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Predicting the Most Surprising Rookie Gems from the 2024 NFL Draft Class

The 2024 NFL draft class has the potential to be one of the most exciting ever, thanks to a top-heavy group of offensive talent.

There is a trio of potential superstar wide receivers: Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers. A dynamic tight end in Brock Bowers, a collection of potential franchise tackles in Joe Alt, JC Latham and Olu Fashanu, and six quarterbacks who went with the first twelve picks. There is simply a lot of top talent in this class.

However, all that star power at the top will undoubtedly overshadow a number of other players who will eventually make a name for themselves.

Every year there are rookies who come out of nowhere to stand out in their draft class. This season will be no exception.

Looking into the crystal ball, these players have the talent, team situation and plan to become the unsung stars of this year’s draft.

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The road to playing time is usually a long one for a Day 3 pick. The road to becoming a key contributor is even longer.

However, fourth-round selection Javon Baker should have a shorter runway than most heading to the New England Patriots. They entered the draft with one of the worst receiving areas in the league, and the 22-year-old should immediately compete for playing time.

The Pats used their second-round pick on Ja’Lynn Polk. Washington receiver and No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye will get most of the attention, but don’t rule out Baker from becoming a cog in the passing attack in Year 1.

B/R scout Cory Giddings, who is also director of player personnel at UCF, predicted Baker will become a 1,000-yard receiver early in his career. He noted that the former Knights player “thrives when contested, combining superior body control, strong hands and the ability to lift and attack the ball.”

That’s similar to the skill set Polk brings, but there’s enough talent in the receiver room that either could end up being the primary target.

Demario Douglas was this team’s best receiver last season and he’s a slot-only player. Veterans Kendrick Bourne and KJ Osborn are the biggest competition on the outside.

It’s not hard to believe Baker can overtake them on the depth chart as a rookie.

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This year’s wide receiver class is loaded. NFL teams clearly liked the group, as 10 of them were gone in the first 37 picks.

Malachi Corley finished 65th overall and was barely a blip on the radar in comparison, but there’s a good chance he’ll be more than that by the time the season is over.

The Western Kentucky product was ranked 74th overall on our last big board. B/R scout Derrik Klassen was a fan of his explosiveness, but also noted that he is a fairly limited route runner whose use was limited to “screens, shallow crossers, flat routes and end runs in college.”

Those are all valid concerns, but they also play a role in what his role with the Jets will be.

Garrett Wilson is the obvious No. 1 receiver in the Jets’ passing game. Mike Williams is a nice secondary option as a big vertical receiver who can go up and get the ball.

The other archetype Aaron Rodgers needs to be successful is a slot receiver who can be targeted on crossers and flat routes when neither deep option is open.

That was the role Randall Cobb played at quarterback in their primes with the Packers. Corley has the skills to play that role, and there isn’t much competition for it in New York.

It is entirely within the realm of outcomes for the 22-year-old to become a second or high-end third option in New York with better numbers than several receivers drafted before him.

Jonah Elliss Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Success as a newcomer comes at the intersection of talent and opportunity. Jonah Elliss has both with his landing spot in Denver.

The Broncos are desperate for help. The front seven wasn’t a scary bunch for opposing quarterbacks last season. It was 29th in pressure percentage and 21st in sacks.

Denver’s group of pass rushers is full of young, mostly unproven players. Nik Bonitto and Jonathan Cooper led the team in pockets last season, but neither is an established veteran whose role is guaranteed to remain the same in 2024.

That should work in Elliss’ favor. He will get a chance to prove himself against other unproven options as the Broncos continue to rebuild the defense.

Elliss was a very productive pass rusher in his final season at Utah and is only 21 years old, so there is still a lot of time for him to become an even better player. He had 12 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss for the Utes last season.

B/R scout Matt Holder praised his varied pass-rush scheme in his scouting report:

Ellis sets up his pass-rush move well during the stem phase of the rush by squaring off to sell the bull rush to stall offensive tackles and then using a Eurostep to gain around the edge. He also flashes with his hands to get tackles to the side, throw their jab early and have an impressive inside spin move to counter.”

It’s not outside the realm of possibility to say that Elliss could be the Broncos’ second-best pass rusher as a rookie despite being picked in the third round.

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The Baltimore Ravens were a bit of an anomaly last season when it comes to pass rush. They led the league in sacks with 60 on the season, but they were 23rd in pressure percentage and ninth in pass rush win percentage.

Jadeveon Clowney was the team’s best edge rusher. His pass rush winning rate of 25 percent ranked fifth among all edges, and Kyle Van Noy also tied for the ESPN lead with a 19 percent winning percentage.

However, Van Noy is 33 years old and Clowney will be playing for the Panthers, so there is a void that needs to be filled in the Ravens offense. Odafe Oweh will need to step up, and the Ravens would love to see David Ojabo get healthy and live up to his expectations as a 2022 second-round pick.

However, don’t count on Adisa Isaac to pick up some of the slack in the third round.

Oweh’s former Penn State teammate is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 247 pounds, but actually excelled against the run like a Nittany Lion. He posted 16 tackles for loss, but also showed the ability to misarm oncoming blocks or set a hard lead. depending on his responsibility.

B/R scout Matt Holder noted that Isaac is a bit unrefined. His hand placement is inconsistent and he needs to develop more pass-rush moves.

But the 22-year-old is a strong athlete who has a 8.99 relative athletic score and can at least be effective as a blitzer as a rookie. That could be enough to get him on the field and make an impact much sooner than consensus thought.

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This year’s running back class was widely panned by analysts, but there will undoubtedly be a few productive backs who will ultimately improve the perception of the group. They just need the right environment to succeed.

MarShawn Lloyd was called up to an emerging offense with Jordan Love at quarterback in Green Bay.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Packers weren’t the only ones who liked the USC product. He noted that the Cowboys were interested in him and that the Giants were eyeing him as a “future lead back, but had no choice between Nos. 71 and 107.”

He then highlighted Lloyd’s “versatility, bursting power and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.”

The 23-year-old’s path to a role is not as difficult as it may seem at first glance. The Packers only re-signed AJ Dillon to a one-year, $1.3 million contract and offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich told reporters he would like to “get him (Lloyd) out there as much as possible.”

Green Bay handed out a big contract to Josh Jacobs this offseason, but he also missed four games last year due to injury. The Packers want to keep him healthy throughout the season, which means Lloyd could be in line for a surprisingly expanded role and surprising production.

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Again, this wide receiver class is special and that means some good players have fallen through the cracks of the NFL draft.

Roman Wilson is a great example. The Steelers selected him No. 84, but he ranked 44th on our big board and seventh among receivers.

There’s a lot to like about the Michigan product, but there’s also a lot to like about the landing spot and the context he finds himself in.

The Steelers are an offense on the move heading into the new season. They have a new offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith, two new quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, as well as a receiving corps in transition after trading away Diontae Johnson.

Johnson was Pittsburgh’s main weapon in the slot. Now that he has been traded to the Carolina Panthers, that role is open. Calvin Austin III is there, but he’s more of a gadget player.

Wilson is on the small side at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but B/R scout Derrik Klassen was high on him for his ability to get open. He is “one of the best route runners in the class” and is explosive.

George Pickens is the best receiver on the Pittsburgh offense, but he’s more of a vertical threat than a high-volume dominator.

Russell Wilson needs a chain-moving second option who can get open consistently. That’s exactly what the Steelers got with their third-round pick.

It doesn’t hurt that Wilson earned a Tyler Lockett comparison from Klassen. There is a proven track record of the veteran quarterback being able to work with those types of players.