Top 8 late round or undrafted players this season

Sometimes the biggest draft steals come with the least fanfare—David Aitken names eight players who have outperformed their perceived draft value this season.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Top 8 late round or undrafted players this season


When it comes to the draft, most teams expect immediate impacts from their first round picks, and some level of instant contribution from Round 2 selections. After all, these are players usually seen not only as talented, but also prepared to step into a role right away. While the overwhelming majority of the best performing rookies have indeed come from the draft’s first two rounds, there are players that always slip through the cracks and offer immediate value to an NFL franchise. Here are eight players, drafted on day three or undrafted altogether, that are already proving to be solid additions.

8. J.J. Nelson, WR, Arizona Cardinals, 78.4 overall grade

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 159

Nelson (+6.2 pass grade) has seen just 21 targets in his direction, but has made the very most of them. His 3.74 in the yards-per-route-run metric is the league’s highest of any player having seen at least 20 targets. The speedster out of UAB is carving out a niche in Arizona’s explosive offense as one of Palmer’s home-run targets.

7. Matt Longacre, DE, St. Louis Rams, 74.2

Draft Position: Undrafted

PFF’s second-highest graded edge defender in the preseason (+8.9), the Rams initially had cut Longacre—despite the strong showing—presumably due to their strong defensive line depth. Having dealt with recent injuries to Chris Long and Robert Quinn however, St. Louis brought Longacre up from the practice squad last month, and he has picked up where he left off. The pride of Northwest Missouri State has been a solid addition to the Rams’ rotation, particularly against the run (+3.5 run grade).

6. Nick Boyle, TE, Baltimore Ravens, 77.7

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 171

Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Maxx Williams was drafted with more fanfare in Round 2, but Boyle has actually marginally outperformed the 2015 draft’s first selected tight end to this point. His +4.4 overall grade is the best of all rookie tight ends. Between Boyle and Williams, neither Baltimore rookie has dropped a pass.

5. Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 81.6

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 146

Stefon Diggs has come back down to earth recently after an excellent first few games, but overall has been one of the real standout players thus far to come out of the draft’s later rounds. His current +7.4 pass grade is best amongst all rookies, and his 12 broken tackles ranks only behind Amari Cooper’s 14, despite Diggs being featured in 253 less snaps than the Raiders’ receiver.

4. Adrian Amos, SS, Chicago Bears, 80.5

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 142

Amos, the only Day 3 pick ranked on PFF’s Rookie of the Year watch last week, has been the rare case of a Day 3 pick entering the lineup opening day. Even more rare, no player has played more snaps this season for Chicago on defense than the rookie safety out of Penn State. While his performances against the pass have been a little uneven, he’s been a positively-graded defender against the run 10 of 13 weeks, and PFF’s highest-graded rookie safety overall (+5.3).

3. Karlos Williams, RB, Buffalo Bills, 75.6

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 155

Injuries have given Karlos Williams two separate spells on the sidelines, and thus have limited the talented FSU product’s carries to just 66 on the season, but he has been a real difference-maker for Buffalo when able to contribute. With a +5.9 overall grade, he is the highest rated runner on Buffalo’s roster, and his 5.7 yards-per-carry is the best in the league for of any running back with at least 50 carries. In a healthier season, pushing LeSean McCoy for starter’s reps—and even challenging for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award—would not seem that farfetched.

2. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks, 81.0

Draft Position: Undrafted

It is only fitting that the Seahawks would turn to a player that could impersonate Marshawn Lynch so well during Lynch’s spell on the sidelines. Now, unfortunately, the Seahawks have two Beast Mode’s on the trainer’s table. With a 3.12 yards-after-contact rate that was bested only by Doug Martin, Rawls was more than just “filling in” for Lynch, he was staking his claim as the future of Seattle’s backfield. Only Jameis Winston (+11.5 overall) has a higher grade for an offensive rookie than Thomas Rawls has (+9.5 overall). Rawls’ injury may have cost him a late run at the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and more importantly, a potential key role in another Seattle playoff run.

1. Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons, 78.5

Draft Position: Round 5, Pick 137

Having lost seven of their last eight games and effectively throwing a golden playoff opportunity out the window, it may seem hard to grab any positives from Atlanta’s performances of late. One exception has been Atlanta’s defensive line performance against the run, led by Kroy Biermann (+15.2 run defense grade) and Clemson rookie Grady Jarrett (+10.6 overall grade). Jarrett looks like a real defensive building block on a unit sorely in need of one. Of all the players that have played at least 25 percent of available run snaps, Grady Jarrett ranks fifth in stop percentage.

  • smellingly

    Karlos Williams went in the fifth round…

  • derek lundeen

    Amos is not a big play type of safety but he gets the job done.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Normally you would find a Patriot player on this list. It’s difficult to draft low each year and sustain success if you don’t find talent in those later rounds.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    you guys were all over grady jarret pre-draft, it’s silly how height matters at DT to most teams, esp a year after aaron donald came out