The NFL Draft has passed through Chicago like a gale of wind passing Lake Michigan and many draft experts have had time to express their opinions about which teams had the best drafts. This might be a little difficult to predict without any games being played, but there are many players who seem to fill a void in teams that have need. These players, who for the most part were essentially projected to go much higher in the draft, represent the steals of the 2015 NFL Draft.
There are players like Leonard Williams who could have easily been a second or third overall pick, but finally got drafted by the New York Jets with the sixth overall pick. On the other hand, there is Ifo Ekpre Olomu who was arguably the best cornerback in the PAC-12 conference the past three years, yet he slipped to the 7th round before being selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 241st overall pick. Many of these players enter the NFL with something to prove, and have the athleticism and talent to fulfill their longstanding dreams of playing in the league. Drafted to the right teams and right situations should only help them prove they had more worth.
The following 20 players appear to have landed on the right teams with the right situations that can allow them to prosper at the next level. It is always hard to judge talent at the collegiate level, but teams in need offer an opportunity and open door for talented players who might otherwise fail to get the chance to make it on the field. These players might have slipped in the NFL Draft, but they look like they have landed in the right places. Given time in training camp and on the field, they can easily be the steals of the draft.
20 Brett Hundley, QB (UCLA) - Green Bay Packers - 5th round, 147th pick
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, but the selection of Brett Hundley in the fifth round is nothing short of a bonus. Hundley, who passed for over 3,000 yards in each of his three seasons at UCLA, came out early with the expectation of getting picked somewhere between rounds 1 and 3. After all, Hundley has a good arm, nice NFL size, and even rushed for 1,747 yards with 30 touchdowns at UCLA. Hundley did not have that "over the top" season that many scouts were looking for him to have in 2014. That, and his lack of experience with a pro-style offense, probably affected his stock.
Many scouts considered Hundley to have the raw talent, size, and leadership skills, to make it in the NFL but his chances could be enhanced if he went to the right team. He will have time to develop while backing up Rodgers, and although he might have lost some money he will gain valuable experience.
19 Jeremy Langford, RB (Michigan State) - Chicago Bears - 4th round, 106th pick
Jeremy Langford gained close to 3,000 yards rushing in his last two seasons at Michigan State, scoring 40 touchdowns in the same span of time. He was a focal point on the Spartans offense, earning honorable mention All-Big 10 honors both seasons. He also ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine to enhance his draft stock. In the 2015 Cotton Bowl, Langford gained 162 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns against Baylor. With big game experience, remarkable speed and decent size (6-feet and 208 pounds), he should be more than just a curious pick for the Chicago Bears.
Langford has plenty of potential, but his toughness as a runner and inability to break tackles came under fire. He is too athletic and productive to not have a place on an NFL football field.
18 Tyler Lockett, WR/KR (Kansas State) - Seattle Seahawks - 3rd round, 69th pick
Tyler Lockett might be small, 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, but he is more than an accomplished football player. Parting ways with Percy Harvin, the Seattle Seahawks were able to pick up Tyler Lockett late in the third round. Lockett was not only the Big 12 receiving yards leader in 2014, but also was the FBS punt return average leader. On top of that, Lockett was the 2014 Big 12 Scholar Athlete of the Year, providing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks with a positive influence in the locker room. Lockett finished his Kansas State career with 6,586 all-purpose yards, 3,710 of which were from receiving.
His statistics prove he can play and his size has never really been a question at Kansas State. This is such a good fit for the Seahawks that he is one of the steals of the draft.
17 Marcus Peters, CB (Washington) - Kansas City Chiefs - 1st round, 18th pick
The third cornerback selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, Marcus Peters could easily be the best cornerback in the draft. Peters has good size, 6-foot and 200 pounds, speed, and strength, as well as the attitude to challenge the bigger receivers he will face in the NFL. In his last two seasons at Washington, Peters deflected 24 passes while intercepting 8 and only allowing 38.1% of passes to be completed against him. His feisty demeanor and cockiness should serve him well at the next level even though his inability to control his emotions likely turned many scouts away prior to the draft.
Peters has his faults and weaknesses, but has that competitive fire and confidence that are critical to becoming a great corner in the NFL. If Peters can learn to avoid friendly fire (issues with his coaching staff), he has the talent and capability of being one of the best players in this particular draft.
16 Carl Davis, DT (Iowa) - Baltimore Ravens - 3rd round, 90th pick
Projected to get selected in the second round, the Baltimore Ravens were able to pick Carl Davis up in the 3rd round with the 90th pick. Davis weighs 320 pounds, but moves well for his size. Davis is very capable of handling double teams and controlling blockers on the line of scrimmage. He can sometimes be inconsistent, raising up and losing his leverage at the point of attack, but has tremendous potential.
Davis ran a 5.09 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, while also showing good strength with 28 reps of bench press at his workout. His athleticism is terrific for his size and he has plenty of upside with the right attitude and coaching. His job on the Ravens will be to eat up blockers and hold his ground at the point of attack, both things that he is good at. He might not be flashy, but has the potential to make his teammates better.
15 Maxx Williams, TE (Minnesota) - Baltimore Ravens - 2nd round, 55th pick
With Dennis Pitta struggling to come back from injuries, the Baltimore Ravens went out and drafted Maxx Williams who was recognized as being the top tight end in the draft. Williams was an early entrant as a redshirt sophomore, but given the weak class of tight ends in the 2015 NFL draft, it looks like he made the right decision. In 2014, Williams caught 36 passes fro 569 yards and 8 touchdowns at Minnesota to earn first-team All-Big 10 honors. He has speed, good size, runs good routes and has great hands. Williams has the potential to become a starter, giving Joe Flacco another field stretching target.
Williams is still young and only had 61 catches for 986 yards in his entire college career. He didn't get much experience playing in huge games at Minnesota, and every game in the AFC North can be like a playoff game. However, the potential is there even if Williams requires a little more seasoning. In a passing league, it is still surprising to see him last until this late in the second round.
14 Jaelen Strong, WR (Arizona State) - Houston Texans - 3rd round, 70th pick
Jaelen Strong is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the draft with a 6-foot-3 and 217 pound body, 42" vertical jump, and 4.44 second 40-yard dash speed. In two seasons at Arizona State, Strong had 157 receptions for 2,287 yards and 17 touchdowns. Strong is a former basketball player who knows how to come back to the ball, shield defenders from incoming passes and use his body to create more space. Although he only has two years of major college experience, Strong is a physical receiver who can make difficult plays.
Strong is not an accomplished receiver by any means. He still allows balls to come to his body rather than plucking them with his hands and ends up drawing contact on a good number of his catches. Strong is a raw talent, but needs more polish in order to excel at the next level. Thanks to his great size, he is still a terrific value for the third round.
13 Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB (Oregon) - Cleveland Browns - 7th round, 241st pick
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was the best cover cornerback in the PAC-12 conference in 2014. The three-time All-PAC 12 selection suffered a knee injury at the end of the regular season, missing the postseason playoff run with Oregon. Last season, Ekpre-Olomu was also a finalist in the voting for the Jim Thorpe Award. As a junior in 2013, he was very productive with 84 tackles and 3 interceptions in 13 games played. Prior to getting injured, Ekpre-Olomu could have easily been a solid first to third round pick.
Ekpre-Olomu is only listed at 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, which is not exactly the physical presence that most NFL teams are looking for at cornerback. He can, however, cover, tackle and simply make plays anywhere on the field. He will probably start out as a slot corner with the Browns, but has the athleticism and determination to earn a spot on the field.
12 Michael Bennett, DT (Ohio State) - Jacksonville Jaguars - 6th round, 180th pick
Many mock drafts had Michael Bennett going in either the second or third round. Getting him in the sixth round was certainly a coup for Jacksonville. Bennett has a motor that doesn't quit and might not be the fastest or quickest player around, but makes up for it with grit and constant movement. Bennett can penetrate, recording 14 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in 2014, and can make big plays. He made big plays against Wisconsin, finishing with 4 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and 2 sacks in the Big 10 Championship game, while also logging 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.
Despite his big play capabilities, Bennett is relatively small in stature (6-foot-2 and 292 pounds) and speed (5.04 second 40-yard dash), which didn't earn him any extra attention. He is a player who enjoys rising to the occasion and by getting passed over until the 6th round, he will now be able to play with a chip on his shoulder. This should be a great pick up by the Jaguars, especially for the 6th round.
11 Breshad Perriman, WR (Central Florida) - Baltimore Ravens - 1st round, 26th pick
The Baltimore Ravens lost Anquan Boldin prior to the 2013 season, and just lost Torrey Smith prior to the 2015 draft. They were in dire need of a new receiver and Breshad Perriman was still on the board when the Ravens selected him with the 26th overall pick. Many scouts thought he would be a middle first round pick, with his desirable size, 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, and terrific speed, 4.24 second 40-yard dash. He finished his career at Central Florida with only 115 catches for 2,243 yards and 16 touchdowns, but has the size and talent to be the deep threat that Joe Flacco needs.
Perriman's stats were not the greatest, even though he played against mostly inferior competition at Central Florida. What he can do is fly downfield and stretch the defense, which makes him a perfect match for Flacco's big arm. He will need to learn the nuances of the wide receiver position, but has the athleticism and raw talent to make it easier for him to succeed at the next level. He's in a good place in Baltimore.
10 Eli Harold, OLB (Virginia) - San Francisco 49ers - 3rd round, 79th pick
Eli Harold was more of a disruptive force than his statistics might indicate. He did have 14.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks, but had opportunities to make even more plays. Harold was a standout track and field athlete in high school, with enough football talent to be a 5-star recruit. He is a terrific athlete with good size, speed, and strength, to make himself so much more than a pass rushing specialist. Harold was projected to be either a first or second round pick, but lasted until the middle of the third round.
There might be some questions about Harold's ability to play outside linebacker at the next level. He can sometimes get tied up with blockers, can get pushed out of harms way by quality tackles and gets to more plays than he actually makes. Harold is still a quality football player with good strength, an array of pass rushing moves, and the capability of improving at the next level.
9 Jay Ajayi, RB (Boise State) - Miami Dolphins - 5th round, 149th pick
Jay Ajayi ran the ball 347 times last year, gaining 1,823 yards and scoring 28 times. At 221 pounds, Ajayi proved he was versatile as well, catching 50 passes for 535 yards and 4 touchdowns. Only Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon gained more yards on the ground. Ajayi finished his career at Boise State with 3,796 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns. There was no doubt that he was Boise State's feature back and he proved he can carry a load. Ajayi slipped to the 5th round where the Dolphins didn't have to gamble with the 149th pick.
Ajayi does not have elite NFL speed, and often dances and bounces more than what might be expected from a 220 pound back, but his grit and willingness to work hard should help him become better at the next level. Despite being the only player in FBS history to have over 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season, Ajayi's efforts were overlooked.
8 Owamagbe Odighizuma, DE (UCLA) - New York Giants - 3rd round, 74th pick
Owamagbe Odighizuma is a talented football player who only started playing the game in the 8th grade. Odighizuma had a terrific NFL Combine, running a 4.62 second 40-yard dash, leaping 39" high, and cranking out 25 reps on the bench press. There is no denying his athletic prowess and energy that he plays with. Odighizuma missed the entire 2013 season, returning in 2014 to record 61 tackles with 15 tackles for loss and 6 sacks, even deflecting 5 passes. Odighizuma was projected to be a first or second round pick, but fell to the Giants in the 3rd round.
Some scouts were probably concerned about his right hip after he missed the 2013 season recovering from two surgeries on it. Although he came back strong with a solid season in 2014, there is some concern about how his hip will hold up against the bigger and faster players in the NFL. Odighizuma has the raw talent and potential to make an impact in the NFL, but will need to keep learning more technique and get stronger to be more of a factor against the run.
7 Duke Johnson, RB (Miami) - Cleveland Browns - 3rd round, 77th pick
Prior to the 2014 season, Duke Johnson was considered a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. After finishing the season with 1,652 yards of rushing and 10 touchdowns, Johnson didn't exactly disappoint. He averaged a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry in route to earning first-team All-ACC honors and the Brian Piccolo Award for his efforts. Johnson was considered one of the top running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft, and was projected to be a second round pick. The Cleveland Browns, still stinging from the Trent Richardson pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, didn't have to reach to get Johnson.
Johnson might only be 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds, but he can run with elusiveness and power. He routinely fights for yardage and is never easy to bring down. Johnson broke his ankle in 2013. His size and injuries might have lowered his draft stock, but he is an explosive runner who also runs with good patience.
6 Grady Jarrett, DT (Clemson) - Atlanta Falcons - 5th round, 137th pick
Grady Jarrett is a tremendous pickup for the Atlanta Falcons for their defensive line. A nose tackle at Clemson, Jarrett will be ideally suited as a defensive tackle in the Falcons 4-man front. Jarrett is a shade over 300 pounds, but plays bigger with outstanding leverage, effort, and quick feet. Last season, Jarrett registered 73 tackles from the nose tackle position, to go along with 1.5 sacks, earning first-team All-ACC honors. He works hard, has a motor that will not quit, and also ran a 5.06 second 40-yard dash while ripping off 33 reps of bench press at the NFL Draft Combine.
Jarrett was projected to be a second round pick, but likely slipped due to questions about his size (6-foot-1 and 304 pounds), stamina, and ability to add more weight. He is also better suited for a 4-3 defense and lacks the body mass to stand up to double teams week after week in a 3-4 scheme. Due to all these concerns, Jarrett fell to the 5th round where the Falcons went in for the steal. He is good enough to start right away, but could also benefit from playing in a rotation where he can work on his endurance and stamina.
5 Rashad Greene, WR (Florida State) - Jacksonville Jaguars - 5th round, 139th pick
As the favorite target of Jameis Winston at Florida State, Rashad Greene was able to put up some big numbers. Greene finished his career at Florida State with 270 receptions and 3,830 yards of receiving. He was a first-team All-ACC selection in both 2013 and 2014. Green is not a big prototypical NFL receiver and even lacks elite speed, but is a receiver who can come in and help the Jaguars right away. Green runs good routes, knows where the boundaries and first down markers are, and can make plays on the outside or in the slot. His production is much greater than his potential.
Green's biggest issue is his size, 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds. He is not that big stud of a receiver that many NFL teams covet, despite his production. He might be relegated to the slot, but that will not be the worse-case scenario considering he ended up being a 5th round pick.
4 T.J. Clemmings, T (Pittsburgh) - Minnesota Vikings - 4th round, 110th pick
Projected as a second round pick, T.J. Clemmings fell to the fourth round where the Minnesota Vikings pounced with the 110th overall pick. Clemmings has prototypical NFL tackle size, with long arms and above average athleticism. At the NFL Combing, he had a vertical jump of almost 33", and ran the fastest 20-yard shuttle for tackles, at 4.54 seconds. Clemmings made the switch from defensive end to offensive tackle in 2012, and still has plenty to learn about playing the position. His athleticism and upside potential still had him tabbed as a prospective first or second round pick.
Clemmings didn't have a good showing at the Senior Bowl practices, but his failings should be eliminated with more of a focus on technique. Clemmings has exceptionally quick feet to go along with his long arms, to help him succeed at the next level.
3 Malcom Brown, DT (Texas) - New England Patriots - 1st round, 32nd pick
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl and had to watch many prospects taken off the draft board before they made their 32nd pick. Somehow, they were rewarded by being able to select Malcom Brown so late in the first round. A 5-star recruit out of high school, Brown was the ESPN Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. From his position in the middle of the Texas line, Brown had 70 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. At 320 pounds, Brown is more of a disruptive force than a "hold the line" type of tackle. He gives the Patriots an impact player who can play right away.
Brown will need to work on his strength more than anything. Many of his quick jab steps and movements that worked in college will get him blocked out of plays at the next level. His quick feet, however, will help him on passing plays and he does have a stout frame to help against the run. Despite his size, he is more of a penetrating force and can shoot gaps in both the running and passing game. He has the talent and ability to become a perennial Pro Bowler, which is not bad for a 32nd overall pick.
2 Leonard Williams, DE (USC) - New York Jets - 1st round, 6th pick
Leonard Williams was arguably the best prospect of the 2015 NFL Draft, yet he fell to the New York Jets who were delighted to nab him with their sixth overall pick. Williams had 80 tackles and 7 sacks in 2014, earning All-American and first-team All-PAC 12 honors. He is big and strong, making the transition from defensive tackle to defensive end prior to his 2013 season. Following the switch, he received first-team All-PAC 12 honors after recording 74 tackles with 6 sacks. He was projected as a top 3 selection in the NFL Draft with athleticism and size that was deemed too rare to pass up.
Williams is one of the few players in the 2015 NFL Draft who can likely make an immediate impact as a starter. Although their defense was not the biggest problem last season, the Jets did get a player who will only improve things on that side of the ball. Look for Williams to not only start, but make some noise in the process. He is a complete player for a defensive end and should become a fixture on the Jets defense for many years to come.
1 Alvin Dupree, OLB (Kentucky) - Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st round, 22nd pick
Alvin "Bud" Dupree is the Jadeveon Clowney of the 2015 NFL Draft. Unlike the Houston Texans in 2014, the Steelers were able to select Dupree with the 22nd pick in the draft. Like Clowney before him, Dupree is a ridiculous athlete with tons of potential. At the NFL Combine, Dupree ran a 4.56 second 40-yard dash, had a 42" vertical leap and even broad jumped 11'6". On the field at Kentucky, Dupree had 74 tackles and 8 sacks in 2014 and was a first-team All-SEC selection. Dupree was considered to be a top 10 or at the very least, a top 20 NFL prospect.
Dupree should be a perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, with his size and speed on the outside. He will need to add some strength to face the mammoth tackles in the NFL, but his explosiveness, quickness, and good football instincts will help compensate for any struggles he might encounter getting engaged with blockers on the outside. Players like Dupree don't come along often, and getting him so late in the first round is quite a significant steal for the Steelers, and might represent the major steal of the 2015 draft.