The late rounds are just as important as the first two rounds. Teams are expected to get difference-makers early on, but with a salary cap, teams can’t sign every free agent. They need to draft players that can provide both depth and be capable of starting down the line.
There were five teams that took advantage of the later rounds of the draft and got multiple impact players. I have highlighted the five winners of the late rounds and what picks will make a difference for their teams.
The Steelers were getting older on defense, particularly their defensive line, and they addressed that by taking DT Alameda Ta’amu from Washington. Ta’amu is the potential replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton. He is a big, strong run defender that is capable of anchoring their 3-4 defense.
The Steelers also got speedy linebacker Sean Spence from Miami (Florida), who is versatile enough to play multiple positions in the 3-4. He needs to add bulk, but he can be a good rotational player and special teams contributor for the Steelers in 2012.
The last big pickup for the Steelers was RB Chris Rainey from the University of Florida. Rainey gives the Steelers another weapon on offense. He is fast and can line up in the backfield or in the slot. He will be the perfect complement to Rashard Mendenhall and can also be an outstanding return man.
The Bills made one of the biggest splashes during free agency and continue their offseason success by getting multiple starting caliber players in the late rounds of the draft. General manager Buddy Nix added talented but inconsistent WR T.J. Graham in the third round, but that was just the beginning.
The Bills took two offensive linemen to go along with second-round pick Cordy Glenn. Zebrie Sanders from Florida State is an OT that will be a good complement to Glenn. He is tall, physical, is a good pass-blocker and an excellent run blocker. The Bills also took Oregon OG Mark Asper, who is a big guard that is also athletic and has the ability to grow into a starter.
After addressing the offense the Bills took two linebackers that will be given a chance to make an impact as rookies. Nigel Bradham from Florida State has great speed and plays well in coverage. The second linebacker they selected was Tank Carder from TCU. Carder is an intelligent and versatile linebacker that is a good run-stopper.
Overall the Bills continue to take the steps needed to contend for a playoff spot.
After winning the AFC South and making the playoffs for the first time in team history, the Texans used the late rounds to draft players that will help them repeat as division winners. With multiple holes on the offensive line, the Texans selected Brandon Brooks from Miami (Ohio). He is a versatile lineman that will have the chance to start as a rookie.
The Texans got a steal in the fourth round when they drafted DE Jared Crick from Penn State. Crick was a first-round talent that fell after getting injured early in 2011. He will be another dynamic player on the Texans' defensive line.
Receiver DeVier Posey from Ohio State is a talented receiver that will give the Texans another weapon and insurance in case one of their starters gets hurt again. Posey was an underachiever in college and will have an opportunity to catch passes from a better, more consistent quarterback in the NFL.
The Bengals made three great picks in the late rounds that will help them return to the playoffs in 2012. After finding success drafting Andy Dalton and A.J. Green last year, the Bengals added WR Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers. Sanu is a big possession-type receiver that will be a great complement to Green. The pick is increasingly important after they lost Jerome Simpson to the Minnesota Vikings.
Not only did the Bengals get an impact player on offense, they got two for their defense. With their second pick in the third round, the Bengals took DT Brandon Thompson from Clemson. Thompson, along with second-round pick Devon Still, will provide an immediate boost to their defensive line.
The Bengals also picked S George Iloka from Boise State, who along with first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick will revitalize the Bengals secondary. Iloka is a tall, rangy safety that is a solid tackler and has good ball skills. The Bengals continue to turn things around and will contend for the AFC North title in 2012.
After bucking the trend and trading up rather than down, the Patriots make a big splash in the first round. However, it is the moves that they made later in the draft that will help them maintain their hold on the AFC East.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots pride themselves on being a deep team and they made the necessary trades to acquire late-round picks. They added to their front seven by drafting OLB Jake Bequette from Arkansas. Bequette is a playmaker that found success in the SEC. He is a raw prospect that has the potential to be a solid starter down the line.
The Patriots also took a risk on troubled CB Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska. Dennard is talented, but dropped due to character concerns. He is a aggressive and physical corner that can play in both man and zone coverage. While the Patriots' late-round picks don’t have the same notoriety as their first-round picks, they will make a difference on Belichick’s revamped defense.