2024 NFL Draft: 10 players Joel Klatt is ‘planting his flag on’

With the calendar flipping to April, the countdown to the 2024 NFL Draft is on.

We’re just over three weeks away from Day 1 of the draft in Detroit. I’ve already done a couple of mock drafts and shared my prospect rankings at a few different positions, so now, I want to take a different angle at evaluating this draft class. 

I want to share a list of players that I’m planting my flag on, guys who I feel strongly about ahead of their NFL careers. We obviously don’t know which teams these players will end up with, but I feel confident that they’ll be good at the next level, regardless of where they call home.

There are several obvious players here, but most of my list consists of guys who are likely to be late first-round or Day 2 picks. So, let’s take a look at the 10 players I’m planting my flag on in the 2024 NFL Draft.

TE Brock Bowers, Georgia

When I ranked my top-five pass catchers in this year’s draft, I had Bowers ranked second in the group and explained why tight ends are so valuable. They can make life for quarterbacks much easier because of the matchups they can generate.

Bowers has been elite since he stepped foot on Georgia’s campus. Every time I got to watch him play, I came away more impressed. His athleticism, ability to catch the football and work ethic all stand out. 

Last year, I said you could probably wait a round before selecting a tight end because you could get a guy like Sam LaPorta. The Detroit Lions wound up drafting LaPorta in the second round, and he ended up having an excellent rookie season.

Bowers’ case is a little different from that. He’s a better top-end prospect than LaPorta, which means you’ve got to go get him. He’s more of a crown jewel than a guy you can wait in the wings to draft in the second round. His elite playmaking ability, along with the schematic advantage he brings and his athleticism, will make him a first-round pick.

At some point, your Jimmys have to be better than their Joes. Bowers is better than a lot of Joes, and I think he’s going to have a lot of success in the NFL.

QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington

I planted the flag on Penix before the 2023 college football season even began, predicting Washington as a dark horse title contender because of the quarterback. I also had Penix as a dark horse Heisman candidate.

Penix more than lived up to my predictions, having an exceptional season in 2023. What I love about him though is that there’s nothing I have to imagine with him. You don’t have to do any projecting with him because I got to see exactly what he’s going to be required to do in the NFL these past two seasons. 

Brock Bowers & Michael Penix Jr. in Joel Klatt’s ‘plant the flag’ players

Brock Bowers & Michael Penix Jr. in Joel Klatt's ‘plant the flag' players

Penix controlled the game from the pocket, and he might be better at that than any quarterback in this draft. He passed the football down the field with ease. His ability to attack the deep zones, seams and areas of the field with accuracy and leverage is uncanny. His timing is terrific. He routinely increases the odds for his receivers to make receptions down the field. 

The only reason there are some questions about Penix is his injury history. He was very injury-prone at Indiana, but didn’t miss any games the last two seasons at Washington. When you consider how much Washington relied on him, we should start to consider that Penix might be over his injury concerns. 

OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State

Fashanu was really good last year at tackle, and in some cases, dominant – and he’s just scratching the surface.

That’s my favorite part about Fashanu. He’s got so much room for growth, yet he was still fantastic last year. From pass blocking and run blocking to his base and athleticism, Fashanu was exactly what the Nittany Lions were hoping for. He’s 6-foot-6, 312 pounds and athletic. He does everything well, and he’s only going to get better. 

It won’t surprise me if Fashanu becomes the highest-paid offensive tackle in football when his rookie deal expires, and he’s one of the more dominant players at the line of scrimmage. That won’t shock me at all. 

Fashanu does everything well. In the college game, it’s very rare to see a player who’s good at both pass- and run-blocking. It’s even rarer for a player who’s good at both to possibly still get better. He hasn’t played a ton of football in his life, so there’s still potential there. 

DT Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois

Newton might fall through the cracks a little bit because of where he played, as Illinois didn’t get a lot of love this past season. It did the season before that, when it almost made it to the Big Ten title game. But Newton was one of the few holdovers from that strong defense in 2022, making it a bit more difficult for him to shine. 

Still, Newton was a disruptive player in the middle of the field for the Illini. Those players don’t come along often. He can rush the quarterback, be productive in the pass game and is also excellent at stopping the run. He’s quick in the interior, which you don’t always see. 

Newton’s speed and athleticism remind me of a lot of other undersized, disruptive players. I won’t compare him to Aaron Donald, but that’s the mold. He’s very difficult to block, and I saw Penn State have a difficult time blocking him in a game I called.

DT Byron Murphy, Texas

Murphy was a major reason why Texas became a title contender again. The Longhorns’ offense got a lot of love, and understandably so, but they were back because they were most consistent defensively, specifically at the line of scrimmage. 

Murphy was a man among boys this past season. He was virtually unblockable, and Washington had struggles blocking him in the playoff game. Penix just had an unbelievable game to negate Murphy’s disruptiveness, as he and T’Vonde Sweat nearly carried Texas to a win.

Jer’Zhan Newton & Byron Murphy in Joel Klatt’s ‘plant the flag’ players

Jer'Zhan Newton & Byron Murphy in Joel Klatt's ‘plant the flag' players

I can envision coaches in the NFL wanting to copy what the Baltimore Ravens did with their defensive line this past season, establishing depth in the interior and building a run wall with big, strong tackles. That’s what Murphy can bring, and he can be a perfect pick for a team looking to do that.

WR Troy Franklin, Oregon

It’s easy to put other receivers ahead of Franklin. You can make a quick list of the top receivers in this draft and name up to eight guys before you get to Franklin and say, “Oh yeah, he’s pretty good.”

Franklin isn’t just “pretty good” though. He’s an elite pass-catcher on the outside. He’s a great route runner. He’s got fantastic hands. He’s a great worker. Most of all, he’s athletic, he can run and can make contested catches. 

This wide receiver class is so deep that a gem like Franklin might slip to the second round. He’s the type of player that some of us might see in the future and say, “How didn’t we see this coming?”

It’s easy to overlook Franklin because of the receiver talent in this year’s draft class. But we’re not going to overlook him because he does what NFL teams want to do at receiver. He gets open and catches the football. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at 6-2. There’s a spot for this guy, and he’s going to be really, really good.

RB Jonathon Brooks, Texas

Full disclosure, I got to meet Brooks ahead of calling a Texas game this past season. But his maturity in our discussion and the way he talked about the team and getting his chance to start impressed me. He was a core guy for Steve Sarkisian.

On the field, Brooks burst onto the scene this season. He does everything that NFL teams want from a running back. He can slash between the tackles. He can hit home runs outside the tackles. He catches the football really well, very smooth and doesn’t leave his feet. He can run routes.

I believe Brooks will have a lot of success in the NFL. He might not be as dynamic as the running back who preceded him at Texas, Bijan Robinson, but he possesses similar qualities. He can do everything needed as a runner out of the backfield and be a receiving threat, which we’ve seen become more valuable with Christian McCaffrey’s emergence. 

WR Roman Wilson, Michigan

Wilson didn’t get a ton of opportunities at Michigan and nobody really talks about him. But he’s quietly been generating buzz in the draft process due to his performance at the Senior Bowl and testing at the combine. He might jumped up into the second round because of those things. 

Wilson has really good hands and elite speed, running a 4.39 at the combine. You might point out that he only had 48 catches in 2023, but 12 of them were touchdowns. He knows how to score. 

Wilson was simply a product of the Michigan system. I don’t mean that in a negative way, either. Michigan got Wilson the ball in special ways, designing plays for him to make big receptions. He made some spectacular plays against Nebraska and Ohio State while scheming him to get the ball in the Purdue game this season. 

Michigan’s philosophy didn’t benefit Wilson or J.J. McCarthy’s stats. But both put their egos aside to help the Wolverines and will end up being selected in the first couple rounds of the draft. 

CB Mike Sainristil, Michigan

I don’t know where Sainristil will get drafted. There are a lot of unknowns based on his size and measurables. 

Here’s where I don’t have a question about Sainristil: His ability to impact a football game at defensive back. He was the best nickel back in the country last season, and it was only his second season playing on defense. Similar to Fashanu, Sainristil has upside that other players might not have because he’s playing at a high level while learning a new position. 

Jonathon Brooks & Roman Wilson in Joel Klatt’s ‘plant the flag’ players

Jonathon Brooks & Roman Wilson in Joel Klatt's ‘plant the flag' players

Sainristil was one of my favorite players to cover. He’s really a team player, moving from receiver to nickelback, and he started right away. By the end of his second season, Sainristil was the player on Michigan’s title-winning defense that opposing offensive coordinators would talk about. They would constantly say that they need to know where Sainristil is on the field at all times because he’s like a Swiss Army knife back there.

Everyone in that Michigan program raved about Sainristil for his play and leadership. This isn’t a direct comparison, but he reminds me of Ed Reed or Tyrann Mathieu, having the ability to play the structure of the defense and impact the play out of the structure. 

S Tyler Nubin, Minnesota

Nubin is a really good player, possessing really solid instincts and ball skills. His coaching staff was also highly complimentary of his leadership, work ethic and commitment. 

On the field, Nubin had 12 interceptions over the last three seasons. He’s a prototypical middle-of-the-field player. He can play down low if you need him to, but he’s better in the middle because of his instincts. He’s got good size and he probably needs to run a touch better, but he’s physical enough to excel right away in the NFL. 

Joel Klatt is FOX Sports’ lead college football game analyst and the host of the podcast “The Joel Klatt Show.” Follow him on X/Twitter at @joelklatt and subscribe to the “Joel Klatt Show” on YouTube.

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

Source link