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Rams may not need to tank to land top QB in 2024

Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders and Washington’s Michael Penix, Jr. improved their stock in 2023 debuts

NCAA Football: Colorado at Texas Christian Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the opening week of the NFL season and football is almost back. The Los Angeles Rams will travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, September 10th. There’s no telling what this year’s Rams team is capable of, but we do know it may be time to consider a succession plan to 35-year old QB Matthew Stafford. The 2024 NFL Draft may be the Rams’ first opportunity to hedge against the future of the quarterback position in Los Angeles.

While we were waiting for the NFL season to come back around, NCAA football kicked off their Week 1 and their 2023 campaign is now in full swing. The college game seems to feature a wealth of up-and-coming passers ahead of next spring’s draft, and we are starting to learn more about these future prospects.

Fortunately for the Rams, it’s becoming increasingly clear that USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye are the only two options at quarterback in 2024. There are other layers to this QB crop developing, and these players could be available to teams later in the draft.

Let’s take stock on the top draftable quarterbacks after Week 1 of college football:

Caleb Williams, USC

Williams has been as advertised and looks ready to step into the pros today. He’s one of the best playmakers in the college game with the awareness to avoid defenders in the backfield, the athleticism to extend plays, and the arm talent to fire the ball into non-traditional throwing windows.

He’s the top dog until he isn’t, and it would take a lot to dethrone him ahead of April.

Drake Maye, North Carolina

The box score suggests a poor outing for Maye, whose nearly a shoo-in to be the second signal caller to hear his name called in next year’s draft if he can maintain his stellar level of play in 2023. Against South Carolina the Tarheels’ QB went 24 of 32 (75% completion) for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

It’s important to take Maye’s performance with nuance. One of his interceptions was an unlikely deflection. The other was truly an ill-advised throw. The young passer was also without his top two pass catchers in Devontez Walker and Nate McCollum.

Shedeur Sanders, Colorado

Sanders threw for 510 passing yards and four touchdowns against a team that just played in the national championship game and currently #17-ranked TCU. His receivers even left some yardage out on the field with drops on long balls that the quarterback fit into tight windows. Sanders displayed impressive athleticism, extended plays, and created throwing windows. He faced multiple, difficult third and fourth down scenarios that he seemingly overcame with ease.

How high can Sanders climb ahead of April’s draft? Let’s see him repeat this level of performance first.

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Michigan handily defeated East Carolina 30-3 and the degree of difficulty wasn’t very high for McCarthy. It will be important to see how he fares against tougher competition, but we may not seem him tested all that often this year. With that said, give the young QB credit for his accuracy and after completing 26 of 30 passes (87%) for 280 yards and three scores.

Michael Penix, Jr., Washington

Boise State left some holes in coverage against Washington, and Penix took advantage to the tune of 450 yards and five touchdown scores. The QB missed on some deep shots early before finding his rhythm. It’s worth noting that Washington may have one of the most talented receiving corps in college football this year with three potential NFL-caliber receivers: Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, and Ja’Lynn Polk. These three WR’s combined for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

We’ve seen Joe Burrow find success in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals after being surrounded by Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson at LSU. On the other hand there’s players like Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears who haven’t yet proved they were the driver of their college passing game. At Ohio State Fields threw passes to the likes of Chris Olave (Saints), Garrett Wilson (Jets), Jeremy Ruckert (Jets), Jameson Williams (Lions), and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Seahawks).

Quinn Ewers, Texas

The results for Ewers against Rice was a mixed bag, and the Texas QB didn’t seem to improve or hurt his draft stock. We will learn more about him over the course of the season, though it’s important to keep in mind that he hasn’t been on the field very much at all after being heralded as a top recruit.

Ewers was 19 of 30 for 260 yards and three scores, but he had trouble connecting with his receivers deep—an troubling trend that is carrying over from the 2022 season. Can he flash the talents that made him a top recruit and push himself solidly into a first-round draft projection?