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Six quarterbacks were selected in the top 12 picks of the 2024 NFL Draft, so these rookies will be under the microscope more than ever before. Their performance will be dissected in every which way, compared with their fellow rookies, rookies across NFL history, the rest of the league this season and, of course, the quarterbacks they are replacing. 

History tells us it's a coin flip that they will outplay their predecessors as rookies. There have been 44 qualified seasons by rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2001. Twenty-three of them outplayed (or matched) their team's quarterback from the previous season in terms of EPA (expected points added) per play. In 2023, C.J. Stroud blew the Texans' previous quarterback (Davis Mills) out of the water. Justin Herbert had big shoes to fill in 2020, but he still matched Philip Rivers' level of play. 

One of the more surprising items from this list was Zach Wilson outplaying Sam Darnold. That's how bad the Jets' quarterback play has been I suppose. In that same vein, I don't think the Patriots would be too encouraged by Drake Maye slightly outperforming what Mac Jones did in 2023, but hey, it would be a step forward at least.

First-round rookie QBs who outperformed signal-caller they replaced

TeamRookie QuarterbackPrevious Quarterback

2023 Texans

C.J. Stroud

Davis Mills

2022 Steelers

Kenny Pickett

Ben Roethlisberger

2021 Jets

Zach Wilson

Sam Darnold

2021 Patriots

Mac Jones

Cam Newton

2020 Bengals

Joe Burrow

Andy Dalton

2020 Chargers

Justin Herbert

Philip Rivers

2019 Cardinals

Kyler Murray

Josh Rosen

2018 Browns

Baker Mayfield

DeShone Kizer

2016 Eagles

Carson Wentz

Sam Bradford

2015 Buccaneers

Jameis Winston

Josh McCown

2015 Titans

Marcus Mariota

Combo of QBs

2014 Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater

Matt Cassel

2012 Colts

Andrew Luck

Curtis Painter

2012 Washington

Robert Griffin III

Rex Grossman

2012 Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill

Matt Moore

2012 Browns

Brandon Weeden

Colt McCoy

2011 Panthers

Cam Newton

Jimmy Clausen

2011 VikingsChristian PonderBrett Favre

2010 Rams

Sam Bradford

Marc Bulger

2008 Falcons

Matt Ryan

Joey Harrington

2008 Ravens

Joe Flacco

Kyle Boller

2004 Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger

Tommy Maddox

2002 WashingtonPatrick RamseyTony Banks

With that in mind, I've ranked the rookie class by most likely to outplay their predecessor. At least two or three should do it considering how low the bar is. Five of the six quarterbacks being replaced were among the league's worst last year.

2024 rookie quarterbacks most likely to outplay predecessor

6. J.J. McCarthy, Vikings (Predecessor: Kirk Cousins)

J.J. McCarthy is the least-likely quarterback to outplay his predecessor, mostly because Kirk Cousins was a top-10 quarterback last year before he tore his Achilles in Week 8. McCarthy also has to beat out Sam Darnold for the starting job, and we're not exactly sure what we'll see out of McCarthy anyways. He flashed upside at Michigan, but wasn't asked to carry the team in a run-heavy offense. 

5. Michael Penix Jr., Falcons (Predecessor: Desmond Ridder)

I considered Penix for last place on this list, considering he could sit the entire season behind Kirk Cousins or be hurt himself. The scenario where Cousins is hurt and Penix is healthy is a small slice on the Venn diagram of Falcons' 2024 quarterback play.

Yet with Cousins coming off an Achilles injury, the door is certainly open for more injuries in 2024. The bar would be low for Penix. Desmond Ridder ranked fourth worst in EPA per play among qualified quarterbacks last season. He had the highest turnover rate (4.4 percent of dropbacks) of any quarterback in the last three seasons. If Penix is forced into action, I'll bet he can outplay what Ridder did last year and elevate the young talent around him. Penix led the FBS in completions (60) and touchdown passes (26) of 25-plus air yards in the last two seasons.  

4. Drake Maye, Patriots (Predecessor: Mac Jones)

I expect a wash when comparing the Patriots' quarterback situation in 2023 and what Drake Maye can provide in 2024. The Patriots have one of the worst situations ever for a first-round quarterback prospect, especially one as raw as Drake Maye. As Jared Dubin noted recently, they have the worst offensive infrastructure in the league, by a lot. The Patriots offensive line and skill players didn't improve much from last year, when Mac Jones posted the third-worst EPA per play figure in the league. When and if Maye sees the field (he's currently the backup to Jacoby Brissett) he should at least provide more value with his legs as he ran for over 1,000 yards in the last two years at North Carolina. For that reason alone he finds himself in the middle of this list. 

3. Bo Nix, Broncos (Predecessor: Russell Wilson)

Don't be fooled by 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions by Russell Wilson in 2023. It's a nice ratio but he still posted career lows in yards per attempt (6.9) and yards per completion (10.3). He ranked 23rd in EPA per play, and for good measure, he was 21st in ESPN's Total QBR. 

Meanwhile, Nix could be a nice fit with the Broncos and Sean Payton. He set the FBS record for completion rate in a season last year, had the eighth quickest time to throw (2.48 sec), plus 22 touchdown passes and no interceptions in throws under 2.5 seconds. As you've probably heard, there's been comparisons to Drew Brees made, who set the NFL completion rate record with Payton in 2018.  If there's anyone who's going to come in and play competently right off the bat, wouldn't it be a quarterback with an FBS-record 61 starts in college?

2. Caleb Williams, Bears (Predecessor: Justin Fields)

Caleb Williams has the best group of pass catchers of any No. 1 overall quarterback as a rookie in NFL history. He's the first top-five pick quarterback to ever inherit two receivers coming off seasons with 1,200 receiving yards (D.J. Moore and Keenan Allen). Chicago's other first-round pick, Rome Odunze, led the FBS in receiving yards last year. Williams should be an upgrade with the most improved wideout core in the league, especially considering Justin Fields was below average a year ago. 

My only concern is the coaching staff. Will new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron bring out the best in Williams and Co.? He was in Seattle last year where Geno Smith didn't take a step forward after a breakout 2022 season, despite the Seahawks drafting Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round. Seattle only ranked 16th in percentage of plays with three-plus WR on the field last year despite a trio of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Smith-Njigba. Let's see if Waldron puts Allen, Moore and Odunze on the field together more in 2024. 

1. Jayden Daniels, Commanders (Predecessor: Sam Howell)

Daniels, the 2023 Heisman winner, is the best bet to outplay his predecessor. Sam Howell had the most interceptions, turnovers and sacks taken in the NFL last year, while ranking 27th among quarterbacks in EPA per play. Plus, Daniels should be in a good situation with offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. Kyler Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year with Kingsbury in 2019, and Daniels comes in with a similar skill set. In fact, Murray and Daniels are the only quarterbacks in FBS history with 40 touchdown passes, 10 rushing touchdowns and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.