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NFL Draft experts say Rattler, Penix, Coleman among potential first-round picks

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler is among the players who improved their stock during the pre-draft process. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
1 of 5 | South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler is among the players who improved their stock during the pre-draft process. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, April 24 (UPI) -- Spencer Rattler, Michael Penix Jr. and Keon Coleman are among the players many experts, including former scouts, say could sneak into the first round of this week's 2024 NFL Draft.

Wide receivers Xavier Legette (South Carolina) and Adonai Mitchell (Texas) and Western Michigan pass rusher Marshawn Kneeland are among other prospects who have worked their way into first-round consideration. The draft will be held from Thursday through Saturday in Detroit.

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Rattler, the former South Carolina quarterback, isn't often seen in the first round of mock drafts. He followed an impressive final season for the Gamecocks (3,186 yards, 19 scores, eight interceptions) by earning Senior Bowl MVP honors. He then showed off his arm talent and mobility at the scouting combine and his pro day.

"He's grown up a ton throughout his career and transferring from Oklahoma and [is a] two-time captain," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout, said during a pre-draft conference call.

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"They rave about him at South Carolina. There's a lot to like about him. Again, not the biggest guy, but a real live arm and someone who I think's got a shot."

Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams is widely expected to join the Chicago Bears as the No. 1 overall pick. LSU's Jayden Daniels, North Carolina's Drake Maye and Michigan's J.J. McCarthy are among the other passing prospects drawing the most buzz.

But Washington's Penix, Oregon's Bo Nix and Rattler also could join quarterback-needy NFL teams early on.

Emory Hunt Jr., a recruiting and scouting consultant and owner of Football Gameplan, told UPI he believes the new trend of increased transferring for collegiate athletes -- including Rattler and Penix -- likely helped their draft stock.

Name, image and likeness offers and extended collegiate careers because of COVID-19 also led to the movement -- and more time on the field.

"We're getting guys who have now played a lot of games," Hunt said. "So we're seeing them develop and overcome the adversity. We're talking about Rattler, [Florida State quarterback] Jordan Travis, Nix and Penix. Had those guys come out when their true eligibility was up, then maybe there would be more questions about them.

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"Now, I feel like we have a pretty good picture on what they can do, how they can can succeed and what their long term projection is."

ESPN's Matt Miller, a former director of scouting and recruiting coordinator, said during his pre-draft conference call that he "wouldn't be shocked" if Penix, the nation's passing yards leader, was a Top 15 pick.

The quarterbacks -- and players at other positions -- have been risers throughout the pre-draft process, using the scouting combine, pro days, workouts and other opportunities to improve their stock since the end of their collegiate careers.

By moving into earlier rounds, prospects will receive longer -- and more lucrative -- rookie contracts. All draftees will receive four-year deals, but first-round selections get fifth-year team options attached to their initial contracts.

The first pick in the second round is expected to receive about $30 million less than the No. 1 overall pick, with later selections given progressively less-lucrative contracts as the draft unfolds.

The 2024 NFL Draft consists of 257 potential selections, but that total could change based on transactions that occur in the coming days.

Legette, Coleman and Mitchell are among the wide receivers who could be targeted by teams with late first-round picks.

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"He was incredibly productive when given the opportunity," Miller said of Coleman, who totaled 658 yards and 11 scores last season at Florida State. "Super clean character, high football IQ, a really good competitor. I wouldn't be shocked if we get into a run of wide receivers if he gets into the late first [round]."

Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey, Arizona tackle Jordan Morgan, Louisville cornerback Jarvis Brownlee, TCU cornerback Josh Newton and Rutgers cornerback Max Melton were among other players Jeremiah, Miller, Hunt and other evaluators mentioned who have improved their stock heading into the draft.

"Brownlee had such a great pre-draft process and a really, really good Senior Bowl," Miller said. "He showed he has the footwork and toughness to really hang at the line of scrimmage and be an inside corner."

The first round of the 2024 NFL Draft will air at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday. Day 2 of the draft, with second- and third-round picks, will air at 7 p.m. Friday. Rounds four through seven will air at noon Saturday.

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All draft coverage will be shown on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and NFL Network.

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