Predicting the First Defensive Pick in the 2024 NFL Draft

Predicting the First Defensive Pick in the 2024 NFL Draft

Despite the dazzling allure of offensive players dominating pre-draft conversations, the defensive side of the ball in the 2024 NFL Draft harbors talents that cannot be overlooked. The axiom that defenses win championships still holds water in the league, underscoring the critical role of stout, versatile defenders capable of altering the course of a game.

This year’s defensive draft class showcases a blend of exceptional pass rushers and lock-down defensive backs, each bringing a unique set of skills to potentially transform a franchise’s fortunes.

As we venture into this analysis, we aim to spotlight the elite defensive prospects, examining their attributes and performances to ascertain who might emerge as the first defensive selection come draft day.

Dallas Turner, Edge, Alabama

Turner’s performance in the 2023 season was nothing short of remarkable. Not only did he achieve personal bests with 10.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, but his ability to generate pressure was also evidenced by the 55 total pressures he amassed, a figure that placed him 14th among all defensive players in college football who took part in 200-plus pass-rushing snaps. This marked an improvement from a modest tally of four sacks and eight tackles for loss in 2022, illustrating a significant leap in his playing caliber.

Further bolstering his draft prospects, Turner showcased his exceptional athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine. His speed and agility were on full display as he led all participating pass rushers with a blistering 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds and a highest vertical jump of 40.5 inches. Additionally, Turner tied for the fastest 10-yard split at 1.54 seconds, emphatically underlining his explosiveness and making a compelling case for being the first defensive pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

Quinyon Mitchell emerges as a standout prospect in this year’s defensive draft class, solidifying his case as the consensus top cornerback through an impressive display at the NFL Scouting Combine. Representing the Toledo Rockets, Mitchell’s physical measurements at 6-foot tall and 195 pounds, accompanied by a swift 40-yard dash time of 4.33 seconds—the second-fastest among cornerbacks—and a position-leading 20 bench press reps, underline his remarkable blend of speed and strength.

Over the course of his final two seasons at Toledo, Mitchell’s on-field prowess was unmistakable, amassing 82 tackles, an impressive 37 pass breakups, six interceptions, and two touchdowns. Particularly notable was his performance in the 2023 season, where he was tied for allowing the 10th-lowest catch rate (43.5%) among cornerbacks with over 300 pass-coverage snaps, all while maintaining a low missed tackle count of just three on 781 total defensive snaps.

Mitchell’s combination of size, speed, and proven on-field effectiveness positions him as potentially the first defender taken in this year’s draft, a prospect that NFL teams looking for a No. 1 cornerback find highly attractive.

Jared Verse, Edge, Florida State

Jared Verse’s path to becoming a potential first defensive pick in the 2024 NFL Draft is a tale of consistent growth and staggering performance. After starting his college career at the University of Albany, an FCS school, where he recorded 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in the 2021 season, Verse transferred to Florida State. His time with the Seminoles saw him amass 18 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss over two seasons, demonstrating not just resilience but remarkable improvement and dominance on the field.

His last season was particularly noteworthy, logging the fifth-most total pressures (62) and tying for the sixth-best pass-rush win rate (21.8%) among defensive players taking part in over 200 pass-rushing snaps. At the NFL Scouting Combine, the 6-foot-4, 254-pound edge defender showcased his athleticism, achieving the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds among pass rushers and tying for the sixth-fastest 10-yard split at 1.60 seconds. Verse’s productive college career, combined with his physical prowess, makes him a formidable contender for the first defensive player selected in the draft.

Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

Terrion Arnold stands as a testament to Alabama’s remarkable track record of producing elite cornerbacks, positioned to continue this legacy in the 2024 NFL Draft. Despite his 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds and a 10-yard split of 1.54 seconds not topping the charts, Arnold demonstrated exceptional burst, clocking the fourth-fastest speed of 18.40 MPH within the first 10 yards.

His productivity on the field over his last two seasons at Alabama was undeniable, with a tally of 108 tackles, 20 pass breakups, and six interceptions. Arnold’s synergy with Kool-Aid McKinstry created one of the most formidable cornerback duos in college football, significantly challenging opposing offenses.

His performance in the 2023 season, where he tied for the 33rd-most defensive stops as defined by Pro Football Focus, underscores his prowess as a well-rounded cornerback. While Quinyon Mitchell might be the anticipated first cornerback pick, Arnold’s comprehensive skill set, coupled with the prestige of Alabama’s program, could sway the NFL team’s preference in the draft.