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2024 NFL Draft: Gallagher's Five Winners From Night One

After months of build-up and speculation, the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft provided fireworks on Thursday night. That theme was apparent in a league dominated by top-end quarterback play as six signal-callers came off the board in the opening 12 selections, a new record in the common draft era. The Atlanta Falcons highlighted this by stunning the football world by drafting Michael Pennix eighth overall. The first 14 picks were used on offensive players before the Indianapolis Colts broke that streak by taking UCLA pass rusher Laiatu Latu at 16. As for the other notable selections, which fan bases should be elated after what they did on night one? Here are my five biggest winners.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville lost Calvin Ridley in free agency, leaving the team in desperate need of a dynamic deep threat for Trevor Lawrence, who could develop into a number-one wide receiver. Offering a unique combination of size and speed at 6'3 209lbs, Thomas has great top-end acceleration and burst following his 4.33 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. He broke out with the LSU Tigers this past season. The Louisiana native hauled in 68 catches for 1,177 yards while averaging over 17 yards per reception. Furthermore, he also led the nation with 17 touchdowns. Brownie points here for general manager Trent Baalke, who moved down from pick 17 to 23 while adding number 167 and third and fourth-round selections in next year's draft. 

4. Arizona Cardinals

General manager Monti Ossenfort opted to stay at pick four despite multiple offers from teams looking to move up for a quarterback. This decision ultimately paid off, as the Cardinals landed one of the best wide receiver prospects of the last decade in Marvin Harrison Jr. The reigning Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, he will be a big-time playmaker for Kyler Murray and the odds-on favorite to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In their second of two first-round choices, Arizona landed Missouri Tigers defensive end Darius Robinson. Coming off a breakout campaign in 2023, he led the team in sacks with 8.5. A versatile player, the 22-year-old can kick inside to the interior while winning off the edge as a traditional stand-up pass rusher.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

One of the best offensive tackles in the country a year ago, Fautanu manned the blindside for Pennix while helping lead the Washington Huskies to a National Championship Game appearance. An impressive athlete, the 2023 Morris Trophy winner is a dynamic run-blocker who delivers heavy blows on contact with opposing defenders. Furthermore, he is nimble in pass protection while having the lateral agility to mirror pass rushers without giving up leverage. Likely to kick inside to guard at the NFL level, he may get a shot at center following the release of Mason Cole. Moreover, Fautanu could also line up across from Broderick Jones and provide competition for Dan Moore along with top-tier protection for Russell Wilson.         

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Following a 10-1 start last season, the Eagles struggled down the stretch en route to a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wild Card weekend. Due to their defense, Philadelphia's secondary finished 30th in the NFL in opponent passing yards per game (255.7) and 28th in dropback EPA per play. Additionally, Darius Slay and James Bradberry are on the wrong side of 30. They both have just two years remaining on their deals. Reportedly, in talks before the draft to move up for a cornerback, general manager Howie Roseman opted to stand pat while having Quinyon Mitchell land in his lap at pick 22. A three-year starter at Toledo, he is the university's all-time leader in pass breakups (46).      

1. Chicago Bears

To no one's surprise, the Bears selected Caleb Williams first after acquiring the Carolina Panthers' selection in the D.J. Moore deal. Drawing comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, the former Heisman Trophy winner is a rare arm talent. He throws with good velocity and accuracy to all three levels of the field. Moreover, Williams can also navigate the pocket to keep a play alive when the structure breaks down. Adding playmakers around their hopeful franchise signal caller, Chicago landed Rome Odunze at pick nine. A big-bodied wide receiver who thrives at going up and getting the ball in the air, the Washington product is also a stellar route runner, using his length and size to separate from opposing defensive backs. He joins Moore and the newly acquired Keenan Allen in a revamped expansive receiver room in the windy city.    

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