After an 0-3 start to the 2023 season, momentum in Chicago is at an all-time low. While there are several reasons one could point to in order to determine why the franchise is spiraling out of control, one of them has to be the play of quarterback Justin Fields.
Fields finished 2022 with the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single NFL season. The hope in Chicagoland was that, after adding DJ Moore and investing in more talent around him, the QB1 would take that next step and lead the Bears into playoff contention.
Fast forward to today, and the Bears are one of only a small handful of 0-3 teams.
You can make a lot of excuses and say the coaching staff and execution on both sides of the ball — especially in the trenches — is pitiful, but to a certain point, you can’t excuse Fields of his poor play. It’s Year 3 for him; he should simply be much better than he is right now.
Luckily for the Bears, they’re currently on pace to hold two top-5 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. Much will change between now and the draft itself, but with their being 0-3 and the Panthers also being winless, Chicago will likely be swimming in draft capital when it’s all said and done.
It’s also lucky that many have tabbed the 2024 quarterback draft class as one of the deepest in recent memory. Because it’s looking like a realistic possibility at this stage, I’ve decided to share my analysis on all of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft for all of my fellow miserable Bears fans out there.
Caleb Williams, USC
When you think about top quarterbacks to enter the draft over the last decade, Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow are the two signal-callers who come to mind. While I’m not sure he’s quite on that level yet, Caleb Williams might very well be the next name to enter that conversation.
Williams is my QB1 in the 2023 draft and my top prospect overall. The reigning Heisman winner has incredible arm talent with the ability to hit any throw from any angle. His elastic arm and creativity has seen him draw comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, and while that’s a massive comparison to make for any QB, their playing styles are strikingly similar. I’d argue Williams is the much better athlete of the two, having been rumored to run a 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range.
Not only is Williams athletic with a big arm, but the natural sense of accuracy with him is impressive. He hits his targets in stride regularly and delivers him balls with ideal timing. He reads the whole field pretty well, and while the knock on him is a lack of pocket presence and a lot of time to work with — which are valid to some degree — there are certainly instances of him delivering dimes under pressure and climbing the pocket under pressure. I’d be shocked if he didn’t end up the No. 1 pick in this draft.
Drake Maye, North Carolina
There’s a lot to like with Drake Maye, and though Bears fans might be turned off by a North Carolina quarterback wearing No. 10, I can assure you he’s definitely a better prospect than Mitch Trubisky was coming out.
Maye has good size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and pairs a very strong arm with that well-built frame. His throws have very good velocity behind them, and he throws with good touch on a pretty consistent basis. He offers nice pocket awareness with agility in and out of structure, and he’s capable of delivering absolute darts regardless of his platform or footwork.
That’s not to say Maye’s footwork is a nonfactor, as his mechanics in his lower half and insistence on throwing across his body will need to be coached up. He was also just 65th in the nation with a 62.9 passing grade by PFF last year, and he’s thrown some really questionable balls this season. That said, the upside with Maye is very high due to his arm strength, timing and athleticism. He seems like he’ll be a top-5 pick when it’s all said and done.
Drake Maye reminds me a lot of Justin Herbert coming out.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 16, 2023
Size, athleticism, arm talent are all impressive. He’s had some awful INTs this year, and I’m not sold he’s a lock at QB2. But I think his ceiling makes him a top-10 pick in the 2024 draft. pic.twitter.com/PHIne3OYGH
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
The Bears like players from Chicago. J.J. McCarthy grew up in the Chicago suburbs. It just makes sense.
I’ll boast until the day I die that I saw McCarthy torch up my high school when he was a sophomore starting on varsity in 2018. It was then and there I could tell he had NFL upside, and he’s carried that potential into the chance to be a first-round pick in 2024. He’s a strong-armed quarterback with impressive elasticity throwing on the move. Capable of hitting targets in tight windows, he pairs that arm talent with several instances of elite ball placement.
McCarthy is a top-notch athleticism with very good breakaway speed in space and creativity out of structure, but he’s at his best in the pocket. He’s looked really good in terms of his pocket presence in 2023; his subtle movement and ability to sense pressure has gotten much better to start the year off. His decision-making will definitely need improving, as he trusts his arm too much at times, and he’s a skinny quarterback being barely over 200 pounds. He’s not a finished product, but McCarthy has the tools that NFL teams often fall in love with.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is improving his game on a weekly basis.— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) September 23, 2023
His ball placement is top-tier and he's consistently able to generate effortless velocity with ease. He truly controls the offense. Love his profile.pic.twitter.com/E5GtngUC9V
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado
If you’re looking for a quarterback who’s outwardly good at the things Justin Fields is bad at, then Shedeur Sanders is your guy.
Sanders dominated at Jackson State prior to transferring to Colorado with his dad, Buffaloes head coach Deion. The quarterback offers nice velocity behind his throws and can hit targets vertically, but it’s the mental things that makes Sanders a top prospect in this draft. He’s a poised quarterback who doesn’t panic under pressure and knows how to keep his eyes scanning and feet moving to evade incoming defenders. He’s also a good decision-maker who can read the field and make smart decisions with the ball.
The question with Sanders is just how high his ceiling is. He isn’t a tremendous athlete and doesn’t have the speed or agility needed to consistently make plays with his legs. His follow-through was a bit inconsistent at Jackson State, and though it seems to have gotten a bit better at Colorado, his footwork could still use work. That said, Sanders seems like a high-floor passer who’s surely wowed teams to kick the year off. If he declares for the 2024 draft, he seems like a first-round pick.
Shedeur Sanders just led Colorado 98 yards down the field in 1:30. And he hit the 2-point conversion.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 17, 2023
This dude’s poise is unreal. Pocket awareness and composure in the clutch is showing up big time tonight. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/p7skU2W7Kx
Quinn Ewers, Texas
Texas has taken that next step as a program in 2023, and a lot of that can be accredited to Quinn Ewers.
The No. 1 prospect in the 2021 high school recruiting class, Ewers is a tough QB with a playmaking mentality. He has an above-average arm with the strength to stretch the field and good elasticity, showcasing the ability to deliver sidearm throws to hit targets from difficult angles. He thrives throwing across the middle of the field, as he has the ability to exploit soft spots in zone coverage well. Ewers has good mechanics with a quick, compact release and ideal footwork, too.
Ewers is light at 195 pounds, and he has a tendency to hit throws into double coverage too often. The inconsistency as a decision-maker and as a deep-ball thrower isn’t quite there for him to project as a blue-chip prospect yet, but his arm, toughness, mechanics and experience on the big stage should be enticing enough for an NFL team to take a shot on him in Round 1.
Quinn Ewers to Johntay Cook for 51 yards on 3rd & 14. pic.twitter.com/TtO7rJV0aI— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) September 24, 2023
Bo Nix, Oregon
If your only exposure to Bo Nix is what you saw of him starting as a freshman for Auburn in 2019, you will be amazed to find out the quarterback he’s turned into.
Nix has a massive collegiate resume with 5 years of starting experience from his combined time at Auburn and Oregon, but it’s been over his last two seasons with the Ducks that have him firmly on NFL radar. He has a strong arm with deep-ball touch that has improved tremendously over the years, and he’s also an above-average athlete with the escapability needed to avoid pressure and even pick up yards with his feet if necessary. His natural sense of touch is impressive, and the consistency in his accuracy has gotten way better in recent years.
Since he turns 24 years old in February, Nix an older quarterback prospect who doesn’t have as much freedom to sit and develop, which he arguably needs to do. His processing needs to speed up, as does his consistent poise under pressure. I don’t have Nix as a first-rounder for these reasons, but I do see him as a Day 2 pick who could very well become a starter in the NFL.
Michael Penix Jr., Washington
Much like the aforementioned Nix, if your only exposure of Penix was his time at Indiana, you’d be pressure to see what he’s turned into at Washington.
The lefty QB has turned into arguably the best deep-ball thrower in college football. His sense of touch has improved tremendously over the years, to the point where he’s able to hit receivers in stride vertically on a regular basis. He’s capable of making full-field reads and reading stack and hi-lo concepts easily. His arm strength has improved a lot over the years, and while I’ve previously tweeted Penix doesn’t have elite arm strength, I’ll admit that I’ve gone through and watched more of his tape; his arm is more than good enough to play and thrive in the NFL.
Penix grades as a better passer than Nix for me, but I have a slightly lower grade on the Huskies star because of factors off the field. Penix has had four season-ending injuries in college, including two ACL tears. That, combined with his also being an older prospect and not having great athleticism, scares the hell out of me. I can’t take that risk to draft Penix in Round 1, but he’s definitely worth taking a flier on in Rounds 2-3.
I’d limit the “expected starter” term to the quarterback I’ve listed above, but there are a few quarterbacks I think offer intriguing potential a bit farther down the draft.
The following quarterbacks are talents I have Day 3 grades on but have tools to potentially outplay their draft status.
- Riley Leonard, Duke
- Jordan Travis, Florida State
- Cameron Ward, Washington State
- Jayden Daniels, LSU
- Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
In addition, the following are some solid college quarterbacks I think are purely backups at the next level, but I would still feel confident selecting on Day 3 as insurance options.
- Michael Pratt, Tulane
- Sam Hartman, Notre Dame
- Austin Reed, Western Kentucky