Winning at the highest level in the NFL requires an adequate amount of blue-chip players. Teams filled with solid-to-good players but no elite talent have a ceiling that can be hard, if not impossible, to overcome. It takes stars and superstars to elevate teams beyond average and into championship contention.
Sure, these stars can come from any round in the draft, but more times than not, they are going to be the more heralded players in a draft class. However, building a championship-caliber roster also requires late-round draft picks (or even undrafted free agents) to play well beyond their expected level of output. When a team hits on a diamond in the rough in the draft, it can expedite the building process. It gives the club greater financial flexibility because the "diamonds" won't count much against the cap early in their career.
The "Legion of Boom" helped the Seattle Seahawks skyrocket to the top of the NFL and a large part of their success was built on the talents of fifth-round selections Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. With that in mind, here are seven "diamonds" you need to know for the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26-28 on NFL Network). None of the players listed below were invited to the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, but most of them have taken full advantage of their opportunity on the pro-day circuit in recent weeks.
Tony Adams, OG, North Carolina State
Adams measures less than 6-foot-2, which makes him too short for some teams' liking, but those clubs really need to reconsider their standards in this case. With 33-inch arms, he has enough length to overcome his shorter stature. Oh, and did I mention Adams also comes from a tennis and wrestling background? Footwork, body control, and leverage -- who doesn't like that in an offensive lineman? Adams excelled in the Wolfpack's zone-heavy running game and could become a solid starter for teams who value his football talent over his height.
Mike Ford, CB, Southeast Missouri
At 5-11, 196 pounds, Ford has good size and length at the cornerback spot. With a 40-inch vertical leap, he possesses impressive explosiveness that shows itself on tape. He has a smooth backpedal and the desired footwork that allows him to break quickly on throws or recover from any mistakes early in the route. Ford is likely to go in Round 6 or 7 of the draft. He has the physical tools and upside in coverage that will allow him to surprise in the league.
Russell Gage, WR, LSU
While D.J. Chark and Derrius Guice are getting the vast majority of the national attention among LSU's offensive draft prospects, Gage could end up sneaking onto a roster and playing for a long time in the NFL. He made just 26 career catches for LSU's pedestrian offense, but don't let number that fool you. Gage is a tremendous competitor who's fearless with the ball in his hands. He recorded 17 career special-teams tackles and has excelled on both punt and kick coverages. His special-teams talent combined with his potential as a slot receiver make him a Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) diamond.
Ryan Green, RB, Florida State
Green had just 66 career touches at Florida State and failed to log more than 13 carries in any of his final three seasons. His lack of touches was due to inconsistency and simply being buried on a depth chart loaded with talent at the position, according to team sources. A scout recommended I give his tape a look. Once I checked out his game film, I was thoroughly impressed with his ability to create for himself through elusiveness and speed. Green's hands were "terrible" at his pro day, according to league sources, but his tape shows a player with the speed to outpace linebackers to the corner and the one-cut quickness to hit chunk play on outside zone carries. He might go undrafted, but Green has the traits and talent to succeed at the next level as a change-of-pace back.
Jake Martin, EDGE, Temple
There wasn't much in the production column for Martin over his first three seasons at Temple, but he broke through in 2017, recording 11.5 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. Martin has similar size and testing numbers to former Owl and 2017 first-round pick Haason Reddick. Martin plays with good upfield burst as a rusher and has a better rush plan than expected. He's an urgent player who might have the ability to transition into a 4-3 linebacker role with the potential to rush off the edge in sub packages.
Tarvarius Moore, S, Southern Miss
The 6-1, 195-pound Moore caught my attention with a scintillating pro day that included a 4.32-second 40-yard dash, a 38.5-inch vertical leap and an 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump. When a player produces speed and explosive numbers like that, it requires an extra look at the game tape because those traits are going to be highly coveted by NFL teams. What I found on tape was a safety with good size, play speed that matched his timed speed as well as the smooth footwork and athleticism needed to handle his coverage duties. Moore has cover skills and he's a downhill run supporter. He has quality ball skills and instincts. Somehow, Moore wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and has flown well under the public's radar, but NFL teams are all very well aware of him. He's likely to come off the board on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) of the draft. He has the potential to be a good NFL starter.
Tremon Smith, CB, Central Arkansas
Some NFL teams were hoping to keep Smith under wraps, but after running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, he's a secret no more. Smith's speed will only help his draft value. Clubs were already intrigued by his production -- he has 53 passes defensed, including 15 interceptions, to his name. He might need some time to acclimate to NFL route runners, but Smith's quick feet and strong desire to crowd the route are necessary traits for future NFL ballhawks.