2018 NFL Draft: Late-Round Prospects Who Could Be Day 1 Starters

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyContributor IApril 29, 2018

2018 NFL Draft: Late-Round Prospects Who Could Be Day 1 Starters

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    The 2018 NFL draft wrapped up on Saturday as the three-day event whizzed by in Arlington, Texas. The majority of the 256 total selections will have an uphill battle to make an impact in their rookie seasons, but there are always a handful bound to break the odds.

    Every year there are numerous Day 3 steals who go on to start right away despite being late-round picks. These players have fallen through the cracks but will come to training camp with an opportunity to prove their value and compete for playing time. We've identified eight players yet to be taken who have shown throughout their collegiate careers what it takes to be a starter from day one for the right team.

    The Carolina Panthers kicked off the festivities with the 101st overall selection after acquiring the pick from the Green Bay Packers, and the Washington Redskins finished off the day with Mr. Irrelevant. Each team will have hoped to have unearthed the next Dak Prescott, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown or, yes, even Tom Brady.

    Let's jump in and look at the eight players who can quickly establish themselves as they landed in the right situation for their talent to shine through.

Avonte Maddox, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles quickly recovered from losing star slot corner Patrick Robinson to free-agency by drafting Avonte Maddox from Pittsburgh in Round 4. The 125th overall pick will immediately earn a starting job, as he has the ideal frame and mindset to become a high-end slot in the NFL. The Eagles are also loaded with boundary corners, and Maddox's competition will likely be safeties instead of an established veteran.

    The 5'9", 184-pounder has terrific change-of-direction and short-area burst. Although his size and route recognition make him a mixed bag in man assignments, the Eagles run one of the heaviest zone-coverage defenses in the league. Maddox will benefit considerably from this as he'll keep receivers in front of him and react quickly to incoming passes.

    Most importantly, Maddox has the ball skills that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has shown to favor from the position. His 51 passes defensed and eight interceptions are elite production. His blend of toughness, experience and knack for playing the ball will endear him immediately to the staff.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Los Angeles Rams

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    The Los Angeles Rams have stacked their roster this offseason, but they entered the draft needing a pass-rusher, a linebacker and offensive line depth. They were successful in accomplishing each, landing two projected starters in this article, the first of whom was a collegiate star edge-rusher from Oklahoma, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

    Okoronkwo fell to the 160th overall pick despite notching 17 sacks and 29 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. The reason was his frame, as his 6'1" stature doesn't provide the ideal length for an edge player. That's a legitimate concern, but in Round 5, the Rams acquired a skilled speed-rusher who had a great collegiate career despite the limitation.

    His athleticism was clearly attractive in addition to the stats, as Okoronkwo posted one of the stronger overall combine performances. His lower-body explosion projects well and allows him to quickly get into the lap of blockers to set them up for a variety of moves. With Robert Quinn gone, the weak-side defensive end job is open for Okoronkwo to win early this offseason.

Deon Cain, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    The key for Day 3 picks to find their way to a list like this one: a little bit of luck and a specific skill set so a role can be carved out. That's precisely what happened to former Clemson Tigers receiver Deon Cain (Round 6, No. 185 overall), as one of the best deep threats in the class landed on a weak receiver depth chart in Indianapolis. The Colts have two proven NFL receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant, with a clear opening for a vertical threat on the outside.

    It also helps that Cain landed with Jacoby Brissett, one of the better deep passers in the league. Cain's athletic profile shows two terrific advantages in speed and change of direction, and he certainly translates that speed to the field. His first two years at Clemson, with quarterback Deshaun Watson, showcased that more than ever.

    2015-16 featured 72 receptions, 1,306 yards, 14 touchdowns and a ridiculous 18.1 yards per catch. Watch for him to quickly build a rapport with Brissett and allow Hilton and Grant to settle into their natural roles. Hilton and Cain will be dangerous deep threats, while Grant and tight end Jack Doyle can own underneath assignments.

Armani Watts, S, Kansas City Chiefs

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    It's possible that if former Texas A&M safety Armani Watts was draft-eligible after his breakout 2015 season, he would've been a second-round choice. But his 2016 season was cut short to injury and then the entire team disappointed in 2017. Watts landed as the 124th overall pick to the Kansas City Chiefs.

    The Chiefs have a wide-open competition for a true free safety like Watts. Where the fourth-round pick struggles is in run defense, as he's more of an ankle-grabber than someone who can rely on a strong frame to explode through ball-carriers. That hurt his value, but that weakness is also mitigated at deep safety.

    His roaming presence will allow the Chiefs to use Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen closer to the line of scrimmage in run support or in coverage. His 10 career interceptions, five fumbles recovered and seven fumbles forced are as impressive production from the position as any safety in the last few classes.

    Especially with Marcus Peters gone, it'll be important for the Chiefs to find as many players who locate the ball as well as Watts; otherwise, the defense will struggle to find an impactful replacement.

Maurice Hurst, DT, Oakland Raiders

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    If you're looking for what could be the steal of the entire draft, the early favorite has to be former Michigan defensive tackle, and wrecker of offensive lines, Maurice Hurst. The Oakland Raiders traded up to the No. 140 overall pick to snatch the free-falling Hurst, who presumably dropped because of a heart condition discovered at the NFL combine. While Hurst received clearance, it's apparent that individual teams didn't find him to be worth the health risk until the fifth round, if at all.

    Hurst was Pro Football Focus' third-ranked player in the class based on his on-field dominance. While that may have been too high considering he wasn't viewed as an elite prospect due to average athleticism, it does help demonstrate that Hurst was likely no worse than a top-40 talent without the heart issue.

    He'll inject a much-needed presence inside as a capable 3-technique in nickel fronts and as a 5-technique in base defenses for the Raiders. Recent draft picks have struggled to make an early impact, but Hurst is ready-made to play now. Expect him to beat out Eddie Vanderdoes quickly for snaps as the 2017 third-rounder is still in a developmental phase.

Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans began the draft with limited resources to help rebuild their offensive playmaking and shore up their defense, but they appeared to do a fine job of both. Their most exciting pick in terms of helping quarterback Deshaun Watson was wide receiver Keke Coutee, who is going to immediately slide into the slot role. The 5'9", 181-pounder may not be the quickest or fastest man on the roster, but he's experienced in his role and highly effective.

    The latter point is important since the Texans have previously tried athletes who weren't used to the slot, but Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington are still largely unproven as injuries have stunted their careers. Coutee will be a plug-and-play, naturally providing a shifty target for Watson. His presence allows DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller to play to their archetypes as the dominant No. 1 and the speedy No. 2 playmaker.

    Coutee's final two years at Texas Tech were impressive; he racked up over 2,300 yards and totaled 17 touchdowns. That won't happen as a third receiver in the NFL, but the fourth-round pick is going to maximize his targets and be a reliable mismatch against man defenses.

Micah Kiser, LB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Similar to his new teammate, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Micah Kiser is going to seize a unique opportunity to win a starting job on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Kiser, a fifth-round selection, is the opposite of his predecessor, Alec Ogletree, as he's a smaller player at just 6'0" and less than 240 pounds. But he's also athletic and a fast reactor in space, which helps overcome his size limitation.

    One of Kiser's top athletic comparisons from the combine was Lawrence Timmons, which can be seen on the field as well. Kiser's not the most refined player as a stack-and-shed player, as his hands aren't as effective at disengaging as they'll need to be. He does, however, fit the modern NFL as a three-down player with coverage skill and upside as he gains experience in man assignments.

    After finishing his career with 408 tackles, Kiser's going to be ready to play right away. Incumbent Bryce Hager isn't stout enough competition to keep Kiser from standing out as a run defender, and nickel situations with Mark Barron and Kiser can be extremely effective from Week 1.

Jamarco Jones, OT, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks' struggles along the offensive line have been notorious over the last several years. They've dumped a combined six first- and second-round picks into offensive linemen since 2009, yet still have a bad unit. Their approach changed after firing offensive line coach Tom Cable by selecting former Ohio State tackle Jamarco Jones with the 168th overall pick.

    Jones is a little undersized at 6'4", 299 pounds, but he was an efficient, high-quality player in college. He also had one of the worst combine performances of all time, according to Pride of Detroit's Kent Lee Platte. Though the athletic odds are against Jones, he's going to be squared off against Germain Ifedi for the starting right tackle job.

    Though Ifedi's a former first-round pick (2016) and a great athlete, there's no comparison between the two on the field.

    The Seahawks just need Jones to be serviceable to win the starting job. He's reminiscent of current Washington Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses, who also is a poor athlete but has been a standout starter. Jones will be a massive success story if he can provide the Seahawks offense with that type of impact considering he was a fifth-round pick.

Wyatt Teller, G, Buffalo Bills

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    In light of the strange situation where guard Richie Incognito suddenly retired due to health issues, the Buffalo Bills had to walk away from the draft with a talented guard to fill his shoes. They succeeded in doing so, selecting the underrated Wyatt Teller from Virginia Tech with the 166th overall pick. Teller will have the chance to earn the starting right guard job in his rookie season.

    The biggest competition he'll face is veteran journeyman Vladimir Ducasse, who has been a subpar player whenever he's hit the field. Teller brings a terrific athletic profile to the table, actually comparing to new teammate Dion Dawkins. He'll help the Bills transform their line into a more dynamic unit, building on the influx of athleticism over the last two years.

    Pass protection has been the 6'5", 314-pounder's biggest inconsistency. NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein said Teller was a much better player in 2016 than 2017 but has everything needed to be a solid starter. Like most players who fall to the third day of the draft, it's about finding consistency and honing their craft.

    Based on the current roster and his room for growth, Teller should be considered the favorite to start Week 1.