Evaluating, unearthing and projecting NFL draft projects into successful scouting and player development outcomes is one of the most enjoyable caveats on the draftnik work plate. As a certain amount of pride can be understood for the teams and position coaches that affect such a transformation, so is there a congruent level of "finder's joy" in calling for the possibility to occur.
On a purely functional level, the impact realization of a project prospect can produce a similar value as hitting on a sleeper or late-round flier. Expectations are likely low for this player and the draft slot, or even undrafted status, often indicates a lengthy distance to reaching starter caliber.
If a club produces overachieving value from this depth of the procurement process, it acts as a bonus to that class's haul and can create real difference-making flexibility on the roster over a window of several years. This is especially true if the upstart takes place during a player's rookie contract before he has reached any kind of financial maturity.
The term "project" typically refers to a development case that carries even longer odds than most late-round or incomplete prospects. This reference may be apt because of a position conversion or a deep and specific set of traits seen as missing from a player's game before he can tap into his lone or few present strengths.
Currently injured Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jason Peters is a unicorn example of an impact project result. After going undrafted as a mammoth tight end (6'4.5", 330 lbs.) in 2004 out of the University of Arkansas, the Buffalo Bills signed him and he progressed from special teams bully and blocking tight end to right tackle before being named to his first Pro Bowl at left tackle in 2007 and every year since.
Much of the credit for Peters' development as a tackle is attributed to now-retired offensive line coach Jim McNally, whose final stint came with Buffalo from 2004 to 2007, though he was recently hired by the Cincinnati Bengals as a consultant.
By definition, predicting a project player into even a functional role, let alone a consistent or impact starter, is a low-percentage play. Beyond the basic difficulties of the football aspects, it also requires the right mindset and determination on the part of the player and positional coach, as well as patience from an organization. And even if all of that lines up favorably, like with any other competitive climate, an opportunity must somehow be forged.
Have a look at this slideshow that examines six potential projects in the 2012 draft class that could pay off for their initial NFL clubs.