NFL Draft News & Analysis

Predicting the biggest surprises in the 2024 NFL Draft: Michael Penix Jr. is a top-16 pick and more

2WB7JKN January 08, 2024: Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) passes the ball during College Football Playoff National Championship game action between the Washington Huskies and the Michigan Wolverines at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. John Mersits/CSM (Credit Image: © John Mersits/Cal Sport Media)

• The Broncos are the team to watch for a top-five trade-up: The Broncos don’t have the ammunition that the Vikings do to maneuver in the first round, but they may have even more desire to make it happen.

• Michael Penix has first-round potential: The trio of teams in need of a starting quarterback from Pick Nos. 11-13 (Minnesota, Denver and Las Vegas) could all be live options for Penix, and at least one team in the top 10 has coaches who are enamored with him as a prospect.

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Predicting outcomes in the NFL draft is a fool's errand, and the fool in this instance is yours truly. Here, I will predict five surprises for the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft, which seems to be an unusually consensus-driven draft compared to previous years.

Denver is the team that goes for the big trade

The Minnesota Vikings have clearly positioned themselves to trade up in the draft in search of a quarterback. In addition to the No. 11 pick, their trade with Houston secured the No. 23 pick, and most mock drafts will feature a trade from Minnesota to grab a quarterback.

While the Vikings could do exactly that, such a move may well be contingent on the guy they like being available, and they likely do not have the top quarterbacks all graded equally.

The team that seems most desperate for a quarterback is actually the Denver Broncos. Head coach Sean Payton blew up the status quo in Denver by determining early that Russell Wilson wasn’t the answer, and the team is now eating the largest dead cap hit in NFL history to move on from him. Payton needs the next guy, and the next guy needs to be a better option than Wilson was, or else Payton will look extremely reckless. The Broncos don’t have the ammunition that Minnesota does to maneuver in the first round, but they may have even more desire to make it happen. I wouldn’t be shocked if they find a way of trading up to No. 3 overall for the guy Payton covets.

Michael Penix Jr. ends up in the top half of the first round

I wrote about how the draft stock of Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. seems to have been on a journey this year. With so many teams in need of a quarterback, virtually no scenario surrounding the top four on the consensus board would surprise at this point, but if there’s smoke to the fire of NFL coaches loving Penix, he could still force his way into the top half of the first round.

The trio of teams in need of a starter from Pick Nos. 11-13 (Minnesota, Denver and Las Vegas) could all be live options for Penix, and at least one team in the top 10 has coaches who are enamored with him as a prospect.

Spencer Rattler is drafted in Round 2

Rattler is everybody’s favorite mid-tier quarterback prospect in this draft. Whether it’s an evaluation of mechanics or merely overall prospect work, he is the player everybody agrees has starting-caliber tools in the middle rounds.

After the top prospects are gone inside the top five, there will be multiple teams still needing a quarterback with few options remaining, and players with starting potential don’t grow on trees in the mid-rounds.

My prediction is that a team that sees Rattler as a viable gamble can’t afford to wait until the third round or beyond to pull the trigger. The consensus on him is too uniform. He had an elite season at Oklahoma and rebuilt his career well at South Carolina.

No running back is drafted until the third round

The money flying around in free agency for running backs was shocking, given the previous state of the market for that position. One way of viewing that is as an indictment of the upcoming draft class in the eyes of NFL evaluators. This has always been viewed as a weak running back class, with no top prospect, and the way contracts were being doled out to veterans suggests even that analysis may not have been strong enough.

Many people’s top back, Texas product Jonathon Brooks, is coming into the league off a torn ACL and may not be at full speed as a rookie.

It has been generally accepted that no back will be drafted in the first round, but the surprise will be if that extends to the second round and the first back off the board doesn’t come until the third round.

Click here to see Jonathon Brooks' 2024 NFL Draft profile.

No defensive player is drafted in the top 10

This one would be a surprise only because the Atlanta Falcons selecting edge rusher Dallas Turner from Alabama is about the most common player-to-team connection I have seen in the entire process.

That may be the only selection that puts this prediction at risk. Some combination of quarterback, receiver and offensive line is going to account for at least eight of the top 10 picks, and tight end Brock Bowers is a viable option for the ninth selection.

If Atlanta drafts an offensive player, we won’t see a defender in the top 10 selections. It would likely take only one more quarterback to be drafted earlier than we expect for it to become a reality.

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