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

Which late-round picks could surprise in the NFC North?
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tanner McLachlan
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tanner McLachlan / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

With the 2024 NFL Draft two months removed and NFL spring training just around the corner, players selected in the later rounds will be competing to etch their name onto the 53-man roster.  As the NFC North continues to shape out as one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, a surprise player selected in a later round could be the difference.

In exploring the NFC North, we look at a player who could be one of those diamonds in the rough.  While the Baltimore Ravens are hoping to retain their division crown, the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to dethrone the champs.  Each of those teams have a strong case for doing so.

Which 2024 NFL Draft late-round picks will surprise in the AFC North?

Could the draft turn out to be a factor in who wins the division?

The answer to that question could be which team did their homework enough to draft a player later in the 2024 NFL Draft who could fill a need or serve as a depth piece.  NFL Mocks looks a rookie for each team who could surprise and not only make their respective team, but be a factor in Year 1 in the league.

Baltimore Ravens – C Nick Samac (Round 7– Pick 228)

This is not a sexy choice, but the Ravens may have drafted their next starting center in the seventh round of the 2024 NFL Draft with the selection of Nick Samac.

The Michigan State product started all but one game in his final season with the Spartans and was an honorable mention for All-Big Ten Conference.  His experience in college as a three-year starter will benefit Samac in the NFL as he brings his solid feet and technique as a center to the Ravens where he should be a solid backup to Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum.  In learning behind the veteran center, he should eventually take over as a starter if he continues to build power as a lineman in the center of the O-line.

Cincinnati Bengals– TE Tanner McLachlan (Round 6– Pick 194)

Can the Bengals get Joe Burrow a solid tight end target to go along with the wide receiver duo of Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase?  The team signed Mike Gesicki in the offseason to go with Drew Sample and Tanner Hudson and drafted two tight ends in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Erick All was selected in the fourth round and Tanner McLachlan was selected with the sixth round.  With All coming off an ACL injury, it is McLachlan who is predicted to be a surprise rookie for the Bengals.  Slotted as a depth piece, McLachlan has receiving skills coming off a final season at Arizona in which he caught 45 receptions for 528 yards and 4 touchdowns.

His combination of size and athleticism should make him an intriguing target for Burrow.  He’ll have to work his way on the field, but by midseason, the Bengals will realize they have a solid contributor at the tight end position.

Cleveland Browns –LB Nathaniel Watson (Round 6 – Pick 206)

The Browns defense will get deeper with the addition of sixth round pick Nathaniel Watson.

This tackling machine out of Mississippi State will play behind Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Devin Bush and Jordan Hicks at the outside linebacker position, but should win a spot on the 53-man roster as a special team’s contributor.  Eventually, he’ll see some snaps on defense as a depth piece for the Browns and could see more time if one of the players suffer an injury or Bush or Hicks doesn’t live up to expectations.

The Butkus Award finalist has prototypical linebacker size and can get to the quarterback with his combination of physicality and speed.  With a strong preseason, Watson can earn snaps through the regular season and work his way into the Browns rotation when all is said and done.

Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Ryan Watts (Round 6 – Pick 195)

When looking at the Steelers late-round draft picks, cornerback Ryan Watts is the player with the best opportunity to win a roster spot in 2024.

With the lack of depth, the Steelers currently have at the position, a player like Watts could work his way onto the 53-man roster eventually.  Given his versatility, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound cornerback has the size and skillset to develop into a rotational player in the Steelers offense either as a big corner or maybe a safety.  He does have quickness but needs work on his ability to locate the deep pass.

Next. 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. dark

Again, he’ll need time to develop, but it’s a good bet that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will find a way to get the most out of him in whichever way he decides to use him.