2024 NFL Mock Draft: Eagles address the cornerback spot
Eagles address the secondary in our way-too-early 2024 mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Only 363 days to go!
The 2024 NFL draft is scheduled for April 25-27, and now that the 2023 draft is in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to start thinking about next year’s draft.
The draft order comes from the reverse order of Las Vegas 2024 win totals, with ties broken by a random number generator. So don’t blame me that the Eagles pick 30th again and the Chiefs pick last.
A lot will change over the next 12 months, but for now we have only three quarterbacks in the first round but five offensive tackles, five wide receivers, four corners, four combo defensive linemen, three edges, two tight ends, two safeties, and one running back, one interior lineman, one defensive tackle and one linebacker with a very familiar name.
As of now, the Cards and Bears have two 1st-round picks and the Panthers and Browns don’t have any.
1. Cardinals [from Texans]: Caleb Williams, QB, USC
After a good year in 2021 at Oklahoma, Williams had a brilliant year last year at USC, with 42 touchdowns and just five interceptions and won the Heisman Trophy. If he matches those numbers in 2023, he’ll be the first player off the board next year and the third USC player since 1980 to go No. 1 overall, following Keyshawn Johnson in 1996 and Carson Palmer in 2003. Kyler Murray will be five years into his career by next offseason and for all his ability he has a losing career record, he’s never won a playoff game and he’s had just one winning season. Unless things change dramatically, it’s easy to see the Cards trading Murray and looking for a new direction, and Williams could be it.
2. Cardinals: Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
The latest in the Ohio State WR pipeline (Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba), Harrison exploded in his first year as a starter with 77-for-1,263 and a Big Ten-leading 14 TDs, and his size (6-3, 205), production, speed and intense competitiveness shoot him to the top of the 2024 wide receiver class. The best thing to get a young rookie quarterback is an elite wide receiver. The Cards haven’t had two 1st-round picks since 2003 and they haven’t taken a 1st-round wideout since Michael Floyd in 2012. The Cards and Texans project as the two-worst teams in the NFL in 2023, and the Cards have both their 1st-round picks. A real opportunity for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2015 to rebuild.
3. Colts: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame
Enormous 6-foot-7, 315-pounder projects as the first offensive tackle in next year’s draft. In his first year as a full-time starter, Alt didn’t allow a sack and just three hurries. With his long arms, tremendous size and effortless power, Alt has all the makings of an elite left tackle. Shane Steichen got his quarterback of the future this year in Florida’s Anthony Richardson, and next year he gets a generational tackle to protect him.
4. Buccaneers: Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina
In his first year as a starter, Maye put himself in top-5 range by completing 66 percent of his passes with 38 touchdowns, just seven INTs and nearly 700 rushing yards and seven more TDs. He’s got size, he’s got accuracy, he’s got a strong arm, he’s got dual-threat ability, and he’s got all the tools to join Mitch Trubisky as UNC's second top-5 quarterback in seven years.
5. Titans: Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State
Weren’t we just talking about Ohio State wide receivers? Egbuka, like Marvin Harrison Jr., moved into the starting lineup last year after Wilson and Olave moved onto the NFL and rose to the occasion with 74-for-1,151 and 10 touchdowns, averaging a healthy 15.6 yards per catch. The Titans could sure use that kind of firepower in an offense ranked 30th in the NFL last year.
6. Commanders: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
You don’t see a lot of tight ends drafted this high, but teams are seeing the value of adding an elite tight end with guys like Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson, and certainly the impact Travis Kelce has made has increased the value of the position. Bowers, who stands 6-4, 230, fits right in with those guys. In his first two years in Athens, he caught 119 passes for 1,824 yards and 20 touchdowns, and if he wasn’t a big-time prospect before the BCS Championship Game, his 7-for-152 with a 22-yard TD vs. TCU cemented it. Big-time player. Whether Washington has anybody who can get him the ball is another story.
7. Bears [from Panthers]: Olumuyiwa Fashanu, OT, Penn State
Not a lot of Penn State offensive linemen get drafted early – only five in the first three rounds over the past 25 years and only Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007 in the first round since the mid-1990s. But Fashanu should end that drought. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Fashanu would have been a 1st-round pick – probably a high one - if he came out this year, but he elected to return to college to try and help Penn State win a Big Ten title and make a run at a national title. Another year shouldn’t hurt him, and Fashanu would be a great fit for the Bears, who took Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright in the first round this year and have their bookend tackles for Justin Fields.
8. Falcons: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., LB, Clemson
I really wanted to keep Little Trott out of the NFC East. Just wouldn’t feel right seeing Jeremiah Trotter’s son facing the Eagles twice a year. And he lands in Atlanta, which hasn’t been ranked higher than 20th in defense since 2017 (when their defensive coordinator was former Eagles secondary coach Marquand Manuel). When Trott was drafted out of Stephen F. Austin he was a fairly unknown 3rd-round pick. Trott Jr. is nothing of the sort. Trotter, who grew up in Hainesport, Burlington County, and played high school ball at St. Joe’s Prep, was named 2nd-team All-America last year and is the consensus top linebacker in the country. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Trotter had 89 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for loss, 6 ½ sacks and two interceptions last year and was one of only three BCS players with at least 13 tackles for loss, six sacks and two INTs (among the others was Temple linebacker Layton Jordan). Trotter can do it all. Must run in the family.
9. Patriots: Xavier Worthy, WR Texas
Very slightly built but very talented receiver who would add some juice to a Patriots offense that hasn’t ranked higher than 15th since 2018, when you-know-who was still there. Worthy has 122 catches over the last two years, 1,741 yards and 21 touchdowns – 5th-most in the BCS. He stands 6-1, 165 pounds but has world-class speed – he may run sub-4.3 at the Combine next year – and plays tougher than his size. He’s outstanding tracking deep balls and also has punt return ability. His size may scare some teams away, but he has unique traits and production that should put him in the first half of the first round.
10. Steelers: Kalen King, CB, Penn State
Yep, two Penn State players in the top 10 for the first time since 2000, when Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington went 1-2 to the Browns and Washington Football Team. King is a solid, polished and versatile NFL-ready cornerback who should be able to contribute either in the slot or outside from the jump. King is a smart and instinctive player and picked off three passes this past season. If he replicates the year he had in 2022 playing for a top-10 Nittany Lion defense he’ll be the first cornerback off the board next April.
11. Seahawks: Jared Verse, Edge, Florida State
After playing in obscurity at FCS Albany for two years – he had 18 ½ sacks and 31 ½ tackles for loss in just 15 games playing for the Great Danes - Verse transferred to Florida State, where he emerged as one of the top edge rushers in the country with 17 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks in his first season at the BCS level. Verse, who grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania in Berwick, has great length at 6-4, 250 pounds and an explosive first step that really gives him an advantage against offensive tackles. One concern with Verse is that he’s only played one year of big-time college football, so the 2023 season is a big one for him. He needs to show progress playing against the best ACC tackles and show a little more comfort level playing on the BCS level. If he does, he’s a lock to be one of the first edges off the board in 2024.
12. Bears: Michael Hall, DL, Ohio State
The Bears addressed the o-line with their first pick and I have them going d-line. Hall has unusual size at 6-3, 290 pounds and some teams may see him as a tweener – not quite lengthy enough to be an edge, too small to be an interior lineman. But wherever he winds up playing, he’s a very powerful, very strong player who’s already an elite run defender and has shown some pass-rush skill. This past fall, in his first year in OSU’s rotation, Hall had 7 ½ tackles for loss and 4 ½ sacks.
13. Packers: Javon Bullard, S, Georgia
Hard to believe it took so long to get to the first Georgia defensive player. Bullard, 5-11, 180, projects as a safety or slot corner in the NFL but could find his way to outside corner as well. He had 3 ½ sacks, two interceptions and seven tackles for loss last year in his first season as a full-time contributor at Georgia. Big-time hitter, outstanding blitzer and came up huge in the Championship Game with two INTs off TCU quarterback Max Duggan.
14. Rams: Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama
With Verse at No. 10, Turner at 14 and Zion Tupuola-Fetui at 16, we’ve got a little mini-run on edge rushers in the middle of the first round. Turner had a better year in 2021 than 2022 – 8 ½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss down to 4.0 and 8 – but with a big 2023 the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder will be a sure 1st-round pick. He’s got all the requisites to be a big-time pro – fast first step, great length, ability to finish in the pocket. He’s still more of a finesse player than a power player, but that’s something he can continue to work on and it won’t keep him out of the first round.
15. Giants: Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU
After going defense with corner Deonte Banks this year, the Giants move to shore up their offensive line. Daniel Jones has been sacked 149 times the last four years – 3rd-most in the league – even though he’s only thrown 1,740 passes – 15th-most in the league. Suamataia has always been a super-physical run blocker, but in 2022 he showed a lot of improvement as a pass blocker. He’s a terrific athlete at 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, and with one more year to grow he should be one of the top offensive tackles off the board in 2024 and BYU’s first 1st-round offensive tackle since John Tait in 1999.
16. Broncos: Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Edge, Washington
Tupuola-Fetui had an unusual career at Washington, playing parts of five different seasons – including the COVID-shortened 2020 season – but only playing in 13 games his first four years with the Huskies. He had 12 ½ sacks, 13 ½ tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 18 games over the last three years. There are some questions about Tupuola-Fetui: What’s his best position with his unusual size (6-4, 260)? Has he ever fully recovered after suffering a severe Achilles injury two years ago? Can he find the consistency in his game to be an every-down force? Tupuola-Fetui is an intriguing athlete who needs some work but has unlimited potential.
17. Vikings: Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington
Here’s that run on Washington Huskies you’ve been waiting for. At some point, the Vikings are going to have to start thinking about replacing Kirk Cousins, who’ll be 35 when the 2023 season begins and still has just one lifetime postseason win to his name. Penix, who spent four years – including a COVID year – at Indiana and did some good things, although he dealt with injuries every year, including two torn ACLs in his right knee. But he really blossomed this past year in Washington, where he completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,641 yards (second-most in the BCS), 31 TDs and eight INTs. Penix looks the part at 6-3, 215 pounds, he's got a live and accurate arm, sees the field well and knows how to involve all his receivers, and this past year he showed the ability to make big-time off-schedule throws. With a big (and healthy) 2023 season, Penix could easily move up higher than 17th. He’s got the ability. But questions about his long injury history could keep him out of the first half of the first round.
18. Texans [from Browns: Jack Sawyer, Edge, Ohio State
After addressing the offense with their first pick in 2023 and 2024, the Texans make Sawyer the fourth edge off the board. Sawyer isn’t a classic edge rusher at 6-4, 265 pounds, but he’s a beast against the run and has the power, athleticism and instincts to continue to grow as a pass rusher. Sawyer played sparingly as a freshman and was a rotational player last year, but he still has 7 ½ sacks and 9 ½ tackles for loss in 19 college games so far. This pick is a bit of a projection (they all are, honestly), but Sawyer has the traits, the work ethic and the skill set to be a middle-of-the-first-round pick if he has a big 2023.
19. Raiders: Tyleik Williams, DT, Ohio State
Williams is a fun player, a powerful, athletic interior playmaker at 6-foot-3, 320 pounds. He’s got an explosive first step and an NFL body. The one thing missing is elite pass rushing ability. Williams has picked up 6.0 sacks in 22 games in college just off his sheer power and effort, but the next step for him is to develop more as a pass rusher. He’s got the tools to do it, and if he can, he’ll be a sure-fire 1st-rounder.
20. Ravens: Denzel Burke, CB, Ohio State
Second corner off the board, Burke is a big-time prospect with lots of tools but will need to show some growth in terms of technique this coming year to earn a spot in the first round. Burke has good size at 6-1, 190 and very good speed and is fearless working against bigger receivers. He’s still a work in progress but has all the tools to be an outstanding NFL corner. The run of three straight Ohio State players was unintentional, but that’s six so far in the first round with two to go.
21. Dolphins: Ja’Tavion Sanders, TE, Texas
After playing in just one game in 2021 without a catch, Sanders put himself in the 1st-round mix last year with his production – 54 catches, 613 yards, five touchdowns. The word you keep hearing with Sanders is “competitive.” He fights for every ball, fights for every yard. He’s got soft hands, catches the ball and is a nice big target at 6-4, 250 pounds and a reliable weapon for Tua Tagovailoa. The last Texas tight end drafted in the first two rounds? That would be Lawrence Sampleton, who the Eagles took with the 47th pick in 1982. He played three years with the Eagles, catching three passes.
22. Saints: J.C. Latham, OT, Alabama
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Latham only allowed one quarterback hit and no sacks this past season at right guard. Latham has positional versatility – he played mainly right guard in limited action in 2021 – and he’s a polished plug-and-play lineman who’s already got very good technique. He’s powerful and quick and just needs reps after starting just one year so far for the Crimson Tide.
23. Jaguars: Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama
He’s certainly got the best name in next year’s draft. Ga’Quincy McKinstry was nicknamed Kool-Aid by his grandmother at birth – apparently she thought he looked like the Kool-Aid pitcher dude – and the name stuck. McKinstry already has an NIL deal with Kool-Aid. As a player, McKinstry is a long 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with terrific speed and leaping ability and elite instincts in coverage, and Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell will find ways to use McKinstry from the jump.
24. Chargers: Maason Smith, DL/Edge, LSU
Unusual size at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds and has scheme and positional versatility thanks to power, leverage and athleticism. Probably a three-technique at the next level but he’s his high motor and array of pass-rush moves make him an interesting prospect as an edge as well. Smith had 4.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss as a freshman at LSU but missed almost all of last year after a freak injury when he tore his ACL while celebrating a play between snaps. I’ve got Smith down at the bottom of the first round, but if he builds on the promise he showed in 2021 and shows he’s healthy he could go a lot earlier.
25. Lions: J.T. Tuimoloau, DL, Ohio State
Another intriguing prospect with unusual size at 6-foot-4, 270 but the athleticism and versatility to become a difference maker. Tuimoloau is raw – he’s only played about 750 career snaps in college – but he’s a big, strong, powerful kid who some team is going to mold into defensive playmaker and seems like a Dan Campbell kind of prospect. Despite limited playing time so far, Tuimoloau has 15 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks in 24 games as well as two interceptions – one of which he returned 14 yards against Penn State. And that’s seven Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round.
26. Cowboys: Andrew Mukuba, S, Clemson
Mukuba has a lot going for him in terms of traits. He’s very fast, has nice size, very good ball skills and he’s a capable blitzer. Mukuba needs to get stronger and play stronger to become a big-time difference maker on the NFL level, but he’s got a lot of tools that are going to make teams notice. The production hasn’t been there yet – one INT, one sack, 2 ½ tackles for loss in two seasons. But with some added strength and increased production, Mukuba could elevate himself into the first round.
27. Jets: Troy Franklin, WR, Oregon
Joe Douglas went edge in the first round this year with Will McDonald IV, but in 2024 he gets Aaron Rodgers (if he’s still there) a much-needed weapon in Franklin, who made a big jump in production last year with 61 catches for 891 yards and nine TDs (most in the Pac-12) after playing sparingly as a freshman. The one thing that could keep Franklin out of the first round is his size. At 6-3, 180, he’s slight of frame and may not have the strength to out-muscle defensive backs. But he’s fast and he catches everything.
28. Bengals: Bryce Foster, G/C, Texas A&M
How powerful is Foster? As a senior at Taylor High in Katy, Texas, in the spring of 2021, Foster was the No. 1 prep shot putter in the country at 71-1 and No. 1 in the discus at 210-10. Yikes. And ran 22.24 for 200 meters. That combination of staggering strength, power and athleticism makes Foster an intriguing interior line prospect in next year’s draft. At his best as a run blocker but needs to improve as a pass blocker to warrant this pick. But as much as he improved from 2021 to 2022, if he keeps that up, he’ll go somewhere in the first round.
29. Bills: Orande Gadsden II, WR, Syracuse
After starting his career as a non-factor as a freshman – he caught just two passes in 2021 – Gadsden burst onto the ACC scene last year with 61-for-969 and six TDs, which makes him the top returning receiver in the conference. Gadsden’s got rare size at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and … Syracuse hasn’t exactly been a WR factory. They haven’t had a 1st-round receiver since Marvin Harrison went 19th overall in 1996 and before that Hall of Famer Art Monk 18th overall in 1980. Syracuse hasn’t had any 1st-round picks since Bucks County’s Justin Pugh in 2013. Gadsden’s father – also Orande – played six years in the NFL (and caught Dan Marino’s last touchdown pass) and was undrafted out of Winston-Salem State. Safe bet his son won’t go undrafted.
30. Eagles: Tony Grimes, CB, Texas A&M
The Eagles did add a promising corner this year in the fourth round, Georgia’s Kelee Ringo, but by the end of next season, James Bradberry will be 31 and Darius Slay will be 34, and the Eagles will have to start thinking about more than one heir apparent at corner, and there’s also no lock a rookie 4th-round pick will grow into a starter, although Ringo is impressive. Either way, the Eagles really need to start thinking about cornerback, and Grimes is a big-time talent and we project him as the Eagles’ first 1st-round corner since Lito Sheppard in 2002. He has some work to do in terms of technique, but one more year in college and a red-shirt year in 2024 should have him prepared to be a starter. He just turned 21 two weeks ago, so he’ll be a young 22 when he arrives in the NFL. But Grimes is a smart, tough, instinctive cover corner who excels in zone coverage and loves coming up and supporting the run. After three years at North Carolina, Grimes will play this fall at Texas A&M. This is the kind of cornerback Eagles fans will love to watch.
31. 49ers: Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
Back in 2019, Nelson was asked to start for the Hurricanes at left tackle as a true freshman. He struggled badly and got benched. But he got another shot at left tackle and played well as a sophomore and junior before missing most of this past season with a left knee injury. I don’t know how many guys go from getting benched to the first round, but if Nelson has a healthy 2023 season he has a very good chance to do it. He stands 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and will need to get bigger and stronger to hold up against top edge rushers in the NFL. But he’s already a very technically sound player and what he lacks in power he makes up for with outstanding instincts and technique.
32. Chiefs: Raheim Sanders, RB, Arkansas
Sanders showed some potential as a freshman with 578 yards and five TDs on just 114 carries, and then he exploded this past year with 1,443 rushing yards, a 6.5 average, 10 touchdowns and 28 catches. Sanders was one of only four BCS players this past year with at least 1,400 rushing yards and a 6.5 rushing average. Andy Reid is always looking for weapons for his super-charged offense, and Sanders will compliment Travis Kelce, Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Rashee Rice and whatever other weapons Big Red finds for Patrick Mahomes.
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