20 Late-Round NFL Draft Picks Who Could Start Week 1
For every Tom Brady, there are hundreds of Todd Husaks.
Husak was the first quarterback taken after the New England Patriots selected Brady in the 2000 NFL draft. He spent four years bouncing around with five different teams—in both the NFL and in Europe—before returning to Stanford, his alma mater, to coach and eventually work in broadcasting.
Today, he manages an office of a large commercial real estate services firm and does color commentary for Stanford football broadcasts.
Successful in life? Certainly. But Husak, and many late-round picks, will never taste any bit of the NFL success that Brady has managed.
In 2013, we were told this was a draft for foundational players more than superstars. This was supposed to be a draft full of depth, but light on elite talent up top. So, it stands to reason that this year—more so than others—we should see our fair share of impact players from the later rounds.
The Kicking Specialists
I'm not going to "waste" my time or yours with the most obvious selections on this list. Overall, four kicking specialists were drafted in 2013, and each should start in Week 1.
It's already considered a reach to draft kickers and punters in a league when so many talented legs go undrafted, so missing on one of them would be a indictment of an entire front office and coaching staff.
Of the four, punter Jeff Locke has the clearest path to the starting lineup, as the Minnesota Vikings have released Chris Kluwe. Miami's new kicker, Caleb Sturgis (pictured above), is going into camp with Dan Carpenter, who was placed on injured reserve at the end of last season.
Dustin Hopkins is headed from Florida State to Buffalo, where he should have no problem out-kicking an aged Rian Lindell. Punter Sam Martin might have the biggest hill to climb with the Detroit Lions and Blake Clingan, but at the very least he should handle some kickoff duties.
Now, with all due respect to Rich Eisen's "Punters are People Too!!" movement, on to the positional players!
Nick Kasa (TE, Oakland Raiders)
Bleacher Report's own Cecil Lammey has been doing radio in Denver for a while—including Colorado Buffaloes pregame—so he's been all in on Kasa since he was moved to tight end from the defensive side of the ball. Here's what Cecil wrote for the New York Times during Senior Bowl week:
Kasa showed good athleticism when coming back to the ball and running after the catch. Kasa was able to go low and scoop in a pass with a safety draped all over his back. He does a good job of squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and creating the biggest possible target for his quarterback.
The Raiders aren't quite sure who will be quarterbacking their offense this season (more on that later! foreshadowing!), but whoever it is will need a big old security blanket. Kasa can do that and more.
He has the athleticism to create mismatches and could end up being one of the more dynamic players on their offense in 2013.
Akeem Spence (DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Defensive tackle Gary Gibson is currently slated to play next to Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Pro Football Focus had Gibson as the 42nd-ranked defensive tackle last season (paid link), but he only played 287 snaps. Compare that to McCoy's near-1000 snaps, and it's easy to question whether Gibson—a 31-year-old journeyman—is the full-time answer.
Spence, a fantastic tackle prospect out of Illinois, is packed with potential, and the Buccaneers actually traded up to grab him in the fourth round. The team's site raved about him after his selection:
Spence, a high-school weightlifting champion in Florida who impressed scouts with 37 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, played primarily in a 4-3 defensive front at Illinois. Known for both his power and a quick first step, he split his reps between the nose tackle and the three-technique positions and is seen as a potential three-down player.
The Buccaneers put a lot of effort into reshaping their defensive backfield this offseason with high-quality players like cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. They need a player like Spence up front to help those defensive backs get their hands on a few extra errant passes.
Zac Stacy (RB, St. Louis Rams)
Stacy already has a lot of fans among my more fantasy football-inclined peers. The idea is simple: Someone has to replace a lot of the carries that Steven Jackson may have otherwise received in St. Louis.
Daryl Richardson did well with his 98 carries last season, and Isaiah Pead may have plenty of upside, but there's a chance Stacy gets a shot at the starting role in 2013.
Stacy has the tools of a starting back. He's bruising and powerful, showcases great vision and can be very productive.
While Richardson and Pead both may be able to earn their fair share of work this season, Stacy should be the lead horse in this stable.
Washington Redskins Defensive Backs
The Washington Redskins drafted cornerback David Amerson in the second round of the draft. Then, they followed up with safeties Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Frankly, there's an outside shot that all three play major roles for the Redskins this season, but it's almost certain that one will win a starting job in camp.
The smart money is on Amerson, who could easily fill a void at cornerback across from Josh Wilson. However, with DeAngelo Hall still kicking around and E.J. Biggers coming over in free agency, he doesn't have as clear of a shot as he might like. He was also torched early and often at North Carolina State last season, so there may need to be more polish on that gem.
Thomas and Rambo could both step into a starting safety position by Week 1. Neither Reed Doughty or Brandon Meriweather are any sort of sure thing and both can be just as much of a liability in coverage as a rookie.
Mike Gillislee (RB, Miami Dolphins)
Like Stacy in St. Louis, Gillislee joins a backfield already crowded by good young talent. Running backs Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller have both been acquired in recent drafts—Thomas to complement Reggie Bush and Miller to replace him. Now, with Bush gone, it's a race to see who ends up with his share of the carries.
Thomas, by all accounts, has been a bit of disappointment at the pro level. Miller still has untapped potential. Gillislee, with plenty of rushing talent plus the ability to pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield, offers a well-rounded option in the starting lineup.
Earl Watford (OG, Arizona Cardinals)
This is a drum that I've been beating as loudly as possible since former Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer was added as the trigger man for Bruce Arians' offense. With Palmer as the next in line of guys like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, it's clear that he will be asked to stand tall and deliver the ball down the field to his receivers.
Know what happens when a quarterback tries that and has next-to-zero protection? The best-case scenario is what Luck was able to accomplish last year with the Indianapolis Colts. However, Palmer is no Luck, and there's a chance things could go much more poorly than that if protection isn't improved.
Watford is transitioning from a small school, and I got to watch him up close at the East-West Shrine Game this spring. Although he struggled on the first day, Watford quickly gained his composure in later practices before suffering an injury that didn't let him finish the week.
He has all the physical tools and won't have any more speed bumps than whoever else might end up as a starting guard for the Cardinals.
Johnathan Franklin (RB Green Bay Packers)
For years, the Green Bay Packers offense ran like the metabolism of a high school student—it burned brightly no matter what sort of ingredient general manager Ted Thompson put into it.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was good enough to win without a run game. Heck, at times, it seemed like head coach Mike McCarthy wanted to win without a run game just to prove a point.
Yet just as we all must realize that Big Macs and gallons of Mountain Dew are not truly healthy for us, the Packers have finally realized that their lack of a running game was going to get Rodgers killed. Opponents were teeing off on him and the defense wasn't good enough to keep the score from running sky high—again, putting more pressure on the passing game.
Fellow rookie running back Eddie Lacy is a great back. If 100 percent healthy at the start of the season, there's a chance he could be the guy to get the starting nod. However, Franklin offers more explosiveness and receiving ability out of the backfield. Lacy can be a powerful weapon for the Pack, but Franklin fits in a lot better with the good things they already have going on.
Jesse Williams or Jordan Hill (DT, Seattle Seahawks)
Most talented #NFL roster? I polled 13 different execs and only 2 teams received votes. (SF-11 votes, SEA-2 votes).— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 10, 2013
That talented roster is going to make things difficult for any of the Seahawks rookies. However, one of these two talented defensive tackles has a shot to work their way into the starting lineup before the beginning of this season.
The Seahawks defense is a bit of a niche animal that doesn't correlate with what a lot of fans know about the standard 4-3 defense. In short, any defense that considers this man a defensive end obviously has some quirks to it.
However, the defense is also really flexible and can use moving parts to get the best 11 men on the field. Note: A more detailed and graphically inclined breakdown of the defensive scheme can be found here.
Both Williams and Hill have the raw physical talent to succeed at the next level. It would not be surprising if one of them pulled a Russell Wilson and supplanted a member of the starting lineup regardless of where they were drafted.
Gerald Hodges or Mike Mauti (LB, Minnesota Vikings)
The moment Hodges was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, I got up out of my seat a little bit. No, I don't have any hidden love for either the player or the team, though I did cover the latter professionally at one point.
Simply put: I geek out when value meets need in a perfect way, especially in the later rounds of the draft.
Then, when Mauti was drafted, I flipped back and forth on my notes between the two former Penn State teammates.
Frankly, if Mauti is healthy, there's little reason he couldn't fill the giant hole currently on the Vikings roster. His rehab is going well, and he could be the impact player Minnesota needs in the middle of its defense.
Both of these players are athletic in space and fantastic leaders. I wouldn't hesitate to put the little green dot (to indicate running the defense) on these young men's helmets early in their careers.
Barrett Jones (OL, St. Louis Rams)
Although more focus ends up on the protection issues of teams like the Green Bay Packers or New York Jets, the Rams have had their fair share of blocking breakdowns recently. Offensive tackle Jake Long was brought over from Miami, but even he has some question marks after a down season.
Jones lasted until the fourth round after a stellar career at Alabama which saw him excel at several different positions and win a couple of national championships. So, the question is not if he'll find a starting shot on the Rams offensive line, but where it would be.
Matt Barkley (QB, Philadelphia Eagles)
Barkley didn't fit the profile that a lot of us had for Chip Kelly's first NFL quarterback, but there's a solid chance he ends up fitting exactly into that role.
In fact, having a high-percentage short-area passer in the NFL complements the run game just as much as, if not more than, having an athletic quarterback who can run. Remember, these aren't the same Pac-12 defenses that Kelly's quarterbacks were able to run away from in Eugene.
Yes, Mike Vick is in the way right now, but Barkley is clearly the future. If he fits the mold of what Kelly is looking for, he should be able to beat Vick out in camp.
Tyler Wilson (QB, Oakland Raiders)
If 2013 is anything like 2012, quarterback Matt Flynn could find himself usurped by another Wilson after falling behind Russell Wilson in Seattle last season. After a fortuitous landing spot and a good rookie minicamp, Wilson is quickly becoming one of my favorite later-round rookies in this class.
He fell because the final year at Arkansas was atrocious. Bobby Petrino had left town—another program left in his wake—and many of his top receivers from the year before were in the NFL. However, any look back to 2011 tape shows a young passer who clearly has every ability to succeed in the NFL.
With all apologies to Flynn, who may start to get a complex if this happens, Wilson should be the starter in Oakland this season.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.