2013 NFL Draft: Finding the Biggest Steals in the Late Rounds

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 9, 2013

2013 NFL Draft: Finding the Biggest Steals in the Late Rounds

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    Good players are routinely selected in the late rounds of the NFL draft. 

    Usually, those players are unearthed in one of a few ways:

    1. They eventually emerged after having an opportunity to hone their skills.
    2. The team that drafted them had a need for a starter at their position, and they stepped up.
    3. They simply outperformed their competition in camp, earning a roster spot and making a big impact.

    There are examples of players that fall into each category.

    Bills receiver Stevie Johnson is a good example of No. 1. He didn't emerge until his third year in the NFL, but with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons under his belt, he has quickly become one of the biggest steals for the Bills in recent draft memory.

    Former 2009 "Mr. Irrelevant" Ryan Succop is a recent example of No. 2. The Chiefs had two kickers in 2008 and brought neither of them back, allowing Succop the opportunity to step right in as the starter. That's also an example of the Chiefs wisely picking a player they knew could contribute to the team as a rookie, milking every last bit of value out of the draft.

    For an example of No. 3, look no further than Saints receiver Marques Colston, who was drafted to an offense which already featured Joe Horn and Devery Henderson and started 12 games.

    Usually, players who are considered late-round steals before the draft fall into one of four categories as well:

    1. Injury history
    2. Small school
    3. Character concerns
    4. Insufficient measurables

    You will see examples of all four in this list of players who may not have their name called until the final day of the draft but could still provide value to a team willing to take the chance.

Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue

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    The new wave of NFL cornerbacks has placed a premium on size and speed. At 5'9" and 199 pounds, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, it's safe to say Johnson has neither size nor speed.

    So what makes him a potential starting cornerback? Quite simply, he competes. He has the quickness and agility to make plays in zone coverage and in pursuit on screens, and he has toughness to fight through blocks in the running game. 

    He doesn't have the spectacular interception stats some scouts and evaluators would like to see, but that's partly because he was too busy making the sure play (106 solo tackles, 29 pass breakups in his final two seasons) to take a chance on an interception.

    Johnson is projected by CBS Sports to be taken in the fifth- to sixth-round range, and he earned a grade as a fourth- to seventh-round pick from NFL.com. Given the value of cornerbacks, a team would be wise to take a chance on him with a Day 3 pick, as his skill set would be a great fit for a team in need of a slot cornerback.

Ryan Otten, TE, San Jose State

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    The title of "tight end" is becoming murkier with each passing year. With contracts issued to players who are considered hybrids and teams and players making the case one way or the other for a particular player, it's fair to say the job description has changed a bit.

    Otten fits the new description, as evidenced by his 99 receptions, 1,481 receiving yards (14.96 per reception) and nine touchdowns over the past two seasons.

    Otten doesn't get separation with elite quickness like Aaron Hernandez or Vernon Davis, and he doesn't have game-breaking speed, either. But his ability to gain extra yards after the catch will be attractive to teams lacking threats over the middle, and his 6'5" frame and 33.5-inch arms will make him a solid red-zone threat at the very least.

    CBS Sports grades him in the sixth round, while NFL.com grades him as a draftable player, somewhere in the fourth- to seventh-round range. 

Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State

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    A player can have all the tangibles, football intelligence and other components you could ask for, but if his medical record contains more knee injuries than the player has knees, that can pose a problem for his draft stock.

    Mauti might have a higher grade if he didn't have such great concerns about his long-term health after suffering a torn ACL in both knees at different points in his career. He also suffered another knee injury late in 2012. 

    He is not a great athlete—which may or may not have something to do with his knee injuries—but he's very smart and instinctual in making plays against the run and in coverage. He has great size at 6'2" and 243 pounds, and his wide base will help him hold his ground when blockers take him on inside.

    Sometimes, players are so frequently talked about as potential late-round steals that it drives their stock up. Mauti earned a second- to third-round grade from NFL.com despite earning just a seventh-round grade from CBS Sports. If he's healthy, Mauti could be a great value pick, but with so many knee injuries on his record already, it's fair to wonder if he can stay healthy for an extended period.

Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane

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    Most pundits are having a hard time deciding which quarterback should be taken off the board first, and the disagreement continues all the way to the seventh round, where scouts can't agree on whether Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin should be drafted.

    Griffin has been solid throughout his career, but he had a spectacular senior season, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for career highs, with 2,771 yards, 7.03 yards per attempt, 20 touchdowns and a 132.4 rating.

    With Griffin as its quarterback, however, Tulane was not so solid. The Green Wave went 2-10 in his senior year, despite it being by far the best season of his career. That has left him as a black sheep of sorts among draft circles. He doesn't have elite arm strength, but his efficiency and ability to read a defense from the pocket gives him Matt Ryan-like upside.

    CBS Sports gives Griffin a seventh-round grade, and NFL.com doesn't even have a profile on him, so Griffin has been snubbed and he hasn't even been drafted yet. 

Jon Bostic, LB, Florida

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    Linebackers who lack speed are seen as black sheep these days, with NFL teams trending toward tight ends who can threaten the middle of the field in the passing game. Florida linebacker Jon Bostic took a step toward alleviating those concerns with a 4.61 40-yard dash, which ranked in the top five among linebackers at the combine. The tape tells a different story, though, and NFL.com indicates "his eyes move faster than his feet can in terms of diagnosing the play and reacting."

    That being said, his play recognition helps him compensate, and in that sense he has drawn comparisons to Brandon Spikes as an instinctive thumper. Those skills helped him log 162 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over the past two seasons for Florida. 

    NFL.com projects Bostic to go on Day 3; CBS Sports, however, thinks he could be taken with a third- or fourth-round pick. In either scenario, any team would be thrilled about the pick if Bostic proves to be as much of a leader for an NFL defense as he was for an SEC defense.

Miguel Maysonet, RB, Stony Brook

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    Teams love to find value in running backs in the late rounds because of the injury risk associated with the position. 

    Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet carried the ball 695 times in a three-year span, but he didn't miss a single game along the way. He hasn't shown the polish teams would like to see in the passing game, but he possesses value as a one-cut runner. No one will ever question his decisiveness when hitting the hole or his willingness to do so aggressively.

    He suffered a setback when Hofstra's football program ceased to exist following the 2009 season. He turned that into a positive, though, and went on to rush for 6.8 yards per attempt and 48 rushing touchdowns in three years at Stony Brook. Granted, the level of competition he will face in the NFL will look much different from what he saw in the Big South, but the small-school stigma is one that many late-rounders have overcome.

    NFL.com gives him a grade barely within the seventh-round range, an assessment with which CBS Sports agrees.

Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky

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    Western Kentucky has never had a pass-rusher like Quanterus Smith in their six-year stint in the FBS. He racked up 40 tackles for loss and 24 sacks in three years as a starter, including 18.5 and 12.5, respectively, as a senior.

    At 6'5" with 33.25-inch arms, Smith has the long frame of an edge rusher, but at 250 pounds, it's fair to wonder whether he would be better off transitioning to a 3-4 as an outside linebacker. He has never played the position, and an ACL injury he suffered late in 2012 adds another layer to the doubts around his ability to handle the position change.

    CBS Sports has him with a seventh-round grade, while NFL.com is a little more lenient in their grade as a second- or third-round pick. All that being said, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller told me that were it not for Smith's injury, he might have a late first-round grade.

    Even if he doesn't clear medically at first, some team may be willing to take a late-round flier on his upside as a pass-rusher. If that's the case, he could prove to be one of the great steals of this class.

Sean Renfree, QB, Duke

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    Football is clearly not Duke's strongest sports program, and they haven't had a player drafted since 2004. If ever there was a player that warranted the selection to buck that trend, quarterback Sean Renfree could be it.

    Renfree has never put up earth-shattering numbers, but he became more and more proficient with each year as a passer. He eclipsed a 67 percent completion rate (ranked second in the ACC) and had a 136.3 rating in his senior season. 

    His decision-making has been spotty at times, leading to interceptions, but he has the arm strength to make all the NFL throws. He also has experience running a pro-style offense at Duke, where the passing game was the focal point and he was forced to drop back from under center and go through his progressions. 

    NFL.com grades him just barely inside the seventh round, and CBS Sports grades him as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect. He surely will not be handed a starting job, but if he earns one, he could make a team proud.

Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee

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    Most of us made at least one bad decision in college, but some prospects—such as Tennessee-Martin defensive tackle Montori Hughes—had their draft stock negatively impacted by those decisions.

    Hughes attended Hargrave Military Academy for a semester after high school due to some academic concerns. Those concerns followed him to Tennessee, and he was suspended for the final game of the 2010 regular season for violating team academic rules. He was finally dismissed from the team in 2011 after a number of non-football incidents.

    If he has his head on straight, though, he has upside as a gap-penetrating interior defender. He had 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack as a part-time interior defender. His combination of agility and strength should allow him to contribute in a rotation on the inside.

    NFL.com has him with a Day 3 grade, and CBS Sports expects him to be taken in the fourth round. That seems like good value for a player with Hughes' potential, and if he falls even later than that, a team could find themselves with a big-time steal.

Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse

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    Sometimes, a player's skill set in shorts doesn't show up on tape. Other times, it's the other way around.

    That's the case with Syracuse wide receiver Alec Lemon, who doesn't have ideal height, weight, strength or speed but somehow managed to pile up 140 receptions for 1,904 yards and 13 touchdowns in the past two seasons. 

    Now, scouts must determine how much stock to put in his combine results. He's not suddenly going to start stretching the field and making acrobatic leaping catches on the boundary and in the red zone, but he can certainly be a solid possession receiver and has a lot of value for a team that runs a lot of no-huddle, as he was well-versed in the no-huddle in his four years at Syracuse.

    NFL.com gives him a seventh-round grade, and CBS Sports considers him a sixth- or seventh-round prospect. If he produces anything like he did at Syracuse, though, he'll be worth the selection and much more.