2024 NFL Draft Review: 4 rookies who will turn heads in the NFC South

Watch out for these 4 rookies in the NFC South!
New Orleans Saints CB Kool-Aid McKinstry
New Orleans Saints CB Kool-Aid McKinstry / Justin Ford/GettyImages

The NFC South will be an interesting division in 2024.  While not the strongest division, it could be the division with the most interesting battle at the top as the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers should challenge for the division crown.

But don’t count out the New Orleans Saints if they get strong quarterback play from Derek Carr.  Also, look for the Carolina Panthers to be competitive within the division with Dave Canales taking over as head coach.  What makes each team intriguing is the players they selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

2024 NFL Draft selections who will step up and turn heads in the NFC South

Aside from the Falcons making a surprise pick at No. 9 by going QB despite signing Kirk Cousins, each team did address needs that should make them better in 2024.  Which of the selections will turn heads in the NFC South? Let’s look.

Atlanta Falcons – EDGE Bralen Trice (Round 3– Selection No. 74)

The Falcons shocked the NFL world on draft night by selecting Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 overall pick.  After signing Kirk Cousins, selecting a QB that high was not viewed as a great need for the Falcons.  It could turn out to be a big win for the franchise in the future, but as far as needs to help them get over the hump now, addressing the defense was considered a high priority.

Bralen Trice will turn heads in the NFC South
Atlanta Falcons 2024 NFL Draft third-round pick Bralen Trice / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

That’s where third-round selection Bralen Trice comes in.  A teammate of Penix Jr. at Washington, look for this edge rusher to be an instant favorite in Atlanta.  Along with his leadership, Trice is a player with a high motor who gets after the quarterback.  His size and ability to explode past and through defenders will help improve the Falcons’ pass rush in 2024 and he’ll turn heads in the NFC South. 

More like get in the heads of opposing quarterbacks in the division.

Carolina Panthers – RB Jonathan Brooks (Round 2– Selection No. 46)

If he is fully healthy, former Texas running back Jonathan Brooks will be a playmaker to deal with in the NFC South.  As the top ranked running back entering the 2024 NFL Draft, the Panthers second-round pick will provide a spark in the Panthers running game and take some pressure off second year QB Bryce Young.

Jonathon Brooks will turn heads in the NFC South
Carolina Panthers 2024 NFL Draft second round pick Jonathon Brooks / Jacob Kupferman/GettyImages

With great size as a running back, Brooks rushed for 1,139 yards, along with 10 rushing TDs before going down with a torn ACL towards the end of his season at Texas.  If it wasn’t for the injury, Brooks would’ve been a Day 1 prospect.

In joining a running back group that is currently led by Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders, Panthers new head coach Dave Canales must be excited about adding Brooks to the mix.  As a dynamic playmaker, Brooks will eventually take over as the lead back and help that Panthers’ offense get a little more exciting in 2024.  Will he help them compete in the NFC South?  Well, that will still rest on the shoulders of how well Young progresses in Year 2.

New Orleans Saints– CB Kool-Aid McKinstry (Round 2– Selection No. 41)

The Saints took care of a big need by selecting Oregon State product Taliese Fuaga with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft.  They took care of another need on Day 2 as a first-round talent in Kool-Aid McKinstry fell enough for them to make a trade to land him at No. 41.

Kool-Aid McKinstry will turn heads in the NFC South
New Orleans Saints 2024 NFL Draft second-round pick / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

With the status of Marshon Lattimore up in the air, the Saints are looking forward by selecting McKinstry who was all over the board as far as projections leading up to the draft. 

A First team Associated Press All-American in 2023, McKinstry enters the league out of the University of Alabama as a three-year starter who will bring an aggressive attack and consistency to the Saints’ secondary with or without Lattimore.  McKinstry is also a capable punt returner, so if he is not a starter to start his NFL career, the Saints will find ways to get him on the field, including special teams.

With his athleticism and poise as a defender, McKinstry will find ways to make plays and turn heads in the NFL South.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers– WR Jalen McMillan (Round 3– Selection No. 92)

The Buccaneers addressed needs with their first three picks in selecting Graham Barton, linebacker Chris Braswell and Georgia DB Tykee Smith.  All three should be solid contributors in Year 1 at their positions, but the player NFL Mocks picked to turn heads is Jalen McMillan, the third receiver selected out of the University of Washington.

Jalen McMillan will turn heads in the NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2024 NFL Draft third-round pick Jalen McMillan / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

Most of the talk as far as receiver prospects out of Washington centered around Rome Odunze, but the NFL can’t sleep on Ja’Lyn Polk and McMillan.  As a route runner who could play outside or inside, McMillan will step in for the Buccaneers as the fourth receiver behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and the return of Sterling Shepard.

In 11 games with the Huskies in 2024, McMillan caught 45 passes for 559 yards and 5 TDs as the third option, this was despite missing time due to a knee injury.  In Tampa, expect him to settle in as a slot receiver for Baker Mayfield and the Bucs’ offense and a player who hit his stride in the NFL, especially with Evans and Godwin on the outside.