NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Most improved units after Day 2

2RWHJ5D Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil (0) plays against UNLV in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

• Dan Quinn's defense has new weapons: The Commanders selected Jer'Zhan Newton and Mike Sainristil, among others, on Day 2 — two players who were very productive in college.

• The Steelers are building a well-rounded offense: Offensive line help and a new wide receiver should have Pittsburgh feeling good about 2024 and beyond.

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With the first 100 selections of the 2024 NFL Draft in the books, most of the early contributors from this year’s class have already been drafted. This is a look at which position groups took the biggest step forward on Day 2.

Washington Commanders: Defense

The Washington defense finished the 2023 season ranked 31st in expected points added allowed per play. After taking a quarterback at the top of the first round, they turned their sights to fixing that defense on Day 2. Jer'Zhan Newton and Mike Sainristil were both productive college players who can make a quick impact at the NFL level.

Newton played over 80% of the defensive snaps for Illinois last season — an impressive mark for an interior defensive lineman — and led all Power Five defensive tackles with 102 pressures over the past two seasons. There isn’t an immediate path to the field with Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne entrenched as the starters, but Newton is a really nice piece in that rotation.

Sainristill has a clearer path to the field early in his career in the slot, where he excelled for Michigan over the past two seasons. He earned a PFF run-defense and coverage grade above 80.0 in that span. Sainristill is a good prospect who addresses a need, with Washington ranking among the bottom 10 teams in the league in EPA allowed per slot target in 2023.

It was a good day for Dan Quinn’s defense.

Click here to see Mike Sainristil's 2024 NFL Draft profile.

Indianapolis Colts: Receiving Corps

The Colts continued an excellent draft by getting the 22nd-ranked player on the PFF big board (Adonai Mitchell) at 52nd overall. Indianapolis re-signed Michael Pittman Jr. this offseason, but they still needed to add talent to their receiving corps.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Mitchell ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash with a 40-inch vertical at the NFL scouting combine. And he’s not just an explosive, straight-line athlete. Mitchell has a fluidity to his game that is easy to see translating to the NFL. The biggest question is whether Indianapolis will be able to get more consistent production out of Mitchell than his college tape showed, but that’s a risk you take at this stage of the draft for someone with as much talent as Mitchell, especially when you’re trying to build around a young quarterback like Anthony Richardson.

Green Bay Packers: Defense

Like Washington, Green Bay doubled down on defense in the second round with two good prospects.

Edgerrin Cooper brings a nice blend of length (6-foot-2 with 34-inch arms) and athleticism to the middle of the Packers’ defense. He took a big leap in his final season at Texas A&M, finishing with 85.0-plus grades as both a run defender and a coverage defender.

Edgerrin Cooper PFF Grades by Season
Season PFF Grade
2021 64.1
2022 66.1
2023 90.8

The Packers followed up the Cooper pick with another SEC defender in Javon Bullard, who brings experience both as a slot defender and a safety from his time at Georgia. Bullard is a physical competitor at his size with a coverage grade in the 92nd percentile among qualifiers at the position since 2022.

Cooper and Bullard infuse some flexibility and talent into the middle of the field for Green Bay heading into the 2024 season. The Packers also drafted Missouri linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper (191st on the PFF big board) in the third round.

New York Giants: Secondary

New York continues to pour resources into its secondary, and the team ended up with good value on Day 2.

Tyler Nubin was the top-ranked safety on PFF’s big board (31st overall), coming off three consecutive seasons with a PFF grade of at least 70.0 on 500-plus defensive snaps. He should fit well in Shane Bowen’s new defense, which will allow him to move around in different roles. Safety was a clear area of need after Xavier McKinney departed in free agency, and bringing in Nubin here is a reasonable way to address that.

Andru Phillips will also have an opportunity to see the field early in his career opposite 2023 first-round pick Deonte Banks (or in the slot). Phillips is a physical cornerback who looked comfortable in press coverage at Kentucky and graded out in the 75th percentile at the position in single coverage last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Offense

Pittsburgh enjoyed a good first two days, getting players at positions of need at good value compared to both the PFF big board and the consensus big board. And each of their first three picks addressed the offense.

If it wasn’t clear that the Steelers intended to give Troy Fautanu every opportunity to start at tackle, given the post-Round 1 comments by Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan, the selection of Zach Frazier in Round 2 solidified it. It’s not difficult to see Frazier anchoring the Steelers' offensive line. He was a four-time state wrestling champion in high school, and you saw that translate to his play at West Virginia. Frazier was a four-year starter for the Mountaineers with PFF grades above 75.0 in each of the past three seasons.

The Steelers followed up the Frazier selection with wide receiver reinforcements after trading away Diontae Johnson earlier this offseason. Roman Wilson fits the identity of the earlier Pittsburgh picks along the offensive line — a hard-nosed, physical competitor. He provides a vertical threat from the slot with plenty of speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and won’t have stiff competition for playing time amid a thin receiver room beyond George Pickens.

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