2024 NFL Draft Review: Spotlighting each AFC East team’s late-round surprise

Watch out for these 2024 NFL Draft late-round gems in the AFC East.
Dolphins rookie receiver Malik Washington
Dolphins rookie receiver Malik Washington / Ryan M. Kelly/GettyImages

AFC East teams added some exciting players in the early rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft, but there are also some interesting players taken late in the draft who could find their way on the 53-man roster and contribute.

With the Miami Dolphins looking like the class of the division, the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and New England Patriots each hope their draft classes produce some late-round picks who could surprise and contribute.  Often it is a late-round pick who shines through and make a team better than expected.

2024 NFL Draft late-round picks who could shine in the AFC East

So, who will be each AFC East team’s late-round surprise?  NFL Mocks looks at each late-round selection and picks players based on their potential and the positional needs of the team that drafted them. 

Buffalo Bills – CB Daequan Hardy (Round 6– Pick 219)

This AFC East squad will be counting on their 2024 rookie class to fill some roster holes this upcoming season.  While top picks Keon Coleman, Cole Bishop, DeWayne Carter and Ray Davis all have the talent to step in and contribute Year 1, a player selected in the later rounds to watch is Penn State product Daequan Hardy.

With some of the hits the Bills took this offseason, mainly in the secondary, the team will be looking for young players like Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford to step up as starting cornerbacks. 

Buffalo Bills 2024 NFL Draft sixth-round pick Daequan Hardy
Bills cornerback Daequan Hardy / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

Where does Hardy fit?

The Bills rookie should make the 53-man roster as a depth corner and a contributor on special teams as a returner, but don’t be surprised with the sixth-round pick doesn’t play more of a role for the Bills in his rookie season given the youth in the secondary. 

During his final season at Penn State, Hardy led the team with 7 PBU’s to go along with 2 INTS and 22 total tackles in 11 games played.  As a supreme special teams’ contributor, the No. 219 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft will make his mark in the NFL as a returner and a gunner.  On defense, expect Hardy to be a viable contributor as a nickel corner.

Miami Dolphins – WR Malik Washington (Round 6– Pick 184)

Did the Miami Dolphins find Tua Tagovailoa another dynamic weapon late in the 2024 NFL Draft?

That could be the case with sixth-round pick Malik Washington who is coming off a stellar final season in Virginia in which he caught 110 passes for 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns as the focal point of that Cavaliers’ offense.

At 5-foot-8, 191 pounds, Washington is close to the size of Tyreek Hill, but can he be just as dynamic?  Projected as a third-round pick entering the draft, it’s possible the Dolphins got a steal here considering his production at Virginia. 

With slot receiver potential in the NFL, Washington could compete for snaps as the team’s fifth receiver behind Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Braxton Berrios.  It’s a tough task, but with a strong summer, this sixth-round pick could be one of the surprise offensive rookies in the AFC East.

New England Patriots – TE Jaheim Bell (Round 7– Pick 231)

What could prevent the New England Patriots from being the cellar dweller of the AFC East in 2024?  Aside from Drake Maye living up to his potential and finding stability along the offensive line, Jerod Mayo and company need to hit on draft picks.  If they could find some gems late in the draft, it would be even better for a team starving for difference makers.

Patriots 2024 NFL Draft seventh-round pick Jaheim Bell
Patriots tight end Jaheim Bell / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

Tight end Jaheim Bell is a name that could ring true as a late-round gem  Selected with the No. 231 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, this seventh-round pick could play his way onto the 53-man roster as the team’s third tight end behind Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper.

At 6-foot-2, 241 pounds, this Florida State product has the speed and versatility to be an interesting playmaker in the Patriots’ offense, especially with his ability to create yards after the catch.  With 39 catches for 503 yards during his last season at FSU, Bell could earn some snaps on offense, but will have to make a name for himself on special teams to make the 53-man roster, but eventually he’ll earn some offensive snaps and get Patriots fans buzzing with some electric plays catching the ball.

New York Jets – S Jaylen Key (Round 7 – Pick 257)

The last pick of the 2024 NFL Draft could find his way on the 53-man roster of the New York Jets.  Yes, Mr. Irrelevant could find some relevance in that Jets’ secondary.  Bringing in his physical style of defense along with experience playing under the great Nick Saban, former Alabama safety Jaylen Key has a chance to compete at safety given the team’s current depth chart at the position.

Jets 2024 NFL Draft seventh-round pick Jaylen Key
Jets safety Jaylen Key / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

After Chuck Clark, Tony Adams and Ashtyn Davis, there will be a position battle for that fourth or fifth role at the position and why not Key, who racked up 60 tackles in 12 games started at Alabama during his final season.  Though a physical player, Key does need to improve as a run defender to really make some noise, but playing on a physical team like the Jets could bring the best out of him.

The ceiling for Key could be as a core special teamer who gets on the field as a fourth or fifth safety for the Jets.  Again, his physical style of play could earn him more snaps as the season moves forward, especially if he proves he can play in the box and defend the run.