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2024 NFL Draft: Underclassmen Who Could Get Drafted Higher Than You Think

Texas A&M linebacker Edgerrin Cooper
Texas A&M Aggies linebacker Edgerrin Cooper (45) celebrates a tackle against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Dustin Safranek-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2024 NFL Draft declaration list coming out today, it’s a perfect time to look at some of the top underclassmen who will be taking their talents to the NFL next season. 

Now more than ever, NFL teams are valuing age and development when selecting players in the top 100 — meaning there are many underclassmen who may end up being selected earlier than expected this April. Below, we'll look at five names who could be drafted higher than you might think this April in Detroit.

Five Underclassmen To Watch

LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr.
Brian Thomas Jr. runs the ball as the LSU Tigers take on Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

With Malik Nabers grabbing most of the LSU wide receiver attention, Brian Thomas Jr. has sat quietly in the shadows. I'm not arguing Thomas should be drafted ahead of Nabers; what I'm saying is that Thomas belongs in the Tier 2 conversation with Rome Odunze and has a really good chance of being the fourth wide receiver drafted in the draft.

Thomas is coming off a strong junior year at LSU where he posted 1,117 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns and 17.3 yards per reception on 68 catches. His production, size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and athletic traits will have him drafted much higher than he was projected to go just a month or two ago.

Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold, left
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Terrion Arnold (3) defends against a pass intended for Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Ainias Smith (0) during the fourth quarter at Kyle Field. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

Including Terrion Arnold on this list might seem a bit silly due to him being listed in many first-round mock drafts, but I still don’t think people realize how high Arnold could hear his name called on draft day.

>>READ: Most Recent Mock Draft

With a pretty loaded first-round class at cornerback, CB1 seems to shuffle among Arnold, teammate Kool-Aid McKinstry, Nate Wiggins and Cooper DeJean. As of today, Arnold will be the best cornerback drafted in this class.

Arnold is just 20 years old and has some of the highest upside we’ve seen in recent drafts. In his two years as a starter, he has six interceptions and four defensive touchdowns and comes off a season where he allowed a passer rating of 50.7. Arnold’s coverage skills and ball skills will have him landing in many first-round mocks, but we need to start talking about him being the first defensive player drafted — a potential top-10 or -12 draft pick.

Texas defensive lineman Byron Murphy
Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Byron Murphy II (90) celebrates after a play during the second quarter in the 2024 Sugar Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Caesars Superdome. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Byron Murphy II, iDL, Texas

One of the more popular names you see in the early-to-middle of the second round in mock drafts recently is Texas DT Byron Murphy II. 

While the second round would be tremendous value for the 6-foot-1, 308-pound junior, I think he’s more likely to land in Round 1. Based on some early-draft-season whispers, he might even land in the top half of the first round.

Murphy is coming off a fantastic junior season in Texas, finishing with 36 hurries and six sacks in 14 games. With Jer’Zhan Newton currently at the top of the interior defensive line rankings, Byron Murphy is a guy who could fly up boards as we get closer to April.

Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson
Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson (58) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Mountain America Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Jackson Powers-Johnson, C, Oregon

The 2024 offensive tackle draft class is one of the better groups we’ve seen in the last five or six years. While the interior offensive line class isn't quite as deep, there are a few guys who could land in the back end of the first round who are currently projected to land in the second round.

Jackson Powers-Johnson is the top pure center in this draft class, with Duke’s Graham Barton likely getting some votes (he's projected to make a move to center for some teams around the league). Powers-Johnson is a two-year starter for Oregon and has spent most of his time at center and guard, but he played a few snaps at tackle for the Ducks in 2022.

He's likely to stay at center in the NFL due to his ability to pass protect and the upside he offers in the running game due to his size and athleticism. With a few teams needing to address the center position at the back end of the first round (the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers), don’t be surprised to hear Powers-Johnson’s name called on Day 1 of the draft.

Edgerrin Cooper, LB, Texas A&M

Linebacker-needy teams aren't going to be excited heading into the draft. For a position that normally lacks quality depth but has a few top-end talents, this draft is weak in both.

The name at the top of the list is Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper. In this day and age, the modern day linebacker has seemingly turned into an oversized safety, and that’s what Cooper is. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Cooper has length, speed and range and excels in coverage.

He’s also a quality run defender and blitzer with relentless effort and physicality for a smaller-framed linebacker. Cooper has the inside track to be the top linebacker drafted in April, and he could sneak into the back end of the first round due to how weak this linebacker class is.

Tags: NFL Draft