NFL Draft: 3 Prospects Poised to Be Late-Round Steals

Dan GriffinContributor IIIMarch 3, 2014

NFL Draft: 3 Prospects Poised to Be Late-Round Steals

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The NFL is a copycat league and with the Seahawks' victory in the Super Bowl, everyone will be copying their formula. It can be broken down into two parts—employing long, rangy corners that excel at press coverage and finding late round gems that produce at a high level. The latter of the two is arguably the most difficult to accomplish. For every Richard Sherman, there are dozens of players who don’t contribute.

    This year’s crop of players include a number of intriguing prospects that most likely will come off the board on the third day of the draft but could offer teams the most bang for their buck. Some of these players have slipped due to off-field issues while others have slipped due to inexperience. The one thing they have in common is their potential to excel at the next level, provided they can convince a team to take a chance on them.

    With this year’s draft being one of the deepest in recent memory, there are a number of candidates who can potentially be late-round steals. However, to paraphrase the age-old saying, not every prospect is made equal. There are certain players who are in a better position to be these coveted late-round gems. So without further ado, let’s see who three of these players are.

Jerick McKinnon: Running Back, Georgia Southern

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    McKinnon is the definition of a Swiss Army knife: He played quarterback, running back, corner, safety and receiver in college. His jack-of-all-trades ability makes him both an intriguing prospect, as well as an enigma with questions.

    One of the questions revolving around McKinnon regards his lack of experience at any one position. He worked primarily as a quarterback out of the triple option his junior year and then running back his senior year. He isn’t the greatest pure runner out there but he is one of the best pure athletes.

    His athleticism was on display at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was a top performer at every drill. He posted a 4.41 40-yard dash and did 32 reps on the bench press. He also posted a vertical jump of 40.5 inches, solidifying that he is a strong, explosive athlete despite his diminutive size (5’9” 209 lbs). He also displayed very fluid movements during the drills and looked very natural on the field.

    His combine performance will get teams to go back and look at the tape. His athletic ability alone will get him drafted. He just needs to show that he can focus on one position, most likely running back. Then he can start making the most out of his talent.

    His strength will make him a good third-down running back in the mold of Isaac Redman. His 40-yard dash time shows that he has short-range explosiveness that would make him a good red-zone runner. He isn’t a threat to break off 80-yard runs as he does lose steam down the stretch, like in this video. Still, he is immensely talented and should get a shot as a third-down/short-yardage specialist or change-of-pace back.

     

    Teams that could draft him:

    New York Giants

    Jerry Reese has had good luck picking up productive running backs late in the draft (Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Ahmad Bradshaw). With David Wilson’s neck in question, this could be a position the Giants hit multiple times in the draft.

    Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers boast on of the most expensive backfields in the league, yet all three are either aging or coming off injury. Fullback Mike Tolbert may be on the way out, either this year or next, since his average cap hit over the next two years is nearly 3.4 million, a high number for someone who rushed for less than 400 yards last season. McKinnon could come in and fill a similar role to Tolbert as a bowling-ball back and do it at a much cheaper price.

Colt Lyerla: Tight End, Oregon

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    There isn’t a player in this draft coming in with more off-the-field issues than Lyerla. His last year at Oregon was marred by inconsistent play, dismissal from the team, and a cocaine-related arrest. Once one of college’s most promising and athletic tight ends, Lyerla has many demons to exorcise. But if he does, he could be the biggest steal of this draft.

    Lyerla needed a good combine to prove that he should be drafted and that’s exactly what he had. He showed his athleticism by posting the best broad jump and vertical jump among the tight end group (128” and 39” respectively). He did run a slower-than-expected 4.61 in the 40, though it still was good enough to place him third among tight ends.

    One knock on his performance was posting only 15 reps on the bench press, lowest in the group. However, this can be attributed to the fact that he could train for only a few weeks prior to the combine due to circumstances surrounding his arrest.

    The biggest win for Lyerla was media day. As expected, he went through a grueling interview process that focused on his cocaine arrest and quitting on his team. But he did not shy away from these subjects. He emphasized that he messed up and was looking for a chance to redeem himself:

    I think the biggest thing for me is just to be honest and to show remorse where remorse is due and just do my best to prove that I've changed and I'm changing and I've matured since I made those mistakes.

    If Lyerla was serious during his interview, he may just salvage his NFL career. He has the talent and he has the potential. Still it is going to be an uphill battle, especially given the evaluation Nolan Nawrocki on NFL.com gave of Lyerla:

    Has overcome a lot of adversity stemming back to his youth and defied the odds to become an impactful performer... Would benefit tremendously from a coach willing to serve as a strong father figure.

    The adversity he mentions stems from a myriad of childhood issues. Justis Mosqueda on optimumscouting.com wrote an article in which he explains Lyerla's father left for several months following a divorce, leaving him without a true father figure. While most coaches end up becoming father figures to players, it is something that happens over time. To expect a coach to instantly become a dad to a player who has just been drafted is asking a bit much and could potentially turn teams off.

    Nevertheless, if a team has a strong core of coaches and is willing to overlook his past and focus on his future, he can be a real asset. He has to realize he is only going to get one chance and if he screws it up, it’s over.

    Teams that could draft him:

    Pittsburgh Steelers

    The Steelers are the perfect example of a strong coaching core. Since 1969, the Steelers have had only three head coaches and Mike Tomlin doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. This would be the perfect situation for Lyerla as Tomlin’s work ethic would keep him busy. Since Tomlin is expected to be around for awhile, it would allow a relationship to develop.

    There also is a strong group of leaders in the locker room that would help him stay out of trouble. Pittsburgh has been known to take chances on players with troubled pasts. Since the Steelers still have Heath Miller, Lyerla wouldn’t be expected to start, so it would give him time to settle in and learn the playbook without getting overwhelmed.

    New Orleans Saints

    Much like the Steelers, the Saints have a coach who doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon and they wouldn’t need Lyerla to start. Given the situation with Jimmy Graham, the Saints need some insurance in case things don’t work out and Lyerla is every bit as athletic.

AJ McCarron: Quarterback, Alabama

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    AJ McCarron is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in collegiate history. He is a proven winner, being the only QB with two BCS Championships. He also proved to be one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the toughest division in the NCAA. Yet, there still were some mock drafts that consider him only a fourth-round pick or later.

    McCarron was the hardest player to include here because I think he is a second-round talent and challenges David Carr as the best second-tier QB. He had a very good combine, showing good accuracy and timing in throwing drills.

    Despite all this, he still is generally viewed as a game-manager who benefited from a strong supporting cast at Alabama. Scouts question his lack of arm strength. They fear he will not be able to make all throws on the route tree. 

    While he isn’t the most physically gifted QB in this draft, he balances it out by having some of the best instincts. His instincts and big-game experience are going to be coveted attributes that will make him an excellent quarterback to develop.

    Teams that could draft him:

    Denver Broncos

    Peyton Manning is one of the best to ever play the position but we all know he is in the twilight of his career. Elway and company drafted Brock Osweiler a few years ago to be the successor but McCarron fits the system better than the big-armed behemoth. McCarron is best throwing short and intermediate routes, much like Manning, and has the smarts to quickly pick up the offense.

    Green Bay Packers

    Things did not turn out well for Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers went down with injury. They went 2-4-1 and would have missed the playoffs if it weren’t for a flop by the Lions. Matt Flynn was brought back and did a serviceable job keeping them afloat, but a better option for the future is needed. McCarron wouldn’t be viewed as the successor to Rodgers as he has a number of good years left. But getting to work under Rodgers and Mike McCarthy would be invaluable experience and could land him a starting job in a few years.