The 11 most fascinating 2024 NFL draft prospects: Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy drive intrigue

The 2024 NFL draft is officially two months away. And with the scouting combine starting this week, the pre-draft process is about to begin its time in the spotlight.

The 321 players who will descend on Indianapolis for the event are already known entities to the 32 teams, though the franchises will use the forum as an opportunity to conduct interviews and supplement their evaluations with additional information. But many fans might still be catching up on the figures who will no doubt drive debate over the coming months.

With that in mind, here are the 11 most fascinating prospects in this year's NFL draft class:

11. Qwan'tez Stiggers, CB, Toronto Argonauts

It's a shame that Stiggers wasn't invited to the combine, as the event could have provided a larger stage for one of this draft's most compelling figures. The Atlanta native dropped out of Division II Lane College after his father's death in 2020. After a stop in Fan Controlled Football, he became the Canadian Football League's most outstanding rookie last season after a campaign in which he notched five interceptions. Now, he could be poised to become one of the rare draftees who never played any college football.

10. Kiran Amegadjie, G, Yale

The Ivy League has ample representation in the NFL thanks to the likes of San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczk, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and Los Angeles Rams edge rusher Michael Hoecht, among others. Amegadjie, however, has the chance to be the rare product from those select few schools who enters the league with high expectations. The 6-5, 326-pounder dominated the competition as a left tackle. Even in a deep class for offensive linemen, he stands out as a captivating option for a team that can teach him to harness his overwhelming power and tenacity as a blocker.

9. T'Vondre Sweat, DT, Texas

One year after Jordan Davis turned heads at the combine at 6-6 and 341 pounds, another supersized defensive tackle is trying to make a push all the way into Day 1 of the draft. The 362-pound Sweat gained more than 100 pounds at Texas and became a force, winning the Outland Trophy in 2023 as the best interior lineman in college football. He doesn't offer Davis' upside as a pass rusher, but he still will pose a significant problem for opposing offenses while regularly commanding double-teams.

8. Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State

The traits almost all scream top-10 pick, with his explosiveness and 6-3, 255-pound frame earning him comparisons to former Nittany Lions standout Micah Parsons. The production, however, never quite amounted to what one expected from a premier pass rusher. Robinson probably isn't as fluid or fast as Parsons – who is? – but teams will gladly bet on edge threats with superlative athleticism. Expect him to emerge as one of the top testers at the combine.

7. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

Can he sneak into the first round as possibly the fifth passer taken? The former five-star recruit at Auburn pulled off an impressive career revival at Oregon, throwing for more than 8,000 yards and 74 touchdowns in two years. But Oregon's system afforded him ample throws behind the line of scrimmage, and questions about his arm strength will linger.

6. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

The four career season-ending injuries – two torn ACLs and two shoulder ailments – might prove problematic to his draft stock. But it's hard to write off the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who looked masterful in a College Football Playoff semifinal win over Texas before unraveling in the title game against Michigan. As a pure thrower, Penix can be sublime when he's fully in rhythm, as he can zip throws to almost any spot on the field. But he is often undone when forced off his spot, and it might be hard to sell teams on using an early pick on a quarterback who will be 24 as a rookie and struggles with pressure.

5. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

After a prolific career that included helping the Bulldogs win two national titles, Bowers could join Kyle Pitts, T.J. Hockenson and Eric Ebron as the only tight ends selected with a top-10 pick in the last 10 years. Listed at 6-4 and 240 pounds, he's hardly the prototype for the position like Pitts was. Still, Bowers has rare ability to shed tackles and rack up yards after the catch. But recall that Pitts, whose career with the Atlanta Falcons still hasn't taken off, was chosen ahead of Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, among others. Will Bowers face a similar dynamic with other talented receivers who could land in the top 10 in Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze?

4. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

Whenever a quarterback makes the kind of stratospheric leap that Daniels did after transferring from Arizona State, it warrants closer inspection. The 2023 Heisman Trophy winner became a true dual threat, showing himself to be comfortable picking teams apart from the pocket or taking off for long gains. His accuracy, poise and decision-making bode well for a smooth transition to the NFL. As a runner, however, he can be extremely wild and invite hits that will leave teams nervous about how he can hold up at the next level.

3. Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs the ball against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field.
North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs the ball against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field.

In the best-case scenario, the 6-4, 230-pounder will give his future team a passer somewhere in the Josh Allen or Justin Herbert arena. In the worst-case scenario, he might end up the kind of quarterback many feared those two would have been had they not quickly refined their games shortly after reaching the NFL. Maye's top-tier arm strength and comfort throwing on the move will spark some phenomenal highlight-reel plays. But suspect decision-making and shaky mechanics make him a highly volatile passer who will need to clean up some substantial mistakes.

2. Caleb Williams, QB, USC

Yes, this is a bit of a quarterback spree, and it might seem like a cheat to have the overwhelming favorite for the No. 1 pick on here. But how could this exercise go on without the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and a player with singular creativity? Williams became an even more intriguing evaluation after a challenging final campaign in which his proclivity for pursuing big plays frequently came at a high cost. While the Patrick Mahomes comparisons are inherently unfair, they'll no doubt follow him for the early portion of his career. The biggest developmental question for Williams is whether he can settle in and play on schedule in the manner Mahomes has, with that patience helping make him the premier passer in the game after defenses sold out to shut down his deep shots.

1. J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

All quarterback draft picks entail a somewhat sizable leap of faith. This one, however, likely will have evaluators on edge. McCarthy didn't shoulder the load for Michigan in the way that the other quarterbacks on this list did for their respective teams. While he displayed significant growth in his second year as a starter, his lapses in many phases − particularly in his processing and decision-making − leave considerable question about where exactly he stands right now in his development. Some teams will no doubt be captivated by his athleticism, arm strength and potential. Others might be deterred by the unknowns. In all, he's very likely to be this draft class' most polarizing prospect.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 NFL draft's most fascinating prospects: Drake Maye among top 11