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Flagrant, outrageous losers: Can’t sugarcoat Atlanta’s pick

In Sports
April 26, 2024
Fantasy winners and losers from the 2024 NFL Draft. (Illustration by Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

Fantasy winners and losers from the 2024 NFL Draft. (Illustration by Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

The first and most important thing you need to understand about any piece of winners/losers draft content is that it’s almost certainly wrong. In fact, it might just be hilariously wrong. It’s guaranteed to be incomplete.

Last year, for example, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone wrote a rapid-reaction recap correctly identifying Puka Nacua, C.J. Stroud, Sam LaPorta, Jayden Reed and Tank Dell as five of the best and most impactful selections in the entire draft. You may not have instantly realized the Rams, Packers and Lions were massive and spectacular winners of the 2023 offseason, but they certainly were.

Of course, this is why we love the NFL. It has an endless capacity to deliver outrageous plot twists.

Also, to be fair, any thoughtful 2023 post-draft winners/losers column definitely got a few big things right. While we can make no guarantees that we’re hitting on every key point in this year’s edition of first-round winners and losers, we do feel pretty confident that we’re hitting on a few important subjects.

Let’s just begin at the top …

It’s tough to overstate just how rare it is for a quarterback selected first overall to step into a situation as talent-rich as the one awaiting Williams. Under normal circumstances, the team in possession of the draft’s No. 1 pick has arrived at such a spot through gross mismanagement and/or catastrophically bad luck. A year ago, Bryce Young was airdropped into a barren wasteland of an offense; he had essentially no chance at a successful season.

But the scenario ahead for Williams is remarkably different. He’s just been handed the keys to an offense that’s absolutely loaded with playmakers, including a pair of elite veteran receivers (DJ Moore and Keenan Allen), a rookie with Pro Bowl potential (Rome Odunze), two excellent tight ends (Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett) and one of the league’s premier receiving backs (D’Andre Swift).

Every player mentioned in the previous sentence would have been the most dynamic offensive weapon on Young’s Panthers last season. Chicago’s offensive line isn’t gonna remind anyone of the ’90s Cowboys, but at least it’s no longer five turnstiles.

Williams shouldn’t have much trouble obliterating all meaningful single-season passing records for this century-old franchise — perhaps getting it done as a rookie, and certainly before the expiration of his first contract. (Shamefully, those single-season records — 3,838 yards, 29 TDs — don’t even reach the baselines that we consider respectable in the current era.) He’s been dealt one of the best hands you will ever see a first-overall pick receive.

Winners don’t get much more obvious than this.

Odunze himself probably isn’t headed for an enormous target total in year one, but he’s an incredibly polished player and — perhaps more importantly — he was clearly Caleb’s guy. Odunze and Williams are in sync in terms of age and contract, too.

Chicago just had a spectacular and transformative night, which is a wild thing to write.

Honestly, the NFC North arms race is almost out of control. These teams are simply throwing player-acquisition haymakers. It’s wild.

The offensive weapons available to McCarthy are at least as impressive as the supporting cast awaiting Williams in Chicago. When he takes the controls of the Vikings offense, McCarthy will have Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison (and eventually T.J. Hockenson) alongside, plus Aaron Jones in the backfield. He’ll also be protected by a line that PFF rated as the league’s third-best pass-blocking unit in 2023.

Let’s just assume that after taking McCarthy at 10, Minnesota won’t be starting Sam Darnold for very long, if at all. McCarthy wasn’t a volume guy last season at Michigan, but he was brilliant in big moments and fantastically efficient. There’s very little question he can make bread-and-butter NFL throws. The last time McCarthy was in a mediocre or losing environment was never. He’s a clear draft night winner. This was probably the best-case realistic scenario for Jefferson and Addison, as well.

It’s almost as if Kyler knew something was up:

Arizona just filled its most glaring need with the consensus best player available, a near-perfect receiving prospect who produced outrageous numbers over multiple collegiate seasons. Harrison absolutely shredded the best defenses on his schedule, including the past two national champions. We just needed him to find his way to a competent quarterback in a non-radioactive offense and, thankfully, it happened. Harrison is as NFL-ready as it gets. Without question, he can sneak into the top 10 or 12 at his position as a rookie.

Murray obviously needed a field-tilting, difference-making receiver in the worst way, so, yeah, the vibes are, in fact, immaculate. With Harrison, Trey McBride and Michael Wilson as his top weapons, his setup is suddenly excellent. Murray finished as the overall QB3 back in 2020, and he has a realistic path to a similar end-of-year rank in 2024.

Immediately after his team selected Xavier Worthy, a receiver with weapons-grade speed, Mahomes made his feelings clear:

If 15 is happy, the pick is probably a winner.

Worthy brings cartoonish 4.21 speed to a receiving corps that previously added Marquise Brown in free agency, so this group is substantially more dangerous than last year’s crew. Mahomes already has two 5,000-yard passing seasons on his resume and might very well be headed for a third.

Did the Falcons think this was Superflex? Are they thinking about going QBBC?

It’s so difficult to imagine the logic behind Atlanta’s first-round decision. Michael Penix Jr. is an interesting enough QB prospect who made some of the most impressive throws of any player in this draft class, but, um … YOU JUST SIGNED KIRK [EXPLETIVE] COUSINS.

Last month, this team gave Cousins four years and $180 million, of which $100 million is guaranteed. Penix will be a 24-year-old rookie and he’s apparently gonna sit for two or possibly three seasons. An absolutely breathtaking pick. Atlanta just used the eighth overall selection on a player who A) doesn’t fill any discernible need and B) won’t contribute in 2024 or 2025 if things go according to plan.

Unreal.

Also, Cousins never saw it coming:

It seems bad to choose a player with the eighth pick who immediately sends the entire organization into damage-control mode.

Just to be clear, this was the right pick for the Giants, a team that entered the draft with a dreadful receiving corps. Nabers is an electric player coming off a monster collegiate season. New York was reportedly rebuffed in their attempt to trade up to the third pick, so QB was apparently off the board. Nabers fits a screaming need, no doubt.

The obvious problem here is that the person responsible for getting the football to Nabers in the year ahead will be either Daniel Jones or — if things take a bad/weird turn — Drew Lock. The Giants haven’t averaged 200 passing yards per game in any season since 2019 and they may not get there in 2024.

So the team context is ostensibly not great, which likely caps the ceiling for Nabers in the WR2/WR3 range.

One week ago, we speculated on the most likely landing spots for Bowers, and apparently, we focused too closely on the rich offensive environments.

Bowers did not, in fact, land with Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers or any other good-to-great quarterback. Instead, he’s headed to Vegas, where he’s stuck in the Gardner Minshew/Aidan O’Connell theater of pain, fighting for scraps behind Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers.

If you’d been dreaming of a scenario in which Bowers could possibly deliver a LaPorta-ish first season, sorry. Ain’t happening. It’s extremely rare historically for a rookie tight end to make a huge fantasy splash and Bowers certainly doesn’t have a clear path.

Let’s also recall that the Raiders drafted tight end Michael Mayer with the 35th overall pick last year, and Bowers is now buried in a bad offense’s receiving hierarchy. Just a tough scene for all involved.

Look, there’s a lotta draft left, so we might be feeling very different about Herbert’s outlook in another 24 or 48 hours. And hey, it’s not as if the Chargers didn’t get better on Thursday when they selected tackle Joe Alt. This team might very well double-up on receivers in the rounds ahead — a scenario recently suggested by Matt Harmon — and leave us all feeling somewhat better about the depth and talent on their roster at the position.

But, well … [big exhale] … Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers were both on the board when the fifth pick rolled around and L.A. said, “Nope.” One or both of those guys could eventually make this team feel as if it made an era-defining mistake.

Herbert of course already lost his three most-targeted receiving options from 2023 — Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler and Gerald Everett — plus the team cut loose Mike Williams, a guy with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons to his credit.

As of today, Herbert is a quarterback directing a Jim Harbaugh-Greg Roman offense and his top receiving threats are Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer and, um … Hayden Hurst? Yikes.

Herbert is currently working with a bottom-three receiving room. But perhaps the Chargers can still draft their way into a bottom-10 receiving room. Again: Yikes.

One minor positive is that the Chargers’ post-pick press conference yielded an all-time Harbaugh quote, for which we can all be thankful.

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