2024 NFL Mock Draft: Before the combine, our college football writers project Round 1 – The Athletic

The Athletic College FootballFeb 27, 2024

The 2024 NFL Draft is eight weeks away, and the arrival of the combine this week in Indianapolis gives The Athletic’s college football staff a chance to discuss how some of the 2024 college football season’s standout performers will become impact professionals in 2024 and beyond. The draft experts and NFL beat reporters have their mocks, but what about the writers who have covered these prospects for multiple years?

Below, ten members of The Athletic’s college football staff offer their insight and projections for this NFL mock draft: Nicole Auerbach, Max Olson, Chris Vannini, Audrey Snyder, David Ubben, Chris Kamrani, Cameron Teague Robinson, Seth Emerson, Antonio Morales and Scott Dochterman.

Despite rampant speculation about what might happen at the top, no trades were allowed for this mock draft.

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1. Chicago Bears: Caleb Williams, QB, USC

The Bears have invested so much in Justin Fields, and if they were selecting second or fourth, picking up a playmaker to install around him would make perfect sense. But after three seasons, Chicago has the chance to reset its quarterback clock with a more consistent passer. Fields can make plays, but Williams can make throws. Williams won the Heisman Trophy for a reason in 2022, and USC’s defense let him down in 2024. For a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback start a Pro Bowl since the 1941 season (when it was the NFL champions vs. the NFL all-stars), it’s time to go with your head rather than your heart. — Scott Dochterman

2. Washington Commanders: Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

Although the Commanders are displeased that trades are prohibited in this mock draft, new head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury are not upset about the opportunity to work with and build around Maye. He’s everything they could want in a franchise quarterback, with all the tools necessary to become a top-10 QB in the league. The arm talent impressed throughout his two-season run as North Carolina’s starter, but Maye also made a lot of plays on the move and put up 1,574 rushing yards (excluding sacks) in his college career. He’s a safe bet at this pick. — Max Olson

3. New England Patriots: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

Yes, Bill Belichick’s successor is a fellow defensive mind, but that doesn’t mean Jerod Mayo and the Patriots will feel compelled to stay on that side of the ball with this pick, especially when the unique talent of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels is available. Since Tom Brady’s exit, New England’s quarterback play has been underwhelming, to say the least. The Patriots roll the dice on Daniels’ dual-threat upside and see if he can continue to blossom. — Christopher Kamrani

4. Arizona Cardinals: Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

Kyler Murray hasn’t had a true WR1 since DeAndre Hopkins left, and this is an easy selection for the Cardinals. Harrison is arguably the best player in the draft class and probably would’ve been the No. 1 receiver in 2024 had he been able to turn pro a year ago. He can do it all, as evidenced by his consecutive seasons with 1,200-plus receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. — Chris Vannini

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5. Los Angeles Chargers: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

With Jim Harbaugh now in charge, I certainly thought about picking an offensive lineman here; the trenches have been integral to every Harbaugh build, whether with Stanford, the 49ers or Michigan. But the Chargers’ passing game needs more juice, and Justin Herbert needs more weapons. They can’t go wrong with Bowers, a tight end so good he briefly garnered Heisman Trophy buzz. Harbaugh has always emphasized tight ends, and Bowers gives the Chargers a dynamic threat. — Antonio Morales

6. New York Giants: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

The Giants desperately need a true No. 1 receiver, someone who can electrify the fan base. Check and check. Nabers caught 89 passes for 1,569 yards at LSU last season, leading the nation in receptions of 30 or more yards. He’s going to be a stud at the next level, and that’s exactly what the Giants need to fix their ailing offense — no matter who plays quarterback. — Nicole Auerbach

7. Tennessee Titans: Olu Fashanu, T, Penn State

Will Levis needs protection. The Titans gave up 64 sacks last year, and only one team gave up more than 65. Fashanu is a plug-and-play option at tackle with a high ceiling, too. He may not be an elite run blocker, but he’s a prototypical NFL tackle who may be the Day 1 solution to a major issue in Nashville. The Titans should consider themselves lucky if they get to choose between Fashanu and Notre Dame’s Joe Alt at No. 7. — David Ubben

8. Atlanta Falcons: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

The results so far reinforce the notion the Falcons need to do whatever it takes to trade up to one of the top three spots. They need a quarterback, and Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy or anyone else seems like a real reach here. But the rules of this mock draft prohibit trading up or down, so you might as well give Quarterback TBA an elite receiver. This would of course mean a fourth consecutive year the franchise used a top-10 pick on an offensive skill position player who was not a quarterback (Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Bijan Robinson) so an argument could be made for an edge rusher like Dallas Turner or Jared Verse. But in the end, Odunze’s blend of size, speed and ball skills is just too intriguing, especially since London and Pitts haven’t popped yet as stars. — Seth Emerson

9. Chicago Bears: Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

This is an obvious trade-back spot for Chicago. The top three receivers plus Brock Bowers are gone, and the Bears would love to have another weapon for Williams. But in this mock draft, we’re going with the best player available over need, and Fuaga might wind up as the best offensive lineman in the draft. According to Pro Football Focus, Fuaga gave up no sacks in 351 pass snaps and generated a 90.9 run blocking grade at Oregon State. A physical mauler at 6-6, 334 pounds, Fuaga has immediate Pro Bowl potential. — Dochterman

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10. New York Jets: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

Three offensive tackles taken in the top 10 tells me that this is a great draft class if you need help on the offensive line. And the Jets do; injuries forced them to start 13 different OL combinations last season. Alt doesn’t just look the part at 6-8 and 332 pounds. He’s also extremely experienced, with 33 starts for the Irish under his belt. He can help keep Aaron Rodgers upright and establish a consistent run game. — Auerbach

11. Minnesota Vikings: J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

Minnesota could go one of two directions with this slot. The Vikings could take Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and undertake an awkward or wholesale rebuild, depending on what happens with Kirk Cousins. Or they could snag the most versatile defender in Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean, who would immediately elevate Minnesota’s secondary and punt return game. After what happened last year when Cousins was injured, it’s time for the Vikings to start succession planning (provided they re-sign Cousins). McCarthy was critical in elevating Michigan to the national title and has the right mix of talent, arm strength and swagger to become the long-term answer in Minnesota. Give him two years, and he may be on the cusp of a Pro Bowl. — Dochterman

12. Denver Broncos: Dallas Turner, LB/DE, Alabama

This is a new rule in the NFL Draft: Anytime you give up 70 points, your ensuing first-round pick the following spring has to be a defensive player. And in Turner, the Broncos get a threat to get home to the quarterback; he leaves Alabama with 22.5 sacks in three years. Denver needs another alpha on that side of the ball alongside fellow Crimson Tide alum Patrick Surtain II. — Kamrani

13. Las Vegas Raiders: JC Latham, OT, Alabama

Quarterback was a consideration here, but the Raiders’ run game was a letdown last season. Beefing up the offensive line will make life easier for whoever lines up behind center in 2024. Would this pick feel too close to the failed Alex Leatherwood experiment for some? Perhaps, but Latham has the size (6-foot-6, 335 pounds) to be a road grader in the run game, and he’s still improving as a player, as his final season in Tuscaloosa showed. — Morales

14. New Orleans Saints: Laiatu Latu, edge, UCLA

Latu is an elite pass rusher, and although there are a number of areas that the Saints need to address this offseason, I’d prioritize increasing their defensive pressure. Cameron Jordan is 34 and can’t do it alone. Obviously, NFL teams’ impressions of Latu’s medical history will be worth monitoring this spring. While at Washington in 2020, Latu suffered a neck injury during preseason practice that resulted in a medical retirement and two years away from the field. He transferred to UCLA in January 2022, was cleared by doctors to resume playing and has been one of the best edge defenders in the country since. — Auerbach

15. Indianapolis Colts: Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

I don’t think anybody would be upset with the addition of a receiver to further support Anthony Richardson, but with their AFC South competition now featuring not only Trevor Lawrence but Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, the Colts may be more interested in secondary help. Wiggins is lean but has good speed and ball skills. The Colts could get their shutdown corner here. — Cameron Teague Robinson

16. Seattle Seahawks: Jared Verse, DE, Florida State

First-time head coach Mike Macdonald inherits a defense that a year ago finished 28th in yards per rush and 20th in yards per pass attempt. In order to return to consistent contention in the NFC West, the Seahawks need to revitalize the side of the ball that once led them to back-to-back Super Bowls. Seattle acquired Leonard Williams from the Jets before the trade deadline, but it could still use a star edge rusher on the outside, and Verse fits the bill. In his last two years as a starter at FSU, Verse totaled 18 sacks and showed flashes of the terror he could become. — Kamrani

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17. Jacksonville Jaguars: Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

Heavy consideration here to receivers Brian Thomas Jr. and Keon Coleman, along with offensive and defensive linemen. The Jaguars are getting better but still have a lot of needs, and a cornerback to play opposite Tyson Campbell is one of them. Some would argue for the other Alabama cornerback, Kool-Aid McKinstry, and cornerback is actually a deep position in this draft, so the Jaguars could address another position and hope to address the position in the second round (perhaps with Georgia’s Kamari Lassiter?). But Arnold is being projected by some as a top-10 pick, so having him fall this far is too compelling an opportunity to pass up. — Emerson

18. Cincinnati Bengals: Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

With the Bengals placing the franchise tag on No. 2 wideout Tee Higgins, tackle would appear to be the top priority for a franchise that badly needs to keep Joe Burrow upright and healthy. Mims is light on college starting experience, but he has the talent to step in and make a difference right away. — Teague Robinson

19. Los Angeles Rams: Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

The Rams haven’t made a first-round pick since 2016, so they rarely find themselves in the thick of the mock draft action. They need to add more talent on defense, particularly in the secondary, where Akhello Witherspoon, the team’s top corner in 2024, is set to hit free agency. Mitchell has size (6-1, 199 pounds) and speed that makes him a tantalizing prospect, and he shined during Senior Bowl practices. Taking a quarterback to sit and learn behind Matthew Stafford, who isn’t getting younger, is also an option. — Morales

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jackson Powers-Johnson, C, Oregon

Let’s make it back-to-back years that the Steelers select an offensive lineman in the first round. Yes, the offense has many areas for improvement, but the chance for longevity and consistency at a key spot on the line can’t be ignored. Powers-Johnson played right guard in 2022 before sliding into the middle full-time in 2024 and winning the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding center. — Snyder

21. Miami Dolphins: Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas

The Dolphins got pushed around in losses this year. Murphy can help fix that. He teamed up with T’Vondre Sweat to be the best 1-2 punch on an interior defensive line in college football this year, helping carry Texas to the College Football Playoff. He can help balance out the offense-heavy Dolphins, and Mike McDaniel would be wise not to leave him out of goal-line packages on that side of the ball, either: Murphy caught a touchdown pass last September and ran for another against Washington in the Sugar Bowl. — Ubben

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

It’s time to start seriously thinking about the future of the Philadelphia secondary. Darius Slay (33) and James Bradberry (30) won’t be around forever. New coordinator Vic Fangio will be overhauling this defense, and adding McKinstry, who was part of one of college football’s best cornerback duos last fall with Terrion Arnold, is a strong starting point. McKinstry also returned punts at Alabama. — Snyder  

23. Houston Texans: Troy Fautanu, OT/G, Washington

The Texans would be wise to invest in the protection of quarterback C.J. Stroud after their line dealt with injuries throughout his rookie season. The 6-foot-4, 317-pound Fautanu developed into an All-Pac-12 starter at left tackle for the Huskies but has also played left guard and looks capable of moving inside. According to Pro Football Focus, Fautanu allowed just two sacks on 1,231 snaps in pass protection during his two seasons playing in front of Michael Penix Jr. It’s tempting to go D-line with this pick, as many are projecting, but Fautanu’s presence can help a young Pro Bowl QB (and his run game) get even better. — Olson

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24. Dallas Cowboys: Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State

The Cowboys have options here, but the offense has lacked a WR2 alongside CeeDee Lamb since the Amari Cooper trade. The 6-4 Coleman is a physical specimen who had 11 touchdowns on 50 catches for FSU last season. There’s no such thing as a 50-50 ball with Coleman, especially matched up against No. 2 cornerbacks. Give Dak Prescott another elite receiving weapon. — Vannini

25. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma

General manager Brian Gutekunst has five picks within the top 100. The Packers just missed the run of first-round cornerbacks, and Fautanu is also gone, but they need to keep investing in this offensive line. When healthy, David Bakhtiari remains one of the best in the game, but the Packers have to keep thinking about who will protect Jordan Love in the years to come. Rasheed Walker’s improvement at left tackle was notable as the season progressed, and Zach Tom has solidified the right side, but it’s still a thin group. The last time the Packers drafted an offensive tackle in the first round was 2011 (Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State). — Snyder

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

Mike Evans is a free agent, so the Bucs could replace him with Thomas or re-sign Evans and use this pick on another need, like cornerback. But this mock draft has seen five cornerbacks go off the board, compared to four receivers. Thomas could climb into the top half of the first round, so the Bucs are happy to have him fall in their laps. He’s not as huge as Evans but is still tall (6-4, 201) and in that way is a complement to the smaller and speedier Chris Godwin (6-1, 209). — Emerson

27. Arizona Cardinals: Chop Robinson, Edge, Penn State

The Cardinals could use some edge-rushing speed, and Robinson provides that. He battled some injuries in 2024 and only posted four sacks, but he could run a sub.-4.5-second 40-yard dash at the combine and raise some more eyebrows. The physical tools are all there. — Vannini

28. Buffalo Bills: Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

The Bills have an obvious need at receiver and plenty of good options still available late in the first round. Mitchell proved he’s a first-round talent in his lone season with the Longhorns and brings plenty of big-game experience to a squad chasing a Super Bowl. He scored touchdowns in all five of his College Football Playoff games during his time at Georgia and Texas and put together his best season yet in 2024, with 845 receiving yards and 11 TDs. Josh Allen will enjoy throwing it up to this smooth 6-foot-4 playmaker. — Olson

29. Detroit Lions: Darius Robinson, DL, Missouri

The Lions need defensive help, and with several cornerbacks off the board already, they turn to the defensive line. The versatile Robinson could play inside or outside at 286 pounds, but he’d most likely work on the edge opposite rising star Aidan Hutchinson. Robinson racked up 8.5 sacks and 14 TFLs at Missouri last season, and his stock is on the rise after a huge week at the Senior Bowl. — Vannini

30. Baltimore Ravens: Jordan Morgan, OL, Arizona

Baltimore could go a few different directions with this pick, but Morgan is one of the best O-linemen left on the board and one of the most versatile. He played tackle at Arizona but can play guard at the next level, too. — Teague Robinson

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31. San Francisco 49ers: Cooper DeJean, DB, Iowa

Let’s face it: If DeJean falls this far, the 49ers are thrilled. At Iowa, DeJean returned three interceptions for touchdowns as a sophomore and didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage as a junior. He also brought back two punts for touchdowns last fall (one officially didn’t count). DeJean would give San Francisco a positionless player in its secondary and could thrive as the Niners’ punt returner. — Dochterman

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

The Chiefs have speed, but they need receivers who can also play receiver. Outside of Rashee Rice, who is promising but no sure thing, the Chiefs don’t have big-time wideout talent. Worthy is scary with the ball in his hands, plays bigger than his size and was on the short list of the fastest players in college football this year. Get him touches. — Ubben

(Top illustration: Sean Reilly for The Athletic; Photos: Ryan Kang, Ed Zurga, Steve Limentani / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

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