College News & Analysis

Caleb Williams vs Drake Maye: Who’s QB1 in the 2024 NFL Draft?

Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • Breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of USC quarterback Caleb Williams and North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye.
  • Williams creates magic on his own: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner thrives outside of the offense's structure.
  • Maye is deadly in the pocket: The redshirt freshman was the highest-graded quarterback from inside the pocket in 2022.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

By now, you’re probably exhausted by the debates surrounding Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud about who should be the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft

So instead of debating who should be picked first a few weeks from now, let’s begin the discussion of who should go first a year from now.

USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye already have scouts drooling over the 2024 NFL Draft. In fact, they were the first two picks in my mock draft if everyone in college football was eligible

Here’s what makes each player special, some early areas that need improvement and ultimately, who should be seen as the top quarterback prospect once and for all (at least until next season starts).

The case for Caleb Williams

Williams has been dominant since his true freshman season at Oklahoma. In fact, he was the highest-graded true freshman signal-caller in the PFF College era, beating out a generational quarterback prospect.

Highest-graded true freshman quarterbacks since 2014
Name School Season Grade
Caleb Williams Oklahoma 2021 91.3
Trevor Lawrence Clemson 2018 90.7

This past season, Williams won the Heisman Trophy and ranked second among all Power Five quarterbacks with a 91.6 grade and 32 big-time throws. He also led the country in passing touchdowns (42) and was third in passing yards (4,539).

Williams excels at improvising. This past season, he led all quarterbacks in the country outside of the offense's structure in passing yards (707), passing touchdowns (10) and big-time throws (10). Williams has special arm talent and dexterity that allows him to make any throw from any platform. He’s so good outside of the original play design that many have already made lofty comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, someone who Williams told me he sees himself in

He's also a load to bring down at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. Williams routinely broke out of sack attempts and forced a missed tackle on 38% of his rushing attempts this past season, trailing only Anthony Richardson among Power Five quarterbacks with at least 75 attempts. 

The case for Drake Maye

While Williams is electric outside of structure, Maye is lethal in it, as the North Carolina quarterback’s 92.5 grade inside of the pocket led all quarterbacks in the country this past season. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, which he pairs with a rocket right arm. Maye’s 97.5 deep passing grade and 45 big-time throws each led all quarterbacks in the country. 

While he’s at his best inside the pocket, he’s far from a statue. Maye’s 899 rushing yards were the third-most among all quarterbacks in the country this past season, as were his 535 yards after contact. He won’t break as many tackles as Williams (17% forced missed tackle rate), but his legs certainly must be accounted for.

Not to mention, Maye did all of that while under constant duress. His 235 dropbacks under pressure were the most in the country, as the Tar Heels had just the 76th-best pass-blocking grade in the FBS (61.6). 

To top it all off, Maye was the most valuable player in the country this past season according to PFF’s wins above average metric

Improvement areas for each

Williams’ ability as a creator is a double-edged sword at times in that he can create special plays while also putting added pressure on his offensive line. His average time to throw was 3.24 seconds last season, the highest among Power Five quarterbacks. Because of that, 27.3% of the pressure Williams experienced was by his own doing. Since USC loses three starters from that offensive line, it’ll be interesting to see if he can find the same level of success holding onto the ball longer than nearly every quarterback in college football.

While Maye can scramble to pick up yards, his accuracy tends to wane on the move. His 65.2% adjusted completion rate outside the pocket ranked just 87th among all quarterbacks in the country. Also, if his first read is taken away, Maye often struggles to make something happen. His 62.9 passing grade on throws past his first read ranked just 65th in the country. Since he’s losing his top two receivers in Josh Downs and Antoine Green, more pressure will be on Maye to create offense on his own. 


Either of these two would likely be the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, showing how special the 2024 draft could be. 

Picking between them comes down to personal flavor at the quarterback position. If you want a signal-caller who can create offense on his own, that would be Williams. However, if you want one who’ll torch defenses from inside of the pocket, that’d be Maye. As of right now, I’ll give the slight edge to Williams due to his ability outside of structure and the fact that he’s performed at an elite level for two years now. 

Regardless of who you prefer, NFL teams will be tripping over themselves to obtain a top-two selection in the 2024 draft.

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