board, but he’s gone. Arnold emerged as a star this year and was the corner rival coaches feared most on the Tide — not Kool-Aid McKinstry, who garnered more hype. McKinstry is a very good and savvy corner, but Arnold really blossomed in 2023, with five interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Arnold (6 feet, 190 pounds) is the more athletic of the two Tide corners, but he didn’t display the same kind of wheels that Mitchell did at the combine, running a 4.50 40. He did jump 37 inches and went 10-9 in the broad jump. Then, at his pro day, he ran an impressive 6.65 in the 3-cone.

The Coaching Intel

“He kept getting better and better. He’s good at everything. I think he could play anywhere in the secondary and shine.”

“Kool-Aid was the guy who the media talked about more, but in my opinion, Arnold is more talented.”

“Kept getting better and better. Texas A&M ran by him earlier in his career, but he really developed. He’s a dawg, a three-position player — corner, nickel and safety.”

This is a terrific fit for many reasons. The 6-foot-4, 317-pounder with 34 1/2-inch arms can play tackle or guard, which are both needs. He would also reunite with his former offensive coordinator, Ryan Grubb, now in the same job in Seattle. Fautanu started 29 games at left tackle for the Huskies and two at guard. He was the winner of the Morris Trophy, which honors the Pac-12’s top offensive lineman and defensive lineman as voted on by league players. Considering Fuaga was also in contention last year, that is no small feat, and it speaks to how well regarded Fautanu is. He was also the headliner of the Huskies’ Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line.

The Coaching Intel

“He is a mauler, but he has good flexibility and agility. He’s a tough dude, but sometimes gets himself out of position.”

“This guy mows people down. I could see him being a better guard in the NFL, but that’s just my two cents.”

17. Minnesota Vikings (via JAX*): Jared Verse, Edge, Florida State

Cornerback is a big need for Jacksonville, but with Mitchell and Arnold gone, the Jaguars opt for more picks and move down to No. 23. Minnesota, which has a ton of draft capital, can move back up with a talent like Verse still available. The Vikings lost edge players Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport and D.J. Wonnum this winter but added Andrew Van Ginkel and Jonathan Greenard. In Verse, they get a disruptive player who made a very smooth transition from FCS dominance at Albany to FSU, where he became a leader and piled up 18 sacks, 29 TFLs and 88 tackles in two seasons. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Verse ran a 4.58 40 with a 1.60 10-yard split and broad jumped 10-7 to go with a 35-inch vertical, and he did a very impressive 31 reps of 225 pounds.

The Coaching Intel

“His assimilation of making the jump from Albany to Florida State was impressive. He’s very smart. He’s got a chip on his shoulder.”

“He’s very physical. He gets after people in the run game. Has some mitts and uses those hands well. He’s an explosive athlete and has good burst. Plays like he’s always trying to prove he belongs in big-time football.”

Signing Trent Brown diminishes the need for an offensive lineman here, although the likes of JC Latham and Olu Fashanu are intriguing. So is Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton, but I think Cincinnati goes for Murphy after losing D.J. Reader. The 6-0 1/2, 297-pound Murphy didn’t receive as much hype as his much larger Texas linemate T’Vondre Sweat, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, but opposing coaches say Murphy gave them more headaches. Murphy had 8.5 TFLs and five sacks in 2023, then showed off his freaky athleticism at the combine, running a 4.87 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump.

The Coaching Intel

“His movement skills are so good. He’s just really got ‘it.’ He plays nasty and with great leverage.”

“He was almost unblockable because he’s so quick and twitchy and has balance like a big-ass running back. He’s been coached well. The guy is just really disruptive. He was much more of a problem (than T’Vondre Sweat).”

“Great initial quickness. Gets so low and always has leverage. Almost unblockable. Is really good against the run and great against the pass. High football IQ.”

Replacing the great Aaron Donald is impossible, but to get a player of Latu’s ability and character at this point in the first round should be a big win for Sean McVay’s defense. The 6-5, 259-pound former rugby standout won the Lombardi Award in 2023, which honors college football’s top lineman, after he led the FBS with 21.5 TFLs and had 13 sacks, 49 tackles with two interceptions and two forced fumbles for the Pac-12’s top defense.

Latu began his career at Washington in 2019, where he was part of a fantastic recruiting class that also included Rams star receiver Puka Nacua. But then the prized D-lineman suffered a neck injury and his career was derailed for two seasons. Washington doctors would not clear him to play. Eventually, doctors at UCLA and one of the country’s foremost spine surgeons did clear him, and he emerged as a dominant player. Latu tested well at the combine, running a 4.64 40 with a 1.62 10-yard split. His film — and the feedback from his coaches — is even more impressive.

The Coaching Intel

“His arsenal of pass rush is legit. I started writing down the different ways he wins and I was getting up near eight, nine or 10. That’s a lot!”

“He’s really athletic and long. My knock on him is I don’t know if he played as physical as you’d like. They were a run-around-you defense — not so much of a take-you-on scheme. But he was able to jump around and get after you. He could get away with things in college that he probably can’t do in the NFL. But he is quick and can change directions fast.”



How Laiatu Latu’s comeback story helped UCLA climb into the top 10

After grabbing Broderick Jones, another offensive tackle, in the first round last year, I think Pittsburgh will pick between a tackle or Oregon strongman center Jackson Powers-Johnson. There are some good options at tackle between JC Latham, Amarius Mims and Tyler Guyton, but the hunch is that the Steelers grab Fashanu, a bright, long, gifted big man. He was inconsistent last year but has intriguing potential at 6-6 and 312 pounds. At Penn State, where he was a team captain, he went up against many elite speed rushers every day at practice. Given his attitude and intelligence, he’s a good bet to continue to add polish to his game.

The Coaching Intel

“He definitely looks the part and has very good flexibility for a big guy, but he struggled some against powerful edge rushers.”

“This is a big, great-looking dude. He comes off the ball well and is good with his hands, but there are times you’d expect him to finish better.”

“Good player. Long arms, huge frame. I thought he was a better run blocker than pass protector. There’s some stuff he really needs to clean up in pass pro.”

“He has really good feet and did a great job in their wide zone scheme. I thought he had great hands and was very polished, but he struggled some anchoring down. He had problems against Ohio State (against JT Tuimoloau) when they went speed to power.”

21. Miami Dolphins: Johnny Newton, DT, Illinois

A beastly interior O-lineman like Jackson Powers-Johnson or West Virginia’s Zach Frazier could make some sense here, but with Christian Wilkins gone to Las Vegas in free agency, Miami turns to a D-lineman who caused all sorts of havoc for opponents while at Illinois. The 6-2, 304-pound Florida native was a force for the Illini the last two years, posting totals of 114 tackles, 13 sacks and 22.5 TFLs, a ton of production for an inside guy. He also blocked a school-record four kicks in 2023.

The Coaching Intel

“He is crafty and slick with some good moves and heavy hands. He’s just got a great feel for things in there. This guy is a stud.”

“Great block-destruction guy. Really friggin’ twitchy.”

Philly needs help at corner. Kool-Aid McKinstry is in play, but the 6-1, 173-pound Wiggins has ridiculous recovery speed and probably more upside. He clocked a 4.28 40 at the combine, and that juice shows up in his tape. He led the Tigers in pass breakups last season (nine) and had two interceptions, one of which was a pick six.

The Coaching Intel

“I think he’s the best kid we played. I love that kid. Love his effort, how he competes. Great speed. Great burst, and he plays hard. He’s got the measurables. Two plays stuck out in my mind. They’re playing Miami and he ran a kid down and stripped him on the goal line. Then, he did the same thing to a guy at Carolina. I think he’s an All-Pro caliber player.”

“Tremendous speed. Really smooth, long athlete. Could be special. We didn’t think he was that good in run support, though.”

“I love that kid!” raved one college football coach of Nate Wiggins. Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (via PIT*): Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

The Jags still get a good corner after sliding down. McKinstry was a three-year starter in a complex system. He’s very intelligent and has good leadership qualities. He isn’t one of the fastest corners in this class, but he’s very polished. In his three seasons with the Tide, he had 62 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions. He made first-team All-SEC twice and was voted an All-American in 2023. At his pro day, he ran a reported 4.47 40 despite having a Jones fracture in one of his toes that required surgery later that week. The fact that he ran as fast as he did, and that he ran at all before the procedure, also speaks well for McKinstry’s grit.

The Coaching Intel

“He had some struggles early in (2023) but is a good player. He’s a pretty fluid DB, but I questioned his speed. He’s not that twitchy.”

“Really smart and savvy. Not as quick out of his break as Arnold. He uses his hands to make up for his feet. Will jump routes.”

24. Green Bay Packers (via DAL*): JC Latham, OT, Alabama

To have this guy still available after the top 20 is good break for Green Bay, which inches up to get him. At 6 foot 6 and 342 pounds with 35 1/8-inch arms and 11-inch hands, Latham is a giant, like fellow SEC super heavyweight Amarius Mims, but he has a lot more experience and seasoning. He has started the last 27 games for the Tide at right tackle. Latham also could likely slide inside as well if needed.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s got some serious knock-back power with explosive hips and those meat hooks. He knows how to finish. I think he’s a beast at right tackle.”

“He’s mammoth. Gets a little out of rhythm and can get himself out of position, but he moves a lot better than you’d think at that size.”

“Does a very good job of how he changes up how he delivered his hands with the timing of his punch. He was the best lineman we played this year.”

25. Dallas Cowboys (via GB*): Jackson Powers-Johnson, center, Oregon

There are some promising interior linemen here Dallas can grab to help replace Tyler Biadasz, who is off to Washington. Duke’s Graham Barton is athletic and can probably play all five spots up front. WVU’s Zach Frazier is an athletic, dominant center, but I think Dallas goes for the super strong Powers-Johnson, who had a terrific week at the Senior Bowl. He won the 2023 Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best center, has excellent size for the position (6-3, 328) and showed good movement skills at the combine.

The Coaching Intel

“Nasty dude. Tough, tough, tough. Extremely powerful. He shocks guys with that pop he has.”

“Really big center. Moves pretty good. Much quicker than you’d think and creates a lot of movement at the point of attack. Plays with a big chip on his shoulder.”

The Bucs struck gold in the third round last year with YaYa Diaby, and they need more help on the D-line with Shaquil Barrett moving on. Missouri’s Darius Robinson is intriguing, but Penn State’s Robinson has get-off like no other in this draft. His potential as a pass rusher is spectacular. The 6-3, 254-pounder put on a freaky display in Indianapolis, running a 4.48 40 with a 1.54 10-yard split. He broad jumped 10-8 and ran 4.25 in the shuttle. His production was good but not great the past two years at Penn State — 17.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks — but there is a lot of big-play potential.

The Coaching Intel

“There’s those plays where you see how fast Chop is, and you’re like ‘Holy s—, he’s fast!’ He’s so explosive. He can beat a block with speed, but once he gets blocked, it gets harder for him. He doesn’t have a variety of moves. Chop wins with pure speed.”

“He’s undersized, but he was more physical against the run that I thought he’d be. He’ll be a good pass rusher in the NFL.”

27. Denver Broncos (via ARI*): Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

Denver’s gamble that a quarterback it wants is still on the board pays off as the Broncos deal next year’s first-rounder to grab Nix, who has drawn some comparisons to Sean Payton’s former star Drew Brees. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Nix, a former five-star recruit who had a roller-coaster career at Auburn before blossoming at Oregon, set an FBS record by completing 77.4 percent of his passes in 2023. He threw 45 TDs and three picks in 2023. The 24-year-old started an NCAA-record 61 games. Nix moves well and is adept at extending plays. His 10 1/4-inch hands should also help him holding the football in cold weather.



Inside the unclouded mind of Oregon’s Bo Nix

The Coaching Intel

“He’s probably the best decision maker of the three (Pac-12 QBs). He can diagnose things very quickly. He doesn’t have the arm talent that (Michael) Penix and Caleb (Williams) have, but I don’t know that he’s too far off. Most of his completions were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s athletic and he’s a really competitive kid. He did a great job of picking us apart.”

“He’s an excellent manager of the game. Would’ve loved to see him in a different offense. That system didn’t require him to do much downfield, but you can see him launch it down the field to (Troy) Franklin a few times. I don’t think he throws it as well as Caleb and Penix.”

28. Buffalo Bills: A.D. Mitchell, WR, Texas

With Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs gone, Buffalo gives Josh Allen more firepower. The 6-2, 205-pound Mitchell, who transferred from Georgia to Texas for his final college season, is a fantastic athlete. As expected, he showed out at the combine. His teammate Xavier Worthy may have made the biggest headlines with his 4.21 40, but Mitchell might’ve been even more impressive. He ran a 4.34 40 with a 1.52 10-yard split. He broad jumped 11-4 and vertical jumped 39 1/2 inches. In 2023, he led Texas with 11 touchdown grabs and caught 55 passes for 845 yards. Mitchell made himself a lot of money early last season when Texas beat Alabama and he got the better of some of the Crimson Tide’s Round 1-bound defenders.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s big and physical and has really strong hands. And he can move like a guy 30 pounds lighter.”

“He’s pretty. You see him in warmups and you’re like, ‘I can see why he was at Georgia.’ He makes things look too easy.”

“He adjusts to the ball better than a lot of top-notch receivers. Great red zone weapon. Ridiculous ability to separate. The downside: Consistency. He doesn’t always run routes at full speed. He will float through routes at times.”



Graham: Bills’ patience wore thin with Stefon Diggs. Now he’s gone

Adonai Mitchell could be a great replacement in Buffalo for the newly departed Stefon Diggs. Photo: Jay Janner / America via USA Today

Detroit’s secondary was very suspect last year. The Lions ranked near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense and just cut starting corner Cam Sutton. Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn should love this guy. DeJean is an explosive athlete with terrific ball skills. He had three pick sixes (out of five total INTs) to go with 75 tackles in a standout 2022.

Last season, he had 41 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games after landing at No. 14 on the Freaks List in the summer. The former Iowa state high school long jump champ (23-7 1/2 inches) put up some dazzling times while weighing 210 pounds last offseason, showing elite burst, clocking a 0.92 in his flying 10s and a 2.39 in his 20-yard sprint out of a two-point stance. He’s also versatile, having played nickel, strong safety and a lot of corner. DeJean really excels as a zone defender, displaying great instincts and feel to go with top-end closing burst. He’s a terrific punt returner. He is coming off a broken leg suffered late in the season, which caused him to miss testing at the combine and Iowa’s pro day.

The Coaching Intel

“He is a really good player, but we didn’t think he was a great cover guy. He is a great athlete and the best corner we saw this year. Uses his hands well. Is never out of position. Solid. Physical. Smart. Disguises his coverages well.”

“He was a dominant college defender. Very physical. Great fit for Iowa’s system. Explosive athlete, but we thought he was a little tight and stiff. That probably will get exposed a little at the next level, but I think he’s a hell of a player.”

With Morgan Moses gone, Baltimore needs to bolster its front to better protect Lamar Jackson. Houston’s Patrick Paul is another viable option here. Sooners O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has tutored plenty of future pros, but the 6-foot-8, 322-pound Guyton, who vertical jumped an impressive 34 1/2 inches at the combine, may be the most talented player he’s ever had. Guyton started only 14 games in college and is a better pass protector than run blocker at this point.

The Coaching Intel

“He still needs to get stronger and he tends to play too high, but he can do some things out there that are pretty special, given how big he is. He is so smooth and he isn’t on the ground much.”

“I don’t think their system helped him because they played so fast in that offense, I think it’s hard to be consistent for those big guys because they’re sprinting to the ball all the time. They look s—- sometimes because they’re gassed. I think he’ll be a much better pro than college player.”

The 49ers end up with a great option to reload up front in the talented but raw Mims, a 6-foot-8, 340-pound giant with 36 1/8-inch arms and 11 1/4-inch hands. Mims started only eight college games. If he can blossom quickly, he could push right tackle Colton McKivitz, who allowed nine sacks last season according to Pro Football Focus. Mims could also emerge as the long-term solution at left tackle, developing behind star Trent Williams, who turns 36 in July.

The Coaching Intel

“Freak athletically, but still pretty raw. Not a road grader. More of a dancing bear.”

“He’s like a freak of nature. Massive but very athletic. Has good feet but he’s so high-cut, he struggles with guys that can bend because he’s a little stiff-hipped.”

32. Philadelphia Eagles (via KC*): Graham Barton, OL, Duke

Philadelphia, which has two second-round picks and three fifth-rounders, trades with the Chiefs to slide up to the end of the first round to add Barton, the most versatile O-lineman in the draft. The 6-5, 312-pound two-time first-team All-ACC pick as a left tackle for the Blue Devils has been projected to shift inside in the NFL (his arms are under 33 inches long). The coaches we spoke to were more impressed with Alt and Zach Frazier, but Barton, who started five games at center in 2020, should develop under Jeff Stoutland.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s a good player, but I don’t think he’s even close to the kid at Notre Dame. I get it that they’re (going to play) different positions, and he’s gonna be a guard, which is probably a better spot for him than tackle.”

“He’s good. Are they talking about him as an early draft pick? I don’t see him in that elite ‘Holy s—, how are we gonna deal with him?’ category. But he’s talented. Whether he wrestled or not, he played like a wrestler.”

And now for the teams without a first-round pick…

33. Carolina Panthers (via NYG): Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

There are plenty of gifted wideouts that Carolina can snag here: Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley, FSU’s Keon Coleman, Georgia’s Ladd McConkey, Michigan’s Roman Wilson or Oregon’s Troy Franklin. The Panthers go for the fastest man in the draft instead. Worthy won that title with his 4.21 40 at the combine. He will provide a much-needed weapon for last year’s top pick, Bryce Young. Worthy is only 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, but he has rare speed. He ran a 1.49 10-yard split, vertical jumped 41 inches and broad jumped 10-11. His hands were pretty shaky earlier in his career, but they became more reliable in 2023 when he caught 75 passes for 1,014 yards and five TDs. Given his size, don’t expect him to be much of a factor at crunch time. He produced three first downs on third-down throws and only produced one red zone touchdown in 2023.

For all the flash of his blazing speed, Worthy has blue-collar work ethic. Texas coaches told The Athletic that he was the best practice player they’ve had. He really couldn’t track the ball well as a sophomore, but worked very hard to improve as he’s continued to become a more complete player.

The Coaching Intel

“Electric. I think he’s a really good receiver. He reminds me of DeSean Jackson. He can go the distance every time he touches it. I don’t think he’s not physical. I’ll say this: He isn’t little. He’s long. He’s just skinny.”

“He’s so fast, you couldn’t blink when he’s out there.”

There are some great wide receiver options in this draft class, but Carolina can’t pass up speedster Xavier Worthy here. Photo: Josh Hedges / Getty

42. Houston Texans (via MIN): Edgerrin Cooper, LB, Texas A&M

The linebacker position doesn’t have the same draft value it used to, but there is some talent in this group. One of the most intriguing players in this draft is NC State’s Payton Wilson, who was the best defensive player in the ACC, but he has a medical history that I’m told has some NFL teams reluctant to draft him, despite his physicality, size and tremendous speed. He’s been injury-free the past two years, and I hear the Cowboys and Lions really like him. The hunch here is that the Texans grab the Aggies star, who was a bright spot during a dismal 2023 season, when he led the team with 84 tackles, 17 TFLs and eight sacks. The 6-2, 230-pounder ran a 4.51 40 with a 1.54 10-yard split and vertical jumped 34 1/2 inches.

The Coaching Intel

“He’s got a ton of physical talent. He is explosive and strong, and has really long (34-inch) arms.”

“Awesome athlete. Makes a ton of plays. There are times when he doesn’t diagnose it well, but he can cover well, and he will light guys up.”

50. Kansas City Chiefs (acquired in trade with PHI): Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky

He’s built like a running back, and he looked like college football’s answer to Deebo Samuel the past few years. The guy is lethal with the ball in his hands.  In 2022, he had 101 catches for 1,293 yards and 11 TDs. He led the country in YAC (975) and in missed tackles forced (40). Last year, he had 79 catches for 894 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. He’s a big, muscled-up guy who has hit 23 MPH on the GPS. He ran 4.45 in the 40 at his pro day and showing up his strength, doing 27 reps on the bench. Corley should be another great chess piece for Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

The Coaching Intel

“He didn’t run a lot of routes, but was a big problem once they got the ball to him. He’s really a dynamic athlete. He punished the guys who tried to tackle him and could run away from the biggest guys. He’s got a lot of juice and plenty of wiggle.”

“Inconsistent hands, but he’s more than just a gadget guy, and they did so much with him. They did a good job of scheming him open. Lethal in the open field. Very sudden. Will block his ass off, too.”

“This guy is a bad— … an alpha, a game changer. I played against Deebo (Samuel). He’s a lot like him, but he’s probably a bit faster than Deebo. Looks like a guy who loves to play the game.”

McConkey doesn’t have great size (6 feet, 186 pounds) or length (30 1/4-inch arms), and his stats were also fairly modest (30 receptions for 478 yards and two TDs in nine games in 2023), but he is an elite route runner who knows how to separate and has plenty of speed and explosiveness. It showed up at the combine, where he ran a 4.39 40 with a 1.52 in the 10-yard split and vertical jumped 36 inches.

The Coaching Intel

“I think he had really good top-end (speed) and short area quickness. He’s an excellent route runner. I thought he was way better than people gave him credit for. I’m not surprised to hear he tested so well at the combine.”

“He’s more of a pure slot, but damn, he is fast and sudden. In a different offense, or if (Georgia) didn’t have Bowers, he probably would’ve put up big numbers.”

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Justin Ford, Quinn Harris, Steph Chambers / Getty)

Previous post Green Views for Healthier Diets
Next post What Are We Told About the Health of Biden and Trump? They Decide.