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NFL general managers and executives make fun of top 10 picks in 2024 NFL Draft: Will Jayden Daniels be chosen over Drake Maye?

One year ago, NFL executives emerged from the scouting combine thinking the Chicago Bears were open to trading the first pick in the draft. They were right. This year, sentiment from NFL front offices holds that the Bears will use the top pick, acquired from the Carolina Panthers one year ago next week, on USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

Checking in with decision-makers this time of year provides a snapshot of their expectations coming out of the combine. What they think might happen in early March evolves as the draft nears, partly because coaches become more involved in the process. But I find value in taking a snapshot to establish a baseline.

I’ve put together a rough top 10 based on conversations with six executives during and after the combine. Clear themes emerged for quarterbacks, offensive linemen and receivers, with some intrigue surrounding a QB prospect whom teams haven’t assessed as fully.

Last year, execs correctly projected seven of the top 10 players selected. Bijan Robinson, Jalen Carter and Darnell Wright were the three players landing in the actual top 10 without appearing in the March 2023 projection.

Execs narrowly missed on offensive lineman Peter Skoronski (Tennessee picked him 11th). They missed on cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who went 17th to New England. And they whiffed on quarterback Will Levis, who was not selected until the 33rd slot — a reminder that when QBs fall, they can plummet, because only a subset of teams will consider one early in a given year.

This year, the general theme was for quarterbacks to go first, then offensive linemen, then wide receivers, with some overlap between those two final positions. Only a couple of defensive players made the projected top 10.

We are not projecting potential trades below because there are too many possibilities. Finding logical homes for the highest-ranked players based on the order as it stands today captures the general feel at the moment.

Four players appeared in the top 10 on all six ballots: Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye and Joe Alt.

Five players appeared on five of six ballots: Dallas Turner, Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze, Olu Fashanu and Malik Nabers.

JC Latham appeared on four ballots. Jared Verse appeared on three. Brock Bowers appeared on two. Chop Robinson and Byron Murphy II each appeared on one.

The top 10 picks below have been formed from a consensus of the six ballots. Nabers and Latham were not selected in the top 10 because there was no consensus on where either would land, but they would be part of any consensus top 10 overall.

Most also thought J.J. McCarthy would be selected among the top 10, probably to a team that traded up, such as the Denver Broncos. But none of the six execs penciled him in for one of the teams already picking in the top 10, at least not yet.

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  1. Chicago Bears: Caleb Williams, QB, USC
  2. Vote distribution: Williams 6

    All six execs had the Bears selecting Williams and trading incumbent starter Justin Fields. All endorsed Chicago heading down this path.

    “I would be evaluating the other quarterbacks like crazy right now and saying, ‘What if I moved down to two or three and got a historic return?’” one of the execs said. “Would I still be getting a franchise quarterback?”

    The strongest concern voiced regarding Williams was his tendency to hold onto the ball longer than is ideal for a timing-based offense. In a worst-case scenario, that could lead to more third-and-long situations, robbing an offense of consistency. But the feeling among execs was that Chicago should not hesitate in making Williams the first selection.

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  3. Washington Commanders: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU
  4. Vote distribution: Daniels 5, Maye 1

    Five of six execs had Daniels heading to Washington in this slot. One of the five initially had Maye, then changed to Daniels a few days later.

    “I think people struggle with Maye’s mechanics,” this exec said.

    The one holdout for Maye in this slot said he heard Commanders general manager Adam Peters was “really into” Maye. The fit could be appealing. Maye and incumbent Commanders starter Sam Howell were teammates at North Carolina. Howell could open the 2024 season as the starter if the Commanders wanted to give Maye time to assimilate.

    Another exec left open the possibility that Michigan’s McCarthy could compete with Daniels and Maye for this slot.

    “If he throws well,” this exec said of McCarthy, “he is competing for the No. 2 spot. I don’t see him overtaking them, though.”

    The Athletic’s Randy Mueller predicted months ago that McCarthy could rise into the top five as teams and specifically coaches learned more about him, before it was known whether McCarthy would enter the draft. Mueller, a three-time GM and one-time NFL Executive of the Year, also thinks analysts are overrating Maye based on prototypical size, and that some teams will not have Maye rated as highly.

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