As the NFL.com draft analyst responsible for curating team needs and creating profiles for more than 500 prospects each year, I've become acutely aware of how teams are doing on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) of the draft. Of course, I develop a strong opinion about certain players in each draft, and when I see a good player fall into a favorable situation on Day 3, my antenna goes up just a little bit.
Sure, late-round players are often counted on for nothing more than depth or to become core special-teams players. However, there are always late-round picks in each draft class that end up exceeding expectations because they were undervalued in the draft, landed in the perfect spot or a combination of both. For the purpose of this post, we will define late-rounders as players selected between the fifth and seventh rounds. Here are seven such players that are likely to quickly outperform their draft slot.
Drafted: Round 5, No. 142 overall out of Kansas State.
Analysis: Reed is on the shorter side for a cornerback at 5-foot-9 1/8, but he's well-built and extremely feisty when challenging the catch. He has the talent, confidence and ball skills to compete with K'Waun Williams for slot corner reps. His ability as a punt and kick returner help his chances of exceeding expectations.
Drafted: Round 5, No. 163 overall out of Virginia Tech.
Analysis: With Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen anchoring the defensive line, there will be substantial competition for snaps up front. However, Settle has the size and talent to find reps and make his mark if he can keep his weight down. He offers some position versatility on the D-line and he flashed impressive quickness to disrupt for being such a big man (6-3, 329 pounds). Players that are big, quick and disruptive can find playing time early on.
Drafted: Round 6, No. 176 overall out of Tennessee.
Analysis:Todd Gurley is the man for the Rams, but to keep him at his best, the Rams will need a runner who can pick up tough yards as a backup and catch passes out of the backfield. That's where Kelly comes in. The Rams' Malcolm Brown is a try-hard runner, but he had just 9 catches for 53 yards last season, while Gurley led the team with 64 grabs. Kelly helps diversify the running back corps, and he has the ability to offer legitimate RB2 versatility right away.
Drafted: Round 6, No. 179 overall out of Tulane.
Analysis: If you like speed, quickness and ball production, you'll find Nickerson intriguing. In my estimation, Nickerson's game tape was of the quality of a Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) pick, but concerns about his slight frame might have scared some teams and pushed him to Day 3. Buster Skrine is the incumbent slot corner for the Jets, but if he gets injured or is benched due to ineffectiveness, Nickerson will get those snaps and is unlikely to relinquish the position.
Drafted: Round 6, No. 185 overall out of Clemson.
Analysis: A receiver with Cain's size (6-2, 202), speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash), and pedigree is always a welcome sight for quarterbacks. His draft stock was hampered by concerns about his maturity and drops. His physical tools and ability to uncover on all three levels of the field should not be undersold, though. Cain has an opportunity to impress in camp and find catches as a rookie despite being a sixth-round pick.
Drafted: Round 6, No. 213 overall out of Appalachian State.
Analysis: Gossett offers a better combination of size and strength than most of the guards on the Vikings' roster and he showed at Reese's Senior Bowl practices in January that he might be able to acclimate to the jump in competition faster than expected. I expect Gossett to quickly move up the depth chart in camp and become a starter, perhaps as early as this season.
Drafted: Round 7, No. 236 overall out of Alabama.
Analysis:Ezekiel Elliott is clearly capable of handling the lion's share of duties on all three downs, but Scarbrough is a downhill runner who has the size and demeanor to help the Cowboys continue to impose their will on the ground when Elliott is resting. I can envision Scarbrough thriving in a complementary role similar to the one the Titans' Derrick Henry has played behind DeMarco Murray for much of his career. Landing Scarbrough in the seventh round could turn out to be a tremendous steal this season.