Every year, after the draft is over, I comment on the Steelers selections and provide a “what I would do” alternative. And historically, I have done pretty well vs. Colbert and Co. in the later rounds of the draft.
Some of my highlighted players I discussed, pushed and/or promoted for the Steelers to select include Antoine Bethea (5th round), Doug Free (4th round), Brandon Siler (6th round), Jonathan Goff (5th round), Ahtyba Rubin (6th round), Peyton Hillis (6th round), Pierre Garcon (6th round), Rashad Jones (6th round) and Jamar Chaney (6th round).
In the 2012 Draft, I’d like to identify some late round gems I think are worth watching for come Saturday’s 5th-7th round coverage.
1. Vontaze Burfict, ILB (Arizona St.), target rounds 5th/6th
At this point in the draft no amount of bad intangibles is worth passing on his on-field talents. If he lasts this long and your team has a roster opening at ILB/special teamer, your GM is an idiot for being so rigid to pass on this guy.
2. Davin Meggett, RB/Returner (Maryland), target round 7th
I’m a big fan of taking 2nd generation players in the late rounds, just because I don’t ever think the spotlight will be to bright. Davin Meggett is a splitting image of his father, Dave, and could carve out a niche role as a backup running back, good returner and special team coverage guy. Again, I would strongly question a team passing on him in late 6th or early 7th round if they have a need for those roles.
3. Joe Martinek, FB/H-Back (Rutgers), target round 7th
Martinek reminds me a lot of a bigger Danny Woodhead. The athletic similarities are there. But while Woodhead has size limitations (being 5’-7½” and 200 lbs), Martinek is 5’-11½” and 225 lbs. He is big and quick enough to make the roster on special teams and provides a lot of options for an offense as a lead blocker, H-back or runner. Remember, in the late rounds you are trying to find guys that have the skill set to earn a roster spot first, then have the skills to let the coaches find a role on offense/defense.
4. Danny Croale, WR (Virginia Tech), target round 6th/7th
Croale has the potential to be an ideal slot receiver/zone buster at the next level. He has decent size (6’, 200 lbs) but still maintains great “quicks” as shown by his 6.64 second 3-cone drill. The difference between Croale and many other late round slot receivers is his size/speed should allow him to cover kicks to earn that precious 5th or 6th WR spot on a roster. Late round receivers have to either be dynamic returners or be able to cover kicks. They will never just make it on their receiving skills, no matter how good you think they are in preseason.
5. Dale Moss, WR, (South Dakota St.), target round 7th
Another late round receiver that has the size/speed (6’-3”, 213 lbs, 4.50) to cover kicks and earn a spot on the roster while he learns the offense and develops. Moss is extremely inexperienced at football, but seems to have the work ethic to play gunner or be on the punt team.
6. Rokevious Watkins, OT, (South Carolina) target round 6th
This draft does not present many value, later round projects along the offensive line. But one I do like is Rokevious Watkins. He is one of the few, late round prospects that has size (334 lbs), length (34½” arms), and footwork to try and develop into a real starter. He looks like an ideal RG/RT type player for many power teams with some NFL weight room training and coaching.
7a. Olivier Vernon, DE/OLB (Miami)
7b. Frank Alexander, DE/OLB (Oklahoma)
7c. Scott Solomon, DE/OLB (Rice)
I will bunch all the project pass rushers I see of value in this draft and all of these players seem “undervalued” to me right now. All either pass or come close to Pat Kirwin’s explosion test (Vernon’s 75, Alexander’s 68, Solomon’s 79) and all seem to like the physical part of the game and aren’t afraid to mix things up at the point of attack. Making the team as a late round pass rusher is tough. Many are too big/slow to make an impact on special teams and have a lot of pressure to show immediate success in practice vs. NFL players in pass rush drills. But I think all of the players I list won’t be physically overwhelmed nor will they be afraid of the contact. I don’t think any are 10+ elite sack guys, but in the right system can get you 6-9 sacks and not be liabilities versus the run. I think that’s decent value in the 6th/7th round.
8. Akiem Hicks, DT/DE (Regina, Canada), target round 6th
The only guy I can find in the defensive tackle group is Hicks, who was an LSU transfer to the Canadian college, Regina. There are red flags with his effort and work ethic, but in the 6th round there are few option that can compete with his size/length (6’-4½”, 318 lbs, 35” arms) and KEI (68). He’s the type of player that might be “stashed” on a practice squad as well for a year or two while your coaches train him in your team’s defensive system. He is probably ideal as a 3-4 LDE to play on the strong side of the alignment.
9. Johnson Bademosi, S/CB (Stanford), target round 7th
A college cornerback that didn’t have the tape but has shown elite athleticism and might find a role somewhere at the next level (safety or nickel defender or special teamer). Going to Stanford he also has the smarts to grasp an NFL playbook and was coached by good coaches with NFL experience. He’s worth a 7th round flyer to me just based on 6’-0” height, 200 lbs and 4.4 speed along with great explosion numbers and change of direction ability. A project.
10. Chris Greenwood, CB (Albion), target round 6th
Greenwood might not be here. He is rising fast because there are few CB prospect that have 6’-1” height and can run around 4.40. He is an ideal size/length/speed project for the position but needs NFL weight room training and toughness. One of the few late round CB’s that doesn’t seem pigeon holed due to size/speed into a nickel role at best. Greenwood has the skills to be a 100% snap guy with a few years in the system.
In no way am I guaranteeing the players above are successes but when it comes to late round selections, if your team gets one of them, I would keep a close eye during training camp on how they are doing and whether they are getting a fair shake from the coaching staff. I think they all have NFL talent in the right circumstance and will be much better than typical “throw away” selections many GM’s end up picking.