5 SEC late-round draft picks who will have productive NFL careers
The odds clearly are against them. Spots are few, competition is immense and the initial investment isn’t enough to just keep them around to make the GM look smart.
In every way, players drafted in the Rounds 4-7 of the NFL Draft have an uphill climb to carve out even a brief career.
Some do, though.
Here are 5 SEC players drafted in the 4th round or later who not only will make a roster this fall but have a productive NFL career.
5. Isaac Nauta, 7th round, Detroit
Nauta should have been a star at Georgia. I’m convinced he would have been had Jacob Eason not gotten hurt and subsequently replaced by Jake Fromm. For whatever reason, perhaps because Fromm prefers sideline throws to seam routes, those two were rarely on the same page. You can question whether Nauta made a smart business decision to leave Georgia early, but I think he’d seen enough to know how he fit in the Fromm-led offense.
I was surprised Detroit took Nauta. The Lions signed free agent Jesse James and picked Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson in the first round. Hockenson won the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. He’s a better and more willing blocker than Nauta and faster than Nauta. Is he a better route runner with better hands? I’m not sold on that. Numbers only tell part of the story, and you can’t catch balls that aren’t thrown your way. Clearly, the Lions must envision some kind of package that maximizes Nauta’s hands.
Matthew Stafford is still just 30 and Detroit still throws the ball well above league-average. Last year was the first time since his injury-marred 2010 season that Stafford failed to throw for 4,000 yards. Lions TEs combined to catch just 45 passes.
Nauta has NFL skills. If he doesn’t stick with the Lions, he’ll land somewhere.
4. Benny Snell, 4th round, Pittsburgh
Snell doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he has an NFL body and, more important, an NFL nastiness to his running style. Did you see his workload at Kentucky? He had more than 730 carries in 3 years. That might concern some, that kind of wear and tear. And if he were built like Sony Michel, it might concern me, too. But he’s built like a heavyweight boxer looking to land the next blow. The NFL embraces that mentality.
He’s the prototypical overachiever and he landed in the perfect situation in Pittsburgh.
I’m not the only one who thinks so.
“Benny is going to be successful because that is just the way he is wired and he is going to work really hard,” Mark Stoops told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That is a great mentality to have because those yards are tough to come by in the SEC — and look at the success he has had — and they are hard to come by in the NFL. You need a player like that.”
3. Ross Pierschbacher, 5th round, Washington
I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of playing offensive line, but I do know the NFL values versatility in the trenches. Pierschbacher can play any of the three interior spots on the line, which bodes well for his future.
A Day 1 starter at Alabama, he’s proven to be extremely durable, too. He’s not a mauler in the class of Quenton Nelson, but he’s above average in pass protection. That’s critical, considering the Redskins just drafted their QB of the future in Dwayne Haskins.
Redskins beat writers noted that Pierschbacher will compete for the starting left guard spot in camp. He’ll find a home somewhere on the line.
2. Mack Wilson, 5th round, Cleveland
If you watched Wilson play at Alabama, you usually were left with one of two expressions: “Wow!” Or, “what was he thinking?” Maybe that’s the rub. For all of the physical gifts — there might not be a harder hitter — there just weren’t enough wow moments to make you fully trust or forgive the out of position moments.
Some analysts have openly questioned his football IQ. That can’t all be excused by simply saying Nick Saban’s defense is complicated.
Will it all click in the NFL? The offenses are more complex, but they might actually suit Wilson’s style better. He’s sensational in space and in coverage. Those are two extremely critical attributes for an NFL linebacker.
1. Deionte Thompson, 5th round, Arizona
Thompson has early-round ball skills. He reportedly fell to the 5th round because of a knee issue. Depending on the severity, that obviously could be a career-changer.
Thompson said it’s not a big deal. It’s related to a 2017 surgery he had to repair his meniscus.
If that’s all it is, Arizona landed a ball hawk with Pro Bowl potential.