NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Five players who could be surprise first-round picks

2T0KD21 GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 07: Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) runs with the ball for a touchdown during the game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Florida Gators on October 7, 2023 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Keep an eye on the deep 2024 wide receiver class: Michigan's Roman Wilson and Florida's Ricky Pearsall have first-round potential if wideouts start flying off the board.

• Tyler Nubin could make good on his No. 25 PFF big board ranking: He surrendered the lowest passer rating when targeted (33.0) among 2024 draft-eligible Power Five safeties during his three seasons as a starter.

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S Tyler Nubin, Minnesota (PFF Big Board Rank: 25)

Nubin impressed at Minnesota with his instincts, versatility and ball production. He ranks third among 2024 draft-eligible Power Five safeties in coverage grade during his three seasons as a starter. He recorded an 18.2% interception rate and surrendered the lowest passer rating when targeted (33.0). Nubin had knee surgery after the regular season but is expected to be fine for the upcoming campaign.

Teams to Monitor: Buffalo Bills (28), Green Bay Packers (25), Detroit Lions (29)

Green Bay replaced Darnell Savage (66.3 grade) with Xavier McKinney (87.8) in free agency but still needs depth on the backend.

Buffalo parted ways with several prominent members this offseason, including long-time safeties Jordan Poyer (67.2) and Micah Hyde (66.2). Taylor Rapp (56.4) is the only safety currently on the roster who played significant defensive snaps in 2023 (422).

Detroit released six-year veteran Tracy Walker (62.8), while C.J. Gardner-Johnson (six games played in 2023) opted for a reunion with Philadelphia. The safety group remains bare behind Ifeatu Melifonwu (82.2), and pairing Nubin with Melifonwu and Brian Branch (78.9) could add versatility to the secondary.

CB Kamari Lassiter, Georgia (PFF Big Board Rank: 38)

Lassiter impressed at Georgia with his instincts and ability in multiple assignments. He earned an 85.4 defensive grade in 2023, ranking ninth among Power Five cornerbacks, and forced 10 incompletions at a rate of 25.6%. Lassiter placed sixth in man coverage grade, allowing only three completions on 15 targets, while earning a 73.8 coverage grade in zone.

Lassiter did not allow a touchdown in two of his three seasons at Georgia, and recorded a 25.0% first down-plus-touchdown rate (sixth best). Questions remain about his speed, athleticism and lack of ball production. He posted a 4.65-second 40-yard dash time at his pro day and is regarded as a good, not great, athlete. Lassiter notched only one career interception (2021) in college and had six combined forced incompletions before 2023.

Teams to Monitor: Arizona Cardinals (4, 27), Buffalo Bills (28), Kansas City Chiefs (32)
Wild Cards: Philadelphia Eagles (22), Baltimore Ravens (30)

Several teams need a cornerback, with many high-profile names projected to go in the first round. Lassiter could go late in the first if some key players come off the board early.

Arizona signed Sean Murphy-Bunting (57.6) in free agency. Starling Thomas V (46.1) and Garrett Williams (56.7) sit behind him on the depth chart. The Cardinals earned the fourth-worst coverage grade in 2023, so Lassiter could be an appealing option for them at No. 27.

Baltimore has limited options outside of Marlon Humphrey (65.3), yet the secondary remains strong with Kyle Hamilton (86.4) and Marcus Williams (73.8) at safety. Needs at receiver and offensive line may take precedence over cornerback on Day 1, but Lassiter is still one to keep an eye on.

Buffalo released Tre’Davious White, leaving Christian Benford (83.0), Rasul Douglas (81.0) and Taron Johnson (77.5) as the team's primary cornerbacks. While additional depth is needed, safety help is more pressing if the secondary is a first-round priority.

Kansas City is primed to target a cornerback at No. 32 after trading L’Jarius Sneed (72.5) to the Titans. Trent McDuffie (84.8) is the team’s best defensive back, and while he has split time out wide (914 snaps) and in the slot (881) in his two-year career, he played primarily from the slot in 2023 (626 snaps). If the Chiefs prefer to keep him there, Lassiter could be an answer on the outside.

The Eagles are another team to look out for at No. 22. Darius Slay (66.0) and James Bradberry (54.4) continue to man the outside, while C.J. Gardner-Johnson will likely handle slot duties. With Slay and Bradberry aging, and coming off down years, Philadelphia needs a reliable player behind them. The Eagles have drafted five Bulldogs over the past two seasons, and Lassiter could be next in line. Offensive line could also be a first-round priority after Jason Kelce‘s (82.7) retirement.

Click here to see Kamari Lassiter's 2024 NFL Draft profile.

WR Ricky Pearsall, Florida (PFF Big Board Rank: 49)

Praised for his quickness, route-running ability and reliable hands, Pearsall is considered to be one of the best slot receivers in the draft. During his time at Florida, he recorded 49 explosive gains and the fourth-best drop rate (2.8%) among draft-eligible Power Five receivers. Pearsall racked up 963 receiving yards in 2023, gaining 26 first downs from the slot and 342 yards from deep passes. He tallied 634 yards against zone coverage, earning a 78.9 receiving grade.

Teams to Monitor: Baltimore Ravens (30), Buffalo Bills (28), Detroit Lions (29), Jacksonville Jaguars (17), Kansas City Chiefs (32)
Wild Card: Pittsburgh Steelers (20)

Baltimore released Odell Beckham Jr. (75.4) and re-signed Nelson Agholor (61.6), still needing a reliable option outside of Zay Flowers (76.3). Tylan Wallace (one catch in 2023) projects as their starting slot receiver, and Rashod Bateman (60.1) has topped 500 receiving yards only once in his three-year career (2021). Bateman and Flowers were late first-round picks for the Ravens, and they may be tempted to try again with Pearsall.

Buffalo’s need is obvious with the recent trade of Stefon Diggs (79.4). Khalil Shakir (76.8) led the receiver group during the second half of the 2023 season with 462 receiving yards from Week 10 on. He finished the year with 693 receiving yards and spent most of his time in the slot (462 snaps). The Bills signed Curtis Samuel in free agency (69.7), and he also recorded more than 600 receiving yards in 2023. Pearsall would fit a need, but is he the right kind of receiver for Buffalo?

Detroit needs receiver depth behind Amon-Ra St. Brown (91.3). Josh Reynolds (608 yards in 2023) departed for Denver, and Jameson Williams (65.9) recorded 433 yards after returning to the field in Week 5. Kalif Raymond (67.1) added 489 yards, and rookies Sam LaPorta (81.8) and Jahmyr Gibbs (67.4) added 1,065 and 410 receiving yards each. Detroit may like Pearsall but also may be willing to wait to add another receiver.

Calvin Ridley (72.0) led Jacksonville in receiving last season and signed a four-year deal with Tennessee in free agency. Christian Kirk (71.1) was the team's second-leading wide receiver, with 788 yards, and operates mostly from the slot (408 snaps). The Jaguars signed Gabe Davis (746 yards), who projects best as a vertical threat (355 deep yards in 2023), while Evan Engram (72.2) recorded 963 receiving yards. Pearsall may not be the best fit, but he would serve as another reliable option in the Jaguars' receiver group.

Wide receiver was a glaring need for Kansas City entering the offseason and may have become even more so after the latest Rashee Rice news. The Chiefs signed Marquise Brown (67.1) in free agency, and tight end Travis Kelce (1,339 receiving yards) continues to lead the receiving attack. While cornerback Kamari Lassiter would be a great fit at No. 32, Pearsall is another NFL-ready option.

Pittsburgh traded Diontae Johnson (78.3) to Carolina, making George Pickens (74.1) the team's clear number-one receiver. Quez Watkins (59.2), Calvin Austin III (56.6) and Van Jefferson (50.0) are the top receivers on the depth chart behind Pickens, and they combined for 550 receiving yards last season. Pearsall would give Pittsburgh a nice slot player to pair with Pickens’ deep-play ability.

WR Roman Wilson, Michigan (PFF Big Board Rank: 47)

Wilson brings speed (4.44-second 40-yard dash) as a 6-foot-3 slot receiver who led Michigan in receiving over the past two seasons (1,165 yards). NFL teams will be intrigued by his deep-threat potential (635 deep yards and nine touchdowns since 2021) and route running. Wilson caught 48 passes for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2023. He generated a 144.2 passer rating when targeted and notched 23 gains of 15-plus yards.

Teams to Monitor: Baltimore Ravens (30), Buffalo Bills (28), Jacksonville Jaguars (17), Kansas City Chiefs (32)

In theory, the same teams that would target Pearsall in Round 1 could be just as interested in Wilson. Jacksonville could be a sneaky pick, as Wilson would give them two 6-foot-3 deep threats. A pairing of Wilson and Pickens offers the same intrigue for Pittsburgh.

Buffalo could also be interested if they stand pat at No. 28. Wilson, like Pearsall, may not be the best “fit” as a slot receiver, but he would insert a vertical threat back into the Bills’ offense, pairing nicely with their desire to go deep (648 deep attempts by Josh Allen in 2023).

The speedster could be a perfect fit in Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme (sixth-highest run play rate in 2023), and he could offer Kansas City a vertical threat that has been lacking since Tyreek Hill’s departure.

T Kingsley Suamataia, BYU (PFF Big Board Rank: 45)

Suamataia played at right tackle in 2022, earning a 75.8 PFF grade (20th in the FBS). He moved to the left side in 2023 with mixed results (67.5), ranking seventh in pass-blocking grade (85.1) but grading out less favorably as a run blocker (52.9). Suamataia allowed 24 total pressures and two sacks across 701 pass-blocking snaps in his two years at BYU. Questions linger about whether he would be ready for a significant role in the NFL in Year 1, but he has gained buzz as a potential late first-rounder in recent weeks.

Teams to Monitor: Dallas Cowboys (24), San Francisco 49ers (31)
Wild Cards: Baltimore Ravens (30), Pittsburgh Steelers (20)

Baltimore traded Morgan Moses (83.2) to the Jets, and Ronnie Stanley (71.0) has battled injuries throughout his career. Patrick Mekari (71.9) is currently projected to start at right tackle, while the Ravens signed Josh Jones (51.7) in free agency. Wide receiver Roman Wilson would be an enticing first-round pick, but heavy consideration should be given to Suamataia, as well.

Dallas takes pride in its offensive line, which has undergone a transformation over the past few seasons. Terence Steele (53.8) and Zack Martin (68.7) remain on the right side, while Tyron Smith (84.5) and Tyler Biadasz (69.2) departed in free agency. 2022 first-round pick Tyler Smith (76.0) has performed well for the Cowboys at left tackle and left guard, and Suamataia would give the team another solid, young player with position flexibility.

A receiver is tempting for Pittsburgh, but the Steelers need help along their offensive line, as well. Depth is bare behind Broderick Jones (57.2) and Dan Moore Jr. (54.3), and the offensive line ranked 31st in pass-blocking grade in 2023. Suamataia could fit in nicely. With the receiver class projected to be deep well into Day 2, Pittsburgh might be tempted to attack the position later if Suamataia is available.

San Francisco tied for 24th in pass-blocking grade in 2023 and has little depth at tackle behind 35-year-old Trent Williams (93.1) and Colton McKivitz (65.7). Suamataia would add needed depth behind both players.

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