Every year, some players plummet far below their projected draft stock before getting snapped up by some lucky team. The 2018 NFL Draft was no different.
Last year, the biggest steal was arguably New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara. He finished with 728 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, and he added 826 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
NFL.com projected Kamara to go in the second round, but he slipped into the third round before the Saints took him with the No. 67 overall pick. When he hit the field his rookie season, he played like a first-rounder.
“Look, if we had known what we were going to get as a runner, we wouldn’t have taken him in the third round. We would’ve taken him earlier,” head coach Sean Payton said in December, via Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com.
So who could be this year’s Kamara? Let’s take a look at the players who might end up as the biggest steals of the 2018 draft.
Oakland Raiders: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan, fifth round
Hurst, a defensive tackle out of Michigan, was a projected first-rounder until a heart condition sent him home from the combine and caused his draft stock to nosedive. Hurst is 6’1, 292 pounds, and explosive off the snap. In his scouting report on Hurst, our Stephen White said he had to run the tape back “because Hurst got out of his stance so fast, I would miss it.”
Hurst fell all the way to the fifth round because of medical concerns before the Raiders grabbed him. If he’s healthy, his natural talent and quickness could make him the best value in the entire draft. — Jeanna Thomas
Seattle Seahawks: Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State, fifth round
The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line is notorious for being one of the worst in the NFL, and they haven’t done much in the draft to fix it. But! Enter Jones, the 168th overall pick.
Jones was a first team All-Big Ten pick in 2017, and was viewed as a good NFL prospect. Then after he had a poor NFL Combine, he slid into the fifth round. He was part of a winning culture at Ohio State, and could help turn the Seahawks’ offensive line around and keep Russell Wilson upright. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Dallas Cowboys: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama, seventh round
While Scarbrough wasn’t in the top group of backs this year thanks to his numbers dropping last season compared to the year before, getting him in the seventh round is big. He’ll be an excellent complement to Ezekiel Elliott, who has more speed than Bo has — his size at 6’1 220 pounds makes him a power runner, but he’s got some decent speed for his size, too.
Having Scarbrough in the backfield with Zeke gives the Cowboys another dangerous weapon to use on the ground. The only thing that could go wrong with this pick is if he doesn’t stay healthy — he was injured a good bit at Alabama, including an ACL tear he suffered in the 2017 National Championship. — Morgan Moriarty
New England Patriots: Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State, seventh round
Everyone was real worried about when/if the Pats would take an heir apparent to Tom Brady and they messed around and took Rob Gronkowski’s future replacement. There were rumors that the oft-injured weapon would call it quits this offseason, but he’s decided to give it a go again in 2018. When he does hang it up, Izzo could be a dude who takes over as a pass-catching threat in whatever the post-Brady New England offense looks like. — Richard Johnson
Cleveland Browns: Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida, fourth round
If he can stay out of trouble — and that is a big if — then the Browns just added a game-breaking wide receiver along with Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and Jarvis Landry in the WR corps. Callaway isn’t a fourth-round pick because of his talent, he’s a fourth-round pick because of his baggage. He missed the entire 2018 season at Florida due to a credit card fraud scandal and fessed up to smoking weed and failing a drug test at the Combine. The Browns aren’t scared of what other teams deemed death knell character issues, and if Callaway can repay that faith by staying out of the doghouse then the Browns will be in good shape. — Richard Johnson
Los Angeles Rams: John Kelly, RB, Tennessee, sixth round
John Kelly, when used correctly, can be a game-breaking threat for an offense that’s willing to find inventive ways to use players in space. Luckily for Kelly, he now has an offensive-minded head coach who isn’t afraid to think outside the box in Sean McVay. Kelly won’t be asked to tote the rock as a three-down back, that’s Todd Gurley’s job, but seeing the different ways that the Rams will dream up to get Kelly the ball will be fun as the Rams try to keep last season’s offensive momentum going. — Richard Johnson
New York Jets: Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane, sixth round
If the Jets are hoping to create a no-fly zone, then adding Nickerson could turn out to be a steal on the backend of their defense. Nickerson simply finds the ball, with 16 total interceptions in his career he’s second all-time in Tulane football history. He played 48 games showcasing incredible durability in the Green Wave secondary. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash, and he’s got the quicks to stick with wideouts at the NFL level. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye now have a new young teammate who’s ready to form an east coast Legion Of Boom. — Richard Johnson
Seattle Seahawks: Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF, fifth round
Quite possibly the fastest linebacker in world history, who ran the 40 as fast as his NFL DB-sized twin brother, lasted until the middle of Day 3. He was his conference’s DPOY as a junior and the defensive MVP of an undefeated team as a senior. There isn’t a hint of a blemish on his character profile.
It’s understandable that he lasted until the fourth round or so. He’s not as big as your typical edge rusher, and he’d be a hilariously stocky true safety. But in this increasingly hybrid sport, to land an athlete this versatile, skilled, and furiously dedicated is a gift for Seattle. — Jason Kirk
Philadelphia Eagles: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State, fourth round
Finding successful pass rushers in the NFL Draft is really difficult, but there are a few metrics that translate well. At the top of the list are times in the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle, which show quickness, burst, bend, and change of direction. Sweat was among the top of the class in those drills and also posted a 39.5-inch vertical showing his ridiculous explosion. It helps too that he has an absurd 84-inch wingspan.
All those numbers suggest he has the tools to immediately get to the quarterback when he lines up in the Philadelphia defense. So why did he go in Day 3? Mostly because of a knee injury he suffered in high school that was so bad it almost required amputation and it got him pulled from many draft boards. Considering he still has enough burst to put up the Combine numbers he did, I think he was worth the risk. — Adam Stites
Seattle Seahawks: Michael Dickson, P, Texas, fifth round
“Big Kicking Dickson,” they call him. (OK, they don’t. That’s just me.) Dickson is the best punting prospect in a good while. He will hold down that position in Seattle for a long time and give them a significant field-position boost for as long as he does. It’s normally weird to draft a punter, much less trade up for one, but Dickson has a game-changing leg. — Alex Kirshner