c/o USA Today

c/o USA Today

The NFL draft never disappoints. Even in a year that was quite predictable, the Atlanta Falcons spiced things up with an unexpected pick, taking Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall. Sam and Teddy examine this selection and give four other key takeaways from last Thursday.

#1: The Bears Look Scary 

No better place to start than with the first overall pick of the draft! The Chicago Bears unsurprisingly took USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the top selection, giving a franchise with historically poor play at that position a massive wave of hope. Williams is one of the most hyped prospects of this generation, as he wowed teams in college with an explosive arm and incredible mobility. His improvisational ability outside of the pocket has drawn comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, while his throwing style and accuracy has shades of Aaron Rodgers. In other words, this guy has the potential to be insanely good. 

But Chicago didn’t stop there! With their own pick at ninth overall (they acquired the number one pick from a trade with the Carolina Panthers last year—sorry, Panthers fans), the Bears selected University of Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze. A big, athletic receiver with impressive coordination and jump-ball ability, Odunze has the potential to be a valuable deep-ball and endzone target for the rookie Williams. But the Huskies standout also has offensive flexibility; his underrated speed and route-running chops allow him to line up in the slot or on the outside, making things easier for fellow Chicago wideouts DJ Moore and Keenan Allen.

With the offensive additions of the offseason (Allen, running back D’Andre Swift) and now the draft, the Bears have the potential to boast one of the most explosive attacks in the NFL next year. There was truly no better outcome for Williams, as he’ll have loads of weapons to throw to, along with a defense that improved immensely last year under head coach Matt Eberflus. Chicago probably won’t be a serious threat in the NFC this year—there will inevitably be a learning curve for Caleb—but after the moves of this draft, they’ll be contenders in the conference for years to come. 

#2: Heir to the Throne?

It was a tough five-year stretch for the New England Patriots, who were adjusting to the post-Tom Brady era. This struggle was exemplified in the draft more than anywhere else, with the Pats consistently missing on picks and failing to draft positions of need. New England parted ways with Bill Belichick this offseason and replaced him with two young minds in Eliot Wolf and Jerod Mayo, who took over the GM and head coaching responsibilities, respectively. The new regime was in a prime spot to make their mark, holding all of their picks highlighted by the third overall pick.

The Patriots had a lot of needs; it could have been tempting to trade back and collect a haul of draft picks to help fill out the roster. It is something Belichick likely would have done. Wolf and Mayo, however, recognized the importance of having a game-changing franchise quarterback, stood pat at #3, and selected Drake Maye. Maye, who played his college ball at UNC, is a supremely talented, albeit slightly raw, 21-year-old who possesses the ability to make any throw on the field. Whether it is a left-handed pass while getting decked, or a sidearm bullet as he’s falling down, or a 50-yard touch pass off his back foot, Maye can do everything. It is not an exaggeration to say most of the wow plays Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have made over the years are plays Maye himself can also make. However, having the ability to make those plays and being a successful NFL quarterback are two entirely different things. Maye will need to clean up his accuracy and speed up his decision-making to even have a chance at entering Allen’s tier. Still, it was a home-run pick for the Patriots, who now have their franchise QB. 

It didn’t stop here for New England, who bolstered their offensive line and receiving core (arguably their two weakest positions aside from quarterback last season) with their next four picks. Perhaps their best pick of this bunch was snagging UCF receiver Javon Baker in the fourth round at pick 110. Baker is a strong-handed, intentional route-runner who many analysts had a third-round grade on. Baker will likely be the starting X receiver for the Pats this year and, along with second-round pick Ja’Lynn Polk, will grow with Maye. Prior to the draft, the Patriots were directionless, but with five picks they have forged a clear path back to the top.

#3: Perfect Cards

It’s not often that a team sitting outside the top three gets to select a unanimous top-two talent at their greatest need without having to make a trade. The Arizona Cardinals were in need of a wide receiver, having lost DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown recently, and luckily for them, Marvin Harrison Jr., arguably the best wide receiver prospect of the past decade and more, was sitting ripe for the taking at #4. Whatever I say about Harrison doesn’t do him justice. At first glance, you’d think he’s 5’11” because of his fluidity and sharp route running, but he’s actually 6’4” and a great contested catcher. The only knock on Harrison is that he’s not the elite run-after-the-catch player that a guy like Malik Nabers is, but the Ohio State product is still well above average in that aspect. There is no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect, but Harrison is as close as you’ll ever get.

Harrison was an A+ pick, but it was a no-brainer and a selection that by itself would not warrant a shoutout. It was the rest of the Cardinals’ selections that earned them a spot in this article. Arizona had four third-round picks and spent two of them on skill position players, taking running back Trey Benson (Florida State) 66th and tight end Tip Reiman (Illinois) 82nd. Benson is my favorite running back in this class. He’s been compared to Breece Hall because of his speed and elusiveness; he ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, and you can find plenty of highlights of him juking defenders on YouTube. Benson is also a sneakily violent runner with great balance and will rarely go down on first contact. James Conner is the current RB1 for the Cardinals and a seasoned veteran who will have plenty of tips and tricks to pass down to Benson. I don’t think it will be long before Benson takes Conner’s spot and turns into a star running back.

Reiman is another player who I expect to make an immediate impact on the Cardinals’ offense. Reiman’s pass-catching abilities do not jump off the page, but that’s not what they drafted him for. At 6’5”, 271, and a self-described mauler, Reiman can block like nobody’s business. Since Kyler Murray was drafted, the Cardinals have loved going with 12 personnel. They already have an elite pass-catching tight end in Trey McBride, and now they add a blue-chip pass-blocker. 

The rest of the Cardinals’ picks were also good. Their second-biggest need was at corner, which they addressed by taking two in the first three rounds. Their other first-round pick was spent on Missouri defensive end Darius Robinson. Robinson is big (295 pounds), but he is also surprisingly quick—he was a basketball player well into his teens. This flexibility will allow him to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 package, which will be crucial for a Cardinals front seven that is still fiddling with their personnel. The best part about this draft is that most of these players will make a day-one impact, which is crucial for a team that should be competing for a playoff spot in a loaded NFC West.

#4: What is Atlanta Cooking?

Easily the most head-scratching move of the draft came from the Atlanta Falcons, who selected Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at eighth overall. It’s not that Penix didn’t deserve to go that high—prior to the draft some people (like myself) believed he was easily a first-round pick and one of the best quarterbacks available—it’s just Atlanta already has a quarterback, and a mighty expensive one at that. The Falcons’ key offseason acquisition was veteran gunslinger Kirk Cousins, who signed a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed (gulp).

You could maybe talk me into the pick if the Cousins deal was two years, so Penix could sit behind him before eventually succeeding him, but making a top-10 selection for a guy who you plan to be a backup for the first four years of his career is insane. Maybe Atlanta only sees Kirk being there for two years, but if that’s the case, why on Earth would you give him four years and that much money? And it’s not like Penix is some type of project quarterback, a guy who definitely needs time to sit and learn the ropes—he’s perhaps the most pro-ready guy in this draft class, an impressive pocket-passer who’s about to be 24 years old. I’m the farthest thing removed from a Penix hater; I truly think he’s going to be a star in this league, which is why I’m not completely writing this pick off as foolish. But the Falcons’ moves don’t really seem to make sense, as what they did in the offseason directly conflicts with what they did in the draft. While I think Penix will be a stud, the Falcons seem to have mismanaged their resources as they attempt to compete in the stacked NFC.

#5: The QB-less Teams: Where Do They Go From Here? 

With all of the drama surrounding the quarterback selections this year, the two teams that noticeably didn’t pull the trigger on one were the New York Giants and Las Vegas Raiders. New York took LSU receiver Malik Nabers at sixth overall, ultimately opting for the most explosive and best after-the-catch guy in the draft. I love the Nabers pick and think he’s going to be a star, but I don’t necessarily feel confident in who’s throwing him the ball—Daniel Jones is a league-average quarterback at best, and if he struggles returning from last year’s season-ending injury, backup Drew Lock doesn’t inspire much confidence either. The Giants are in a very interesting situation; there’s some real talent on this roster, but after giving Jones a four-year, $160 million deal last offseason, they’re locked into his services for the foreseeable future. Certain fans were hoping New York would just cut their losses and pick a better, cheaper quarterback in this year’s draft, but the Giants front office seems inclined to run it back with Jones and hope for the best.

As for Las Vegas, I’m inclined to give them slightly more of a pass. Reports say they were really interested in Penix, and given that he was rumored to not even be going in the first round, it makes sense that the Raiders expected to be able to nab him at 13th overall; as previously discussed, no one saw Atlanta taking him at #8. The run on quarterbacks started right after, as Minnesota nabbed JJ McCarthy and Denver selected Bo Nix, leaving no first-round quarterbacks available when it was Las Vegas’ turn to pick. The bright side of that situation? The Raiders got a top-ten talent at pick 13 in tight end Brock Bowers. A big target with incredible coordination and after-the-catch ability, Bowers dominated in his three years at Georgia and stands to make an immediate impact in the NFL.

While I really like both of the players that these teams picked and think they’re going to be stars, I don’t project either squad to have much success next year with middling quarterback play. If I had to pick a team who I’m more optimistic about, it’s probably Las Vegas: I understand being surprised by the Atlanta-Penix move, I like the pairing of Bowers with star wide receiver Davante Adams, and I’m intrigued by the culture that new coach Antonio Pierce is building on both sides of the ball. As for the Giants? They’re in a really tough spot with the Jones contract, they have little talent on the offensive side of the ball, and their front office has a history of really questionable moves. Regardless, I expect both Las Vegas and New York to be the clear candidates to take a quarterback in the 2025 draft.

Sam Weitzman-Kurker can be reached at sweitzmankur@wesleyan.edu.

Teddy Benchley can be reached at tbenchley@wesleyan.edu.