It’s a fascinating year to be a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The 3 signal-callers who were in New York (Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix) for the Heisman Trophy ceremony are all draft-eligible. That doesn’t include a previous Heisman winner (Caleb Williams) or a guy who just celebrated a national championship (JJ McCarthy). It also doesn’t include one of the most talked-about players of the 2020s (Spencer Rattler) or the guy who could go No. 2 overall (Drake Maye).

Household names, there are aplenty. Talent, there is aplenty. As we know, the combination of those 2 things doesn’t always equal the most important thing — becoming a franchise quarterback.

It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those 7 quarterbacks did just that. Anybody outside of that group feels a bit more like a dark horse. That’s no slight to the likes of Michael Pratt, Jordan Travis or anybody else in that 2024 class, but these are the 7 that I expect to come off the board in the first 2 days (Rounds 1-3) and have that opportunity at some point.

These are my top 7 signal-callers in the 2024 class as we inch closer to the NFL Combine:

7. JJ McCarthy, Michigan

If your reasoning for drafting a quarterback in the first couple of rounds is “he’s just a winner,” you’ve lost me. Pat Mahomes didn’t have a winning record in his pre-draft season. Alternatively, I’d argue that Joe Burrow is the only national championship-winning quarterback of the Playoff era who would currently qualify as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL.

McCarthy’s biggest positive is a 28-1 record as Michigan’s starter the past 2 years, including leading the program to its first outright national championship since the Harry Truman administration. McCarthy had some excellent moments when called upon, but is still very much a work in progress. He wasn’t asked to do what other prospects were — he averaged 21 pass attempts vs. teams that finished in the AP Top 25 and he handed the ball off 31 consecutive times in the monumental game at Penn State — because Michigan ran the ball and defended at an exceptional level.

In his pre-draft season, McCarthy had more than 30 pass attempts against 1 Power 5 opponent. In this passing era of the sport, it’s a fair knock on him to say he only had 123 more FBS passing attempts than the late Dwayne Haskins. In 1994, McCarthy is a no-doubter first-round quarterback. In 2024, he’s more of a late-Day 2 guy for me.

6. Bo Nix, Oregon

I love the player that Nix became at Oregon. For all the talk about his average depth of target suggesting that he became a check-down machine, I actually viewed that as a positive after watching countless instances of him trying to make the home-run play early in his career at Auburn.

Reps, Nix isn’t lacking. Mobility, Nix isn’t lacking. My questions about his game are related to him standing in the pocket and making a big-time throw in tight windows to move the chains. That’s everything in the NFL. There’s still a part of me that wants to see how this version of Nix plays without a significant advantage in the trenches. Are we sure that he can consistently stretch the field? Or will teams play him close to the line of scrimmage and take some of those intermediate throws away?

Nix’s next-level potential certainly improved, but it has more questions than answers at this stage of his career.

5. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Yes, I’m higher on Rattler than the consensus. If you’re telling me that I’m crazy for having him ahead of Nix or McCarthy, you either missed the Senior Bowl when he earned MVP honors after an impressive week and/or you made up your mind about Rattler the moment he left Oklahoma.

His improved footwork under Dowell Loggains was on full display, albeit in a lost season for South Carolina in 2023. Without Rattler, the Gamecocks would’ve been eliminated from bowl contention before the calendar turned to November. Move past a Netflix show from 6 years ago and focus instead on how he earned rave internal reviews as the Gamecocks captain. He played behind a putrid offensive line that had one of the nation’s worst ground attacks. Yet even after losing his top receiver Juice Wells, I’d argue that Rattler had his most impressive college season.

Don’t be surprised if Rattler is firmly in the Day 2 discussion by the time he leaves Indianapolis.

4. Michael Penix Jr., Washington

During a remarkable 25-3 run the past 2 years, Penix answered the biggest question surrounding his NFL Draft stock — durability. Yes, he played behind the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line in a system that was one of the most pass-heavy in America. But I view it as a positive that Penix became a master at navigating the pocket and carving up defenses.

Yes, the ball looks odd coming out of the southpaw’s hands. The same was true for Philip Rivers. Those Washington receivers — 3 of whom figure to hear their names called in April — never seemed deterred by Penix’s delivery. We’re not talking about some Tim Tebow-like windup, either. It’ll be scrutinized, and understandably so. Even at a time when shifting the pocket has never been more popular, throwing angles still matter.

But Penix has a legitimate case to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board at some point in the latter half of Round 1.

3. Drake Maye, UNC

I can’t find a true weakness for Maye, so this isn’t the place where you’ll see me pick him apart. There are plenty of years in which he probably enters the NFL Draft as the consensus No. 1 overall pick, and I wouldn’t really push back on that. He can make every throw, he moves like a modern quarterback, he’s a true leader who never complained about his situation with issues at OL and receiver (he didn’t leave for potentially greener pastures either), he doesn’t lack reps, he has ideal size, and his dad was a successful college QB, too, etc.

You get it. The guy’s a stud who is about to energize a fan base at the top of the draft.

So why do I have him at No. 3 and not in the top 2? It’s about upside. Jayden Daniels and Caleb Williams have more of it. Some of that is related to Maye’s processing, which I wouldn’t call a weakness, but I would say that while he could make some remarkable off-script throws, some of those forced throws could limit his potential.

I don’t believe that there’s any 1 thing that Maye does better than Daniels or Williams. That’s different than a case like last year with CJ Stroud, who was the best pure passer in the class and had a path to immediate stardom even though he wasn’t considered the top prospect.

Is there a world in which Maye has a better career than either of those 2? Absolutely. But the potential of Daniels and Williams wins out over Maye.

2. Jayden Daniels, LSU

At this time last year, there’s no world in which I imagined that I’d be making the case for Daniels to be considered the No. 2 quarterback in this class. But here we are, on the heels of a historic Heisman Trophy season wherein Daniels was a walking, talking chunk play who made himself a whole bunch of money for the 12 games he played.

My biggest question with Daniels entering 2023 was related to trusting the offense. In 2022, he showed too many signs of a guy who transferred to a new offense and was too afraid to make a mistake. He defaulted to his legs instead of trusting LSU’s talented receivers to get separation, and it often limited the offense. Daniels improved down the stretch in 2022, but he took that to a different stratosphere in 2023.

He’ll probably get dinged for his frame, and understandably so. He’s not built like Maye or Williams. But toughness won’t be an issue for someone who didn’t miss a start at LSU until opting out of the bowl game even though no quarterback in America ran the ball more than him the past 2 seasons. He has a Josh Allen-like ability to trust his legs when a play breaks down, and the poise he showed as a Year 5 starter was on full display. Daniels improved every area of his game and became a star in ways that few (myself included) could’ve expected.

A top-3 selection feels imminent.

1. Caleb Williams, USC

A perfect prospect, Williams is not. Some of the critiques of Maye trying to always make the home-run play could be applied to Williams, which showed up more in the form of sacks taken than interceptions. He regressed against better competition, though some would argue that was the byproduct of having a leaky offensive line and a porous defense that made him feel like he had to do it all.

Criticisms notwithstanding, Williams is still as good as there is at the position among recent quarterback prospects. He keeps his eyes downfield, he changes arm angles, he throws guys open, he steps up in the pocket and a play is never dead. While some are too attached to the Mahomes comp, I see a bit more early Aaron Rodgers/Matt Stafford in Williams.

The perceived cockiness might rub some the wrong way, but if the transfer portal was any indication, guys will want to play with him. Even if doesn’t step into the league and do the things that Stroud did, you’re instantly going to see a franchise that’s boosted by Williams’ presence. While I’ll never put the “can’t miss” label on anyone, “can’t pass” feels more appropriate.

In a loaded quarterback class, it’s Williams who stands above the rest.