Day 3 of the NFL draft is the time when teams can find diamonds in the rough and get great value for their picks. Notable late round picks that became superstars are Tom Brady, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs and George Kittle, along with many others. Each of these players have reasons for being undervalued, but have the physical traits to overcome these issues. NFL teams look for a player who has one exceptional trait in these late rounds in hopes of making them a more well rounded player to supplement this trait. Here are five players that could be the Day 3 steals of the 2021 NFL Draft:
LB Derrick Barnes, Purdue
Barnes is a hard-nosed, old-school linebacker that finds his way to the football. He started for three years at Purdue, playing both inside and outside linebacker. He tallied 7.5 sacks as an edge rusher in his junior campaign in 2019, but moved to a more traditional linebacker role in 2020. As a former high school running back, Barnes’ lack of skilled technique can get him into trouble at times when engaging blockers, which is why NFL teams are lower on him. However, his versatility could be a great asset to the team that ultimately selects him. Do not be surprised to see Derrick Barnes get a good amount of playing time early if he is drafted by a linebacker-needy team.
Projection: 5th Round
OT Walker Little, Stanford
Walker Little is a difficult prospect to evaluate. He was a highly touted prospect going into 2019 following a strong freshman season. However, Little suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season. He then chose to stay at Stanford for the 2020 season instead of declaring for the NFL Draft, but later chose to opt-out. It will be hard for teams to get behind drafting a player that has played just one game in the last two years. However, Little was dominant when he did play, and has the ideal frame (6’7”, 313 lbs.) to start at tackle in the NFL. Despite the many questions surrounding him, I would not be surprised to see a team gamble on him earlier than Day 3. As long as Little stays healthy, he can be a starting tackle at the NFL level.
Projection: 4th Round
LB Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
If Paddy Fisher was entering the NFL 15 years ago, he would likely be an early round pick. Fisher compiled over 400 tackles as a four year starter at Northwestern. He is an instinctual linebacker and can read the field quickly and efficiently. At 6’3, Fisher can clog up passing windows in shallow zone coverage. The reason why he doesn’t fit today’s game is his lack of speed. While he can read and react efficiently, his feet are slower than his eyes. Most teams want a speedy safety hybrid playing linebacker to match with modern spread offenses. This has left him with a 7th round/Undrafted grade. Despite his physical limitations, I believe Fisher can find success in the right defensive scheme, as his tackling ability is among the best in the country. In my eyes, he is absolutely worth a 7th round flier.
Projection: Undrafted Free Agent
WR Whop Philyor, Indiana
Indiana’s offense took a big step forward in 2020, in large part due to the contributions of Whop Philyor. Philyor had a Big Ten leading 54 receptions, earning him honorable mention all Big Ten honors. Philyor’s issue is that he does not have any exceptional physical skills or traits. He is 5’10, 184 pounds and ran a 4.57 40 yard dash at his Pro Day. He does not have a polished route tree either. However, Philyor is a more talented receiver than scouts give him credit for. He is very good at playing 50/50 balls and a good route runner despite his limited route tree. If given the opportunity and proper coaching, Philyor has the potential to develop into a solid receiver at the NFL level.
Projection: 6th Round
RB Gerrid Doaks, Cincinnati
Cincinnati was the surprise team of last season, clinching a Peach Bowl berth. Gerrid Doaks was an underrated part of the team’s success. The stat sheet does not adequately represent his capabilities. Doaks rushed for just 673 yards, averaged only 4.7 yards per carry and was held to 14 receptions. However, he just seems to have an “it” factor that I saw whenever I watched him. He has a good balance of elusiveness and power. His 5’11, 228 pound frame suits the NFL as well. Doaks may only be valued as a 7th round pick, but he has the potential to be a premiere backup running back, if not better.
Projection: 7th Round