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NFL draft 2024 winners and losers: Chicago shine as Denver disappoint

In Sports
April 29, 2024
<span><a class=Caleb Williams celebrates with Bears fans after being selected first overall by Chicago during the first round of the 2024 NFL draft on Thursday in Detroit.Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/OkblaLsKzoJjXPsC4Qr58g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/the_guardian_765/5fd72ee631e483f23756bf88bc0cc0c5″ data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/OkblaLsKzoJjXPsC4Qr58g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/the_guardian_765/5fd72ee631e483f23756bf88bc0cc0c5″>

Winners

Chicago Bears. Anyone with an internet connection could have drafted Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams with the first pick. But Williams’ arrival is a victory unto itself for the Bears, who have been in the QB wilderness for decades. Chicago fans will expect Williams to be the team’s best quarterback ever, and it won’t even be so unreasonable of them given his sublime talent and the team’s barren history at the position. General manager Ryan Poles has also done well to surround Williams with one of the best groups of receivers in football. Poles traded for Los Angeles Chargers star Keenan Allen earlier this year, and he then used the ninth pick to add Washington’s Rome Odunze to a fold that already included the talented and productive DJ Moore. Maybe the Bears won’t win big in 2024, but they should be more fun to watch than they have been. And for the first time in ages, there’s a foundation in place upon which the club could build a Super Bowl team.

Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings lost their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. They were poised to spend 2024 in misery, with veteran disappointment Sam Darnold sliding in as a stopgap. Now if Vikings fans have to watch Darnold, it should only be for a few games. Michigan’s JJ McCarthy fortuitously slid to the 10th pick, and the Vikings traded up to nab him as their signal-caller of the future. McCarthy is a hotly debated prospect. He won the national championship at Michigan, but the Wolverines were devoted to having him throw the ball very little in a run-obsessed offense. When he did throw, he was more good than great. But he’s just 21 and has a bushel of athletic upside, and Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell has a solid track record with his QBs; McCarthy becomes his latest pupil. And after trading into another first-round pick, Minnesota got a highly capable edge rusher in Alabama’s Dallas Turner at No 17. McCarthy may be the future, but Turner should be a good NFL player right away.

Pittsburgh Steelers. Speaking of good fortune in how the draft unfolded, the Steelers got loads of it when Washington offensive tackle Troy Fautanu was available for them with the 20th pick. Pittsburgh have two gaping holes on their offensive line, one at center (where they have practically no one) and the other at left tackle (where they start one of the league’s worst players). In Fautanu, they got a talented and critically versatile big man who can add some nastiness to what has often been an underachieving line. Adding someone like Fautanu was a prerequisite if the Steelers hoped to give new quarterback Russell Wilson a chance, and other teams’ decisions allowed Pittsburgh to address its problem. The Steelers’ good draft continued when West Virginia center Zach Frazier was there for the taking in the second round. Meanwhile, Michigan receiver Roman Wilson, a third-round choice, could play a lot as a rookie in a position group where the Steelers lack depth.

Losers

Atlanta Falcons. Spending the eighth overall pick on a QB most projected not to be taken until the late first or even second round? Hey, we all make bold decisions sometimes. But doing it immediately after guaranteeing $100m to an established veteran who plays the same position? And without talking to that quarterback beforehand? The Falcons’ decision to take Washington’s Michael Penix Jr, a 24-year-old with a big left arm and a similarly big injury history, looks more bizarre in that context. Cousins’ will play this season at 36 years old, so it’s not unreasonable to plan for three years down the line. But for the Penix decision to pay off, the Falcons will need to have been the smartest guys in the room. That has not historically been true of the men running this particular franchise, which may explain why long-suffering Atlanta fans seemed perturbed by the Cousins-Penix two-step.

Denver Broncos. Grabbing Oregon quarterback Bo Nix at No 12 was a bit less weird than what the Falcons did with Penix, but only a little. Nix is another old prospect at 24 himself. He developed into an excellent college QB by the end of his five-year career, but that is just the issue: It took Nix a long time (and a nice age advantage over his competition) to become useful at Oregon, where the coaching staff helped him succeed with a barrage of quick, short throws that allowed his teammates to make plays with the ball. How much development he has left in front of him in the NFL is a reasonable question, and it is why most thought he would, like Penix, remain undrafted until later in the first round or even the second. It is not easy to see Nix becoming an above-average starter, but now the Broncos need that from him. Meanwhile, they will pay Wilson nearly $40m while he plays elsewhere this season. It smells like questionable asset management from a team that has missed the playoffs eight times running.

Defensive players. The first 14 names called in Thursday’s first round all belonged to offensive prospects. The drought didn’t break until UCLA edge defender Laiatu Latu joined the Indianapolis Colts at No. 15. That marked by far the worst stretch of draft futility for defenders in the post-1970 merger NFL, as 2021 (when the first defender taken was the No 8 pick) represented the previous low point. Why was 2024 so exceptional? A league-wide thirst for even passable quarterback play contributed, as six QBs were off the board in the first 12 picks. Also playing a role was an unusually strong class of wide receivers (led by Marvin Harrison Jr, now of the Cardinals) and the presence of an elite tight end, Brock Bowers (who went to the Las Vegas Raiders). The run on offensive players was mostly a run on throwers and catchers. But that won’t make the lost earnings any better for defenders who slid down draft boards.

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