2015 NFL Draft: Every Team's Best Value Selection
From the predraft mocks to the post-draft grades, the coverage of each year’s NFL selection meeting typically revolves around every team’s early-round picks. The most truly valuable selections of each draft, however, are often the players selected in later rounds who nonetheless go on to be productive players.
In the following slides, we take a look at who those players could be for each of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Within the draft context, a value pick typically describes a player who was projected to be selected earlier than he actually was. Many of the following prospects meet that criterion. The real value of a selection, however, is determined by how effectively and how frequently the chosen player is able to contribute to his team.
That’s why you might not see some of the big-name “steals” you expected to find on this list. Most of the following players weren’t well-known college football stars or combine studs, but they should prove to be smart picks because of the skill sets they bring to the table.
In order to highlight players who truly can be deemed value selections, first- and second-round picks were not considered for inclusion. Additionally, the following slides consist of only players who were actually selected in the draft—between Rounds 3 and 7—and do not include undrafted free-agent signings who could likewise be significant contributors for their teams.
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa
While David Johnson should have an opportunity to immediately get carries as an Arizona Cardinals running back, he is much more than just a runner. His ability to contribute in other capacities—specifically, as a receiver and on special teams—is what should make him a great value from the No. 86 overall pick.
A 6’1”, 224-pound back who ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, Johnson had the second-best “speed score” among all running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine this year, according to ESPN.com’s Aaron Schatz. He doesn’t have as much power or burst as you would expect from a running back with his measurables, but he is a smooth runner who shows the ability to work his way between running lanes and extend plays in the open field.
The Cardinals ranked dead last in the NFL with just 3.3 yards per carry in 2014, so they should have incentive to get the ball in Johnson’s hands right away. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he expects starting running back Andre Ellington to “continue his same role,” according to ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss, but Johnson’s size will make him a good complement, as Ellington stands at just 5’9” and 199 pounds.
Like Ellington, Johnson is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He has terrific hands and also shows the ability to run deep routes to make receiving plays down the field. With his combination of size and strength, he could prove to be an upgrade over Ellington in pass protection.
Johnson, who accumulated 6,854 all-purpose yards over the course of his collegiate career, also has experience returning kickoffs. He could potentially be an asset in that regard after the Cardinals released Ted Ginn Jr. this offseason, though they have presumably tabbed J.J. Nelson, their speedy fifth-round pick out of UAB, to play that role.
Altogether, Johnson has a skill set that should enable him to play multiple roles over the course of his Cardinals career. He might never be a star feature back like he was in the Football Championship Subdivision at Northern Iowa, but his versatility could keep him in the NFL for a long time.
Atlanta Falcons: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
While the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers selected Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon among the first 15 picks, respectively—even in an era where first-round running backs are a rarity in the NFL draft—the Atlanta Falcons could potentially get similar production out of Tevin Coleman, their third-rounder at No. 73 overall.
Coleman ran for 2,036 yards at Indiana last season, the second-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind Gordon. He did it all while playing the final seven games of the year with a broken sesamoid bone in his foot, as Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier documented.
Coleman lacks the power of Gurley, the elusiveness of Gordon and the size of both backs, but he has true breakaway speed. He was timed between 4.35 and 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
Additionally, Coleman exhibits good vision to find holes and is a hard-charging back who consistently keeps his feet moving to extend plays. While he will not have the athletic advantages he had against collegiate defenses, he should stand out behind Atlanta’s zone blocking front after excelling behind a subpar Indiana offensive line.
Coleman should immediately push Devonta Freeman for the Falcons’ starting job and, either way, give Atlanta one of the NFL’s strongest running back tandems.
The Falcons had multiple candidates to be their best value selection. Fourth-round pick Justin Hardy is a perfect fit to replace Harry Douglas as the slot receiver, while fifth-round pick Grady Jarrett could play quickly at defensive tackle and was expected to be a Day 2 draft choice. Coleman, though, has the potential to end up being one of the most productive players in the entire draft class.
Baltimore Ravens: Carl Davis, DE/DT, Iowa
The Baltimore Ravens are known for annually landing great values in the NFL draft, and their 2015 class looks to be no exception. In particular, No. 90 overall pick Carl Davis has the skills to quickly become an impact player for Baltimore’s defensive front.
No player had a stronger showing at the Senior Bowl this past January than Davis, who earned the game’s Practice Player of the Week award. With an explosive burst off the snap, an ability to generate power and long arms, Davis has shown the potential to be a highly disruptive player on the interior defensive line.
Coming off an unspectacular senior season at Iowa, Davis might need some time to improve his stamina and adjust to playing in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense before he can be an every-down starter. But he proved at the Senior Bowl that he already has the skills to be a difference-maker, even if only in a limited capacity to begin with.
At 6’5” and 320 pounds with vines for arms (34 ⅝”), his length and quickness project well to playing as a 5-technique defensive end, though he also has enough size and strength to play nose tackle, at least situationally.
Davis might never excel as a two-gapping, point-of-attack run-stopper, but his ability to come off the snap gives him high upside to make plays in the backfield for a man of his size. He should help to replace some of the playmaking ability that was lost from Baltimore’s defensive line this offseason when the Ravens traded Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions.
Buffalo Bills: John Miller, G, Louisville
No team in the NFL had worse play at the guard position than the Buffalo Bills last season. Right guard Erik Pears was a massive liability in both pass protection and run blocking, per Pro Football Focus, while they went through three starters at the left guard position—Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson and Kraig Urbik—who all struggled.
Given that, the Bills needed to draft at least one guard this year who could quickly step in and provide reliable play, and they should get that from John Miller, the No. 81 overall pick.
The strong-side player on a Louisville offensive line that flipped its guards, Miller should be capable of starting as a rookie at either left or right guard. He is a strong, technically sound player who projects as a good fit for new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s power-running system.
Miller is not a spectacular athlete, but the Bills don’t need a star to get better at the guard position—they just need reliability.
His ability to win with his strength and hands, both driving defenders back as a run-blocker and keeping them at bay as a pass-blocker, should enable him to be a solid starter for years to come. Should that be the case, he’ll be well worth the investment of a third-round pick.
Carolina Panthers: Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma
The Carolina Panthers did not come away from the 2015 NFL draft with a franchise left tackle and will likely continue to have problems protecting quarterback Cam Newton as a result, but they should at least get a solid starter on the right side out of their fourth-round pick (No. 102 overall), Daryl Williams.
A three-year starting right tackle at Oklahoma, Williams has a terrific combination of size (6’5”, 327 lbs), length (35” arms) and power. He uses his hands well and has decent footwork. His experience playing the position gives him an advantage over the many collegiate left tackles who are expected to move to right tackle in the NFL.
Williams lacks the athleticism of a left tackle prospect, and he is likely to have some issues with handling outside speed-rushers in pass protection as a result. He will not be able to cover significant ground to pick up downfield or outside run blocks.
Nonetheless, if he can continue to utilize his length and technique effectively, Williams should be able to overcome his athletic limitations and at least be an adequate right tackle.
Given that the Panthers plan to play offseason addition Michael Oher at left tackle, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, the door is open for Williams to beat out Mike Remmers and Jonathan Martin for the starting job on the right side. If he can do that and at least be a non-liability, he’ll be a valuable fourth-round pick.
Chicago Bears: Adrian Amos, FS/CB, Penn State
The Chicago Bears went into this year’s draft with a need for ready-to-play depth at both cornerback and safety. They should get both from Adrian Amos, whom they selected in the fifth round (No. 142 overall).
Amos has good size for a defensive back, at 6’0” and 218 pounds with 32 ¼” arms and the athleticism to play in an NFL secondary.
Having played both cornerback and safety, he has consistently shown the intelligence and technique—in both positions—to execute his assignments and provide solid coverage.
Not known for regularly making plays on the ball or big hits in run support, Amos does not offer much big-play potential. Unlikely to be a game-changer, he is best-suited to be a backup at the next level.
His ability to play in multiple spots, however, could make him a valuable reserve. While he is unlikely to start out as more than a fourth cornerback or safety on the Bears’ depth chart, he could be called into duty to play free safety, slot cornerback or even outside cornerback if injuries occur in front of him.
Amos is also an experienced special teams player who should contribute in that area for the Bears, which will further increase his value.
Cincinnati Bengals: Derron Smith, FS, Fresno State
The Cincinnati Bengals have made a regular habit of drafting players who were expected (at least by media draft analysts) to be selected earlier, and the 2015 draft was no exception. Third-round pick Paul Dawson and fourth-round picks Josh Shaw and Marcus Hardison all could have been drafted as early as the second round and may prove to be great values in Cincinnati.
One selection that appears to offer particularly good value, however, is getting Fresno State free safety Derron Smith in Round 6. Despite falling all the way to the No. 197 overall selection, he has enough ability to potentially project as a future starter for the Bengals at the position.
Smith, who Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked as the No. 6 safety in this year’s draft class, has demonstrated fluidity in coverage and ball skills, as evidenced by his 15 interceptions in his college career. Also a leading tackler for the Bulldogs in each of his final three seasons at Fresno State, Smith shows the ability to make plays all over the field in run support.
His final season at Fresno State and the predraft process both did damage to his draft stock. He battled through a sports hernia injury in his senior year, according to Anthony Galaviz of the Fresno Bee, and was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine after having surgery.
Nonetheless, he has the experience, well-roundedness and playmaking ability to emerge as a capable starter despite his measurables. That could matter in 2016, as both of the Bengals’ starting safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, are among the team’s plethora of pending free agents for next offseason.
In the meantime, Smith should be able to contribute on special teams, both on coverage teams and potentially as a punt returner.
Cleveland Browns: Hayes Pullard, ILB, USC
For the most part, seventh-round NFL draft selections consist of players who have some promising tools to work with but are long-term projects as football players. Cleveland Browns seventh-rounder Hayes Pullard, however, has the skills to make an impact right away.
A highly productive four-year starter at USC, Pullard is an instinctive linebacker, sound tackler and fluid athlete. He flows to the ball well as a run defender and is able to smoothly drop back into coverage against running backs and tight ends.
Pullard lacks the size, speed and downhill playmaking ability of a star middle linebacker, and that’s likely why he fell to the No. 219 overall pick. But while Pullard will probably never be a big difference-maker, he should be able to step in and play whenever he is needed without being a liability.
The Browns already had a quality rotation at the inside linebacker position with Karlos Dansby, Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson, but Pullard should provide great depth while also being a fixture on the special teams units.
According to Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com, Pullard already started to stand out on the first day of rookie minicamp.
“Seventh-round pick Hayes Pullard (USC) is out here making plays,” Jones tweeted. “There is open competition for backup inside linebacker spots.”
Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue
It’s tempting to break the rule against choosing second-round picks and undrafted free agents as the best value selection for the Dallas Cowboys.
While No. 60 overall pick Randy Gregory has as much upside as any player in the draft but fell due to a number of red flags, undrafted signing La’el Collins was a projected first-round pick until he was sought for questioning in a murder investigation (in which he is still not considered a suspect after meeting with police) just days before the draft.
In contrast with those two big-name players who could prove to be excellent values, the Cowboys did not draft any highly projected players with their later-round picks. All of their later picks are projects who were seemingly drafted more for what they could become than what they are, but the one with the most potential to emerge in time as a smart pick is fifth-rounder Ryan Russell.
Russell did not have outstanding production at Purdue, but the No. 163 overall pick has intriguing traits for a 4-3 defensive end. He has a great burst off the snap, as well as good size (6’4”, 269 lbs) and length (33 ⅜” arms).
In order to take advantage of those traits, Russell needs to become better at getting through blocks with his hands. If he is unable to do that, he could wash out of the NFL. But he has enough strength to hold the edge against the run, and his pass-rushing potential is certainly high if the defensive coaching staff can develop him properly and hone his physical traits.
Denver Broncos: Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State
Update, Saturday night: Heuerman suffered a torn ACL in practice Saturday and is expected to miss his entire rookie season.
While Jeff Heuerman was not highly productive as a pass-catcher at Ohio State, he has the tools to potentially be much more productive in the NFL. Going to play for the Denver Broncos—at least as long as they still have Peyton Manning at quarterback—could be an ideal situation for Heuerman to succeed.
With less than 800 career receiving yards for the Buckeyes, he did not have the statistical success to be an early-round draft pick. Even so, he was arguably the most well-rounded tight end in the 2015 draft class and could prove to be a solid value from the No. 92 overall selection.
Following the offseason departure of Julius Thomas to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Broncos will need to replace a tight end who had 108 receptions, including 24 touchdowns, over the past two seasons. That should give Heuerman an immediate shot to compete for playing time—and receiving opportunities—with Virgil Green, Owen Daniels and James Casey.
Heuerman lacks the speed to be a field-stretcher but still qualifies as a good athlete with great size at 6’5” and 254 pounds. He is a sure-handed receiver but also a good blocker, which will give the Broncos incentive to get him on the field.
As a better fit for the Broncos’ pro-style offense than Ohio State’s spread system, Heuerman should contribute positively when he has chances to play on offense, while he should also see time regularly on special teams. A noticeably high-character individual, Heuerman should prove to be a reliable asset and well worth a top-100 draft choice.
Detroit Lions: Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Of the two cornerbacks the Detroit Lions selected in this year’s draft, the second one chosen might offer the most immediate value. While third-round pick Alex Carter’s size and athleticism gives him high upside as a long-term replacement for Rashean Mathis outside, sixth-round pick Quandre Diggs has the skills to contribute immediately as a slot cornerback and on special teams.
Diggs is small for an NFL player at just 5’9” and 196 pounds, and he’s not particularly fast either. Given his physical limitations, he is not a good fit to play outside and line up against the top wide receivers of opposing teams.
That said, he is an instinctive, physical player who shows a good ability to break on the ball. He is a feisty competitor who should be solid in run support while also having the playmaking ability to create turnovers.
The Lions have two other young and talented slot cornerback options in Nevin Lawson and Bill Bentley, but both of those players are coming off season-ending injuries suffered last September. Given the fact that neither has proved anything to this point in their NFL careers, Diggs should get a real shot to compete with them for playing time.
Lawson and Bentley have better measurables than Diggs, but the No. 200 overall pick should not be ruled out after a productive four-year career at Texas. But even if he does not end up beating one or both of them out to be the nickel or dime cornerback, he should carve out a role on kickoff and punt coverage that keeps him on the roster and in the team’s long-term plans.
Green Bay Packers: Jake Ryan, ILB, Michigan
After waiting until the fourth round to address their need at inside linebacker, the Green Bay Packers will need Jake Ryan to be ready to compete for immediate playing time. Fortunately for the Packers, their No. 129 overall pick should be up to the task.
While Ryan spent most of his Michigan career playing outside linebacker, he has the positional traits to play inside. He is instinctive, a consistent tackler and an adequate athlete for being 6’2” and 240 pounds.
Ryan is not particularly explosive at attacking downhill, but he showed ability—with 46 career tackles for loss—to make plays around and behind the line of scrimmage for the Wolverines. He could have some limitations in dropping back into coverage but shows good field awareness to get into proper positions.
He's unlikely to be a star in the NFL, but if he can be an assignment-sound football player who makes consistent tackles between the numbers and is not a liability in coverage, he would still be an upgrade over the Packers’ other options at the position.
Ryan should also be able to contribute on special teams coverage units from the get-go, which adds to the value he should provide as a starter or regular rotational player on defense.
Houston Texans: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
One of the most surprising players to fall out of the first two rounds of this year’s draft, No. 70 overall pick Jaelen Strong should give the Houston Texans excellent value as a downfield playmaker at wide receiver.
A big, athletic wideout, Strong measured in at 6’2” and 217 pounds and ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. He has an excellent ability to attack the ball in the air, even when he is covered, and haul in challenging receptions.
With 157 receptions for 2,287 yards and 17 touchdowns in just two seasons at Arizona State, Strong made no shortage of highlight-reel plays for the Sun Devils. He proved to be a game-changer with deep catches and third-down conversions.
He does not consistently play to his timed speed, in part because he is an unvarnished route-runner. To get open with frequency against NFL cornerbacks, he will need to explode out of his release and tighten up his breaks.
Even so, Strong’s ball skills should make him an immediate asset as the Texans replace longtime starting wide receiver Andre Johnson, the best player in franchise history.
Third-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins will assume the role of being the Texans’ No. 1 receiver, but Strong has enough talent to potentially beat out free-agent signings Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts for the No. 2 job. Even if he does not, it shouldn’t be long before Strong starts making plays, especially in red-zone and third-down situations.
Indianapolis Colts: Clayton Geathers, SS, Central Florida
The Indianapolis Colts needed to come out of this year’s draft with at least one new potential starting safety, and they added one at the strong safety position by selecting Clayton Geathers early in Round 4 with the No. 109 overall pick.
Well-built for the position at 6’2” and 218 pounds, Geathers is also a solid athlete for his size. While he is best known for being a heavy hitter in the box, he also shows more than enough coverage ability for the strong safety position.
As a star of the Central Florida secondary, Geathers showed the range to make plays all over the field. Over the course of his four-year career, he accumulated 383 total tackles and 30 passes defensed.
He is not someone the Colts will want to leave deep in single-high coverage, and he needs to tighten up his technique as a tackler as he makes the jump to the NFL.
Nonetheless, Geathers should have a shot at winning the starting strong safety job if the Colts keep Mike Adams at free safety for 2015. The rookie has the skills to make an immediate impact on defense, while he also projects to be an impact player on special teams if Indianapolis utilizes him there.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
No player had a more shocking slide down the board in this year’s draft than Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Widely projected to be a second- or third-round draft pick, he ended up staying on the board all the way until Round 6, when the Jacksonville Jaguars finally stopped his descent at No. 180 overall.
One of the stars of Ohio State’s national championship team this past season, Bennett is an explosive interior penetrator who had 11 tackles for loss in the Buckeyes’ final seven games. He combines a quick burst with great hand skills to get through gaps and into the backfield.
Undersized for a defensive tackle at 6’2” and 293 pounds, Bennett could struggle to hold up against double-teams at the point of attack. His limited size and strength will likely push him into a situational pass-rusher role, at least early in his career, though he could potentially kick out and play defensive end against the run.
But even if he is never more than a situational player, he could still be a terrific value for a sixth-round pick. Because of his athleticism, hand quickness and ability to convert burst to power, Bennett’s interior pass-rush ability should translate effectively to the NFL.
In Jacksonville, Bennett will likely start out as a backup behind starting defensive tackles Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Odrick. However, he could easily emerge as the team’s top rotational player at the position in his rookie season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State
After back-to-back drafts in which a projected mid-round cornerback from Oregon State was drafted much later than expected (Jordan Poyer, 2013) or not at all (Rashaad Reynolds, 2014), the Kansas City Chiefs broke that unwanted trend for the Beavers by selecting Steven Nelson with their compensatory pick (No. 98 overall) in the third round of this year’s draft.
Although Nelson has size limitations like Poyer and Reynolds, the 5’10”, 197-pound cornerback got the respect he deserved as a draft prospect, likely in part thanks to a strong performance at this year’s Senior Bowl. While he is not big, Nelson plays with consistent physicality and competitive drive and is a well-rounded athlete.
In two seasons at Oregon State, both as a starter, Nelson showed an ability to make plays on the ball and to contribute in run support.
He lacks the measurables and man-to-man cover skill to play as an outside cornerback in the NFL, but that’s not where the Chiefs will expect him to play, given that they drafted Marcus Peters with the No. 18 overall pick to go with returning cornerbacks Sean Smith and Phillip Gaines.
Nelson should compete with the No. 3 cornerback—likely Gaines—for immediate playing time in the slot. At the least, though, he should provide solid value as a competitive dime cornerback and special teams contributor.
Miami Dolphins: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Jay Ajayi would have been drafted well before the fifth round if not for concerns about the long-term prognosis for his knee. According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, a “potential bone-on-bone issue scared some teams away” from drafting him.
It didn’t scare the Dolphins away, who selected Ajayi with the No. 149 overall pick and could end up getting one of the draft’s best values as a result.
Coming off a year in which he became the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to accumulate 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a single season, Ajayi is arguably the most complete running back from the entire draft class.
A big back at 6’0” and 221 pounds, he has a proven ability to run the ball between the tackles. He can grind out tough yardage through contact while also exhibiting good vision and cutting ability to bounce away from defenders.
Ajayi is not the most explosive athlete, but like aforementioned Arizona Cardinals third-round pick David Johnson, what makes Ajayi special is the well-roundedness of his skill set. In addition to being a quality runner, he is also a skilled pass-catcher out of the backfield and a good pass-protector.
As for Ajayi’s knee, the “only true concern would be for longevity of his career,” according to Caplan. Having run the ball 596 times without missing a game in his final two seasons at Boise State, Ajayi should provide value on first, second and third down as a do-it-all member of the Dolphins’ running back rotation.
Minnesota Vikings: T.J. Clemmings, OT/G, Pittsburgh
Another player who fell further than expected in the draft due to injury, T.J. Clemmings is a long, powerful and athletic offensive lineman with the potential to play at multiple positions for the Minnesota Vikings, despite being a fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall).
Physically, he has the makings of a first-rounder. At 6’5” and 309 pounds with 35 ⅛” arms, he can bulldoze defenders off the line of scrimmage with his power but also has quick feet for a man of his size.
Technically, Clemmings is still a project. While he should make an immediate impact in run blocking if called upon, he needs to become much more refined in pass protection to hold up on the edge of an NFL offensive line.
His struggles in that area—especially in the Senior Bowl—left reason for concern about Clemmings’ game that was likely partially responsible for his fall. That said, his drop to Day 3 of the draft came after NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported that Clemmings had a stress fracture in his foot. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he had first-round grades, but NFL teams questioned his longevity due to the injury.
Clemmings, who played two years of right tackle at Pittsburgh after switching from playing defensive line, is not ready to step in and start on the outside of an NFL offensive line. Going to the Vikings, however, could give him a perfect opportunity to maximize his value.
According to Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com, Clemmings is a candidate to fill the Vikings’ starting lineup vacancy at left guard, which would be a good position for him to start at while he works on his game as a pass protector.
In the long term, Clemmings has the upside to potentially start at right tackle, where Phil Loadholt will be a free agent in 2017, or even left tackle, where Matt Kalil needs to bounce back from a bad 2014 season to keep his job going forward.
New England Patriots: Tre' Jackson, G, Florida State
The third consecutive player on this list who might have been drafted earlier if not for injury concerns, Tre' Jackson has the physical ability to be an immediate upgrade for the New England Patriots at the guard position.
At 6’4” and 330 pounds, he is a massive mauler who can overpower defenders with his size and strength. At Florida State, the fourth-round pick consistently drove defenders backward off the line to open holes for running plays behind him.
Jackson does not have great feet, as you might expect for a man of his size, and he needs all-around work on his technique, especially in pass protection.
Still, his ability to win with sheer power is something the Patriots did not have in starting guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell last season. So long as Jackson shows steady improvement over the course of training camp and preseason, the No. 111 overall pick will likely end up being a starter for the Patriots up front as a rookie.
According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Jackson “failed multiple team physicals due to chronic knee problems” prior to the draft, which might have led to him still being available for New England on Day 3. Assuming he can stay healthy, however, Jackson should bring great value to the Patriots’ efforts to keep their offense reigning as one of the best in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints: Tyeler Davison, DT, Fresno State
A 6’2”, 316-pound defensive tackle with great quickness for his size and the strength to play as a nose tackle, Davison projects as a great fit to play rotationally on the New Orleans Saints’ hybrid defensive front.
He flew under the radar throughout the draft process and ended up being a fifth-round pick (No. 154 overall), but he could emerge as a core player in the Saints’ defensive efforts.
With 34” arms, Davison’s length helps make up for his limited height. As a run defender, he can hold his ground at the point of attack; as a pass-rusher, he has enough burst, power and hand skills to get through blockers and disrupt plays in the backfield.
Although he is best suited to be a 1-technique nose tackle in a four-man front, his well-rounded skill set enables him to play numerous interior offensive line positions. That versatility will serve him well with the Saints, who use both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive alignments.
Davison is not an elite athlete and might never put up big numbers in the NFL, but he should prove to be a valuable asset on a Saints defensive line that needed depth. If third-year nose tackle John Jenkins fails to take the next step in his game in 2015, Davison could make a real push for a starting job.
New York Giants: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
Having a great pass rush has played a huge role in the New York Giants winning two Super Bowls over the past eight years. Their third-round selection of Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the No. 74 overall pick, should help them continue to be great in that area.
Much like former Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who was likewise selected with the No. 74 overall pick in 2005, Odighizuwa is a big, strong defensive end who could be effective kicking inside to rush the passer from the defensive tackle position.
While he is a terrific athlete for 6’3” and 267 pounds, he lacks the bend around the corner to be an effective outside pass-rusher. He is a strong edge-setting run defender, however, while his quickness and violent hands can make him a tough-to-block inside rusher.
Like some of the other players highlighted on this list, Odighizuwa's fall outside the draft’s top two rounds was likely in part due to injury concerns. He missed his entire 2013 season at UCLA after having a pair of hip surgeries, which gives teams reason for concern about his ability to sustain a long career.
From a skill standpoint, however, he should have been a first- or second-round pick.
He probably will not play a great deal in his rookie season, as the Giants already have a strong quartet of defensive ends in Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Damontre Moore and George Selvie. Going forward, however, Odighizuwa gives the Giants another option to keep their defensive linemen fresh and work with multifaceted looks to bring pressure from both outside and inside.
New York Jets: Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB, Louisville
Lorenzo Mauldin does not offer the explosive quickness and speed that NFL teams covet in a pass-rushing outside linebacker, and that’s why he fell to the third round of the draft. The versatility and totality that he offers in his game, however, could make him a great value from the No. 82 overall pick.
Having made a successful transition to 3-4 outside linebacker last season, after beginning his Louisville career as a 4-3 defensive end, Mauldin is a good fit to continue playing in a 3-4 defense for the New York Jets.
Because he lacks the explosiveness to be a regular pass-rushing playmaker, he will likely never be a star in the NFL. He could still be a good three-down player, though, because of his ability to contribute in all phases of the game.
At 6’4” and 259 pounds, Mauldin has good size for the position and shows potent strength as an edge-setting run defender. What was really impressive about him in his senior season, however, was how well he adapted to playing in space, showing an ability to tackle soundly while also demonstrating he could effectively drop back into coverage against tight ends.
Mauldin is not the star pass-rusher the Jets needed, but he will work his way through blockers with his hands to still contribute in that area. Meanwhile, his ability to also take on coverage responsibilities makes him a player New York can use in multiple ways to keep offenses guessing.
A hard worker who overcame a rough childhood, Mauldin should never need to come off the field on defense. Presumably, he could also be an asset on special teams, depending on how frequently he sees time on defense, which could be often in 2015 given the Jets’ limited options at the outside linebacker position.
Oakland Raiders: Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas
One of the most athletic linebackers in the 2015 NFL draft, Ben Heeney’s speed and quickness could make him an immediate asset for the Oakland Raiders on both defense and special teams.
Heeney, who had the best three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle times among all linebackers at the combine, has terrific change-of-direction quickness and can chase plays from sideline to sideline with his speed.
His range gives him the ability to be an active run defender and to drop back into coverage effectively. Heeney also projects to be a big asset on special teams, where he made multiple plays at the East-West Shrine Game.
At 6’0” and 231 pounds, Heeney is small for a middle linebacker and projects best as a weak-side linebacker as a result. Beyond his size limitations, he needs to shore up his tackling, as he “was the college football leader in missed tackles in 2014,” according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
Nonetheless, Heeney’s ability to make plays all over the field makes him a valuable fifth-round choice at No. 140 overall. He is unlikely to start for the Raiders in his rookie season, but he should contend for rotational playing time while also being a staple of the kickoff and punt coverage units.
Philadelphia Eagles: Randall Evans, CB, Kansas State
Of the six selections the Philadelphia Eagles made in this year’s draft, three of them were cornerbacks.
From a draft value standpoint, the Eagles’ best pick was landing Utah cornerback/safety Eric Rowe at No. 47 overall after a trade up in Round 2. Among their late-round selections, however, the player who projects as the most likely to make a significant impact is No. 196 overall pick Randall Evans.
While Rowe and prominent free-agent addition Byron Maxwell project to be the Eagles’ new starting outside cornerbacks in their revamped secondary, Evans has the skills to be a playmaker from the slot. A 6’0”, 190-pound cornerback who ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at Kansas State’s pro day, Evans is a good athlete with a great ability to make plays on the ball, as evidenced by his 28 passes defensed over his final three collegiate seasons.
No lock to make the Eagles roster, Evans will likely have to beat out fellow rookie JaCorey Shepherd—drafted five picks before him at No. 191 overall—and numerous veterans to earn a spot on the 53-man team. However, Evans could emerge as the heir apparent at the slot cornerback position to Brandon Boykin, who is set to be a free agent in 2016, if he does prove his worth this summer.
He might not be a good fit to play outside, but he is a solid tackler who should offer value in nickel/dime packages and on special teams. Of the Eagles’ three Day 3 picks, Evans has the most projectable skill set to a specific role—albeit one he will probably not take on until 2016—in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth draft pick from Ohio State in the past five years, Doran Grant is a technically sound cornerback who could challenge for an immediate starting spot in the secondary despite being only a fourth-round pick (No. 121 overall).
A fluid athlete with smooth hips and quick feet, Grant is a smart player who exhibits the man-coverage ability to be a No. 2 starter on the outside, where the Steelers need an upgrade over Cortez Allen. Although he does not have great size at 5’10” and 200 pounds, Grant plays with decent physicality and is a solid tackler.
The Steelers drafted Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson ahead of Grant in Round 2, but Golson projects best playing inside in the slot.
Given that, there’s reason to believe Grant could seize a starting job as a rookie. A two-year starter at Ohio State, he may not have star qualities but is ready to play now and could also contribute on special teams.
Virtually all of the Steelers’ picks in this year’s draft could be deemed value selections; per usual, they did a great job of identifying quality talent that fit their needs and philosophies. Selecting Grant might be their best pick, however, because of his well-roundedness and the severity of their cornerback need going into the draft.
San Diego Chargers: Kyle Emanuel, OLB, North Dakota State
Small-school prospects without rare physical traits often fall into the late rounds or go undrafted—regardless of their collegiate production—but the San Diego Chargers were smart not to overlook Kyle Emanuel, who has the skill to make their fifth-round investment in him look like a great decision.
The 2014 recipient of the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the Football Championship Subdivision’s best defensive player, Emanuel had a highly productive career at North Dakota State, where he helped lead the Bison to four consecutive FCS national championships. He tied a school record with 41 career total sacks, including 19.5 (among 32.5 tackles for loss and 97 total tackles) in his senior season alone.
It’s a bit cliche to describe an undersized edge defender without tremendous physical gifts as a high-motor player, but Emanuel truly is. It’s rare to see a defensive end post the type of total tackle numbers that Emanuel did in his senior year, but he was able to do so as a result of constantly playing through the whistle and pursuing plays.
He likely won’t be able to make tackles all over the field against faster NFL offenses, but he should be a solid rotational player. Well-suited to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as he will in San Diego, Emanuel exhibits a diverse array of pass-rushing moves to work his way around blockers, while he is also a solid run defender in space.
The No. 153 overall pick is unlikely to still be a star against bigger and more athletic competition, but the 6’3”, 255-pound player also should not be a liability in any situation. At the very least, he can provide steady depth to the Chargers’ outside linebacker rotation while also playing regularly on special teams.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
Entering the first San Francisco 49ers backfield since 2004 to not be led by Frank Gore, Mike Davis is a big back with some burst that should enable him to push for playing time right away in his rookie season.
At 5’9” and 217 pounds, he is a well-built back who can grind through contact to fall forward and extend plays for extra yardage. Both a skilled pass-catcher out of the backfield and a solid pass protector, Davis has the tools to be an asset in both running and passing situations.
He battled some injuries throughout his three-year collegiate career and had a disappointing 2014 season, but he exhibits promising playmaking ability when he is at his best. While he does not have great long speed, he gets going out of the backfield effectively and possesses adequate agility for a back of his size.
While Davis is not a threat to supplant Carlos Hyde, who is more powerful and explosive, he should contend for positioning behind Hyde on the depth chart. While Reggie Bush’s elusiveness and receiving ability make him a natural fit to complement Hyde, Davis projects as a better between-the-tackles runner than both Bush and Kendall Hunter.
Given that Davis was only a fourth-round pick (No. 126 overall), all he needs to do to justify his value is steal some carries from Bush and perform well if called upon in the event of injury. Assuming the South Carolina product stays healthy and plays up to his potential, Davis should do just that.
Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State
Could Tyler Lockett be the next Antonio Brown? I posed that question in February, and while Lockett was selected three rounds earlier than the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Brown out of Central Michigan in 2010, it’s not a huge stretch to think that Lockett could, in time, have a similar impact for the Seattle Seahawks.
Clearly recognizing the potential for Lockett to be a steal at the No. 69 overall pick, the Seahawks traded their third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round selections to the Washington Redskins in order to move up from the 95th pick and draft the Kansas State wide receiver in Round 3.
Trading up for Lockett decreases the Seahawks’ likelihood of getting a truly great return on investment on selecting him, but if he can become the team’s missing piece at the wide receiver position, he’ll be well worth it.
Starting out, it sounds as though Seattle's primary intention for Lockett is to ensure he’s the missing piece for its return game. Productive as both a kickoff and punt returner at Kansas State, he told Jen Mueller of Seahawks.com that the Seahawks told him he was "their number one return guy they were looking at in the draft."
His speed and shiftiness make him a potentially huge asset in that area, but expect those attributes—along with his excellent route-running ability—to make him tough to keep off the field on offense. He has the potential to play both outside and in the slot and could potentially emerge as a top-two receiver for a team that had just one wideout (Doug Baldwin) with more than 600 receiving yards in 2014.
According to John Boyle of the Everett Herald, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was already impressed by Lockett in the team’s first minicamp practice Friday.
“Pete Carroll described WR Tyler Lockett as being ‘all over the place’ making catches in his first practice,” Boyle tweeted.
St. Louis Rams: Bryce Hager, ILB, Baylor
Bryce Hager was a footnote on Day 3 of the draft, selected with the No. 224 pick that the St. Louis Rams acquired from the New York Jets in exchange for running back Zac Stacy. Though Stacy is a solid running back who compiled 1,266 rushing yards in his first two NFL seasons, Hager may end up giving the Rams the best of that trade.
A rangy athlete who regularly showed instincts and playmaking ability at Baylor, Hager has the skill to prove worth well more than a seventh-round pick. He can make plays from sideline to sideline and is a sound tackler who shows some ability to drop back into coverage.
At 6’1” and 234 pounds, he does not project to be a downhill-thumping middle linebacker, but his athleticism makes him a solid candidate to play 4-3 weak-side linebacker. That said, his intelligence should enable him to step in at any linebacker spot if necessary, which will be crucial for him as a projected backup in St. Louis.
The Rams did not end up targeting a linebacker early in the draft, despite reports to the contrary from DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline, but landing Hager in Round 7 netted them a quality player at the position.
Hager won’t push James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree or Akeem Ayers for a starting job, but he could become the team’s No. 1 backup linebacker, while he should also start out as a staple on special teams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
As Jameis Winston gets his NFL career going as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No. 1 overall pick and new starting quarterback, he can feel good about having Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, two big weapons who can make contested catches, as his starting wide receivers. The Buccaneers have limited talent behind that pair at the position, however, which opens the door for fifth-round pick Kenny Bell to make an impact.
One of the most unheralded draft prospects this year, Bell has the tools to be a solid third or fourth wide receiver in the Tampa Bay offense.
A 6’1”, 197-pound receiver who ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Bell is a deep threat who showed the ability to adjust and make tough catches throughout his career at Nebraska, where he led the team in receptions in all four of his playing seasons.
He lacks the run-after-catch ability to be an ideal complement in the slot next to Evans and Jackson, who are both big wideouts who win with their size. To take full advantage of his physical traits and be an effective No. 3 wideout, Bell needs to expand upon his route-running ability.
Nonetheless, he could easily be the Buccaneers’ third-most talented receiver as a rookie, and they should find ways to get him on the field in three- or four-receiver sets. The No. 162 overall pick also has experience returning kickoffs, another area in which he could bring value to Tampa Bay.
Tennessee Titans: David Cobb, RB, Minnesota
The best power runner in the 2015 NFL draft not named Todd Gurley, David Cobb should be a great complementary No. 2 running back for the Tennessee Titans, who can benefit from adding another young talent at the position despite selecting Bishop Sankey in Round 2 last year.
Cobb, drafted with the second pick of this year’s fifth round (No. 138 overall), is a well-built (5’11”, 229 lbs) back who can run through contact, yet he also has good cutting ability for a back of his size. He has limited burst and speed but can be a tough runner to stop once he has a head of steam.
In contrast with Sankey, whose speed and agility make him the most well-rounded back on the Titans roster, Cobb has more ability to grind through tackles. While Sankey is capable of doing damage between the tackles because of his own vision and ability to bounce off contact, Cobb projects as a stronger option in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
If called upon, however, Cobb should be able to take on feature back duties. He has some trouble getting started out of the backfield, but he exhibits solid pass-catching ability and shows the endurance to keep getting stronger as a game goes along.
Cobb won’t make many big plays in the NFL, but he should be a reliable option to wear out defenses with his physicality. Getting a player who can do that in the fifth round could prove to be a great coup.
Washington Redskins: Kyshoen Jarrett, SS, Virginia Tech
On a Washington Redskins roster that lacks a proven starter at the strong safety position, Kyshoen Jarrett should compete for immediate playing time and potentially push for a starting position down the line, despite being only a sixth-round pick (No. 181 overall).
As the “rover” in Virginia Tech’s defense, Jarrett played more like a linebacker at Virginia Tech than as a true safety. He also has poor height for the safety position at 5’10”. With that being said, he has enough athleticism to handle playing strong safety, and his playmaking ability is intriguing.
Projecting as a box safety for the NFL, Jarrett attacks downhill as a tackler and shows good range for his position. While he needs to become much more consistent in coverage to be a full-time NFL safety, he has shown the ability to track the ball deep and make plays on it.
The Redskins’ projected starter at strong safety is Jeron Johnson, a former undrafted free agent who played mostly on special teams for the Seattle Seahawks and will have to prove that he can handle the responsibilities of a full-time safety position. Either way, the Redskins will want have to players ready who can spell Johnson, and Jarrett can be one of those players.
Truthfully, his best success in the NFL is likely to come on special teams, given his lack of a true defensive position. With continued development in coverage, however, Jarrett has the traits to make some plays as a situational box safety, which combined with his special teams value would make him a strong Round 6 investment.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.