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2024 NFL Draft: My five favorite hauls ... and one head-scratching class

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he spotlights five draft classes that earned his seal of approval and one that left him scratching his head ...

Every year, the NFL draft gives team-builders the opportunity to upgrade their rosters with a collection of young players -- and I stress the word collection. Though most pre-draft analysis focuses on the blue-chip prospects in the first-round mix, the best scouts and coaches find core contributors on the second and third days of the seven-round event.

Last season, the Los Angeles Rams relied on a quartet of initially overlooked rookies (SEE: WR Puka Nacua, DT Kobie Turner, OLB Byron Young and OG Steve Avila) to spark a surprising playoff run. And with the Houston Texans also leaning on their spectacular cadre of newbies (highlighted by Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson Jr., explosive wideout Tank Dell and tackling machine Henry To'oTo'o) to unexpectedly claim the AFC South title, it's abundantly clear that a fresh influx of talent can flip the script real quick.

With all of that in mind, here are five teams that crushed it over draft weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Draft picks: 7

Round 1: Troy Fautanu, OT, Washington (No. 20 overall)

Round 2: Zach Frazier, C, West Virginia (51)

Round 3: Roman Wilson, WR, Michigan (84) | Payton Wilson, LB, N.C. State (98)

Round 4: Mason McCormick, OG, South Dakota State (119)

Round 6: Logan Lee, DE, Iowa (178) | Ryan Watts, DB, Texas (195)

General manager Omar Khan and head coach Mike Tomlin were focused on adding players who fit the Steelers' brand. Smart, tough and physical -- these are defining traits of this storied franchise. Offensive linemen Troy Fautanu, Zach Frazier and Mason McCormick are poised to represent the Steel City to the fullest, as rugged blockers with nasty temperaments. 

Not to be outdone, LB Payton Wilson and DB Ryan Watts add flavor as high-energy competitors on the defensive side of the ball. Wilson, in particular, is a destructive force with a knack for filling up the stat sheet with sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles and interceptions. Despite entering the league as a third-round pick, the N.C. State product is a first-round talent minus his medical history. If he can stay healthy in the NFL, the Steelers might have landed the biggest steal of the draft at pick No. 98. 

Roman Wilson's selection kind of flies under the radar due to the Steelers' affinity for big bodies, but the shifty pass catcher could make his mark immediately as a WR3 with outstanding speed, route-running ability and underrated skills as a possession receiver over the middle of the field.

Philadelphia Eagles
Draft picks: 9

Round 1: Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo (No. 22 overall)

Round 2: Cooper DeJean, DB, Iowa (40)

Round 3: Jalyx Hunt, OLB, Houston Christian University (94)

Round 4: Will Shipley, RB, Clemson (127)

Round 5: Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M (152) | Jeremiah Trotter Jr., LB, Clemson (155) | Trevor Keegan, OG, Michigan (172)

Round 6: Johnny Wilson, WR, Florida State (185) | Dylan McMahon, IOL, N.C. State (190)

Howie Roseman deserves a gold star on his draft-weekend homework after assembling an enticing haul of prospects covering both sides of the ball. The defensive backfield, in particular, features a pair of five-star talents that I had rated as the top players at their respective positions. Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean are plug-and-play starters at cornerback and nickelback, respectively. The dynamic duo possess the technical diversity and positional flexibility to shadow elite pass catchers all over the field, while upgrading the toughness and tenacity of the Eagles' secondary. 

Jalyx Hunt and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. will also add some spice as instinctive, hit-and-run linebackers with playmaking ability. The Eagles' surprising investment in second-level defenders could help the defense become a dominant unit led by a youth movement. 

Will Shipley gives the Eagles the perfect change-of-pace back to complement Saquon Barkley in the backfield. The former Clemson standout flashes some Christian McCaffrey traits as a multi-faceted playmaker with superb vision, balance, body control and ball skills. And an Eagles draft is never complete without adding a few developmental O-Line prospects. Trevor Keegan and Dylan McMahon provide Rosman with insurance policies to keep this offense flying high if injuries arise.

Arizona Cardinals
Draft picks: 12

Round 1: Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State (No. 4 overall) | Darius Robinson, DL, Missouri (27)

Round 2: Max Melton, CB, Rutgers (43)

Round 3: Trey Benson, RB, Florida State (66) | Isaiah Adams, OL, Illinois (71) | Tip Reiman, TE, Illinois (82) | Elijah Jones, CB, Boston College (90)

Round 4: Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, S, Texas Tech (104)

Round 5: Xavier Thomas, OLB, Clemson (138) | Christian Jones, OT, Texas (162)

Round 6: Tejhaun Palmer, WR, UAB (191)

Round 7: Jaden Davis, CB, Miami (226)

After dazzling the analytics community with his masterful trade tactics in his first draft at the helm one year ago, general manager Monti Ossenfort deserves plaudits for sticking and picking blue-chip prospects throughout this year’s draft. Whether it was intentional or a stroke of luck, the Cardinals landed premier players in the early, middle and late rounds. 

The selection of Marvin Harrison Jr. gives the Cardinals a WR1 in the mold of franchise great Larry Fitzgerald. As a polished playmaker with a Hall of Fame pedigree, MHJ should thrive in the No. 1 role as the focal point of an offense that wants to attack every area of the field with Kyler Murray as the trigger man. This addition immediately elevates a passing game that ranked 26th in the NFL this past season. With Trey Benson adding more juice to the running game as a complement to James Conner, the Cardinals could field a more balanced attack in 2024. 

On defense, the additions of Max Melton, Elijah Jones and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson bring more toughness, tenacity and skill to a secondary that wants to shrink the quarterback's passing windows. With Darius Robinson also providing pass-rushing ability with inside-outside potential, the Cardinals’ youth movement should lead to more competitive games in the NFC West. 

Los Angeles Rams
Draft picks: 10

Round 1: Jared Verse, DE, Florida State (No. 19 overall)

Round 2: Braden Fiske, DT, Florida State (39)

Round 3: Blake Corum, RB, Michigan (83) | Kamren Kinchens, S, Miami (99)

Round 5: Brennan Jackson, DE, Washington State (154)

Round 6: Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson (196) | Joshua Karty, K, Stanford (209) | Jordan Whittington, WR, Texas (213) | Beaux Limmer, IOL, Arkansas (217)

Round 7: KT Leveston, OL, Kansas State (254)

Few teams have done more with less over the past few years than the Rams in the NFL draft. This time around, Les Snead and Co. crushed the event by utilizing a full complement of picks to upgrade a roster that was already playoff-quality.

The team’s selections of defensive linemen Jared Verse and Braden Fiske are part of a committee approach designed to replace the production of recently retired three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Brennan Jackson and Tyler Davis join the Florida State duo to fortify a young, athletic line with disruptive potential. Though nobody can replace No. 99’s disruption individually, those rookies will team with Kobie Turner and Byron Young to wreak havoc on foes at the line of scrimmage. With Kamren Kinchens poised to play a big role as a rookie center fielder, the Rams have assembled a young core of defensive talent with the potential to eventually rank among the elite units. 

Offensively, the addition of Blake Corum gives Sean McVay a downhill runner perfectly suited for the Rams’ gap running scheme. Joining Kyren Williams, the Michigan standout adds more physicality to a backfield that could pummel opponents into submission.

Given the talent and depth of the Rams’ draft haul, Snead and McVay deserve high marks for their preparation, process and performance over draft weekend. 

Washington Commanders
Draft picks: 9

Round 1: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU (No. 2 overall)

Round 2: Jer'Zhan Newton, DT, Illinois (36) | Mike Sainristil, CB, Michigan (50) | Ben Sinnott, TE, Kansas State (53)

Round 3: Brandon Coleman, OG, TCU (67) | Luke McCaffrey, WR, Rice (100)

Round 5: Jordan Magee, LB, Temple (139) | Dominique Hampton, S, Washington (161)

Round 7: Javontae Jean-Baptiste, DE, Notre Dame (222)

Credit new general manager Adam Peters for revamping the team’s culture with a collection of experienced players bringing superb leadership skills. All nine of the Commanders’ draftees spent at least four years in college and seven were team captains. Though playing ability is prioritized in the evaluation process, the decision to add a group of young leaders is part of a long-term plan to eradicate the losing mentality within the locker room. 

On the field, the addition of Jayden Daniels gives the Commanders the QB1 they have been looking for since Kirk Cousins’ departure after the 2017 season. The LSU standout dazzles as an electric dual-threat quarterback with elite passing skills and impromptu playmaking ability. With Kliff Kingsbury experienced in exploiting a dynamic athlete at the position (SEE: Kyler Murray), the Commanders could hit the ground running in 2024. 

If Jer’Zhan Newton and Mikey Sainristil also make their mark as potential Day 1 starters, and Jordan Magee, Dominique Hampton and Javontae Jean-Baptiste secure roles as backups/special teams standouts, the Commanders could emerge as a surprise playoff contender in Dan Quinn’s debut season. 

One confounding class

Now, I didn't love every team's approach to the 2024 NFL Draft. And one class, in particular, left me scratching my head ...

Dallas Cowboys
Draft picks: 8

Round 1: Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma (No. 29 overall)

Round 2: Marshawn Kneeland, DE, Western Michigan (56)

Round 3: Cooper Beebe, IOL, Kansas State (73) | Marist Liufau, LB, Notre Dame (87)

Round 5: Caelen Carson, CB, Wake Forest (174)

Round 6: Ryan Flournoy, WR, Southeast Missouri State (216)

Round 7: Nathan Thomas, OT, Louisiana (233) | Justin Rogers, DT, Auburn (244)

Perhaps I misunderstood Jerry Jones' intention when he suggested the Cowboys were "all in" on chasing a Super Bowl. As the team's ultimate hype man, the owner's bold proclamation set the table for an aggressive offseason strategy that would result in top free agents and blue-chips draft prospects making their way to Big D. But after failing to create a buzz in free agency with minimal moves designed to upgrade the weaponry around Dak Prescott, the Cowboys focused on fortifying the offensive line instead of adding an RB1 and/or WR2 in the early rounds of the draft. While the protection in front of No. 4 is critical, expecting a Pro Bowl quarterback to elevate the limited offense in a "prove it" year could lead to disappointing results for a guy seeking a long-term extension that might hinge on a deep playoff run. 

Though Prescott and the Cowboys have been at their best when the front line dominates the trenches, the questions surrounding Tyler Guyton (a raw prospect) and Cooper Beebe (underwhelming traits) make it hard to comprehend the team's draft strategy, especially considering the other prospects who were on the board. If Guyton and Beebe fail to make a swift transition to the NFL in Year 1, the Cowboys' offense could struggle to move the ball consistently against top opponents. With the team failing to pick up plug-and-play prospects at running back and wideout, the offense will need serious contributions from a retread in the backfield (Ezekiel Elliott) and possibly a sixth-round receiver (Ryan Flournoy).

At the moment, this feels like a team that's moving backward, not going all in.

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