On the other side of the standings, there's no problem. The bad teams are very, very bad. Their chances of making it to the postseason might have fallen by the wayside, but over the next two months, they'll have another task at hand. That's because the top of the 2024 draft is expected to deliver two franchise quarterback prospects in Caleb Williams (USC) and Drake Maye (North Carolina).
Woeful for Williams? Make Mistakes for Drake? Bad teams have every reason to hope that they bottom out and land one of those top two picks, because those players could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years. The value of landing a franchise quarterback is self-explanatory, but even if one of these teams has a quarterback in place, they could deal a top-two selection for multiple first-rounders. If there was ever a year to be terrible, it's 2023.
Who will land pick Nos. 1 and 2? And what happens if they do? Let's set the table for the race to the bottom with eight weeks to go. I've asked my friends at ESPN Stats & Information to simulate the rest of the season 10,000 times, and I used the results to identify the eight teams that have at least a 0.1% chance of landing the top pick in the draft. I'll lay out their path toward the bottom, which games they'll need to lose to get there and what might happen if they do land the opportunity to draft Maye or Williams.
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Two things to keep in mind before we get started. I'm not going to make any sort of judgment about whether a team would take or prefer Maye over Williams or vice versa, in part because many of the teams themselves probably haven't formed their opinion as of yet. There's still college football games to go, let alone the entire pre-draft process. I'm going to assume the two quarterbacks will be the top two prospects heading into next April, but I'm agnostic about the order in which they'll come off the board.
The other thing I'm going to discuss is whether a team might be "tanking," and I need to clarify what that means. It does not mean that a team's players are actively trying to lose. It doesn't mean that a coach is deliberately playing third-stringers ahead of more talented players. Tanking is more about roster construction and is more subtle. Are injured veterans rushing their way back into the lineup? Did a team make trades, either before the season or at the deadline, to sacrifice 2023 talent at the expense of improving in 2024 and beyond? Are they giving rookies and younger players more playing time than their established level of play might warrant? Those are the factors I'm considering when I'm talking about whether a team is really tanking.
I'll start with the team that has the best chance of landing the first overall pick and work my way down. This franchise doesn't have the best odds by virtue of its own record, but after making a wise decision a year ago, it's getting help from the league's worst team:
1. Chicago Bears (3-7)
Chances of landing the No. 1 overall pick: 40.4%
Chances of landing one of the top two picks: 70.4%
Chances of landing both the No. 1 and No. 2 pick: 3%