• Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson: He earned a 90.8 overall grade last season with an 86.5 passing grade and a 79.9 rushing grade.
• Oregon EDGE Jordan Burch: He is a powerful player who has the size and versatility to be a defensive end in a 4-3 or 3-4 system. He just hasn’t put it all together yet.
• North Carolina TE Bryson Nesbit: The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder is poised to take on the bulk of Josh Downs' vacated target share in 2023.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
As we put together the initial top 150 big board for the 2024 NFL Draft, it got more and more difficult to squeeze players with good outlooks into the top 100 — it’s already shaping up to be a deep and talented class. That meant an overflow of players just missed out on the top 100 who we think can really rise in the rankings with a good 2023 season.
Here are eight 2024 NFL Draft prospects we highlighted outside the initial top 100 who have a chance to make big jumps this college football season.
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QB KJ JEFFERSON, ARKANSAS
Current Big Board Rank: 101
At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Jefferson stands tall and strong in the pocket. He earned a 90.8 overall grade last season with an 86.5 passing grade and a 79.9 rushing grade.
Though his adjusted accuracy rate of 74.6% is fine, his ball placement, specifically on passes from the pocket outside the numbers, needs to improve. You have to be able to hit those sideline passes in the NFL game. Whether it’s timing and placement of comeback routes, long overs or drags, or classic out routes from the slot, Jefferson has to get better. If he does, there’s already a lot to like about him as a strong dual-threat quarterback.
OT PATRICK PAUL, HOUSTON
Current Big Board Rank: 108
Paul brings alluring size to the offensive tackle position. His 6-foot-7 frame would rank in the 83rd percentile for NFL offensive tackles. That made for a fun matchup when he lined up against former Texas Tech edge rusher and now Las Vegas Raider Tyree Wilson last season.
Anyone with that kind of size and length at offensive tackle will get a chance in the NFL. Paul graded out well as a pass protector with a 91.1 pass-blocking grade in 2022 thanks to good utilization of his length and some noble footwork for a big man. But he struggled in the power aspects of the position, earning a 60.4 grade as a run blocker. His 16.2% negatively graded run-blocking snap rate placed in just the 3rd percentile for FBS offensive tackles. A more well-rounded profile would help him fly up draft boards.
IOL DONOVAN JACKSON, OHIO STATE
Current Big Board Rank: 109
The former five-star interior offensive line recruit was the No. 19 player in the country and the No. 1 interior offensive line recruit in the 2021 class.
Jackson is a very fluid mover for his size. He thrives as a puller in space or when executing outside-zone blocking concepts. But right now, his game is too much about finesse. He lacks the strength to be consistent in holding the point of attack or truly moving defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. That also shows up in pass protection, as his pass-blocking grade on true pass sets was just 57.6 last year.
He was a first-time starter as a true sophomore in 2022, so it is reasonable to expect another step up from the talented interior offensive lineman in 2023.
EDGE JORDAN BURCH, OREGON
Current Big Board Rank: 116
Burch is another former five-star recruit who has the athletic gifts to be a big-time riser. He just hasn’t put it all together yet.
Burch spent his first three seasons of college ball with the South Carolina Gamecocks. He’s a powerful player who has the size and versatility to be a defensive end in a 4-3 or 3-4 system. The issue is he doesn't have much when it comes to pass-rush plans. He also needs to play with a better pad level to truly win with power at the next level. He led the team in pressures (43) and pass-rush win percentage (13.2%) in 2022, but that success came too sporadically. More consistency and an intentional pass-rush approach could yield a big upcoming season.
CB DENZEL BURKE, OHIO STATE
Current Big Board Rank: 122
Burke was a four-star athlete recruit who played both sides of the ball as a wide receiver and defensive back in high school. Since joining the Buckeyes, he’s been solidifying himself as a cornerback.
Burke is a growing player right now. As a starter in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, he showed a good baseline of athleticism to play the position at an NFL level someday. When playing free and from a place of confidence, he can be a sticky man cover cornerback. But there were times that confidence left him and he started hesitating a bit; that's when he would get into trouble. He earned just a 69.1 coverage grade in single coverage last season. His tape got much better — and his confidence grew — as the campaign wore on. More reps could lead to a big jump in consistency and more ball production from Burke, something he needs to improve upon in 2023.
S JADEN HICKS, WASHINGTON STATE
Current Big Board Rank: 124
Hicks played sparingly in his redshirt season, and struggled when he did. He later admitted that he wondered during that season if he was good enough to play at the Pac-12 level. His play and confidence the following year were night and day. Now we’re not only talking about a good Pac-12 starter, but a potential NFL player.
At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Hicks is in the 80th percentile for both height and weight among NFL safeties. He improved drastically in his redshirt freshman season thanks to a visible devotion to the film room. He played cornerback in high school, but a lack of flexibility is what likely pushed him to a safety role at Washington State. Since moving to safety, he has developed a nice feel for zone coverages and already anticipates at a high level for just a redshirt sophomore.
DI TYLEIK WILLIAMS, OHIO STATE
Current Big Board Rank: 130
Williams, a former four-star recruit for the Buckeyes, has a ton of potential, and there is reason to believe this upcoming season will be his best yet.
Williams didn’t play his senior year of high school because of a canceled season due to COVID-19. At the time, he was listed as a 320-pound defensive tackle recruit. But by his own admission, he gained weight with no season and weighed about 360 pounds when he arrived at Ohio State.
Williams wins with good burst off the ball. But weighing as much as he did, that wasn’t as impactful as it could have been in 2021. After his first season, he cut down to 320 pounds. Now he’s even lighter, reportedly at 290-295 pounds. That makes for a completely different type of player who we are excited to see this upcoming year.
TE BRYSON NESBIT, NORTH CAROLINA
Current Big Board Rank: 138
Former North Carolina receiver and now Indianapolis Colt Josh Downs saw more than 250 targets in the Tar Heels’ offense over the past two seasons, including 118 last year. So who will be on the receiving end of all those Drake Maye passes this year? Well, tight end Bryson Nesbit should be an incumbent beneficiary.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder had his best season yet in 2022, with seven contested catches (50% contested catch percentage) and 17 explosive plays of 15 yards or more. He also had a healthy yards-per-route-run average of 2.13. He just doesn’t have a ton of production yet. He’s a big slot, vertical threat type of receiver whose bread and butter will be seam balls beyond the second level and fade balls in the end zone. When Maye needs to hit a big shot over the middle, he should look Nesbit’s way.