What we learned during the 2024 NFL Draft

ByGeorge Ramsay, CNN, CNNWire
Monday, April 29, 2024
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DETROIT -- The 2024 NFL Draft drew to a close on Saturday as 257 players were selected by teams from across the league, all hopeful of a bright career lying before them.

A record 700,000 people attended this year's draft in the city of Detroit, including 275,000 on the first day, beating the previous record of 600,000 set in Nashville five years ago.

And those in attendance on Thursday saw an unprecedented interest in quarterbacks and offensive players generally.

Between the Chicago Bears selecting USC QB Caleb Williams with the first pick and the New York Jets making Alabama safety Jaylen Key the latest "Mr. Irrelevant" as the 257th pick, here's what we learned from this year's draft.

Teams go QB crazy

For the first time in NFL history, five quarterbacks were selected with the first 10 picks of the draft and six with the first 12.

Williams, as anticipated, was selected first by the Bears as a likely starter for next season following the departure of Justin Fields.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner, was then selected by the Washington Commanders, while the New England Patriots selected North Carolina's Drake Maye as the third overall pick - and the third quarterback - of the draft.

It was the fourth time in NFL history that signal callers were selected with the first three picks, but the interest didn't stop there: Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy, and Bo Nix were selected by, respectively, the Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Denver Broncos, rounding off an historic first day for quarterbacks at the draft.

In particular, the Falcons selecting Penix Jr. with the No. 8 pick was a surprise to many, including the camp of current quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed a four-year, $180 million contract with the team last month.

"We had no idea this was coming. The truth is the whole league had no idea this was coming," Cousins' agent Mike McCartney told NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo after the pick was announced. "We got no heads up. Kirk got a call from the Falcons when they were on the clock. That was the first we heard. It never came up in conversation."

After Nix, South Carolina's Spencer Rattler was the next quarterback to be selected in the draft at No. 150 overall by the New Orleans Saints.

The 137 selections between Thursday's first round and Saturday's fifth round set a record for the longest drought without a quarterback being picked in NFL Draft history.

Other offensive players popular

Interest in offensive players was high throughout the draft and it was an especially good few days for wide receivers and offensive linemen.

According to ESPN, a record 55 linemen - 28 of whom were offensive tackles - were selected over the course of the three days, setting a record for the seven-round draft era.

This talented crop of wide receivers was always going to be in high demand and that proved to be the case. Marvin Harrison Jr., son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, was selected No. 4 by the Arizona Cardinals, the first of 35 WRs drafted in total.

Rome Odunze and Malik Nabers were also selected in the top 10 - at No. 9 by the Bears and No. 6 by the New York Giants - while a further four were taken in the first round, tying the record for the most ever.

Among them was Xavier Worthy, who will bring lightening speed to the Kansas City Chiefs' already potent offense. The Texas WR set a record for the fastest 40-yard dash in the history of the NFL Combine earlier in March with a time of 4.21 seconds.

The news was gratefully received by Patrick Mahomes, who responded to the pick with smiling and running emojis on social media platform X. The Chiefs quarterback also seemed happy with his team's second selection, BYU offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia.

"I love Veach man!" Mahomes wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in reference to the Chiefs' general manager Brett Veach.

In the fourth round of the draft, Oregon WR Troy Franklin was selected with the No. 102 overall pick by the Denver Broncos to reunite with quarterback Nix.

That kickstarted a flurry of picks for the Ducks as four players were selected in the space of 10 picks. The school set a new program record with eight selections in total, five of which came in the fourth round alone.

Defensive players show patience

After offensive players dominated the headlines on the first day of the draft, more teams turned their attentions to bolstering their defenses from Friday.

Defensive end Laiatu Latu was the first to be selected at No. 15 by the Indianapolis Colts after a big season with UCLA, the latest ever selection for a first defensive pick.

Defenders became more popular in the second round as 20 were drafted - the most in a single round since 2016, according to ESPN - starting with Clemson defensive lineman Ruke Orhorhoro heading to the Falcons, who had been expected to go for a defensive player with their first pick.

The Philadelphia Eagles were clearly keen to strengthen their defense with new recruits and opted for defensive backs backs Quinyon Mitchell out of Toledo and Iowa's Cooper DeJean and Houston Christian's outside linebacker Jalyx Hunt with their first three selections.

"It's just really your order of preference, and so when you get to a day like today [Friday] and certain guys stick out, you want to go get those guys," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told reporters.

Key becomes latest 'Mr. Irrelevant'

To close out this year's draft, the New York Jets went for Jaylen Key with the final pick, earning the Alabama safety the moniker "Mr. Irrelevant."

It was the Jets' first Mr. Irrelevant pick since 1969 and Key had only excitement at being the last player drafted across the three-day event.

"It means everything, that's part of the title. You've just got to take it and lean into it," Key told reporters. "For me, I'm definitely going to lean into every bit of it."

The Mr. Irrelevant tag has gained more attention in recent years after Brock Purdy guided the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl only two years after being the final draft pick.

Since 1976, the last player to be selected has been celebrated in Irrelevant Week in California, which includes a trip to Disneyland.

"We've got some shoes to fill behind Brock but I can tell you this, we're going to make something shake, for sure," Key added.

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