Early-impact rookies: Rounds 4-7

De'Anthony Thomas among Day 3 players who should contribute early

Updated: May 14, 2014, 2:29 PM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider

Ellington & ThomasAP PhotosBruce Ellington and De'Anthony Thomas could be valuable offensive weapons.

So far I've posted pieces on potential early-impact rookies from Round 1 and from Rounds 2 and 3. In Rounds 4-7, it gets a little trickier. While we've seen some big breakout years in this range of the draft from the likes of Alfred Morris, these are generally developmental players. Many will make teams, but by Rounds 6 and 7, the success rate dips considerably. And some will end up on different teams. Chris Jones and Marcus Cooper both played a lot last season, but Jones (Patriots) was drafted by Houston and Cooper (Chiefs) was drafted by San Francisco. Each got cut by the team that drafted him.

But many players from Rounds 4-7 helped the team that actually drafted them and saw lots of action last season. Running back breakouts in this range are never a surprise, and Zac Stacey and Andre Ellington both put up strong totals. The Bears saw rookie Jordan Mills play nearly every snap at right tackle after going in Round 5. Wide receivers Kenny Stills and Ace Sanders caught a combined 83 passes and moved into starting roles in New Orleans and Jacksonville, respectively. Devin Taylor and Josh Evans came on to play valuable roles in Detroit and Jacksonville, respectively.

And from these rounds, the bigger dividends will come in Years 2 and 3 as guys work their way up depth charts. Many won't make it, but you'll see plenty of success stories. Let's take a look at some possibilities for 2014. Remember: For this evaluation, while the player's talent is important, immediate fit and potential opportunity are the most important factors.

More Kiper NFL draft content:

Draft Grades | Impact players: Round 1 | Rounds 2 and 3 | Rounds 4-7


Offense

Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta

Steven Jackson will be 31 and coming off a year where he averaged 3.5 yards per carry -- a career low. If you think that doesn't exactly crown Freeman as the starter, consider that Atlanta hasn't taken an RB in the first four rounds since 2006. They like Freeman, and they know how to draft at the position. Jacquizz Rodgers is still around, but don't be surprised if the durable Freeman gets a shot.

Bruce Ellington, WR, San Francisco

Total steal. And he can stretch the field. South Carolina passers completed 19-of-30 of 15-plus yards to Ellington last year, per ESPN Stats & Information, the best rate in the SEC.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst