Caleb Williams Leads Seven First-Round Rookies Set to Make Immediate Impact

The Bears quarterback is poised to have an instant impact on Chicago’s success, but he's not the only first-year player well-positioned to burst onto the scene.
Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Caleb Williams.
Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Caleb Williams. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2024 NFL draft in the books, it’s time to look at which rookies from the first round will deliver dynamic seasons. 

Last year, the Houston Texans got it right by selecting quarterback C.J. Stroud and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. at No. 2 and No. 3. Stroud and Anderson won Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, respectively. The year before that, the Jets had both the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year with receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner.

As for a pattern between the Texans and Jets, they both had two top-10 picks. That was the case for the Chicago Bears last week, but both of their picks were on the offensive side. Will a player from Chicago win Offensive Rookie of the Year? 

Let’s examine which first-round picks will make an immediate impact. 

Caleb Williams, QB, Chicago Bears

Williams has the daunting task of ending the Bears’ lengthy drought of not having a legitimate franchise quarterback throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He has the skill set, arm strength and athleticism to quickly become a star, especially with DJ Moore, Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze as his top three receivers. If the offensive line protects Williams, the Bears’ offense could quickly become a top-10 unit in 2024.

Although Williams has the luxury of throwing to a receiving corps that could end up being one of the best in the league, he’ll need to remind himself to lean on his weapons and not play hero ball, an area that often got him in trouble at the college level due to his strength of creating plays amid chaos. If he keeps it simple his rookie year, he might be the runaway front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Odunze, the No. 9 pick, could also make an immediate impact, but it might be tough for him to get targets playing behind Allen and Moore.

Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Arizona Cardinals 

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. warms up before a game.
Harrison was dominant at Ohio State and will hope to continue that run alongside Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray. / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

With how dominant Harrison was at Ohio State, adding him to this list was a no-brainer. It would not be surprising to see him make the Pro Bowl with similar numbers to what Rams receiver Puka Nacua did last season (105 catches, 1,486 yards and six TDs). Harrison will make the Cardinals better, but he’ll also benefit from having Kyler Murray as his quarterback and Drew Petzing as the offensive play-caller. The Cardinals had a terrible roster a year ago, but managed to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Harrison could also have decent matchups based on how well wide receiver Michael Wilson and tight end Trey McBride played last season. Expect the Cardinals to take steps forward this season with Harrison leading the charge.

Joe Alt, OT, Los Angeles Chargers

Many Chargers fans weren’t pleased about the first pick in the Jim Harbaugh era being an offensive tackle instead of a wide receiver. Yes, Los Angeles needed wide receivers, which it later addressed in the draft with Ladd McConkey and Brenden Rice, but protecting Justin Herbert was more important. 

The Chargers got it right by adding the massive 6'9," 321-pound Joe Alt, pairing him with Rashawn Slater and giving Herbert outstanding bookend tackles for years to come. If Alt is forced to play right tackle—Slater has been the Chargers’ left tackle since 2021—he might struggle for a few weeks, but he will likely get the hang of it in his rookie season. If he wins the left tackle job, Alt has the makings of being an All-Pro, something Slater accomplished in his ’21 rookie season.

Brock Bowers, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs after a catch during the third quarter as Auburn defenders pursue him.
Bowers could give the Raiders a reliable rookie pass-catcher right away. / Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Some were shocked to see the Raiders draft the best available player at No. 13 instead of addressing needs at cornerback or the offensive line. With the top five quarterbacks off the board, new Raiders GM Tom Telesco made the right decision by taking Brock Bowers, who might have been a top-10 pick had he played wide receiver instead of tight end.

Many were too caught up in the position Bowers plays and overlooked his gifts as a versatile pass catcher. He’ll likely gain many yards up the seam for veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew. Look for Raiders offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to use Bowers all over the field. 

Taliese Fuaga, OT, New Orleans Saints

Fuaga is the ideal body guard for Derek Carr due to his toughness in the trenches and high-level run blocking skills. He’ll likely be a plug-and-play starter at right tackle and could end up having a similar rookie season to Penei Sewell and Tristan Wirfs from a few years back. 

The Saints aren’t receiving enough credit for this pick because they have issues at left tackle and Fuaga primarily played at right tackle at Oregon State. But he does provide versatility as a player who can play on the inside, and maybe his polished skills and strength could one day make him a quality left tackle. But for now, the Saints shouldn’t overthink it and play Fuaga at his best position. 

Jared Verse, Edge, Los Angeles Rams

Florida State Seminoles defensive lineman Jared Verse (5) pressures Florida Gators quarterback Max Brown.
Verse is a versatile edge rusher that could help bring the Rams defense into the post-Aaron Donald era. / Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun / USA TODAY

Not many viewed Verse as the top edge rusher in the draft, but he was often sandwiched between Laiatu Latu and Dallas Turner as the No. 2 player at the position. Some rated Latu No. 1 because of his upside, but he also has injury concerns. Others ranked Turner No. 1 because of his polished skills, but pointed out his lack of size and strength. 

As for Verse, he might provide the most versatility with his blend of speed and power. And after what the Rams did with their rookies last season, Verse could be in an ideal situation to become an immediate impact player. He’ll play next to last year’s rookie sensations, Byron Young and Kobie Turner, on the Rams’ revamped defensive front, which also includes Verse’s Florida State teammate, Braden Fiske. The Rams could soon have a dominant defensive front in the post-Aaron Donald era. 

Terrion Arnold, CB, Detroit Lions

Arnold could end up being the steal of the draft after falling to No. 24. He will likely win a starting job as an outside corner because of his athleticism and exceptional skills in man-to-man coverage. He also will have plenty of help playing alongside veteran Carlton Davis III and slot cornerback Brian Branch, the Lions’ impressive rookie from last season.

Arnold lacks size at 6'0," 196 pounds, but his polished skills in coverage and nose for the ball will likely allow him to make an immediate impact. Don’t be surprised if he quickly gains the respect and trust of his teammates with how impressive he was in team and media interviews during the lead-up to the draft.

Gilberto Manzano


Gilberto Manzano is an NFL staff writer for Sports Illustrated. Starting off as a breaking news writer at in 2014, he has since been the Raiders beat reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and covered the Chargers and Rams for the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News. During his time as a combat sports reporter, Gilberto was awarded best sports spot story of 2018 by the Nevada Press Association for his coverage of the Conor McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov post-fight brawl. Gilberto, a first-generation Mexican-American with parents from Nayarit, Mexico, is the co-host of Compas on the Beat, a sports and culture show featuring Mexican-American journalists. He also has been a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) since 2017.