10 late-round NFL rookies who could shine in 2019

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Being selected early in the draft is great, but the league is full of late-round picks who excel beyond anyone’s expectations.

Of course, everyone has been reminded quite often that GOAT Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. A bit more recently, NFL record-holder George Kittle was a fifth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers.

Looking at the 2019 draft class, there are a number of late-round NFL rookies who have a chance to make an immediate impact. Here are 10 of them, selected on Day 3 of the draft, who could become stars.

Justice Hill, running back, Baltimore Ravens

The backfield in Baltimore is crowded, to be sure. Fourth-round pick Justice Hill joins Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, both of whom figure to get a chance to tote the rock plenty in Greg Roman’s new Lamar Jackson-friendly scheme.

However, neither of them has the breakaway abilities of Hill in the open field. A dual-threat back who caught 30 passes as a sophomore, he could quickly become a valued weapon for Jackson in the passing game. And once he gets out in space against linebackers and safeties, watch out.

Christian Miller, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

After the Panthers landed Christian Miller out of Alabama in the fourth round this April, he immediately displayed a big chip on his shoulder, saying, “I have first-round ability between my measurables and my athleticism, as well as off the field being a team leader.”

Despite starting just four games last season for the Crimson Tide, he finished second on the team with 8.5 sacks and certainly has the frame (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) to physically compete at the NFL level. Carolina is stacked on defense, yet Miller could quickly carve out a role for himself as a situational pass rusher. If he stays healthy and picks up the scheme quickly, his impact could be felt immediately.

Kelvin Harmon, wide receiver, Washington Redskins

During his final two years at N.C. State, Kelvin Harmon racked up 150 catches for 2,203 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ended up falling to the sixth round this past April, likely due to a slow 40 time of 4.6 seconds.

A big receiver who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, he looks faster than that on tape and plays a physical brand of football. Harmon also makes tough, contested catches in traffic, has reliable hands and could quickly become a go-to weapon for whomever is under center for Washington. Especially considering the fact that this team needs players to step up at the receiver position.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, safety, New Orleans Saints

Prior to the draft, some in the draftnik community saw Gardner as a fringe late first-round pick, and many pegged him as a second-round talent. Ultimately, the former Florida Gators star was picked up by the Saints in Round 4.

An extremely versatile defensive back who can play just about anywhere except perhaps outside cornerback, Gardner-Johnson is extremely physical. He hits like a Mack truck and consistently made plays behind the line of scrimmage in both the run and pass games. Given how often the Saints operate out of the nickel defense — 79% of defensive snaps last season (second-most in NFL) — he should immediately contribute.

Zach Gentry, tight end, Pittsburgh Steelers

This former quarterback is still a raw tight end prospect, but there is plenty of potential. Gentry won Most Improved Offensive Player of the year as a sophomore at Michigan — his first year contributing as a tight end — and continued improving as a junior last year.

Towering over defenders at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, he has the body type to become dominant if he quickly catches on. Pittsburgh is frightfully thin at the tight end position. Outside of Vance McDonald, Gentry has the best chance to become a weapon for Ben Roethlisberger and a Steelers offense that needs playmakers to step up. This fifth-round selection out of Michigan is already garnering positive reviews by the local media and has a chance to make an immediate impact for the Steelers.

Drue Tranquill, linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers

This former Notre Dame star came into the league with a bit of a medical red flag due to a couple of ACL tears. He was also seen as a late-round pick because he’s not an elite athlete. It was somewhat surprising that the Chargers took Drue Tranquill in the fourth round. But it’s clear they love his talent, as defensive coordinator Gus Bradley recently gushed over his college tape.

An aggressive, active linebacker who showed the ability to cover in space at Notre Dame, he has a shot at earning plenty of playing time as a rookie. Working even more in Tranquill’s favor is the fact that the Chargers have a need at linebacker. Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman have both struggled to make a consistent impact, and Thomas Davis is probably not an every-down player at this point in his career.

Scotty Miller, slot receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green, Scotty Miller has quickly established himself as a player to watch this summer. Last season, he hauled in 71 receptions, 1,148 yards (16.2 average) and nine touchdowns in 11 starts.

Based on the word coming out of offseason practices, Miller could become an instant star. Quarterback Jameis Winston recently said Miller has “been phenomenal.” The Bucs have a big hole to fill, too, and Miller could be a perfect fit. The team lost slot specialist Adam Humphries in free agency, and Miller figures to have a good shot at taking over that role right out of the gate as a rookie.

Marvell Tell, defensive back, Indianapolis Colts

A former safety at USC, Marvell Tell is going to be playing cornerback for the Colts after being selected in the fifth round. His lanky frame, along with quick feet and loose hips, seem to indicate he might actually have a better shot to excel at this position in the NFL. Certainly, he has a better chance to make an immediate impact for the Colts as a cornerback — a position of need.

So far, the team has shown some faith that he’ll succeed. Already, Tell has worked with the first-team defense at both corner and safety. A natural athlete who showed elite coverage abilities at USC, he has a chance to become an integral player for the Colts as a rookie.

Dexter Williams, running back, Green Bay Packers

The Packers may have landed one of the biggest steals in the draft selecting this former Notre Dame star in Round 6. Last season, his first as the top rusher for the Irish, Dexter Williams tallied 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per touch, despite playing in just nine games. He has the skill and frame (5-foot-11, 212 pounds) to be an every-down back.

It’s hard to know just what kind of impact Williams will have in Green Bay as a rookie. Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones are ahead of him on the depth chart. But with rookie head coach Matt LaFleur installing a new offense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Williams earning some playing time with a strong showing during training camp.

Hakeem Butler, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals

It was truly stunning that Hakeem Butler fell all the way to the fourth round in April. A player many pegged as a second-round pick, at the worst, he has first-round abilities and was dominant at Iowa State. With a 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame, his after-the-catch game is Marshawn Lynch-esque.

Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are locks to start for the Cardinals in 2019. Butler has a strong opportunity to be the third receiver, which would pretty much equate being a starter in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense. His ability to make big plays — both deep down the field and on short passes that he turns into long gains — should make him an immediate impact player as a rookie.