NFL Draft 2017: Five Late-Round Hidden Gems
While a lot of NFL Draft attention goes to the first three rounds, teams have been known to find some late-round gold too.
Day three of the NFL Draft is usually only for the die-hard fans. Most of the household names are off the board and the picks don’t take 10 minutes with highly targeted commercials peppered in for good measure. The later rounds are what separate the mediocre teams from the perennial playoff contenders – finding late-round gems.
Yes, every team wants to find that Tom Brady to add to their roster.
Even though teams like the Packers and the Steelers pick toward the bottom of the draft almost every year, they manage to pick outstanding players who help the team continue winning year after year.
To be sure, teams need the first-round talent, too. For instance, the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger early in the first round. If the team hadn’t selected a tough, strong-armed quarterback, who knows how different Brown’s story may have turned out?
So, while it is natural to be excited for the first round talent, don’t sleep on late-round talent. Here are five of the best:
Offensive Guard, San Diego State
Nico Siragusa’s greatest strength is in the run game blocking, and the Ravens need improvement in the running game in the worst way. For now, the team’s starting running back is Terrance West, although there are several veteran free agents still available.
Siragusa is powerful, having posted 28 reps in the bench press at the NFL Combine. He also performed well in the broad jump, so he can create explosive plays. Also, he moves well in space as evidenced by his 4.56 time in the 20-yard shuttle.
Siragusa has the potential to earn a starting spot. He certainly has the experience, having started 41 games at left guard during his final three seasons. Donnel Pumphrey set the NCAA rushing record in part due to great run-blocking from his offensive line.
His pass blocking will need work, but Siragusa is an excellent value in the fourth round.
Cornerback, San Diego State
Damontae Kazee is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the draft. Kazee finished 2016 with seven interceptions after posting eight interceptions in 2015.
Kazee has excellent instincts. He isn’t big for the position, but he does well in run support because of his instincts. His ability to create turnovers also speaks to his instincts.
The Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel is a former defensive backs coach, so he obviously saw something he liked in Kazee. Another prospect well-known for his ballhawking abilities, Desmond King, was available at this selection. If the Falcons were looking more for a safety, maybe King would have been the pick here. King lacks the speed to be a cornerback at the next level.
Kazee might receive a shot at safety, but he is a much better fit at nickel cornerback. In addition to being strong in run coverage and creating turnovers, Kazee does well in anticipating shorter routes, something crucial to the nickel corner position.
The one area where Kazee struggles is on deeper routes. He will need to work on his back pedal for the next level. That said, he will compete to have essentially a starting role (in nickel packages) as a fifth round pick.
Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
Josh Reynolds has the highest ceiling of any player on this list. However, he may face difficulties during his rookie season with functional strength. Cornerbacks in the NFL are much more physical.
Reynolds had minor issues with more physical defenders at Texas A&M. He was able to overcome any issues with his athletic ability by outrunning or outjumping defenders. However, he may not be able to get away with that in the NFL.
Once Reynolds spends a year in an NFL strength and conditioning program, he should take a major step forward in his second year in the league.
Reynold has great length at 6-feet 3-inches, a background as a high jumper in high school, and outstanding speed as a deep route threat. He and Tavon Austin should make a lethal tandem and help Jared Goff progress as a quarterback. He’s a solid pickup in the fourth round.
Offensive Guard, Pittsburgh
Dorian Johnson will help the Arizona Cardinals protect Carson Palmer in the worst way. He received more hits than any other quarterback in the NFL during the 2016-17 season.
Johnson has an opportunity to step in and start at right guard. He would form a physically imposing tandem with left guard Mike Iupati.
Johnson posted a poor 40 time at the NFL Combine, but had an outstanding broad jump, showing an ability to make explosive plays and move in space. Johnson stays with the play, looking for opposing defenders to block at the second level. While Johnson’s straight line speed might be subpar, he is excellent moving in space and has good technique.
Arizona head coach Bruce Arians mentioned this offseason he wants running back David Johnson to get more touches each game this season, so the Cardinals will rely heavily on Dorian Johnson to help with an already successful running game.
While Desmond King thrived at cornerback at Iowa, the general consensus is he will need to move to safety in the NFL. King simply doesn’t have the foot speed to consistently line up at cornerback.
The Chargers drafted safety Rayshawn Jenkins in the fourth round ahead of King. King may compete with Jenkins and veteran Dwight Lowery for a starting role at free safety, depending on how Gus Bradley slots his roster. Having Lowery teach him the nuances of the position would be beneficial, as it will be an adjustment from cornerback.
Still, King was one of the best values in the draft in the fifth round. He had been rated as highly as early second round at one point. His slower 40 time likely hurt his stock. However, King has already shown the qualities of a potential starting free safety down the line.
Additionally, King can earn immediate playing time on special teams after serving as Iowa’s primary kick and punt returner.
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