Thursday night at the 2024 NFL Draft provided a snapshot at where the league is trending. When the NFL banned the hip-drop tackle this offseason, being a successful defender became that much tougher. The NFL wants a more exciting product, defense be damned. And teams obliged at the draft by going cuckoo for quarterbacks.

Six of them flew off the board in the first 12 picks. An NFL Draft record 14 consecutive offensive players were selected to begin the draft. A record-low-tying 9 defensive players were selected among the first 32 picks.

The first round featured 9 offensive linemen, 6 quarterbacks, 7 wide receivers, and 1 tight end.

It’s a passing league. It’s a finesse league. The question now is whether teams are going to continue to reach for quarterbacks as they did Thursday night — Mike Penix at No. 8… really Atlanta? — or if the pyrotechnics in the 2024 first round were influenced by the impending dud in 2025.

The juxtaposition between New York and Atlanta is fascinating.

Despite signing Kirk Cousins to a 4-year, $180 million deal in free agency, Atlanta turned around and drafted Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth overall pick in the 2024 draft.

“If you believe in a quarterback, you have to take him,” Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot said after the first round. “And if he sits for 4 or 5 years, that’s a great problem to have because we’re doing so well at that position. So, it’s as simple as, if you see a guy you believe in at that position, you have to take him.”

Perhaps the Falcons were inspired by the Green Bay Packers, who drafted Jordan Love with their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and then sat him behind Aaron Rodgers for 3 years. Worked out pretty well for the Packers, who watched Love throw for 4,159 yards and 32 touchdowns and win a playoff game in his first year as a full-time starter.

(It’s not a perfect comparison, though. Love was drafted 26th. Lamar Jackson, another slow-play draft pick, was the 32nd pick. Will Levis was taken 33rd.)

Or, perhaps the Falcons were looking ahead to the 2025 class and decided to get their insurance policy for Cousins now rather than wait and take a lesser option next year.

Cousins is coming off an Achilles rupture. Penix has his own injury history for the organization to worry about, but if the knees were cleaner and the birthday was a couple years later, Penix would undoubtedly be a top-10 pick because of his arm talent. Penix will be 28 when Cousins’ current contract expires. That’s not necessarily a problem.

“We won’t be picking this high again with the guy that we’ve got,” coach Raheem Morris said after the first round. “We don’t want to be picking (in the top 10) anymore.”

Atlanta was proactive. New York was hesitant to wait.

Multiple reports during the draft suggested the Giants were interested in moving up to take a quarterback. Ian Rapoport said on the NFL Network broadcast that New York made a “last-ditch effort” to get the New England Patriots to part with the third pick. That would have allowed the G-Men to draft Drake Maye. But they stayed at 6, and even though JJ McCarthy was on the board still, they elected to draft a receiver instead.

That kicks the can down the road. New York is giving Daniel Jones another shot. Suppose the 2024 season goes sideways and New York finds itself right back near the top of the draft next year. Do they look at a quarterback then?

We can ask the same of the Las Vegas Raiders, who were mocked by just about everyone to take Penix at No. 13. When all 6 quarterbacks were off the board by the time Vegas went on the clock, the Raiders took a tight end a year after spending a 35th overall pick on a tight end.

Either of those teams could conceivably wind up trying to find a quarterback in the draft this time next year.

Good luck with that. There are a ton of Day 2 and beyond quarterbacks in next year’s class with only 1 or 2 players that, with what we know right now, seem to have the ability to be a transformational piece for an organization.

Let’s take a look at the market.

Drew Allar, Penn State

If you find yourself sitting in a war room considering spending a high-first-round pick on Drew Allar, excuse yourself from the room and seek help. Immediately. Look, the 2024 class might show us anything is possible when it comes to quarterbacks. Allar was a 5-star recruit with elite measurables, so he could feasibly do well for himself in pre-draft testing. A team might convince itself he was misused or poorly developed at Penn State and the ceiling remains high. He has a good arm and navigates the pocket well. But he’s also a career 59.7% passer with some incredibly poor performances in Penn State’s biggest games. When asked to make plays on the run, his accuracy and his mechanics drop off. There’s a wide range here, because Allar still has time to get it right. A huge season from him, one that leads Penn State to the Playoffs and maybe a win over Ohio State, and he could be a significant riser. Remember, no one thought Penix or Bo Nix was a first-round quarterback a year ago. And NFL teams love nothing more than a 6-foot-5 quarterback with arm talent.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Never say never… but most likely no

Carson Beck, Georgia

With a 6-foot-4 frame, an outstanding arm, and a national stage to showcase his talent, Beck can and likely will find himself in the conversation to be the first quarterback selected in the 2025 NFL Draft. It’s no doubt that influenced his thinking in opting to delay entry into the NFL this year and return to Georgia. Beck has great poise in the pocket and excellent ball placement. He can drive balls into spots and doesn’t really get pressured into mistakes. The growth spots in his game largely stem from a lack of reps — just 1 season as a full-time starter. If he’s leading Georgia to a national championship in 2024, you can bet he’ll be 1 of the top quarterbacks on draft boards. Whether he’s the No. 1 overall pick depends more on who is drafting in the spot. More than a quarter of the league has spent a top-12 pick on a quarterback in just the last 2 drafts.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: The same as the likelihood an entire package or Oreos will be devoured within 48 hours of purchase… Not a given, but likely

Jalon Daniels, Kansas

Daniels took the sport by storm in 2022, when he led the Big 12 in QBR (90.0) and led Kansas to its first bowl game in more than a decade. But he was injured for all but 3 games and has just 1 full season of starting experience under his belt. He’s loose with the football, he holds it too long, and he has mechanics that need to be cleaned up. While Daniels has plus athleticism, he doesn’t have great size. And he has a fraction of the production that other mobile quarterbacks who have made it possessed. Short of an award-winning season in 2024, there’s little to suggest this is a first-round quarterback next year.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Less than 1%

Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss

He’s a more effective passer on the move, but he displays toughness in the pocket. There’s a strong arm here, though NFL teams will be interested to see if he’s a scheme quarterback or someone who can step outside of Lane Kiffin’s system and elevate an offense. Kiffin provides one of the more quarterback-friendly offenses in the country. He showed real strides as a passer from 2022 to 2023 and another year with Ole Miss could help him greatly. But is he a first-round pick? That just seems too rich given what we’ve seen.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Less than 1%

Quinn Ewers, Texas

For a number of draft analysts, Ewers is the top guy on the board. Consistency is a concern, but the ceiling is really high. He looks great on layered throws and has excellent anticipation. He also cut his turnover-worthy play rate (tracked by Pro Football Focus) in half — 1.7% in 2023, down from 3.6% in 2022. Texas leaned on the play-action pass last fall and Ewers will have to do a bit more of his own in 2024 as the Longhorns have to replace both of their top wideouts and their top running back. If he takes another step in his development and keeps the Longhorns in the national title discussion, Ewers will have fans in NFL scouting departments. By my estimation, there appear to be 3 first-round locks next year; Ewers is one of them.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: A realistic possibility, made even more likely if the mullet is brought back

Dillon Gabriel, Oregon

Gabriel will spend his final collegiate season at Oregon. He has 49 career starts and 50 appearances across 3 seasons at UCF and 2 seasons at Oklahoma. Age will be a consistent talking point when it comes to Gabriel in the same way it was for Nix and Penix. Pundits will say Gabriel has hit his developmental ceiling as a quarterback prospect. Gabriel’s 5-foot-11 frame and his injury history are going to give clubs cause for concern as well. He’s an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and make every throw, but I just have a hard time finding a team that’ll invest a first-round pick here.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Highly unlikely

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Riley Leonard, Notre Dame

At Notre Dame now, Leonard will need a big season to break into the first round. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who can fit throws into tight windows, but he possesses a shaky deep ball and questions about his health. Leonard injured his ankle last September, had a TightRope procedure in January to address the issue, then had a follow-up procedure at the end of March to address what coach Marcus Freeman said was a developing stress fracture.” That’s concerning, especially so for a guy who is going to invite contact and hang in to take hits.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Unlikely

Jalen Milroe, Alabama

For now, the smart thing to do with Milroe is to just wait and see. No one expected the Penix Washington got out of the transfer portal in 2022, and Kalen DeBoer gets a huge chunk of the credit for unlocking that. He put Penix in a position to be successful, protected his quarterback, and emboldened his passer to let it rip. Milroe isn’t the same kind of quarterback, but he could experience the same kind of boon with DeBoer now in his corner in Tuscaloosa. Late last fall, the dual-threat Milroe had moments of brilliance. There are questions about his ability to operate a multi-progression scheme and make the necessary reads, but he has an NFL arm. If he can be a bit smoother in the pocket working through his progressions next season, he can break into the back half of the first round.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Unlikely… but he’s in the next tier behind the top 3

Shedeur Sanders, Colorado

Look past the last name and the Rolex Flex and you’ll find a quarterback with a tantalizing set of skills. Colorado unequivocally failed to protect Sanders last fall, resulting in 56 allowed sacks and a starter who missed the final game of the season because of a fracture in his back. He has exceptional arm talent and made the move from FCS to FBS ball look like a walk in the park. In a clean pocket, there’s not a better passer returning in college football. On 333 dropbacks classified as “clean” by PFF last fall, Sanders had a 76.5% completion rate, 19 touchdowns against no interceptions, and only 2 turnover-worthy plays. He has a natural feel, escapability, and a clutch factor. Colorado is a bad football team made watchable by Sanders, and there will be multiple NFL teams interested in making him their next franchise face. He’s the most marketable player in the draft. And, yes, that is worth a small something. He’s my early favorite to be the top guy selected.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Caleb Williams-level favorite to go No. 1? Not yet, but he’s the top guy on the board

Preston Stone, SMU

A sleeper to break into the first round, though not necessarily a contender for the No. 1 overall pick. A 6-foot-1, 219-pound quarterback, Stone stepped into a starting role for the first time last fall and earned a 91.0 passing grade from PFF that trailed only Bo Nix and Jayden Daniels among FBS quarterbacks. He consistently attacked the deep areas of the field and showed good accuracy (29 big-time throws on 20-plus-yard attempts, 8 turnover-worthy plays). He doesn’t have elite arm strength and can be more hit-and-miss, but he does have an NFL arm. How does Stone perform now that SMU is moving from AAC competition to ACC competition? That’ll be a huge question mark for interested teams, but if he has another strong season (3,197 yards, 28 touchdowns), he’ll be on the radar.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Less than 1%

Cam Ward, Miami

The 6-foot-2 passer was an FCS All-American before making the move to Washington State. In 13 games with Incarnate Word in 2021, he threw for 4,648 yards with 47 touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes. In 25 games with the Cougars, he threw for 6,963 yards and 48 touchdowns with 16 interceptions while completing 66% of his throws. Ward is at Miami for his final season of eligibility to boost his draft stock, so it’ll be interesting to see what he shows. Ward has great zip, can fit the ball into tight windows over the middle of the field, and he can escape pressure and make defenders look silly while keeping his eyes downfield. The completion percentage is a bit inflated by Wazzu’s tendency for quick screens, and Ward’s size is going to be a problem in the NFL. Ward feels like a Day 3, fringe Day 2 pick.

Chance to go No. 1 overall: Less than 1%

Related: There are plenty of valuable props left on the board as Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft open up. Read up on Saturday Down South’s best bets and then head over to DraftKings to get in on the action.