Year in and year out, there are several players who outperform the expectations of where they were chosen in the NFL draft.
In other words, these players were steals.
This year, there are a handful of players who will be taken in the first round who are sure to star in the NFL. Maybe there are several other talented players at their position or they were late bloomers.
Either way, teams will regret passing on these players.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
In a receiver class that is headlined by Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC’s Marqise Lee, Beckham has seemingly flown under the radar.
The reasoning for that is not particularly clear.
In three seasons with the Tigers, the New Orleans, La., native showcased his talent on a weekly basis. That was most especially evident last season when he hauled in 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns.
But while those numbers fall short when compared to the receiving statistics of Watkins (101 REC, 1,464 YDS, 12 TD) and Evans (69 REC, 1,394 YDS, 12 TD), it’s Beckham’s all-around ability that makes him stand out.
Aside from catching the ball, he has also proven to be effective in the return game. Last season, Beckham returned 19 punts for 160 yards and 32 kickoffs for 845 yards.
But Beckham is careful not to give into any hype.
“It’s crazy to be in a class like this and have all these receivers out there,” he said, per Mlive.com’s Kyle Meinke. “I’d definitely say I’m up there with one of the best. It all depends on what a team needs, and what teams like you.”
Beckham certainly made his case during the NFL Scouting Combine last month. He finished sixth among receivers in the 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds) and looked impressive in the receiving drills.
With excellent route-running, big-play ability and versatility to contribute from all over the field, Beckham is a steal for whichever team takes him.
Khalil Mack, ILB, Buffalo
Coming from a small school like Buffalo, it was expected that Mack wouldn’t initially receive too much attention.
Still, it’s hard to deny his performance during the 2013 campaign. In 13 games, the Fort Pierce, Fla., native recorded 100 tackles (19.0 for loss), 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and three passes intercepted (two for touchdowns).
But judging by his performances at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, Mack saved his best for last.
According to NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, his pro day gave his draft stock a serious boost:
In recent weeks, other NFL analysts have jumped on board the Mack train. He’s a frequent top-five pick in most mock drafts with some placing the Bulls standout as high as No. 1.
Whether or not the Houston Texans will select Mack at No. 1 is still up in the air, but there’s no doubt that he will be a star in the league.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert broke out in his senior campaign at Stillwater.
In 13 games, he recorded 42 tackles, seven pass breakups and seven interceptions (two touchdowns). The Huntsville, Tx., native also contributed in the return game, taking back 18 kicks for 453 yards and a score.
But while his performance last season ignited the rise in his draft stock, Gilbert’s combine results cemented it.
First, he impressed in the 40-yard dash, posting a 4.37 time that showed off his speed. Next, Gilbert finished second among corners in the bench press with a stellar 20 reps.
Any team that drafts him will be getting a corner that has the strength and physicality to out-muscle receivers off the line. Gilbert also has the kind of vision and play-making ability that will have quarterbacks thinking twice before throwing in his direction.
He’s certainly a player to watch come draft day.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats, rankings and other information are courtesy of ESPN.com.