Allow history to be a warning not to lower your guard on Day Three of the NFL Draft, because it just might unearth a star.
With no scouting combine, medicals more difficult to access due to COVID and information on players limited in comparison to previous years, rarely has there been such an aura of unknown beyond the Draft’s opening three rounds.
But best believe the difference-makers still lie in wait. Drafts can be won or lost on the Saturday; look at that Tom Brady fella, who recently collected his seventh Super Bowl ring as a five-time Super Bowl MVP, 14-time Pro Bowl selection having been selected by the New England Patriots with the 199th overall pick in round six in 2000.
The tale is repetitive, Brady pointing out as much by recently labelling the opening day of the Draft as ‘Post Tom’s Shirtless Combine Photo on Twitter Day’, but it cannot be denied he remains the most famous wink to the prospect of uncovering a hidden gem.
Just last year five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and 2016’s 165th overall pick Tyreek Hill played a starring role in helping the Kansas City Chiefs clinch Super Bowl glory for the first time in 50 years.
In doing so he defeated San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, who was taken with the 146th pick at the 2017 Draft after being regarded as the sixth-best available player in his position group by NFL analyst Gil Brandt.
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Following a quiet rookie year, Kittle exploded onto the scene with 88 catches for 1,377, an NFL record for tight ends, and five touchdowns as he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2018. He remained Jimmy Garoppolo’s star weapon the next season with 85 catches for a team-high 1,053 yards and five touchdowns to help the 49ers towards the Super Bowl, and though injuries hindered him in 2020 his reputation as one of the league’s premier tight ends is undisputed.
Aaron Jones reaffirmed the ability to snag starting running backs late in the day when he was selected by the Green Bay Packers at No 182 in the fifth round in 2017. Jones has since been developed into an all-action component of Matt LaFleur’s offense, rushing for a combined 2,188 yards and 25 touchdowns alongside 96 catches for 829 yards and five scores over the past two campaigns to earn himself a new four-year, $48m contract this offseason.
The Dallas Cowboys became advocates for late-round success in 2016 when they drafted franchise quarterback Dak Prescott at No. 135 in the fourth round. Five years later Prescott finds himself locked in to a newly-signed four-year, $160m extension after his influence was amplified by his absence with an ankle fracture in 2020.
Since being selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 146th pick in the 2015 Draft, Stefon Diggs has gone on to assert himself as one of the league’s most gifted route-runners. The now-Bills receiver hauled in eight touchdowns from a league-high 127 catches for 1,535 yards in 2020, helping Buffalo reach the AFC Championship game against the Chiefs.
In 2011 the Seattle Seahawks used the 154th pick on cornerback Richard Sherman, who would become part of their famous Legion of Boom secondary, winning Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos before suffering defeat to the Patriots at Super Bowl XLIX.
Jason Kelce is about to enter his 11th season with the Philadelphia Eagles having established himself as one of the most consistent centers in the league since being drafted in round six, also in 2011.
Rewind to 2010 and the Seahawks had already uncovered a Legion of Boom member in safety Kam Chancellor, who retired in 2018 a Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler.
Then there is seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, the 195th overall pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 – now a Super Bowl champion with the Bucs and the architect of seven 1,000 yard receiving seasons.
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His off-field controversies overshadowed over his production, but in the eyes of many he is still recognised as one of the most gifted receivers to have played the game.
Less-celebrated names have also proven to be shrewd acquisitions within the last decade.
James White was taken by the Patriots at 130th overall in 2014 before emerging as a valuable multi-purpose running back alongside Brady on his way towards three Super Bowl rings, while cornerback Micah Hyde was an outstanding find for the Bills in 2013.
Casting an upon the 2021 Draft, the depth of this year’s receiver class has no doubt afforded teams the freedom to pursue a pass-catcher late in the day.
USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown remains available as arguably the top slot receiver still on the board, offering slick route-running, strong hands and exceptional contested catch ability; at 6’4″ Stanford’s Simi Fehoko is a powerful vertical threat with phenomenal catch radius and the strength to dominate defensive backs.
Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace boasts a glowing reputation out of the Big 12 with lightning speed and refined ‘go-up-and-get-it’ ball skills; North Texas’ Jaelon Darden is a born playmaker with natural explosiveness and elusiveness with the ball in his hands; Racey McMath is the under-the-radar LSU receiver few are talking about behind Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall.
And let’s not forget Indiana’s Whop Philyor, who has the speed and instincts to be a fine utility option in the slot, or the strong hands of Dax Milne, Zach Wilson’s go-to-guy at BYU in 2020.
Miami tight end Brevin Jordan could also be thrown into the receiver discussion on the basis of his impact after the catch.
North Carolina’s Michael Carter, perhaps a surprise omission for some on day two, and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill are running back options that promise consistent ball security, tremendous vision in the backfield and receiving ability; Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell and UCLA running back/wide receiver Demetric Felton supply intriguing dual-threat packages and Louisville back Javian Hawkins possesses devastating home run speed.
On the defensive side of the ball, Missouri safety Joshuah Bledsoe operates with the versatility to contribute at high safety, as a slot corner and at linebacker, with his production complemented superbly by college teammate Tyree Gillespie’s over-the-top coverage.
Ohio State defensive tackle Tommy Togiai has untapped potential, as does fellow interior lineman Jay Tufele and his ferocious motor out of USC.
LSU linebacker Jabril Cox, Duke edge rusher Chris Rumph, Syracuse safety Trill Williams, North Carolina wide receiver Dazz Newsome, Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah…
Still plenty to play for.
Watch day three of the 2021 NFL Draft live on Sky Sports NFL from 5pm on Saturday.
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