In each draft, there’s always a bunch of players that end up getting drafted late, that turn into better players than most expected. While the best players are supposed to be drafted in the first round, that isn’t always the case. At any point in time, a player can become a star. A lot of players in the later rounds may be NFL fits but didn’t have as much success as other players in college football. With there being so many players on a college football roster, some players may not get equal opportunities, or just not enough opportunities in general.
Another reason why players may drop in a draft is due to early durability issues or declaring for the draft too early. Knowing how a player can get hurt at any time, many players declare for the NFL Draft after only one season in college football to make sure they get paid at some point in their football career. Then, there are players that just improve as their career goes along. What a player does in college shouldn’t determine who they are as a football player. Many players work hard in the gym and in practice to become better players.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as draft analysts being wrong on a player. Some of these players have a lot more talent than given credit for, and really show it when it comes time on Sundays. In these past three drafts, you will see some of the best players in the NFL that weren’t drafted in the first round. You will also find out where they should’ve been drafted.
30 2016: Kenyan Drake - Miami Dolphins (RB, 73rd)
New Spot: 48th Overall by the Green Bay Packers
As much as analysts don’t think Aaron Rodgers needs a steady run game, every quarterback does. When the Packers were up to draft in the second round, they should’ve selected Kenyan Drake. Even right now, Drake hasn’t hit his peak. The Dolphins cycle between him and Frank Gore, which doesn’t give Drake all the opportunities. On the Packers in 2016, Drake would be the lead back. This also helps the Packers because Drake is really good in the passing game.
29 2017: Alvin Kamara - New Orleans Saints (RB, 67th)
New Spot: 4th Overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars
Oh, how the Saints loved the Alvin Kamara draft pick. In the third round of the 2017 draft, the Saints drafted one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL. Kamara has become what the ideal running back in the NFL is. A player who can run the football, but also catch like a wide receiver. Kamara's second season has looked just like his rookie year. While the Jaguars may be content with Leonard Fournette, a healthier, more dynamic running back would be the better pick.
28 2018: Maurice Hurst - Oakland Raiders (DT, 140th)
Should've Been Drafted: 55th Overall by the New York Giants
If Maurice Hurst wasn’t diagnosed with a heart condition, there’s a very good chance he could’ve been a first-round draft pick. Players that enter the league with pre-existing injuries or ailments usually fall in the draft, as Hurst did. Considering the talent he’s shown on Sundays, he should’ve been a second round pick. His value dropping due to his heart condition is understandable, but he’s been really good. He's been much better than expected and the Giants could've nabbed him with their 55th overall pick, rather than take DT Dalvin Tomlinson.
27 2016: Austin Hooper - Atlanta Falcons (TE, 81st)
New Spot: 41st Overall by Buffalo Bills
There’s a reason the Falcons offense is so stacked, and it’s because they draft well. In the third round of the 2016 draft, they selected Austin Hooper. In the past two seasons, Hooper has caught for over 500 yards each season and has found himself in the end zone at least three times in each of his three seasons. Hooper likely wouldn't have been putting up those numbers in a Bills offense featuring the likes of Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen the past three years, but he definitely deserved to go a lot higher.
26 2017: Marlon Mack - Indianapolis Colts (RB, 143rd)
Should've Been Drafted: 89th Overall by the Houston Texans
The Colts are happy to have drafted Marlon Mack in the fourth round, but he’s proved he’s the type of running back that could’ve been drafted in the second round. Mack has become the starting running back for the Colts, and has stood out on a primarily pass happy offense. Mack does a good job finding holes on the interior, but can also bounce it to the outside. The division rival Houston Texans would've been better off with Mack as their 3rd round pick, rather than D'Onta Foreman.
25 2018: Antonio Callaway - Cleveland Browns (WR, 105th)
New Spot: 60th Overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns got themselves a treat by drafting Antonio Callaway in the fourth round. After a slow start to the season, Callaway got much better following Cleveland's coaching change. This is a much better player than they probably ever expected. The Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the second round (James Washington) who has been far less productive. If Pittsburgh could go back, Callaway would be a potential Steeler and would've been even better in that offense.
24 2016: Jordan Howard - Chicago Bears (RB, 150th)
New Spot: 59th Overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It doesn’t get much better than drafting a starting running back in the fifth round. The Bears' 2016 fifth round pick rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, and came up just short this season after splitting snaps with Tarik Cohen. To think that teams went through nearly five rounds before drafting him is crazy. Then you look at a team like the Buccaneers who haven't been able to find a consistent starter, going back to the disappointing Doug Martin.
23 2017: Tarik Cohen - Chicago Bears (RB, 119th)
New Spot: 59th Overall by the New Orleans Saints
The Bears have done a great job drafting running backs late in drafts. Tarik Cohen is just another of those guys, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Cohen has been extremely dangerous this season especially, as his touches have gone up with his increased role in Matt Nagy's offense. Assuming Alvin Kamara got drafted earlier in 2017, Cohen would be a similar running back for Drew Brees.
22 2018: Derrius Guice - Washington Redskins (RB, 59th)
New Spot: 38th Overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Derrius Guice proved enough in the very little preseason work that he did, that he should’ve been drafted earlier. Guice showed power and speed, and showed that he may have been one of the most talented running backs in this draft. Unfortunately, Guice suffered a knee injury that would cut his season short. Forget about the injury; the Buccaneers would take Guice over Ronald Jones II. Guice has a lot more potential than the Bucs' actual rookie that struggles to understand the playbook.
21 2016: Tyler Boyd - Cincinnati Bengals (WR, 55th)
New Spot: 23rd Overall by the Minnesota Vikings
Recently, the Vikings did well with finding talented wide receivers late in drafts or as undrafted free agents. Stefon Diggs was a fifth-round pick and Adam Thielen was an undrafted free agent, but they missed on Tyler Boyd, who was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. Boyd has really taken off this season, eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark and finding the endzone. Just imagine Thielen, Diggs, and Boyd on the Vikings offense. We would talk about them being one of the best wide receiver corps in NFL history.
20 2017: Kenny Golladay - Detroit Lions (WR, 96th)
New Spot: 20th Overall by the Denver Broncos
A major reason why the Detroit Lions decided to trade Golden Tate was to allow Kenny Golladay to become the No. 1 wide receiver. Golladay doesn’t open up the field like Tate does, but he’s been really good in 2018. He passed the 1,000 yard mark and was a bright spot on a disappointing Lions offense. This was a wide receiver drafted in the second round, playing at a higher level than some first-rounders. With Emmanuel Sanders aging and Demaryius Thomas having been traded, Golladay would be a perfect fit for the Broncos.
19 2018: Michael Gallup - Dallas Cowboys (WR, 81st)
New Spot: 40th Overall by the Denver Broncos
Yes, Courtland Sutton has statistically been better than Michael Gallup, but that shouldn’t be the narrative. Gallup has been incredible all season as a rookie. Unfortunately, Amari Cooper has stolen the show, which has taken away from Gallup’s touches. Gallup has beaten his man many times this season, but Dak Prescott has missed him quite a bit. Gallup would be a great addition to the Broncos, considering his big play ability. He may not be perfect for Case Keenum, but he will be great for whoever becomes the future quarterback.
18 2016: Dak Prescott - Dallas Cowboys (QB, 135th)
New Spot: 51st Overall by the New York Jets
You know the story. Dak Prescott was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft but took over the starting job of the Cowboys when Tony Romo got hurt in the preseason. There’s been good and bad of Prescott, but at the end of the day, he’s yet to come away with a losing season. Prescott has improved as an NFL quarterback since being a running quarterback in college. The Jets were in search of a quarterback around 2016, and definitely should've taken Dak over the likes of Christian Hackenberg.
17 2017: Kareem Hunt - Kansas City Chiefs (RB, 86th)
New Spot: 22nd Overall by the Miami Dolphins
If not for off-field concerns, we'd probably have Hunt in an even higher spot. The 2017 NFL rushing champion is an explosive running back with a lot of talent. The former Chiefs running back was drafted in the third round, but rushed for 2,151 yards and scored 25 total touchdowns through 27 games. You can make a case that when playing, Hunt was easily a top-3 running back.
While the Dolphins run game is solid with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, Hunt would be the complete running back and add some firepower to an inconsistent offense.
16 2018: Nick Chubb - Cleveland Browns (RB, 35th)
New Spot: 31st Overall by the New England Patriots
Some may think it’s crazy to say that Nick Chubb would be a better pick than Sony Michel. While Michel has a lot of talent, he’s struggled to stay healthy throughout the season. Chubb can also do it all, which would allow the Patriots to move on from either Rex Burkhead or James White in the near future. Chubb has had a knack for finding the endzone this season and would've been among the NFL rushing leaders had he been the Browns starter from Week 1. Chubb could be even better than he currently is in a Patriots uniform.
15 2016: Tyreek Hill - Kansas City Chiefs (WR, 165th)
New Spot: 15th Overall by the Cleveland Browns
We all know that part of why Tyreek Hill fell to the fifth round of the 2016 draft was due to off-field issues. From strictly a talent standpoint though, it could be argued that Hill has emerged as a top-five receiver in the NFL and that he's the best deep ball threat out there. While he could've been a top 10 pick in many drafts, the top end of 2016 was stacked. The easy answer here is Cleveland passing on Corey Coleman, who's not even on their team anymore, and giving themselves a bonafide no.1 receiver in Hill.
14 2017: James Conner - Pittsburgh Steelers (RB)
New Spot: 43rd Overall by the Philadelphia Eagles
If James Conner wasn’t Le’Veon Bell’s replacement, a lot of people would probably look at him differently. The former third-round pick did a great job coming in when Bell didn’t show up to the Steelers facilities, and has performed at an even higher production level than the Pro Bowl running back. Conner has been great both in the pass and run game. While the Eagles have Jay Ajayi, Conner gives them more of a future at the running back position, and one that can do it all.
13 2018: Darius Leonard - Indianapolis Colts (LB, 36th)
New Spot: 16th Overall by the Buffalo Bills
Imagine passing up on a linebacker that has over 150 combined tackles and can rush the passer (and this is just his first season). Leonard led the NFL this year by a wide margin in tackles. Leonard may have been the steal of the draft. The defense of the Colts hasn’t been great recently, but drafting Leonard may be the beginning of that change. Every team that passed on Leonard has to be looking back in disbelief, as they passed up on a top-10 talent in this draft. He slips to 16 here based on team needs in this year's draft.
12 2016: Michael Thomas - New Orleans Saints (WR, 47th)
New Spot: 21st Overall by the Houston Texans
One of the best wide receivers in the NFL was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Michael Thomas has caught for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. Thomas still goes down as one of the most underrated receivers in the league, as there's a narrative that Drew Brees makes him better. While Will Fuller has been okay when he's healthy, a combo of Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins sounds absolutely lethal and would've been a perfect duo for Deshaun Watson.
11 2017: JuJu Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers (WR, 62nd)
New Spot: 5th Overall by the Tennessee Titans
The Steelers found themselves two stars in the 2017 draft, and the second one was JuJu Smith-Schuster. As the No. 2 receiver, Smith-Schuster has actually been one of the best receivers in the league. In fact, despite being the Steelers' defacto number 2, he finished in the top 10 in receiving in the NFL. Surprisingly, he has more receiving yards than Antonio Brown in 2018. While Corey Davis has had a bounce back season in Tennessee, it's hard to argue Juju should've been the first receiver off the board in 2017.
10 2018: Kerryon Johnson - Detroit Lions (RB, 43rd)
New Spot: 25th Overall by the Baltimore Ravens
Kerryon Johnson may be the most underrated draft pick of the 2018 draft. A Lions team that has traditionally struggled running the football now has a running back averaging over 5 yards per carry. Johnson was the sixth running back drafted, which landed himself in the second round. He’s actually averaging more yards than any first-round running back from 2018.
Put him together with Lamar Jackson, and this could've been one of the NFL's most dynamic QB/RB duos. Instead, the Ravens went with a tight end (Hayden Hurst) who hasn’t contributed much.
9 2016: Kevin Byard - Tennessee Titans (S, 64th)
New Spot: 39th Overall By Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kevin Byard has been a beast so far in the NFL. The former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee has overall been a terrific safety. In 2017, he finished with 87 total tackles and eight interceptions, and this season has even got to the quarterback. Rather than being drafted late in the third round, the Buccaneers should’ve drafted him 39th overall in the second round. The Buccaneers have had one of the worst secondaries in the league, and would greatly appreciate having a safety who could do it all.
8 2017: Chris Carson - Seattle Seahawks (RB, 249th)
New Spot: 86th Overall by the Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Carson has really taken off to the next level this season. Using his strength and speed, he will finish the 2018 season with over 1,000 rushing yards. It helps playing behind a strong offensive line, but he’s done a lot of great things after making contact with defenders.
If the Chiefs didn’t draft Kareem Hunt in the third round, assuming he also would be drafted earlier, this would be a great pick. While Spencer Ware is good enough, he doesn’t help the run game like Carson would.
7 2018: Ito Smith - Atlanta Falcons (RB, 126th)
New Spot: 80th Overall by the Houston Texans
Most NFL fans probably overlooked the success Ito Smith had when he was given the opportunities. The statistics don’t show how good Smith has been this season. He’s done a good job at carrying the football when he gets over 10 carries in a game, and has also helped in the passing game. With Tevin Coleman hitting free agency next year, the fourth-round pick should see a lot of touches through the air next season. Give Deshaun Watson a pass-catching running back and this offense gets even stronger.
6 2016: Yannick Ngakoue - Jacksonville Jaguars (DE, 69th)
New Spot: 32nd Overall by the Cleveland Browns
Good defensive ends usually come out of the first or second round, but the Jaguars got lucky and found themselves a star in the third. Yannick Ngakoue has been as consistent as you can ask for. Through three seasons in the NFL, he has nearly 30 sacks. A team who would love that productivity would be the Cleveland Browns. He would be a perfect 32nd overall pick. The Browns would have Ngakoue on one side, and the following year get Myles Garrett on the opposite side. It would become one of the most dangerous defensive lines.
5 2017: Aaron Jones - Green Bay Packers (RB, 182nd)
New Spot: 56th Overall by the Oakland Raiders
Another running back in the draft that was filled with star backs, should’ve been drafted earlier. Aaron Jones has really taken off this year as the starting running back of the Packers. The former fifth-round pick has contributed both in the run and pass game. Throughout his career, Jones is averaging over 5 yards per carry. Considering the Raiders have struggled in the ground game, they would benefit from having a running back that can help all around the offense.
4 2018: Marquez Valdes-Scantling - Green Bay Packers (WR, 174th)
New Spot: 97th Overall by the Arizona Cardinals
If Marquez Valdes-Scantling had stayed healthy all season, his statistics would've looked a lot better. There were many times throughout the season where he looked like the new favorite for Aaron Rodgers. Injuries have definitely hurt the former fourth-round pick, but he’s played well when on the field. A player like Valdes-Scantling would’ve been nice for the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not common that teams draft wide receivers back to back in the draft, but if you can drastically improve your receiver corps in the second and third round, so be it.
3 2016: Kendall Fuller - Kansas City Chiefs (CB, 84th)
New Spot: 57th Overall by the Indianapolis Colts
The former Virginia Tech cornerback, Kendall Fuller, should’ve been drafted a round earlier than he was. Fuller has been aggressive to the football, having six interceptions in his career already. Fuller also proved that a change of scenery doesn’t bother him, as he’s played well following his trade from the Redskins to the Chiefs. A struggling Colts secondary would be more than happy to add Fuller to their defense. If the Colts secondary improved, this team would be have been competing for the AFC South title all season.
2 2017: Cooper Kupp - Los Angeles Rams (WR, 69th)
New Spot: 40th Overall by the Carolina Panthers
Cooper Kupp has been terrific his first two seasons. He’s caught 102 passes for 1,435 yards, and that is with missing much of the 2018 season due to an injury. Kupp was drafted in the third round, but is playing at a much higher level. Kupp should’ve been an early second round pick, or a late first rounder. The Panthers need another wide receiver, and Kupp would be a great addition. He runs great routes and is reliable. Cam Newton needs someone like that.
1 2018: Tre'Quan Smith - New Orleans Saints (WR, 91st)
New Spot: 61st Overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars
A player a few teams probably wish they drafted was Tre’Quan Smith. There was a lot of hype behind the former third-round pick out of UCF in training camp. If he didn’t get hurt, there would probably be more hype around him. His best performance came against the Eagles, where he caught 10 passes for 157 yards and scored a touchdown.
One team looking for that type of production is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considering they will be looking to draft a quarterback in the offseason, they’re going to need some productive receivers.