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2024 NFL season: Day 3 rookies who could compete for starter snaps in Year 1

Most players picked on the third day of the NFL draft (when Rounds 4 through 7 are held) are typically expected to contribute as a reserve and/or on special teams in their rookie season.

However, 10 of 157 Day 3 selections started eight or more contests in 2023, down from 16 of 158 selections in 2022. Record-setting Rams fifth-round receiver Puka Nacua (who made this list last year) headlines that group of 10, which also included quarterback Aidan O'Connell (fourth round, Raiders), offensive linemen Anthony Bradford (fourth, Seahawks), Blake Freeland (fourth, Colts), Dawand Jones (fourth, Browns) and Sidy Sow (fourth, Patriots), receiver Trey Palmer (sixth, Buccaneers), defensive lineman Dante Stills (sixth, Arizona) and cornerbacks Jaylon Jones (seventh, Colts) and Carrington Valentine (seventh, Packers).

A rookie's talent certainly factors into how quickly they see the field at the next level, but injuries to veterans and the relative strength of their position group also often determine draftees' playing time. Here are 15 Day 3 picks from the 2024 NFL Draft who could be in line to start in their first season, ranked in order of the likelihood they will receive and take advantage of potential opportunities.

Tanor Bortolini
Wisconsin · OG

Drafted: Round 4, 117th overall

Bortolini was a center for the Badgers in 2023, but the Colts identified his position as guard when the pick was announced. He started at least one game at every O-line spot except left tackle during his college career, so he knows his way around multiple positions. Bortolini could wind up the heir apparent to center Ryan Kelly, who is due to become a free agent after the 2024 season, but as a rookie Bortolini could compete at right guard with Will Fries, who鈥檚 also in the final year of his deal.

Decamerion Richardson
Mississippi State · CB

Drafted: Round 4, 112th overall

The Raiders' cornerback group was inconsistent last season and lacks size, so it was a natural fit for the 6-foot-2 Richardson to land in Las Vegas. His sub-4.4 speed is another bonus at 188 pounds, and though he possesses only average short-area agility, his physical play against larger outside receivers will be useful as he grows into a larger role over the course of the season.

Drafted: Round 4, 101st overall

The Panthers selected Sanders with the first pick of Day 3 to provide juice to a solid but unspectacular tight end group. Coaches should be setting up the smooth mover on seam routes and in the red zone, making him a favorite target for Bryce Young by the middle of his second season running the show.

Cedric Gray
North Carolina · LB

Drafted: Round 4, 106th overall

Gray will attack downhill against the run and as a blitzer (five sacks, 11 tackles for loss in 2023). He possesses enough speed and agility to drop into short zones, and he can track down running backs in the flat. Third-year linebacker Jack Gibbens started 13 games for Tennessee last year, but he was re-signed to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum salary in the offseason. Titans GM Ran Carthon recently said Gray and Gibbens will "" the competition for a starting spot, with the winner potentially landing defensive play-caller duties.

Troy Franklin
Oregon · WR

Drafted: Round 4, 102nd overall

If the Broncos鈥 Tim Patrick is healthy after missing the last two seasons due to injury, he'll likely join Marvin Mims Jr., Courtland Sutton and free-agent signee Josh Reynolds in the main receiver rotation. But if any players from that group fail to perform to expectations or suffer an injury that sidelines them, watch for the lean-but-explosive Franklin and former Oregon teammate Bo Nix to renew that built-in chemistry regularly come the fall.

Ray Davis
Kentucky · RB

Drafted: Round 4, 128th overall

The Bills were fortunate that Davis was still available late in the fourth round. His strength through contact will be a nice complement to James Cook鈥檚 slashing style. I wouldn鈥檛 be surprised to see Davis start several games to set a tone in the run game and keep Cook fresh so he can more regularly explode for big plays.

Casey Washington
Illinois · WR

Drafted: Round 6, 187th overall

I don鈥檛 expect a Puka Nacua-like record-breaking rookie season from Washington as a Day 3 pick, but I expect him to produce for Kirk Cousins. Like Nacua, Washington is a tough, reliable pass catcher on short and intermediate routes (with slightly better speed than Nacua). Veteran offseason acquisitions Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore could start to see their roles reduced if Washington and Cousins make a strong connection.

Dadrion Taylor-Demerson
Texas Tech · DB

Drafted: Round 4, 104th overall

I think the Cardinals need to get Taylor-Demerson on the field as a nickel defender in 2024. His cover ability in the slot should be utilized and I expect him to be effective rotating deep, as well, if the team wants to use Budda Baker -- who is in the final year of his contract -- and Jalen Thompson in the box. It won't be a surprise if 鈥淒TD鈥 starts eight games this season.

Tyrice Knight
Texas-El Paso · LB

Drafted: Round 4, 118th overall

Veterans Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson signed one-year deals to join Seattle's linebacker group this offseason, but Knight has a good chance to be a starter at some point in the season. He reads plays well and gets through the trash to find the ball, disengaging or working through blocks to wrap up ball-carriers. Knight has the speed to stop backs trying to get to the sideline, as well, which makes him a good fit inside for the Seahawks.

Sedrick Van Pran-Granger
Georgia · IOL

Drafted: Round 5, 141st overall

Connor McGovern is in line to move to center after the release of Mitch Morse this offseason, and with Ryan Bates being shipped to Chicago in March, the Bills' interior depth is limited. Van Pran-Granger was a stalwart for three seasons at Georgia, so he has the game to step into a starting spot if needed due to injuries or ineffectiveness of the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.

Chau Smith-Wade
Washington State · CB

Drafted: Round 5, 157th overall

Former Buffalo Bills CB Dane Jackson will likely take over the starting spot vacated by Donte Jackson, who was traded to Pittsburgh for receiver Diontae Johnson. As for the other top CBs on the roster, Jaycee Horn has struggled to stay healthy during his three-year career and Troy Hill will turn 33 years old before the start of the season, so Smith-Wade could get opportunities at nickel or outside. He lasted into the fifth round because he lacks ideal size and speed, but he's a competitor who can stick to receivers downfield.

Mason McCormick
South Dakota State · OG

Drafted: Round 4, 119th overall

McCormick has the toughness and athleticism to take a starting spot from James Daniels or Isaac Seumalo. Yes, that potentially means the Steelers would start three rookies on the offensive line, but some Steelers fans might argue McCormick, left tackle Troy Fautanu, center Zach Frazier will quickly constitute an improvement over last year's group despite their lack of experience.

Tarheeb Still
Maryland · CB

Drafted: Round 5, 137th overall

The Chargers met their need for an infusion of young talent at cornerback by picking Still and Cam Hart in the fifth round. I'm giving Still a slight edge over Hart in getting starts this season because Still is the more versatile player and he could step into the nickel spot if needed.

Tommy Eichenberg
Ohio State · LB

Drafted: Round 5, 148th overall

The Raiders found a potential starting middle linebacker in Eichenberg. The former Buckeye probably won't play in obvious passing situations, but if the offense tries to bully lighter boxes, Las Vegas might want to counter by playing an extra run-stopper like Eichenberg alongside returning starters Divine Deablo and Robert Spillane.

Walter Rouse
Oklahoma · OT

Drafted: Round 6, 177th overall

It鈥檚 not unusual for a Day 3 offensive tackle to be thrust into a starting role at some point in his rookie year due to injuries up front. Rouse could be in position to get that chance as the Vikings lack of depth at the position. He's a stout, experienced player who would not shrink from the opportunity if an injury sidelines Christian Darrisaw, who has missed at least two games in each of his first three years in the league.

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