by Zachary Somma
Photo courtesy of Outkick.
Throughout the college season, Draft 412 will be scouting the NCAA for the best at each position. Our top ten features this week—the all-important position of quarterback.
Every team can use a quarterback. The position typically defines a franchise and, in some cases, defines it for a decade. Here’s a glimpse at Draft 412’s top ten quarterback prospects that may be available in next year’s 2024 NFL Draft:
Caleb Williams – USC
Even at these early stages of the 2024 Draft process, the discussions surrounding the No.1 overall pick are not about who will go 1st overall, but rather which team will have the privilege of drafting Caleb Williams. Throughout his 2022 Heisman campaign, Williams displayed nearly every trait that teams look for in the modern NFL QB; arm strength and talent, mobility, and the ability to play out of structure and extend plays. His tape was a collection of electrifying plays and so far, that has continued to be the case early on in the 2023 season.
There are still a few aspects to clean up in his game. While the “backyard football” is outstanding, he can be a bit inconsistent with his accuracy and decision-making while in structure and going through progressions. His average time to throw of 3.25 seconds last season was the highest in all of college football of QBs with 300+ dropbacks per PFF. Despite this, the ceiling and overall talent level of Williams is sky-high, and he should be hearing his name called first in Detroit.
Drake Maye - North Carolina
Maye might have been the 1st overall pick in both the 2022 and 2023 NFL Drafts if he were coming out during those years, yet he might not even be a top 3 pick this season, depending how the draft order plays out. He has the size, athletic profile and arm talent that should position himself to be a potentially great NFL quarterback for many years. But maybe his most stand-out trait is his pinpoint accuracy.
A Justin Herbert clone, Maye will need to watch his interception totals. If those pick totals continue to rise, and he struggles with lack of receiving talent around him (thanks, NCAA), he could see his stock potentially fall, as there are many other QBs this year who could work their way past him come April.
Michael Penix Jr. – Washington
One of those potential risers is Michael Penix Jr. Despite being an older player (24 at the time of the Draft), Penix has only truly played 1 full season of college football, and it was this past season at Washington. Before that, he was at Indiana, and was very solid after being named the starting QB as a sophomore all the way back in 2019. However, a variety of injuries derailed each of the next 3 seasons for Penix, before his eventual transfer to Washington. As a Husky however, Penix stayed healthy and showed why he was so highly regarded early in his college career. Penix has huge arm strength to combine with good mobility to extend plays. Don’t be surprised if his name gets called early in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Jordan Travis - Florida State
As Florida State football has grown and improved over the past few seasons, so has the play of their quarterback Jordan Travis. Going into his 6th and final season of college football this year, Travis has improved both statistically and on film each season. Over his time with the Seminoles, Travis has displayed big play potential, both as a passer and a rusher, but it’s his consistency that has seen the most improvement over his career, as he set career highs in yards (3,214), touchdowns (24) and completion percentage (64%), while adding another 7 touchdowns on the ground last season. Now with a huge arsenal of rushing and receiving weapons at his disposal this season, the expectation is for Travis to blow those numbers out of the water. If he does, the NFL will likely come calling next April.
J.J. McCarthy – Michigan
With the Wolverines reemerging after years of mediocrity and unfulfilled expectations, it has put the spotlight on their quarterback, J.J. McCarthy. After showing strong promise as a freshman in 2021, his first full season as a starter last year was solid, albeit inconsistent from week to week. While the surface level numbers were good (2,719 yards, 20 TDs, 64.6% completion percentage, 5 INTs), he had some noticeable struggles in down-to-down decision making and while facing pressure. These issues were very noticeable during their CFP loss to TCU, where McCarthy played well but had two devastating INTs that ultimately doomed the Wolverines. Outside of that, he has the size and athletic profile fit for a future NFL career, with impressive arm talent to boot, and a plethora of talent around him to hopefully help him find that consistency and become one of the top young QB prospects come April.
Shedeur Sanders – Colorado
Being honest, Sanders was not going to be on this list if it was made pre-season. But he put himself and Colorado on the map after an impressive showing against TCU to open the 2023 campaign. However, those who saw him at Jackson State might not be too surprised on his D1 debut. He was dominant at the FCS level and is much more of a pocket passer than he’ given credit for, albeit with the athletic profile to extend plays. While he has the size and speed to be a dual threat QB if he wanted to, his rushing numbers are marginal at best (85 carries for only 173 yards last season). However, he possesses a very strong arm and is not only extremely accurate, but also a fantastic decision maker in clean pockets.
Despite his father Deion being known for risk-taking and high-flying plays, his son plays much more conservative, not afraid to check the ball down if he has to. But when he does let loose down the field, the short area accuracy still applies to his deep ball, making it very hard for defenses to truly defend against him.
As of right now, his glaring weakness is his play under pressure. While his offensive line both at Colorado and Jackson State are not the greatest, he takes far too many sacks than he should right now. In his 2 seasons at Jackson State, Sanders took 58 sacks. If he cleans that aspect of his game up and continues his dominant play as they enter Pac-12 competition, Sanders is going to rise into potential Round 1 conversation.
Bo Nix - Oregon
While the casual CFB fan might scoff at ranking Bo Nix fairly high on a QB rankings list, Nix has become a much different player while at Oregon when compared to his time at Auburn. While his play as a Tiger was marred with inconsistent play, a lack of confidence and bad coaching, Nix was fantastic last season as a Duck. He put up career numbers in yards (3,593), touchdowns (29) and completion percentage (71.9%!), as Oregon only failed to put up more than 28 points in a game only twice all season—and had a good chance at making the College Football Playoff if it weren’t for a last second loss to Washington.
Nix’s arm is pro-ready in terms of strength and his mobility allows him to also be dangerous as a rusher. The questions about his play in high-pressure games will continue to be there, but he has the chance to shut those down this season in another highly competitive Pac-12 season. If he can clear that last hurdle, Bo Nix is going to go earlier in the draft than a lot of people expect him to.
Riley Leonard - Duke
While Leonard doesn’t have the gaudy numbers or mind-blowing plays that many of the other QBs on this list had both last season and to start the 2023 season, his play has still caught the eye of many NFL teams. Despite a distinct lack of talent around him, Leonard led the Blue Devils to 9 wins last season, and already has a marquee win over Clemson to open the 2023 season. Leonard is a good decision maker with size and athleticism that allow him to be a dangerous dual-threat QB. While the explosive plays aren’t there with Leonard, he is remarkably consistent in his week-to-week play. He is going to be a very interesting evaluation going forward, and how high he ends up going in the 2024 Draft may depend more on the other QBs in the class rather than his play.
Cameron Ward - Washington State
Despite not getting the attention of his in-state counterpart, Ward plays a similar style of
football to Penix for the Cougars, albeit with a lot more inconsistency. After receiving no D1 offers out of high school, Ward began his career at FCS-level Incarnate Word, where he almost instantly proved he was too good for that level as the starter in 2020 and 2021. His 2021 season (4,648 yards, 47 TDs) jumped off the page enough for Washington State to come calling and instantly make him the starter for the 2022 season.
What followed was a very up and down, but successful season for the Cougars. Ward is a gunslinger, not afraid to make any throw regardless of if it’s truly a good decision or not, and Wazzu let him loose last season, giving him 497 attempts. He has an extremely strong arm that not only makes him a threat on deep balls, but also allows him to throw into very tight windows that few QBs dare to even try to throw into. Ward is also a good athlete with play extension ability, which can get him into trouble sometimes though, as he loves to play hero ball and can run himself out of clean pockets and into sacks. In fact, sacks are a huge issue for Ward, as he was the 2nd highest-sacked QB in all of D1 college football last season with 46 taken (Clay Millen from Colorado State had 54 sacks taken!). The talent to be a great QB is definitely there for Ward, but he has a lot to clean up in terms of pocket presence and consistency if he wants to become a top draft pick for the 2024 NFL Draft.
Joe Milton III - Tennessee
Here’s a list of traits that Joe Milton is either average or below average at: pocket presence, accuracy, sack avoidance, decision making, consistency and rushing ability. And yet, Milton will still find himself on NFL radars because of one thing: that he might have the strongest arm to ever grace a football field.
Entering his 6th season of college football, yet only his 1st true full season as a starter, Milton was a highly coveted recruit all the way back in 2018 for the Michigan Wolverines. After winning the starting job for 2020, Milton was extremely average at best before getting replaced by Cade McNamara after only 3 games. Afterwards, he transferred to Tennessee, where he failed to beat out Jarret Guarantano for the starting job, and then failed to beat out the incoming Hendon Hooker in 2022. He did play solidly after Hooker went down with an ACL tear near the end of the 2022 season but failed to do enough to keep the Volunteers in playoff contention against South Carolina.
Even despite all of that, Milton still has hope to rise up NFL Draft boards. The Volunteers' offense under Josh Heupel moves fast and will not be afraid to utilize Milton’s arm strength on deep balls often. The hope is that this high tempo style of play should help Milton’s confidence, and he can improve on many of the aspects that he, at least to this point, has not shown improvement in since arriving in college football. If the numbers are gaudy enough, and a team falls in love with the arm talent, there is a world where Joe Milton III ends up as a high pick in 2024.
Michael Pratt (Tulane) - Good athlete who has helped lead Tulane to its highest point in history. Can his accuracy help him become a highly regarded prospect?
Quinn Ewers (Texas) - Loads of talent around him and possesses really good traits and potential. Let’s see if he can keep momentum up after a great performance against Alabama in Week 2.
Jayden Daniels (LSU) - While he’s shown improvement year after year, he still struggles to be confident as a passer and takes far too many sacks, despite the rushing upside.
Sam Hartman (Notre Dame) - Solid veteran QB with good traits and decent athleticism, but is prone to interceptions and sacks.
Tyler Van Dyke (Miami, FL) – Strong armed pocket passer has to stay healthy to impress the scouts, but his size, arm strength and leadership are all qualities that may see him rise—and rise high by season’s end.