2024 NFL Draft QB Tracker: Which prospects could stay in school, eye 2025 draft?

2024 NFL Draft QB Tracker: Which prospects could stay in school, eye 2025 draft?

Last week, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler updated his top-50 prospect board for the ‘24 class. To no one’s surprise, the QBs were well-represented.

Still, that group isn’t without its questions. Specifically, how many of these quarterbacks ultimately might put off entering the draft and go back to school?

The 2025 class does not look like it’ll be nearly as deep as the ’24 version, which potentially could have at least six QBs with first- or second-round grades and several others eyeing a Day 3 spot. The transfer portal and NIL are game-changers, too, when it comes to figuring out these decisions. Even USC quarterback Caleb Williams has at least entertained the idea of playing another year in college, although Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye will be projected top-three picks come April.

That said, let’s look at the other key names on the 2024 NFL Draft underclassman QB list and size up their looming draft decisions.

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: No. 16

Outside of Williams and Maye, McCarthy is the QB with the best case for a first-round spot. He is the country’s top-ranked passer in a number of critical metrics, including passing EPA/dropback (.57) and dropback success rate (62.1). His combination of arm talent and acceleration outside the pocket (without losing eye discipline) makes him an athletic passer who would fit a number of pro systems.

There are caveats here, though. McCarthy is playing on one of the deepest rosters in college football, with NFL prospects — for 2024 and 2025 — at every position and in every department (TE, WR and RB). He’s also working behind one of the country’s top offensive lines.

His ball-placement consistency is still a bit lacking, the schedule’s been weak and Michigan’s general success rate as a team inflates plenty of his EPA numbers. However, McCarthy’s presence as a consistent pocket passer — most notably, on third-and-long — has been the biggest difference for Michigan’s offense this year.

Does McCarthy, who’ll turn 21 in January, have incentive to return to Michigan? He’s been a big off-field earner since his freshman year, and Michigan’s NIL approach also generally focuses more on returning candidates than on incoming freshmen.

So much of McCarthy’s future depends on his critical final stretch of games (starting Saturday at Penn State). From passing and talent standpoints, though, he’s ready.

Shedeur Sanders, Colorado (No. 24)

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: No. 24

Sanders is the second passer on this list (and fourth QB overall) from Dane’s top 30. When you look at all the context, it’s really hard to argue.

Colorado’s offensive line has been one of the worst in the Power 5 this season — no FBS passer with at least 100 attempts has been pressured more than Sanders (174 times); the next closest in that category is South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler (145).

  Colorado hands Trump a political gift by barring him from the ballot

To be clear, some of those pressures have been Sanders’ fault, as he’s still working on a balance between hanging in the pocket long enough and bailing with his legs. However, two things Sanders’ metrics show: He’s been one of the most accurate passers in the country in terms of ball placement (off-target rate of 7.5 percent, No. 2 in FBS), and despite getting almost no help from his front, his dropback success rate (51.4, No. 28) is still above-average.

Sanders, age 21, is nowhere near his ceiling as a player. However, he’s also talented enough as a natural playmaker with very good football IQ/processing ability that he wouldn’t last too long in the draft, should he declare.

The Deion Sanders impact at Colorado is very real, so there may not be a player on this list who’ll have better NIL opportunities next season. Plus, Shedeur Sanders also would get to play one more year with CB/WR Travis Hunter — and be able to fight for QB1 designation in 2025.

Quinn Ewers, Texas (No. 45)

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: No. 45

Ewers is in an interesting spot. In terms of performance, he carries the same caveat as McCarthy (if not an even stronger one): The level of talent he’s throwing to is ridiculous. He’s played a much tougher schedule than McCarty has, though, including an impressive day in a win at Alabama.

But he’s currently injured, which has opened the door for Texas to show the country redshirt freshman QB Maalik Murphy. And no one needs an introduction to Texas’ QB3, true freshman Arch Manning.

An argument definitely can be made that Ewers needs more seasoning as a college passer before taking a shot at the league — he missed time last season with a left shoulder injury and now has missed two games this year with a right (throwing) shoulder injury.

When healthy and focused, Ewers is arguably the third-best quarterback in the country. The issue, of course, is that neither of those things has been consistent. If Ewers goes back to Texas, he’s likely going to be in a fight for his gig, despite his talent level. The transfer portal always exists, even if that seems dramatic at the moment.

Can Ewers return, finish the season strong and further justify a decision to declare? At 100 percent, he’s NFL-ready. But we sure could use more data.

Carson Beck, Georgia (No. 50)

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: No. 50

One of the steadiest risers all year, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior waited for two years behind Stetson Bennett — and has needed less than half a season to show he’s the better NFL prospect. A first-year starter, Beck has been outstanding with his accuracy and responses to pressure.

A perfect throw from Carson Beck. @GeorgiaFootball has scord the last 36 points 👀 pic.twitter.com/bBPHYmDOiX

— CBS Sports College Football 🏈 (@CBSSportsCFB) October 28, 2023

Georgia’s talent level helps Beck’s efficiency numbers, but the tape is not lying here. Beck has completed better than 70 percent of his passes, and — in addition to his low off-target rate (9.2 percent) — he’s getting the ball out very quickly, showing efficient processing that seems to be improving each week. Beck currently rates No. 4 nationally in average time to throw (2.23 seconds), with an outstanding 9.2 yards per attempt.

  Trey Benson Draft Profile | Florida State, RB Scouting Report

Like McCarthy and Ewers, Beck, 20, plays for a blue-blood program with high-level NIL potential. Should he return to Georgia, he’d again be leading a team that’s firmly in the national-title picture. He has a chance to be the first legit star quarterback of the Kirby Smart era.

If his play continues to improve and Georgia wins it all, though, Beck will have a tough decision to make.

Michael Pratt, Tulane

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: Unranked

Despite missing two games earlier this year with a left knee injury, the Tulane fourth-year passer has put up career-high numbers in completion rate and yards per attempt, and he is still more or less on pace to match his 13-game counting stats from a year ago.

Pratt shot down a Twitter report last week that he’s weighing a possible graduate transfer to a more loaded Power 5 squad next season, stating he’s only focused on the Green Wave’s 2023 campaign. He has plenty to prove as a passer versus pressure, so another year at the college level might help. If he does want to explore a transfer (despite his statement to the contrary), he should have pots of NIL gold out there for him.

However, he’s also 22, already has had an injury scare and has enough arm talent to hear his name called this spring. He’d be a draft pick if he goes.

Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: Unranked

For my money, Dart has been one of the most underrated passers in the country this season. The 20-year-old junior has the ultimate benefit of playing in Lane Kiffin’s pass-happy, vertical offense — and with all the talent that flocks to such a scheme. However, Dart has more than acquitted himself as a downfield passer.

Two is tough 😤@JaxsonDart | ESPN pic.twitter.com/P73guTXIEP

— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) November 4, 2023

A very good athlete who has a quick release and throws an accurate ball, Dart still has work to do from the pocket versus pressure — much like Sanders, he fades too much and will need to be more consistent with his feet before moving on. Another year feels like a fine idea.

  Ceiling airfares increased as rising costs weigh on profits of domestic airlines | DTiNews - Dan Tri International, the news gateway of Vietnam

Jalen Milroe, Alabama

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: Unranked

Milroe is on the short list of QBs who seem to improve at something with every start. Since Nick Saban sat him down earlier this year, Milroe has grown in a number of areas, not the least of which being his confidence within the Crimson Tide offense.

Milroe (6 feet 2, 220 pounds) is a fascinating prospect with lethal open-field rushing traits, and his deep shot can be a thing of beauty when he’s set. That said, his accuracy is nowhere near consistent enough right now, and he has room to grow in how he handles pressure.

Alabama should be fun again next season with Milroe back at the helm — and it’s looking increasingly more dangerous this year.

Riley Leonard, Duke

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: Unranked

It’s been a tough year for Leonard, the 6-foot-4, 212-pound junior. His pass efficiency numbers are down in several areas, including EPA/dropback (-.11) and off-target rate (17.0, which is actually an improvement on his career-low of 17.7, set in 2021). But he was the No. 28 prospect on Dane’s preseason board, so the fall — some of it caused by Leonard’s multiple injuries this season — has been steep.

Leonard, 22, is absolutely an NFL prospect. He has to be more consistent with his accuracy and quicker with his processing from the pocket, though, before he makes that jump.

DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State

Ranking on Brugler’s latest top 50: Unranked

It’d be unwise to give up on Uiagalelei. The former Clemson passer, who left for Oregon State after Dabo Swinney and company moved on to Cade Klubnik at QB, has put up some of the best numbers of his short (and very inconsistent) career this season. He’s also produced a sizzle real of NFL throws that would make scouts drool.

His performances are still up and down, to be clear. And though the change of address has paid off for the massive-framed Uiagaleilei (6-4, 252), a fifth year in college at Oregon State could help him ascend as an NFL prospect.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; Photo of Carson Beck: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)

“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, is on sale now. Order it here.