Yes, while the first few rounds of the NFL draft are still your best bet when it comes to finding elite talent, there are almost always hidden gems among the prospects picked later on. Morris (Round 6, 2012), Marshall (Round 4, 2006), Sherman (Round 5, 2011) and Allen (Round 4, 2004) are among a group of top-notch players who have emerged from the bottom portion of the draft over the years -- a group that also includes Geno Atkins (Round 4, 2010), Pierre Garcon (Round 6, 2008), Marques Colston (Round 7, 2006) and, perhaps most famously, Tom Brady (Round 6, 2000).
With OTAs in full swing, it's worth remembering that, somewhere among the crop of rising rookies taking the field, there are a handful of late draft picks poised to emerge as impact players. Here, presented in alphabetical order, are 11 guys drafted on Day 3 who have a good chance to make their presence felt this season, plus nine bonus players to consider (click on players' names for more info):
Draft position: Round 6, No. 181 overall
Though Blue will be fighting for time as part of a position group that also includes Arian Foster and Andre Brown, he's exactly the kind of big, strong, quick running back that coach Bill O'Brien loves. He's got everything needed to be a successful ball-carrier, including good hands. Checking in at 6-foot-2 3/8 and 223 pounds, Blue cuts an imposing figure on the field. He did miss time after tearing his ACL early in the 2012 season; between that and the fact that LSU rotates backs, Blue did not get a ton of carries or starts at the college level. Still, he did gain 6 yards per attempt.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 118
Bryant is a developmental project, but he possesses unbelievable ability, averaging 22.2 yards per catch in three years at Clemson. He simply has too much size (6-4, 211 pounds) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine) to not pose a problem for opposing defenders. Bryant will do a good job catching the back-shoulder fade and winning 50-50 balls; he should be a big-time red-zone threat.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 106
Brooks: Top five receiving corps
The NFL is a pass-centric league -- which means having an elite group of receivers is crucial. Bucky Brooks lists the best. **READ**
Ellington -- cousin of Andre Ellington, a 2013 sixth-rounder who burst onto the scene as a rookie running back with the Arizona Cardinals -- is a speedy, quick and explosive player with tons of upside. A two-sport star, he spent just three of his four years at South Carolina playing football. (He skipped the 2010 football season while serving as a starting point guard for the Gamecocks' basketball team.) The more experience he gains, the better he'll be. He's athletic -- posting a 3.95-second short shuttle, a 6.69-second three-cone drill and a 39.5-inch vertical jump at the combine -- and can return kicks.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 115
The Jets need receivers, and Evans is a talented one. He's also fast. He ran the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash at the combine in 1.47 seconds -- that's truly flying. Evans, who racked up 107 catches in his last two years at UCLA, will catch the crossing routes. He's strong and has good size, with a body build that is reminiscent of Michael Irvin. Like many young receivers, Evans is just an average blocker.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 103
Freeman is not very tall (5-8) and I doubt that he can be an every-down back, but he does have very good lower-body strength, with a build that is similar to that of San Francisco's Frank Gore. Freeman will protect the passer and can catch the ball with ease. He's a very good competitor who will initially back up Steven Jackson, though I think he'll get plenty of carries, as he's a better player than fellow Falcons backup Jacquizz Rodgers. Last year, he became the first Florida State player to top 1,000 yards rushing since former Falcon Warrick Dunn did it in 1996.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 112
Jones is an interesting player. After arriving at Penn State as an offensive lineman, he switched to defense and went on to become a disruptive force. He has a big body and good athletic ability for his size, though he lacks stamina. He could prove to be a great value for the Titans; as of last October, I had him ranked quite high. It's not often that you find a defensive starter in the fourth round, but Jones should become exactly that for Tennessee by the midpoint of the season.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 135
Savage sat out 2011 (after transferring to Arizona from Rutgers) and 2012 (after transferring to Pittsburgh from Arizona), and thus was rusty in the early part of last season. Still, he showed outstanding improvement in the second half. He has the ideal size (6-4, 228) for the position and excellent arm strength. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with intangibles, including smarts, decision-making and leadership qualities. If he'd gotten on the field more frequently in college, I suspect he'd have been drafted higher. I think he'll outperform veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and the rest of the quarterbacks in Houston. In fact, it would not surprise me to see Savage become the starter at some point this season, if not in Week 1.
Brandt: Instant-impact rookies
Forget about depth-building developmental prospects -- Gil Brandt lists six rising rookies poised to turn heads with their play now. **READ**
Draft position: Round 6, No. 186
Morris will, of course, be ahead of Seastrunk on the depth chart, but we know new Redskins coach Jay Gruden likes to alternate running backs -- consider how Gruden, as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, worked youngster Giovani Bernard into the mix with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis last year. Seastrunk's 41.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-2 broad jump are proof of his athletic ability. He did not catch many passes in college -- that's just not Baylor's style of offense -- but he does have above-average running skills. Seastrunk can make the first tackler miss.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 124
Thomas projects as a potential replacement for do-everything threat Dexter McCluster, who left for the Titans this offseason via free agency. The Oregon product is one of those smaller guys who darts around the field -- he'll be a crowd favorite. Thomas should really be a mismatch for opposing defenses when the Chiefs get him out in a receiving position. The former college track athlete will be a situational weapon, a spot player, but Kansas City will figure out a way to use him. He's also an asset in the return game; Thomas is the Ducks' all-time leader in career kickoff return yards (1,885) and punt return average (17.1).
Draft position: Round 4, No. 131
The Bears need safety help, and Vereen has the potential to be the answer for them. He's a very good athlete with speed and strength who started at both safety and corner for the University of Minnesota in 2013. Vereen is a hard worker and smart player who should start this season. At the least, he'll be a special teams presence. Football runs in the family: Brock's brother is New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen, while their father, Henry, played in the CFL.
Draft position: Round 4, No. 113
The Giants love to run, and they should be able to find work for Williams, who, in addition to being a very strong runner with good balance and quickness, will be useful in pass protection as a blocker. He had an outstanding senior year at Boston College, compiling the most rushing yards in the country (2,177). Williams is not a great receiver, but he is very smart and has excellent vision.
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