- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
In order to succeed on the field, NFL organizations must hit on more than just first-round picks come draft weekend. Day 2 of the draft can be a gold mine for talent, and you need to look no further than the defending Super Bowl champions for proof.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff have found plenty of key contributors in the second and third rounds in recent years, including CB Lardarius Webb, RB Ray Rice, OG Marshal Yanda, WR Torrey Smith, RB Bernard Pierce, OG Kelechi Osemele, OLB Courtney Upshaw and OLB Paul Kruger (who departed for Cleveland via free agency).
So who might be similar finds on Day 2 this year? Here's a look at five players with enough questions about their games to keep them out of the first round, but who have the potential to develop into valuable contributors for the right organizations.
Clemson RB Andre Ellington (Scouts Inc. grade: 78)
Ellington's injury history and smaller frame (5-foot-9¼, 199 pounds) are reason enough to wait until the third round before taking a chance on him. His 4.61 in the 40-yard dash at the combine isn't great, either, but Ellington injured his hamstring on his first attempt there and reportedly ran in the low 4.5s while working out for teams last week.
Besides, he's quicker than he is fast on film. He doesn't project as a team's primary ball carrier, but Ellington can help a club in a number of ways if he can stay healthy. He's a relentless runner who picks up yard after contact despite his lack of size, a reliable receiver who can produce after the catch, and can contribute as a kickoff returner.
The Arizona Cardinals signed Rashard Mendenhall in free agency and still hope talented 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams can stay healthy. However, Mendenhall and Williams are coming off season-ending injuries and neither has shown the ability to make a substantial impact in the passing game.
In addition to improving their overall depth, landing Ellington early in the third would give Arizona a potential upgrade over William Powell and unsigned free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling as its third-down back and kickoff returner.
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell* (77)
Bell is a big (6-1⅜, 230), productive back from the Big Ten, and so is haunted somewhat by the ghost of first-round bust and former Wisconsin RB Ron Dayne. Teams will have to decide whether Bell, who shed weight between the end of the season and the combine, can keep his size in check.
He ran well for his size (4.60 in the 40) at the combine, but the concern is he won't be as quick or live up to that timed speed if he puts the weight back on. Still, Bell's film shows enough to justify taking him in the second round, and he would be a steal in the third.
Bell makes up for his lack of big-play ability with versatility. He's powerful between the tackles, can make defenders miss or run them over, and doesn't have to come off the field on third down, because he's an above-average receiver and pass-blocker.
The New York Jets would do well to land Bell in the third round. Shonn Greene left town for Tennessee, and free-agent acquisition Mike Goodson has carried the ball just 35 times over the past two seasons. Current Jet Bilal Powell has flashed at times, but has appeared in just 16 games (two starts) over the past two seasons.
Overall, Bell's lateral mobility, vision and patience make him a good fit for new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's zone-blocking scheme. In addition, Mornhinweg does a nice job of creating favorable matchups in the passing game and can make the most of Bell's ability to line up wide, in the slot and in the backfield.
Rice TE Vance McDonald (76)
Three concerns stand out for McDonald, beginning with durability. He has been nicked up throughout his career, and did not start every game in any of his four college seasons.
Secondly, he is a straight-line route-runner who is going to have a harder time separating on short-to-intermediate routes at the next level. Finally, McDonald's hands are inconsistent. He sometimes drops passes he should catch and doesn't always bring the ball in cleanly. There's little McDonald can do about durability issues at this point, but there is reason to believe he can improve the other areas.
McDonald (6-4⅛, 267) has the wide frame to shield defenders from the ball when he doesn't separate, and the arm length (34⅜ inches) and big hands (10⅛) to develop into a reliable target. In addition, his straight-line burst working the seam and after the catch stand out. Forget about his 4.69 in the 40. McDonald goes from zero to 60 quickly on film.
Delanie Walker's decision to sign with Tennessee means the San Francisco 49ers should be in the market for a tight end, and the 49ers picked up Carolina's third-round pick in a draft-day trade last year. There's a chance McDonald will still be on the board at that point, and he has the potential to develop into an excellent complement to Niners standout Vernon Davis. McDonald is similar to Walker in that he is versatile enough to line up wide, in-line or in the backfield, and he's an effective positional blocker with a good frame.
Georgia WR Tavarres King (71)
King's small frame (6-0¼, 189) is a problem when defenders get physical with him, and until he adds strength/bulk NFL corners will be able to muscle him out of short-to-intermediate routes and off 50-50 balls downfield.
On the other hand, he has room to add the necessary weight and is not a soft player. King shows toughness when working the middle of the field and flashes the ability to hold onto the ball after taking a big hit.
The New England Patriots added slot receiver Danny Amendola to replace the departed Wes Welker, and recently signed Michael Jenkins, but the Patriots still need a receiver who can take the top off of the coverage. Getting King in the third would give them a vertical presence to stretch the field and create space for Amendola and talented tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Washington State WR Marquess Wilson* (68)
Wilson projects as a fringe third-round pick thanks to character concerns stemming from a suspension that caused him to quit the team in 2012, after which he aired his grievances in the media and accused the coaching staff of abuse.
In terms of his film, Wilson (6-2⅝, 194) doesn't appear to run every route with urgency, which raises another red flag when it comes to his mental makeup. Still, the potential reward is well worth the risk late in the third based on what we know.
Simply put, Wilson can flat-out play. He has above-average separation skills, catches the ball well and is a big-play threat both on vertical routes and after the catch.
The Houston Texans have two picks at the end of the third round and should be in the market for a receiver on the first two days of the draft. They released Kevin Walter and DeVier Posey is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, so the idea of Wilson lining up opposite Andre Johnson next season is intriguing.
Wilson is capable of getting open against most NFL corners in one-on-one situations, which will make it tougher to double Johnson. In addition, the Texans have the leadership on offense to take a chance on Wilson.
Steve Muench looks at five players who could bring great value on Day 2 of the NFL draft, including a pair of big-name running backs.