2012 NFL Draft: Best Draft-Day Steal for Every Team
It seems like every season, a few no-name rookies come out of nowhere to defy the odds, make the scouts look foolish and fulfill their dreams of becoming a star in the NFL.
They prove that the draft is not, nor will it ever be, an exact science, and that there is plenty of talent to be had in the later rounds.
Despite that, the average NFL fan will be able to go on forever about their first-round pick, but won't even remember the name of the future All-Pro they drafted in the fifth round.
I am by no means a draft expert, but I've done enough research on this draft class to confidently tell you who your late-round future All-Pro might be.
Here we go.
Bobby Massie: OT, fourth round pick (117th overall)
A day one starter at right tackle in the fourth round of the draft? Yes, please.
After being viewed as a second-round pick by some, Massie slid all the way down to the fourth round, right into the Cardinals' lap. He is projected to start immediately opposite of Levi Brown, shoring up the most glaring hole in a Cardinals line that looks to be much improved from previous years.
There is no reason Massie should have been available so late in the draft, but the Cardinals have to be happy with shoring up their biggest need without having to stray from their draft board.
Jonathon Massaquoi: DE/OLB, fifth-round pick (164th overall)
Level of competition aside, Massaquoi proved in his two-year career at Troy that he can get to the quarterback. He has a solid arsenal of pass-rushing moves and will have the luxury of learning behind veteran defensive end John Abraham.
Massaquoi will be benefited from being drafted by a 4-3 team , lessening the learning curve he would have if he were converted to an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
He will probably only see time as a pass-rushing specialist his first season or two and will have to work on his ability to stop the run, but Massaquoi should develop into a solid starter as the heir to Abraham.
Asa Jackson: CB, fifth-round pick (169th overall)
Jackson has just about everything you could ask for in an NFL corner.
He is athletic, instinctive, fast, can play both the run and pass and plays the position with the confidence necessary to be a successful NFL corner. He is slightly undersized, but that is not the reason he was a fifth-round pick.
The reason Jackson flew was drafted so low was the level of competition he faced in college. Playing at Cal Poly hurt his stock tremendously, as he hardly faced any NFL-quality receivers, so he couldn't show what he could do against elite talent.
It will take him some time to adjust to the NFL's level of competition, but look for Jackson to start earning some playing time by the end of this season and eventually develop into a quality piece on the Ravens' always stellar defense.
Zebrie Sanders: OT, fifth-round pick (144th overall)
Sanders is one of the more well-known names on this list, but for all the wrong reasons.
Back in 2009, he was the subject of a lot of jokes and criticism for presumably falling asleep during a play, leaving his quarterback to run around for dear life while he dozed off. It was later reported that he was using a tactic that Florida State coaches teach their offensive linemen to lure the defense off sides, albeit at the wrong time.
Despite his now infamous slip-up, Sanders had a very productive career at Florida State. He played both tackle positions, and while he isn't expected to be an immediate starter, he should develop into a good offensive tackle for a Bills team that could really use some help on their offensive line.
Joe Adams: WR, fourth-round pick (104th overall)
Electrifying would be a good way to describe Joe Adams.
His punt return against Tennessee was a thing of beauty and puts his playmaking ability on full display. He is the type of player that can score any time he gets his hands on the ball, which will serve him well on the Panthers' vertical passing attack.
If learning under Steve Smith can teach Adams to be more physical in his play, Newton/Adams might become the next great QB/WR tandem in the NFL.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Alshon Jeffery: WR, second-round pick (45th overall)
While this article is mainly about players picked in the third round and beyond in the draft, a mixture of Jeffery once being considered a top-15 pick and the Bears choosing no standout players in the later rounds has led me to anoint Alshon Jeffery as the Bears' best draft-day steal.
Jeffery fell down draft boards after ballooning up to 240 pounds his junior year in college, but was still considered to be a first-round pick after showing up to his pro day at a lean 213 pounds. The fact that he was available at 45 was a blessing for the Bears, who have now surrounded quarterback Jay Cutler with a plethora of receiving options to throw to.
Jeffery will have to work on his route running and continue to watch his weight, but he should blossom early as a red zone target for the Bears.
George Iloka: FS, fifth-round pick (167th overall)
The Bengals have found a good one here.
Iloka is a very good safety in zone and has all the physical tools to be effective at the NFL level. He is great in run support, almost never gives up the big play, is a solid form tackler and doesn't drop many interceptions thrown his way.
Iloka will have to learn to play better in man coverage, but should earn a spot in the rotation early on and may surprise some people by making a few starts at the end of the season.
Trevin Wade: CB, seventh-round pick (245th overall)
Inconsistent is an understatement when describing Trevin Wade's career in college.
After shutting down just about everyone he faced and looking every bit like an elite cornerback prospect his sophomore year, Wade turned into a different player his junior year and watched his stock plummet. He attempted to redeem himself with a solid senior year, but it was not enough to convince teams that he was still the same dominant cover corner they saw in 2009.
Wade is a boom or bust type player, but in the seventh round, he has to be considered a huge steal and well worth the risk.
Kyle Wilber: OLB, fourth-round pick (113th overall)
When I first saw that the Cowboys drafted Wilber, I thought they may have been reaching a bit. After doing some more research on the guy, though, I have to admit that I was wrong.
Wilber plays well against both the run and the pass, and his pass-rushing skills should develop well under Demarcus Ware. He has very good technique when making the tackle, and his footwork is pretty advanced for a rookie.
Look for Wilber to make contributions on special teams early and possibly earn a spot in the Cowboys rotation.
Omar Bolden: CB, fourth-round pick (101st overall)
As a Wildcat fan, I've seen plenty of Omar Bolden throughout his college career. He has the makings of a great shutdown corner and may have been a first-round pick if not for missing his senior year with a torn ACL.
He can play both zone and man coverage and doesn't shy away from making the interception when the opportunity presents itself. He has had some injury concerns and issues with consistency, which is why he was available in the fourth round.
Bolden probably won't see the field much at the start of the season due to not having played football in over a year, along with having to learn how to play nickel after spending all of his time on the outside in college, but Bolden has the potential to be the Broncos' next great shutdown corner after Champ Bailey hangs it up.
Ronnell Lewis: OLB, fourth-round pick (125th overall)
When I think of Ronnell Lewis, one word comes to my mind: powerful.
He regularly went up against offensive linemen who had 30-50 pounds on him, and more often than not, physically dominated them. He had 36 reps at the combine, which was the third-highest at the event and first among non-linemen.
Lewis is very good at stopping the run, but his pass-rushing skills could use some work. He won't see the field much other than special teams this year, but look for him to make an impact over the next few seasons.
Green Bay Packers
Terrell Manning: OLB, fifth-round pick (163rd overall)
The newest addition to a long line of wild-haired Green Bay linebackers, Terrell Manning certainly looks the part of a Packer defender.
Many expected Manning to be drafted by a 4-3 team due to being the prototypical size for a 4-3 OLB, and will have to bulk up if he wants to stick with the Packers. He excels at stopping the run and is very disruptive once he gets into the backfield. He also carries himself with a lot of confidence, claiming that he is just as good as any linebacker in the draft.
Time will tell whether Manning will be able to live up to the hype his mouth and his mane has garnered, but I can see this talented linebacker shining early if given the chance.
Jared Crick: DT, fourth-round pick (126th overall)
After drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt, Jared Crick will get the chance to play alongside him as a new member of already one of the best defenses in the league.
Crick is equally disruptive while defending both the run and the pass and has the ability to play any position on the defensive line. He cannot eat up double teams like former teammate Ndamukong Suh, but won't have to worry about that with all of the playmakers on the Texans defense.
Barring any set backs with his torn pectoral muscle, Crick should earn a spot in the rotation immediately and may become a starter by the end of this season.
Josh Chapman: NT, fifth-round pick (136th overall)
The most vital piece in the 3-4 defense is finding a big nose tackle to take up blockers and clog up the lanes, and the Colts may have found one in Josh Chapman.
Chapman can reportedly bench close to 500 pounds and plays like it. He uses his extraordinary strength to take on double teams with ease and has a high football IQ on top of it.
He does have some issues with his conditioning and isn't going to be to a tackling machine or a dominant pass-rusher, but he does what a nose tackle is supposed to do, and does it very well. Look for Chapman to contribute to the Colts early on in the season.
Mike Harris: CB, sixth-round pick (176th overall)
Mike Harris is a very intriguing prospect.
He has the athleticism and technique to succeed at the next level and is a solid tackler. However, he only has one season as a starter under his belt and seems to be most effective as a nickel corner.
Harris will probably start out this year as the Jaguars' third or fourth cornerback and make a career out of covering receivers in the slot.
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs fans, say goodbye to Thomas Jones.
Cyrus Gray has everything you could ask for in a change of pace back: excellent vision, reliable hands, prototypical size and great in short-yardage situations. He is not an inside runner, but is good at finding holes and hitting them with authority. He is not as fast a player as his 40 time suggests, however, and will be no threat to Jamaal Charles' starting job.
Gray fills a need for the Chiefs and should take the No. 2 spot behind Jamaal Charles immediately.
B.J. Cunningham: sixth-round pick (183rd overall)
After being drafted by a team dangerously thin at receiver, Cunningham may have a chance to shine early.
Cunningham will never be mistaken as a speedster by any means, but his physical style of play doesn't call for it. He abuses corners with his quick feet and polished route running, and is very good at taking advantage of zone coverage.
On most other teams, Cunningham probably wouldn't see the field much his rookie year, but he has a chance at becoming the No. 2 option in the Dolphins passing attack and should take advantage of that opportunity.
The Vikings have needed help at cornerback for awhile, and may have found it in the form of Josh Robinson.
After an impressive showing at the combine, Robinson shot up draft boards everywhere. He is an excellent zone corner who has all the tools to become elite in that area. He is not as polished in man coverage, though, and sometimes has trouble in run support.
Robinson's athleticism should earn him a starting spot early in the Vikings' thin secondary. If his man coverage skills improve, the Vikings will have found themselves their shutdown corner.
New England Patriots
Alfonzo Dennard: CB, seventh-round pick (224th overall)
Even though the Patriots gave up most of their day three picks to trade up in the first round, they may have hit the jack pot by drafting this troubled cornerback.
Before the Senior Bowl, Dennard was considered a first-round prospect. A poor game and an untimely arrest later, and Dennard was running the risk of not being drafted at all. Belichick came in and swooped up the talented youngster, and now Alfonzo will be expected to contribute to the Patriots defense returning to its former glory.
Dennard will be asked to contribute on special teams while developing his rookie year, but Bellichick drafted him because he believes Dennard can become a starting NFL corner, and who are we to disagree with him?
New Orleans Saints
Nick Toon: WR, fourth-round pick (122nd overall)
Despite his funny name, Nick Toon is no joke.
Toon is a big receiver, and plays like it. He uses his size to abuse smaller corners as a mid-range and red-zone threat on top of being able to get position and beat defensive backs on deep routes. He doesn't have elite speed for a wide receiver and will need to work on separating from his man to become the go-to target on a Saints team full of talented pass catchers.
Drew Brees has the ability to make any receiver willing to put in the work look good and will do the same with Toon. Meachem left a hole in the Saints receiving corps, and Toon should plug it quite nicely.
New York Giants
Brandon Mosley: OT, fourth-round pick (131st overall)
This is probably my favorite day three pick.
Having only played offensive tackle for two years, Mosley obviously has some technique flaws that need to be worked out. What Mosley lacks in experience, however, he makes up for with his massive upside.
He played defensive end/tight end before converting to offensive tackle, so his athletic ability cannot be questioned. He was made from the mold of what an elite left tackle should look like, with everything from his arm length to his weight distribution perfect for an NFL tackle.
His quick feet and balance are exactly what you want out of your left tackle, and his former coaches and teammates have raved about his work ethic.
He definitely needs some time to develop, but after a few seasons learning the ins and outs of the tackle position, Mosley will dominate defensive ends and linebackers for the next decade.
New York Jets
Stephen Hill: WR, second-round pick (43rd overall)
Much like the Bears and Jeffery, a mixture of Hill's status as a first-round pick and the lack of quality players picked in the later rounds leads me to pick Stephen Hill as the Jets biggest draft steal.
Hill is a very exciting receiver who has a Randy Moss-level ceiling. His size, speed,and jump-ball abilities make him an excellent deep threat. He is surprisingly good as a run-blocker, showing an aggressive side that he should translate into his overall game.
He ran a basic route tree in college and looks uncomfortable running anything other than a deep route. He will need to fix that if he hopes to be known for more than just making a big play or two a game.
His quarterbacks and the run-heavy offense he finds himself in will make it hard for him to contribute at the level he's capable of his rookie year, but as long as he works hard, he will become a very productive NFL receiver.
Juron Criner: WR, fifth-round pick (168th overall)
I will go on record and say that Juron Criner is the most underrated player in this draft.
He can come in and be the No. 2 option for half the teams in the NFL, even being the No. 1 option for a few receiver-starved teams. For some reason, though, he fell all the way to the fifth round, right into the Raiders' laps.
His jump-ball abilities are up there with the top receivers in the draft and is the perfect size for the position. He is an excellent route runner and is dangerous after the catch.
Criner should start the season as the Raiders' third option in the passing game, but don't be surprised if he ends up leading the team in a few receiving categories at the end of the season.
Brandon Washington: OT/OG, sixth-round pick (200th overall)
Color me shocked when Brandon Washington made it out of the fourth round.
He stood out as a versatile starter on a very talented Miami offensive line and showed the potential to be a dominant run-blocking guard given the right development. He is still very raw, and his pass-blocking leaves a lot to be desired, which is the reason he fell so far after being projected as a third-round pick.
Washington won't start immediately, but after a few seasons on the bench, he should win a starting job and become a solid guard for the Eagles.
Alameda Ta'amu: fourth-round pick (109th overall)
The Steelers have been looking for a Casey Hampton's replacement and have found him in Alameda Ta'amu
Ta'amu was a huge part of the Huskies' defense, making his fellow defenders look better than they really are with his strong inside presence. He can routinely take on double and triple teams and will collapse the pocket if there's only one guy blocking him. He's not much of a pass-rusher, but won't have to be in the Steelers' linebacker-centered pass-rushing attack.
Ta'amu fell due to health concerns, but has the ability to start as a rookie on his way to a very successful NFL career.
San Diego Chargers
An effective player for a very talented LSU team, Brandon Taylor has future NFL starter written all over him.
A very physical safety, Taylor loves playing in the box and helping out in run support. He throws his weight around and plays a lot bigger than his size would suggest. Taylor is also a very efficient tackler who will not let many ball carriers run through him.
Taylor was not asked to play much man coverage due to all the talent LSU had at cornerback, which will limit his reps early on in his career. He should develop into a solid starting NFL safety.
San Francisco 49ers
Cam Johnson: DE/OLB, seventh-round pick (237th overall)
After surprisingly falling in the draft, Cam Johnson will convert to OLB and join one of the deepest linebacking corps in the NFL.
Johnson is a good athlete who brings something to the table while defending the run and rushing the passer. He played with his hand on the ground in college, so learning how to cover is a must if he wants to crack the 49ers' starting lineup in the future. He struggles against double teams, but playing alongside Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith will keep him from having to worry about that.
Johnson is not an immediate contributor, but is an absolute steal in the seventh and should develop into a solid rotational player in the already talented 49ers linebacking corps.
Russell Wilson: QB, third-round pick (75th overall)
If Russell Wilson was a few inches taller, he would have been been considered an elite prospect and a possible top-10 pick.
Accurate, strong arm, intelligent, mobile and a born leader, Wilson has just about everything you could ask for in a QB prospect. His height was the main factor in him not being considered a first-round prospect, but he played behind the third-largest line in football last season, and had no trouble seeing behind them. His high release makes up for his height disadvantage and has drawn very favorable comparisons as a mobile Drew Brees.
Matt Flynn is the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, but if he struggles early, we could see what Wilson can do as an NFL quarterback earlier than expected.
St. Louis Rams
Chris Givens: WR, fourth-round pick (96th overall)
Giving Sam Bradford some receiving help was a key priority for the St. Louis Rams this offseason, and they certainly found some in the draft.
Givens is a deep-threat option who could start immediately for the Rams. He is an explosive receiver who defensive backs will have to play off of and adjusts well to over or underthrown balls. He is not a very physical receiver, however, and can get jammed at the line of scrimmage, effectively taking him out of the play. He is not very dangerous going over the middle and is seen strictly as a speedster until his overall game catches up to his deep-threat abilities.
Givens should start day one for the Rams and bring a dimension to the offense that they have lacked in recent years.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Najee Goode: ILB, fifth-round pick (140th overall)
The Buccaneers have been looking for a thumper to replace Barrett Ruud, and Najee Goode looks like the perfect candidate.
Goode is a strong, instinctive player with a high football IQ. He plays downhill and always looks to deliver a big hit on opposing teams' running backs. He does not bring a lot to the table when playing in coverage or rushing the passer, limiting his ability to contribute immediately.
Goode should find work as a two-down linebacker immediately for the Bucs and could become an every-down stud if he can round out his overall game.
Taylor Thompson: TE, fifth-round pick (145th overall)
This inexperienced physical specimen could turn out to be the biggest steal in the draft.
After not catching a pass in college, the converted defensive end wowed scouts at his pro day by showing off his 4.56 40 time and impressive hands in pass-catching drills. He is a match up nightmare on the outside, being too fast for a linebacker and too big for a safety, and could contribute day one because of it.
The offense he played in in college prevented Thompson from showing NFL teams what he could do as a pass-catcher, but if he can live up to his potential, this will be a very good pickup by the Titans.
Keenan Robinson: OLB, fourth-round pick (119th overall)
Fast, smart, quick and a hard worker, Robinson is a great value pick in the fourth round for the Redskins.
He has very advanced coverage skills not seen in most rookies outside linebacker and can develop into an excellent sideline-to-sideline defender. He is not a natural pass-rusher and has trouble disengaging when blocked.
Robinson has some flaws in his game that will keep him from making a significant impact at the start of the season, but should find a spot in the Redskins rotation by the end of the year.