2014 NFL Draft: Top 8 Late-Round Prospects Your Team Needs

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IMarch 21, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Top 8 Late-Round Prospects Your Team Needs

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    There is little debate about the importance of early draft picks on the success of NFL teams. It goes without saying that if you lose consistently with your first- and second-round picks, your franchise will struggle.

    However, it has likewise become more and more of a given that teams who win late in the draft are also better for it. In fact, looking at the 2012 Week 1 rosters, the number of players who were drafted in the seventh round, or were signed as undrafted free agents, outnumbered the number of players selected in the first and second rounds combined by a count of 552-491.

    Numbers like this further validate the importance of a team's scouting staff. They must be willing to put in the work and find these lesser-known prospects that other teams miss. But why do good players fall so far?

    Playing at small schools is a part of the equation. Playing at a small college keeps prospects off the national radar and they are forced to go grassroots to get their name out there. However, even once they do some teams will devalue even great production because of the level of competition. How much of this is the case is a matter for debate, but it does hold some validity.

    Another reason a player can slide down draft boards is injury. There is nothing more tragic than seeing a good player go down with a serious injury in their final college season. If they are not in a position to play, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind. And if they cannot get well in time to show it before the draft, teams aren't going to risk high picks on them.

    This means a studious franchise can snatch up well-known prospects late in the draft. They can then stash them away for a year and hope they come back healthy in their second season and be ready to roll.

    We've already talked about sure things early in the draft. Then we decided to delve into some mid-round sleepers. Now it is important to dig even deeper. These are sixth-round guys and beyond who can straight-up play. If your team is lucky enough to get a guy or two off this list, you could see them playing on Sundays sooner rather than later.

    Unless specified, all stats courtesy of cfbstats

John Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburg State

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    There are things that can be coached, and some that cannot. One of those things that no amount of coaching can create is speed. Not just speed, but elite speed. That's what Pittsburg State wide receiver John Brown brings to the table. Brown wowed at the NFL scouting combine by running a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash.

    And trust that Brown's film backs up the stopwatch as best it can. He played in a run-heavy offense with the Gorillas, and was rarely showcased in the passing game. However, in three seasons as a starter, Brown amassed 185 receptions for 3,378 yards. One can only wonder what he could have done if he would have played in a pass-first offense with an above-average quarterback.

    Brown's speed makes him nearly impossible to run with. He is full speed in just a few steps and does a nice job dealing with press coverage. His hands are a bit small, but he doesn't do a lot of body catching like you would expect. In the open field Brown is electric and very difficult to bring down.

    Brown is raw, and his route-tree is limited. However, his ability to separate from defenders is impossible to coach. Mix in his ability to return kicks and some team is going to get a tremendous playmaker late on Day 3.

Shaquil Barrett, Defensive End, Colorado State

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    It is difficult to imagine that a conference's defensive player of the year would be a late-round pick. However, that's the spot that Colorado State defensive end/linebacker Shaquil Barrett finds himself in. The film on Barrett is solid. His measurables are also comparable to many other players who will be drafted ahead of him. Yet, it seems as if he cannot get the mainstream respect he deserves.

    Barrett's selling point to the NFL is going to be his ability to rush the passer. He's got a compact frame with long arms. He is also quite adept at extending quickly at the snap, using solid technique and turning the corner. At 260 pounds, you would expect Barrett to be better at setting the edge against the run, but he very much prefers to pursue where he can disengage and chase.

    Some team, in particular one with a 3-4 scheme, is going to see his length and motor and take a shot on him. Barrett is more athletic than he shows at times and if he can get a bit more fit, could find himself a starting spot as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. As with most of the players on this list, it is polish and coaching they lack. Barrett is a hard worker, and would respond well to effective coaching.

Matt Hazel, Wide Receiver, Costal Carolina

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    Seeing Coastal Carolina wide receiver Matt Hazel on this list is an indication of just how deep this wide receiver class is. Hazel is a long, lean receiver with what could be considered a slight build. At 6'3", you'd like to see a receiver a bit heavier than 190 pounds. However, nothing on film shows that Hazel struggles due to his size.

    Hazel's game has all the marks of a classic possession receiver. He has a tremendous catch radius and great confidence in his hands. Hazel understands how to use his length and his leaping to go get the football even when a throw isn't great.

    What Hazel doesn't show a lot of on film is the desire to fight for extra yards. This is due in part from his size. That mentality has probably been ingrained in him to go down rather than risk an injury.

    If a team with a strong primary wide receiver wants to take a flier on Hazel, it could pay off quickly. He may never be the big-play guy his body and measureables would indicate. However, he is going to make the tough catch and move the chains. In a league that covets the deep ball, this is a lost art and an area Hazel excels at. Hazel would be a steal anywhere after the fifth round.

Isaiah Crowell, Running Back, Alabama State

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    Sometimes a player falls in the draft because the risk of drafting them outweighs the reward. That may be the case with Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell.

    An elite recruit, Crowell was headed to the University of Georgia, keen to dominate the SEC. However, after a series of unfortunate events, Crowell was dismissed from the Georgia football program and landed at Alabama State.

    Since then, Crowell has kept his nose clean and racked up 1,963 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. At 5'11 and 224 pounds, Crowell runs with a great blend of size and power that seems tailor-made for the NFL. However, even with two years without incident, can he be trusted? And is nearly 2,000 yards against inferior defenses enough for teams to roll the dice?

    If he can be had late enough, the answer is a resounding yes. Crowell has grown into the physical back we see now. He's not the most agile or shifty, but he goes downhill. His pad level is good, and he drives with his legs.

    If a team can keep him focused and on track, he could be a productive NFL starter. All of the tools are there, but in a deep class the fear of the unknown will push him down.

Aaron Colvin, Cornerback, Oklahoma

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    There was a time when Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin was among the very top of the rankings at his position. However, a torn ACL after the season put his draft stock in jeopardy. Colvin has been unable to show NFL teams anything in terms of a recovery at this point.

    With less than two months to the draft, it is reaching that point where his inability to run is going to drive him well into the later rounds.

    When healthy, Colvin is a very good defensive back. His exact role on a defense depends on what you are asking of him. Colvin played both safety and cornerback at Oklahoma, but did so at a weight of around 192 pounds.

    At the scouting combine, he weighed in at a much more slight 177 pounds. It's understandable that he is a bit lighter due to rehab from his injury, but it does raise some concerns.

    Do you draft Colvin in hopes of his returning to better than 190 pounds, where he could be an exceptional free safety? Or, if he stays closer to 180 pounds, can be a good zone cornerback?

    Depending on the way a team answers these and other questions about his future will determine where he ultimately ends up. If a team needs immediate help in the secondary, Colvin probably isn't your guy.

Jeremy Butler, Wide Receiver, Tennessee-Martin

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    Tennessee-Martin wide receiver Jeremy Butler is the third wide receiver to make this list. Of all the underrated and small-school wide receivers in this draft, Butler might have the most complete skill set of any of them. He's got an NFL physique (6'3", 224 pounds) and nice length.

    So many teams want these long receivers who can utilize their frames to get position on defenders. Most teams understand it is ideal to have wide receivers who can run away from defenses, but most accept that more catches will be made contested.

    This is a strength of Butler's game. He is also quite good at finding voids in zone defenses and giving his quarterback a nice, big target. Butler isn't going to break a lot of long touchdowns, but much like a bigger version of Hazel, he is going to make the tough catch and keep the chains moving.

    One wide receiver who has been getting the underrated label is Mississippi's Donte Moncrief. Comparing them side-by-side, it is difficult to imagine anything about Moncrief's game that stands out ahead of Butler. Nevertheless, most concede Moncrief is a third-round pick at this point. If your team can get Butler a couple of rounds later, they will have a great talent to work with.

Silas Redd, Running Back, USC

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    USC running back Silas Redd is in a similar situation to Colvin. Recovering from multiple knee injuries and unable to show his wares to the NFL. 2013 was completely forgettable for Redd as he battled injuries all year. This almost certainly qualifies him for an injury-prone label; if the league thinks you're damaged goods, your future is bleak.

    However, if you go back to 2011 film of Redd you see the type of player he was. Dynamic and agile with deceptive speed and vision. The fact he has failed to repeat the 1,241-yard performance is going to give teams pause. And with running back already undervalued, there's a real chance he isn't drafted at all.

    Nevertheless, as a reclamation project, Redd has promise. There's virtually no risk in bringing him in as a free agent. Get him to a practice squad and let him get healthy, and you might have yourself a solid contributor with almost no risk.

Alden Darby, Safety, Arizona State

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    Being a safety in the NFL means you have to wear a lot of hats. Everything from playing multiple coverages to stopping the run and blitzing the quarterback. NFL safeties are called upon to do it all. That means if you are more of a uni-tasker at safety, you are in much less demand by NFL teams.

    That's the spot Arizona State safety Alden Darby find himself. Darby has decent size at 5'10" and 190 pounds, but lacks the range of many of the top safeties in the draft. Darby's draft situation is compounded because Darby didn't get an invitation to the combine. This would have been a great opportunity for him to work next to the other top safeties.

    If he'd been invited, teams would have seen some impressive straight-line speed. In the right scheme, where he is focused on moving less laterally and keeping his head facing the line of scrimmage, he can be quite effective, even in coverage. It is hard to see Darby higher than a sixth-round pick, but in the proper system he could be a starter.