Every year, it seems like there is at least one rookie who comes out of nowhere and takes the NFL by surprise.
This season, that first year talent could very well be Ryan Steed, a skilled defensive back from Furman University.
Steed was a three-year starter in Furman's defensive backfield and an FCS All-American this past season. He totaled 180 tackles and 14 interceptions in his collegiate career, which ranks among the best marks in school history.
This year's NFL Draft features several top-notch defensive backs in Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jenkins. But after that, Steed is in a large group of cornerback prospects that could be drafted anywhere in the second-to-seventh round range.
Let's take a look at this former FCS All-American and break down some of his best strengths and weaknesses.
It doesn't matter what level of college football you are playing at—Anyone who records 14 interceptions in a career is obviously a big-time playmaker.
Two of the most important aspects in being a successful cornerback are having the athletic ability to successfully play man-to-man coverage and being able to make a play on the ball when it is in the air. Those are two aspects that Steed certainly excels at.
Steed's 14 interceptions are the fourth most in Furman's history, and he actually returned three of those picks to the house for touchdowns.
This guy can flat-out make plays, which will certainly get him a shot to play at the next level.
If Steed is going to make it in the NFL, he is going to have to learn to play special teams before he immediately gets inserted into a starting lineup.
In order to be successful at special teams, he is going to have to learn to be more physical and develop his tackling skills.
Steed has great man-to-man cover skills, but for some reason he tends to shy away from contact at times. He doesn't come up and make tackles often on running plays, which could be a concern for NFL scouts evaluating Steed.
Perhaps once this kid hits an NFL weight room, he will develop the necessary strength to feel comfortable going up and making those tackles at the next level.
Steed stands at 5'11", 195 pounds, which is a really good size for a defensive back.
Steed's best attribute on the field is his ability to play in man-to-man coverage. He loves to press his man on the line of scrimmage, and his solid body frame allows him to do that so successfully.
In this day and age, the best wide receivers in the NFL are either tall, fast or both. Steed's ability to jam those receivers and stay in tight coverage make him extremely valuable.
Now, if he could just add some more muscle and be willing to be more physical, this kid has a chance to be a big-time player at the next level.
When you take a look at Ryan Steed, he has all the needed attributes to be successful at the NFL level.
But the one major factor that this kid lacks is experience going up against top-notch competition at the college football level.
Playing at Furman, an FCS level school, Steed faced a rather weak schedule. He was never challenged or asked to go up against the Alabama's and Oklahoma's of the college football world. Because of that, NFL scouts have to be worried about how this kid is going to adjust to playing against top-notch competition at the NFL level.
Good thing he'll have plenty of time to go up against top-notch competition in training camp.
When it comes to making the jump from college football to the NFL, there may not be a more important aspect that can help you succeed than live playing experience. And in Ryan Steed's case, he has played in a lot of college football games in his career.
Steed played four years at Furman and was a three-year starter. He earned multiple accolades every year for his performance on the gridiron, which lets you know that he can play at a high level when called upon.
You simply can't duplicate experience, and Steed has had plenty of it.
There are certainly those players who can get away without having elite speed at the cornerback level.
Guys like Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber are certainly not as fast as they were back in the day. But those guys are both proven veterans who have figured out the NFL game and know how to remain successful despite getting older.
But with rookies, NFL scouts look for speed, and in Steed's case he isn't exactly a "burner."
Steed ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at this year's NFL Combine, which is actually rather slow for a defensive back. Many believed that had he run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, he would have been considered a first or second round draft choice, but because of his mediocre time, he will likely be selected somewhere in the third-to-fourth round range.