NFL 2024 rookie QB outlook: Best-case scenarios for Caleb Williams, other Year 1 signal-callers

What’s the worst that could happen? A fair question to ask when a rookie quarterback is thrust onto an NFL field in his rookie season, especially if most believe he’s playing too soon. 

Yet NFL coaches are people just like the rest of us, and society today isn’t too fond of waiting to get their young quarterbacks into a regular-season game. And as we’ve seen with the likes of C.J. StroudJustin Herbert and Joe Burrow, sometimes rookie passers can experience a best-case scenario in Year 1. 

In this article, I’ve gone deep and gotten very specific in my determination of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2024 rookie quarterbacks, just like I did last year for Bryce Young, Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Co. As you’ll see below, the figures are based upon these quarterbacks actually getting a chance to play considerable snaps in their first seasons — which, of course, isn’t a guarantee for all those passers drafted early in late April.

For the sake of this piece, we’re going to assume the quarterbacks included all get a sizable opportunity. Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels are locks for that. Drake Maye, probably. J.J. McCarthy feels like the classic “he won’t need to play until December” rookie who’ll be on the field sooner than later, and Bo Nix, almost by default because of the rest of the Broncos quarterback depth chart, will play the vast majority of his rookie season. From there, I took liberties with how much above or below the averages I feel each quarterback could land in a best- and worst-case scenario.

To begin, I found parameters of expectations for these first-year passers. As a baseline, I used the seasons from the 18 quarterbacks who threw for at least 200 passes as a rookie over the past five seasons. Well actually, it’s 17 passers plus Brock Purdy. I included his gaudy first-year stats in San Francisco for the average of the entire group although he only threw 170 passes in his first NFL season because he essentially set a new standard in rookie quarterback efficiency in 2022. 

Here’s a look:

Comp. % Yards Per Attempt TD %  INT % QB Rating Sack %

High mark (Justin Herbert, 2020)

66.6

7.3

5.2

1.7

98.3

5.1

Low mark (Zach Wilson, 2021)

55.6

5.8

2.3

2.9

69.7

10.3

Average of entire group

62.5

6.8

3.7

2.2

85.6

7.8

Now, in a perfect world, we’d have a much larger sample size to conduct this study. However, NFL studies are not like most other studies in that a larger sample size can actually be counterproductive because of how swiftly the game changes for everyone on the field, most notably the quarterbacks. Including passers from even before, say, 2019 feels too outdated to be predictive whatsoever. 

For context on the averages, the 61.5% completion was almost identical to Matthew Stafford last year. The 6.8 yards-per-attempt figure was just below the 6.9 YPA of Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert and Justin Fields in 2023. The average TD% of 3.8 was right between Trevor Lawrence (3.7%) and Geno Smith (4.0%) a season ago. The 2.2% interception rate was between Stafford and Patrick Mahomes. The collective 82.5 rating would’ve been smack dab between Gardner Minshew (84.6) and Fields (86.3), and the 7.8% sack rate was in the range of Lamar Jackson’s (7.5%) and Jake Browning (9.0%).

Now that you have genuine, stat-based expectations to refer to, let’s get to best- and worst-case scenarios for 2024 rookie passers. 

(Before I begin … If you’re wondering if these are worthwhile to check and are predictive at all, here was the low-end projection for Bryce Young before his rookie season with the Panthers next to his actual statistics from Year 1. 

  • Young’s worst-case scenario projection: 60% completion, 6.1 yards per attempt, 2,440 passing yards, 10 TD passes, 12 INTs, 32 sacks, 74.1 rating
  • Young’s actual 2023 season: 59.8% completion, 5.5 yards per attempt, 2,877 passing yards, 11 TD passes, 10 INTs, 62 sacks, 73.7 rating

Best-case scenario: 65% completion, 7.5 yards per attempt, 3,750 passing yards, 25 TD passes, 5 INTs, 28 sacks, 100.0 rating
Worst-case scenario: 60% completion, 6.6 yards per attempt, 3,300 passing yards, 17 TD passes, 13 INTs, 45 sacks, 82.5 rating

C.J. Stroud threw 499 passes in 2023 in his dazzling NFL debut campaign, so I’m using 500 attempts as the benchmark for Williams in these projections. Stroud did miss two games last season due to injury.

Because I believe Williams will be chucking it downfield relatively often — like Stroud did — I don’t foresee, even on the high end, a super-high completion rate for the Bears rookie. But the yards per attempt could absolutely be robust while the sack rate could be low, given how ridiculously nimble he is when pressure mounts. 

Williams is such an accurate thrower and has a fine receiving trio at his disposal. I would be completely floored if his completion rate is under 60%. Just couldn’t bring myself to project any lower than that. And many of his low-end projections are closer to the average than Wilson’s 2021. 

Best-case scenario: 67% completion, 7.0 yards per attempt, 4,015 passing yards, 28 TD passes, 8 INTs, 44 sacks, 99.1 rating
Worst-case scenario: 61% completion, 6.3 yards per attempt, 3,630 passing yards, 22 TD passes, 13 INTs, 55 sacks, 83.8 rating

I don’t feel way out on a limb suggesting the Bears defense to be ahead of the Commanders, which should lead to more pass attempts for Daniels in a few more come-from-behind situations than Williams. So his projections were based on 550 attempts as a rookie. In this five-year sample, Lawrence has the most rookie-year attempts at 602, for perspective. 

For as magnificent of a downfield thrower as Daniels was at LSU, I envision more high-percentage throws in the Washington pass game in 2024, that should boost his completion rate. Really, in that receiver room it’s Terry McLaurin and a collection of question marks and uncertain commodities. 

And the one clear weakness Daniels demonstrated as a prospect was how frequently pressures turned to sacks, which is why both of his sack projections are rather high. 

Best-case scenario: 62% completion, 7.0 yards per attempt, 3,240 passing yards, 23 TD passes, 10 INTs, 29 sacks, 91.5 rating
Worst-case scenario: 58% completion, 6.4 yards per attempt. 2,700 passing yards, 17 TD passes, 14 INTs, 38 sacks, 75 rating

Basing these on 450 passes from Maye in his rookie season. While the Patriots will probably be trailing more than they’re leading, I do expect the defense to keep them in games, thereby giving offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt ample reason to run the football in throwback outings of 20-ish years ago that New England will attempt to win 17-14 without putting too much on Maye’s plate in Year 1. 

I do believe in his arm talent and quarterback amnesia, so there is a world in which Maye lifts the Patriots’ recently stagnant pass game. There also is a world in which Maye is hindered by the lack of top-end receiving talent and youth on the roster. 

Best-case scenario: 67% completion, 8.0 yards per attempt, 3,360 passing yards, 21 TD passes, 8 INTs, 25 sacks, 100.8 rating
Worst-case scenario: 62% completion, 6.7 yards per attempt, 1,407 passing yards, 6 TD passes, 5 INTs, 17 sacks, 81.1 rating

For the best-case scenario I went 420 attempts for McCarthy, which averages out to 30 attempts across 14 contests. No one should be shocked if Sam Darnold gets pulled after three games in 2024. Remember, he has to clearly beat out a shiny new first-round pick in camp, too, which in my mind, is far from a guarantee, although we’ll hear all about the Vikings taking it slowly with McCarthy until camp begins. 

Given the time-tested excellence of the Shanahan-based offense — and how well Kevin O’Connell operated with Kirk Cousins, Joshua Dobbs and Nick Mullens in 2023 — McCarthy could be the most efficient passer of the group from a yards-per-attempt perspective.

For the worst-case scenario, I decided on 210 attempts for McCarthy, which is 30 attempts in seven games. And that would represent a two-layered worst-case scenario for the rookie — he doesn’t look ready in camp nor the preseason, and Darnold plays reasonable football for 10 games. 

Beyond the schematic advantage McCarthy has in Minnesota, he also finds himself with a luxurious offensive line and skill-position group. His completion rate won’t be below 60%, and his worst YPA would be close to the group’s average.

Best-case scenario: 65% completion, 7.2 yards per attempt, 3,780 passing yards, 26 TD passes, 8 INTs, 26 sacks, 96.3 rating
Worst-case scenario: 58% completion, 6.2 yards per attempt, 3,255 passing yards, 18 TD passes, 12 INTs, 32 sacks, 78.2 rating

I went with 525 pass attempts for both scenarios for Nix — close to the 521 attempts Mac Jones made in 2021. Either way, the Broncos are riding with Nix in 2024. They have to. 

While I absolutely am with everyone who believes Sean Payton will provide Nix with a very quarterback-friendly system in 2024, the rookie will eventually have to stretch defenses vertically, and I didn’t think he was overly accurate downfield when he wasn’t throwing to wide-open receivers at Oregon. And that speaks to my projection of a lower “best-case” completion rate than maybe you expected. In the best-case scenario, Payton should keep him fairly efficient throwing the ball. 

On the low end of the spectrum, Nix won’t have a ghastly season because of the insulation Payton can provide, but the receiver group isn’t formidable and I do think his lack of premier physical talent could hurt him more often than not. Either way, not a huge range for Nix, which is probably a good thing. 

Read More

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here