NFL Teams That Should Go All in on Caleb Williams, Drake Maye in 2024 NFL Draft
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As per usual, the talk of the 2023 NFL draft surrounds the class’ elite quarterbacks.
In this case, that focus is on C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis, all of whom could be top-four selections on April 27. But it’s never too early to start thinking about future quarterback classes, especially in a case like this because an early run on signal-callers could leave several quarterback-needy teams in the cold.
And for what it’s worth, next year’s class might contain two particularly intriguing potential franchise quarterbacks in USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye.
A year ago, Williams was the highest-graded true freshman signal-caller in the Pro Football Focus College era, and he followed that up with a Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 2022.
Maye is the definition of a standout pocket passer on paper, and not without athleticism. He put up a combined 45 passing and rushing touchdowns to one interception as a redshirt sophomore in 2022.
There’s still time, but at the moment, both look like absolute blue-chip future stars.
With those dynamics and facts in mind, let’s look at teams that should already be thinking about investing in a primo first-round pick (one way or another) to position themselves for Williams or Maye in the 2024 draft.
Note: This assumes the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are going the quarterback route in the top four this year.
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Because the Atlanta Falcons might be able to reach (or position themselves to reach) one of this class’ top four passers by way of possessing the eighth overall pick, there’s a chance they’ll wind up with their eggs in the basket of Young, Stroud, Richardson or Levis.
But they might still have to trade up to do so, and we’ve seen time and again that the price tag is wildly high in those cases. The draft is too much of a crapshoot. Atlanta would be better off standing pat and throwing 2022 third-rounder Desmond Ridder to the wolves in 2023.
If it doesn’t pan out, you likely had a bad season and have a shot at Williams or Maye. If it does pan out, it’s no longer a concern.
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The Tennessee Titans are in a somewhat similar boat but with less draft capital in the 11 spot. There’s still been chatter that they could try to move up into the top four for one of this class’ standout quarterbacks, but that’d be so costly for a team that doesn’t exactly look like a prime contender for 2023 anyway.
Instead, Tennessee should accept that the competitive window is closing on this core and make some big moves now. Per Spotrac, they can pocket $38 million by moving on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry after June 1 this offseason.
Yeah, I’m saying it. The Titans should do that, essentially throwing in the towel on 2023 in order to rebuild around Williams or Maye with a top-end first-round pick in 2024.
New York Jets
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The New York Jets have of course been widely linked to four-time MVP Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throughout the offseason, but that trade has yet to be consummated and there’s a non-zero chance it never comes to fruition.
If it doesn’t, the Jets will be better off.
Rodgers is 39, comically expensive, and his 2022 numbers indicate he’s in steep decline. If he couldn’t get the Packers to the playoffs, he ain’t winning the Jets a Super Bowl. And regardless, he’s not somebody Gang Green can realistically count on long-term. Not only is he old, but he’s unpredictable.
Instead, the Jets should back off, save all that money, let 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson sink or swim in 2023, and, if that doesn’t work out, do everything in their power to ensure they’re positioned to take Williams or Maye in 2024.
New England Patriots
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Rumors have already surfaced that the New England Patriots are looking to move on from Mac Jones after the 2021 first-round pick regressed as a sophomore in 2022. And it does seem as though this should at least be a make-or-break year for the Alabama product. Bill Belichick appears to see that, and the AFC’s oldest head coach might not have much patience left.
If the Pats do trade Jones this offseason, they oughta make 2023 about roster evaluation and welcome losses in a tough division and conference because they aren’t good enough to contend and nothing short of a title is acceptable at this point in New England.
If they don’t trade Jones, they oughta be better to wave the white flag early and start from scratch with Williams or Maye in 2024.
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Like the Jets (13th) and Patriots (14th), the Washington Commanders (16th) are probably picking too far back to be in on the prime 2023 quarterback sweepstakes. They also didn’t land any of the proven veterans on the market and don’t appear to be in on Rodgers, so unless they pull something off for Lamar Jackson, it’ll likely be Sam Howell or bust in 2023.
That’s a lot to put on a fifth-round pick with 19 career passes under his belt.
The Commanders have elite talent on defense and a solid surrounding cast for whoever takes the snaps this season, but if Howell doesn’t deliver they’ll probably be in a similar or worse position next offseason. That might still not give them enough draft capital to land Williams or Maye (presumably) near the top of Round 1, but mortgaging the future for one might beat another wasted year for a quality roster outside of the quarterback position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Have you heard that the Tom Brady era is over for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Brady’s retirement has stuck so far, but even if by chance he were to return to the Bucs in 2023, safe to say this team has to start thinking about the long-term future at the sport’s most critical position.
Brady is, after all, 87 years old.
Unfortunately, the Bucs aren’t on the clock until pick 19 in this year’s draft. They almost certainly won’t be in on any of the four elite quarterback prospects. Instead, we’re set to either get the Baker Mayfield Show, the Kyle Trask Show, or both. There’s a good chance neither ends well, especially with the roster aging and arguably declining as a result of a salary-cap crunch.
If the trajectory is obviously not a good one early on in 2023, the Bucs should sell parts off by the trade deadline and start aiming for Williams or Maye.
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The Baltimore Ravens might still have many happy or not-so-happy years ahead of them with franchise tag recipient Lamar Jackson, but Jackson has said he wants out, and he might not be worth the headache. The somewhat fragile 26-year-old is about to become astoundingly expensive on a long-term contract, or potentially a disgruntled distraction under the tag.
The Ravens’ goal should be to move on and collect multiple first-round picks (either those they’d be owed if Jackson were to leave via an offer sheet under the non-exclusive tag, or picks acquired in a trade).
The savings would be massive, and the quarterback void for 2023 would probably result in them sucking in a tough division and conference this season. Combine that with the aforementioned influx of first-round draft capital and you just might be positioned for Williams or Maye atop the 2024 draft.
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The Minnesota Vikings might have been a playoff team under the quarterback tutelage of Kirk Cousins in 2022, but they were big, fat phonies with the league’s sixth-worst DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders and a negative scoring margin.
They obviously lack the draft capital to grab one of the big four quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but they could wake up and realize they’re not realistic contenders with Cousins and get something before him ahead of an age-35 walk year.
Without Adam Thielen and several other vets who have moved on from the always-cap-strapped Vikes, backup quarterback Nick Mullens can drag the offense along for an evaluation season before the team goes all-in for Williams or Maye in the 2024 draft.
Los Angeles Rams
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It’s pretty clear that with Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner gone, a Los Angeles Rams team that wasn’t competitive in defending its Super Bowl title last year is entering a rebuild.
So why keep paying quarterback Matthew Stafford? The 35-year-old struggled mightily throughout an injury-derailed 2022 season and will have far less support in 2023.
According to Spotrac, they can create some cap savings by trading him after June 1 this year, and a lot of cap savings by doing so on the same timeline next offseason. But it might be best to peel off the Band-Aid now and collect draft capital for a run at Williams or Maye following a throwaway ’23 campaign.
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