10 Biggest Draft Steals
Mike Renner focuses on the finds of the draft, players we valued well beyond their draft position.
10 Biggest Draft Steals
As it’s our first year of evaluating college players we recognize our limitations. We know our big board won’t accurately capture all the relevant information about a prospect with just a single year’s data. That’s fine by us as we believe in game performance above all else and while we’d like previous years of data, we’ve still watched a full year on every player in the draft.
With that said, the following players’ production in 2014 and translatable skills simply outdid their draft position from what we saw and think each is a steal where they were taken.
1. Grady Jarrett, DI, Clemson
#137 Overall to Atlanta
We’ve seen it over and over again. Height keeps pushing defensive tackles down draft boards despite building evidence against its significance. Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey, and Mike Daniels all got the ‘undersized’ label, but all play among the highest level at their respective positions. Jarrett could very well be the next player added to that list. At 6-foot-1, 304 pounds with short arms, Jarrett’s is built like a cannon ball and plays like one too. No defensive tackle in all of the FBS was more dominant on a per-play basis than Jarrett last season. Finding a player like him in the fifth round is the definition of a ‘steal’.
2. Trey Flowers, ED, Arkansas
#101 Overall to New England
One thing you’ll hear a lot in the draft process is that college performance doesn’t translate to the pros. That would be one thing if the numbers came in a weaker conference, but Flowers was facing the top tackles in the SEC week in and week out, many of who were drafted or will be drafted, and still put up silly numbers.
He fell in the draft because he doesn’t fit the mold of an explosive edge rusher, but he still belongs in the conversation with the guys that do fit that mold. At the combine, Flowers only ran a 4.93 40 yard dash at 6-foot-2, 266 pounds. His strength and length are what really set the Arkansas edge defender apart as he utilizes both as well as anyone in the class. He was second in the nation last year with a run stop percentage of 12.1.
3. Randy Gregory, ED, Nebraska
#60 Overall to Dallas
The highest drafted player on this list, Gregory is someone we and many others saw as a Top-10 talent. The reasons for his drop are widely known, but we concentrate on what we can see on the field and won’t speculate how off-field issues impact a team or player’s performance.
Gregory is an incredibly smooth edge defender that plays with tremendous leverage for his height. His ability to stop/start and change gears as a pass rusher is second to none in this class. There is really only one glaring flaw in his game, his weight. 235 pounds is slight for any edge defender, but especially on a 6-foot-5 frame like Gregory’s. He’ll need to gain 10-20 pounds to maintain the requisite strength to play defensive end for the Cowboys.
4. Darryl Roberts, CB, Marshall
#247 Overall to New England
A lot of times productive college players fall in the draft due to poor measurable that suggest they won’t translate to the NFL. That wasn’t the case for Roberts whose pro day was as impressive as any of the top corners in this class. Usually that means the tape wasn’t all that impressive, but Roberts had the third best grade of any corner outside of the Power 5.
The Marshall corner only had one interception on the season, but he broke up seven additional passes and had a 67.1 quarterback rating against. We thought he could go as early as the second round given his abilities. Roberts may not be the most talented player on this list, but to nab him in the seventh round is absurd.
5. Jacorey Shepherd, CB, Kansas
#191 Overall to Philadelphia
While Roberts fall in the draft wasn’t due to athleticism, Shepherd’s likely was. He ran in the mid-4.6’s at his pro day where he claimed to be dealing with a hamstring issue. A lot of teams won’t even take a chance on corners running that slow with the matchup issues it can create.
The thing is we rarely saw a lack of speed on tape even playing against the top receivers in the Big 12. Shepherd’s 38.6% catch rate last season was the lowest in the entire FBS and his 53.0 quarterback rating against was also in the top 10. A receiver early in his career at Kansas, Shepherd might have the best ball skills of any corner in the draft. His 14 combined interceptions and pass breakups were the most in the Power 5.
6. Henry Anderson, DI, Stanford
#93 Overall to Indianapolis
Yet another player that we had among the top of the crop at his position. Anderson’s total production on the interior last season was unmatched. We expected his athleticism to be lacking the way he was discussed prior to the combine, but Anderson measured and tested very well in Indy.
That short area quickness that impressed at the combine was even more impressive on his game film. If he feels he has a step on a lineman he attacks relentlessly. He can get sloppy and off balance with his feet at times, but his hand usage is fantastic and he slides off blocks routinely. There may be some parts of Anderson’s game that won’t translate to the NFL, but it’s difficult to think that so much won’t that he’ll cease to be a productive player.
7. Michael Bennett, DI, Ohio State
#180 to Jacksonville
This is one slide that no one really saw coming and the exact reason for it is difficult to pinpoint. The biggest reason is that teams likely see him as a scheme specific player to a 4-3 because of his size (6-foot-2, 293 pounds). The other reason could be the unrefined nature of Bennett’s game. He was a bit of a snap jumper that if he didn’t win with his first step had few counter moves to regain control of the block.
These seem like minor quibbles for a player who was dominant down the stretch for the national champs with an 11.2 run stop percentage over Ohio State’s last five games. Few players in the draft can match Bennett’s balanced production as both a run defender and pass rusher where he graded among the Top 10 for interior defenders in each.
8. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
#99 Overall to Cincinnati
Dawson is the ultimate case study of production versus measurables. As you can see from the graphic courtesy of Mockdraftable.com, Dawson is one of the worst athletes to go through the combine at the linebacker positions. We’ve already chronicled his production which is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from his athleticism.
None of the five linebackers drafted before Dawson could hold a candle to him in on field performance last season. The interesting thing about Dawson going to the Bengals is that he joins a player that also had atrocious measurables who turned out alright in Vontaze Burfict.
9. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
#70 Overall to Houston
Wide receivers didn’t come off the board at the feverish pace we quite expected and the Texans were the beneficiaries. Strong has the measurables, the production, and the ball skills to be a first rounder, yet 69 players and 10 receivers came off the board before him. This is definitely another head scratcher as it’s safe to say we liked him far more than the 11th receiver in the class.
10. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
#110 Overall to Minnesota
Clemmings’ foot could very well be a serious issue that scared off NFL teams, but we can’t speak to that. If you look at his physical traits alone he would have been a first round pick. The more I watch Clemmings, the more difficult it becomes to discern the gap between him and Brandon Scherff in terms of draft position. Both are likely guards to start off with in the NFL and both have freakish qualities against the run. No tackle was better last season at finding linebackers in space and engaging. Clemmings’ long 35 1/8” arms might as well be Inspector Gadget’s the way he latches on and stops defenders in their tracks.
The Pittsburgh tackle finished with the highest run blocking grade among all tackles last season. His pass protection issues, especially at the Senior Bowl, kept him out of the first round, but Clemmings potential is so high that he shouldn’t have made it past the second day of the draft.
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