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No-doubt QB, old-school RBs: 11 NFL Draft prospects we love

In Sports
April 04, 2024
With college basketball winding down, MLB Opening Day in the rearview mirror and The Masters still days away, attention is heating up on the NFL's marquee offseason event. Let's make our turn toward the NFL Draft. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

With college basketball winding down, MLB Opening Day in the rearview mirror and The Masters still days away, attention is heating up on the NFL’s marquee offseason event. Let’s make our turn toward the NFL Draft. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

The 2024 NFL Draft is three weeks away and has the chance to put some talented players into the league who will be fixtures for the next decade if things work out.

It’s hard to encompass everyone with big-time potential in a draft like this, but here are my 11 favorite prospects that I’ve evaluated this year who I think can be studs in the NFL. They range from franchise quarterbacks to running backs who will likely be in a committee to start their careers.

[Yahoo Sports’ latest mock draft]

Williams has been in the spotlight since he was a high schooler at Gonzaga College getting ready to join Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. There’s a reason for that — and why it’s a borderline forgone conclusion that he’ll be the first overall pick to the Chicago Bears in a few weeks. Williams has famously been one of the best out-of-structure quarterbacks in college football, but he performs well within the structure of the play as well. Very few quarterbacks in the NFL can match Williams’ arm talent and ability to fit the ball into tight windows. It’s hard to say any quarterback is a slam-dunk prospect, but Williams is about as close as they get.

Bowers might not come in the usual tight end mold, but he has such supreme skills as an overall pass-catching weapon that it’s hard not to think of him highly as a draft prospect. For three straight years, Georgia did whatever it could to get the ball into Bowers’ hands. Whether it was deep down the field as a slot, more traditional routes coming from the in-line tight end spot or even taking jet sweeps the distance, Bowers is a special, special player. Teams that don’t think outside the box might not value him as much. It’s hard to get a peg on where Bowers’ draft stock really is, but he will make some team incredibly happy on draft day.

Fashanu’s draft stock seems to have taken a hit after playing through injuries in his final season of college football, but he’s still as talented as they come at left tackle. Fashanu has good eyes as a pass protector, with the foot speed to stay in front of defensive ends. He is a load to bull rush and moves people in the run game. Watch his game against Iowa if you’re a doubter — this is a “set it and forget it” Day 1 starting left tackle. Some team may get Fashanu on a discount because his final season wasn’t the cleanest, but that means he may wind up on one of the better teams in the league.

Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

The only thing stopping Mims from being one of the first five or six players selected in the upcoming draft is the fact that he missed a good chunk of games during his time in college. For a 6-foot-8, 340-pound athlete, he’s incredibly flexible and has the ability to pass set vertically better than tackles who weigh 50 pounds less than him. He’s a mauler in the run game, has the skill to play left tackle, and Georgia’s offense was fundamentally better with him on the field. Health may be the only thing that stops Mims from being one of the best tackles in football immediately upon getting into the NFL.

When some analysts use the word “versatile”, they really mean a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who may not be great at any one thing. DeJean is legitimately great all over the field. He has the athleticism and chops to play outside corner, the change-of-direction ability to play in the slot, the range to play deep safety and the toughness to be a willing downhill tackler. He should get a chance to start off his career as an outside corner, but DeJean’s ability to play anywhere will give his future defensive coordinator a valuable chess piece in the secondary.

Barton’s archetype is not rare — a tackle projected to kick inside to guard at the NFL level. However, Barton’s skills are rare. He’s one of those guys in the mold of Zack Martin who probably could be a strong NFL offensive tackle, but has All-Pro potential on the inside. Barton continued his momentum into the draft by crushing his pro day workout, running a sub-five-second 40-yard dash and performing well in the agility drills. A talented prospect who can play four spots on the offensive line likely won’t be on the board too long when the draft kicks off.

Jer’Zhan Newton, DL, Illinois

Squatty, athletic 3-techniques are always going to be players I fall in love with and Newton falls into that archetype without a doubt. Newton was an absolute monster when he was on the field for Illinois, showing off a repertoire of pass rush moves that few players have at this point in their careers. The NFL has been inconsistent in its love for shorter defensive tackles (even though there have been so damn many good ones in league history), so Newton may experience somewhat of a draft day fall. Still, that shouldn’t change how high people are on him. He’s that skilled as a player and has the athleticism and speed to be a difference-maker.

I pretend I do not see the 4.71-second 40-yard dash from the scouting combine. Estime is an explosive hammer of a back who might not have elite long speed, but has the burst to get going downhill in a hurry. Big backs with balance are never an archetype to ignore, and a 220-pound RB who can keep his footing is going to be useful in the NFL. Despite the poor 40 time (which he improved upon into the 4.5s at his pro day), he jumped out the gym with a 38-inch vertical and 10-5 in the broad jump. Someone is going to get an incredibly valuable piece of their running backs room added with Estime.

5-foot-9, 220 pounds, 4.47. Let’s go. Lloyd is a style of back that will never go out of style. He might not be the most elusive running back in the world, but he’s a powerful runner who loves to make one cut, get upfield and isn’t afraid of contact. That works in any offense. If he can clean up his fumbling issues, Lloyd could easily find himself as a real-deal starter in the NFL. Keep it simple. Get behind your pads and live to see another down. That’s the Marshawn Lloyd experience.

Malik Mustapha, S, Wake Forest

There might not be a safety in this class who runs the alley better than Mustapha. He had 15 tackles for loss during his college career to pair with four sacks and four forced fumbles. He might be the the rangiest or stickiest player in coverage, but at its core football is still a game about hitting people and getting them to the ground. Players like Mustapha who live for that style of play will always have room in the league.

Wingo is somewhere on the Grady Jarrett spectrum. Like Newton, he’s a shorter defensive tackle who primarily projects to 3-technique at the next level. He can get up the field in a hurry and has effective pass rush plans to disengage from blockers. Wingo will be a 21-year-old rookie for his entire first season, so the upside is high here. Like Newton, Wingo’s draft stock isn’t clear because the NFL has been inconsistent in how it values short defensive tackles, but he’s a stud who can beef up an interior pass rush and has the ability to get behind the line of scrimmage.

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