Getting the quarterback position right is the biggest way teams can go from the basement to the penthouse in the NFL. 

Look no further than the Houston Texans. They were on the clock with the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft this time a year ago. Now, with 2023 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, they are the defending AFC South division champions, and they are in the process of going "all in" after trading for four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs last week as they believe they are now contenders in a deep AFC field. 

With the football expertise CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman provides after being the Minnesota Vikings general manager for 16 seasons (2006-2021), teams and fans can have a better grasp at where this year's quarterback class stacks up just a few weeks away from the draft at the end of the month. This is the third position group in CBS Sports' pre-draft position group evaluations with both our wide receivers and running backs deep dives coming out last week. 

Below we will break down the top five tiers of quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft with draft pick projections as well as their ideal NFL landing spot or spots. Spielman's commentary is from an episode of the "With the First Pick Podcast" that was released on March 11. Each passer also possesses additional, analytical context from yours truly. Here we go *Dak Prescott pre-snap voice*

Tier 5 

Spencer Rattler (South Carolina)

  • Height: 6-0 | Weight: 211 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2024 Senior Bowl MVP (4-4, 65 pass yards including 29-yard pass TD to UGA WR Marcus Rosemy Jacksaint)

 Pro comp: Minnesota Vikings QB Jaren Hall

"He is a little better athlete [than Jaren Hall], but ... statistically height, weight all that stuff, he is very similar to Brock Purdy," Spielman said. "Yeah [Spencer has a better arm than Brock], but all the other stuff these analytics people break out create conversation."

  • Highest he could get drafted: Third round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Fourth round
  • Best team fit:  Los Angeles Rams with playcaller and head coach Sean McVay

Final Thoughts:

The arm talent has always been there for Spencer Rattler, who was the top pro-style recruit in the 2019 high school class according to 247Sports. His ability to get the ball out quickly for deep strikes is one of his best strengths on top of his arm strength, which is strong enough to where he can fire powerful passes when his feet aren't planted. Throwing on the run appears to be natural. However, he is slightly undersized and can force throws too often. However, he takes sacks too frequently, on 8.9% of his dropbacks. That's tied for the 15th-highest rate in the FBS among 110 qualified passers last season. Not great. 

Tier 4

Bo Nix (Oregon)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 214 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2nd-most total yards (16,965) in FBS history, 61 career starts (most by QB in FBS history)

 Pro comp: Los Angeles Rams QB Jimmy Garoppolo

"Sometimes he tries to almost aim the ball instead of just throw it when there are some easy touchdowns there, especially down in the red zone or near the goal line," Spielman said. "Just throw the ball. Make a play." 

  • Highest he could get drafted: Second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Third round
  • Best team fit: Pittsburgh Steelers with OC Arthur Smith

Final Thoughts:

Nix is the most experienced NFL Draft prospect ever, entering the league with 61 collegiate starts, the most ever for a quarterback across the span of his five-season career. He has a pro-ready stature and is tough to defend when he gets in rhythm via quick passes and run-pass-option plays. Nix had the second-lowest sack rate in the country (1.3%) last season among qualified passers thanks to his ability to move within the pocket. 

However, much of his production last season, particularly college football's single-season completion percentage record of 77% in 2023 was aided by Oregon's scheme. Nix threw a screen pass on 22.1% of his dropbacks last year, the 12th-highest rate in the country, and his 6.8 average depth of target in 2023 ranked as the eighth-lowest in the nation among 274 quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Between that and the way his footwork breaks down under pressure, causing him to throw across his body and be late on downfield passes, his NFL future could be murky. 

Tier 3

Michael Penix Jr. (Washington)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 216 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Heisman Trophy runner-up, led FBS in completions (60) and pass TD (26) of 25+ air yards in past two seasons, led FBS in pass yards (9,544) in past two seasons (most in 2-year span in Pac-12 history)

Pro comp: New England Patriots QB Jacoby Brissett

"This may be a player, depending on how teams graded him medically, didn't hear anything negative about the medicals and he participated at the combine, which checks boxes. I wouldn't be surprised if a team that didn't get their quarterback moves up from the second round to the bottom of the first to get the fifth-year option like we did with Teddy Bridgewater [in 2014]. Like Baltimore did with Lamar Jackson. I could see someone doing that if he goes past the Raiders to get that fifth-year option on him just because of the throwing talent. He's not the athlete like some of these other guys, but he may be the best deep ball thrower. It's when the pocket isn't clean like in the national championship game ... To me, he has that knack to move around in the pocket to create some time, but if it gets noisy around his feet, does that bother his accuracy or is he as good? Especially with the way he got hit in the national championship game ... That was the last impression that you saw of him in college. You can't take that as your deciding factor, but it brings up the question on some of the getting the ball out when the pressure is coming at you." 

  • Highest he could get drafted: 13th overall by Las Vegas Raiders
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Second round
  • Best team fit: Seattle Seahawks with OC Ryan Grubb (Penix's OC at Washington)

Final Thoughts:

Penix looks like he is casually throwing darts when slinging the football deep downfield. His throwing motion is fluid and quick, allowing the deep ball to always be an option on any play. Penix also does a good job avoiding sacks (2.1% sack rate, seventh-lowest in college football among qualified passers), which is impressive considering his penchant to go deep and success in doing so. His injury history with various shoulder and knee issues could scare some teams. 

J.J. McCarthy (Michigan)

  • Height: 6-2 1/2" | Weight: 219 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 CFP National Champion,  44 pass TD, 9 INT in past 2 seasons

 Pro comp: Athletic Kirk Cousins

"When I watched him finally throw live at the Combine, he is a more athletic Kirk Cousins," Spielman said. That was my out of the box comp."

  • Highest he could get drafted: 8th overall 
  • Lowest he could get drafted: 13th overall
  • Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons (with OC Zac Robinson), Minnesota Vikings (with HC and playcaller Kevin O'Connell), Denver Broncos (with HC and playcaller Sean Payton)

Final Thoughts:

McCarthy is a tougher evaluation because he wasn't ask to do too much in a run-first offense at Michigan. He maintains strong balance while operating under center and utilizing play-action, and he isn't afraid to let a throw fly despite tight coverage. While winning is a team statistic, the Wolverines emerging victorious in 27 of his 28 college starts will certainly be valued by teams. McCarthy has to improve when throwing deep as his ability going further downfield is touch-and-go. He'll throw behind his intended receiver on intermediate routes, something that cost Michigan dearly in the 2022 Fiesta Bowl loss against TCU: he threw two pick-sixes. Overthrows can occur more frequently when throwing to the left, and he got lucky with some of his cross-body throws harmlessly fully to the turf in college. There is a solid base here, but whoever drafts him is relying on multiple levels of improvement as a pro. 

Tier 2 

Jayden Daniels (LSU)

  • Height: 6-4 | Weight: 210 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Heisman Trophy winner, highest passer efficiency rating (208.0) in a season in FBS history

 Pro comp: Baltimore Ravens two-time NFL MVP QB Lamar Jackson

"I've been comparing him to Lamar since the Florida game when he made it look like a Madden football game where someone was playing a college defense, and he was running all over the place," Spielman said.

  • Highest he could get drafted: 2nd overall 
  • Lowest he could get drafted: 6th overall
  • Best team fit: Washington Commanders with OC Kliff Kingsbury

Final Thoughts:

Jayden Daniels put together one of the most productive seasons in college football history in 2023. No, that is not an exaggeration. Thanks to throwing for 3,812 passing yards, 40 touchdowns through the air and just four interceptions while completing 72.2% of his passes, Daniels registered college football's passing efficiency rating record for a single season in 2023 (208.0). He was just as adept at making plays with his feet, racking up 1,134 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 135 carries. Daniels led the all quarterbacks in both yards per carry (8.4) and yards per pass attempt (11.7) as he earned the distinction of being the only quarterback of the 21st Century to average 300 or more passing yards per game as well as 75 or more rushing yards per game. 

The knocks on Daniels are his arm strength, a frame that brings up durability questions, being willing to take hits one would see in Looney Toons cartoon and that he will turn 24 as a rookie. 

Drake Maye (North Carolina)

  • Height: 6-4 | Weight: 223 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 ACC Player of the Year, only FBS player with 7,000+ pass yards & 1,000+ rush yards in past two seasons

 Pro comp: Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence

"I watched him play live against Miami two years ago, and I was really impressed with his demeanor and the way he throws the ball. I think he's an underrated athlete," Spielman said. "I think he is a good athlete that can make plays. The biggest things that I saw was the do too much mentality this year, trying to overcompensate because of the receivers that he had. Tez Walker didn't play until halfway through the year. He didn't have anyone else to throw to. The offensive line didn't protect him very well. I think he was trying to do too much. The other thing that stuck out to me that he is going to have to learn is the pre and post-snap reads. I think sometimes he gets a little hesitant in the pocket if the defense changes the look on the back end a little bit. He just tried to force too many plays that weren't there. He tried to overcompensate for things instead of trying to play within the scheme and system, but I think they just were undertalented compared to what he had a year ago [in 2022] and the way he played a year ago. I think this guy has huge upside."

  • Highest he could get drafted: 2nd overall 
  • Lowest he could get drafted: 3rd overall
  • Best team fit: New England Patriots with OC Alex Van Pelt

Final Thoughts:

Drake Maye possesses the build (6-foot-4, 229 pounds), athleticism and arm talent  to make just about any throw whether it's scrambling or launching a deep ball from inside the pocket. The stats match the traits since he was the only quarterback to throw for over 7,000 yards (7,929) and run for over 1,000 (1,247) since 2022. Maye also took great care of the football despite forcing throws his senior year with a lackluster supporting cast: he had a 1.8% turnover-worthy play rate, which tied for the seventh-lowest among FBS quarterbacks with a minimum of 200 dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Maye is worthy of being the second overall pick in this draft class. 

Tier 1

Caleb Williams (USC)

  • Height: 6-1 | Weight: 214 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 Heisman Trophy Winner, only FBS QB since 2000 with 30+ pass TD, 10+ rush TD and five or fewer interceptions in multiple seasons

 Pro comp: Andrew Luck/New York Jets QB Aaron Rodgers

"I think he is a cut above everybody else," Spielman said. Everybody is going to poke holes at this time of year, this is the hole-poking season. Every NFL front office is like 'there is no one that can play in the NFL right now.'... He almost invites waiting for extended plays where he holds the ball. That's where the processing comes into question. Just take the checkdown or short crossing route because he is always looking for the big play. The other thing is sometimes he doesn't use his legs. I think he is unique as an athlete. You probably could have seen him make more plays with his legs. The third thing that I had a little bit of an issue with is his ball security in the pocket. He has tendency to hang it loose... The fumbles [16 fumbles and six fumbles lost in 2023] are just carelessness with the ball that is easily cleaned up. I think he has unique arm talent, is a unique athlete, unique big play ability. This guy is a cut above everybody else."

  • Highest he could get drafted: 1st overall 
  • Lowest he could get drafted: 2nd overall
  • Best team fit: Washington Commanders with Kliff Kingsbury

Final Thoughts:

The NFL's wait for Caleb Williams is finally over. The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner has been garnering Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes comparisons for the last two years, which makes sense since he is the first FBS quarterback with 30-plus passing touchdowns and 10 or more rushing touchdowns in two straight seasons since Mahomes himself did so with the Texas Tech Red Raiders in 2015 and 2016.

If that statistic is drilled down to include throwing five or fewer interceptions, Williams stands alone as the only college quarterback since 2000 to put up 30 or more passing touchdowns and 10-plus touchdowns on the ground in consecutive seasons with that type of ball security. Nobody had more total touchdowns than Williams and his 120 while he was in college from 2021-2023. 

He plays the quarterback position to the beat of his own drum, seemingly preferring off-balance and out-of-play-design throws with passes from arm angles not quite seen before. The result of Williams' high wire act is plenty of touchdowns because his rocket launcher of a right arm and accuracy on these wild tosses gives him a wide margin of error. However, that penchant for leaning on that type of play could hurt him in the NFL. Some of that could be chalked up to a rough offensive line, but the 8.2% sack rake (90th among 110 qualified quarterbacks in 2023) and long time-to-throw figure (3.01 seconds, third-longest in the FBS among qualified passers in 2023) are things that will need to be ironed out in the pros.