NFL Draft Steals who will Contribute Early

Every year, we see players who were drafted after the premium rounds who come in and contribute their teams much earlier than expected. One of the reasons this happens is that there was an opportunity that presented itself and the player took advantage of the situation. Another reason is the player simple got drafted later than his talent level dictated. Why does a player drop? In most cases, it's due to either a medical issue or a character concern. Often times, when it is a medical issue, the public never knows what that issue was. Club medical staffs obviously had a concern, and that is why the player dropped, but the issue wasn’t so bad that the player would go undrafted. This year, I felt there were a number of players who got drafted later than I thought they would. One of these players went undrafted because of reasons totally out of his control. Based on their talent level and the clubs that drafted them, here are some players I'm targeting for big contributions as rookies. Clive Walford – TE – Oakland third round Many felt Walford would get drafted in the second round. He has a strong all-around game, and he gives Raiders quarterback Derek Carr a solid short-to-mid-range target. He also has the play speed to get open deep. Don’t be surprised when you see him put up fairly big numbers as a rookie. Tyler Lockett – WR – Seattle third round Seattle thought enough about Lockett to trade up to get him. If he were a little bigger, he would have gone in the second round. He will come in and be the Seahawks slot receiver and number one returner. Seattle didn’t have a top returner on their roster and this selection takes care of that. P.J. Williams - CB – New Orleans third round Going through the pre-draft process, Williams was considered a potential first round pick. He got charged with a DUI shortly before the draft, and it cost him dearly. I expect Williams to come in and start right away for the Saints and be very productive from the get go. Paul Dawson – LB – Cincinnati third round Going into the Combine, many felt Dawson was a good bet to be selected in the late first round. He ran poorly at Indy, and while he improved his time at his pro day, it still wasn’t enough to get him drafted in a premium round. Dawson plays faster than he times because of his outstanding instincts, and I expect him to be a rookie starter. Justin Hardy – WR – Atlanta fourth round - Hardy didn’t time well, but he is a very good route runner and has excellent hands. I would bet that he will be the Falcons starting slot receiver this year and put up some fairly good numbers. T.J. Clemmings – OT – Minnesota fourth round Before the Senior Bowl it was thought that Clemmings would be a lock first rounder. He had an average week in Mobile, and his stock dropped. Then, about a week before the draft, it came out that he may have had a stress fracture in his foot. People with knowledge of the situation tell me that this was an old injury that was 100% healed. I figure that Clemmings will be a rookie starter at tackle or guard for the Vikings. Tre Jackson – OG – New England fourth round The Pats needed to upgrade the middle of their offensive line. They will be able to do that with Jackson. Tre got a little heavy during his final year at Florida State, and combined with a knee issue, he dropped to the fourth. Going into the 2014 college season, Jackson had a first round grade. I have no doubt he will be a rookie starter. Stefon Diggs – WR – Minnesota fifth round Diggs was an early entry who put up big numbers for Maryland. He was also a better-than-average return man. I can see him becoming the Vikings starting slot receiver before the season is half over. Diggs ran 4.46 at Indy but doesn’t play that fast. Still, he has very good hands and knows how to get open. Jay Ajayi – RB - Miami fifth round That Ajayi was still available in the fifth round was one of the surprises of the draft. It turns out an ACL issue was found at the Combine. This was an issue that Ajayi has played with the last couple of years without concern. I would think that Ajayi gets a lot of playtime this year for the Dolphins. Michael Bennett – DT- Jacksonville sixth round Bennett was one of the best three-technique defensive tackles in the draft. Many felt that, at worst, he was a second rounder. An undisclosed medical situation dropped him to the sixth round. He is a perfect fit for the Jags defensive scheme and will play right away in their rotation. La’el Collins – OT – Dallas free agent We all know the story of Collins. His former girlfriend ends up murdered a week before the draft in Baton Rouge. Because Collins had a previous relationship with her, the Baton Rouge police wanted to question him about the incident. Coming off of the Aaron Hernandez situation, no team would touch him until he was cleared. That didn’t happen until after the draft, and the Cowboys signed Collins as a free agent. Collins was a lock top 15 pick, will come in and start for the Cowboys, and they got him for virtually nothing. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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