Teams’ best pick might be to move into 2024 first round, which is expected to be loaded

Back in March, as NFL coaches, general managers and personnel assessors flocked to another Pro-Day in Ohio State brimming with talent, the afternoon was stunned by an upcoming attraction. Briefly stealing the spotlight from several first-round talents, Marvin Harrison Jr., the Buckeyes’ second wideout, who won’t be drafted until 2024, has demonstrated his skills as one of the most anticipated candidates for the next Year’s draft will make rounds.

“He might end up being the best wideout in the draft in 15-16 years,” said one reviewer, going back to the Detroit Lions’ 2007 pick of Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. “It was like watching your father, only bigger and better.”

That’s pretty high praise considering Harrison’s father is also a Hall of Famer and is best known as Peyton Manning’s most trusted and prolific target during a golden era in Indianapolis Colts football. Even now, despite retiring in 2008 and having started his career on the league’s doorstep to become an offensive pinball machine, Harrison still ranks fifth all-time in touchdowns and receptions and ninth of all time when it comes to getting yards.

For Marvin Harrison Jr. to be seen as capable of stepping out of that shadow is a perfect backdrop for the 2023 NFL Draft — largely because of Harrison is not in. Instead, he reminded at Ohio State’s Pro Day that while teams are focused on next week’s draft and its own intriguing opportunities, there is a lurking reality behind this class of player. The bumper crop of potential elite players in 2024 is already well on the league’s radar and could even impact some of next week’s first-round and early second-round picks.

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“It’s a good year if you get a chance to go back and try to get some capital [in the 2024 draft]’ said an NFC executive. “Next year’s draft could be one of the better ones we’ve seen in terms of the best players. Check out the top 20 [the 2021 draft] and the number of “guys” who are likely to be good or great at a number of positions for a long time, and then take a look at the top end of quarterbacks in 2020, next year’s draft could be a combination of both. It could be that good.”

An AFC general manager added, “There are two quarterbacks [in 2024] who would have gone 1-2 ahead of all these guys in that draft, and then maybe three or four other players who probably would have been at the top of their position groups in that draft if they had been eligible.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams is one of the headline talents expected to enter the 2024 NFL Draft.  (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

USC quarterback Caleb Williams is one of the headline talents expected to enter the 2024 NFL Draft. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The players they’re set to shape next year’s elite class over: Harrison, quarterbacks Caleb Williams (Southern Cal) and Drake Maye (North Carolina), tight end Brock Bowers (Georgia), and offensive tackles Joe Alt (Notre Dame) and Olu Fashanu (Penn State). But the 2024 class also features a wealth of offense and defense players who project into translatable size/speed/skill combos that boast a next-level track record.

By the looks of it, Williams and Drake have been cited as the best universally talented 1-2 quarterback combination to lead the draft since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2012. Meanwhile, Harrison is considered the talent of the generation at Wideout. Bowers hype could approach Kyle Pitt’s level on the tight end, and both Alt and Fashanu are painted as massive Day 1 offensive tackle starters. Not to mention the bevy of players likely to accompany her in 2024, checking an assembly line of NFL boxes.

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That’s part of what makes winning extra first-round picks for 2024 so valuable. There’s a reason the Green Bay Packers are so adamant about getting a first-rounder traded for 2024 in Aaron Rodgers, and several teams are already calling for a resignation in that draft while aiming for a first-round pick next year . Because the top talents of the next year will tend to be much more attractive than this year, when all junior staff are known.

Compare that to the 2023 draft, which features a weaker overall group with good depth but star players with lots of holes. The secondary and narrow ends seem to have some depth and premium potential, but many of the best wide receivers are small and lack exceptional speed, while some of the larger wideouts fall short of their size. The first-round quarterbacks have talent but are also a mix of worrisome attributes, from size to experience to inconsistency or offensive scheme. The running backs going beyond consensus, Bijan Robinson, are likely to be a class of rational players for the most part. Some of the offensive linemen either have unusual tackle sizes or come from systems where it’s difficult to compare them to what they expect at the NFL level. The best defense has concerns off the field, the linebacker class is below average, and the edge class is flat in relation to elite players.

Putting all of this together, there’s a reason it’s doable that a number of teams are considering swapping their first-round picks and moving up to a more top-heavy class of elite talent in 2024. If coaches and general managers can afford it, the best first round pick in 2023 for some teams could be not hitting a pick at all and then rolling it back in a year.

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