By Max Olson, Sam Khan Jr. and Dane Brugler
Dane Brugler, NFL Draft writer for The Athletic, joined Max Olson and Sam Khan Jr. on the latest episode of Max & Sam on the Until Saturday podcast to discuss USC quarterback Caleb Williams, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and many more 2024 draft prospects.
Below is an edited, abridged version of Max and Sam’s Q&A with Dane.
You can listen to the full episode here.
Caleb Williams vs. Drake Maye: Who is QB1?
Olson: The big topic around this next draft cycle was really going to be Caleb Williams and Drake Maye at the top of the board there, no matter who has the first and second pick, right? So I’m curious as you’ve watched that play out: How do you size up these two?
Brugler: Caleb, just a dynamic package of skills. He’s obviously a really good athlete, but also has such a strong arm. The torque that he creates from just a base stationary position is really impressive. Sometimes the ball will get away from him at times, but overall he has good feel for accuracy. Really fantastic at navigating the chaos and just being that ad-lib player.
Sometimes he has a tendency to hold the ball a little bit too long and welcome that chaos instead of maybe taking what is there. And a big thing that we’ll hear about with Caleb is, “He holds the ball too long.” And, you know, I’m watching the tape of this USC offense, and unless it’s a quick-hitter, just a quick throw, some of these concepts are just taking so long to play out that, yeah, he’s holding the ball too long, but relative to how long the offensive line can block and relative to receivers getting open, it’s not too long, because it’s not like he’s passing up these wide-open throws. So when you watch the tape, you see that and it’s something that’s part of the overall evaluation.
We have to try to divorce him from what he’s playing with and in that system at USC and how is that going to translate to a different system in the NFL. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Caleb is not the guaranteed choice to be No. 1 overall. I said this over the summer in my quarterback preview: There are plenty of teams that like Drake Maye as the top quarterback going into this year and that’s the reason why Caleb’s not the lock No. 1 overall pick.
With Drake, he’s cut from the same cloth as Justin Herbert. Good-sized athlete, explosive release, touch at all three levels. He’ll bounce too much at times in the pocket. Needs to cut back on the reckless decisions there at times where it’s just like, “No, no, no, don’t do that.” And it’s just sometimes he gets away with it. But sometimes he doesn’t. But I do love that you can see the full inventory of throws on his tape. So you factor in that, the smarts that he has, the agility, just the overall athlete that he is, if Maye is not the second overall pick, I think it’s because he goes No. 1.
Olson: We’ve had those two guys circled for a long time. I know going back to the summer, you viewed J.J. McCarthy from Michigan as the No. 3 QB on that list. And I saw you tweet that you still feel that way. How do you assess the rest of the group there? What have you seen from McCarthy so far and who else do you think is pushing him to maybe also attain that first-round status?
Brugler: This might be the most fascinating topic of the draft process: Who is that QB3? Now, the underclassman decisions might make it less intriguing. If Shedeur Sanders from Colorado, a few other guys, if they go back to school that obviously changes things.
But like you said, in the summer, in my initial top 50, J.J. McCarthy was my QB3 and he’s lived up to it so far. Now, you can also argue that Michigan hasn’t played a defense that’s really tested him so far. But you know what? He leads the country with 56 percent of his pass attempts resulting in a first down or touchdown. It’s hard to do that against college scholarship-based defenses.
#Michigan QB JJ McCarthy was my QB3 entering the season and he has absolutely lived up to that so far. Eager to see him vs. Penn St and Ohio St defenses in a few weeks.
56.0% of his pass attempts in 2023 have resulted in a 1st down or TD, which ranks No. 1 in the FBS. pic.twitter.com/0MYlCU9RH5
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 23, 2023
I really like his balance in the pocket, his athleticism, his instincts — it really makes him one of the best off-platform throwers in college. His touchdown to Roman Wilson against Michigan State is a perfect example of that. He can make a blitzer miss, get on the move and throw a strike. So when you look at McCarthy, all the physical tools are there, all the intangibles are there. This year it’s all about consistency for him. So again, I can hear the listeners just screaming at the podcast, “Who have they played?” That and also, “Well, of course he’s QB3, he has the signals already, so he knows what’s happening.” I can hear it, trust me.
Olson: Also, their running backs are so good that he gets almost a game-manager thing attached to him because he doesn’t have to throw for 300 (yards) in a game.
Brugler: Yeah, Michigan’s identity and who they want to be is on the ground. So absolutely that’s part of it. And they’re all fair arguments. That’s why with Penn State coming up and Ohio State coming up … we just saw that Penn State defense play a heck of a game against Ohio State. They’re going to be the first real, true test for Michigan, which has to go on the road, play that defense. And then, of course, The Game, coming up at the end of November. We’ll find out more about J.J. McCarthy in those games.
But up to this point, if the draft were tomorrow, with the evidence that we have, I think McCarthy would be that QB3. And I mean, who knows? Because we have to remember, especially when we talk about quarterback rankings, there’s no consensus on these guys. From team to team, scheme to scheme, you get different opinions. And so could McCarthy be a QB2 for somebody? Sure. It’s possible. We’re speaking in very general terms with these things.
Film study: How close is J.J. McCarthy to being Michigan’s ‘best quarterback’ ever?
The other players threatening (for QB3), I mentioned Shedeur Sanders, Quinn Ewers, those two guys would be the next guys. Riley Leonard. He’s a really fun college quarterback. Love his toughness, the athleticism he plays with. Obviously, Duke is a much better team with him in there compared to without him. I just wish there were more NFL-level throws on his tape. Like I said with Drake Maye, you have the full inventory. Not so much with Riley Leonard. It doesn’t mean he’s not a good quarterback. I just wish we had more of that.
And then to talk about a few of the seniors that could potentially be in that mix with Bo Nix, Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix. But right now, I don’t hear NFL teams talking about those three guys as first-round picks. So I think that it’s really looking at the underclassmen with McCarthy, Shedeur, Quinn, I think those three guys are really fighting for that QB3 position.
Marvin Harrison Jr.’s domination of Kalen King
Olson: The big matchup over the weekend, I was in Columbus and got to watch Marvin Harrison make his Heisman statement against Penn State, and I’m sure you were fascinated to see how he matched up against Kalen King, who is widely viewed as one of the top corners in next year’s draft. What did you think of that tape when you broke it down?
Brugler: Watching the game, obviously, you’re mesmerized by Marvin Harrison Jr., the way he played, and you just you really wanted to see how he would do against No. 4, Kalen King. As an evaluator, you want to see good versus good. Those matchups are gonna be weighted a little bit more in the overall grade than others. And in this game, there was a clear winner — more like a knockdown, TKO, “I feel bad for posting these clips” type of winner because that’s how good Marvin Harrison was against Penn State. Realistically, he could have had 10 more catches.
Marvin Harrison Jr. vs. Kalen King
The tape was even more lopsided than I expected 👇 pic.twitter.com/woI0KWN8TE
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 22, 2023
Look, it’s very hard to not sound hyperbolic when you talk about Harrison because he’s just special, special as a player. He’s the total package: 6-3 1/2, 6-4, runs in the 4.4s. The short-area agility and quickness are uncanny for his size. And we saw that against Kalen King. The release package, the way he can sink, create space — he has a savviness to him as a route-runner. He sets up defensive backs. Every step has a purpose. It’s just really impressive to watch. And then the body dexterity, the tracking skills at the catch point. I mean, it’s high-level stuff. He’s not gonna break many tackles, so if you want to poke holes in his game, maybe that’s it. But between now and the draft, we’re going to hear a lot of “He’s the best receiver prospect since …” type of arguments.
If Marvin Harrison played on an NFL team right now, where would he rank among the (receivers)? … You can make the argument that he would be a top 10-12 receiver in the NFL right now. That’s how talented he is. Again, I sound hyperbolic, but it’s hard to talk about him without sounding like that. You can make a real argument that he’s the best college prospect at the position since Calvin Johnson, which is obviously saying a whole lot.
Physically, mentally, it really is the total package. You wish he maybe had a little more bulk on him. He’s a slender player. But he plays physical. I mean, Kalen King was all over him with some of these routes, and Harrison had no problem, just kind of shrugging him off and still getting open, making the catch. Even though he doesn’t maybe look like the most physically imposing, he plays powerful. He plays strong, kind of like Garrett Wilson did at Ohio State. He looks small, but when the ball’s up in the air, he went up and got it, and Harrison does that as well. So yeah, it’s gonna put him in rarefied air. And, you know, people are getting tired of how high we’re talking about him, but it’s all deserved.
Who’s moving up the board?
Khan: Let’s go down the board a little bit. Who are some of the guys that were maybe lower on your list as you built up your board this summer who are starting to play their way potentially into first-round status this year?
Brugler: One player who has really helped himself, talking about a guy going back to school at the quarterback position, is Jayden Daniels. I would not be surprised at all if he’s the first senior quarterback drafted. That’s how well he has been playing. We knew he was a dual-threat guy sometimes to a fault. I mean, he looks like a maniac out there with some of the contact that he takes on as a runner.
But the way he processes from the pocket and extends plays, the second-chance throws — really impressive. And I know Brian Kelly has talked about it a ton, just the work that he’s put in. How they basically had to change their policies about how players could watch tape in the building because he didn’t leave and basically giving him a key to the building so he could get in at 5 a.m. and leave whenever he wanted to. But the proof’s in the pudding. That work is showing on the field.
It looks like defenses, with the way they’re playing him, the way he’s playing, things are slowing down. He has velocity and doesn’t need a set base. He’s got arm confidence. Going through a lot of the metrics of playing the position from adjusted completion percentage to what these guys are doing on third down, and Jayden Daniels is at the top of nearly all these lists. It’s fair to point out he’s got a ridiculous wide receiver depth chart to throw to. I’m not saying he’s going to get into the first round necessarily, but I think he has gone from mid-round pick to has a really strong argument to be that first senior quarterback drafted.
On the offensive line, there’s been a few guys. Oregon State right tackle Taliese Fuaga has been awesome. He’s really turned himself into an early-round prospect. West Virginia’s Zach Frazier, coming into the year, he was my top senior center, but I think he’s even better than I gave him credit for. He’s a four-time state champion wrestler. His mom’s side of the family, he has three uncles that were state champions and his grandpa was a state champion; on his dad’s side of the family, his dad played college football. So it’s like just the perfect marriage there to create a Zach Frazier because he’s been awesome. So I think he’s on his way up. He’s really helped himself. With a lot of these offensive linemen, it just takes time and I think we’ve seen that with Fuaga and Frazier in terms of the way that they’ve helped themselves in the eyes of scouts.
Group of 5 prospects to watch
Khan: Who are some of your favorite prospects you’ve seen out of the Group of 5 ranks this year?
Brugler: I really like Malachi Corley from Western Kentucky. The Deebo Samuel comparisons are going to be everywhere during the draft process with him and you kind of get it because of just the way they use him. A lot of underneath stuff, catch-and-run. He looks like a running back with the ball in his hands. He will run over defensive backs. He’s done it multiple times this year. But he also has speed, so he can win with quickness and speed or he can win with his power. Not the best route-runner. He’s not a proven commodity down the field just because of the way he’s used in that offense. But when you look at an NFL team, if they’re looking for that type of receiver, Malachi Corley is gonna go somewhere on Day 2, for that type of role.
Sticking with receivers, Tory Horton from Colorado State ix tall, long, he can fly, strong at the catch point. The Colorado game really helped put him on the map. But you know, he was highly ranked coming into that game, so it wasn’t like it was out of nowhere.
I think you look at this quarterback class and it’s really crowded. There’s a lot of names, especially with these underclassmen if they come out. But just looking at the seniors, I mean, it is a loaded group, but Tulane’s Michael Pratt is the one where it’s like he doesn’t have a ton of pub. I don’t know that he’s gonna make it into the top-50 or top-75 conversation, but he could be the one that goes late third, early fourth, ends up getting a chance to start and just doesn’t get the job back in the NFL. He is a really good player, athleticism, he’s got a really controlled arm with how he tests downfield. I’m a big Michael Pratt fan. So any conversation about my favorite Group of 5 prospects, Pratt’s definitely in there.
(Top photo of Caleb Williams: Meg Oliphant/ Getty Images)