Sometimes being an NFL General Manager is easy, especially at the top of the NFL Draft.
If you’re staring at a player like Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning or John Elway with the No. 1 overall pick, then you have an easy choice. Of course, for every Luck and Manning there’s a JaMarcus Russell or Tim Couch. But generally, top talent is pretty easy to spot.
The best drafters in the NFL truly make their hay in the late rounds, though. And a great argument can be made that an organization that consistently finds hidden gems in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft (or even after the draft) is an organization well on its way to Super Bowl contention.
Remember, Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft (199th pick overall). Two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP running back Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
And it doesn’t always have to be late-round picks that become gems.
Rob Gronkowski went in the second-round of the 2010 NFL Draft (No. 42 overall), and he’s easily one of the best tight ends of all-time. Obviously in hindsight he should have been a first-rounder.
LeSean McCoy has made quite a name for himself as a running back in the NFL, and he’s been a superstar despite the fact that Donald Brown (Colts) and Chris Wells (Cardinals), both went ahead of him as first rounders. One has to imagine the Colts and Cardinals would like re-dos on those running back selections in light of McCoy’s 8,954 yards and 60 rushing touchdowns to date.
The 2017 NFL Draft will be no different. There will be hidden gems aplenty. The trick is finding them.
Note: Round projections according to CBSSports.
Josh Dobbs, quarterback, Tennessee
Athleticism is quickly becoming a premium for quarterbacks in the NFL, but don’t let the dual-threat tag fool you. NFL quarterbacks will always be judged on their arms. Can they make the throws needed to win ball games? Athleticism and the ability to hurt a defense with their feet is really a bonus, even in 2017, but it can end up being a game-changer.
And that’s what makes Dobbs so interesting. He’s a 6-foot-3, 216-pound athlete at quarterback. In his senior year, he threw for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 831 yards and 12 scores on the ground. He can be shifty and explosive as a runner, but he still has the arm strength to be a major threat as a passer.
Accuracy is somewhat of a concern (he did throw 12 interceptions in 2016), but if it’s just a mental thing, that’s something he has the ability to overcome. Dobbs was an aerospace engineering major at Tennessee, so he certainly has the smarts to be an NFL quarterback.
Projected Round: 6
Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma
With names like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey hogging the spotlight at running back, it could be easy to forget that Perine rushed for 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior for Oklahoma. And he did that while splitting time in the backfield with Joe Mixon.
Perine is a big running back, checking in at 5-foot-11, 233 pounds. So he has the size to be a bruising, downhill runner at the NFL level. He also has a ton of production at one of the top college football schools in the country to lean on. Perine rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons with the Sooners. He rushed for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns in his freshman season. His sophomore season saw him rush for 1,349 yards and 16 scores.
Throw in the ability to catch passes when needed out of the backfield, and Perine could end up being the total package as an NFL running back.
Projected Round: 4
Shock Linwood, running back, Baylor
In four seasons for Baylor, Shock Linwood totaled 4,213 yards and 36 touchdowns. That includes a Sophomore season that saw him put up 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns and a junior season in which he totaled 1,329 yards and 10 rushing scores.
Unfortunately, Linwood was only able to notch 751 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. Thus his stock has plummeted. He was somewhat fazed out of Baylor’s offense. He also skipped Baylor’s bowl game, which was a questionable decision, to say the least, considering his need for production and exposure in 2016.
He was obviously very explosive at times for Baylor, though. And if he can prove that it wasn’t just the scheme holding him up in college, he could become a productive change-of-pace back in the NFL. He wasn’t invited to the combine, but if he gets his chance as an undrafted free agent and can re-capture some of that magic, he very well could be a gem for a team willing to take a chance.
He will never be Adrian Peterson, but most NFL teams would love to find a running back who can change the pace and keep defenses off balance — especially at a bargain. Linwood is a small back, but he’s certainly quick and shifty. He’s also a surprisingly tough runner who can lower his shoulder and drive his feet.
Projected Round: undrafted free agent
Jehu Chesson, wide receiver, Michigan
At 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, Jehu Chesson has the size to be an NFL wide receiver. But what should make him especially intriguing to NFL scouts is his 2015 season. Yes, he put up only 500 yards and two touchdowns in his redshirt senior season, and his freshman and sophomore campaigns saw him combine for only 375 yards and a touchdown, but 2015 was a huge year for Chesson.
That season saw him win Michigan’s MVP award after catching 50 passes for 764 yards and nine touchdowns.
Notably, Chesson scored 207 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana that season. He also caught eight passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State. In a Citrus Bowl win over Florida, Chesson won MVP honors after catching five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Chesson proved that he can be a big-time player in big-time moments. Whether a team decides to take a chance on that potential is up in the air, but the talent is there.
Projected Round: 7 – undraftedfree agent
George Kittle, tight end, Iowa
NFL scouts will be interested in Kittle for a variety of reasons, chief among them his status as a Hawkeye entering the draft. Iowa has long been known to produce quality NFL talent, despite the fact that many of Kirk Ferentz’s players have been underhyped and underappreciated ever since high school.
Kittle fits the bill of a perfect pro-style tight end with great experience in a pro-style offense while at Iowa City. He’s 6-foot-4, 247 pounds and was known as a tremendous blocker at Iowa. He has the strength and ability to set the edge as a tight end, something that may not be “sexy,” but coaches and scouts will love him for it.
On top of that, Kittle can be sneaky productive as a pass-catcher, so overall, he’s a very solid prospect. Playing a major role for Iowa in 2015 and 2016, Kittle caught 42 passes for 604 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Projected Round: 4-5
Montravius Adams, defensive tackle, Auburn
Montravius Adams entered the college ranks as a big-time recruit, and for the most part, he’s done his part to prove his lofty rankings. A former five-star recruit, Adams was ranked as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the 2013 class, as well as the No. 10 overall recruit, per the 247Sports Composite.
The big thing NFL teams will love about Adams is his combination of size and athleticism. He checks in at 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, and he ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the combine — pretty quick for such a big guy.
In 2016, he was a second-team all-conference player for Auburn, notching 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He also snagged an interception against Alabama A&M.
Projected Round: 2-3
T.J. Watt, outside linebacker, Wisconsin
It’s certain that NFL scouts will take a good, hard look at T.J. Watt because of his last name, but he has plenty of talent to back his pedigree up.
Watt, who checks in at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, will have to prove to NFL teams that he has the experience needed to excel in the NFL. Sure, he has a great family history, but the fact remains that he really only has two years of stats to his name for the Badgers, and only 2016 was worth writing about.
He was a redshirt tight end for Wisconsin in 2013 and unfortunately had to sit out the 2014 season with a knee injury. In the spring of 2015, Watt injured his other knee, which led to surgery and an eventual backup role at linebacker. He played in only eight games in 2015, notching just seven tackles.
Thankfully for Watt, 2016 was very redemptive for him. He was a second-team AP All-American and first-time All-Big Ten player after corralling 63 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 11.5 sacks for the Badgers.
He was part of the heart and soul of the 2016 Wisconsin football team, and he can do the same for an NFL defense that’s willing to look past some of his question marks. He could be a first-round talent at a second-round value.
Projected Round: 2
Ben Boulware, inside linebacker, Clemson
Ben Boulware isn’t the greatest athlete of all time, and he probably knows it. And that’s likely why he plays with so much passion, heart and fire. All of those attributes were on full display in Clemson’s national championship run, and Boulware was a huge part of the Tigers’ success.
In 2016, his senior season, he notched 116 tackles (58 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles (one recovery) and an interception.
Boulware’s leadership and heart will make him an attractive pick, but one has to wonder how far the “rah-rah” attitude travels in NFL locker rooms.
Can heart overcome a lack of elite athleticism? It’s happened in the past, so Boulware is definitely worth a shot.
Projected Round: undrafted free agent
Desmond King, defensive back, Iowa
The second Hawkeye on this list, Desmond King has all the physical tools and experience to be the best defensive back in this draft class. The problem? He’s got plenty of competition. King is competing for spotlight amongst the likes of Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Gareon Conley (Ohio State), Adoree’ Jackson (USC), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Jalen Tabor (Florida) and Quincey Wilson (Florida), among others. And that’s just mentioning the cornerbacks.
The 2017 NFL Draft has a very deep defensive back class, but King does have what it takes to be a long-time NFL star.
At only 5-foot-10, 201 pounds, King doesn’t have great size, but he’s incredibly physical at the line of scrimmage and he has the speed to stay with defenders downfield. He’s a natural ball-hawk who seems to always be in the right place at the right time, and that includes coming down to the line as a run defender. That will make him an intriguing option as a safety if NFL teams can’t see him at cornerback.
In four seasons for the Hawkeyes, King notched 263 total tackles (174 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, 33 passes defended, 14 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. An impressive eight of his interceptions came in a 2015 season that saw Iowa go to the Rose Bowl.
To top it all off, King can be an explosive punt returner if he’s asked to play special teams in the NFL.
Projected Round: 2
Nate Gerry, safety, Nebraska
Nate Gerry is a typical, hard-nosed Big Ten safety. He’s known for making big hits and he’s been a big part of Nebraska’s defense over the past few seasons. Gerry, in four seasons, accumulated 273 tackles (19 for loss and 163 solo), three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
And before he’s pegged as a hard-hitting box safety, consider this: He also snagged 13 total interceptions and 19 passes defended for Nebraska.
Gerry may not be the biggest name among safeties entering the draft, but he’s a tough, gritty and smart football player who has a knack for making big plays in big moments. He’s the type of safety worth taking a chance on, especially if he heads into camp as an undrafted free agent.
Projected Round: undrafted free agent