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Ranking top-10 candidates to go No. 1 overall in 2025 NFL Draft: Shedeur Sanders, Carson Beck best QB options

Who in the world is going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2025 NFL Draft? There’s no Caleb Williams written in pencil, like was the case at this time a year ago. 

Therefore, it’s time to rank the likeliest candidates.

Before we begin, let’s consider history. In the last 15 years, 11 quarterbacks have gone first overall. The four other top picks in that time frame consist of one tackle — Eric Fisher in 2013 — and three defensive ends — Jadeveon Clowney in 2014, Myles Garrett in 2017 and Travon Walker in 2021. 

We don’t appear to be at the precipice of a paradigm shift in NFL history, with a new position reaching a crescendo in value. That’s coupled with a lack of a supreme prospect at one of those “lesser valued” spots on the field. As a result, it’s safe to bet the No. 1 overall pick in 2025 will be a quarterback, edge rusher or offensive tackle. 

Let’s get to the top 10.

10. Will Campbell, OT, LSU

Why he could go No. 1: Plus pass-protection, balance, experience

If you’re a multi-year stud left tackle in the SEC, you’re going to be high on the draft radar. If you’re listed at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds like Campbell is, there will be first-round and potentially top-10-overall buzz. 

LSU’s superstar blocker was the No. 9 overall offensive tackle recruit in the high school class of 2022, per 247 Sports, which indicates plenty of inherent natural ability, which is a must for a future No. 1 overall pick. What I also love about Campbell as a potential top pick is that he’ll only be 21 years old in January. Being that young with what will amount to three — likely productive — seasons in the NFL’s farm-system conference gives Campbell what it takes to be the rare offensive tackle to be the first pick. 

9. Drew Allar, QB, Penn State

Why he could go No. 1: Classic size, natural arm strength, upside

Allar was the No. 1 overall quarterback in the 2022 class, per 247 Sports, stepping onto Penn State’s campus with magnificent hype. After attempting 60 passes as a true freshman, Allar proved he was ready for the bright lights of the Big 10 last season — beyond a dreadful showing against Ohio State. He threw 25 touchdown passes with a mere two picks and had a minuscule 10.2% pressure-to-sack rate. 

At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Allar has deceptive functional mobility to bounce away from oncoming defenders inside the pocket. If he demonstrates more twitchiness in his movements and elevates his play in some of the Nittany Lions marquee games — like at USC and at home against Ohio State a few weeks later — there will be first-round hype. With Allar, who’s only 20 years old, it’s always been about his tremendous, No. 1 overall pick upside, which he demonstrated at times in 2023 — even if there are raw edges to his game. 

8. Jalen Milroe, QB, Alabama

Why he could go No. 1: Scrambling/designed-run ability, arm talent, potential as passer

Milroe clearly has to improve as a passer to garner genuine No. 1 overall pick consideration. You know that. He knows that. Athletically, he’s already there. He’s thicker than most of the running quarterback specimens who’ve entered as early-round picks the past five or so years, and do not count me as someone who’ll be surprised when he tests through the roof at the combine next March. 

Let’s also not forget that Milroe threw 10 touchdowns to only one interception in Alabama’s final five games in 2023, albeit at low volume. New head coach Kalen DeBoer will undoubtedly utilize Milroe on the ground this upcoming season, but the heir apparent to Nick Saban was integral in Michael Penix Jr.’s vast development at Washington. And it wouldn’t be shocking if Milroe does mature as a thrower now — he’s only thrown 344 passes to date in his collegiate career. 

If that maturation comes, Milroe will be able to sell himself to NFL teams as an ascending thrower with supreme athletic gifts from the football gods. 

7. Donovan Smith, QB, Houston

Why he could go No. 1: Size, dual-threat athleticism, velocity, ascending talent

Smith is my dark-horse, out-of-nowhere, Joe Burrow/Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray selection for the quarterback who, after hovering under the radar, elevates to the No. 1 overall pick. 

No one had Burrow, Mayfield, nor Murray as top selections before their final collegiate seasons. Heck, Zach Wilson went No. 2 overall in 2021 from total obscurity at BYU. 

Smith is a 6-foot-5, 240-pound, multi-dimensional talent who’s completed more than 64% of this throws across three collegiate seasons, the most recent being a full-time starter campaign at Houston. He’s scored 16 rushing touchdowns entering 2024. Smith demonstrated moments of the football jumping out of his hand on deep out-breaking routes toward the boundary or long-balls up the seam last season. 

His new head coach, Willie Fritz, did a masterful job at Tulane, and he inherits one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. Smith isn’t ultra polished. But does a quarterback even need to be ridiculously refined anymore to be the top pick? Cam Newton wasn’t. Neither was Caleb Williams. 

6. Abdul Carter, LB/EDGE, Penn State

Why he could go No. 1: Versatility, length, dynamic athleticism, potential 

Because of the white helmet he dons in college, Carter will inevitably draw Micah Parsons comparisons. While the general reaction to that sentiment will be, “Hey, that’s not fair,” Carter was the No. 9 linebacker recruit in the nation in 2022, so he’s part of a small fraternity of defenders who at least have a chance, physically, to meet Parsonian expectations. 

Now, if Carter is simply deployed as an off-ball linebacker, he has essentially no chance to be the first pick. But, if we see more moonlighting on the edge, like Parsons at Penn State, there’s a chance. 

One would think that, because of Parsons’ Hall of Fame start to his game, NFL decision-makers have tweaked their evaluations of hybrid linebacker-outside rushers with tremendous athletic traits. He made Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” a year ago, meaning he should be higher than the No. 43 ranking he had last August. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Carter possesses No. 1 overall pick size as an edge rusher. 

In two seasons, when sent as a pass rusher, Carter has generated a seismic 48 pressures on 197 attempts, which equates to an unheard-of 24.3% pressure-creation rate.

5. Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas

Why he could go No. 1: Live arm, improving mobility, aggression, experience

Ewers’ time as a recruit was special, as he was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation. And since transferring to Texas, we’ve seen glimpses of what made him so highly touted as a teenager. His 349-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance at Alabama will forever be etched in University of Texas lore as one of the finest performances in the storied program’s history. 

With Steve Sarkisian calling the plays, Ewers has gotten NFL-caliber coordination for going on three years now, which will provide a nice draft-stock boost when it matters most. 

There were some accuracy mishaps sprinkled throughout his breakout 2023 campaign for the Longhorns, so if he plays with more passing precision in 2024, they’ll be very noticeable and will likely lead to No. 1 overall pick buzz. 

4. Jordan Burch, EDGE, Oregon

Why he could go No. 1: Intimidating size and length, supreme athleticism relative to his frame

Listed all the way up at No. 4 in Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” before the start of the 2023 college football season, Burch exudes athletic superiority when he’s on the field. It jumps off the film, even in the SEC, where he played for three seasons at South Carolina. 

Depending on where you look, Burch is somewhere in the 6-foot-6, 275-290 pound range, which does make him larger than most edge rushers, even in the NFL. Then again, Garrett was 6-foot-4, 272 pounds and Walker was 6-foot-5, 272 at his combine, so recent history suggests that if a defensive end is going to go No. 1 overall, he needs to be an undisputed specimen. Burch is precisely that. 

His film is littered with tremendous illustrations of how gifted he is, moments where he moves like a small-ish outside linebacker. Now, the production to date has not been No. 1 overall pick quality. No doubt. Yet it’s not insane for an NFL team to be convinced they can get high-level productivity out of a truly unique specimen. Ask the Jaguars and Walker, although that experiment hasn’t quite worked out yet.  

3. Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado

Why he could go No. 1: Pocket-passing prowess, processing, smooth athleticism, accuracy

Sanders is approaching 1,400 passes in his collegiate career, undoubtedly a plus on his draft resume. And when he’s in rhythm he’s as surgical as any passer in the class with instances of premier anticipatory skill.

But right when Sanders appears to be a wizard navigating the pocket, he takes sacks on three consecutive plays. His offensive line should be sturdier this season than it was in 2023, but the 25.1% pressure-to-sack rate is concerning. 

As a runner, Sanders picks his spots wisely. And while he’s not as fast or sudden as his dad was — no one is blaming him for that — he’s silky smooth and understands sliding or getting out of bounds is typically the smart decision with the ball in his hands. 

Then there’s everything that comes along with the name recognition of Sanders. Some teams will shy away from the son of “Prime Time.” But it wouldn’t be outlandish for a franchise to embrace all of it. If we see more heat on some of his longer throws, and he continues to play poised from the pocket while intermittently moving the chains with his legs, yes, Sanders will squarely be on the No. 1 pick radar. 

2. Carson Beck, QB, Georgia 

Why he could go No. 1: Precision passing, calmness in the pocket, big-game experience and production

Beck had an adjusted completion percentage of 80.6% in 2023, the third-highest in all of FBS among qualifying quarterbacks, and his average depth of target (aDOT), at 8.5 yards), was notably higher than the two quarterbacks ahead of him, one being Bo Nix (his aDOT was 6.8) — he’s the most accurate returning starter in college football

And Georgia is one of those “reload, not rebuild” programs, meaning Beck will continue to throw to high-caliber talent at receiver and tight end even after losing Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey to the first two rounds of the 2024 draft. 

More than anything else, Beck needs to demonstrate off-structure capability, as it’s become a vital element on any quarterback prospect’s draft resume. Without it, I don’t think we can see that passer go No. 1 overall. But everything else about Beck that has to do with his arm — and he can really spin it — screams No. 1 overall pick, particularly in what is perceived to be a “down” class at the position. 

1. James Pearce, EDGE, Tennessee

Why he could go No. 1: Length, bend, pass-rush moves, first-step quicks, closing speed

In his first full season in the SEC, all Pearce did was create a quarterback pressure on 21.1% of his opportunities, a seismic number regardless of age or experience. 

That could be the entire write-up on Pearce, and it’d be worthwhile for top-pick consideration. But it’ll provide context. Pearce achieved that monstrous number not on a multitude of stunts or at a low volume. It was 52 pressures on 246 pass-rushing opportunities. Sure, teams would probably like to see that rep figure increase to somewhere in the 300 or 400 range in 2024, and it likely will for the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder. 

Pearce appears to have long limbs and demonstrated like 50 pass-rush moves on his way to SEC quarterbacks a season ago. He was the No. 18 edge-rushing recruit in the nation in 2022 and only turns 21 years old in October. Sure, there’s a chance Pearce’s pass-rushing efficiency dips in 2024. Based on what he put on display last year, there’s also a chance he hovers near the same pressure-creation rate while adding more power to his game. If that happens, and we don’t get any out-of-this-world year-long performances from a quarterback, he’ll be the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2025 draft. He’s that talented with All-Pro upside. 

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Author: Chris Trapasso
June 18, 2024 | 11:50 am

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