Late draft gems already shining for NFL teams
There are late-round success stories throughout the NFL Draft's history: Marion Barber and Brandon Jacobs in Round 4; Tom Brady in Round 6; 2011 Hall-of-Fame inductees Shannon Sharpe and Chris Hanburger in Rounds 7 and 18, respectively.
And while the NFL has cut the draft down in recent years, going to seven rounds in 1994, teams still make brilliant finds late in the process. We're only about midway through the preseason, but already some of the players picked in Round 4 and beyond in the 2011 draft are looking like absolute steals.
We take a glance at 10 of the better sleeper picks from this year's draft, in order of where they were drafted:
• Roy Helu, RB, Redskins (Round 4, pick No. 105 overall): Washington traded up to get this pick from Houston, and it looks like it could turn out to be a great move. The speedy Helu could wind up providing a change-of-pace threat out of the backfield -- he's a bigger home-run threat for the Redskins than Tim Hightower or Ryan Torain, both more power backs.
He had eight carries for 28 yards, including an impressive 18-yard dash, in the Redskins' preseason opener. With Torain struggling to get back in action after breaking his hand, the opportunity is there for Helu.
• Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars (4, 114): Even though he had to sit out the preseason opener with an injured groin, Mount Union's own Cecil Shorts has done nothing but impress the Jacksonville coaching staff. Shorts tallied more than 4,700 career yards receiving in Division III and probably could have been selected higher than he was without anyone being too surprised.
The bonus for Shorts is that Jacksonville's in definite need of help at wide receiver. The current crop -- which includes Jason Hill, Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard, Kassim Osgood and Tiquan Underwood -- has been far from overwhelming in the past couple of seasons.
• Delone Carter, RB, Colts (4, 119): The Colts re-signed Joseph Addai in the offseason, mainly because of Addai's versatility and comfort in the Indianapolis offense. Between his ability to block, catch passes out of the backfield and run the football, Addai became irreplaceable for Indianapolis.
But Carter's emerged as a definite threat to steal some playing time. The Syracuse product is big at 225 pounds and should at least provide the Colts some help in short-yardage and red-zone situations. He's durable, too -- he topped 230 carries each of the past two seasons for the Orange.
Pinkston, who played tackle for the Panthers, slid into the Browns' starting lineup at left guard this week when Eric Steinbach left practice. Pinkston may not be in the starting lineup when Week 1 rolls around, but his ability to play at multiple line positions won't hurt his cause.
• Daniel Kilgore, OL, 49ers (5, 163): Another guy who played tackle in college but looks like he'll slide inside at the NFL level, Kilgore's close to being a roster lock for the 49ers. The former Appalachian State standout already has risen to the second unit on San Fran's O-line depth chart, behind Mike Iupati at left guard. Like Pinkston, his versatility will only help going forward.
• Mistral Raymond, CB/S, Vikings (6, 170): Raymond had to overcome more than his fair share of off-the-field hurdles to become a prospect while at South Florida. The Vikings took Raymond in Round 6 in part because of his ability to slot at either cornerback or safety.
So far, it's been the latter. Raymond jumped into a starting safety spot during camp when Husain Abdullah missed a couple of days, and he'll get a long look at both safety and corner as the preseason progresses.
At just 5-foot-10, he doesn't have great size, but he's a talented player -- he had 101 catches for 1,023 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior season. And he opened some eyes in his Dallas preseason debut with a five-catch, 127-yard showing that included a 76-yard touchdown reception. He's in a fight with Kevin Ogletree for the No. 3 receiver designation, but he's got the goods to win.
• Greg Jones, LB, Giants (6, 185): Jones, from Michigan State, didn't take long to earn some praise from Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. At 6-1, 240, Jones doesn't bring a lot of the measurables to the table that some other linebackers do, but he has a nose for the football -- last season, Jones racked up 106 tackles for the Spartans.
Given what he did over four years in the Big Ten, it's hard to believe he made it into the sixth round. Same goes for safety Tyler Sash out of Iowa, whom the Giants selected 13 picks after Jones. New York's expecting big things out of Sash, too, and maybe even earlier than Jones -- Sash has been running with the first-team defense at times already.
• Jason Kelce, C, Eagles (6, 191): If you can turn a sixth-round pick into a starter before Week 1 of the regular season, you've done some good work. That's precisely where the Eagles look like they're headed with Kelce, a Cincinnati product.
Kelce has a battle on his hands for the starting gig, with veteran Jamaal Jackson doing what he can to hang on, but Philadelphia has been more than impressed with the young lineman. And like the Giants, the Eagles may have also struck gold more than once in Round 6 -- two picks after taking Kelce, Philadelphia selected linebacker Brian Rolle, who led the team in tackles during the preseason opener.
• Jimmy Wilson, CB, Dolphins (7, 235): From the seventh round to an apparent guaranteed roster spot, Wilson's been tabbed as the "camp darling" for Miami, wowing his new team with a non-stop motor and huge hitting ability. During the Dolphins' first preseason game, he notched a sack and forced fumble. Miami likes him as a possible blitz threat, and he should see additional playing time as the preseason continues.