For the duration of his stay at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week, presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams will be recognized by potential employers simply as QB14.
The alpha-order list of QBs might place Williams at the caboose end of his positional peers, but the hype train for the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner is about to pick up some serious steam.
He’s not the only one in the running at No. 1.
The combine’s labeled QB1 — because he’s first in the alphabetical listing of players at the position — is 2023 Heisman winner Jayden Daniels. The LSU quarterback rates as a top-10 pick, with North Carolina’s Drake Maye and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. counted among players jousting to be in the top 5 in April.
Here are 20 names to know before more than 300 prospects — and key personnel evaluators and coaches for all 32 NFL teams — converge on Central Indiana next week.
What: 2024 NFL Scouting Combine
When: Feb. 26-March 4
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Who: 321 college football players were invited to participate
1. Ryan Poles, GM, Chicago Bears
It’s not Groundhog Day, but there’s a sense of deja vu for the other 31 general managers with Poles in the driver’s seat for another draft.
Chicago owns the first pick in the draft entering the combine, and the Bears are in position to make another franchise-altering decision at the top. Last March, Poles traded the No. 1 pick to the Panthers and received this 2024 first-round pick in return, thanks to Carolina’s league-worst 2-15 finish. The Bears also have the No. 9 pick, but moved their 2024 second-round pick to acquire defensive end Montez Sweat from the Washington Commanders in October.
Just when you think you know where Poles plans to play his cards, remember he came out of the 2023 draft with a right tackle in the first round (Tennessee’s Darnell Wright).
If we’re talking Poles, we’re talking …
2. Justin Fields, Bears
One day after the combine officially wraps, Fields turns 25 (March 5) and the NFL franchise tag window slides shut at 3:59:59 p.m. ET. Clarity should be closer to reality for Chicago and the rest of the league after days of meetings, clandestine trade talks and agent sessions that help set the table for the start of free agency.
Where will Fields play next season?
It’s not impossible he’ll stay put as the Bears determine whether to invest in a fifth-year option for 2025 — at around $22 million — or hit reset to select their top-ranked quarterback at a four-year cost (2024-27 seasons) of around $40 million.
Keeping Fields and trading the No. 1 pick might bring back a bigger haul than vice versa. He’ll make just over $1.6 million in salary in 2024, but Poles would be betting his job that the 2021 No. 11 overall pick is the answer.
He could also do … both?
Poles would be wise to recall past predicaments with similar ramifications. He was in Kansas City when Alex Smith was embedded as the starter and the Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes. They Chiefs traded Smith to Washington the following year.
Another offensive lineman-turned-GM, Ryan Grigson, faced a shadow-casting call in 2012 when the Colts set free Peyton Manning following neck surgery and turned the keys of the franchise over to Andrew Luck.
3. Caleb Williams, QB, Southern California
Opinion in the scouting community is overwhelming regarding Williams’ arm talent, accuracy and excellence working off-script. Comparisons range from Josh Allen (Bills) to Jay Cutler, and the Bears, Commanders (picking No. 2) and Patriots (No. 3) are all likely to love elements of his game.
Williams holds up standing in the pocket against a blitz and can also escape pressure and make “wow” throws with pinpoint accuracy on the move. He’s not huge at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, but he’s stronger than he’s credited for and a better athlete than some might realize with some Jalen Hurts-like qualities in the RPO package.
He had his best season in 2022, winning the Heisman while throwing 42 touchdown passes, five interceptions and racking up 4,537 passing yards.
Last season wasn’t as special and Williams caused alarm bells for a lack of accountability. His traits are blue-chip level and unless he bombs in-person interviews with the Bears and Commanders, there’s no chance he’s on the board at No. 3.
4. Jayden Daniels, LSU
Maybe Daniels will come out of this event with more buzz after Saturday afternoon QB workouts on the Colts’ turf because of his unique playmaking ability and testing performance.
It’s still possible Daniels could follow Williams’ lead and only participate in throwing and testing in Indy if his peers do the same. Not competing at the combine would instantly put a huge red circle on the March 25 (USC) and March 27 (LSU) campus pro day calendar.
Daniels consistently devoured top competition and delivered his Heisman-winning numbers against a stellar schedule. He had 50 combined passing and rushing touchdowns in 2023, second only to Oregon’s Bo Nix (51). If NFL evaluators come away from the pre-draft circuit viewing Daniels as a bigger, stronger version of Lamar Jackson, he’ll be gone in the top three picks.
5. Marvin Harrison Jr, WR, Ohio State
“Maserati Marv,” as FOX Sports’ Gus Johnson tabbed Harrison, should be the first non-QB drafted in April. The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Marvin Harrison, the Indianapolis football scene won’t be anything new for the junior Harrison. He posted consecutive 1,200-yard seasons for the Buckeyes and will be the No. 1-ranked player on some draft boards.
6. Malik Nabers, WR, LSU
Not the household name or legacy Harrison is, Nabers is only 20 years old and a nightmare matchup. One of two LSU wide receivers with first-round draft grades (Brian Thomas Jr.), the Ja’Marr Chase comps for Nabers aren’t impossible to see.
7. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
Another youngster with a dominant resume in the SEC, Bowers is 21, won two national titles and set the school single-season record for receiving TDs with 13. A gamer in every sense of the word, Bowers has an insane 40-inch vertical (junior testing day) and plays with a style similar to former Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
8. Dallas Turner, OLB, Alabama
Defense finally makes an appearance and to the surprise of no one, the Crimson Tide entered the chat.
Turner is tops among pass rushers in 2024 but a peg below NFL grades for 2023 No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson (Texans).
9. Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama
Arnold committed to Alabama on the promise he would be welcomed on the basketball team — the same is true of secondary sidekick Kool-Aid McKinstry — but found life with Nick Saban to be predictably demanding of his time and energy. Arnold’s grade and pro projection isn’t far off from where teams had Patrick Surtain II (Broncos), and he’s CB1 in this class ahead of the more ballyhooed McKinstry.
10. Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo
Get to know him. Mitchell should be a lock as the first non-Power 5 prospect off the board, and it’s all about ball production. The two-time All-American was second in the nation with 19 pass breakups in 2023 and set a school record with 46 (!) in his career. Doubters who weren’t convinced at the Senior Bowl search for the four-INT game in 2022 against Northern Illinois. He took two of those picks to the house.
11. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Poor would be putting it kindly when it comes to an apt label for the 2024 running back class. Teams will be kicking the tires on a strong set of veteran ballcarriers with agents in Indianapolis and trying to discern what type of tread the likes of Henry, Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Austin Ekeler (Chargers) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) have left in a heavily depressed market.
12. Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame
A tight end in high school growing up in Minnesota, Alt decided to follow in the footsteps of his All-Pro dad — former Chiefs offensive lineman Jon Alt — and committed to calories by the thousands and hours of film study with pops. The result? An NFL-ready left tackle in the mold of Joe Thomas (Browns). Alt is our top-ranked offensive tackle but at least five are worthy of first-round picks in April, and the depth of this class exceeds every position group except possibly wide receiver.
13. Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky
First on our list of favored sleepers, Corley gets our vote as the underrated receiver to know by the nose of a football over Illinois’ Isaiah Williams and Idaho’s Hayden Hatten. Corley shredded at the Shrine Bowl — Zay Flowers went there as a small receiver from Boston College last year, left as a first-round talent — and was Co-Offensive Player of the Week at the Senior Bowl. He’s a YAC machine with a running back build and sneaking into the top 45 picks isn’t impossible.
14. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington
Penix lit Texas up in the CFP semifinals and media scouts began discussing the oft-injured lefty as a possible first-round pick. Ah, the medicals. Penix was unquestionably stellar the past two seasons. How scouting reports reconcile the durability matter and season-ending shoulder injuries (AC joint), a pair of torn ACLs, make Penix one of the more challenging players to project in the draft.
15. Blake Corum, RB, Michigan
Corum comes with the production and reputation in a run-first offense to be a third- or fourth-round pick. Corum is one of 18 Wolverines invited to the combine. National champion runner-up Washington has 13.
16. Payton Wilson, LB, NC State
Six years after enrolling at North Carolina State, Wilson exits Raleigh at the Butkus (top linebacker) and Bednarik (best defensive player) award winner. He starred for the Wolfpack with 400-plus tackles, 15 sacks, seven interceptions and one seriously concerning medical history. But after two injury-free seasons, Wilson said at the Senior Bowl he thinks a 4.45 40-yard dash at 6-4, 235 is possible. That would put many GMs who love Wilson’s game and intangibles in the hot seat starting as early as the second round.
17. Tory Taylor, P, Iowa
Australian import and soon-to-be 27-year-old rookie Taylor was a vital player for an Iowa program that lost its offense in the corn during his four years in Iowa City. He broke the NCAA record (standing since 1938) for punt yards in a season and averaged 46.3 yards per punt with the Hawkeyes.
18. Jerod Mayo, head coach, Patriots
The last time the Patriots turned in a draft card for a top-10 selection, head coach Bill Belichick went with a linebacker from Tennessee at No. 10 overall in 2008. Now Jerod Mayo, who was that linebacker and played for the Patriots until 2015, is New England’s head coach with Belichick no longer in the team picture.
19. Byron Murphy, DT, Texas
Billing for the top-ranked defensive tackle in this class can be debated with Illinois three-technique Jer’Zhan Newton in the conversation. Both are considered small among defensive linemen but sudden first-step quickness and violent hands place them in the late first-round range. Murphy is on the annual “freaks” list from The Athletic because of his legendary weight-room feats in Austin.
20. Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State
A right tackle for the Beavers, he could be cast in the same role in the NFL. But two primarily right tackles were top-20 picks in 2023. Fuaga measured 6-6, 332 with a wingspan of 81 1/2 inches and is being compared to 2021 first-round pick Penei Sewell of the Detroit Lions. Sewell does have a cousin in the draft: BYU left tackle Kingsley Suamataia.
–Field Level Media