Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The six college football QBs replacing 2024 first-round draft picks, ranked by best chance of success

A few weeks ago, I locked myself in my film cave and meticulously analyzed every snap of coaches’ film to evaluate the six quarterbacks stepping in to replace the outgoing 2024 first-round picks from the 2024 NFL Draft. Some took a long time (new Oregon QB Dillon Gabriel), while others, thanks to a smaller sample size, were much shorter, though no less interesting (Michigan’s Alex Orji). Those detailed notes were published this week on 247Sports. 

Our projections for these quarterbacks vary widely. Below, we’ve distilled the scouting reports into shorter write-ups, ranking each of the six quarterbacks by likelihood of successfully replacing their first-round predecessor, based not only on the quarterback’s own physical talent but also the supporting cast around them. 

Set up for major success

1. Dillon Gabriel, Oregon

Replacing: Bo Nix (No. 12 overall, Denver Broncos)

Dillon Gabriel, in what feels like his tenth year of college, brings extensive experience and execution of a tempo-based offense to a loaded Oregon team expected to make a deep playoff run (Gabriel has 49 starts, nearly 15,000 passing yards and 125 touchdown passes to his name).

Gabriel had his best season last year in Norman, scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground and making critical plays to move the chains. Gabriel excels in a tempo and RPO-based offense, delivering the ball on time with a live arm that can dissect defenses. He reads defenses well, finds green grass for easy completions, and capitalizes on man-to-man matchups for explosive plays. His ability to extend plays and navigate the pocket, whether with his arm or legs, is a standout trait. Despite occasionally missing crossers and deep throws, Gabriel is poised to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country. 

His adaptation to Will Stein’s offense and comparison to Bo Nix’s performance 2023 Heisman Finalist season will be interesting to watch. Expect a huge season from Gabriel, with his performance against Ohio State early on potentially influencing the 2024’s Heisman conversation.

2. Garrett Nussmeier, LSU

Replacing: Jayden Daniels (No. 2 overall, Washington Commanders)

Garrett Nussmeier finally takes the helm at LSU after backing up All-American and Heisman winner Jayden Daniels. Known for his excellent arm and football IQ, he is poised for a breakout season behind one of the top offensive lines and a talented receiving corps. In limited action last season, he shone in his start against Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl, throwing for 410 yards and six touchdowns.

Nussmeier plays with a gunslinger mentality, confidently threading tight-window throws across his body. He has a quick release and delivers accurate passes when his feet are set, though his accuracy can suffer under pressure. LSU has a favorable schedule early on, which will give Nussmeier time to get super comfortable. He could be a first-round draft pick come 2025.  

The wildcards

3. Miller Moss, USC

Replacing: Caleb Williams (No. 1 overall, Chicago Bears)

Miller Moss gained valuable experience last year as a backup to first overall pick Caleb Williams, culminating in a stellar performance in his sole start at the Holiday Bowl, where he threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns. His calm and collected demeanor in that game boosted his confidence and earned the trust of his teammates and coaches. 

USC hit the transfer portal for a backup in Jayden Maiava, but Moss’ bowl game performance convinced Lincoln Riley he didn’t need to grab a starter. We could see a pretty good season here in Los Angeles, if Moss’ offensive line holds up. The wide receiver room will be pretty good and USC should not have to play in as many shootouts.

Moss has a good arm and accuracy but often locks onto his primary target without progressing through his reads, which was evident in his limited action and led to turnovers against Louisville. This season, Moss needs to improve his ability to use his eyes to move defenders and go through progressions to avoid ball-hawking defenders. His success will depend on his ability to make these adjustments and utilize easy completions to backs. 

4. Max Johnson, North Carolina

Replacing: Drake Maye (No. 3 overall, New England Patriots)

Max Johnson, an experienced southpaw, is set to fill in for Drake Maye at North Carolina. With 20 starts at LSU and Texas A&M, he has thrown for over 5,800 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Johnson delivers accurate, timely passes to all levels of the field, excelling in short to intermediate throws. His high football IQ and pedigree are evident in his ability to read defenses. He shows surprisingly nimble size at 6-foot-5 and who can make plays with his feet. 

Johnson throws well on the move and makes good decisions under pressure, delivering strikes over the middle and taking hits when necessary. However, his average release time and inconsistent pocket presence can hinder his performance — he often drifts too deep or laterally, which complicates protection for the offensive line.

Overall, I would be surprised if Moss was more than pretty average. North Carolina is likely going to struggle in 2024 and the crystal ball says coach Mack Brown calls it a career after the season. 

We could see them getting benched

5. Will Rogers, Washinton

Replacing: Michael Penix Jr. (No. 8 overall, Atlanta Falcons)

Will Rogers struggled last year as Mississippi State’s navigated to a pro-style system. Now at Washington, he faces, well, the challenge of mastering Jedd Fisch’s pro-style offense and adapting to NFL terminology while replacing Michael Penix Jr. and much of the 2023 Washington offense. 

Yes, Rogers brings an impressive resume to the Pacific Northwest, including starting 40 games and holding the SEC record for career completions. His strengths lie in his ability to process defenses quickly, move through his progressions, and minimize turnovers, as evidenced by his low interception rate even in a down year. However, his arm strength is average, excelling in short to intermediate throws, and he showed a significant drop in accuracy last season, completing only 60% of his passes compared to 70% in previous years. How does that bode on the road in the Midwest and at home in the Seattle mist? 

If Fisch can restore his confidence, Rogers could improve, but Washington’s potential talent deficit and his own limitations may lead to a disappointing season and possibly losing the starting job to a younger, more athletic quarterback in true freshman Demond Williams if Fisch decides to play for 2025. 

6. Alex Orji, Michigan

Replacing: JJ McCarthy (No. 10 overall, Minnesota Vikings)

Alex Orji is the most unpredictable quarterback prospect of the six, with impressive size and athletic ability hinting at how Sherrone Moore might run Michigan’s offense in 2024. Despite limited playing time — 17 snaps last season and only eight in 2022 with just one pass attempt — Orji showcased his physical running ability as a change of pace in Michigan’s ground-and-pound offense. As a dynamic athlete, he excels with the ball in his hands, but defenses will anticipate this and load the box to stop the run. 

Although Michigan’s coaches are confident in his running skills, his passing ability remains largely untested. Former coach Jim Harbaugh praised Orji’s arm talent, noting his high school stats of over 2,000 passing yards, a 51% completion rate, 28 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Michigan is expected to use heavy formations to emphasize the run, as Orji’s passing capabilities are still unknown outside the team. 

He may either continue in his situational role from last year or be surpassed by a more traditional passer.

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