10 mid-round gems from the 2017 NFL Draft
The middle of the draft is where general managers make their money (so they say), but particularly in this draft, there were a plethora of starters to be had with such great depth at multiple positions. Finding starters and contributors in the middle rounds is crucial for future success, and a number of players are well set up to make immediate contributions next season with potential to move into starting roles in the near future. Here are the best mid-round picks from the 2017 NFL Draft.
King’s production was as good as it gets in college, and while he may not be the best man-coverage cornerback in the draft, he brings great value to the Chargers’ secondary. King was looked at as a safety by many NFL teams, but as a zone corner, he has excellent feel for route concepts and good ball skills to go with it. If the Chargers deploy him in a variety of zone coverages, King can excel, just as he did at Iowa, where he put up three strong coverage grades (82.4 in 2014, 87.0 in 2015, and 85.1 in 2016). Throw in his sure tackling (only 11 misses on 176 attempts over the last three years) and the Chargers got a solid football player in the back half of the draft.
Production and athleticism match up to make Brown a potential steal in the fifth round. His 92.4 PFF overall grade ranked second in the nation, as did his 91.5 grade against the run. Brown was also solid in coverage, ranking seventh with an 85.6 mark. He’s had the best tackling efficiency in the draft class, missing only three of his 134 attempts last season, and he has three-down potential if given the opportunity in Jacksonville.
Finding a starting offensive lineman in the sixth round represents great value, and that may be what the Redskins found in Roullier. He was one of the nation’s best guards in 2015, earning a 90.6 overall grade that season, and ranked 11th in the nation after moving to center in 2016 (81.8 overall grade). Roullier has the quickness and power to play in any scheme in the run game, and he’s been solid in pass protection, surrendering only 14 total QB pressures on 882 attempts over the last two years. Expect Roullier to compete for snaps at either left guard or center very shortly.
One of the better all-around tight ends in the draft, Kittle is a shifty route runner and a solid run blocker, and his ability to block on the move could make him a do-everything option for the 49ers. Expect Kittle to compete for snaps as a “move” tight end, but he can also contribute as a traditional fullback in new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Kittle was the No. 5 tight end on our final draft board, and the 49ers are hoping to get production similar to his 2015 season, when his 82.3 overall grade was fifth in the nation, despite playing only 383 snaps.
No edge defender recorded more than Hendrickson’s 78 QB pressures, as he notched nine sacks, 13 QB hits, and 56 hurries on only 348 rushes in 2016. He’s no one-year wonder, either, as he picked up 15 sacks, 13 QB hits, and 24 hurries on only 305 rushes in 2015, so there is a track record of getting after the quarterback. Combine that with a strong workout in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, and Hendrickson fills an immediate needs for the Saints where he can step in as a pass-rush specialist.
There will be many comparisons to former Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, who is coming off a breakout season for the Patriots, and just as we were much higher on Flowers than his fourth-round status suggested (we had a first-round grade on him in the 2015 draft), we also feel that Wise came off the board later than expected. He fits the classic mold of a New England edge rusher, with good length and technique; it showed on the field to the tune of 15 sacks, 23 QB hits, and 44 hurries on 524 rushes, just over a season’s worth of action. Wise has the frame to kick inside to rush the passer, so look for him to be used immediately all over the defensive front for the Patriots.
Wisconsin has been churning out productive edge defenders in recent years, and Biegel may be the best of the bunch. He picked up 20 sacks, 26 QB hits, and 84 hurries on his 713 rushes over the last three years, and his 15.3 pass-rushing productivity ranked 11th in the draft class in 2016. Throw in his solid run-defense (87.8 grade in 2015 and 82.4 in 2016), and Biegel is more than just a pass-rush specialist. Green Bay may have hit on a potential starter early in the fourth round — great value for that point in the draft.
Look beyond Hollins’ 4.54-second 40-yard-dash time at the NFL Combine, because he has game speed that plays. He has that long-striding ability to get on cornerbacks quickly, and it showed in his 20.6 yards per reception at North Carolina and 20 touchdowns on only 81 catches. He may never be a high-volume receiver, but Hollins’ speed should make him an immediate deep threat, and when combined with his strong special-teams ability, the Eagles got a valuable player in the fourth round.
Thompson won the PFF College Coverage Player of the Year award after picking off seven passes and breaking up seven more. He played both free safety and over the slot at Colorado, showing his center-field skills to read and make plays on the ball and the coverage skills to hold his own in the slot. That versatility will be coveted in the Seattle secondary, where Thompson can cross-train and provide valuable at multiple spots. He may have to wait his turn to see the field in Seattle, but Thompson would have started for a number of teams if he landed in a different place.
Another free safety/slot prospect, Woods showed great ball skills in both roles at Louisiana Tech, finishing with 14 interceptions and 10 pass breakups on 127 targets over the last three years. Woods’ 85.0 PFF coverage grade ranked 16th among safeties last season, and he adds a movable piece to the Dallas secondary that received an impressive overhaul in the draft. We expected Woods to come off the board much earlier than the sixth round, so expect him to compete for immediate playing time for the Cowboys.