2024 NFL Draft Alternatives

By Lee Wakefield

We all have our draft favourites, players that we set our hearts on for draft weekend, our my guys… We see jersey swaps and we become the Kermit hugging phone meme in an instant.

But what happens if another team jumps the queue? What if they take the player you really wanted? Well, I guess we are sad, and we become the Wolverine photo meme..?

However, we don’t need to!

There are some fantastic draft alternatives out there for us all. Players who actually might turn out to be better value in the long run.

Here are my 2024 draft alternatives.

If you miss out on Quinyon Mitchell and Terrion Arnold in round 1, why not draft Max Melton in round 2?

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Quinyon Mitchell and Terrion Arnold are the top cornerbacks for many analysts in this year’s draft. There’s perhaps a smattering of Nate Wiggins but by and large, it’s one of Mitchell or Arnold… Either way, Max Melton isn’t generally regarded as a top-tier prospect at the position this year.

However, that isn’t to say that he isn’t a very good prospect – For some teams, he could be the Perfect Pick.

In comparison to Mitchell and Arnold, Melton is of a comparable size and athletic profile. Melton is a little shorter than the others but he has the best explosive profile in terms of jumps and he can a sub-4.4 40-yard dash too.

Melton can tackle in the open field and he has also shown proficiency in coverage, whether zone or man, scheme versatility, and an ability to make splash plays. The same can be said for the other two players, but that’s why they’re both regarded as elite prospects.

If we compare passer rating allowed for all three players, Arnold allowed a rating of 50.7 in 2023 and managed five interceptions. Plus, a defensive back from Alabama, coached by Nick Saban is brand recognition we can all trust.

Mitchell, whilst not having that level of competition coming from the MAC, did what any scout wants to see of a smaller-school, smaller-conference prospect do; dominate.

Mitchell’s passer rating against in 2023 was a jaw-dropping 32.4, he had just one interception but 18 pass breakups. Nobody on Toledo’s schedule could do anything against him.

As much as Toledo and Alabama aren’t comparable, does anyone in the NFL care that Sauce Gardner went to Cincinnati? The same thinking applies to Mitchell. And possibly Melton, given Rutger’s punching bag reputation in the Big Ten. Melton’s passer rating against in 2023 was 65.7 – Not as low as either Arnold or Mitchell, but still mightily impressive! 

On the consensus draft board, Mitchell and Arnold are firmly placed in the top 15 players, but Melton pegged around the end of the second round.

That’s a huge difference in draft value, yet on the field, Melton could be a lot closer to the top of the class than CB10, which is where he sits on the aforementioned consensus board.

If you miss out on Byron Murphy II in round 1, why not draft Maason Smith in round 3?

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Byron Murphy II is IDL1 in this draft class for me and one of two first-round grades I have at the position. If it’s not him or Jer’Zhan (aka Johnny) Newton, then I don’t know if your team is getting a player who can change the course of your team on their own on the interior of the defensive line.

The market for these kinds of players has exploded in recent years and almost all of the top players at the position are former first-round picks. So this one might be a little bit of a stretch, but we’ll go there anyway.

Murphy is a gap-shooting 3-technique who has god-like quickness for a man of his size and high-end hand-fighting techniques, in my opinion, he’s a rare player who will cost your team a pick in the first 20 selections.

For teams who aren’t in a position to grab Murphy but still need to find some interior pass rush, my recommendation is to select LSU’s Maason Smith in the third round.

Smith is much taller than Murphy, measuring in at just over 6’5 compared to Murphy’s shade over 6’, and he also has a far superior reach, with vines for arms which are 35”.

Smith, a former five-star recruit gets the job done differently – Using pure power compared to Murphy’s mixture of movement skills and technique. Smith has the anatomical and physical tools to become a wrecking ball in the middle of a team’s defensive line and I feel he could be a player who racks up pressures at a high rate given a couple of more years to develop in the league.

If you miss out on Ja’Tavion Sanders in round 2, why not draft Jared Wiley in round 5?

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After his pro day numbers dropped, the draft community appeared to cool wildly on Ja’Tavion Sanders. He’s already a smaller tight end prospect, and he posted poor jumping numbers and only managed eight reps on the 225lb bench press. The Texas product rescued his day slightly with his 40-yard dash times, in which he had impressive 10 and 20-yard splits, showing off his impressive straight line speed. All of this makes his Mockdraftable spider diagram a little lopsided. 

Sanders isn’t a blocking tight end, so the fact he’s smaller and doesn’t appear to have excellent functional strength shouldn’t be as big of an issue as these testing numbers make out. Sanders is a vertical, field-stretching, F-tight end, who will be running in straight lines down the seams and being a big-bodied target over the middle of the field. In my opinion, the tape shows that he can play too!

If, like me, you’re a fan of Sanders – I was recently on the Go for 2 Podcast, discussing him alongside a pair of other Touchdown writers as we gave our top 5s for the QB class and the rest of the skill position players.

On that very episode that is linked above, I also shout out Jared Wiley as one of my favourite TE prospects in the class.

Wiley is another movable piece as a tight end, he’s also not a traditional Y-tight end who will be taking on defensive ends as an extra blocker.

He has exceptional hands, having only one drop on 92 catchable targets in college and he also has a spectacular catch in his locker, as he displayed with this grab in Senior Bowl drills.

Wiley was also measured as a bigger and more athletic player compared to Sanders. Wiley is a fifth-year player who has never reached the statistical marks that Sanders has in terms of yardage but he’s currently position 169 on the consensus big board on NFLMockDraftDatabase and TE9. I feel Wiley goes higher and far outperforms that draft position in the NFL, he’s got a chance to be a huge bargain for a team.

If you miss out on Graham Barton in round 1, why not draft Hunter Nourzad in round 6?

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Graham Barton is possibly the most versatile interior offensive lineman in this year’s draft class. With true four-position flexibility and high-end traits, he is almost certain to be selected in the top 20-25 picks once the draft rolls around.

With this in mind, comparing a player who has only played at Penn State for one season, after transferring in from Ivy League Cornell, might seem a bit of a stretch.

On a separate Go for 2 Episode, where we discussed our top 5 offensive linemen – This episode is yet to be released at the time of writing but the guys are well worth a follow and the episode is also well worth your time when it drops.

During the chat, I talked about Barton as my top-ranked interior lineman, with Nourzad as my “My Guy” prospect, so both players are firmly in my mind as having high potential to be stalwarts on a team’s offensive line for years to come.

Nourzad has similar versatility having played center, guard, and tackle throughout his college career. I feel he dealt with the jump from Ivy League to the Big Ten very well, and has the intelligence to play center at the NFL level. Nourzad has plenty of size at 6’3, 317lbs, so could quite easily fit in at guard for a lot of NFL teams. The one drawback from his measurements showed sub-33” arms which probably rules him out of being a long-term NFL tackle, but the same can be said for Barton.

When we turn on the film, Barton has excellent quickness out of his stance, impressive hand strength, and the ability to displace defenders in the run game. He also has the athletic ability to climb to the second level in the run game and make blocks on the move in order to spark big gains from his running back.

The scouting report reads quite similarly for Hunter Nourzad since he is also a fluid mover in space for a man of his size, possesses a strong anchor when pass-protecting, and can also push defenders out of the frame in the run game.

I feel that if it were the case that Nourzad had played for four years at the Power-5 programme, he’d be spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Barton, and Oregon’s Jackson-Powers Johnson. Picking up your center of the future of a rock solid guard on day 3 of the draft is a huge win for any NFL front office, which is what I believe a team will be getting in Hunter Nourzad. 

If you miss out on Brian Thomas Jr. in round 1, why not draft Cornelius Johnson in round 6?

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Admittedly, I am lower on Brian Thomas Jr. than consensus. This is because I just see a super-athletic vertical receiver, who is a little bit of a one-trick pony.

Thomas is a great red zone threat, a superb vertical threat, and has Jupiter-level gravity when it comes to the ball being drawn into his catch radius. All of which is fantastic, and he has some elite traits on which he can hang his hat. He also scored 17 touchdowns this past year, and I’ve heard that touchdowns are pretty important. 

However, he only has one year of being a featured guy – Possibly not his fault as LSU has been a wide receiver factory over the past few years – and he runs a limited route tree. So, we have a ceiling of DK Metcalf here, and the majority of the pre-draft discourse surrounding Metcalf was abundantly negative!

Brian Thomas Jr. is being mocked in the top 15-22 picks regularly and what I fear for teams who could be in the running for him is what they end up with isn’t DK Metcalf, who has been coached superbly and blossomed into an incredible weapon, but more of a Martavis Bryant-type of receiver. Someone who has all the tools but is never a WR1 on their team and therefore is continually used in a limited, supporting role.

That kind of risk is not worth high-end draft capital. So draft Cornelius Johnson instead!

Johnson’s body type and athletic profile compares favourably to Nico Collins of the Texans. Both ran around 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, both had 37.5” vertical jumps, and they are similar in height and weight.

Both receivers are former Wolverines who were tasked with making big plays down the sideline and in the deep part of the field. Johnson has shown some evidence of deceptive route running, and he also led college football in contested catch rate in 2023 with an ultra-reliable 82%.

I find it truly baffling that Johnson will likely be available on day 3 of the draft, which might be more of a clue to the strength of the wide receiver class, than a knock on Johnson himself. It took Collins until his third season to truly break out in the NFL as a former third-round selection, in the right landing spot, I don’t know if it’ll take Johnson as long as that to be effective in the league.

Feature Image Credit: Nittany Sports Now

Lee Wakefield