• As previous NFL drafts indicate, there's talent aplenty in the later rounds. Who will be this year's Tom Brady ... or Antonio Brown ... or Richard Sherman?
By Caleb Friedman
April 10, 2019

Tom Brady. Antonio Brown. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. The list goes on. These players are the best-case scenarios for teams drafting on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, but the point stands: there’s talent to be found in the Draft’s later rounds. For some players, it’s a lack of measurables or poor testing that causes them to fall. Maybe it’s a less-than-ideal scheme fit in their college system. Regardless of why or how it happens, good players routinely fall to the Draft’s final rounds. 

For teams, even if they don’t find the future stars lurking below the Day 1 and Day 2 hype, the third day of the Draft provides an opportunity to build the depth of a roster through cost-controlled players on rookie deals, which creates a valuable potential reward for hitting on late-round picks.

Here are some players who aren’t in the discussion at the top of the draft but could make an impact at the next level.

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

Rypien was ultra-productive in his four seasons at Boise State, throwing 90 touchdowns to just 29 interceptions and upping his competition percentage to over 67 by his senior year. The 6' 2" signal-caller doesn’t have the dynamite arm strength NFL clubs look for near the top of the draft, but he’s an accurate thrower on short-to-intermediate routes and stands tough in the pocket when he’s facing pressure. His pocket awareness could use some work, but his ability to go through progressions and make smart decisions with the ball would make him a high-quality backup with the potential to start in certain systems, which is good value for a Day 3 pick if he’s available. 

Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

The wideout from Clemson frequently draws comparisons to Julian Edelman as a Patriots-esque slot receiver, which makes sense. Renfrow’s reliable hands and tremendous body control made him a dependable receiving option for the Tigers for the past four seasons. Despite relatively pedestrian measurables (like the 4.59 40 time), Renfrow consistently got open in college, even against upper-level competition. He fits better with rhythm-based offenses where he won’t have to run as many vertical routes, which makes him a high-floor, low-ceiling slot option for teams looking for a player to move the chains. For the later rounds of the draft, snagging a player like that should be a no-brainer.

Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia

The word to know for Hardman is speed. Hardman wasn’t as productive as teams would’ve liked at Georgia, but he can fly, which will make him a situational weapon in the NFL. He didn’t play receiver in high school and arrived to Georgia as a defensive back, so his route-running should continue to improve with better coaching at the next level. Hardman could wind up going on the second day of the Draft because teams will salivate over his 4.33 40, but for a player who isn’t mentioned with the top receivers in his class, Hardman should have a clear niche in the NFL as a deep-threat receiver with explosive yards-after-catch potential on bubble screens and quick slants.

James Williams, RB, Washington State

Williams likely won’t ever be an every-down back in the NFL, which limits his value, but he can play a specific role as a pass-catching third down back that would still make him a useful pick in the Draft’s later rounds. The former Washington State back had a whopping 202 receptions in three seasons of play, and he’s a natural receiver out of the backfield. Plus, he’s a willing blocker in pass-protection. With that said, Williams should be able to carve out a role in a league that’s placing increasing importance on running backs as part of the passing game. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s shifty and tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.

Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma

Some believe the Oklahoma tackle should’ve returned for another season in Norman, but a relatively disappointing 2018 season at left tackle could push Evans down draft boards enough to make him a worthy pick early on Day 3, though Day 2 is still in play. Evans, who was overshadowed at times by other NFL prospects on the Sooners’ offensive line, was better in 2017 as a right tackle than he was in 2018 as a left tackle, so right tackle is probably a better fit in the NFL (he could also potentially to kick inside to guard). Evans would benefit from a season of coaching and working on his footwork, but his strength as a run-blocker should translate early.   

David Long, LB, West Virginia

Long is undersized and occasionally overly aggressive as a 4–3 WILL linebacker, but he diagnoses plays quickly and brings a physical, downhill style. One of college football’s top tacklers last season, Long will need some coaching to harness his explosiveness, which can border on recklessness, but his ability to get into backfields and disrupt near the line of scrimmage will make him an attractive player for linebacker-needy teams that pass on the draft’s top options early. As offenses trend toward more run-pass options and spread principles, players who can run and attack gaps like Long will become increasingly important.

Austin Bryant, DL, Clemson

On a loaded Clemson defensive front with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, Bryant didn’t get nearly the national attention he may have gotten elsewhere. Bryant is coming off back-to-back seasons 8.5 sacks, which partly came because Clemson’s other stars were swallowing up double-teams, but is still impressive nonetheless. He typically lined up at left end in Clemson’s 4–3 look, but at 6' 4" and 271 pounds he could be an intriguing option as a 3–4 outside linebacker, though having him play in coverage will be a work in progress. Bryant has the frame and athleticism to wreak havoc on the edge; it’ll just take the right coaching staff to refine his rush moves and mold him into a productive pro pass-rusher. On Day 3, betting on high-end physical traits makes sense.

Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston

Johnson is a wild card. He spent his first two seasons at Houston playing wide receiver, before transitioning to cornerback as a junior. Johnson has elite physical tools as a 6' 2" corner who ran a 4.4 40, but he’s raw in terms of technique and polish as a cover man. In a perfect world, Johnson plays as a gunner on the punt team while improving his cover skills as a corner, which is fine for a late-round pick. Because of his height-weight-speed combination, it’s not hard to envision Johnson going on Day 2. But, if you’re a team that doesn’t need immediate help at corner and Johnson is there on Day 3, the risk calculation is probably worth it.  

Mike Edwards, S, Kentucky

Edwards is a hard-nosed safety who’s probably best suited to play in the slot in nickel packages. He’s a willing tackler in the running game and played all over the field at Kentucky; he’s just not an elite athlete, which may give teams pause early in the draft. His ball skills are solid—he had 10 interceptions in four years at Kentucky—and he has adequate size to handle bigger receivers. Taking a flier on a versatile, high-effort player like Edwards is a wise investment in the draft’s later rounds. Plus, stockpiling subpackage-friendly defensive backs is more important than ever in today’s NFL. 

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