It was a marathon, full of a few twists and turns, and lots of talk and hubris, but the NFL draft is finally over.
The Cleveland Browns, as they are wont to do, made a controversial choice at no. 1 and took potential head case QB Baker Mayfield. Interesting choice, since Sam Darnold was consensus no. 1, but hey, these are the Browns we are talking about.
Four of the top 10 picks in this draft were quarterbacks, including Darnold who went no. 3 to the Jets, Josh Allen at no.7 to the Bills (who wisely traded up) and a smack-talking Josh Rosen went 10th to Arizona.
There weren’t a ton of surprises, but still a few players projected to go in the first 32 picks got left out until Friday and into Saturday.
The latter rounds, in recent history, have produced a slew of blue chip players who just needed a chance and some grooming, like Dak Prescott, Antonio Brown and the grand-daddy of them all, Tom Brady.
Here are 20 players picked in the latter rounds of the draft who could make scouts, prognosticators and all manner of NFL literati look bad in the coming years. We’ve just laid them out at two from each major position with draft slot.
20. S Justin Reid, Stanford – 3rd Round, 68th Overall, Houston Texans
There were two safeties taken in the first round, and only one, Florida State’s Derwin James, was rated higher pre-draft than Stanford’s Reid. The other was Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds, who had a 5.56 rating (according to the scouting report at NFL.com) compared to Reid’s 6.06. Reid’s brother is Pro Bowl safety and free agent Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers, so there is pedigree here. The younger Reid established himself as a force with the Cardinal in 2017, registering a career high 94 tackles, along with a sack, five interceptions and six pass deflections. Before he was taken in the third round by Houston, one NFC GM said that he “doesn’t have too many issues in his game” and that he is “better in coverage than his brother.” High praise, indeed.
19. S Jesse Bates III, Wake Forest – 2nd Round, 54th Overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Bates, like Reid above, also scored higher from scouts in the combine than Edmunds, but didn’t end up getting selected until late in the second round by Cincinnati. Bates, who started two seasons for the Demon Deacons, piled up 177 tackles, six interceptions and 10 pass deflections in 24 games. As an added bonus, he brought his ‘A’ game against higher ranked opponents. In 2017, his finest effort came in a narrow 26-19 loss to Florida State, where he had 14 of his 77 tackles on the season, as well as two pass deflections. In his final college game, the Belk Bowl, Bates was instrumental to a 55-52 victory over Texas A&M. He had six tackles and returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Scouts like his versatility and aggressiveness, which will do him well with the Bengals.
18. CB Carlton Davis, Auburn – 2nd Round, 63rd Overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay desperately needed to fill a hole in the defensive secondary and came up with a gem late in the second round. With Brent Grimes turning 35 before the 2018 season starts and former first round pick Vernon Hargreaves III not impressing anyone, Auburn’s Carlton Davis has the chance to come in and compete for a starting job and at worst apprentice under a consummate pro like Grimes. NFL scouts gave Davis a pre-draft 6.00 rating, noting that he should become an instant starter. Davis started as a true freshman in 2015 and last year, except for a concussion in the SEC championship game, Davis was great. He was All-SEC and had 36 tackles, an interception and 11 pass deflections (tops on the Tigers). His size (6’1″, 205 lbs.), strength and ability to smother receivers are his best attributes.
17. CB Duke Dawson, Florida – 2nd Round, 56th Overall, New England Patriots
Somehow, some way, the New England Patriots are going to make AFC East foes Buffalo pay for trading away the 56th pick in the draft. The Patriots selected Florida corner Duke Dawson, after that pick was traded from the Rams, to Buffalo, then Tampa Bay and finally the Pats. Dawson was first team All-SEC and registered 34 tackles, nine pass break-ups and four interceptions in 10 games, including one pick six. He won’t likely unseat incumbent corners Malcolm Butler or Stephon Gilmore right away, however, Dawson has been lauded by a NFC scout as being “a good football player” with a “natural feel for the game no matter where they have him lined up.” He’s projected to be a starting nickel corner.
16. LB Josey Jewell, Iowa – 4th Round, 106th Overall, Denver Broncos
Pardon the bad pun, but Josey Jewell may turn out to be one of the biggest gems of the NFL draft. Taken way down at 106th overall by Denver, the Hawkeyes’ Jewell was a prolific tackler in four years of Big 10 Football, recording 433 tackles in 49 games, including 28 for a loss. In 2017, Jewell was Jack Lambert award winner, which was won eight years ago by his new teammate Von Miller, then with Texas A&M. Jewell had a college career high 132 tackles last year, as well as 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and 11 passes deflected. Jewell was also named the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski award, won by N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb. Though not rated too highly by pro scouts prior to the draft, a high placed scouting director said he’s a dark horse with great instincts.
15. LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina State – 2nd Round, 36th Overall, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were brutal on both sides of the football in 2017 and at the draft seemed at least to try and shore up some of their shortcomings on defence. They stole South Carolina State’s Leonard at 36th overall (they didn’t even have to trade up), as he was the second highest rated outside linebacker, but didn’t have a high profile playing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Bulldogs. Leonard rang up impressive numbers this past season, with 114 tackles (12 for a loss), 8.5 sacks and two interceptions. Playing in the mid-major MEAC is one thing, but Leonard has proved himself against top tier competition, like a 14-tackle performance in the 2018 Senior Bowl and 19 tackles in a game against Clemson in 2016. Scouts figure that once he improves his upper body strength he’ll be a “war daddy.”
14. DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State – 3rd Round, 77th Overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Could it be that the Bengals got two defensive sleepers in the same draft? With S Jessie Bates III (see above) and DE Sam Hubbard taken well down the list, there is plenty of potential. And, right after the Bengals took the Buckeyes’ Hubbard at no. 77, they also traded up to pick Texas LB Malik Jefferson at no. 78 (he nearly made our list). Hubbard, a Cincinnati native and a Bengals fan growing up, was a graduate of football mad Moeller High School in Cincinnati before heading to Ohio State. In his junior season, Hubbard was great, racking up 42 tackles (13.5 for a loss), seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He distinguished himself in OSU’s victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl, registering four tackles (3.5 for a loss) and a game high 2.5 sacks (all on Sam Darnold). He’ll likely push veteran ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, but will have to apprentice for a bit.
13. DE Harold Landry, Boston College – 2nd Round, 41st Overall, Tennessee Titans
The top rated edge rusher in the draft, and 16th ranked overall prospect, Harold Landry didn’t get any love until Tennessee traded up with Oakland to snag him at no. 41. For that reason, the Titans get who we believe to be a sleeper. A hybrid lineman/end/linebacker (he’s 6’3″, 250 lbs.), Landry put up some big numbers with B.C. in four seasons. In his junior year, 2016, Landry had 50 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and interception, seven forced fumbles and four pass deflections in 12 games. A lingering ankle injury last year limited him to just eight contests, but he still posted 38 tackles, five sacks and two pass deflections. Scouts rave about Landry’s explosiveness and have compared him to Atlanta Falcons LB Vic Beasley Jr. If Landry can do what Beasley’s done in three years with the Falcons, good on him.
12. DL Harrison Phillips, Stanford – 3rd Round, 96th Overall, Buffalo Bills
After trading up to make astute first round picks in QB Josh Allen (7th overall) and LB Tremaine Edmunds (16th), the Bills wheeling and dealing saw them without a selection until late in the third round. At no. 96, the dealt CB Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for the 96th pick and WR Jordan Matthews. The man they chose at no. 96 was Phillips, the 50th ranked prospect heading into the draft and sixth highest rated defensive tackle, which pretty much makes him a blue chip steal. He’s a stout 6’4″, 307 lb. lineman who is a consummate playmaker. After playing all of five games in his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Cardinal, Phillips rounded into form as a starter in his third year, registering 46 tackles and seven sacks in 12 games. Then, in his senior year, he doubled his output in tackles to 98 (17 for a loss), forced two fumbles and had 7.5 sacks.
11. DT B.J. Hill, N.C. State – 3rd Round, 69th Overall, New York Giants
For the first three rounds, the Giants weren’t open for business, opting instead to hold on to the four picks they had. They did quite well, in our estimation, grabbing Saquon Barkley second overall, UTEP G Will Hernandez 34th and then Georgia LB Lorenzo Carter 66th before getting sleeper Hill three slots later. Hill is a beast at 6’4″, 315 lbs. and will do battle with equally beastly Hernandez on opposite sides of the ball at training camp this summer. Hill stayed with the Wolfpack for his full four-year complement, which doesn’t hurt him going into the 2018 season. As a senior, he was honorable mention all-ACC, starting all 13 games and recording 55 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and three pass deflections. He’ll likely have to apprentice under Damon Harrison for a year or two, but is rated as having a chance to becoming a starter.
10. OT Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh – 2nd Round, 62nd Overall, Minnesota Vikings
Described as one of the best athletes at the draft — he was a tight end in high school — Pitt OL Brian O’Neill was a great find for the Vikings at no. 62. He gives the Vikings options offensively, given that he has proven he can catch and had the athleticism to score two TDs for the Panthers on run plays during his sophomore season. Where he slots in, either at guard (where he is projected to start) or at tackle is anyone’s guess. Scouts like the fact that a guy who is 6’7″ and 297 lbs. is nimble enough to be versatile, but worry about his strength and the fact he didn’t show well at the Senior Bowl. O’Neill was a First Team All-ACC selection and was the fastest offensive lineman at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds.
9. OL James Daniels, Iowa – 2nd Round, 39th Overall, Chicago Bears
The Bears, in our estimation, were fortunate to grab Iowa OL James Daniels at no. 39. He was the draft’s highest rated offensive lineman (can be a center or guard) and 23rd ranked prospect overall. Scouts were high on his size and ability on the line, as well as his “good functional power.” One NFC scouting director even went so far as to say that Daniels could come in “and challegne for best center in our division right away.” The Bears have an immediate need for a guard after declining Josh Sitton’s option over the winter. Incumbent C Cody Whitehair won’t likely lose his job, but Daniels will push him to be better. If anything, Daniels, who is rated a plus-pass protector, will help cut down the number of sacks that NFL defences put on young QB Mitch Trubisky in 2017. He was sacked 31 times, which was 16th most, but in just 12 games. Had he played all 16, it may have been 41 sacks (Kirk Cousins was fifth at that number). Daniels is a keeper and Chicago did well to take him at 39th.
8. TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota St. – 2nd Round, 49th Overall, Philadelphia Eagles
On draft day, the champion Eagles put one on division rival Dallas by swooping in at no. 49 to take South Dakota State Jackrabbit’s star TE Goedert. He had hoped the Cowboys would select him, but Philly engineered a deal to send their 52nd and and 169th picks to Indianapolis for the 49th. With Jason Witten’s retirement being announced during the draft, speculation was heavy that Goedert would go to the Cowboys, but the Eagles trumped them, with Dallas selecting Texas G Connor Williams at no. 50 instead. The big question mark for Philly is how Goedert will slot in, considering the team already has superstar TE Zack Ertz catching the pigskin and reliable veteran Brent Celek providing back-up. In the past two seasons with the Jackrabbits — we love that name — Goedert caught 164 passes for 2,404 yards and 18 touchdowns. It’s now an embarrassment of riches at tight end for Philly.
7. TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State – 2nd Round, 42nd Overall, Miami Dolphins
The Fish couldn’t pass up on Penn State star tight end, he’s too hard not to notice at 6’6″, 257 lbs. Miami definitely got a sleeper in Gesicki, who entered the draft as the top ranked player at his position, but ended up going behind no. 2 prospect Hayden Hurst of South Carolina, who went to Baltimore in the first round at no. 25. As long and lanky as he is, Gesicki won’t be a great pass blocker initially, but he can run and catch passes in all three zones. In his senior year, Gesicki hauled in a career high 57 passes for 563 yards and nine touchdowns. Earlier this year, the Dolphins released veteran Julius Thomas, which means that the competition for the starting job is wide open. Gesicki dwarfs no. 2 man and 34-year-old veteran Anthony Fasano, as well as third-stringer MarQueis Gray, who are both 6’4″.
6. WR Anthony Miller, Memphis – 2nd Round, 51st Overall, Chicago Bears
Given that the state of their receiving corps is too be determined, the fact the Bears got Memphis’ ultra-competitive speedster Miller at no. 51 is a boon to them heading into training camp. The team acquired Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson, who is coming off knee surgery for a torn ACL, as well as Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel, who did an admirable job as a reserve with the Falcons. Those two are penciled in as starters, for now, but in Miller they may have something really special. And if his hands — which scouts aren’t in love with — ever catch up with his feet, he’s going to be very dangerous. Likened in style to Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Miller was superb in his junior and senior seasons with the Tigers. He had 95 and 96 receptions, respectively, in 2016 and 2017. He added 1,434 yards and 14 TDs in 2016 and then 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017.
5. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, – 2nd Round, 47th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Not too far in the future, there will be a changing of the guard in Arizona — which already sort of happened with QB Carson Palmer’s retirement. The Cards made a heck of a pick at no. 10 on day one, taking UCLA QB Josh Rosen, who will play with a chip on his shoulder to prove at least nine teams wrong for not selecting him earlier. Then, 37 picks later, Arizona made a nice, quiet pick in tough receiver Christian Kirk out of Texas A&M. While he’s not the biggest guy and might struggle in pass routes well downfield, he is extremely reliable on short routes, where he excels. Not to say he won’t score touchdowns, but he has great hands and is a quick (not fast) runner when he gets the ball into those top shelf mitts. He was very consistent in three seasons with the Aggies, catching 234 passes for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns. In the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest, Kirk caught 13 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns, including a 52-yard catch-and-run effort.
4. RB Royce Freeman, Oregon – 3rd Round, 71st Overall, Denver Broncos
By pretty much all counts, the Broncos did very well the first two days of the draft. They got DE Bradley Chubb fifth overall and then SMU star wide receiver Courtland Sutton at no. 40, without having to trade up or down to do so. Then again at no. 71, Denver pulled out a sleeper in Oregon’s Freeman, who will compete for the starting job that was vacated when Denver released free agent C.J. Anderson. Freeman did it all in the Pac-12 with the Ducks, finishing his four-year career as the all-time rushing touchdowns leader with 60 (in 51 total games). He ran for 5,621 yards in those 51 games and also caught 79 passes for another 814 yards and four more touchdowns. Freeman will have a great chance to usurp starting duties in the Mile High City competing with third-year man Devontae Booker and 2017 rookie De’Angelo Henderson.
3. RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn – 2nd Round, 43rd Overall, Detroit Lions
Given his pre-draft status, we have to wonder if Kerryon Johnson fell exactly where he should have at no. 43 overall to Detroit? However, there wasn’t the hype attached to his name associated with those of Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb and Ronald Jones. We think Johnson, who was SEC Player of the Year and First Team All-SEC — no mean feat, either — has the potential to be a big star down the road with the Lions. He put in a massive season in 2017, running for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games, along with 24 catches for another 194 yards and two more scores. Johnson had more rushing yards and one less TD than the first running back taken in the draft, Saquon Barkley. A scout from the NFC said Johnson’s style is like Le’Veon Bell’s and that as a “three-down back” he can add significantly to a Detroit attack that added LeGarrette Blount in the off-season.
2. QB Mike White, Western Kentucky – 5th Round, 171st Overall, Dallas Cowboys
Some day, Dallas QB Dak Prescott, himself a great find deep in a draft, is going to have to step aside. Whether it’s from age or poor play, no one can tell right now, but in training camp he will be pushed by perhaps the biggest sleeper in the draft, Western Kentucky pivot Mike White. The seventh rated quarterback going into the draft had to wait a while to hear his name called, but that was probably because he played for the mid-major Hilltoppers instead of a bigger school. Scouts like his size (6’5″) and his considerable arm, which won’t necessarily get him the back-up job in Dallas right away over unproven commodities Cooper Rush or Kellen Moore, but he will compete. White began his career with South Florida in 2013, played two seasons and then sat out a year at Western Kentucky when he transferred. In 27 games over two seasons with WKU, White completed 648 of 976 passes for 8,540 yards and 63 touchdowns.
1. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State – 3rd Round, 76th Overall, Pittsburgh Steelers
That the Steelers only had to give up a 79th and a 220th overall pick to Seattle to get top notch QB Mason Rudolph at no. 76 tells anyone anything they need to know about his sleeper status. The OK State prolific passer, who had to wait a long time after five other QBs were taken in the first round before him, was actually rated very high by the Steelers. They were none too happy, then, to get Rudolph where they did, considering they have a superstar in Ben Roethlisberger (who will retire sooner, than later). Scouts really like his size at 6’5″ and 235 lbs. and consider him a work in progress who should get better with time. Mason won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the country’s top senior QB, on the strength of 4,904 yards passing and 37 TDs in 13 games with the Cowboys. If Steelers fans need to know anything about the kid’s character, he summed it up by saying that as Roethlisberger’s understudy it wasn’t Big Ben’s job to teach him anything, but rather it was “his job to learn.”