After months of scouting and interviews, each NFL team takes their turns drafting the next generation of future players. Obviously each team goes into the draft hoping to find a diamond in the rough, especially in one of the later rounds. These late draft steals are vital for building a championship caliber roster because they provide a multiple year window of low-cost, high quality players. A great example of this was seen in Seattle when the Seahawks found Russell Wilson in the third round. Wilson immediately became the starter and his rookie scaled contract allowed the Seahawks to spend more money on building the roster around him.
While it's impossible to determine whether a player is a "steal" in only their rookie season, there are certainly players that shine brighter than others. Many of the players on this list are already game-changing players for their respective teams and will continue to improve over the next several years. Although the NFL is very much a passing league now, many of the steals of this draft appear to be dynamic running backs that can line up in both the backfield and out wide as a receiver. Did your favorite team draft one of the 2017 NFL Draft gems? Continue reading below to find out...
15 Tarik Cohen - Chicago Bears
As a fourth round draft pick, there weren't a lot of high expectations surrounding Tarik Cohen at the Chicago Bears training camp. The Bears already had Jordon Howard solidified as their starting running back allowing the undersized Cohen (only 5'6" tall) to hide under the radar, no pun intended. But once the season started, Cohen quickly established himself as one of the more explosive rookies in the 2017 class.
In his very first NFL game, Cohen busted onto the scene with a 110 yards from scrimmage and a receiving touchdown. Although Cohen will never be a bell-cow style running back in the NFL because of his size, his quickness and light feet will allow him to have a very Darren Sproles-esque type career. It's clear the Bears got a steal in the 4th round with Cohen.
14 Dalvin Tomlinson - New York Giants
Like most Alabama Crimson Tide players, Tomlinson is a huge and intimidating man. His physical presence alone helps strike fear into opposing teams offensive lines, but his talent allows him to be a dominant run-stopping defensive lineman. After being selected near the end of the 2nd round of the 2017 draft, Tomlinson quickly gained the trust of his New York Giants coaches and teammates.
Because of this, Tomlinson has started every single game of his rookie season so far. While his statistical numbers don't jump off the page, his game tape will definitely open your eyes. The Giants look like they have found a mainstay on their defensive line for years to come and for that reason it's safe to say that they got a steal in Tomlinson.
13 Sidney Jones - Philadelphia Eagles
Before we get too far on this selection, let me assure you that I'm aware that Sidney Jones has not yet played a down in the NFL and thus there is no way of knowing his true value. While that is a fair statement, it really underestimates just how talented Sidney Jones is and the game-changing ability he has when healthy. What makes Jones a steal is the fact that he would have been a top-15 pick had he not suffered his Achilles injury.
As a result of his injury, Jones slept all the way down to the middle of the second round where the Eagles wisely snatched him up. After sitting out most of his rookie season with the injury, Jones is now back and ready to make an impact just in time for the playoffs. If the Eagles feel he is healthy enough to play, watch for Jones to make several splash plays in the Eagles playoff run. Jones will be a top-10 cornerback in the NFL by the end of 2018.
12 Carl Lawson - Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals defense somehow finds away to develop their late round linebacker selections into stud players including the undrafted Vontaze Burfict. 2017 4th round pick Carl Lawson appears ready to be the next linebacker poised to become a defensive monster for the orange and black. When given a chance, Lawson has shown a natural ability to rush the quarterback so far in his rookie season.
Though his season started slow, Lawson quickly came on in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, registering 2.5 sacks against Aaron Rodgers. Lawson has continued his mean streak against opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 7.5 sacks (through Week 15) to lead all rookies. The Bengals continue to use him in certain packages at this point, but next year look for Lawson to become a full-time starter and solidify his selection as a steal in the draft.
11 Pat Elflein - Minnesota Vikings
It's rare to find an immediate plug and play starter in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, but that is exactly what the Minnesota Vikings found when they traded up to select Pat Elflein with the #70 overall pick. Elflein was one of the best offensive guards in college football entering his senior season at Ohio State, but he was forced to switch to center before his season.
While many thought the move to center could hurt Elflein's draft position, he ended the season considered by many experts to be the best center in the draft. This just shows you how good of an offensive lineman this guy is. He could probably start at guard for the Vikings as well if they needed him too, but luckily for the playoff bound team they can depend on having Elflein man the center of their line for this year and many more to come. These aren't the sexiest types of picks, but they are the ones that help build a strong core. Great pick.
10 Budda Baker - Arizona Cardinals
When the Cardinals selected Budda Baker in the second round, they had a hunch that they were stealing a first round talent. In fact, the Cardinals were trying to catch lightning in a bottle on an undersized, feisty safety for the second time in four years; the first time being when they drafted Tyrann "Honeybadger" Matheiu in the 3rd round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Cardinals specifically mentioned that they drafted Baker because he reminded them so much of the Honeybadger.
Well the Cardinals look like they did get another steal in Baker. Although head coach Bruce Arians likes to ease rookies into the lineup as slow as possible, Baker's exceptional play on special teams forced him to give more time to the ball-hawking rookie. Baker has already elevated to the teams starting safety and will likely be a stalwart there for the next decade. In short, Baker has Earl Thomas like potential at the safety position... and he's got a cool name too so that always helps.
9 Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Jamaal Williams route to the NFL was certainly different than most big name prospects. During his collegiate career at BYU, Williams was once suspended for an entire season because the school found at that Williams had sexual relations with his girlfriend. This was a direct violation of the honor code that Williams had to sign when he chose to attend the majority Mormon school.
It seemed like Williams might have to transfer to another school, but to his credit he swallowed his pride and served his suspension. Despite all of the distractions, Williams finished as the all-time rushing leader in BYU history. The Packers, who seemingly always need a running back, noticed Williams and decided to take a risk on him in the 4th round. Good thing they did too because Williams has shown flashes of brilliance when he gets time on the field. Between he, T.J. Montgomery, and fellow rookie Aaron Jones, it appears Aaron Rodgers will have a dynamic backfield no matter who is starting.
8 Samaje Perine - Washington Redskins
Although overshadowed by Joe Mixon during his time at Oklahoma, it should not surprise anybody that Samaje Perine has turned in the better rookie year of the two former Sooners. Perine has claimed a hold on the Washington Redskins starting running back position and has shown a good burst of speed mixed with receiving ability.
He hasn't been as consistent as the Redskins will require him to be if he is to remain their starting running back for the foreseeable future, but the explosiveness is undeniable. Perine also has the size and muscle to carry a full work load each Sunday, which will help him grow into a true 3-down back. Any time you can find a 3-down back in the 4th round of the draft, it's a legitimate steal. Expect Perine's name to pop up a lot in next year's fantasy football mock draft sleeper picks.
7 Eddie Jackson - Chicago Bears
The fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft may be historically good if the guys mentioned throughout this article continue to improve. Add Eddie Jackson to that list of standout 4th rounders as this former Alabama Crimson Tide is shining in his first season with the Chicago Bears. Jackson was named the starting safety before the season opener and has not turned back since.
Against the Carolina Panthers, Jackson had one of the most incredible games of any defensive player this season. Not only did Jackson have his first NFL interception, he also returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. Later in that same game, Jackson scooped up a fumble and returned it for another 75 yard touchdown. It was an unbelievable performance by a steal of a pick.
6 Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans
Can a high first round pick really be considered a "steal?" Well in the case of Deshaun Watson, it should certainly be considered a steal. Watson was ranked by many as the top quarterback going into the 2017 NFL Draft, yet was selected after Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes. The Texans traded with the Cleveland Browns to move up to #12 to draft Deshaun Watson.
That trade helps make this such a steal because the Arizona Cardinals were set to pick #13 and surely would have taken Watson had he still been available. What solidified this pick as a steal, however, was Watson's stellar play for the Texans after being named the starter. In only 6 and half games, Watson threw for a whopping 19 touchdowns and added another two touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately his knee injury ended what looked like a certain Rookie of the Year season, but Watson will be back with a vengeance next year.
5 Cam Robinson - Jacksonville Jaguars
Offensive linemen are not often sexy picks for "steals" in a draft because so many our usually found late in the draft and develop into starters over time. But Cam Robinson has earned his spot on this list with his excellent play so far in his rookie season. Despite being a standout player for the Crimson Tide of Alabama, Robinson somehow managed to slip down into the second round until the Jaguars snatched him up.
Robinson has been about as solid of a left tackle as a team could ask for in his rookie season. Not only is he protecting Blake Bortles' blindside, but he is also helping to open up some major running lanes for his fellow rookie running back, Leonard Fournette. One of the core pieces of a solid team is having a franchise left tackle and the Jaguars checked that box off their list when they stole Robinson in the second round of the 2017 draft.
4 Cooper Kupp - Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams offense has taken major strides this season under first year head coach Sean McVay and second year quarterback Jared Goff. But much of Jared Goff's improvement can be linked to the newly acquired weapons of Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins. The most impressive new weapon, however, is rookie third-round pick Cooper Kupp.
Kupp has slid perfectly into the Rams slot receiver and currently sits with an impressive stat line of 58 catches, 804 yards, and 4 touchdowns through Week 15. At that pace, it is likely he will finish the season with over 1,000 yards which is always impressive, especially for a rookie. Kupp has sure hands and a sneaky quickness that allows him to find gaps in opposing defenses. His chemistry with Jared Goff will only continue to grow
3 Kareem Hunt - Kansas City Chiefs
rookie player was hotter than Kareem Hunt to start the season. After a preseason injury to starting running back Spencer Ware opened up the starting position for Hunt, he has been one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. Ironically, Hunt fumbled his very first carry in the NFL after never losing a fumble in his entire career at the University of Toledo.
After that mistimed fumble, Hunt totally redeemed himself by gaining over 250 total yards and 3 touchdowns. He followed that up by rushing for over 260 yards over the next two weeks and adding another 3 touchdowns. Given his ability to find holes on the ground and make plays as the safety valve for the check-down happy Alex Smith, Hunt has become a pivotal part of the Kansas City offense. If the Chiefs want to make the playoffs, they would be wise to lean on Hunt the rest of the season.
2 Desmond King - Los Angeles Chargers
With the way that Desmond King has played so far in his rookie season, he would be considered a steal even if he was drafted in the first round. The fact that he wasn't selected until the 5th round is insane and allowed the Chargers to get one of the biggest steals in the 2017 draft. King has already grown into a lockdown cornerback and is currently ranked as the #10 best corner in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
If King continues his dominance, he could become one of the all-time Charger greats. If the Chargers make the playoffs, King will have a chance to shine under the bright lights and the primetime television exposure will make him a household name. In a draft filled with exceptional late round picks, King may turn out to be the best of them all in the long run.
1 Alvin Kamara - New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara has gone from a third string running back to the likely Rookie of the Year and hero for many fantasy owners who were able to pick him up in free agency. Kamara is a unique style of running back and has shown the ability to break big plays as both a runner and receiver. He's essentially a smaller David Johnson.
What has made Kamara's season even more incredible is the fact that he is consistently putting up huge numbers despite the Saints still giving Mark Ingram the majority of the workload. Those two have created this seasons nastiest two headed backfield monster. With Drew Brees inching closer to the end of his career, it's highly possible that Kamara becomes the next face of the franchise... nose ring and all!