NFL draft steals: Six players teams will regret letting slide

Which of this year's prospects will teams regret letting slip as far as they did? Count on these players to outperform their draft slot.
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Why did Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation, fall so far in the first round of the draft? Rodgers might not be able to recite all the players drafted before him like Warriors forward Draymond Green, but as the No. 24 pick in the 2005 draft, he came into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. Every team who selected before the Packers that year almost certainly regrets passing on him now.

But Rodgers isn’t the only highly-touted player to fall. Every year at least a handful of prospects experience an unexpected tumble on draft night. Many of them go on to make the teams that passed on them pay for their oversight.

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Below, a closer look at six players from the 2017 NFL draft who’ll make teams regret passing on them:

Reuben Foster, LB, 49ers

This one might be too easy. Though there are character and injury concerns with Foster, on talent alone, he’s one of the top five players in the draft. Yet the 49ers were able to trade up to select him with the No. 31 pick. First-year GM John Lynch got an absolute steal in Foster, who SI ranked as its No. 2 overall player. Foster is a rangy middle linebacker with the talent to make plays all over the field. As long as he’s able to stay on the field, Foster is a steal at the end of the first round.

Forrest Lamp, G, Chargers

Lamp could have been the first Western Kentucky player to go in Round 1 since 1982. Instead, several teams passed on the versatile lineman until the Chargers scooped him up with the sixth pick in the second round (No. 38). Lamp was pegged as a first-round talent by many, and some even had him rated as the best lineman in the draft. He should start right away alongside another Day 2 steal in Dan Feeney, a pure guard prospect out of Indiana who fell to the third round.

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Jeremy McNichols, RB, Buccaneers

Tampa Bay may have found its future starting running back in Round 5. A two-time All-Mountain West second-team selection, McNichols rushed for 3,205 yards and 44 touchdowns over three seasons. Many projected him to be taken somewhere between the third and sixth round, but once healthy, he’ll immediately compete with Doug Martin and Charles Sims for the starting job. Fellow Boise State alum Jay Ajayi spent last year proving the teams that passed on him wrong, and there’s a good chance McNichols does the same.

Jordan Willis, DE, Bengals

For a while, Willis was being talked about as a potential second- or even late first-round pick. After totaling 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss his senior season at Kansas State, he became a hot-name at the scouting combine, posting the best 40 time and the second-best vertical leap of any defensive lineman. With the Bengals in need of a pass rusher, Willis can slide right in and prove himself worthy of more than the 73rd overall pick.

Zach Cunningham, OLB, Texans

The SEC’s leading tackler joining one of the best defenses in the NFL last season? Seems like an ideal scenario for Cunningham, who many projected to be a first-round pick. Cunningham was SI's No. 20 overall prospect, but he was still on the board late in the second round when the Texans sprung for him with the No. 57 pick. He’ll need to improve on his wrap-up and consistency as a tackler, but Cunningham should not have fallen as far as he did.

Austin Carr, WR, Patriots

The odds were always stacked against the 6' 1", 194-pound Northwestern star getting drafted, but Carr has a penchant for finding open space. Against Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and the rest of Ohio State’s talented secondary, Carr totaled 158 yards on eight catches. He signed as an undrafted free agent in New England, where he'll get to catch passes from the best quarterback in the NFL within an offense where quick decision-making and separation are paramount. Tom Brady has transformed former unknowns passed over in the draft into productive wideouts in the past, and Carr has the skills to be the next one. A former walk-on turned Big Ten Receiver of the Year, Carr always seemed to be open during his final college season. Don’t be surprised if he finds a home in New England’s offense.