2024 NFL Draft: Joe Milton tops Bucky Brooks’ 5 hidden gems to watch

The role of an NFL scout is to identify the traits in a prospect that could help him flourish in the league. While ultimate success requires that a prospect lands in the right situation, with his talents perfectly meshing with the scheme, the 2024 NFL Draft features several hidden gems who have the potential to outplay their draft status as pros.

After taking some time to survey the class for the underrated prospects with the traits and tools to be key NFL contributors after entering the league as developmental players, here are my five prospects to watch:

Joe Milton, QB, Tennessee

Teams looking for a prototypical prospect to take on as a developmental project could take a chance on Milton. The Tennessee product measures 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, with 10¼-inch hands, a linebacker-like frame, and rare arm talent that enables him to make every throw in the book. He totaled 32 touchdowns and five interceptions over three seasons with the Vols, exhibiting outstanding range as a deep-ball thrower.

While his inconsistent mechanics and questionable awareness/diagnostic skills kept him from realizing his potential as a collegian, Milton flashes enough potential to warrant consideration as a late-round candidate with upside. If the spectacular athlete responds to the intensive coaching he will receive as a developmental player, he could exceed pre-draft expectations as a unique talent with intriguing potential as a down-the-road prospect.

Joe Milton talks draft, Michigan and proving doubters wrong

Qwan’tez Stiggers, CB, Toronto Argonauts 

The 2023 Canadian Football League Rookie of the Year is a unique candidate as a draft-eligible prospect with pro football experience. Despite missing out on playing college football due to tragic family events, Stiggers earned top honors in the CFL after snagging a roster spot as a tryout player following a brief stint in the Fan Controlled Football league. The 5-foot-11, 204-pounder exhibited outstanding instincts, awareness and skills, registering five interceptions and 53 tackles in 16 games.

Those skills stood out at the East-West Shrine Bowl, with Stiggers holding his own in one-on-one battles against talented collegiate players in a showcase for NFL draft prospects. With the talented playmaker dazzling scouts at his pro day with explosive jumps (36.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-8-inch broad jump) and a sensational 40 time (4.45 seconds), Stiggers could become just the fourth player to make the NFL without college experience.

Javon Baker, WR, Central Florida

The Alabama transfer became a big-play specialist during his time with the Golden Knights. Baker finished with 108 catches, 1,935 yards, and 12 touchdowns as a two-year starter, exhibiting outstanding speed, quickness and burst as a vertical playmaker. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder averaged 20-plus yards per catch (21.9) in 2023 while terrorizing opponents on various go-routes, deep overs and comebacks.

Though his pedestrian 40-yard dash time (4.54) does not suggest that he is a blazer, Baker’s explosiveness (37-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-1-inch broad jump) routinely show up when studying his tape. He explodes out of his breaks, creating separation at the top of his routes while also displaying the leaping ability to come down with alley-oops on the perimeter. Throw in his sneaky running skills and exceptional stop-start quickness with the ball in his hands, and Baker is a hidden gem as a WR2 prospect.

Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Miss

It’s hard to fly under the radar when you are the son of an NFL running back who rushed for more than 16,000 yards, but there has not been enough buzz around Frank Gore Jr.’s potential as a lead runner. The Southern Miss standout exhibits several key traits offensive coordinators covet in a lead back (strength, power, toughness, vision and balance), while flashing the stamina and reliability to handle the demands of being a workhorse.

While his skeptics will point to his lack of home run speed and questionable size (5-foot-8, 200 pounds) as concerns, scouts obsessed with production will pay close attention to his 4,022 career rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns as the RB1 of a team with limited firepower. Gore put the offense on his back as the featured playmaker, and the experience should prepare him for the grind of being a key contributor at the next level.

Austin Booker, Edge, Kansas 

The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is a one-year wonder with enticing potential as a pass-rush specialist. Booker tallied eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles in 12 games after barely seeing playing time at his previous school (Minnesota).

As an ultra-athlete defender with a natural “Euro step” and a dazzling spin move, the Kansas standout is an intriguing prospect due to his disruptive potential off the edge. Moreover, Booker’s production as a novice player suggests he could develop into a menace with more reps at the next level. Given the impact of pass-rushers on opposing offenses, Booker could carve out a long-term role as a situational rusher off the edge.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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