2024 NFL Draft: One draft prospect each AFC team should be watching

2K4879Y September 30, 2022 Pasadena, CA.Washington Huskies running back Wayne Taulapapa #21 fumbles the ball into the endzone and is tackled by UCLA Bruins linebacker Laiatu Latu #15 for the safety in action during the first quarter of the NCAA Football game between the UCLA Bruins and the Washington Huskies at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California..Mandatory Photo Credit: Louis Lopez/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA(Credit Image: © Louis Lopez/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA)

  • Baltimore Ravens should eye a pass-rusher: If none of their young players emerge as viable threats, the Ravens could look to another dynamic Penn State pass-rusher after selecting Oweh in 2021. Robinson finished 2022 with a 92.4 pass rush grade, the best mark in the Power Five among all edge rushers.
  • Cincinnati Bengals could pursue a bell cow: The Bengals may have more substantial needs at other spots when you consider that both their starting safeties departed in free agency and they continue to use stopgaps at tight end. However, the thought of a player like Blake Corum in their offense is tantalizing.
  • Denver Broncos examine a talented edge defender: Laiatu Latu is a versatile rusher whose 91.0 pass-rush grade ranked fourth in the Power Five among qualified edge rushers. He had the same number of pressures, 65, as top-three pick Will Anderson while having over 60 fewer pass rush opportunities.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

The 2023 NFL draft is only recently in the rearview mirror, but the scouting cycle never ends, as teams always have an eye toward the future.

We’ll find a potential fit from the class of 2024 that each team should be scouting in order to improve their roster next year, starting with the AFC.

Click here to view the NFC version.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Potential 2024 needs: DL, CB, WR
  • Player to watch: EDGE Chop Robinson, Penn State

The Ravens currently lack a dynamic pass-rush presence up front. They will hope that Odafe Oweh or David Ojabo make a leap this season, but entering 2023, their pass rush is their primary weakness on defense. Their two best-qualified pass rushers in 2022 were Justin Houston, who is currently a free agent, and Calais Campbell, who left this offseason for Atlanta.

If none of their young players emerge as viable threats, the Ravens could look to another dynamic Penn State pass-rusher after selecting Oweh in 2021. Robinson finished 2022 with a 92.4 pass rush grade, the best mark in the Power Five among all edge rushers. His sack production — just five in 2022 — should increase with a greater workload this season.

Buffalo Bills

  • Potential 2024 needs: WR, OL, DL
  • Player to watch: WR Xavier Worthy, Texas

The Bills aren’t quite as flush with receiving talent as they have been the past few seasons. Stefon Diggs is elite, of course, but Gabriel Davis didn’t quite break out in 2022 like they thought he would and will be a free agent after the 2023 season. They also have had a hard time replacing Cole Beasley’s production in the slot after his post-2021 departure.

Worthy doesn’t have Davis’ size, but he certainly has the speed to get vertical and brings a more versatile route tree. He accounted for 24 explosive plays on just 60 catches for a Longhorns squad that endured inconsistent quarterback play last season. If Davis departs, Worthy fits as a movable deep threat on the outside. Davis signing an extension would put Worthy in the slot. Either way, he would fit in seamlessly.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Potential 2024 needs: HB, S, TE
  • Player to watch: RB Blake Corum, Michigan

The Bengals may have more substantial needs at other spots when you consider that both their starting safeties departed in free agency and they continue to use stopgaps at tight end. However, the thought of a player like Corum in their offense is tantalizing.

Corum was the highest-graded player at any position in college football last season. He may have won the Heisman Trophy last year had he not torn his ACL against Ohio State. He ranked eighth in the FBS in missed tackles forced despite essentially missing the final three games. His skill set is reminiscent of Christian McCaffrey. Like McCaffrey, who only had 100 career catches at Stanford, Corum’s receiving ability will require some projection, but it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be a threat underneath with Joe Burrow running the show.

Cleveland Browns

  • Potential 2024 needs: DI, WR, OT
  • Player to watch: DI Tyleik Williams, Ohio State

Browns defensive tackles ranked 31st in the NFL last season with a combined 42.0 overall grade. They weren’t particularly helped by all of the injuries behind them, but they were often a sieve, especially in the run game.

The Browns don’t have a first-round pick in 2024, so someone like Jer’Zhan Newton will likely be off the board. Instead, Cleveland could opt for Williams, who is a crucial piece of the Buckeyes’ defensive line rotation, serving as somewhat of a run-stopping specialist. His 13.2% run stop percentage ranked eighth among qualified FBS defensive tackles last year. He wouldn’t be a flashy pick, but he would certainly help Cleveland in their weakest spot.

Denver Broncos

  • Potential 2024 needs: DL, IOL, WR
  • Player to watch: EDGE Laiatu Latu, UCLA

The Broncos traded star edge rusher Bradley Chubbs after Week 8 last season. From that point forward, Denver posted the third-worst team pass rush grade in the NFL. Their coverage unit is excellent, but they can only do so much when their pass rush is nonexistent. Their Zach Allen addition, a useful piece, doesn’t move the needle.

Latu is a versatile rusher whose 91.0 pass-rush grade ranked fourth in the Power Five among qualified edge rushers. He had the same number of pressures, 65, as top-three pick Will Anderson while having over 60 fewer pass rush opportunities. Latu has the ability to excel in multiple spots, uses terrific inside moves to win one-on-one and excels when used in stunts. He would be a versatile fit for Vance Joseph’s scheme in Denver.

Houston Texans

  • Potential 2024 needs: WR, TE, IDL
  • Player to watch: WR Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State

While the Texans do not own their original 2024 first-rounder, they do possess the Browns’ pick via the Deshaun Watson trade. Their eventual slot is out of their control, but it is blatantly obvious that Houston lacks a No. 1 receiver.

Marvin Harrison Jr. will dominate the headlines leading up to next year’s draft, but Egbuka is nearly as good. Egbuka’s 83.7 receiving grade ranked 14th in the FBS while catching passes from current Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud. Egbuka is a terrific route runner and has the speed to threaten defenses after the catch. His prior chemistry with Stroud would accelerate the Texans’ offensive development.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Potential 2024 needs: TE, EDGE, CB
  • Player to watch: TE Brock Bowers, Georgia

New head coach Shane Steichen is going to want to build around the running game and create easy throws for Anthony Richardson. Marvin Harrison Jr. could be an option here, but they have a bigger need at tight end where their current group includes Jelani Woods, Mo Alie-Cox, and fifth-round rookie Will Mallory.

Bowers is arguably the best tight end prospect in the PFF era. He’s posted two consecutive 90-plus-graded seasons and has been the best offensive player for the two-time defending champion Bulldogs. Bowers is an elite receiver with explosive speed at the position while also serving as a solid run blocker. Shane Steichen has experience coaching a similar tight end in Dallas Goedert. Bowers could be even better.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Potential 2024 needs: OL, DL, S
  • Player to watch: OT Kingsley Suamataia, BYU

Protecting Trevor Lawrence should be of the utmost importance for the Jaguars. Starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor departed in free agency and 2021 second-round pick Walker Little is in line to fill the void. Little carried just a 61.7 overall grade last season, seeing substantial action in six games. A similar performance in 2023 could have Jacksonville looking elsewhere for a replacement.

Suamataia was excellent last season at right tackle for BYU, posting an 80.9 pass-blocking grade without allowing a sack. He moves to left tackle this year, which could put him out of range for Jacksonville, but the versatility and production in pass protection make him an option nonetheless.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Potential 2024 needs: S, WR, OT
  • Player to watch: S Calen Bullock, USC

The Chiefs have a talented young secondary that was excellent in coverage during their Super Bowl run last season. Most of it remains intact, but free safety Juan Thornhill left in free agency. That leaves Bryan Cook and Mike Edwards, among others, to fill the void. Thornhill has been a constant over the past few years and his vacated spot could be one that defenses attack in 2023. 

If Kansas City struggles to replace Thornhill this year, Bullock is a player with a similar skillset who could fill the void next season. Like Thornhill, Bullock is a true free safety who excels in the deep middle or in a deep half of the field. He has terrific range on the back end and excellent ball skills, as evidenced by his five interceptions last season.

Las Vegas Raiders

  • Potential 2024 needs: QB, DI, LB
  • Player to watch: QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington

Assuming Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy for at least most of 2023, the Raiders shouldn’t be bad enough to be in the Caleb Williams/Drake Maye sweepstakes. They do, however, still need to find a long-term solution at quarterback.

Michael Penix Jr. is currently QB3 on PFF’s 2024 big board. Penix Jr. showed flashes of his talent at Indiana but endured terrible injury luck. His first season in Washington was a rousing success, leading the Power Five in passing yards and ranking 10th in passing grade among qualified FBS quarterbacks. Penix Jr. could be a Heisman finalist and a top-20 pick in next year’s draft. The Raiders will be watching him closely.

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Potential 2024 needs: DI, LB, TE
  • Player to watch: DI Maason Smith, LSU

The middle of the Chargers’ defense has long been a sore spot. It has cost them too many games to be ignored going forward. They brought in Eric Kendricks to take the reins at linebacker, but the interior defensive line situation still needs attention.

Smith will be an interesting player to watch this year. A highly sought-after recruit in 2021, Smith has massive potential with NFL size and rare athleticism for a defensive tackle. Unfortunately, he played just eight snaps last season before tearing his ACL. Smith shows spectacular flashes of his talent when he plays with proper leverage and vision. Harold Perkins’ emergence for the Tigers could create more one-on-one matchups for Smith. If Smith emerges as a dynamic player this season, he could be the interior playmaker the Chargers have been looking for.

Miami Dolphins

  • Potential 2024 needs: IOL, TE, LB
  • Player to watch: Cooper Beebe, Kansas State

More than ever, the Dolphins need to protect Tua Tagovailoa. They won’t have success if he is sidelined, and they can’t waste the time they have with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Last season, the Dolphins ranked 29th in team pass-blocking grade. Improvement, or a lack thereof, will be the primary determinant of their future success.

The Dolphins interior linemen struggled to protect Tagovailoa last season, especially at left guard. Beebe happens to be the best pass-protecting left guard in the country, posting an 89.3 pass-blocking grade for the Wildcats. He did not allow a sack all season and also put up a 77.2 run-blocking grade that ranked 12th among qualified left guards. Beebe would immediately add stability to Miami’s weakest unit.

New England Patriots

  • Potential 2024 needs: OT, WR, TE
  • Player to watch: OT JC Latham, Alabama

The Patriots haven’t been as dominant up front as we’re used to. They’ve poured a ton of resources into the interior offensive line over the past two drafts, but their projected starting tackles are Trent Brown and Riley Reiff. That could become a shaky situation if they choose to stick with that duo.

Bill Belichick loves to draft Alabama players, although usually on defense, and tackle JC Latham would be no exception. A 6-foot-6 and 326-pound behemoth, Latham posted the fourth-best pass-blocking grade of any right tackle in college football last season. This year, he moves to the left side, looking to improve his stock. The Patriots love building from the trenches outward, and Latham would be a foundational piece.

New York Jets

  • Potential 2024 needs: OT, LB, S
  • Player to watch: OT Graham Barton, Duke

The Jets won’t have a first-round pick next season unless Aaron Rodgers suffers an injury that causes him to miss more than 35% of their total snaps. The weakest spot on their team currently is offensive tackle where it appears they will start 38-year-old Duane Brown and the injury-riddled Mekhi Becton.

If Rodgers is healthy and successful, it is likely that the Jets won’t be picking inside the top 50. That being the case, Duke left tackle Graham Barton is someone who could interest them. Barton was the fourth-highest-graded tackle in the FBS last season. He was the only Power Five tackle to grade above 85.0 in both pass blocking and run blocking. A continued breakout could vault him out of the Jets’ range, but he is a player they will be watching in Round 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Potential 2024 needs: LB, CB, WR
  • Player to watch: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson

The Steelers defense has most of the makings of an elite unit, but they have a big hole at linebacker. Their 2022 unit ranked 29th in overall grading and struggled mightily in coverage. This season, they’ll try to patch things together with veterans like Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, but they need a star at that position.

That star could be Jeremiah Trotter Jr., who enters his junior year at Clemson as arguably the best linebacker in college football. He excelled in coverage last year, posting an 89.7 coverage grade with two interceptions and a minuscule 44.5 passer rating allowed. Trotter Jr. would give the Steelers a potential star at a spot where they haven’t had one in several years.

Tennessee Titans

  • Potential 2024 needs: WR, CB, OL
  • Player to watch: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

The Titans have several problem areas on their team including cornerback and offensive line. They’ve already allocated resources to those two areas this offseason, so we’ll see how that plays out. They did not, however,  make a significant addition to their receiving corps. Currently, their primary options are 2022 rookies Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips along with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. None of those guys cracked 40 catches or 500 yards last season and the unit as a whole was among the lowest-graded in the NFL.

Tennessee always finds a way to be competitive, but if things finally crater offensively, they could be in line to take Marvin Harrison Jr.. Simply put, Harrison Jr. may have similar talent to his Hall of Fame father. He led all qualified receivers in 2022 with a 90.2 overall grade. His 1,263 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 61 first downs were all top-ten marks at the position. His route running, hands, and body control are impeccable. He is the next great NFL wide receiver.

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