The primary focus for draft fans is on the first round as that’s where the big names are called, but there is value to be had later in the draft. The real team building happens in the middle of the draft and when teams hit on picks later in the draft they set themselves up for success as they reap the benefit of getting good production at a dramatically reduced price.
I’ve gone through every pick that was made and have compiled a list of players that have the potential to challenge for starting time in 2017. I’m not using players drafted in the first or second round, and I’m trying to find later round picks that were drafted too low or into a great situation for the skills they are bringing to their team.
This is a projection based on how difficult it will be for these players to find the field and what I think their impact can be once they get there.
Here are 10 players from the NFC that will challenge for starting time this season.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Duke Riley
The Falcons drafted Riley, a linebacker out of LSU in the third round with pick No. 75 overall. Riley played outside linebacker at LSU as a senior and looks to fit there in the Falcons defense. At 6’1” and 230 pounds, Riley has outstanding range to go sideline to sideline to pursue the ball carrier and when he sees his target, he instantly accelerates to his man to attack with zero hesitation.
Riley displays smarts and football savvy as a blitzer and closes incredibly fast while having the athletic ability to hang with tight ends and running backs in coverage. Riley showed his coverage ability easily defending wheel routes from running backs coming out of the backfield and that’s a testament to his athletic tools and football instincts.
Riley will challenge second-year linebacker De’Vondre Campbell for playing time and when SAM linebacker Vic Beasley moves to rush the passer it will be Riley that gets onto the field. The Falcons would be smart to let him pursue, chase and hit and he’ll be an asset for their defense.
Dallas Cowboys slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis
The Cowboys got one of my favorite players in this class late in the third round with pick No. 92 overall. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis is an outstanding coverage cornerback, but he is small and that along with a recent arrest led to him falling this late in the draft.
At 5’10” and 188 pounds, it seems like Lewis’ likely destination is at the slot corner position which actually will get him onto the field rather quickly. Lewis is sticky in coverage and it is obvious when watching him that he likes to stay as close to his man as possible, and one of his best attributes is the ability to make up ground when the ball is in the air. He has great vision to stay tight in coverage but to see the ball as well, and that allows him to make plays at the catch point that others won’t make.
Lewis will compete with Cowboys slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the starting nickel cornerback position, but his outstanding feel in coverage gives him great upside and it is just a matter of time before he works his way onto the field.