2024 NFL Draft: Rounding Out The List
(14) PAYTON WILSON, OLB-ILB, 6-foot-4, 242 lbs., SRr, North Carolina State
If healthy, Payton Wilson would be a sure bet first-round draft choice. With ideal size and speed (22.3MPH on GPS), he has played every linebacker position, defensive end, and special teams. I like him most on the outside, where he can pass rush and chase plays down.
Last year in only 11 games, the Wolfpack veteran had more than four sacks, eight additional tackles for loss, an interception, three pass breakups and seven quarterback pressures, but he has yet to play a full season because of injuries. Wilson was the state wrestling champ in North Carolina, while also being a star lacrosse player, but in football, he has had two knee surgeries, at least two shoulder surgeries, two shoulder dislocations and a collarbone issue.
2024 NFL Draft evaluators will have a chance to see him as NC State opens early against UConn on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in a televised game. The program then hosts Notre Dame on Saturday, Sept. 9 in another televised game. These are must-watch games for him as Wilson needs to prove he can hold up for a full slate. I should note that his hard hitting is part of the reason for his injuries.
(15) SAI’VION JONES, DE, 6-foot-5, 268 lbs., JR., LSU
Jones was highly-rated out of high school but served as a part-timer in 2022. Now, he has the defensive end position to himself and after putting up nearly five sacks in 2022, he could easily double that number in 2023 with an explosive first step and quickness around the arc. The LSU Tiger has all the potential to go early at the 2024 NFL Draft.
(16) DEONTAE CRAIG, DE, 6-foot-2 ½, 266 lbs., JRr., Iowa
After mentioning Lukas Van Ness, I thought that it is worth mentioning another Iowa player who is on a similar trajectory; that player is Deontae Craig. As a Redshirt Junior, he is a shade over 6-foot-2 and weighs 266 pounds. He is a 2024 NFL Draft prospect who didn’t start any games in 2022, yet came up with 6.5 sacks, an additional 3.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
Although not having the same length that Van Ness has, and maybe not being quite as athletic, Craig could achieve double digit sacks this year. This type of success would make evaluators take notice and go back for another look at his tape, similar to what happened with Van Ness.
(17) J. MICHAEL STURDIVANT, WR, 6-foot-2, 205 lbs., SOr, UCLA
Sturdivant rounds out the list as another skill position player. This four-star wideout from Texas started out as a California Bear where he saw sparse action in four games in 2021. After taking a redshirt, 2022 saw him start the whole year, hauling in 65 passes for 755 yards and seven touchdowns, while attaining some all-conference mention.
For 2023, Sturdivant transferred to UCLA, which created some ill will between the two universities; aside from which, he has been by far the most impressive player on the UCLA team during spring practices. He has been burning defensive backs with his track speed, which he revealed as a Texas high schooler by running a 10.39s 100-meter and 10.49s 100-meter, along with a 20.99s 200-meter. The receiver prospect also excelled in the long jump; his size, speed, athleticism and production are all coming together for a monster year in Chip Kelly’s offense.