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2024 NFL All-Rookie Team: Projecting 14 instant-impact newcomers on defense/special teams

Getting thrown into the fire is no small task for NFL rookies. After lining up against college competitors of varying skill levels, they now must face veteran pros in the prime of their respective football careers.

It is no surprise that the top-performing rookies typically come from the first, second and third rounds. Among defenders and special teams contributors on the 2023 NFL.com All-Rookie Team, two were picked in Rounds 4-7 (safety Antonio Johnson and punter Bryce Baringer) and two were undrafted (Vikings LB Ivan Pace Jr. and Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey). The rest of the top defenders/special teamers were Day 1 or Day 2 picks, including edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., cornerback Devon Witherspoon and defensive tackle Jalen Carter, all three of whom came off the draft board in the top 10.

My projection for the defenders on the 2024 All-Rookie Team leans heavily on early-round picks, with one Day 3 selection included. All three of the special teamers were taken on Day 3.

DEFENSE

Edge
Jared Verse
Florida State

Drafted: Round 1, No. 19 overall

DT
Braden Fiske
Florida State

Drafted: Round 2, No. 39 overall


Rams 2023 third-round picks Kobie Turner and Byron Young were selected to last season鈥檚 NFL.com All-Rookie Team after earning nine and eight sacks, respectively. Verse and Fiske will be another dynamic duo, bolstering a team effort in replacing future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald. Verse will overpower and outhustle tackles on the outside to post at least seven sacks, while Fiske should benefit from single-block situations inside thanks to his workmanlike effort in run support and on third down. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 16 overall


Murphy is a great fit in Seattle as an interior presence who can boost the run defense and use his quickness off the snap to push the pocket. I expect to see a lot of four-man fronts under new head coach Mike Macdonald and defensive coordinator Aden Durde, and Murphy can be effective from multiple spots in that alignment.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 17 overall


I suspect Turner will be a defensive force for the Vikings by the midway point of his rookie campaign, possibly starting the year as a designated pass rusher (and ultimately approaching a double-digit sack total) but eventually proving he鈥檚 able to drop into zones and fight tackles playing the run. 

Drafted: Round 3, No. 69 overall


It seemed like a given that Jim Harbaugh would draft at least one of his former Michigan standouts this year, so seeing Colson land with the Chargers was no surprise. He should be in the mix from Day 1, filling running lanes and chasing backs to the outside whether it鈥檚 a stretch play or a throw to the flat. I expect him to crack the 100-tackle mark this season.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 45 overall


Cooper comes to a perfect situation in Green Bay, where his closing speed and toughness will force offenses to account for him on every play. He and 2022 first-round pick Quay Walker will be the primary linebackers in new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley's scheme, working inside and outside depending on the formation. Cooper should put up solid numbers across the board as a rookie, picking off a pass or two, accumulating a few sacks on blitzes and finishing first or second on the team in tackles.

Drafted: Round 5, No. 148 overall


Eichenberg could earn snaps at middle linebacker for the Raiders, allowing Robert Spillane and Divine Deablo to play outside on early downs. The stout run defender is going to make a lot of tackles with Christian Wilkins, John Jenkins and others eating blocks in front of him. He might not spend a lot of time on the field in obvious passing situations, but considering the team ranked 21st against the run in 2023, the former Buckeye fills an important need.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 24 overall


Cornerback was the top need in the draft for the Lions, who were willing to move up for Arnold when he was still available at No. 24. He can combine with veteran trade acquisition Carlton Davis and second-rounder Ennis Rakestraw Jr. to help fortify the position. I expect Arnold to attack the ball for Detroit, likely intercepting and breaking up multiple passes as quarterbacks test the rookie, with his former Alabama teammate, Brian Branch, handling nickel duties. 

Drafted: Round 1, No. 22 overall


Both Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell dropped further in the first round than I expected because of the run on quarterbacks and offensive linemen in the top 20 selections. Mitchell's size, speed and length make him a pass-breakup machine. He'll get plenty of support for the All-Rookie squad if he produces like I expect him to and helps lift the Eagles' defense back to a championship-caliber unit.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 58 overall


Bullard can make plays on the ball and secure open-field tackles whether he鈥檚 lined up deep or inside the box, which makes him a great complement to free-agent addition Xavier McKinney. Defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will have the flexibility to play single-high or two-deep coverage. Bullard showed a proclivity for making big plays in big games during his Georgia career. If he does the same thing this fall, it should lead to a successful Packers campaign and a spot for him on the All-Rookie Team.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 60 overall


With Jordan Poyer departing for Miami and Micah Hyde still a free agent as he mulls his future, the door was opened this offseason for Bills GM Brandon Beane to ordain Bishop as one of the team's new defenders. Bishop will be one of the league鈥檚 better tacklers from Day 1, stopping ball-carriers in the open field thanks to his plus athleticism and knowledge of the game. Bishop also proved capable as a blitzer while at Utah, and he was able to bait quarterbacks to throw his way in coverage. If Hyde does re-sign with the Bills, perhaps Bishop鈥檚 role won鈥檛 be quite as big right off the bat, but I think he could become a respected player early in his NFL career. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Drafted: Round 6, No. 219 overall


Buffalo is replacing Deonte Harty, who signed with Baltimore as a free agent, with Daequan Hardy in the punt-return game. Hardy led the FBS with two punt returns for touchdowns in 2023, making the first man miss before turning on the jets. Hardy could also join running back Ty Johnson in taking over for Khalil Shakir on kickoff returns if the Bills want the third-year receiver to focus on offense. Hardy is a competitive nickel corner, as well, but might need time to work into the role with Taron Johnson manning that spot.

Drafted: Round 6, No. 212 overall


Little was the third kicker selected in April, but he鈥檚 shown an ability to deliver in the clutch and I expect him to make multiple field goals of 55-plus yards as a rookie. He never missed an extra point while at Arkansas and created touchbacks on over 85 percent of his kickoffs last season. The Jaguars tied for eighth in the NFL last season with 37 field goal attempts and tied for fourth with 10 attempts from 50-plus yards. If Jacksonville remains on that pace in 2024, Little should have plenty of opportunities to show off his confident swing.


Drafted: Round 4, No. 122 overall


The punting game was not a strength for the Bears last season, so they snagged Taylor -- the top specialist in the draft -- to flip the field. Of course, they鈥檙e hoping Caleb Williams will lead an explosive offense that won't require Taylor鈥檚 services very often, unlike when he averaged nearly seven kicks a game for the moribund Iowa offense in 2023. But as the only punter drafted this year, he will be an All-Rookie pick if he booms punts and regularly places them inside the 10-yard line when given the chance.

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