2012 NFL Draft: 12 Late-Round Gems You Should Get to Know

Teddy AccardiContributor IIIJanuary 31, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 12 Late-Round Gems You Should Get to Know

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    Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, most of the attention is focused on the big name players projected to be first-round selections.  

    Many of the stars in the league, however, have come from the later rounds of the draft.  

    Players like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Shannon Sharpe were all mid-to-late round picks that didn't get the attention they deserved on draft day.

    Even those players picked late who don't wind up being hall of famer's,often wind up becoming household names and even Pro Bowl caliber talent.  

    Here we'll take a look at twelve players projected to go in the third round or later who could pay major dividends down the road for the team that selects them.

12. Trenton Robinson, Safety, Michigan State

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    Robinson, who has the size usually seen of a cornerback at 5'11" 185 lbs, has the physicality and big play ability that could make him an interesting player at the next level.  

    At Michigan State, Robinson was praised by his coaches for his work ethic and leadership, and that type of attitude cannot be underestimated in an NFL locker room.

    While Robinson does have the quickness to not get burned by double moves, he could have problems catching up with quicker receivers that make him miss early.  

    However, with his high football IQ and unwillingness to back down from any situation, Robinson has the heart to succeed at the next level.  He is a hard-working safety who isn't afraid to mix it up and will be an asset to whichever team selects him. 

11. Chris Rainey, Running Back, Florida

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    With the emergence of the "scat back", Chris Rainey is an interesting player for NFL teams to consider.  

    Players like Reggie Bush, Dexter McCluster, and Darren Sproles, have reinvented the running back position in the NFL with their ability to impact in the passing game.

    This "new breed" of backs cause defensive coordinators headaches, and Chris Rainey could easily become this type of player in the NFL.  

    He has breakaway speed--running a 4.36 40-yard dash--that will make him a nightmare for defenses everywhere.  Whether Rainey lines up in the backfield or in the slot, the former Florida Gator can make an immediate impact and is a highlight-reel ready to strike at any moment.  

    Since he isn't an every-down back, Rainey will most likely fall into the middle rounds on draft day, making him a steal for whichever team selects him. 

10. Donnie Fletcher, Cornerback, Boston College

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    In his first full year as a starter at Boston College, Donnie Fletcher had a solid 2011 campaign for the Eagles, quietly becoming one of the team's most dependable defensive backs.  

    In a defense that was dominated by the stellar performance of linebacker Luke Kuechly, Fletcher led the Eagles with five interceptions.

    The most intriguing aspect of a guy like Donnie Fletcher is that he is a smart player who is solid in coverage and doesn't get burned too easily.  

    He has the instincts to be a solid cornerback in the NFL and his decent size at 6'1" will allow him to compete with taller receivers.  Since Fletcher does not have top-end speed, however, he could be a candidate to move to safety. His skills and smart play could make him a great late-round selection. 

9. Michael Brewster, Center, Ohio State

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    Michael Brewster, one of the top offensive line recruits coming out of high school, is a fierce player that has the tools to become a force at the center position.  

    He has great size--listed at 6'4" 319 lbs-- and has the tenacity to mix it up with the NFL's top interior defensive lineman.  

    He is great in both pass protection and in the running game, is fundamentally sound, plays with a real "mean streak", and is rarely beaten off of the snap. Michael Brewster is the type of player any fan would want on their team.  This is a guy that is tremendously undervalued and will be a "low-risk high-reward" asset in the middle rounds.

8. Kirk Cousins, Quarterback, Michigan State

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    Kirk Cousins is a smart player that led the Michigan State Spartans to a Big Ten Championship game appearance and a win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl. 

    As a mid-to-late round pick, Cousins will not be asked to step into a starting role in his rookie season.  Beginning as a backup will allow Cousins to be mentored by a current starter and learn the ways of an NFL QB.  

    With proper coaching, Cousins could become a viable starter for years in the NFL. He is a high character guy who has the intangibles and skill set to succeed at the next level.  His footwork has sometimes been called into question, but he makes up for that with his accuracy and mobility in the pocket. 

    Kirk Cousins could be a steal in the fourth round or so.

7. Brandon Brooks, Guard, Miami (Ohio)

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    Brandon Brooks--a four-year starter at Miami (Ohio) University--is one of the more massive players in this year's draft.  

    He uses his 6'5" 353 lb frame to manhandle interior defensive linemen and his wide base and natural power help him stand firm in the middle of the line.

    There are some concerns about his weight, but he throws it around quite well and he has the footwork to be a very serviceable starting guard.  Brooks moves very well for his size, making it very hard for defensive tackles and blitzing linebackers to get through the line.  

    The weight concerns will allow Brooks to possibly slip into the fourth round, but he will be a gem for any team that decides to takes a chance on him. 

6. Jack Crawford, Defensive End, Penn State

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    Battling a foot injury for much of his time at Penn State, Jack Crawford was never really able to settle in and reach his immense potential.  

    A mild-mannered young man with high character and a great work ethic, Crawford is sure to be a favorite with the coaches, and should fit in quite well in an NFL locker room.

    He has a tremendous motor--much like Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings--and never quits on a play.  Obviously Crawford has a long way to go to become the next Jared Allen, but he does have the raw ability to become a solid starter at the next level.  

    Projected to go around the fifth round, Crawford will provide great value and make many teams regret on passing him up.

5. Jeff Fuller, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M

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    A quiet player without any character issues, Jeff Fuller has great size at 6'3" 220 lbs and strong hands that provide a great target for any quarterback.  

    His father, Jeff Sr., was also a standout at Texas A&M and went on to win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s.  

    NFL teams often appreciate players with NFL lineage and Fuller has the natural ability to be a great possession receiver at the next level.  

    For a guy who will be taken in the middle-to-late rounds, he will be a steal.

4. Audie Cole, Linebacker, North Carolina State

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    Playing in the shadows of former North Carolina State standout Nate Irving, Audie Cole was the Wolfpack's leading tackler in 2011.

    Cole has a real nose for the ball and has tremendous instincts on defense. 

    He has a nice frame at 6'5" 239 lbs, is great at recognizing running plays, and has the raw talent to succeed in the middle of a linebacking corps in the NFL for years.  

    Audie Cole is a tremendous athlete. Whether he is placed at the SAM, MIKE, or WILL position, he has the versatility to succeed wherever he is placed, and has the potential to be a star in the NFL in the future. 

3. Tyler Nielsen, Linebacker, Iowa

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    During his time at the University of Iowa, Tyler Nielsen continued the tradition of strong and hardworking linebackers the school is known for. 

    Nielsen has great speed, having run a 4.54 40-yard dash and he uses this speed well to stick with tight ends in coverage and is quick to the ball.

    Nielsen is quick and strong enough to excel off the end to get to the QB, but also can drop back into coverage very well.  

    A smart player with a high football IQ, Nielsen will surely be a steal in the later rounds. If a team is staring at his name on the board in the fourth round or later, they'd be hard-pressed to find a better player.

    NFL scouts know the story with Iowa defenders, which is a wonder why Nielsen is so vastly underrated.  

2. Brandon Weeden, Quarterback, Oklahoma State

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    Brandon Weeden is an interesting prospect for a reason different than many others:

    He is 28 years old and a former draft pick of the New York Yankees.  

    Weeden returned to football at Oklahoma State and led the Cowboys to a one-loss season in 2011 and a win in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl over future number one pick Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal.  

    He faces a similar position of that of former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, who also played baseball and wound up being selected in the fourth-round.  Had Weeden been a 22-year-old prospect coming out of college, there is no question he would be selected much earlier.  

    He has great composure in the pocket and puts great touch on his passes.  Some teams may question the durability of his arm having been a pitcher, but he still has plenty of years left in it.  If a team is willing to overlook his age, they will be getting a tough player capable of making the throws needed to make in the NFL.

1. Alameda Ta'amu, Defensive Tackle, Washington

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    Alameda Ta'amu follows the lineage of Washington Huskie linemen like Tank Johnson, Larry Tripplett, and Lincoln Kennedy.

    Ta'amu has a huge frame at 6'3" 337 lbs., but has surprising quickness off the line of scrimmage and is great at clogging up the middle and taking away the running lanes for opposing running backs.

    The former Huskie has first-round skill that teams will be able to get in the middle of the draft. He has the strength to pummel ball-carriers and plays with an attitude to bust through the line.  

    His biggest weakness is his arm length, but given his size and abilities, that should not pose many problems.  Don't be surprised to see Ta'amu as a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come in this league.