While much attention is given to the first rounds of the NFL draft, teams can still improve with picks in the late rounds. Drafting well in the late rounds can make a huge difference for a football team, especially considering those players come cheap to start.
Even some NFL greats were selected in the later rounds. Tom Brady, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis and others all had to wait to hear their names called. All three went on to have fabulous careers and altered the path of their franchise. While the odds of landing a player with that level of impact is low, finding a role player is much more likely.
In the later rounds, the best draft strategy is to grab players that have a mix of athleticism and an ability to be coached. If a player lacks proper technique heading into the NFL, that can be fixed with good coaching. If a player lacks the natural athleticism to make plays, that's not something that can be adjusted with coaching.
Another way to improve during the final rounds is to simply take the best players available. That allows team to build depth and hope that player pans out.
The Green Bay Packers are a great example of a team that has gotten big contributions from late-round picks. D.J. Smith (fifth), Desmond Bishop (sixth), Josh Sitton (fourth), Matt Flynn (seventh), Brad Jones (seventh) and Marshall Newhouse (fifth) have all started games for the Packers within the last two years.
Much of the Packers' recent success has been because they draft smart in the late rounds and then give those players chances to compete.
The Seahawks are another team has had recent success in the late rounds. Richard Sherman (fifth) and Kam Chancellor (fifth) are big reasons why Seattle's defense is among the best in the NFL.
All of those players listed have two things in common: decent-to-good athleticism and good fits for their respective systems.
Players with one elite trait can also be solid options late in the draft. Guys who have excellent speed could be worth bringing to camp and trying to find a specific role. Leon Washington (fourth) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (seventh) have each had impacts as speedy special teamers.
The odds of getting impact players late in the draft is low, but there are enough success stories out there to warrant teams paying close attention to the later rounds. With an especially deep draft class, there is sure to be great value left in the final rounds.