NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (2024)

With how rapid and widespread NFL rosters are turned over every year, everyone's always in a make-or-break season. But there are some players more under the microscope than others, for a variety of different reasons.

Let's break down those in serious make-or-break scenarios by situation before their critical 2024 seasons begin.

Former early picks in danger of being busts

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (1)

Kaiir Elam

BUF • CB • #5

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The Bills have beaten the Chiefs in Arrowhead in three-consecutive regular seasons, but we all know how Kansas City has haunted Buffalo in the playoffs, ending the Bills' season three separate times since the 2020 campaign.

Part of said haunting is the Chiefs decision to move up in the 2022 draft, ahead of Buffalo, to select eventual All-Pro slot cornerback Trent McDuffie. The Bills ultimately selected Elam a few picks later, and the former Florida corner has been a wildly roller-coaster, without many impressive highs, since joining the team.

Troubled by injuries, general inconsistency in coverage and penalty-inducing grabbiness, it's been a real challenge for Elam to even stay on the field through his first two seasons in Buffalo, yet he hauled in two picks as a rookie -- one in the end zone on a pass thrown by Patrick Mahomes -- and has two career playoff interceptions.

The Bills hired a new cornerbacks coach from the collegiate ranks -- Jahmile Addae -- which could signal a fresh start for Elam. With Tre'Davious White now residing in Los Angeles, the Bills need Elam to finally play like a former first-round selection.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (3)

Rashod Bateman

BAL • WR • #7



REC YDs367



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On paper, the Ravens desperately needed receiver help when Bateman was drafted in 2021. But that was when Baltimore wasn't too keen on throwing the football under Greg Roman.

Add a litany of injuries, and you have an exquisite recipe for disappointment, which is precisely what Bateman has been through three seasons with the Ravens. His career-high in catches is 46, which came as a rookie. Same with his 515 yards. He tested as a slightly above-average athlete and was a production machine at a young age at Minnesota.

While new offensive coordinator Todd Monken was believed to be hired to usher in a new, more progressive, pass-happier philosophy in Baltimore, mostly due to plenty of leads held by the Ravens in the second half a season ago, Lamar Jackson only averaged one more attempt per contest compared to 2022. Yet, his completion rate jumped, as did his yards-per-attempt average.

With 2023 first-round pick Zay Flowers and perennial stud tight end Mark Andrews now the primary options in Baltimore, the typical first-round pick pressure has been alleviated from Bateman. But Baltimore needs to see more than 350-500 yards for him in Year 4, or his bust status will be cemented.

Veterans on their last legs

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (5)

Tyler Lockett

SEA • WR • #16



REC YDs894



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Lockett can still ball, as evidenced by his nearly 80 grabs and 900 yards in 2023 with Geno Smith and the Seahawks in 2023. But he'll be 32 years old in September, which is right around the age that even the established big producers at the receiver position typically plummet if they haven't already.

Lockett's 894-yard season last year was his first non-1,000-yard campaign since 2017 in Seattle. And he only forced two missed tackles on those 79 receptions, his lowest mark in that YAC category since 2019. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was likely drafted to, eventually, be a Lockett replacement. The ultra-reliable wideout signed a revised two-year deal that does technically keep him in the Pacific Northwest through 2025, but his camp number is north of $30M in 2025, and he can be released after the upcoming season with $17M in savings. After such a steady, productive, and at times, ridiculously efficient tenure with the Seahawks, here's to hoping Lockett can play well in what is likely his last season in Seattle.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (7)

Jordan Poyer

MIA • FS • #21

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Poyer went from seventh-round pick to low-level free-agent add by the Bills in 2017 to an All-Pro. Incredible development in what has become an illustrious career. He and Micah Hyde were the heart and soul of Buffalo's four-straight AFC East winning defenses from 2020-2023. Altogether in Buffalo, Poyer snagged 22 interceptions in seven seasons and eclipsed at least 90 tackles in six of those years.

Injuries followed him with the Bills, however, and appeared to finally catch up to him in 2023, when he didn't have a pick in 16 games and had to transition to a role in which he played closer to the line of scrimmage more than he had previously in Buffalo.

That's not to say Poyer looked totally washed. He still hit 100 tackles and defended four passes. He now joins a very much reconstructed Miami defense -- on a one-year deal -- that'll be asked to stop Josh Allen and Co. inside the division.

Players who dipped after playing well early and are now in a prove-it year

Jahan Dotson

WAS • WR • #1



REC YDs518



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As a rookie, playing opposite Terry McLaurin, who's always seemingly on a cusp of being widely accepted as a superstar, Dotson caught 35 passes for 523 yards with a whopping seven touchdowns on under 55% of Washington's offensive snaps. In his sophom*ore season in the nation's capitol, Dotson played more than 82% of the snaps and only saw a minor uptick in receptions (49) with fewer yards (508) and four scores.

Now, any young receiver should be exuding confidence after 11 touchdowns in his first two NFL campaigns. But Dotson was clearly less efficient as an offensive weapon in his second season.

Do I think the Commanders would automatically trade him if he doesn't erupt in Year 3? No. But if he hovers around 45-50 snags with 500-ish yards and a few scores with Jayden Daniels throwing him the football in what truly marks a new era in franchise history, then he's unlikely to be in the team's long-term plans after the 2024 season.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (11)

Jeremy Chinn

WAS • SAF • #11

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Chinn finished second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting back in 2020, when Chase Young won the award. And, heck, Young could've been included in this piece, too.

But I'll focus on Chinn because he's another Commanders player who's produced at high level in the NFL and boasts the talent to be a foundational piece of Washington's defensive unit for a long time. He also could be on this third team in three years if he doesn't return to his early form in 2024.

Chinn, now 26, is playing on a one-year deal for less than $5 million this season, and it comes after a nightmarish 2023 in which he appeared on 27.1% of Carolina's defensive snaps without serious injuries keeping him off the field. Remember, Chinn is a serious specimen for the safety spot -- 6-foot-3 and 221-pounds with elite 4.45 speed and a 41-inch vertical. He has the built-in-a-lab size and athleticism to be half-safety, half-linebacker when more is being asked from the safety position than ever before.

His new head coach, Dan Quinn, had a front-row seat to Kam Chancellor in Seattle, and Donovan Wilson and Markquese Bell became two quality, hard-hitting safeties in Dallas. Chinn should blossom under Quinn's watch.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (13)

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Fifth-year option players who could sign a huge extension or play on a different team next year

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (14)

Jaycee Horn

CAR • CB • #8

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What are we to make of Horn through three NFL seasons? He didn't even play 150 snaps in his first professional season before injury struck. Then, in a mostly healthy 2022, he snagged three picks, knocked away seven other throws and didn't allow a touchdown in his coverage area.

But before he could genuinely build on the breakout second season, Horn injured his hamstring in Week 1 of 2023 and didn't play again until Week 13 (!), which indicates how nagging that injury can be, particularly for a skill-position player. When he's been able to stay on the field, Horn, and his 6-1, 200-pound frame that comes with freaky explosiveness, make him one of the most capable young man-to-man boundary corners in football.

It's just that the former first-round pick has hardly been able to stay on the field. With the Panthers hiring a brand-new coaching staff ahead of the 2024 season, one with no ties to Horn, he enters a vital season for his future in Carolina. Because lockdown corners are hard to come by, if Horn stays off the injury list and excels, there's a chance he'll either sign an extension or get a lucrative new deal with the Panthers next March.

If he again doesn't have a clean bill of health, there'll be plenty of trade rumors before his enters his fifth-year option season in 2025.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (16)

Zaven Collins

ARI • LB • #25

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Collins wasn't deployed properly -- based on his collegiate film and usage -- until Jonathan Gannon took the reins in Arizona last season. Before that, Collins was almost strictly deployed as a classic off-ball linebacker at nearly 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. As a rookie, he was sent after the quarterback a mere 16 times. In Year 2, just 127 times. This is a strapping, do-everything outside linebacker who registered a pressure on 27 of his 117 pass-rushing opportunities in his final two seasons at Tulsa.

Gannon utilized Collins with his collegiate film in mind -- he was asked to rush the passer 272 times (more than double his previous career high in the NFL), and he rewarded the Cardinals with 30 pressures. But even the uptick in production that came with somewhat of a position move last year did not mean Collins became a star, someone bound to earn a mega second contract with the team that drafted him.

Is an extension with the Cardinals possible? Absolutely. And it'll likely come with more pass-rushing effectiveness in Gannon's scheme in 2024. However, if Collins remains an average coverage linebacker and run-stopper without the outside-rushing speciality, he'll be a prime low-to-mid level free-agent add for another club in the 2025 offseason, as the Cardinals declined to exercise his fifth-year option.

NFL players entering a make-or-break 2024 season: Multiple first-rounders, former All-Pro WR headline list (2024)


What is the salary for the 2024 NFL Draft? ›

The first-year cap number or rookie pool number consists of the player's prorated amount of signing bonus and the rookie minimum base salary, which is $795,000 in 2024.

Who was the 17 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft? ›

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings bolstered their defense Thursday in the opening night of the 2024 NFL Draft by selecting outside linebacker Dallas Turner with the 17th overall pick. Turner is the second Alabama player ever drafted in a first round by Minnesota.

How much does an undrafted free agent make? ›

How Much Do Undrafted Rookie Free Agents Make? Every NFL undrafted free agent is required to sign a three-year contract with league-minimum salaries in each season. Over the next three years, those salaries will be $795,000, $960,000, and $1.075 million.

How much do 7th round picks make? ›

Contracts continue to decline in value as the draft progresses, ending with the final pick in the seventh round, nicknamed “Mr. Irrelevant,” who is expected to land a rookie deal just above $4 million.

Who was Mr. Irrelevant in 2024? ›

Such programs get their first choice more often than not, which adds to the intrigue for the newest Mr. Irrelevant, a title annually bestowed upon the last pick in the NFL draft. The New York Jets selected Alabama safety Jaylen Key with the 257th and final pick of the 2024 NFL Draft on Saturday in Detroit.

Who is the #1 draft pick for 2024? ›

The worst kept secret in the NFL finally came to fruition Thursday as the Chicago Bears selected highly-touted USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. But the theme of the first round was the run on quarterbacks.

Do you need tickets for the 2024 NFL Draft? ›

NFL Draft Experience

The NFL Draft presented by Bud Light is April 25 – 27, 2024 and entry is FREE! Fans can now register for free entry by downloading the NFL OnePass app or on the web at

Who has been chosen in the NFL draft 2024? ›

A record six quarterbacks were selected in the first round — Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, Michael Penix Jr., J. J. McCarthy, and Bo Nix — tying the amount from 1983. The six quarterbacks were within the first 12 picks, with five in the top 10.

Do undrafted players go to free agency? ›

Any player who is not drafted in the NFL Draft is automatically eligible to sign with any team as an undrafted free agent—otherwise known as a rookie or priority free agent. Players who declared for the draft early but were not selected retain their college eligibility if they haven't signed with an agent.

Has an undrafted free agent ever made the Hall of Fame? ›

1963 Willie Brown DB Houston Oilers (Cut during training camp by Oilers and then signed by Denver Broncos.) 1970 - Jim Langer, C, Cleveland Browns (Cut by Browns during training camp and then signed by Miami Dolphins.)

How much do 5th round draft picks make NFL? ›

The first pick of the fifth round will sign a contract worth approximately $4.224 million and receive a signing bonus of approximately $384,680. The second pick of the round will receive a $4.218 million contract with a $378,408 signing bonus.

How much do 6th round draft picks make? ›

Third-round salaries range from $6 million to $5.5 million. Fourth-round picks can expect deals between $4.5 million and $4.8 million, while players selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft can expect to earn around $4 million over their four-year contracts.

How much do Waterboys in the NFL make? ›

NFL waterboys actually make a fairly decent salary. Typically speaking individuals earn around $35,000 per year. Those who have been in the game for an extended period of time, however, can earn significantly more, with some even reported to be starting well above $50,000.

Who has the most picks in the 2024 NFL Draft? ›

Teams with most picks in 2024 NFL draft

There's a three-way tie for the most picks in the draft heading into the first round. The Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams each have 11 draft picks.

Who is the highest paid NFL player? ›

The Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow is the highest paid player in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers' Nick Bosa is the highest paid defensive player in the league.

How much is Will Levi's making? ›

Will Levis' Contract Details and Bonuses. According to Spotrac, Levis signed a four-year, $9.5 million contract with Tennessee that included a $3.9 million signing bonus, $8.7 million in guarantees, and an average annual salary of $2.4 million.

What is Bryce Young's salary? ›

After he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young signed a four-year contract with an average annual salary of $9.49 million.


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