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Predicting NFL's top rookie at each position: Jayden Daniels over Caleb Williams?
National Football League

Predicting NFL's top rookie at each position: Jayden Daniels over Caleb Williams?

Published May. 13, 2024 1:42 p.m. ET

Now that the dust has settled on the 2024 NFL Draft and depth charts throughout the league are materializing, it is becoming clear which rookies have the inside track to a starting role. More than a few of them were drafted outside the first round. 

Much will change between now and the NFL's opening night in four months. Injuries, trades and the inevitable changes to the depth chart throughout OTAs and training camp will force an update to this article in a few months.  

At this point, however, here is a position-by-position look at the rookies who I believe will make the biggest impact in the 2024 NFL season — and why. 

Quarterback: Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders (first round, No. 2 overall, QB2)


Sorry, Bears fans. While I expect No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams to post impressive numbers for Chicago, I am even more intrigued by the statistics the dual-threat Daniels might generate in Kliff Kingsbury's offense in D.C. 

Much has been made about the Bears' weapons (and for good reason), but the Commanders' runners, receivers and tight ends are arguably just as talented. If Daniels can stay healthy, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will justify this pick and lead this year's celebrated quarterback class in passing yards and touchdowns.

Running back: Trey Benson, Arizona Cardinals (third round, No. 66 overall, RB2)

Even with veteran James Conner rushing for a career-high 1,040 yards last season, general manager Monti Ossenfort dedicated the No. 66 overall selection on Benson, a similarly burly runner with much better straight-line speed (4.39 seconds at the combine) than the veteran incumbent. 

Connor is entering his eighth NFL season (and final year of his current contract), and he's never started more than 13 games. Don't be surprised if Benson works his way into the starting lineup midway through his rookie campaign and never relinquishes the role. 

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Wide receiver: Malik Nabers, New York Giants (first round, No. 6 overall, WR2)

With so many talented pass-catchers drafted into positions to succeed, picking just one wide receiver was the most difficult task in this article. Arizona's Marvin Harrison Jr., Jacksonville's Brian Thomas Jr. Buffalo's Keon Coleman, Kansas City's Xavier Worthy and the Chargers' Ladd McConkey are all excellent bets to hit big immediately. 

None of them, however, can match Nabers' combination of electric athleticism and the sheer volume of opportunities I project for him as a clear focal point of the Giants' offense. 

Tight end: Cade Stover, Houston Texans (fourth round, No. 87 overall, TE8)

While acknowledging the instant impact top-rated tight end Brock Bowers should see in Las Vegas, I see a scenario where Stover could play a similar role for Houston in 2024 as Sam LaPorta did in Detroit a year ago, supercharging an already formidable offense. 

Stover was underutilized at Ohio State, but he possesses the reliable hands, speed and toughness in bouncing off would-be tacklers to carve out a significant role as a rookie, perhaps helping propel the Texans back to the postseason.  

Offensive tackle: Olu Fashanu, New York Jets (first round, No. 11 overall, OT3)

For those willing to take their eyes off the ball, tracking the success of this year's celebrated offensive tackle class will be fascinating. There were seven tackles selected in the first round this year — tying 2008 for the most in the command draft era — but they might not all slot into the plug-and-play scenario they typically do. 

That's because Fashanu was the lone Day 1 lineman taking first-team reps in rookie minicamp at the same position he occupied in 2023, complicating many of his peers' projections. Fashanu, mind you, will have to beat out former Cowboys standout Tyron Smith for the privilege of blocking for Aaron Rodgers, but he's gifted enough to do it and there couldn't be a bigger stage. 

Offensive guard: Christian Haynes, Seattle Seahawks (third round, No. 81 overall, OG4)

Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson now works as a consultant for the Seahawks, which is appropriate given that the club has largely struggled at the position since he departed for Minnesota in 2006 at the prime of his career. Haynes is the most gifted and polished interior blocker to enter the city limits since Hutchinson, dominating the past four years at Connecticut, including earning All-American honors the past two years under former Seahawks head coach Jim Mora Jr. 

Center: Cooper Beebe, Dallas Cowboys (third round, No. 73 overall, OG3)

Much of the post-draft buzz in Dallas has understandably centered on fellow rookie offensive lineman Tyler Guyton, the club's first round pick and a potential starting left tackle in 2024. But the aptly-named Beebe is perfectly built and wired to be the real "star" of this year's Cowboys class. 

After playing every position up front for Kansas State except center, Beebe is a bit of a projection, but he's powerful, quick and savvy. I believe he'll take to snapping fairly easily and become an immediate and lasting presence inside for Dallas. 

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Edge: Chop Robinson, Miami Dolphins (first round, No. 21 overall, E4)

When healthy, Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips give the Dolphins one of the best young pass-rushing duos in football. But with each coming off of major surgery (torn ACL and Achilles, respectively), the Dolphins were wise to nab Robinson — the best speed rusher in this year's class — at No. 21 overall. 

Even if Miami's veterans are back in the starting lineup, Robinson's exceptional burst makes him a clear "splash" candidate on obvious passing downs — and there could be plenty of those this year with opponents forced to throw often in the hopes of keeping up with the Dolphins' explosive offense. 

Defensive line: Darius Robinson, Arizona Cardinals (first round, No. 27 overall, E5)

The first step toward making an impact in the NFL is opportunity, of course, and Robinson should get plenty of that as a rookie, as the Cardinals completely rebuilt their defensive front following Jonathan Gannon's first year as head coach. Robinson is longer, leaner and a better pass-rusher than free-agent additions Bilal Nichols and Justin Jones. After effectively switching from defensive tackle to defensive end last year at Missouri, I suspect that he'll be moved all over in Gannon's scheme and wouldn't be surprised if he winds up leading Arizona's defense — which I expect to take big strides this year — in sacks as a rookie. 

Linebacker: Junior Colson, Los Angeles Chargers (third round, No. 69 overall, LB2)

If Jim Harbaugh's selection of offensive tackle Joe Alt with the Chargers' first pick didn't signal a seismic shift in the franchise's intent to be more physical moving forward, reuniting with his battering ram of a linebacker certainly did the trick. Opponents seeking to mitigate the Chargers' fearsome duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack simply attacked up the middle. That won't be as easy with Colson, the most physical linebacker in this class, amplifying the inside. 

Cornerback: Terrion Arnold, Detroit Lions (first round, No. 24 overall, CB2)

Given that only five teams allowed more passing touchdowns than the Lions' 28 a year ago, cornerback was a clear need and one made even larger with the team releasing embattled starter Cam Sutton. Those facts — not to mention Arnold's talent — led Detroit general manager Brad Holmes to aggressively trade up for the former Alabama star, shipping a third-round pick to Dallas to move up five spots and nab him. 

Gifted in coverage and playing with a Rat Terrier's tenacity, Arnold is an excellent fit in Dan Campbell's defense. The same goes for second-round pick Ennis Rakestraw and trade addition Carlton Davis, the trio turning a once-soft Lions secondary into a legitimate strength. 

Safety: Cole Bishop, Buffalo Bills (second round, No. 60 overall, S3)

Last in the article but among my absolute favorite fits in this class is Buffalo's Bishop, a movable chess piece capable of playing either safety spot in the wake of the Bills moving on from longtime starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Bishop's instincts and reliable, open-field tackling understandably earned him plenty of time in the box at Utah. But as he proved in 4.45 seconds at the combine, the 6-foot-2, 206-pound DB has the speed for deep coverage, as well. 

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Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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