The NFL Draft is a celebration. It’s the night where a college athlete goes from playing a game to taking on a profession. This weekend-long event can be painstakingly drawn-out for the viewer, but can slip away from the athlete that doesn’t hear his name called. In the last five years, the NFL Draft has become a primetime event, geared towards a viewing audience by inviting more fans to the actual venue and creating a show of the handful of athletes who are invited to the grand stage that is Radio City Music Hall in New York City. With hefty contracts on the line for the first and second-round draft choices, general managers around the league have been pinpointing value players since each student-athlete declared in the winter. As value and fit shift throughout the evening and each round is completed, the direction of each franchise starts to take a new shape.
With as much money that is poured into early round picks, the late-round selections are where true value lingers. The ultimate example resides in three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Tom Brady. As a sixth round draft pick in 2000, Brady was signed to a $230k first-year deal. By 2002, with a ring on his finger, he was making a cool $3 million, which was still undervalued at the time for a quarterback in a league that pays an arm and a leg for that position. Another is Terrell Davis, a consistent 1,000-yard rusher, who, as a sixth-round pick, won two Super Bowls behind John Elway in Denver. Most recently, Russell Wilson was selected in the third round by the Seahawks in 2012 and wasn’t expected to start. Although he doesn’t fit in with the criteria of this article, his rookie contract makes him a steal for what he has been able to produce in his first two seasons. He signed for a 4-year, $2.99 million contract, making just under 750k in his Super Bowl winning campaign.
Value can come in many shapes and sizes. Yes, what you do on the field per game is important, from carries to receptions to tackles – but does it lead to wins and playoff games at a cost that isn’t too exorbitant for the team to properly build around you? These fifth and sixth-round draft choices fit the bill when it comes to value. They not only rose into starting roles within their first few seasons with their respective teams, they have put up big numbers and have made their general managers look brilliant in the process. In order to make this list, these players have to still be members of the team that they were selected by. Here are “draft steals” from the past five seasons:
2013 – Zac Stacy – St. Louis Rams (Round 5)
Stacy replaced Steven Jackson, after Jackson went to the Falcons. Stacy recorded a productive season, rushing for 973 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2013. He fell short of the 1,000 yard mark, but the main reason for that is he didn’t become a starter until Week 5. Stacy only lost one fumble last season, an extraordinary feat for any rookie running back. The Rams have beefed up on defense in this year’s draft and the injury prone Sam Bradford remains a questionable piece to the puzzle this season, so it’s safe to say Stacy’s touches will most certainly go up this season. Excellent production from a player only making $405,000 last season.1
2012 – Alfred Morris – Washington Redskins (Round 6)
After the high-profile selection of Robert Griffin III as the second pick in the 2012 draft, Morris was selected as a bruising, downhill back to give RGIII more short-yard options on third down. In 2012, he rushed for 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns, surpassing what many expected even Griffin would accomplish. Not bad for a guy only making $2.2 million over his first four years. Griffin and Morris led the Redskins to a division title and a first-round matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. Although the Redskins fell from Division Champions to last place in the NFC East in 2013, Morris carried for 1,275 yards on 276 attempts. That’s 4.6 yards/attempt – no drop off from the 2012 season. Expect Alfred Morris to carry more of the load in 2014.
2011 – Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks (Round 5)
Sherman has gone anything but under the radar since he was inserted into the Seahawks secondary in 2011. As a shutdown corner, he has been one of the most prolific defensive backs in the league over the past three seasons. Most noteworthy was when he shut down Michael Crabtree in this season’s NFC Championship and ran his mouth all the way to a Super Bowl Championship. He’s recorded 110 tackles and 16 interceptions in the past two seasons in which he tops the league in picks. Prior to his mega deal that landed him 4 years/$57 million, Sherman was scheduled to make $1.39 million in 2014.2
2010 – Greg Hardy/Kam Chancellor – Carolina Panthers/Seattle Seahawks (Round 6)
It was impossible to choose between these two defensive beasts. Hardy, defensive end out of Ole Miss, suggested that he would have 50 sacks in 2013. Although the Panther’s front four did share the wealth getting to the quarterback last year, Hardy recorded 15 sacks during the 2013 campaign, bringing his total to 30 for the past two seasons. Hardy and the Carolina defense led the Panthers to a division crown and a first-round bye in the playoffs in 2013. The second member of the Legion of Boom to find his way on this list, Virginia Tech standout Kam Chancellor has not disappointed in his three years. Chancellor has had 297 tackles and 7 interceptions in the past three years, making him one of the top safeties in the league. Prior to this off-season when he signed a 4-year/$28 million dollar extension, Chancellor made $1.32 million in 2013.
2009 – Jason McCourty – Tennessee Titans (Round 5)
The McCourty twins run deep at the defensive back position in the NFL. Although Devin, starting cornerback for the New England Patriots, doesn’t qualify for this list as a first-round selection, Jason has started for the Tennessee Titans since early in his rookie season. From 2010-2012, Jason grabbed 8 interceptions and made 242 tackles. The downside is that the Titans have not made the playoffs since 2008 due to inconsistent quarterback play and changes in the coaching staff. Jason received the luxury of a 5-year/$43 million extension after his play in 2012 but only made $1.26 million that season.
Highest value – Alfred Morris. With Richard Sherman restructuring his contract to a record deal as a recent Super Bowl champion, Sherman will frustrate wide receivers for the rest of his time in Seattle, who aren’t ready to ship him off anywhere soon. Morris brings more upside. Running backs are limited due to the more mobile nature of quarterbacks these days, especially in Washington where Griffin is a nightmare to defend even on a bad leg. With new coach Jay Gruden in town, the power running that the Redskins saw in 2012 will be re-inserted into the playbook to give RGIII more short yardage opportunities to open up the read option. Morris is still operating within his 4-year/$2.22 million rookie deal and he is scheduled to make $570k in 2014, making him a true luxury for the Washington Redskins and the biggest NFL draft Saturday steal in recent years.
from Overthecap – http://overthecap.com/cap.php?Name=Zac%20Stacy&Position=RB&Team=rams ↩
according to SI – http://tracking.si.com/2014/02/12/seahawks-sherman-no-talks-yet/ ↩