The NFL draft is about more than first-round quarterbacks and premium investments in the first three rounds. In most years, Rounds 1-3 makes up less than 40% of the total selections made.
This article isn’t about quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, or tight end Kyle Pitts. This is about the prospects picked later in the draft; the sleeper prospects, who can provide meaningful contributions to their new teams and outperform where they were selected.
Round 7 (No. 244 overall): Gerrid Doaks, RB, Miami Dolphins
I love that the Miami Dolphins haven’t panicked when it comes to the running back position and, instead, prioritized more meaningful positions with early draft capital even if it meant missing out on the top runners, a trend we’ve seen now for consecutive drafts. In 2021, Miami received terrific production from 2019 seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin when healthy, and the Dolphins are primed to receive the same from Gerrid Doaks from this year’s class.
Doaks is a powerful, downhill runner that runs angry and is explosive into contact with good vision and contact balance. He’s terrific in pass protection and is a capable receiver despite not getting many chances to catch the football at Cincinnati. He’s not going to win footraces to the perimeter, but he’s more elusive than expected for a back of his stature. The tandem of Gaskin and Doaks has the makings of a serviceable pair of runners with complementary skill sets to go with a suddenly deep group of pass-catching options for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his sophomore season.
Round 6 (No. 216 overall): Quincy Roche, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quincy Roche isn’t a universal scheme-fit so his tumble down the board wasn’t a major surprise, but he did land in the perfect situation in Pittsburgh. While he isn’t the biggest, longest, or most athletic EDGE rusher, Roche is a polished pass rusher that knows how to attack the pocket. He has a variety of rush moves that he knows how to deploy and has a chance to excel as a designated pass rusher. The departure of Bud Dupree opens the door for Alex Highsmith to claim his role and now Roche can step into the Highsmith role. From a scheme and opportunity perspective, Roche and the Steelers form a perfect marriage; and he has a chance to way outproduce what expectations should be for the 216th-overall pick.
Round 6 (No. 243): James Wiggins, S, Arizona Cardinals
James Wiggins was a star in 2018 where he showcased a dynamic athletic profile, exciting ball skills, and played a physical brand of football while displaying a versatile skill set. Unfortunately, injuries derailed him in 2019 and that spilled over into 2020. Despite not showing the same juice on the field in 2020, Wiggins' football intelligence and physicality still shined. Arizona places a high emphasis on versatility from its defensive players and there is no shortage of areas that Wiggins could provide help to in the Cardinals’ secondary. Wiggins will develop into a meaningful subpackage defender, developmental starter, and special teams standout for Arizona right away.
Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Green Bay Packers: Round 5 (No. 178)
I’m not sure why the NFL continues to discriminate against slot corners. The pro game is played in subpackages, and teams are in nickel the overwhelming majority of the time. Slot corners should be viewed as starters, and often play more than rotational defensive linemen, yet it’s hard for “slot only” corners to get drafted in the first three rounds.
Shemar Jean-Charles is a good football player that is smart in coverage, physical, and knows how to disrupt at the catch point. He has the makings of an excellent slot corner and can compete with Chandon Sullivan for the job as a rookie.
Shi Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: Round 6 (No. 204)
Over the last two offseasons, the Carolina Panthers have put together the pieces necessary to run offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s spread offense and Shi Smith is the cherry on top. Smith—joining a mix of pass-catchers including D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., and David Moore in addition to running back Christian McCaffrey—should thrive on the spacing problems that the group can present and thrive in the slot. Smith is a quick-twitch athlete that knows how to get open with his dynamic release package, route-running skills, and ability to accelerate. He is a pesky competitor that is aggressive at the catch point and has (mostly) reliable hands. I love his fit in Carolina and the opportunity to make teams regret letting him slide this far in the draft.