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Lunchbreak: ESPN Stacks 11 QBs into Tiers

The 2021 and 2023 NFL Drafts featured three quarterbacks going off the board within the first four picks.

Some believe that could be matched in 2024. Others think this could become the first time for a QB to be selected with each of the first four picks.

There's been so much steam regarding this year's draft class, and there are plenty of NFL teams where it would make sense for them to use a precious resource in trying to add to that position group.

There's also the recency of seeing C.J. Stroud's success last season with the Houston Texans, who drafted the former Buckeye at No. 2 overall and wound up going from worst (3-13-1) to first (10-7) in the AFC South, fueled by a 9-6 mark in games started by Stroud.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler noted eight rookie draft picks combined to start 60 games in 2023 while introducing a post that stacked 11 different QB prospects from Tiers 1 through 5 with help of NFL executives, scouts and coaches who were granted anonymity.

Tier 1 included just one player, Caleb Williams, who has been widely projected to become a Bear as the first player selected.

The only quarterback to receive a Tier 1 grade on every ballot. "He's a star," an NFL coordinator said of Williams. Added an NFL personnel director: "From a talent standpoint, he's in his own class." Williams' "rare gifts" make him an exception to the rest of this year's group, a veteran AFC scout said, because of his high-level instincts, foot quickness and accuracy.

Evaluators then placed Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye in Tier 2.

"Elite traits," an NFC executive said [of Daniels]. "He's always been an athlete but showed more clubs in the bag. Throws the ball really well and his decision-making is good. Accurate. Grown a lot as far as operating a passing game with rhythm and timing. Can make progressions. An impressive prospect."

Maye helped elevate a subpar supporting cast to produce 359 plays of 10-plus yards since 2022, second to Michael Penix, Jr., in the FBS. While some evaluators place him in Tier 1, above Daniels and on par with Williams, others knocked him for lack of refinement.

J.J. McCarthy managed to land at "Tier 2.5" and was most frequently compared to a "mix of Kirk Cousins and Brock Purdy."

Fowler wrote McCarthy is "easily the most fascinating — and polarizing — quarterback prospect in the draft."

McCarthy gets the game manager label, having averaged 22.6 passing attempts per game over the past two seasons (29 games). That lack of in-game volume only heightened the scrutiny around McCarthy's pro day, where McCarthy "validated some things" with "one of the best pro days I've seen as a passer," according to one veteran NFL personnel evaluator.

Penix and Bo Nix landed in Tier 3.

The most frequent comparisons for Penix were fellow lefty Tua Tagovailoa "with a better arm" and Jordan Love.

Penix can throw with touch and timing. One NFL offensive coach thought Penix struggled at times throwing accurately to the left side of the field but is "brilliant" when throwing to his right. He will need to improve throwing from outside the pocket, where he completed 38.5% of his throws last season, ranked 114th nationally. But that's nitpicky given his enormous production at Washington, where he became the first Pac-12 player with multiple 4,500-yard passing seasons.

Nix was most readily compared to Andy Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo.

"Probably doesn't have [same] ceiling as some of the other, younger quarterbacks with upside," an NFC scout said. "But he'll be a solid player. Fit and system will matter. For him to be successful in the NFL he'll have to play as a ball distributor, making plays based on timing and rhythm patterns. He can extend plays and play with toughness but sometimes relies too heavily on his legs."

Tier 4 included South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Tulane's Michael Pratt and Tennessee's Joe Milton III, and Tier 5 included Florida State's Jordan Travis and Notre Dame's Sam Hartman.

Could O'Connell's QB history shape draft?

The Star Tribune's Mark Craig has covered plenty of draft successes and failures around the NFL during his career.

Against the backdrop of many projecting Minnesota to select a quarterback with a high pick, either at 11, or 23, or by vaulting up the board, Craig wrote about O’Connell’s varied experiences potentially helping the Vikings succeed if they do opt for a QB early.

The who will have to wait. As for the what, well, [O'Connell] wants …

Accuracy. Toughness, both mentally and physically. A fast mind that instantly can process what the defense is giving, and the arm strength and/or athleticism to occasionally "change the game" by taking from the defense something that wasn't there for the taking.

It all sounds so good. And yet we all know there are no guarantees. Teams working 24/7/365 with unlimited resources to unearth every last piece of information haven't been and never will be immune to wasting great picks on bad quarterbacks who become remembered forever as infamously awful whiffs.

Why in the world is that?

"The quarterback position is one where you may have 10 really smart coaches or personnel folks watch the same cutup, and you might come away with 10 different opinions on the player," O'Connell said.

Minnesota has gone through a comprehensive process to evaluate this year's draft class that includes two years of research on the available quarterbacks. While General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is sure to value O'Connell's inputs as a former draft pick, backup to Tom Brady and reserve battling for a roster spot elsewhere, the head coach pointed toward continued collaboration.

"It definitely helps to know a background of coaching different guys, different skill sets as a quarterback coach, as a coordinator and now as a head coach and play-caller," O'Connell said of his role in the process. "But I think it's still got to be a [team] process."