NFL Draft 2024 Round 1 grades: Falcons, Broncos get Cs for Penix, Nix; Bears earn two A’s

The Athletic is grading all picks in Round 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Welcome to The Athletic’s pick-by-pick grades for Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft. We broke down every selection as the drama unfolded throughout Thursday night. Which teams found the prospect (or prospects) they needed? Who might regret their decision down the line?

Of course, we won’t have full, accurate answers to those questions for a few seasons, so our grades tried to take everything into account — pick value, trade costs, what the board looked like at the time of the selection and so on.

Here’s how everyone did:

(Note: Scott Dochterman provided grades for odd-numbered picks, Nick Baumgardner for even-numbered picks.)

NFL Draft 2024 tracker: Live blog, pick-by-pick grades and analysis
Big board best available: Who’s left from Dane Brugler’s Top 300?
Full draft order: Team picks for all 257 selections
“The Athletic Football Show”: Watch live reaction to the draft

1. Chicago Bears (from CAR): Caleb Williams, QB, USC

There was only one rational path for the Bears to take, and they took it. With the top pick and a shot at Williams in hand, the Bears practically gave away well-liked former first-rounder Justin Fields earlier this offseason. This selection is the right choice at the right time for a franchise that hasn’t had a starting Pro Bowl quarterback since Sid Luckman in 1942. In short order, Williams (6-foot-1, 214 pounds) could be just the third Pro Bowl QB overall for the Bears in the Super Bowl era.

The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner can lead in multiple ways and make every throw from any position, including on the run. He didn’t throw an interception on third or fourth down during his USC career and is seemingly in control in tight situations. He does need to work on fumbling issues (33 overall and 16 lost during his college career, counting his first season at Oklahoma).

Grade: A



NFL Draft 2024 ‘The Beast’ Guide: Dane Brugler’s scouting reports and player rankings

2. Washington CommandersJayden Daniels, QB, LSU

It’s a new day in Washington D.C., now complete with a new QB. The 2023 Heisman Trophy winner, Daniels threw for 57 touchdowns to just seven picks in two years with the Tigers. He was one of the most improved players in the country during that stretch, too. An electric dual-threat passer with elite speed and short-area quicks in space, Daniels is unique and built for the modern game.


Some had Daniels a bit behind Drake Maye, though Daniels was worthy of a top-five choice this year. He has to be better against pressure and show he can throw inside the numbers, but he’s a serious playmaker who knows how to lead and brings with him a terrific work ethic.

Grade: A

3. New England PatriotsDrake Maye, QB, North Carolina

The Patriots had options to trade down and perhaps stockpile talent at other positions, but their need at quarterback was greater. It’s a risk for New England, which couldn’t turn Mac Jones into a success, but it’s the right one.

When one looks at Maye (6-4, 223), they can see a carbon copy of the prototypical quarterback. There’s no question he has every tangible quality NFL personnel seek at the position, and his intangible gifts are obvious, as well. But his career trajectory will tilt upward if he can slow down a bit and make all of the plays. That’s going to require patience from the Patriots’ front office, coaches and players — and from Maye himself.

Considering his potential, Maye may have the most upside of any quarterback in the draft. That’s worth betting on.

Grade: A

4. Arizona CardinalsMarvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

The Cardinals have more capital to work with in this draft than any other team, and GM Monti Ossenfort gets things started with a bang by adding a great new friend for Kyler Murray. Harrison is arguably the most complete receiver prospect we’ve seen in a decade, with no true holes in his game. His ability to adjust to off-target throws — deep and underneath — is unmatched in this class.

A trade down definitely could’ve made Arizona’s draft haul even greater, but the Cardinals needed a wide receiver. There’s nothing wrong with sticking and taking the best player at an area of need. Great pick, and possibly an elite one.

Grade: A

5. Los Angeles ChargersJoe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

Jim Harbaugh built Michigan into a national champion by fortifying its offensive line. He now will attempt to do the same with the Chargers. Harbaugh had plenty of opportunities to trade down, but starting his tenure with an elite left tackle was too much to discard.


After beginning his career as a tight end, Alt slid to left tackle midway through his freshman year at Notre Dame and never vacated the position, making 33 consecutive starts. He has the requisite arm length (34 1/4 inches), quickness (1.73-second 10-yard split), strength and natural ability to play left tackle for a decade-plus in the NFL. His father, John Alt, was a stalwart left tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Grade: A-minus

6. New York GiantsMalik Nabers, WR, LSU

Nabers is an electric playmaker and arguably this class’ most dangerous ball carrier in space. An incredibly smooth and explosive athlete with great ball skills, Nabers was an instant contributor in the SEC for LSU and made 161 catches (playing with Jayden Daniels) the last two seasons. There were some scouts who had Nabers ranked ahead of Harrison — he’s that good.

The Giants have questions about Daniel Jones, to be sure. But they still have so much work to do that bringing a first-round QB in to compete for the job wouldn’t have made much sense. Nabers is an awesome talent and will instantly make one of the slowest offenses faster. This is a sensible, efficient and potentially explosive draft pick.

Grade: A

7. Tennessee TitansJC Latham, OT, Alabama

Tennessee absolutely needed a tackle as part of its offensive line reconstruction, and Latham has the potential to become an anchor for a decade. But is this the right spot for him? He was a right tackle at Alabama, and the Titans have a glaring need at left tackle. If Latham can make that move, it’s perfect. If not, this becomes a question mark.

Perhaps the most powerful player in the draft, Latham caves in defenses when run blocking. He’s massive (6-5 1/2, 342) with an 85-inch wingspan and 35-inch arms. A second-team All-American last fall, Latham didn’t miss a game and made 27 consecutive starts at Alabama.

Grade: B

8. Atlanta FalconsMichael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

And we’ve found our first stunner. Months after signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year deal worth up to $180 million, the Falcons go quarterback —  and not J.J. McCarthy. Instead, it’s Penix, the nearly 24-year-old lefty. This is beyond interesting and, for Cousins, perhaps feels like a bit of deja vu from his days alongside Robert Griffin III.

Penix is a talented passer, to be sure. But there are questions here: his age, his health (he’s had multiple leg injuries), his consistency as an accurate passer and the fact Cousins is making a fortune. Penix doesn’t throw the ball over the middle with nearly the same confidence he shows outside the numbers. He’s going to have to figure out better answers versus pressure.

But his arm talent is outstanding, and it’s hard to bet against his perseverance. At No. 8, though? This feels a reach. Time will tell.

Grade: C

9. Chicago Bears: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

The Bears have remade their offense in two short years, and by selecting Odunze after getting Williams at No. 1, Chicago may have changed the trajectory of its franchise for perhaps the next decade. With Odunze, Keenan Allen and DJ Moore working with Williams, the Bears have a potentially explosive offense. (Yes, let that sink in.)

The FBS leader in receiving yards last year (1,640), Odunze (6-3, 212) has great size and length that eventually should lead to him playing X receiver. He’s fast and explosive (32 catches of 20-plus yards last year). With very good speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash) and a wide catch radius, Odunze can make big plays down the field in contested situations.

In most drafts, he’d be the top receiver chosen and among the favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Grade: A-plus

10. Minnesota Vikings (from NYJ): J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

What an offseason for the Vikings. After making a big pre-draft move, Minnesota was able to land a quarterback (and climb one spot) without surrendering its other first-round pick. (The Vikings sent Nos. 11, 129 and 157 to the Jets for this spot and No. 203.) All this mere months after Minnesota lost Cousins, its previous franchise QB.

McCarthy’s skill set has had NFL evaluators on alert for three years, though his work inside Michigan’s run-heavy offense made it very difficult to totally project what he’ll be immediately in the NFL. A very tough, aggressive passer in the mold of his former coach (Harbaugh), McCarthy’s an unquestioned winner (63-3 record since high school).

He may need to learn behind Sam Darnold for a minute, but this is a great long-term fit with Kevin O’Connell — and he could be more ready early on than some believe.

Grade: A

11. New York Jets (from MIN): Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

In the debate between need and want, the Jets went with the latter, and in doing so laid a foundation for the future up front. Fashanu likely will get thrown in as a rookie and could become an anchor for the next decade. As tempting as tight end Brock Bowers had to be here, the Jets made the right move. Fashanu is a left tackle, and that’s important for the Jets’ future.

Massive and explosive, Fashanu was a force for the Penn State offensive line the last two seasons. He considered leaving for the NFL after the 2022 season but chose to return and became a consensus All-American, the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year and a finalist for the Campbell Trophy (the “Academic Heisman”).

Grade: A

12. Denver BroncosBo Nix, QB, Oregon

The 2024 quarterback thirst is very real. Make it six QBs gone in the top 12.

This one, somehow, didn’t feel as shocking as the Penix pick —  in part because that already happened. There’s a lot to like about Nix. In fact, the conversation surrounding the former Oregon passer is very similar to the one about Penix: He’s older and comes with physical limitations. Unlike Penix, though, Nix played in a very college-style offense at Oregon.

But Sean Payton knows quarterbacks, and Denver can’t go anywhere without one. The fit here does work, as Nix’s quick release and poise should fit pretty well with Payton’s scheme. Still, as with the Penix pick, it sure feels like Denver could’ve gotten more value here. It’s a bold move, if nothing else.

Grade: C-plus

13. Las Vegas RaidersBrock Bowers, TE, Georgia

To justify this pick, you have to think of Bowers as a pass catcher, not strictly as a tight end. When you consider that his versatility will allow him to play alongside last year’s second-round tight end, Michael Mayer, then it could be a major coup. The Raiders will need to work heavily out of 12 personnel to make this fit. It’s a great value, but did Bowers fill a need?

That said, Bowers is a steal at this point. The first two-time Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, Bowers is a mismatch wherever he lines up — inline, slot, backfield or out wide. Few pass catchers find a way to get open like he does, and his 8.5 yards-after-catch average over his three seasons at Georgia is a rare number for his position. He was the best player on the field every time he stepped on it.

Grade: B-plus

14. New Orleans SaintsTaliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

The rush on quarterbacks really helped out a lot of teams in the back half of Round 1. It helped the Saints here, in a big way. Fuaga was a top-two tackle on some NFL boards, top-three on several more. And there wasn’t a team in the league more in need of tackle help than the Saints, who just landed a road grader.

Fuaga (6-5, 324) was dominant at times on the Beavers’ right side last season, as arguably the best run blocker in the country. This is a culture pick as much as anything else, too — Fuaga will help improve the team’s overall toughness up front. Great value for the Saints in the middle of the first round.

Grade: A

15. Indianapolis Colts: Laiatu Latu, Edge, UCLA

It took 15 picks, but Indianapolis finally selected this draft’s first defensive player. And the Colts got a good one in Latu, who might have been the best defensive player in college football last season (13.0 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss). Indianapolis, meanwhile, ranked 28th in scoring defense, 24th in run defense and allowed 22 rushing touchdowns.

Latu should help in every area, and he’ll also entere the NFL as one of its best stories. His NFL dream nearly was derailed by a neck injury in 2020, which caused him to miss two seasons and led him to medically retire while at Washington; he was cleared to play again after surgery, then transferred to UCLA in 2022.

The only question is whether a cornerback might have been a more impactful pick, but Latu is a keeper.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *