With so much depth across multiple positions, the 2014 NFL draft offers teams the opportunity to come away with some major steals outside the first round.
It is still hugely important to come through with solid first-round selections, but franchises will have plenty of chances throughout the draft to bring in impact players. Prospects fall down draft boards for seemingly innocuous reasons every year, and 2014 is no different in that regard.
Here are three prospects who will be taken well below their true value but who will ultimately prove to be major steals for the teams that select them.
With so much attention being paid to Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro, to a lesser extent, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has become a forgotten man. The tight end position is arguably more important now than ever before in the NFL, yet one of the most intriguing all-around tight ends to enter the draft in quite some time is considered a second-rounder at best.
At 6'5" and 262 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins is bigger than many defensive ends. Add in the fact that he has soft hands and a nose for the end zone, and there is a lot to like about the University of Washington standout's ability to translate to the NFL level.
Perhaps the two biggest things holding Seferian-Jenkins back are a stress fracture in his foot and perceived character issues. Seferian-Jenkins expects his foot to be healed in the near future, though, according to Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk.
Also, the character issues are overblown. Per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Seferian-Jenkins admitted to being charged with driving under the influence, but he chalked it up to a one-time mistake that won't happen again.
Plenty of players have received third, fourth and even fifth chances, so Seferian-Jenkins certainly deserves an opportunity to prove himself. According to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports 1, the 21-year-old comes across as a mature individual:
That is definitely a plus in his favor, but his on-field ability will ultimately dictate his NFL success. After hauling in 69 receptions for 852 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, Seferian-Jenkins took a big step back in terms of production last season with 36 catches for 450 yards, although he did muster eight scores.
Since the Huskies focused so much on the running game, Seferian-Jenkins was asked to block more than he was asked to make plays in the passing game. He excelled in that area, and he shouldn't be punished for it.
In fact, NFL Network's Charles Davis believes that Seferian-Jenkins' all-around game makes him the most complete tight end in the 2014 class, according to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com.
I've heard great reports on him lately. He's cut weight and looks like he's headed in an upper track and is the number two tight end. He should have always been challenging to be the number one tight end in this draft. I think he's more complete than Eric Ebron when his game is on.
Despite his upward trend, it still looks as though he will be taken in the second round at the earliest. A number of teams could potentially benefit from a tight end like Seferian-Jenkins, but look for the Buffalo Bills to strike at No. 41 and land the best tight end in the entire draft.
Running back has become somewhat of a forgotten position in general in the NFL draft over the past several years. Due to the fact that capable backs can be found in the mid-to-late rounds and even as undrafted free agents, there isn't much urgency in terms of trying to grab one on Day 1 or even Day 2 of the draft.
That will hurt the running back crop as a whole, but it is especially troubling for Ka'Deem Carey. The University of Arizona product enjoyed a spectacular career with the Wildcats, and he looked to be one of the top running back prospects in the draft. But ordinary pre-draft workouts have caused his stock to slip.
Which player will be the biggest steal in the 2014 NFL draft?
Carey isn't a particularly big back at 5'9" and 207 pounds, so the perception is that he will have to use his speed to succeed in the NFL. Unfortunately, he clocked in at 4.70 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. That shouldn't be the only thing that scouts look at, but that is the nature of the beast when it comes to talent evaluation.
The fact is that Carey was one of the most productive running backs in college football over the past two seasons. He averaged better than 1,900 yards rushing per season in 2012 and 2013, he found the end zone a total of 44 times during that stretch and he even proved to be a capable pass-catcher.
One observer who believes that teams are making a big mistake by sleeping on Carey is NFL.com's Bucky Brooks. According to Brooks, Carey has what it takes to be a star in the NFL.
I continue to believe Ka'Deem Carey will be a standout running back in the NFL despite his poor performance in the 40 in workouts. Although he is not an elite athlete, Carey is the most natural runner in the draft. He exhibits outstanding vision, balance and body control with the ball in his hands, yet is a violent runner who consistently runs through contact to fall forward at the end of runs. Carey's punishing running style belies his slender frame, but it is one of the reasons I believe he will excel as a feature back in a zone-based running scheme.
One team that could make for an interesting fit is the Tennessee Titans. After releasing Chris Johnson, they don't necessary have a true bell-cow back. Carey could be that guy within Tennessee's blocking scheme, and he would make a lot of sense for the Titans with the 12th pick of the fourth round.
The 2014 draft is rich with talent at offensive tackle, but University of Tennessee star Antonio Richardson hasn't received much hype. For teams that miss out on elite prospects such as Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, though, he has the ability to provide similar production.
At 6'6" and 336 pounds, Richardson is a mountain of a man who dwarfs essentially anyone he comes up against. His mobility is obviously somewhat of a concern, but he is extremely difficult to get past once he engages in a block.
Richardson had to deal with some of the most explosive pass-rushers in college football in the SEC, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reports that his peers felt as though he stacked up quite well:
Several of the college defensive ends I've talked with feel like Antonio Richardson was one of the best blockers in the SEC.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 16, 2014
Richardson impressed at the combine with 36 bench press reps, which was tied for the second-highest total. Even if he doesn't pan out as a tackle in the NFL, that strength should allow him to kick inside to guard quite effectively.
He was Tennessee's starting left tackle for the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons, and although left tackle may be a reach for Richardson in the NFL, he could be an elite right tackle if he lands in an ideal situation.
Every team in the league is looking for offensive line depth, but the Miami Dolphins may be at the top of that list. They would benefit from help at both tackle and guard, and they would be wise to select Richardson with the 17th pick of the third round due to his potential versatility in the NFL.
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