Six NFL Draft prospects that could shape the future of the league

A class laden with offensive talent could come to define the league’s next era

Jack Rathborn,Harry Latham-Coyle
Thursday 25 April 2024 07:16 BST
USC quarterback Caleb Williams is the presumed number one pick in the 2024 NFL Draft
USC quarterback Caleb Williams is the presumed number one pick in the 2024 NFL Draft (Getty Images)

The NFL Draft is a time for every franchise to dream of a brighter future as the top college prospects find out where they will be headed in 2024.

Over three days and seven rounds, 257 players will be selected by the 32 NFL teams as they look to retool and reload in pursuit of a Super Bowl.

This year’s draft class looks laden with budding offensive superstars, including four quarterbacks who may well go in the top ten.

Caleb Williams (USC), Drake Maye (North Carolina), Jayden Daniels (LSU) and JJ McCarthy (Michigan) all have the scouts purring ahead of round one on Thursday evening, but there are plenty of other potential difference-makers on the board.

Here, The Independent picks out six top 2024 NFL Draft prospects who could shape the future of the NFL:

Caleb Williams, quarterback, USC

Possible landing spot: Chicago Bears, 1st pick

The allure of Caleb Williams is to imagine some version of Patrick Mahomes: Just watch the tape and admire some of those jaw-dropping throws. His creativity inside and outside the pocket with easy arm strength leaves many fans gushing. Pair him with a tortured franchise and fanbase and you have a compelling narrative. Might the Bears wreck a precocious talent and a rare opportunity to assemble not just competence but genuine excellence that this franchise has not seen in decades? Perhaps, or Williams could save them!

But Williams is in an ideal spot, one that hasn't been seen for a generation or so. He has a cast of characters able to make him jump off your screen almost immediately. There's protection in the form of Darnell Wright and Braxton Jones on the offensive line, while pass-catchers Keenan Allen, DJ Moore and Cole Kmet offer immediate comfort in the passing game.

Former Washington stud Rome Odunze could add to an embarrassment of riches, with the Bears' second first round pick at ninth overall, while big money was spent on a running back in D'Andre Swift this off-season to round out an exciting offense. Williams showed his vulnerability at times at USC, with his emotional response to adversity, but this is a player capable of becoming the biggest star in one of the biggest markets in the USA.

Marvin Harrison Jr, wide receiver, Ohio State

Possible landing spot: Arizona Cardinals, 4th pick

Marvin Harrison Jr projects to be the No 1 wide receiver in this class. The son of Marvin Harrison Sr., the Colts legend and a Hall of Fame wide receiver, could provide the Arizona Cardinals with the spark required to elevate them back into the playoff picture should they stand firm at pick at four, given the prospect of a trade with so many teams eyeing up the fourth quarterback of the class. But Cardinals passer Kyler Murray, who has his critics and has often been seen as too fragile to fulfil his potential on the field, could shine brightly once more with his electric play from behind center alongside such a special talent at wide receiver.

Murray and Harrison Jr would immediately form one of the most deadly QB-WR combinations in the sport given Harrison Jr’s size, speed and ball skills, while Murray’s movement outside the pocket should extend plays enough to torment opponents. If your team is up by just a few points and the Cardinals have the ball next season? Look out, that’s a scary prospect for defenses.

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (AP)

JJ McCarthy, quarterback, Michigan

Possible landing spot: Minnesota Vikings, 5th pick (from Chargers)

There’s late buzz that the Patriots may be contemplating trading down, but it still feels likely that Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels go off the board with the first three picks, leaving the other quarterback-needy teams to scramble for McCarthy. The Minnesota Vikings have signalled their intention to move up by acquiring the 23rd pick from the Houston Texans – the Los Angeles Chargers at five feel like an obvious spot to target for a deal.

There is a lot to like about McCarthy, whose youth, arm, quickness and leadership make him the sort of guy a lot of NFL coaches will feel they can work with. He wasn’t necessarily asked to carry the national champion Wolverines but has flashed an ability to play both within and outside of structure.

It’s easy to see McCarthy being a quick success if the Vikings do move up to snare him. Minnesota have an excellent play-caller in head coach Kevin O’Connell, a strong group of receivers headlined by Justin Jefferson and stability along the offensive line. With the right system in place, McCarthy provides value even if he never reaches the upper echelons of quarterback player – a rookie quarterback contract allows teams to maximise spending on other areas, which could allow the Vikings to compete in the next couple of seasons. McCarthy’s future is rather muddier if he heads to a less favourable situation – but that is true for every young quarterback.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) rolls out during the second half of the Rose Bowl
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) rolls out during the second half of the Rose Bowl (AP)

Joe Alt, left tackle, Notre Dame

Possible landing spot: Tennessee Titans, 7th pick

When picking a few players to keep a close eye on, there has to be a tackle (or somebody on the OL) involved, given the sheer depth available at the position this year. Let's opt for Joe Alt, the Notre Dome tower and provisionally the first OL to be selected. This is the start of a fascinating journey for more than half a dozen tackles and Alt is tipped to lead all of them. Alt is a colossal presence at left tackle, enough to help fans, and maybe Will Levis and the Titans at seven overall, sleep well at night.

Scroll a little further down the board though, and it'll be fascinating to see whether Alt can distinguish himself as the best pick of the round, with most of the league obsessed with the shiny new toys (quarterbacks and wide receivers). There is no shortage of options to pluck from the first round at tackle (or guard and center), either, with a chance that JC Latham, Taliese Fuaga, Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Troy Fautanu, Amarius Mims, Tyler Guyton, Jordan Morgan, Jackson Powers-Johnson and Graham Barton all find a new home on the first night.

Joe Alt could be the first offensive lineman to be drafted this week
Joe Alt could be the first offensive lineman to be drafted this week (AP)

Brock Bowers, tight end, Georgia

Possible landing spot: Indianapolis Colts, 15th pick

An instant star from the moment he stepped on the field in college football, Brock Bowers profiles as one of the top tight end prospects in recent memory. The problem? Well, the NFL Draft is littered with examples of highly-drafted players at the position who have struggled to translate, which may make teams cautious to take even a player of such developed receiving acumen and athleticism.

But Sam LaPorta and Dalton Kincaid showed that a rookie can have an impact in the sort of high volume role that Bowers projects best to. There’s a bit of noise about the New York Jets at ten but there’s a slew of teams in the teens that could use a dynamic inside option if the Georgia tight end is still on the board. How about the Indianapolis Colts at 15 to support the development of Anthony Richardson? Bowers could become a difference-maker in Shane Steichen’s offensive system.

Brock Bowers offers athleticism at the tight end position
Brock Bowers offers athleticism at the tight end position (AP)

Cooper DeJean, defensive back, Iowa

Possible landing spot: Philadelphia Eagles, 22nd pick

Our offense dominated selections reflect a class light on defensive stars – it’s entirely possible that only a couple go in the top half of the first round. But there’s an intriguing group of defensive backs to be aware of, with Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell a small-schooler with everything you’d want in a number one outside corner, and Alabama pair Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry possess the pedigree and tape to command early picks.

No player is more fascinating than Cooper DeJean, though, the do-everything Iowa Hawkeye able to fulfil a variety of defensive backfield roles. For some teams, he’ll be looked at as an outside option in the Jalen Ramsey mould, while others may see him as an impactful slot player or versatile safety.

The Philadelphia Eagles re-signed CJ Gardner-Johnson this offseason but still need help on the backend, with James Bradberry and Darius Slay coming off disappointing seasons. DeJean could compete for a starting job with the pair and boost the options available to new defensive co-ordinator Vic Fangio.

NFL Draft first round order 2024

1 Chicago Bears

2 Washington Commanders

3 New England Patriots

4 Arizona Cardinals

5 Los Angeles Chargers

6 New York Giants

7 Tennessee Titans

8 Atlanta Falcons

9 Chicago Bears

10 New York Jets

11 Minnesota Vikings

12 Denver Broncos

13 Las Vegas Raiders

14 New Orleans Saints

15 Indianapolis Colts

16 Seattle Seahawks

17 Jacksonville Jaguars

18 Cincinnati Bengals

19 Los Angeles Rams

20 Pittsburgh Steelers

21 Miami Dolphins

22 Philadelphia Eagles

23 Minnesota Vikings

24 Dallas Cowboys

25 Green Bay Packers

26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

27 Arizona Cardinals

28 Buffalo Bills

29 Detroit Lions

30 Baltimore Ravens

31 San Francisco 49ers

32 Kansas City Chiefs

When and where is the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft will take place in downtown Detroit, MI on Thursday 25 April 2024 and runs until Saturday 28 April, 2024.

In the UK, the first pick will be announced at around 1am BST on Friday 26 April, 2024 and takes approximately two hours. Rounds two and three start from midnight on Saturday, while rounds four to seven start from 5pm BST on Saturday to round out the event.

How to watch NFL Draft 2024

You can watch the NFL Draft on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports NFL channel, while live streaming on the Sky Go app. Coverage starts from 10:45pm BST.

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