NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Highlighting the best 'Plan B' options for key positions

2M9K1DP Southern California Trojans wide receiver Brenden Rice (2) makes a 35-yard catch and run with 45 seconds left during the second quarter of the 87th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium Monday, January 2, 2023 in Arlington, Tex. (Eddie Kelly/Image of Sport) Photo via Newscom

• South Dakota's Mason McCormick is a later option for OL-needy teams: McCormick's athleticism and nasty demeanor made him a dominant run-blocker at South Dakota State, but his pass protection was every bit as impressive. During the Jackrabbits’ national championship-winning season, he allowed just four hurries and no sacks or hits. He will likely be on the board a full round after Jackson Powers-Johnson is taken.

• Brenden Rice can emerge as a legitimate X receiver: Rice has the requisite height, weight and speed for the position, and he brings with him some polish in terms of route-running and blocking ability. Caleb Williams frequently targeted Rice on scramble plays, and he was a reliable target at that, as he dropped just two balls on 48 catchable targets and racked up 12 scores.

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Contrary to popular belief, teams can’t fix all their roster holes with just a first-round pick. Luckily, most teams will have several chances to acquire talent on Friday and Saturday.

The key to finding quality Day 2 and 3 production is to match talent with scheme fits. If your team doesn’t score that perfect fit in Round 1, there's no need to worry; here are some of our favorite “budget” players capable of filling similar roles to the bigger-named prospects destined to be selected much earlier this week.

MAN-COVERAGE CORNER

Both players excelled in college by using their physicality in man coverage, but one appears slated for the middle of Round 1 while the other seems more likely to be available late into Day 2.

Arnold was targeted a whopping 83 times last season at Alabama, but he surrendered just 41 catches while pulling in five interceptions and forcing 14 incompletions.

Jones gave up a ridiculous 31.8% completion percentage into his coverage, adding five interceptions and 10 forced incompletions, and he produced these numbers on just 44 passes thrown his way.


SWING INTERIOR LINEMAN

Teams in need of versatile interior offensive linemen are in luck, as this draft offers several excellent options.

Powers-Johnson leads the way. In his three seasons at Oregon, he did not allow a single sack and surrendered four total pressures on 758 pass-blocking snaps.

McCormick started at guard all four seasons at South Dakota State (unlike Powers-Johnson, who has experience at both guard and center). But he took reps at center throughout Shrine Game week and was seen snapping the ball on position drills at the combine.

McCormick's athleticism and nasty demeanor made him a dominant run-blocker at South Dakota State, but his pass protection was every bit as impressive. During the Jackrabbits’ national championship-winning season, he allowed just four hurries and no sacks or hits. He will likely be on the board a full round after Powers-Johnson is taken.

“X” RECEIVER

With such a deep class at wide receiver, there’s something for everyone on all three days of the draft.

Thomas is likely to be off the board in the first round as the fourth selection at the position, as his combination of size and speed is ideal for teams looking for outside threats. More patient teams, however, will look to prospects like Brenden Rice later on Day 2 and possibly into Day 3.

Rice has the requisite height, weight and speed for the position, and he brings some polish in terms of route-running and blocking ability. Caleb Williams frequently targeted Rice on scramble plays, and the USC receiver was a reliable target at that, as he dropped just two balls on 48 catchable targets and racked up 12 scores.

Click here to see Brenden Rice's 2024 NFL Draft profile!

OFF-BALL LINEBACKER

While this is not a deep class for true off-ball linebackers, Wilson and Colson look like future NFL starters.

Run defense and coverage ability are the two most critical components of off-ball play. Wilson excelled at both, earning grades over 80.0 in those facets, with an impressive overall grade of 89.9 in 2023.

While he will likely be taken as high as late in the first round, Colson could still be on the board into Round 3. He accomplished the same grading feat as Wilson in defending the run and pass, largely due to missing just three tackles on run plays and tallying 14 stops in coverage.


TOOLSY EDGE PROJECT

Robinson validated the first-step explosion and all-around athleticism on his tape by running a 4.48 40-yard dash and a 4.25-second short shuttle at the combine, likely punching his ticket into the first round. However, Western Michigan’s Kneeland was possibly more impressive, considering his superior frame and length.

He was a much stronger player against the run in college than Robinson (83.4 run-defense grade in 2023, compared to Robinson's 76.9), and he recorded 42 total pressures last year. He seems to be on the rise, so the value may be less than originally thought. But level of competition aside, he was the superior all-around college player and will be off the board earlier than some may expect on Day 2.

VERSATILE SAFETY

This will easily be my biggest value play of the group, as DeJean looks to be a first-round selection, while Brown is unlikely to be taken before Day 3.

DeJean could stay at cornerback if he’s drafted by a team that relies on zone coverage, but considering his tightness while changing directions, he may be better served by a position change to safety, where he can use his instincts, ball skills and straight-line speed to make plays from off the ball. Considering how many big plays he made on returns for Iowa, the new kickoff rules certainly help his stock.

Brown lined up all over the place in Nebraska’s secondary, with a lot of his reps coming in the slot. He was targeted 60 times in coverage last season but surrendered just 35 catches for 259 yards and no touchdowns. He also forced seven incompletions and missed just two tackles in run support. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds with a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, he has the requisite size and speed to potentially be one of the final-day gems of the class.


RECEIVING WEAPON AT RUNNING BACK

In today’s NFL, teams need multiple running backs, one of them being a third-down/receiving specialist. Irving proved to be just that for Oregon in 2023, as he tallied 58 catches and 578 receiving yards after the catch, with 21 forced missed tackles after receptions.

While Irving ranks 79th on PFF’s big board, Watson checks in at 114th. His receiving production was nearly identical to Irving’s this past season, as his 53 receptions resulted in 557 yards after the catch due in part to 23 forced missed tackles.

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