By Steve Silverman
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In the days leading up to the NFL Draft, the focus will be on those selected in the first round, with an emphasis on the top 10 picks at the top of the draft.
Everyone will know all about Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Greg Robinson and Sammy Watkins, but it’s not just about the glamor names.
General managers often lose their jobs when their first-round picks fail, so it’s obviously important to come up with a star player early in the draft. However, great teams like the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks come up with players who can contribute in nearly every round of the draft.
The best scouts and film graders can find talent in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Sometimes this talent needs time to develop or comes off the bench to make a key contribution, but teams also find hidden gems who are simply warriors. They step in and play from Day 1.
In this piece, we’ll look at one player from each round of the upcoming draft who is likely to be a key contributor for the team that selects him. All of these players have a warrior mentality and appear to be fearless competitors. That means that they relish the upgrade in competition and there will be no intimidation factor when they put on an NFL uniform on their first day in training camp.
OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo – Mack is likely to be selected within the first five picks and it wouldn’t be a shocker if he was taken by the Browns with the No. 3 spot in the draft. Mack is a massive hitter who forced 16 fumbles and had 75 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in his career. He was always at his best when the Buffalo Bulls played big-name opponents like Ohio State or Baylor. The upgrade in competition seemed to light his fuse and his combination of speed and power. The 6-foot-3, 253-pound Mack has the kind of first step coming around the corner to nail quarterbacks and he is strong enough to stop runners in their tracks.
“I think he’s going to be more dependable than Clowney,” said an NFC scout. “He is a workhorse on every play. One big hit makes him hungry to make another. He is never satisfied.”
WR Davante Adams, Fresno State – It’s very difficult to project greatness on wide receivers who don’t have standout athletic ability. No worries in that department where Adams is concerned, because he is a remarkable leaper who can go up and get it over the most gifted defensive backs. He has a 4.56 time in the 40, but his remarkable body control and ability to influence the coverage should give him the ability to get open no matter what type of coverage he is facing. At 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, he has the size and strength needed to win the battle. He also has the kind of hands that will win over his quarterback and wide receivers coach.
“I like how he fights for the ball,” said an AFC scout. “He is playing basketball in cleats because he is going to get every ‘rebound’ he can touch. I don’t think there are too many DBs who can beat him on a jump ball.”
RB Jeremy Hill, LSU – In another era, Hill might be a first- or second-round draft choice, but teams don’t like to use their top picks on running back any longer because of the durability factor. The shelf life of the average running back will be four-plus years, and that’s simply not enough. Hill has the power to become a monster because he will take on the tackler and win the battle. Hill, 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, is a downhill runner who punishes opposing tacklers. He also has soft hands and can catch passes out of the backfield in an impressive manner.
“That’s what makes this guy special,” said an NFC scout. “You have to love the way he catches the ball. He can adjust to the ball really well and he will be some quarterback’s best friend because of it.”
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia – There are simply too many teams that have decided to eliminate quarterbacks who are not 6-3 or taller from the draft equation. While they may make an exception out of Johnny Manziel – he will almost certainly go in the top eight picks – Murray has been dismissed by some because of 6-foot, 205-pound frame. But Murray can throw the ball accurately and he has excellent mechanics. He is an excellent decision maker and he will buy time with his feet before making the proper read and throw. He is coming off reconstructive knee surgery, but he’s got the talent to follow in the footsteps of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
“He looked great in his workout (after knee surgery),” said one NFC scout. “And I really like the way he reads defenses. He senses the weak spots and he knows how to attack.”
LB Max Bullough, Michigan State – While it all ended badly for Bullough – he was suspended for the Spartans’ Rose Bowl victory over Stanford – his college career was about consistent production. Bullough came to play each and every Saturday and did so in a fearless manner. He’s got the size and strength to hurt running backs and receivers he tackles and he has surprising speed and range. Bullough played his college career at 245 and he has added weight in the offseason. He should not play at more than 250 and if he keeps his weight at that level, he will be a solid contributor from Day 1.
DE Taylor Hart, Oregon – He may not be an every-down player and he also appears to be more suited to playing in a 3-4 system than a 4-3. However, this relatively unknown player has the skills to be a contributor as a rookie if he gets with the right team and defensive line coach. He is a technically sound player who is very strong in the upper body. He can bull rush and split the gaps.
“He is very dangerous,” said one AFC scout. “I think he’s a sophisticated player with all the counter moves you need to be successful.”
WR Cody Hoffman, Brigham Young – Hoffman is not a burner, but he knows how to get open even though he ran a 4.65 40. He has the size that scouts like at 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, and he looks like a dependable receiver on short- and medium-depth pass routes. He can be a dependable third-down receiver who keeps drives alive.
(Thanks to NFL and college scouts for providing insight and analysis.)
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