2011 NFL Draft: 6 Unheralded Players Who Will Be the Steals of the Draft

Jason HeimCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: 6 Unheralded Players Who Will Be the Steals of the Draft

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    The NFL Draft, more than any other pro sports draft, is about drafting well in the late rounds.  In no sport is it more important to do your late-round homework than in tackle football.

    Year after year, unheralded names from the draft's final day come out of nowhere to make huge contributions to their teams.  

    Only remember the top picks that do well?  Well here's a refresher of some of the late-round gems from the last decade or two:

    Zach Thomas, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Jared Allen, Cris Carter, Asante Samuel and, of course, Tom Brady.

    It's a pretty impressive list, and it goes on further with names that you've seen in Pro Bowls, Super Bowls and Hall of Fame jackets.

    There are many more prospects who fit the bill this year, but each of these has stood out for some reason in workouts leading up to the Draft.  There are indicators attached to each of these players that might suggest they are being undervalued on draft boards, but could have major impacts with their new teams.

    Looking back at past late-round steals is fun, but it's time to look into the 2011 NFL Draft for potential diamonds in the rough.

Edmund Gates, WR, Abilene Christian

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    The 5'11", 189-pound unknown had a stellar workout at the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend.  His accomplishments include a position-best 4.35 40-yard dash, a second-best 10'11" broad jump and a 40-inch vertical leap.

    No one is surprised at the explosiveness of Gates, who brings a lot of raw athleticism as a former basketball player.  

    There are still reservations about his breaks and routes, but his pass catching and speed could make him an immediate contributor as a slot or possession receiver in the NFL.

    As a small-school player, it will be easy for many teams to pass over him or invalidate his skills based on the fact that he played in the Football Championship Series (formerly Division II).  

    Keep an eye on Gates, because he could be moving up into the middle rounds as the draft day nears.   

Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware

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    We've seen another University of Delaware QB make waves in the NFL.  His name is Joe Flacco.

    Devlin, a Penn State transfer, was highly touted coming out of high school, and he showed why in his time at Delaware. After a 6-5 2009 season, he led the Fightin' Blue Hens to the FCS Championship Game in 2010, a heartbreaking 20-19 loss to Eastern Washington.

    Devlin is exactly what NFL scouts are looking for in a young quarterback. He has NFL size at 6'4" and threw just two interceptions all season against 20 TD.

    Projected to go in the middle rounds, Devlin could make a well-prepared team very happy down the road.

    Just ask the Baltimore Ravens how their investment in Joe Flacco turned out.  

Ryan Bartholomew, C, Syracuse

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    The three-year starter at center for Syracuse had an impressive day at the combine, where he exceeded expectations.

    His second-best finishes in the 40-yard dash and in the 10-yard split show a player improving on his perceived weakness: lateral agility and quickness.  

    The 6'1", 302-pounder is projected as a last-round pick, but his experience could make him immediately useful to a team in need of line help.  

    Scouts around the NFL might be reconsidering his placement on their list of linemen.  

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada

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    Kaepernick is in the top 10 at his position, but doesn't seem to be taken seriously as an NFL starter.

    The 6'4" QB has the size and the skill of those above him, but his time playing in the WAC at Nevada might be cause for doubt among some scouts.  How good could Kaepernick have been in the SEC or Big 12?  No one knows.

    What we do know is that Kaepernick ran the second-best 40-yard dash of any QB and that he threw for over 10,000 yards and 80 TD while rushing for almost 4,000 yards in his college career.

    He doesn't have the fanfare or hype of Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Blaine Gabbert and Co., but Kaepernick could be a better grab in the second or third round than those in the first.  

Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State

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    Pettis is among the elite in athleticism and catching at the wide receiver position in this year's draft.

    So why is he projected a fourth-rounder and only 15th at the position?  

    Because, like Kaepernick, he played his entire career in the WAC.

    Pettis would have undoubtedly played in the Pac-10 or another major conference had he not lost crucial recruiting exposure during high school.  Pettis, a Southern California prospect, missed his entire junior season after knee surgery, causing the big-time west coast schools to pass on him for quicker commits.

    Pettis dazzled in his career at Boise, setting school records for career catches and touchdowns as he continued his rise from his knee issues.  By the time he walked off the Smurf Turf for the last time, concerns about injuries were forgotten.  

    Questions about Pettis' speed are valid, though his combine WR-record 3.88 in the short shuttle point to a quickness in and out of breaks that should compensate for any lack of speed.

    The hands, size (6'3") and jumping ability of this former basketball star should be of great value to a team that does its mid-round homework.

Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland

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    Scott barely ranks in the top 20 among running backs, but he might just be the fastest in the entire class.

    His 4.34 40-yard dash was tops among all offensive players at the combine, which points to breakaway speed that is both vital and rare among backs in the NFL.  

    His size (5'11", 211 pounds) indicates that he can be physical, while his speed shows that he can run away from defenders.  He has had time to develop and mature in four years at Maryland, and could pay off big as a change-of-pace back in the mold of Leon Washington or Darren Sproles.

    Look for Scott to move up a little bit in the draft from his projected seventh-round spot because of his speed display at the combine.