Throughout the draft process, most of the talk centers around elite first-round talents. That's why players like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson are chief in the minds of football fans.
All of those players certainly have the potential to be great in the NFL, but that doesn't mean that others should be ignored. Every round of every draft features players who become quality contributors at the next level and even Pro-Bowl-caliber performers.
Here are three mid-round picks who have the ability to surprise many by ascending to that level in the pros.
RB Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Passing is at an all-time high in terms of importance in the NFL, but the running game can't be discounted. Establishing the run is still necessary as it helps open up the pass even more. However, there have been fewer backs going in the first round in recent years. This is because those taken later in the draft or even signed as undrafted free agents have had great success in the NFL.
One player who might fit the bill this year is Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead. Although Pead is likely a fourth or fifth-round prospect, he has a lot of intriguing tools. He was extremely productive this past season as he rushed for over 1,200 yards, 12 touchdowns and reeled in 39 passes. On top of that, he has 4.4 speed. Teams are looking for backs who can do a little bit of everything, and that describes Pead perfectly.
DL Jared Crick, Nebraska
Entering the season, Nebraska defensive lineman Jared Crick was among the favorites to win many awards in the Big Ten as well as nationally. He was coming off back-to-back seasons with 9.5 sacks, but 2011 didn't go as planned as Crick missed the majority of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. That injury could really move him down draft boards and into the fourth round or so, but somebody is going to get a steal.
Crick seems like an absolutely ideal pick to play defensive end in a 3-4 system. He would be a great fit for a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens. If put in the right situation and given a chance to prove himself, Crick can be a playmaker at the next level. His success might be contingent upon what defensive system he ends up in, but he is much more talented than his draft position is likely to suggest.
Which mid-round prospect will have the best NFL career?
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
Few wide receivers in the college game were more productive than Arizona's Juron Criner over the past two seasons. Not only did he have over 150 catches and nearly 2,200 combined yards, but he also caught 11 touchdowns in both 2010 and 2011. Criner was one of the few shining stars on a weak Arizona squad, but he doesn't seem to be getting much publicity and he could conceivably fall as far as the fourth round.
Criner may not have top-end speed, but he has incredible size at 6'4" and 215 lbs. He also has the ability to outleap most defenders. His unbelievable catch radius also means that he is capable of grabbing almost any pass thrown in his direction. Criner was one of the most impressive receivers at the Senior Bowl with six grabs for 77 yards and a score, and he should be able to produce in the NFL as well.