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The phenomenon of Day 3 draft picks surprising as rookies takes shape every year in the NFL

Last year, Puka Nacua was all the rage, and rightfully so. Aidan O'Connell held his own in a long audition as the Raiders starting quarterback. Heck, sixth-rounder DeMario Douglas -- who was highlighted in this article last year -- led the Patriots in receiving. 

In 2022, it came by way of Dameon Pierce, Jack Jones, Romeo Doubs, Tyler Allgeier, Braxton Jones and Tariq Woolen

In 2021, it was Amon-Ra St. Brown, Evan McPherson, Elijah Mitchell and Trey Smith.

The year before that, it was L'Jarius Sneed, Gabriel Davis and Darnell Mooney. In 2019, Gardner Minshew, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Maxx Crosby were instant hits. 

While all the 2024 Day 3 selections listed below aren't guaranteed to thrive as rookies, they have the best chance to make an instant impact due to their talent and opportunity on their new teams.

Troy Franklin, WR, Broncos

  • Round 4, No. 102 overall

Franklin's hyper-slender frame -- nearly 6-foot-3 and less than 180 pounds -- had to be the reason he slipped to the fourth round, right? Yes, everything was very spread and wide open for the Oregon offense in 2023, but it's not like the NFL has adopted many of those principles or that Franklin never ran any NFL-type routes while in college. 

And three years of ascending production with the Ducks, which culminated with an 81-grab, 1,383-yard, 14-touchdown career, didn't get him drafted on the first two days? 

Either way, maybe there was more rawness to Franklin's routes -- or the NFL believes so -- than what met my eye, and if that's the case, it's tremendous that he's landed with his collegiate quarterback, Bo Nix, in Denver. When it comes to route-running subtleties, Nix will be familiar with them, and can adjust properly. 

While he's uniquely shaped, this is still a burner with low 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed who flourished after the catch and, of course, at the third level of the defense. With Jerry Jeudy in Cleveland, Franklin can step into a WR3 or WR2 role right away with the Broncos

Javon Baker, WR, Patriots

  • Round 4, No. 110 overall

I had an early second-round grade on Baker. I raved about him all draft season, even after the average-ish workout at the combine highlighted by a 4.54-second time in the 40-yard dash. Oh, and about that time: let's not forget that Baker isn't some sub 180-pound feather on the field. 

He weighed-in at what is now reasonably hefty at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds. He was a crafty press-coverage beater at the line, ran with fluidity when setting up defenders in his routes, and his 56.3% contested-catch win rate -- 9 of 16 -- was higher than the likes of Ja'Lynn Polk, Brian Thomas Jr., Ricky Pearsall, Xavier Legette, Malik Nabers, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Keon Coleman

Yeah... Baker can go up and get it. 

Plus, he enters a Patriots receiver room with Douglas, Kendrick Bourne and fellow draftmate Polk, plus journeymen like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jalen Reagor. Sure, there's some promise in the room, but Baker could've certainly landed in a more crowded situation with more established stars at receiver. And if there's one thing Baker doesn't lack, it's confidence. (He already believes he's a top-10 WR.)

Jaden Hicks, S, Chiefs

  • Round 4, No. 133 overall

For the life of me, I can't pinpoint why Hicks was the 133rd pick in this draft and the 11th safety off the board. 11th! He had more than 75 tackles in both of his contributing seasons at Washington State with 10 total pass breakups and 3 picks. There were some touchdowns scored in his coverage vicinity, but not an egregious amount. 

At nearly 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, Hicks had a 37.5-inch vertical and a super-fast 6.88-second time in the three-cone drill. And he's still just 21 years old. With ultimate secondary-schemer Steve Spagnuolo calling the defense in Kansas City, this large, imposing hitter with some coverage chops will excel in a multi-dimensional role that will probably feature him closer to the line of scrimmage. 

He's not considerably different from veteran Justin Reid, whom he'll likely primarily back up and spell from time-to-time in Year 1 in Kansas City. 

Kris Abrams-Draine, CB, Broncos

  • Round 5, No. 145 overall

Abrams-Draine was my lone "outlier" prospect, someone I had graded significantly higher than the NFL viewed him. His play at Missouri earned him a first-round grade on my board. He's uniquely sized at just under 6-foot and 179 pounds without elite measured explosiveness -- 33.5-inch vertical only placed in the 17th percentile among cornerbacks -- but on the film, he's a lightning bolt to the football and did run 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

At Missouri, across three stellar seasons, Abrams-Draine aligned on the boundary and in the slot. All he did was produce at a high rate each year. Altogether, the nimble, strong tackler defended 34 passes and snagged 3 picks. He's the exact type of cornerback to combat the recent trend of small, light separators entering the league -- think Tank Dell and Jordan Addison

If healthy, Abrams-Draine will become a gem of a find for the Broncos defense from the fifth round. He had no business going that late anyway. 

Javon Solomon, EDGE, Bills

  • Round 5, No. 168 overall

If Solomon was an inch or two taller, he's probably picked somewhere in the third round. I really believe that. And, frankly, isn't height one of the least-important attributes at the edge rusher position? It's typically a ding on a prospect's profile because the lack of height is usually coupled with lower weight and minimal length, and those two attributes absolutely matter. 

Solomon is 246 pounds -- almost the exact same weight as first-round pick Dallas Turner and new Bills teammate Von Miller -- and comes with unconventionally long 33 and 7/8-inch arms. Miller's were 33 and 1/2 inches at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, for perspective. 

Of course, the measurables aren't all that matter. And Solomon was a production machine at Troy. He led college football in sacks last season with 16, so he can clearly finish. And in his last three collegiate seasons, across a whopping 818 pass-rushing opportunities, Solomon registered 124 pressures, good for a hefty 15.1% pressure-creation rate. 

He's the exact type of quick, outside-rushing winner the Bills needed, and he can win with burst, bend, a surprisingly powerful bull rush or one of the few pass-rush moves he can deploy.  

Dylan Laube, RB, Raiders

  • Round 6, No. 208 overall

Laube led the FCS in all-purpose yards per game with 194 during the 2022 season. He then tallied 68 catches for 699 yards with 7 receiving touchdowns in 2023, which included an epic 12-snag, 295-yard, two-score masterpiece against Central Michigan. 

He's a stocky but elusive scatback who ran 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a three-cone drill of 6.84 seconds that ranked in the 85th percentile among running backs. This isn't some unathletic overachiever. Laube has NFL-caliber physical traits and can be relied upon as a dangerous out-of-the-backfield receiver when he's not toting the rocket. 

The Raiders will enter the 2024 season with Zamir White as their lead back and not much else of substance in front of Laube on the depth chart. As a Round 6 pick, Laube will contribute -- and bug the heck out of defenses -- in 2024 and beyond.