NFL Draft Day 2 Takeaways: What We Liked and Didn’t Like

The 49ers’ championship window could be closing. Plus, Lions GM Brad Holmes is on a roll, defensive players fly off the board, and Bryce Young gets some help.
The 49ers' championship window could be closing under Shanahan and Samuel, one of San Francisco's best players.
The 49ers' championship window could be closing under Shanahan and Samuel, one of San Francisco's best players. / Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Now concludes the 2024 NFL draft. Well, sort of. There’s a lot of cynicism around the league about the final rounds of this year’s draft. How many of these players would have been labeled undrafted free agents in a robust class that wasn’t fractured by returning players of the NIL era? It’s impossible to say. There’s always value, but it would be interesting to look back on Rounds 4–7 in four years and tabulate how many of these players are still contributing. 

That said, it’s time for some takeaways. What can we take away when these young men are months away from getting onto a professional football field? Well, I’m glad you asked. To me, this is about making the right situational decisions and maximizing value. However, that comes with a caveat. Teams can get cute generating additional draft capital—think of the very early Paul DePodesta–era Cleveland Browns—but end up with Corey Coleman in a draft that had Joey Bosa, Ronnie Stanley, Jalen Ramsey, DeForrest Buckner and more. It’s a bit like fencing. You have to strike as well as just tap dance around looking cool. 

So, join us as we run through Day 2 and discuss what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what blew us away…

• The NFL is most certainly a business, but I do wonder how the San Francisco 49ers plan to balance what they need from their best offensive players with what I imagine to be another Super Bowl push in 2024. Receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk were clearly dangled, though no trade was consummated by the end of Round 3. I would imagine that if there is any lingering interest, or any adjustments in price tag, it would happen on Day 3 of the draft. Why? There was a belief around the league that this wide receiver class had starting-caliber talent through the second round, which is why you saw teams jockeying at the end of the first round to set themselves up for the Carolina Panthers’ Xavier Legette selection Thursday, then Keon Coleman, Ladd McConkey, Ja’Lynn Polk and Adonai Mitchell coming off the board shortly after Friday. After the completion of Day 2, it would be highly unlikely to see a team add a difference-maker at the position, so teams that completely whiffed, or still need firepower at the position, will have both a better idea of their own personal situation and ability to spend draft capital for 2025, and how to weigh that future capital. 

Kyle Shanahan noted Thursday that if the 49ers got a good trade offer for Shanahan himself, they’d better take it. Putting himself out there was a bit of a defense mechanism, though we obviously know that would never happen. At some point, does Samuel get tired of being strung out? Does Aiyuk take the drafting of another wideout—one who he knows personally and actually complemented Shanahan and GM John Lynch on—personally? This team feels dangerously close to having its championship window closed. Shouldn’t there be more effort devoted to making everyone feel like they’re part of the climb back in 2024, and not expendable?  

Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes
Holmes is remaking the Lions' secondary overnight with the selections of Arnold and Rakestraw. / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

• Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes is either incredibly lucky, or understands how a board is going to fall. He said what all general managers do when drafting Terrion Arnold on Thursday night—that he had no idea Arnold was actually going to be there. I would imagine he felt similarly when Ennis Rakestraw Jr. was sitting there at pick No. 61. For what it’s worth, I had Rakestraw going to the Ravens at the end of Round 1. You can just see him lining up tight on Green Bay’s trio of young wide receivers and sorting out some confusing array of routes from a bunch set, and shutting the whole thing down. He’s very instinctive in traffic and mature beyond his age. It’s a heady complement to say that the Lions remade their secondary overnight. Inevitably, all picks don’t work out, but I love Detroit’s continued, relentless approach to the draft. There hasn’t been a pick that signified they weren’t all in on the coming season since Holmes arrived in Detroit, and the Lions’ success is no coincidence. 

• On Friday’s special edition MMQB podcast, I tallied up our mock draft scores and lost to colleague Albert Breer by five points, or, the point total associated with a direct hit. I had the Philadelphia Eagles selecting Cooper DeJean in the first round. Do I get some kind of special recall? Some rebate bonus? There was, after all, a steak dinner on the line. I loved the marriage of DeJean and Vic Fangio, whose penchant for umbrella-style defenses changed the NFL over the past five seasons and made the long-time NFL defensive coordinator one of the most sought-after names in professional football. DeJean’s specialty seems to be uncovering what teams are up to and figuring out how to attack those concepts within the structure of a sound zone defense. He’s going to be a dream for the Eagles who, like Detroit, added two critical starting pieces to their secondary amid an aggressive rebuilding process. DeJean will help Philadelphia to disguise its pre-snap intentions better given his ability to play multiple positions. 

• Day 2 began with a run on defensive players with 20 selected in Round 1 after only nine were taken in Round 1. But it’s worth noting that the first off-ball linebacker didn’t come off the board until pick No. 45, and that player, Edgerrin Cooper, was a versatile player who could also pressure in the backfield and appears to be a more than capable sideline-to-sideline player who has evolved well beyond the gap-controlling off-ball linebackers of the past. Last year, there were three off-ball linebackers taken by pick No. 45, which makes you wonder if there has been an adjustment on how GMs are viewing the coming offensive landscape. A few years back, after the Shanahan-ization of the NFL, off-ball linebackers, especially those with pass-defending ability, came back en vogue because Shanahan-style offenses were better at trapping multi-linebacker-base defenses. Now, I feel we’re looking at more of a divide , with hybrid safeties who can play the run well, or faster linebackers who can stop the pass. The latter, like Cooper, could be harder to come by.  

• I’ve always viewed Aaron Rodgers’s time in New York as a kind of attempted re-writing of his personal history. Rodgers was painted as temperamental and well known for skipping portions of the team’s offseason program while in Green Bay. With the Jets, he has, despite his conspiratorial leanings, attempted to paint himself as a consummate leader and make himself available during nonmandatory workouts. Those behind the scenes attest to his in-house professionalism, which was a breath of fresh air in a facility begging for an elevated standard at the position. But, the selection of Malachi Corley as a yards after catch specialist, the likes of which are seemingly featured in all of the offenses with Shanahan tentacles, is an interesting one. He’s best equipped when getting the ball right off the snap, which should remove some of the complications related to Rodgers getting younger wide receivers the ball. We forget that, after Garrett Wilson, this Jets offense still needs a second gear in terms of game-breaking playmakers. Should the team remain on the sideline for a Samuel or Aiyuk deal, the development of Corley will be critical toward keeping the offense efficient.  

Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young
Young had a rough rookie season after being selected No. 1 in the 2023 NFL draft. / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

• One might have thought the Panthers would stop swinging (cease pounding?) after getting sapped of draft capital during the Bryce Young trade last year. But the Panthers were highly aggressive at the end of Round 1 with Legette and traded up on Day 2 for RB Jonathon Brooks. This team needs a lot of help, but Young has to be encouraged with what he’s seen so far. The Panthers solidified the guard spots, which are essential cornerstones for small-statured quarterbacks, and upgraded the team’s physical toughness with Legette and Brooks. Nothing is going to replicate the loss of Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, but investing in players who can take shorter passes and turn them into larger gains will help a quarterback who was forced to do way too much a year ago. New head coach Dave Canales worked with the checkdown-heavy Baker Mayfield a year ago, who is consistently at his best when comfortable having short-range outlets to dump the ball to for easy first downs. Mayfield attempted almost as many passes to Rachaad White (70) as Tom Brady did with Leonard Fournette (83) the year before.

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John Pluym