NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Eight Day 3 prospects who should be on your team’s radar

2WA2TTX SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 27: Louisville Cardinals running back Isaac Guerendo (23) runs the ball for a gain during the Directv Holiday Bowl football game between the Louisville Cardinals and the USC Trojans on December 27, 2023, at Petco Park in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Georgia S Tykee Smith brings versatility to the table: Smith’s calling card is his versatility. While his injury history and age may cause his draft stock to slip a little, he is the type of player who can work in almost any defensive scheme.

• Don't sleep on Louisville RB Isaac Guerendo: He put on a show during the Holiday Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, recording the fastest 40-yard dash among running backs.

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The first round will harbor the most excitement of 2024 NFL Draft weekend, and for good reason. That's when the stars of college football, who are expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL, find new homes. And then there are the unsung heroes found on Day 3, whether they turn out to be surprise superstars or quality pieces to rely on.

The best drafting teams know how to find the diamonds in the rough, and here we’ll be looking at eight players who may be less coveted but could prove invaluable for whoever gives them a shot. These players are listed in order of their current ranking on the PFF big board.

S Tykee Smith, Georgia (Big Board Rank: 119)

Smith played five years in college and saw a lot of playing time the moment he set foot on campus as a true freshman at West Virginia in 2019. He played more than 1,000 snaps across his first two years in Morgantown before transferring to Georgia ahead of the 2021 season.

Despite Georgia’s run to its first national championship in over 40 years, the team did it largely without Smith, as an ACL injury limited him to just seven snaps in 2021. He saw little playing time upon his return in 2022, as he largely took on a reserve role within a stacked Bulldogs defense that repeated as champions, but he showed signs that he was recovering nicely, as he put up a 71.4 PFF grade.

Smith played the most snaps of his career in 2023, and the results were a dominant fifth-year campaign, as a 73.3 run-defense grade, 70.3 tackling grade, 83.1 pass-rush grade and 85.8 coverage grade culminated in a career-best 84.0 PFF overall grade.

Smith’s calling card is his versatility. Despite being listed as a safety, he primarily lined up as a slot cornerback and appeared at linebacker, outside cornerback and near the line of scrimmage. While his injury history and age (he turned 23 in February) may cause his draft stock to slip a little, Smith is the type of player who can work in almost any defensive scheme.

Click here to see Tykee Smith's 2024 NFL Draft profile.

CB Chau Smith-Wade, Washington State (Big Board Rank: 132)

Smith-Wade isn’t considered a top cornerback in this year’s draft class, but maybe that’s a mistake. Since he started seeing regular playing time in 2021, Smith-Wade has never earned a season-long coverage grade below 76.1 and never allowed more than one touchdown into his coverage in any season.

He was on his way to a career year in 2023 before a shoulder injury caused him to miss the last five games of the season. Before that injury, Smith-Wade had already recorded a career-best seven pass breakups in just seven games while also not being afraid to get his nose dirty, as he was approaching career highs in tackles and run stops. Despite this, his missed tackle rate skyrocketed in 2023, as he went from missing 11.8% of his tackles in 2022 to 21.3%, causing his tackling grade to drop from 71.2 to 48.0.

Smith-Wade is on the leaner side at 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, so it might not be the best idea for him to be involved in too many tackles at the next level, but he has the coverage ability to at least be a potential NFL starter. He was a full participant at the Senior Bowl and played well there, suggesting that he has fully healed from his injury.

RB Isaac Guerendo, Louisville (Big Board Rank: 139)

Guerendo was a mostly unknown player for much of his college career. The fifth-year senior was never a featured back and ran the ball only 99 times in four years at Wisconsin, backing up the likes of Jonathan Taylor and fellow 2024 draft classmate Braelon Allen.

After Guerendo transferred to Louisville, his career trajectory improved dramatically. Despite still sharing carries with Jawhar Jordan, Guerendo made the most of his touches, rushing for 810 yards and 11 scores on just 132 carries for an elite 90.3 rushing grade. With Jordan not playing in the Holiday Bowl, Guerendo got to show that he has the stuff of a featured back, eclipsing 20 carries for the first time all season (23) for 161 yards and three scores and a 79.5 rushing grade. If that wasn’t enough to make his presence felt in draft circles, Guerendo put on a show at the NFL scouting combine, posting the fastest 40-yard dash time among running backs (4.33 seconds) despite weighing 221 pounds.

One of the main concerns about drafting running backs is that the wear and tear they endure in college can limit their longevity in the NFL. Guerendo is a unique case in that, despite being a five-year player, he doesn’t have a lot of tread on the tires, suggesting the best is yet to come.

DI Khristian Boyd, Northern Iowa (Big Board Rank: 145)

Boyd is largely unknown to the average college football fan after playing at FCS school Northern Iowa. However, if you asked any offensive lineman who had to face Boyd, they'd say he’s not a player you’d soon forget.

Boyd dominated from the moment he set foot at Northern Iowa, putting up an 80.4 PFF grade as a true freshman. Excluding a down year in 2021, in which he posted a 67.6 PFF grade, Boyd’s performance has improved in every season, peaking as a fifth-year senior in 2023 as he put up an 89.0 grade.

Boyd has always been a stout run defender, never posting a season-long run-defense grade below 75.9. He had been just an average pass rusher for the first four years of his career before breaking out in that department in 2023, becoming a complete defender. His 89.4 pass-rush grade shattered his previous career-best 72.9, and he nearly doubled his former best pressure total of 21 with 40.

Boyd really put his name on the map after dominating the Shrine Bowl, beating up on any offensive lineman who had the misfortune of facing him. Despite this showing, he inexplicably didn’t receive an invite to the NFL scouting combine, nor did he run at his Pro Day. As such, his athleticism doesn’t have numbers attached to it, but his strength at 6-foot-4 and 317 pounds cannot be denied, as he put up 38 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press.

The level of competition he faced and his age (he turned 24 in February) will keep Boyd from being a higher pick, but don’t be surprised to see him make an immediate impact as a Day 3 selection.

TE Jaheim Bell, Florida State (Big Board Rank: 175)

One of the few non-fifth-year players on this list, Jaheim Bell was a very intriguing prospect while at South Carolina. At 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, he’s a bit of a tweener at his position — too big to play wide receiver but undersized as a tight end. However, the Gamecocks used Bell’s size and athletic profile to their advantage, lining him up all over. In his three years in Columbia, Bell lined up as a tight end 238 times, a slot receiver 194 times, out wide 59 times and in the backfield 171 times. In fact, Bell handled 81 rushing attempts at South Carolina.

In 2022, Bell carried the ball 74 times for 257 yards and three scores while forcing 13 missed tackles, resulting in a 78.1 rushing grade. He tallied more rushing yards than receiving yards that season (235). After his transfer to Florida State ahead of his senior season, though, his usage became much more vanilla. While he saw more playing time, he was almost exclusively lining up as a tight end or a slot receiver and rarely played out of the backfield, rushing for just two yards on four carries. Bell did set career highs in catches (39) and receiving yards (503), but he was somewhat of an afterthought in an offense that featured the likes of Trey Benson, Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson.

Bell’s overall college production was inconsistent, but his athleticism and versatility could make a creative NFL offensive coordinator very excited.

C Tanor Bortolini, Wisconsin (Big Board Rank: 212)

Bortolini put himself further on scout's radars with a dominant performance at the NFL scouting combine. Not only did he run a 4.94-second 40-yard dash at 303 pounds, but he set a combine record with a 7.16-second three-cone drill, beating out Jason Kelce’s 7.22 mark.

Bortolini’s athleticism will allow an NFL offensive coordinator to get creative with any run concept that requires a pulling lineman, much like how Kelce was used with the Eagles. Bortolini also offers positional flexibility. While all 868 of his 2023 snaps came at center, he played 648 career snaps between both guard positions and 229 career snaps at right tackle.

He is a bit undersized at his position, which tends to pop up in his run blocking, where his grade dropped in each of the past three seasons, bottoming out at 61.1 in 2023. On the contrary, his pass blocking improved in every year of his college career, topping out at 80.3. He surrendered just 23 career pressures across 962 pass-blocking snaps. While Bortolini may need to bulk up a bit, his athleticism is extremely rare for his position and would make him a very interesting pick on Day 3.

Click here to see Tanor Bortolini's 2024 NFL Draft profile.

RB Isaiah Davis, South Dakota State (Big Board Rank: 227)

Davis may have had one of the most productive college careers of any running back, but he’s going mostly under the radar because he played at an FCS school, despite it being the powerhouse South Dakota State.

While splitting duties with future NFL draftee Pierre Strong as a freshman and sophomore, Davis managed to rush for 1,520 yards and 17 scores between those two years, earning a 90.0-plus rushing grade in both campaigns. With Strong off to the NFL in 2022, Davis took over as lead back and hit the ground running, rushing for 1,454 yards on 250 carries for 15 touchdowns and a 91.7 rushing grade. He somehow got better in 2023, racking up 1,578 rushing yards and 18 scores with a 96.8 rushing grade that led all college backs, regardless of level.

At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Davis has ideal size for the position. The one real knock against him, unrelated to his level of competition, is he’s a poor pass blocker. The best pass-blocking grade he put up in any season was 40.5 in 2022. He may not be an every-down back in the league because of that, but his size and rushing ability give him starting potential at the next level.

QB Devin Leary, Kentucky (Big Board Rank: 293)

There was a brief point in time when Devin Leary was thought of as a potential first-round pick. In 2021 at N.C. State, Leary threw for 3,435 yards with 35 touchdowns and just five picks, as well as 31 big-time throws and nine turnover-worthy plays, culminating in an 85.1 passing grade.

Leary decided to return to the Wolfpack for his senior season to potentially enhance his draft stock, but things did not go his way in 2022. His passing grade dropped to 64.8 and he suffered a torn pectoral in Week 6 against Florida State, ending his season prematurely. Leary transferred to Kentucky for his fifth season and did rebound a little, playing the entire year without missing time and improving his passing grade to 70.1. However, he was less careful with the football, throwing a career-high 12 interceptions (his previous high being five) while having more turnover-worthy plays (23) than big-time throws (17).

Leary was looking like an afterthought until the NFL scouting combine, where he put on a solid showing during the throwing drills. It’s unclear whether Leary’s 2021 season was a fluke or if the pectoral injury has lingering consequences, but he is an intriguing option as a backup quarterback with a chance to start down the road.

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