2014 NFL Draft: Impact Players Who Can Be Had Outside of the First Round
An impact player doesn’t have to be the best prospect a team secures on draft day or the most coveted prospect it hopes to land with its draft picks. An impact player is a player who can provide a spark during a drive, a game or a whole season thanks to a special skill set that can help decide the team’s fate.
While many of those impact players can be found in Round 1 (Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron and Jadeveon Clowney to name a few), there are a handful of prospects teams can hope to secure after the first 32 picks who can still trigger excitement and big plays in the NFL. Here are eight of those potential impact prospects.
Dri Archer, RB/KR, Kent State
After a blazing 40-time at the combine (4.26 seconds), even casual football fans began to learn the name of this draft’s top speedster, Dri Archer. But on film, Archer has always shown breakaway speed and big-play ability when he gets space in the open field while at Kent State, getting work at running back, receiver and returner.
At just 5’8” and 173 pounds, Archer isn’t built to last as a full-time running back. However, he’s grown as a receiver over his college career, and getting work as a slot receiver as well as a speedy edge runner should allow him a role in most versatile offenses. Plus, he’s this draft’s best returner and could quickly emerge as one of the NFL’s best by the end of his rookie season.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Despite his inconsistent play as a redshirt junior, Brandon Coleman has shown enough during his Rutgers career to be worthy of a top-100 pick and potentially an impact receiver early in his NFL career. At 6’6”, 225 pounds and posting a 4.56 40-time, the measurables are clearly in his favor to be an NFL starter, and his sophomore film showcased the production he's capable of.
While his film this season was full of lackluster separation and a failure to consistently impact the Rutgers offense, his quarterback play and playing through a knee injury limited what he could show in 2013. His upside speaks for itself with his length, size and vertical speed, and while he won’t land in the first round, he could easily be one of the best receivers from this class in a few years.
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
After three years splitting time between football and basketball at South Carolina, Bruce Ellington opted to focus on football as a senior and lead the Gamecocks in receiving. Few receivers in this class have the same after-the-catch elusiveness and explosive vertical route-running capability that Ellington boasts, despite some limited versatility in his receiver development.
His explosiveness as a receiver (and returner) is what should allow him to make an instant impression for his NFL team and should cause him to be highly coveted early on Day 2 of the draft. He’ll be able to slide into a slot receiver position and contribute as a rookie, and he has a lot of potential to improve now that he’s fully focused on football.
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
A.C. Leonard is a former Florida transfer who has made a name for himself at the lower level as a versatile and uniquely used tight end. On film, the Tennessee State offense used him as an outside receiver, slot receiver, H-back and in-line tight end, and he’s caught passes from every area. A plus-athlete who transitions from pass-catcher to runner smoothly, Leonard plays like an over-sized receiver to the benefit of his offense.
While a charge of misdemeanor battery in July of 2012 (story via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com) will give teams pause when they consider drafting him, his on-field skill set should force some team to deem him worthy of the risk and worthy of a draft selection. If he isn’t a problem off the field when he reaches the NFL, the potential influence he can have on an offense could be reminiscent of that which Aaron Hernandez had with the Patriots before his legal troubles.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Injuries derailed his college career, but Florida’s Dominique Easley has undeniable interior pass-rushing talent, so important in today’s NFL game. And after a successful pro day workout, according to Scott Carter of GatorZone.com, teams may be a bit less worried about his past knee injuries and how they relate to his future NFL success.
Tremendously active with his hands and maintaining balance as an upfield penetrator remarkably well, Easley has a home in the NFL as a movable pass-rusher defensive coordinators can utilize in a variety of ways. Few, if any, interior defenders have the upside Easley does, and if he can remain healthy, he’ll be a steal for the second-round team that scoops him up.
Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville
One of my favorite defenders in the 2014 draft, Marcus Smith is a remarkably quick and explosive edge-rusher who could fit in a Wide-9 4-3 defense or as a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 defense. Smith, who burst onto the scene this year with 14.5 sacks for the Louisville defense, has performed well in the postseason workouts, showcasing elite speed to power at the Senior Bowl in multiple drills and not disappointing during the NFL combine.
While his lack of a defined position and only one year of college success may limit how high he goes on draft day, his value as a pass-rushing second-rounder could be perfect for a team needing a spark on the edge. Getting pressure on the quarterback is of the utmost importance for NFL teams, and Smith has shown flashes that he could translate his college success to professional sacks quickly in the NFL.
Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson were highly touted recruits when they landed at Florida and had a lot of 2013 preseason buzz around them. But the best cornerback on the Florida roster last year was Jaylen Watkins, despite splitting time between cornerback and safety as a senior.
While his arm length (just 30 5/8”) is a concern in his ability against bigger receivers, especially vertically, his play as a senior and during Senior Bowl practices proved he can handle top-level receivers on the interior and vertically. He's active with his hands, changes directions quickly and has fantastic timing/instincts for a college player, making him pro-ready, and he could step into the NFL and be a team’s feature nickel cornerback.
Jimmie Ward, SAF, Northern Illinois
Jimmie Ward is undersized, measuring in at just 5’11” at the NFL Scouting Combine. Jimmie Ward doesn’t have a set NFL position, as he’s a mix between an underweight strong safety and an undersized cornerback. But Jimmie Ward is a playmaker today’s NFL defenses should covet on draft day, thanks to his versatility, timing and physicality across the field.
His ability to play safety and nickel cornerback (arguably the most impressive cover cornerback during Senior Bowl drills) fits into what NFL defensive coordinators covet in a fifth “starting” defensive back, and his knack for making big hits and big plays in college should translate to the NFL. He’s the most likely player on this list to land in the first round, but if he somehow slips out of the first, he’ll be able to provide an instant impact for a lucky second-round team.
All combine results via NFL.com.