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NFC rookies picked after NFL Draft Day 1 who could earn key roles in 2024: Marshawn Lloyd among 16 sleepers


Last year, the Rams got monster contributions from two Day 3 selections, Kobie Turner and Puka Nacua. Sam LaPorta broke rookie tight end records with the Lions, and Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks were instant successes in Green Bay with the Packers after going well outside of Round 1. 

In 2022, Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen was widely viewed as a super-athletic project-y outside corner. Fast forward to his rookie season — the former UTSA star led the NFL in interceptions with six and defended 16 more passes. Seattle certainly fast-tracked his developmental process. 

The year before that, Amon-Ra St. Brown was just an easy-to-miss, unsuspecting rookie picked after the first round, waiting for his chance in the Lions offense. Now, his reach is far wider than the greater Detroit area after an 88-catch eruption in Year 1 as a professional.

In 2020, Antoine Winfield Jr., Jeremy Chinn and Antonio Gibson were NFC rookies not selected on Day 1 of the draft who sure as heck played like Day 1 selections as rookies. 

In 2019, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Elgton Jenkins, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin headlined those outstanding value selections. And you, NFL fan starved for football, know all about your favorite team’s first-round pick in the 2023 draft. It’s time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selections who have the talent — and situation — to flourish in their debut season in the NFL

Let’s zero in on the NFC rookies picked after the first round with the best chances to earn key roles as rookies. 

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

IOL Cooper Beebe
 No. 73, third round
Impressive stat to know: 39 pressures allowed across 1,488 pass-blocking snaps at Kansas State

The Cowboys lost longtime center Tyler Biadasz in the mass Dan Quinn-led exodus from Dallas to Washington. While Beebe was a right tackle and left guard during an illustrious career at Kansas State, his move closer to the ball is continuing in the pros, as he’ll now snap the ball to Dak Prescott

He’ll be one of the bigger, more powerful pivots in the game as he earns his stripes inside, and center is probably the ideal spot for him in the NFL because Beebe isn’t a dancing bear athletically. The angles and leverage games? That’s where he thrives. 

Philadelphia Eagles

DB Cooper DeJean
No. 40, second round
Impressive stat to know: seven interceptions (with three pick sixes) and 13 pass breakups in his final two years at Iowa

No one, probably not even Doug Pedersen, knows exactly where DeJean is going to play, and that is a wonderful thing in today’s NFL. He’ll be a slot corner, free safety, strong safety, linebacker and outside cornerback in a Philadelphia defense, that, yeah, needs all of those things after an at times disastrous showing from that side of the ball, particularly in the back seven. 

I’m glad DeJean finally got the opportunity to work out before the draft, so we had exact numbers on what appeared to be supreme athletic chops at Iowa. He ran between 4.42 and 4.45 at 6-foot and 1/2″ and 205 pounds. His vertical was 38.5 inches and he had a 10-4 broad jump. DeJean is both highly athletic and a genius reading coverages and route concepts, which explains his ball production for the Hawkeyes. 

Washington Commanders

CB Mike Sainristil
No. 50, second round
Impressive stat to know: 4.47 in the 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical, and broad jump in the 91st percentile among cornerbacks

Turns out Sainristil was initially playing the wrong position at Michigan. The former receiver turned slot defending annoyance will be a welcomed addition to a Commanders secondary that only snagged eight interceptions all season in 2023, which tied for the third-lowest in football. Sainristil had six alone as captain on Michigan’s national title-winning campaign, and tested like an elite-level athlete for the increasingly valuable slot corner spot at the combine. 

He will be a most frustrating element of Washington’s defense for every offensive game plan and a portable piece for Quinn. With his smaller size, extreme explosiveness, and speed — not to mention a blue-collar work ethic through blockers and through the whistle, Sainristil will be an instant asset as a blitzer. He generated a pressure on nearly 30% of his 38 pass-rushing snaps last season for the Wolverines.  

New York Giants

RB Tyrone Tracy Jr.
Drafted: No. 166, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: 6.56 yards per carry on 130 totes across two seasons at Purdue

I could’ve gone with Tyler Nubin or Andru Phillips, as they’ll be key facets of a reworked Giants secondary. I’ve decided to dig deeper, and go with someone who could be a gem on your fantasy roster. No, I’m not suggesting you draft Tracy at some point over the next few months — get at Dave Richard or Jamey Eisenberg for such fantasy advice — just that he has the goods to be a nifty waiver-wire add during his rookie campaign. 

Another positional convert, Tracy played receiver at Iowa before an intra-Big Ten transfer to Purdue led to a permanent move to running back. And Tracy proved that his natural spot on the field was meant to be the backfield. He uniquely bounces away from tacklers and possesses an excellent athletic profile with 4.48 speed, a 40-inch vertical, broad jump in the 83rd percentile among backs, and a clocked a blisteringly fast 6.89 time in the three-cone. I like Devin Singletary. There’s also Eric Gray and Jashaun Corbin in New York’s running back room, in which Tracy is the most physically talented. 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

RB Marshawn Lloyd
Drafted: No. 88, third round
Impressive stat to know: 40.8% forced missed tackle rate on 115 carries in 2023 at USC

You don’t see many backs like Lloyd. He’s an anomaly. Under 5-foot-9 but 220 pounds with under 4.50 speed (he ran 4.46 at the combine). He’s ultra-compact and fast, which naturally provides the ability for the South Carolina turned USC ball carrier to either bounce off tackles with ease or simply run past them in space. 

And that forced missed tackle rate is astronomically high, albeit on a relatively low amount of carries. But even if that rate would’ve dipped had Lloyd gotten the ball more in Caleb Williams‘ offense last season, I’m enamored by how little mileage is on his tires. Only 291 collegiate carries. Yes, the Packers made a decision to swap out Aaron Jones for Josh Jacobs this offseason, but you better believe Lloyd will get touches in Year 1. And he’ll make the most of them. 

Minnesota Vikings

CB Khyree Jackson
Drafted: No. 108, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: 6-foot-3 3/4 inches, 32 3/4-inch arms, broad jump in the 95th percentile among cornerbacks

Technically, Will Reichard is the most likely non-Round 1 pick made by Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in the 2024 draft. But you aren’t reading this for that ho-hum analysis. Jackson has Xavien Howard-type size, talent, and inconsistencies, and he’s playing for Brian Flores in Minnesota, the same man who was coaching in Miami when Howard corralled 10 interceptions with the Dolphins in 2020.  

Minnesota has some young athletes in the secondary, but there’s far from an entrenched playmaker. Jackson can be that dude with Flores. 

Detroit Lions

DT Mekhi Wingo
Drafted: No. 189, sixth round
Impressive stat to know: 40-yard dash in the 93rd percentile and 10-yard split in the 95th percentile among defensive tackles

Everything has been coming up “LIONS” lately, and rightfully so. However, I didn’t love their draft. Didn’t hate it. But wasn’t obsessed with it like I was in 2023. Which is part of the reason why I’m selecting a sixth-rounder here. 

And, frankly, given the strength of Detroit’s roster, it’ll be a real task for any rookie to break through as a critical contributor in Year 1. But Wingo has a real chance to. Why? Because he gives the Lions something they don’t really have elsewhere. A juice-based upfield rusher on the interior. Alim McNeill and D.J. Reader are two colossals who will devour running backs on a regular basis. Wingo can split gaps and disrupt backfields with first-step quicks and sheer athleticism.

Chicago Bears

OL Kiran Amegadjie 
No. 75, third round
Impressive stat to know: 36 1/8-inch arms rank in the 96th percentile among tackles and 99th percentile among interior blockers

Amegadjie was a tackle at Yale, but in moving from the Ivy League to the NFC North, his likely home will be at guard with the Bears. Pardon if you’ve read this from me before, but I will keep hammering it home. I got serious Trey Smith vibes watching Amagadjie’s film. Not every rep was a clear win. But when he did get latched onto his assignment, it was game over. Almost every time. 

Like Smith, he’s incredibly long for the guard spot with a tackle frame — and collegiate tackle experience. The reconstruction of Chicago’s offensive line is an underrated element of his rebuild. I will not be shocked if he eventually takes snaps over right guard Nate Davis as a rookie. 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

DL Brandon Dorlus
Drafted: No. 109, fourth round
Impressive stat to know: Had 40-plus pressures in each of his final three seasons at Oregon

The Falcons made an expensive trade up for defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro in the top of the second round, and there’s a distinct possibility Dorlus is just as much if not more of an asset early in his pro career given his position versatility and the way he understands how to utilize his hands at the point of attack. 

Beyond his steady, high-level productivity at Oregon, Dorlus is a unique and gifted athlete. He ran 4.85 in the 40 with a broad jump in the 82nd percentile among defensive tackles. I see him winning at 1T, 3T, 5T and everywhere between reasonably early in his Falcons career.  

Carolina Panthers

CB Chau Smith-Wade
Drafted: No. 157, fifth round
Impressive stat to know: 17 pass breakups and three interceptions in his final three seasons at Washington State

Smith-Wade is another pesky nickel cornerback from a draft class that was loaded with them. He didn’t test anywhere close to the caliber of athlete he appears to be on film, and the suddenness he demonstrated on the field was the main reason Smith-Wade was so darn productive for the Cougars in his time in Pullman. 

The Panthers are clearly rebuilding, but now they’re entering Year 2 of said rebuild, so it’s time for some progress to be made. Troy Hill is penciled in as the starting slot cornerback. He’s been up and down throughout his career but can play. He will be 32 in August, so don’t be shocked when the younger, more spry Smith-Wade is aligned inside sooner than later and making plays on the football with good regularity in Carolina.  

New Orleans Saints

CB Kool Aid-McKinstry
No. 41, second round
Impressive stat to know: 22 combined pass breakups in his final two years at Alabama

Three “bad” developments for McKinstry led to him going in the second round. He wasn’t able to rekindle the magic from a first-round caliber 2022 season, he was overshadowed by breakout teammate Terrion Arnold, and he was injured during the pre-draft process. 

Still, in somewhat of a down 2023, McKinstry knocked away seven passes on the mere 39 targets he saw in coverage. Succinctly put, this is a long, talented, well-coached man-coverage cornerback who teams tried to avoid last season. He was picked to eventually take over CB1 duties from Marshon Lattimore in New Orleans. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DB Tykee Smith
No. 89, third round
Impressive stat to know: Reached at least 50 tackles three separate times in his collegiate career had and eight total interceptions

Smith was probably the most no-nonsense player on the Georgia defense last season. Hard hits galore on his film. But he is not one of those old-school, downhill thumpers with no hip fluidity or coverage instincts. No siree. He had four picks last season for the Bulldogs and simply is around the football often. 

Run play, underneath throw, shot down the field. It doesn’t matter. At a stocky 5-10 and 202 pounds with 4.46 speed, Smith gets to the football in a flash, and his long, two-school collegiate career birthed refined play-recognition skills. Minimal, if any, hesitation to his game. He’ll be a fun on-field partner for Antoine Winfield Jr.  

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

OL Dominick Puni
No. 86, third round
Impressive stat to know: 16 total pressures surrendered on 784 pass-blocking snaps at Kansas

Puni was born to play football for Kyle Shanahan. At Kansas, Puni was a tackle in 2023 and left guard in 2022. He took plenty of center reps at the Senior Bowl — as usual, Jim Nagy is on top of things — and with a vertical and broad jump both above the 75th percentile for the tackle spot, Puni has the instant acceleration to rock in a zone-based blocking scheme. 

Plus, the 49ers could be in need of more athleticism on the interior of their blocking unit, although journeyman Jon Feliciano will begin camp as the starter. Puni plays with impeccable balance and a mean streak too. I would actually be surprised if he’s not the club’s full-time right guard — or center — sometime during his rookie season. 

Seattle Seahawks

CB D.J. James
No. 192, sixth round
Impressive stat to know: 22 pass breakups and five interceptions in three seasons at Auburn

I will forever wonder why James wasn’t selected until the sixth round in the 2024 draft. Yes, the nickel corner group was loaded, but James was clearly one of the really good ones, and most of them went somewhere from Round 2 to Round 4. But I digress. 

The Seahawks got a spindly yet ferocious nickel with 4.42 speed who lived around the football in the SEC. He reads plays in a flash too. Seattle has so much fun, young, dynamic talent in the secondary. But James is an overachiever likely to make enough of a name for himself this summer that new head coach Mike Macdonald — who certainly loves to rotate in the defensive backfield — will have to give him playing time in Year 1. 

Arizona Cardinals 

RB Trey Benson
Drafted: No. 66, third round
Impressive stat to know: 4.39 in the 40-yard dash and a broad jump in the 77th percentile at over 6-foot and 216 pounds

I can’t quit praising Benson. And his fit in Arizona. This was my RB1 in the 2024 class thanks to not only his breakaway speed. Actually, it was more so about his ridiculous elusiveness at feature-back size. 

Benson forced 124 missed tackles on 316 collegiate rush attempts. That’s a nearly 40% missed forced tackle rate. Insanity. James Conner will continue to outperform expectations, like he’s done his entire collegiate and pro career. However, Benson can provide the electricity in the open field Conner can’t. 

Los Angeles Rams

DT Tyler Davis
No. 196, sixth round
Impressive stat to know: Missed nine tackles on 2,034 snaps in his Clemson career

Yes, Braden Fiske is going to make noise next to Kobie Turner on the Rams defensive front. But he’s not the only defensive tackle picked by GM Les Snead who will do so. 

Davis was, in my estimation, one of the finest run-stuffing defensive tackles in this draft class, and he demonstrated pass-rush capabilities too at Clemson next to Orhorhoro. And I’ll write this too — if Orhorhoro was an early Round 2 pick the Falcons needed to move up for, then Davis belonged somewhere on Day 2 or, at the latest, early Day 3. Not Round 6. 

Anyway, like Fiske and Turner, Davis will go 100 mph on every snap and has enough athletic talent to get across the line on outside runs. But he’ll often engulf any run plays up the middle in his direction.  

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Author: Chris Trapasso
June 3, 2024 | 10:45 am

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