NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (2024)

NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs

0 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (1)

    Denver Broncos quarterback Bo NixMatthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Organized team activities are the appetizer that will become the entree of the next NFL season. Little morsels can be taken from here and there, but a person can't fill up on those bites.

    The biggest things to take away from this stage of the process is implementation, utilization and injury progression.

    However, there are always individuals who impress. All of this needs to be contextualized, because it's very early in the process, with minimal contact.

    "Obviously, there is a lot of passing going on right now without pads on, but you can see the competition out there with the DBs, wide receivers, linebackers," Indianapolis head coach Shane Steichen told reporters.

    As such, a list of early draft-day steals is going to be wide receiver-heavy. The situation is set up for them to shine. But promising signs are promising signs. The following names are a handful to watch as the process continues through OTAs into mandatory minicamps then training camps.

QB Bo Nix, Denver Broncos

1 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (2)

    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    An NFL-record six quarterbacks were selected among the initial 12 picks of the 2024 NFL draft. Bo Nix to the Denver Broncos was the last of them.

    The selection was viewed as a bit of a reach. But the Broncos didn't have a choice since the organization lacked a second-round pick and couldn't risk losing a prospect they viewed as a potential long-term starter.

    Even so, Nix isn't on the same talent level of the Chicago Bears' Caleb Williams, Washington Commanders' Jayden Daniels or New England Patriots' Drake Maye. The Minnesota Vikings' J.J. McCarthy is in a better situation. The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, hope that Michael Penix Jr. doesn't play this season.

    Nix does have one advantage over all of the rest: experience.

    "Good, he's farther along than most," Broncos coach Sean Payton told reporters when asked about he's picking up the offense. "We're talking about a player who has played 61 games. He's extremely smart. He's picked it up very quickly."

    The last first-round quarterback taken could actually provide the quickest return, because the 24-year-old signal-caller is a good fit for Payton's system, with the playing time under his belt to even out some of the ups and downs that rookies tend to experience.

WR Keon Coleman, Buffalo Bills

2 of 10

    The Buffalo Bills were quite content to trade out of the first round entirely and select wide receiver Keon Coleman with the 33rd overall pick.

    In doing so, the Bills passed on multiple wide receivers, with Xavier Worthy, Ricky Pearsall and Xavier Legette going to the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

    Each of those targets have varying skill sets. Coleman brings something different to the table. Throughout most of Sean McDermott's tenure as head coach, the Bills featured receivers on the smaller side. This offseason, the organization traded Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans, allowed Gabe Davis to leave in free agency and acquired Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Chase Claypool, Mack Hollins and Coleman—all of whom are over 6'3".

    Coleman is an above-the-rim target. He's going to body off defenders and make spectacular grabs. He's already become a fan favorite because of affable personality. But the rookie appears to be the missing piece.

    "I think his play style (is) what we needed in our offense," quarterback Josh Allen told NFL Network (h/t David De Cristofaro of Bills Wire). "Talking with our offensive coordinator (Joe Brady), our quarterbacks coach (Ronald Curry), (general manager) Brandon Beane, and, obviously, coach (Sean) McDermott, a guy that's a big-bodied guy and can go win one a back-shoulder fade and not afraid to be a physical wide receiver."

    Safety Damar Hamlin added, "He's been working. You can't even tell he's a rookie. Looks like he's been with us since I've been here."

WR Ladd McConkey, Los Angeles Chargers

3 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (4)

    Harry How/Getty Images

    As soon as Keon Coleman came off the board, the Los Angeles Chargers snatched Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey with the 34th overall pick. The Chargers sold the selection of offensive tackle Joe Alt with fifth overall pick as a weapon for their offensive knowing full well the wide receiver room was mostly bare.

    McConkey could easily enter the lineup this year and lead the team in receptions as Justin Herbert's security blanket, which is relative considering the Chargers will likely feature a run-heavy attack under Jim Harbaugh's supervision.

    Still, McConkey can be a reliable threat based on how he can consistently separate from defenders, which showed up early in OTAs before the wide receiver was dinged a little during later sessions.

    "Herbert is already developing a connection with rookie second-round pick Ladd McConkey," The Athletic's Daniel Popper reported. "McConkey played both inside and outside Monday (from two weeks ago), but the majority of his snaps with the first-team offense came in the slot."

    Quentin Johnston, Joshua Palmer and D.J. Chark Jr. are all bigger, vertical-type of targets, which should work great in a play-action-heavy scheme. But someone needs to work the short-to-intermediate portions of the field. McConkey can do so, while surprising opponents with his 4.39-second 40-yard-dash speed.

WR Adonai Mitchell, Indianapolis Colts

4 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (5)

    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Adonai Mitchell was miffed when he fell all the way to the 52nd overall pick until the Indianapolis Colts selected the wide receiver. Going into the draft, Mitchell had generally been considered a first-round target. The incoming rookie wasn't shy with how he felt .

    "I mean, right now the only thing I'm feeling is I'm just kind of p***ed," Mitchell told Indianapolis reporters during his introductory press conference. "I don't really know what other way to call it. I'm just excited to work. Excited to be the best teammate I can be, be the best person and ultimately the best player I can be for the team."

    He's using his draft-day slide as motivation. The rookie chose to wear No. 10 to represent the 10 wide receivers selected before him.

    Colts head coach Shane Steichen builds his offensive gameplan around explosive vertical pass plays. Indianapolis lacked that dynamic last season. Mitchell's skill set is a perfect fit, which already showed up in his first professional practice sessions.

    "The explosiveness that he goes off the ball and wins one-on-ones," Steichen told reporters. "He's been making a ton of plays out here the last couple days. Really good to see those one-on-one winners. He's going to bring an element to our offense that we're really excited about."

WR Jordan Whittington, Los Angeles Rams

5 of 10

    The Los Angeles Rams have had a lot of success with drafting wide receivers outside of the top two rounds.

    Cooper Kupp was a third-round selection in 2019, while Puka Nacua fell all the way to the fifth last year. Could general manager Les Snead have worked his magic again, this time with the sixth-round selection of Texas' Jordan Whittington?

    Over the last two seasons, Whittington was forced to play second or third fiddle to Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell (in 2023). This year's 213th overall pick still managed 92 receptions for 1,157 yards during that stretch.

    Whittington can be a weapon for the Rams.

    "One thing that I can say I took from Texas, and I know that other receivers in my room (there) did, we learned concept-based, and I think that directly translates to this offense," the rookie told Stu Jackson of the Rams official site. "So just learning it as a concept, the words change, but most of the concepts are somewhat similar. So I think we did a good job at Texas by learning concept-based."

    Furthermore, Whittington should play a significant part in special teams. He'll be able to contribute in multiple phases thus making him invaluable as a rookie.

WR Javon Baker, New England Patriots

6 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (7)

    Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    The New England Patriots knew they had work to do on offense while entering the Jarod Mayo era.

    The organization responded by drafting seven offensive prospects with its eight total draft picks, including quarterback Drake Maye with the third overall selection.

    New England also landed a pair of wide receivers in second-rounder Ja'Lynn Polk and the fourth-round selection of Javon Baker. Polk is expected to be a big part of the offense, but Baker has been early talk of OTAs.

    "The other receiver whose hype train already has a full head of steam [aside from Tyquan Thornton] is fourth-round pick Javon Baker," Evan Lazar of the Patriots official site reported. "Baker made two impressive plays. First, a catch in traffic working over the middle, and then he beat CB Marco Wilson along the sideline on a high-point fade. Baker has some noticeable tools to work with in his explosiveness, strong hands to make catches outside his frame, and body control to thrive in contested situations.

    Baker is still a work-in-progress, particularly with overall consistency within the nuances of playing the position. But he's catching the eye of veterans.

    "I think that's how you build trust," quarterback Jacoby Brissett said of Baker. "He is a good route runner, good hands, can go up and make plays like he did today. We're looking forward to seeing more of what he can do."

DL Eric Watts, New York Jets

7 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (8)

    Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

    The New York Jets' Eric Watts is the only undrafted free agent on this list, and his inclusion may be tad premature.

    But the Jets signed Watts to a free-agent contract with $245,000 in total guaranteed money, which will be more than any seventh-rounder gets this year.

    Watts stands out naturally because of his size (nearly 6'6" and 274 pounds) and excellent athletic profile.

    "... Watts kept standing out to me," The Athletic's Zack Rosenblatt said on the podcast Boy Green Daily. "He has Carl Lawson's [old] number, No. 58. We kept seeing 58 make plays, and multiple times people were like who is 58? I saw him beat Olu [Fashanu], I saw him beat some of the backup offensive linemen like he was doing his job in this setting."

    To be fair, the comment was based on limited viewings and before full pads are on. It's still promising that an undrafted free agent wasn't overwhelmed and showed well during his initial practices.

    What makes Watts interesting for the Jets is that he has the size and length to work up and down the line of scrimmage. He now needs to back that up with improved technique and production.

LB Marist Liufau, Dallas Cowboys

8 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (9)

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Dallas Cowboys see another defensive chess piece in third-round linebacker Marist Liufau.

    "Number one, he's brilliant," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer told reporters. "He catches on really quick. He wants to be so good and so intense that he's almost too much at it right now. The other thing is I think he's a really good pressure player and I think having that with (Micah) Parsons and another pressure player that is a linebacker or he can move somewhere else and Parsons can move somewhere else. I think those pieces add to confusion for the offense, plus he's a really good rusher. "

    Liufau isn't just a box player, though. He didn't allow a single touchdown when in coverage over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

    For the Cowboys, the coaching staff has a good problem on its hands. Veterans Eric Kendricks, Damone Clark and DeMarvion Overshown are the projected starters. Liufau is going to push Overshown in particular for a spot. But Zimmer can move all of them around to give opposing offenses different looks.

    Even if Liufau doesn't find himself in the starting lineup, he'll be a sub-package performer providing flexibility for the entire unit.

CB Cooper DeJean, Philadelphia Eagles

9 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (10)

    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Cooper DeJean's inclusion has less to do about shining during practice sessions and more about how the Philadelphia Eagles plan to deploy this year's second-round selection.

    Throughout the previous draft cycle, arguments arose about whether DeJean would be a better cornerback or safety at the professional level. He primarily played outside corner for the Iowa Hawkeyes and excelled.

    Even so, the defensive back's versatility proved to be one of his biggest selling points. Interestingly, the Eagles doubled up on their defensive backfield after drafting Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell in the first round.

    Philadelphia is getting plenty of early looks at DeJean, including some glimpses with the first-team defense, as a nickel corner.

    To be clear, the rookie will be cross-train in multiple roles. But expectations have already been built that he can handle multiple responsibilities and may serve as the Eagles' primary slot defender once the season begins.

    "DeJean appears to be picking up the nuances of his new defensive system," The Athletic's Brooks Kubena reported. "He adequately shadowed his one-on-one matchups, and he astutely passed off receivers on assignments that might otherwise draw less disciplined defensive backs incorrectly inward."

    Basically, the Eagles want DeJean on the field, as they should. He has a better chance working inside right now with Mitchell, Darius Slay and James Bradberry also on the roster.

S Jaden Hicks, Kansas City Chiefs

10 of 10

    NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (11)

    Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Certain players look the part but don't play that way. Kansas City Chiefs fourth-round safety Jaden Hicks looks the part and is already making waves.

    "I tell him all the time, 'You know what? You are the prototype safety,'" Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt told reporters. "He has the body, the size, the mental to be able to be a really good football player in this league."

    The 6'2", 211-pound defender has already caught the eye of a two-time league MVP.

    "He's a big dude and he's going to get better and better," quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "You can see it early, he has the physical ability."

    For Hicks, the biggest part is how he fits into Kansas City's secondary. The back-to-back Super Bowl champs already have Justin Reid, Bryan Cook and Chamarri Conner. Hicks is a physical defender who plays like a missile to the ball. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a plan for him, of course.

    "We've got him all over the place," Spagnuolo said. "... He made a really great play today down toward the end zone at the end of practice. ... He's not as vocal as we need our safeties to be because he doesn't know (the playbook) yet."

NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals After 2024 OTAs (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nathanial Hackett

Last Updated:

Views: 5780

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nathanial Hackett

Birthday: 1997-10-09

Address: Apt. 935 264 Abshire Canyon, South Nerissachester, NM 01800

Phone: +9752624861224

Job: Forward Technology Assistant

Hobby: Listening to music, Shopping, Vacation, Baton twirling, Flower arranging, Blacksmithing, Do it yourself

Introduction: My name is Nathanial Hackett, I am a lovely, curious, smiling, lively, thoughtful, courageous, lively person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.