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May 23, 2024

2024 NFL draft: Five of the best first round fits

By FREDDY BRANSON | April 24, 2024

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SAM BENSON SMITH / CC BY-ND 2.0

Branson discusses the upcoming NFL Draft and the ideal players for five teams to target in the First Round.

The 2024 NFL draft is just around the corner, and with that comes a massive amount of predictions and projections — a lot of which will likely turn out incorrect. With this in mind, I will go through a few of my favorite landing spots for some of the top players in this draft class and discuss just how I think they can be implemented in order to flourish at the next level.

1. Pick 9 Chicago Bears: Rome Odunze WR, University of Washington

The Bears have found themselves in an incredible position going into this year’s draft — holding two top-ten picks (including the first overall pick) in what is projected to be one of the most loaded drafts in years. After trading Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers, their first pick should already be made with Caleb Williams, the quarterback that is seen to be the best prospect since Trevor Lawrence back in 2021. Williams is a bona-fide generational prospect, so the Bears will hope that they have accomplished the most difficult part of any rebuild — finding a franchise quarterback to build around.

In an effort to help their young QB develop, they have made a number of moves to load their roster with talent — most notably, trading for Los Angeles Chargers’ wide receiver, Keenan Allen, as well as signing running back D’Andre Swift. While they have done a successful job at strengthening their offense for the present, I believe that they could give Williams a partner in crime for the next 10 years by drafting Odunze. 

Odunze has just come off of a Biletnikoff-level season at Washington where he tallied up 1,640 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns while boasting an even crazier 70.8% contested catch rate. To put in perspective how absurd this statistic is, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Malik Nabers (the other two Biletnikoff finalists this season) both had contested catch rates in the mid-40s. Odunze projects as a surefire No. 1 wide receiver who can do it all — outside of being an elite speed threat — and, thus, would be the ideal player to learn under someone like Allen. Odunze has the potential to be a perennial Pro-Bowl-caliber player, in a similar vein to DeAndre Hopkins, and I believe that he would be a perfect fit to develop alongside their rookie QB for the future.

2. Pick 12 Denver Broncos: Byron Murphy II DL/DT, University of Texas

The Broncos find themselves in an interesting position going into this year’s draft, not having any kind of stability in the most important position in any sport: the quarterback.

In all likelihood, one of the top three or four quarterbacks won’t be available by the time their pick comes around, and, if head coach Sean Payton isn’t set on Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr., it may be better to try and build up the roster before investing in a QB. Murphy may be the best defensive player in the draft, and, for a team that gave up 70 points in a single game last season, that could be exactly what is needed. 

Murphy, while lacking in prototypical size for the defensive tackle position, makes up for it with a combination of insane athleticism and a number of rushing win-moves to counter any double teams or larger offensive linemen thrown his way. Not only is he an incredibly effective pass-rusher — racking up five sacks during his junior season for Texas — but he also is an incredibly solid run defender, something the Broncos are severely lacking.

Currently, the Broncos are missing a game-changer up the middle, relying pretty much solely on the efforts of an aging D.J. Jones. Murphy would be able to slot in and make an impact immediately with his ability to be an every-down player, versatile in any kind of set — whether rushing the passer or defending the run.

As we’ve seen with the Kansas City Chiefs and Chris Jones, having a dominant force at the DT position can be the driving force of a deep playoff run, so I believe that it may be in the best interest of the Broncos to go with the big man from Texas.

3. Pick 18 Cincinnati Bengals: Brock Bowers TE, University of Georgia

With the possible departure of Tee Higgins looking more and more likely, I believe that getting Bowers would be as close to a guaranteed home run pick for the Bengals as any other player in this draft. 

There’s not much else to say about Bowers other than the fact that he is incredible; he is so incredible that he has been touted by some to be the greatest tight end in college football. Ever. 

To put this in perspective, Bowers would have been a first round pick after his true freshman year, having put up 938 all scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns. This kind of production is rare for a senior to put up, so a true freshman doing it is quite frankly ridiculous. 

Bowers possesses a rare combination of exceptional route running, body control, hands and blocking ability that will allow him to transition seamlessly into being one of the top tight ends in the league from the get-go. The only question around Bowers will be how he projects physically into the league, coming off an injury in his junior year, as well as being in general slightly smaller than the typical TE. 

In order for the Bengals to land their guy, they might have to trade up earlier in the first round; however, I believe that this would be completely worth it as it would allow the Bengals to cement their TE position for the foreseeable future.

4. Pick 21 Philadelphia Eagles: Quinyon Mitchell CB, University of Toledo

After beginning the season with a 10–1 record, the Eagles slumped in their last six games, culminating in a disappointing first round exit to the Baker Mayfield-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Notwithstanding the struggles of QB Jalen Hurts, one of the main issues that the Eagles faced was a lack of depth in their cornerback room, and that issue has still not been rectified during this offseason. With this in mind, I think it’s a no-brainer for the Eagles to take a CB early on in the draft, and I have them going with my personal favourite prospect, Mitchell.

Coming from the NCAA Mid-American Conference, one of the biggest question marks surrounding Mitchell will be his transition from a significantly lower level of competition to the NFL. While this can’t be disregarded completely, I think that Mitchell demonstrated through his performance at the Senior Bowl that he is more than capable of keeping up with higher levels of competition. To add to this, Mitchell also tested the best out of any of the cornerbacks at the NFL Combine, running a 4.33 40-yard with a 38-inch vertical and posting an absurd 20 reps on the bench press.

While there will be some concerns for Mitchell until he steps foot on the field, I believe that the Eagles shouldn’t think twice if he falls to them. While he may not be a top tier CB out of the gate, he has all of the athletic tools necessary to ascend to that level. When paired with the ability to learn under some greats of the CB position in Darius Slay Jr. and James Bradberry, Mitchell has the potential to be one of the best corners in all of football.

5. Pick 30 Buffalo Bills: Brian Thomas Jr. WR, Louisiana State University (LSU)

Much like the Bengals with Bowers, I’m not sure if Thomas Jr. falls into the lap of the Bills at pick 30, so it may necessitate a trade-up into the early-20s. However, if Buffalo was able to land the LSU wideout, I believe this would facilitate a deadly pairing for a number of years with their quarterback Josh Allen. 

Following the departures of both Stefon Diggs, and Gabe Davis, Buffalo is entering the draft with a clear hole at wide receiver, and they should be looking for their long-term replacement in what is a loaded receiver class. 

Coming off of a stellar junior season at LSU, Thomas Jr. projects as a player who can make an immediate impact from day one. The most obvious standout in his scouting report is the immense athletic profile that he possesses. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches and weighing 209 pounds, Thomas Jr. already has elite measurables that put him in the 87th percentile of all wide receivers ever. However, when paired with his freaky speed and vertical ability, having run a 4.33 40-yard dash and jumped 38.5 inches at the NFL Combine (placing him in the 99th percentile), it’s clear to see why teams have become enamored with his potential to become an X receiver at the next level. 

The key for Thomas Jr.’s development in the NFL will be finding himself in an offense that caters to his strengths: most notably, his ability to win deep down the field. He has a few deficiencies when it comes to fighting through traffic and contact to get to the catch point, however, with Josh Allen at quarterback, he has the ideal signal caller to help compensate for this during his transition to the NFL. Being able to let his athleticism show on the field will be of paramount importance at the beginning of Thomas Jr.’s career, and I believe that, when paired with Allen’s immense arm talent, he will be given all the necessary keys to flourish.


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