Which rookie QB could be the next CJ Stroud? Ranking the 2024 first-rounders

Will another rookie quarterback match C.J. Stroud's individual and team success this season? Here's a ranking of the candidates.

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C.J. Stroud has rewritten the script for rookie quarterbacks.

Before the Houston Texans star came along, it was rare for a first-rounder to make an immediate impact in terms of both statistics and winning. Players have done one or the other -- Justin Herbert had the numbers, Russell Wilson had the wins, for example -- but it's not often that a young player can pull both off in their first season.

This year's crop of rookies enter the league with heightened expectations after a record-setting draft. For the first time ever, six quarterbacks were selected in the first 12 picks.

Which first-round rookie QB has the best chance to follow in Stroud's footsteps? After NBC Sports' Chris Simms gave his breakdown earlier in the week, here's a ranking of the candidates from top to bottom:

1. Caleb Williams, Bears (No. 1 pick)

Can Williams get the numbers? Yes. The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner was a statistical machine in his two seasons at USC. He racked up 72 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 26 games for the Trojans. With a top-tier wideout trio of D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze, Williams will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

Can Chicago win enough games? Yes. Unlike most No. 1 picks, Williams isn't joining the worst team in the NFL. The Bears went 7-10 last season, including a 7-6 record after an 0-4 start. Williams, plus new receivers Allen and Odunze and free-agent running back D'Andre Swift, gives head coach Matt Eberflus even more talent for 2024. Making the postseason is well within reach, even in a tough NFC North.

2. J.J. McCarthy, Vikings (No. 10 pick)

Can McCarthy get the numbers? Maybe. The Michigan product never posted gaudy numbers in Ann Arbor -- but he was never asked to in Jim Harbaugh's run-heavy system. With head coach Kevin O'Connell and a star pass-catching trio of Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson, McCarthy will be able to air it out. Whether or not he's capable of doing so remains to be seen.

Can Minnesota win enough games? Yes. While the numbers might be harder to come by for McCarthy, his team is in position to win games. The Vikings went 7-10 last season with Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall starting games down the stretch. O'Connell is one of the league's top offensive coaches and defensive coordinator Brian Flores always keeps his team in the game.

3. Jayden Daniels, Commanders (No. 2 pick)

Can Daniels get the numbers? Probably. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been compared to former Washington QB Robert Griffin III, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year back in 2012 after taking home the Heisman. Daniels' mobility should translate to the NFL, so he should pile up rushing yards and scores even if he struggles through the air initially. Austin Ekeler, Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson are a solid stable of skill players to work with.

Can Washington win enough games? Probably not. The Commanders went 4-13 last season. Even after switching coaching staffs and adding a handful of impact defenders in free agency, it's asking a lot to expect them to make the postseason. The NFC East has two regular playoff contenders in the Eagles and Cowboys, which will make things difficult for Daniels and Co. this season.

4. Drake Maye, Patriots (No. 3 pick)

Can Maye get the numbers? Probably not. At this point, Maye is facing an uphill battle to be the Week 1 starter. Veteran Jacoby Brissett was brought in as the ideal bridge quarterback, which will give Maye time to develop. Even if the UNC product does win the starting job, the Patriots aren't exactly a rosy situation. At receiver, they'll be relying on a veteran coming off a torn ACL (Kendrick Bourne), a promising but inexperienced second-year player (DeMario Douglas) and two rookies (Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker).

Can New England win enough games? Probably not. After going 4-13 last season, the Patriots spent free agency re-signing some of their best players. The new front office opted for continuity on the defense, which made sense given how that unit performed in 2023. But the offense failed to add the big-name weapon they sought (Calvin Ridley). Unless rookie head coach Jerod Mayo can work a miracle like DeMeco Ryans did in Houston last year, it's likely to be another losing season in Foxboro.

5. Michael Penix Jr., Falcons (No. 8 pick)

Can Penix get the numbers? Barring an injury to Kirk Cousins, no. The $100 million veteran is the established starter going into this season, even though he's recovering from a torn Achilles. If the 35-year-old Cousins has any sort of setbacks in his return, that could open the door for Penix. And on the off chance that he does see the field, Penix would rise even higher in these rankings. He has an array of skill weapons (Bijan Robinson, Drake London, Kyle Pitts), but for now, he's buried on the depth chart.

Can Atlanta win enough games? Yes. With either Cousins or Penix, the Falcons should be contending for the NFC South title. They went 7-10 last season with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke splitting quarterback duties. Now, with new coach Raheem Morris, Atlanta figures to improve defensively. Again, if Penix actually plays, he rises up this list. But with the assumption that he's the No. 2 quarterback, it's hard to place him above this spot.

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6. Bo Nix, Broncos (No. 12 pick)

Can Nix get the numbers? Maybe. The final pick of the six first-round quarterbacks, Nix has a clear opportunity to start this season. Zach Wilson and Jarrett Stidham are Nix's competitors, which shouldn't exactly strike fear into him. Sean Payton had Russell Wilson posting solid numbers for most of last season, so anything is possible if Nix does start. But the weapons aren't great: Javonte Williams at running back, Courtland Sutton at receiver and Adam Trautman at tight end.

Can Denver win enough games? No. Despite going 8-9 last season -- better than any team on this list -- the Broncos have a grim outlook. They replaced receiver Jerry Jeudy with Josh Reynolds, cut safety Justin Simmons and made no notable free agent signings. And with Nix or Wilson or Stidham at QB, the offense isn't in a great spot to succeed. Add in the fact that they play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes and Herbert, and there's a slim chance that Denver snaps its eight-year postseason drought in 2024.

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