Astute evaluators can find quality players at every stage of the draft, which makes Day 3 an important one in the minds of NFL coaches and scouts. Teams are looking to fill out their rosters with hidden gems who have the potential to make significant contributions down the line. After assessing the talent pool still available in the 2013 NFL Draft, I've identified 10 players who could develop into stars at the next level. Here they are:
NFL '13 DRAFT XTRA
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The highly decorated passer, who was considered a potential first-round pick at the beginning of the pre-draft process, surprisingly fell to Day 3. He has an impressive résumé as a three-time captain with the Trojans, but most importantly, he has displayed the intelligence, awareness and ball skills to be an effective pro. Now, some of Barkley's critics would cite his interception total (48) as a cause for concern, but I would contend that he was forcing the ball upfield in an attempt to make plays. I still think he possesses the skills to thrive as a starter, if surrounded by an explosive supporting cast.
Everyone is pulling for Lattimore as he attempts to make it to the NFL after suffering multiple horrific knee injuries over the past two seasons. Lattimore is certainly worthy of late-round consideration after scoring 38 rushing touchdowns in just 30 games and gaining 100 yards or more 11 times in three seasons with the Gamecocks. Although his health issues will have robbed him of some of his speed and athleticism, Lattimore is a gritty back who is driven to reclaim his spot atop the position class. With that kind of determination setting the stage for the next phase of his football life, he's sure to win somebody over.
The 6-foot-6, 281-pound defender developed into one of the most feared pass rushers in the Big Ten, finishing his college career with 10 sacks. Gholston displays sneaky first-step quickness and enough athleticism to consistently get to the quarterback off the edge. Additionally, he is a long, rangy athlete who can create disruption against the run. Finishing 2012 with 13 tackles for loss, Gholston routinely pitched a tent on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. He also has versatility as a base end in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Teams should covet such skills in a late-round prospect.
Thomas was one of the top ballhawks in college football in 2012, nabbing eight interceptions -- three of which were pick-sixes. Though his strong nose for the ball is unrivaled among the defenders in this year's class, he remains available heading into Day 3. Thomas' slide down the charts can be partly attributed to his pedestrian athletic numbers, but scouts who are swayed by those are overlooking his natural instincts and skills as a playmaker. Last season, Thomas added 12 tackles for loss -- plus four sacks and four forced fumbles -- to a résumé that is impressive from every angle. Most importantly, he displayed a knack for playmaking that is critical in today's game, which is why I believe he will be a big-time player at the next level.
The devaluation of the running back position can be partially blamed on the lack of feature runners in the draft. But it can't be blamed on Taylor, who compiled an impressive collegiate résumé at Stanford featuring three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He accomplished that feat by rushing 800-plus times in a pro-style offense that routinely directed runs between the tackles. This experience was important because it allowed evaluators to assess his skills in an offense that featured concepts utilized on Sundays by pro play-callers. Taylor's experience, production and football IQ should outweigh his speed deficiencies; I don't think it'll be long before the former Cardinal hears his name called on Day 3.
There was some talk about Patton cracking the first round, based on his polished game and superb ball skills. However, he apparently failed to make a compelling case to be taken before Day 3, a surprising development considering his production and history of big-game performances. If teams take the time to reshuffle the deck early in the fourth round, I believe several might make a run at Patton as a potential No. 2 receiver.
Okafor, who was described as an enigma during the fall, attempted to shed that label with a solid performance at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. Okafor excelled on the practice field, displaying the requisite athleticism to develop into an elite player at the position. Additionally, he showed that he had the poise, savvy and football IQ to quickly take information from the board to the field without incident. Although Okafor's low-running motor sometimes gets in his way, the flashes shown by the former Longhorn make him worthy of consideration as a mid-round prospect.
Scouts might be distracted by Greene's unimpressive physical dimensions, but his unbelievable production as a tackler and playmaker is hard to ignore. A two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Greene finished his remarkable Rutgers career with 19 forced turnovers (including 12 forced fumbles and seven interceptions). Numbers like those indicate a natural playmaker and a potential difference-maker with a knack for getting around the ball. If placed in a scheme that accentuates his strengths as a sideline-to-sideline defender, Greene should quickly outplay his draft status and become a dominant force in the NFL.
The later rounds of the draft are reserved for standout players with athletic deficiencies. Poyer, who failed to post the kind of combine numbers that could have complemented his sensational production as a cover corner (13 career interceptions, including seven in 2012), falls into that category. The Oregon State standout, who displayed impressive instincts and awareness as a slot defender, is one of the best nickel corner prospects. While a lack of speed and explosiveness might keep him from ever developing into a starter, the proliferation of spread offensive concepts in the NFL means teams must have an instinctive nickel defender in place in most sub-packages.
The influence of the zone-read option has prompted offensive coordinators to search for a dual-threat playmaker at the quarterback position. With his sneaky athleticism and running skills, Scott is one of just a handful of candidates to execute the scheme. Scott has also shown the ability to effectively pass from the pocket with accuracy and precision. While he is certainly not a polished product at this point, his impressive flashes should entice a team to take a chance on a playmaker with the potential to develop into a Colin Kaepernick-like threat in the backfield.