In a league that features 50-plus player rosters on game day and has a salary cap, there's no more effective way to build a winning team than by drafting well. To do that, it helps to hit on the top talent early, but if you're building a roster, you need to have success in the later rounds as well.
Look at the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is the star of the team, and he was taken as a first-round pick in 2017. His two biggest weapons on offense, however, were not first-round picks. Travis Kelce is one of the top tight ends in the league and has helped redefine the position. The Chiefs picked him up with a third-round pick in 2013. Tyreek Hill broke free on an impossible third-and-long that turned the tide in the Super Bowl and has been giving defensive coordinators nightmares ever since he was taken with a fifth-round pick in 2016.
Now, not every mid- to late-round pick needs to be a superstar to be valuable, though it certainly helps. Teams can find important starters and quality depth there as well, and that's what I'm looking for here today. As I did last year at this time, I'm highlighting some of my favorite players at each position who I believe will prove to be quality NFL players, even if they aren't early picks.
We're calling them "underrated," but for this post, underrated doesn't mean teams don't see their potential (they'll be drafted, after all). I mean, these are players I've developed a fondness for while covering them in college and evaluating players for this year's draft. These are guys who aren't likely to go before the third round who can prove to be quality NFL players.
1. QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
I shared a lot of my thoughts on this year's quarterback class earlier this week when("computer" being a replacement for "statistically-based mathematical formula of my own creation" here). I was a little surprised to see that Fromm finished second in this year's class, but not shocked. Fromm was a highly-regarded recruit out of high school who took the reigns from the higher-rated Jacob Eason at Georgia after Eason went down with an injury. Fromm never let them go, and Eason headed to Washington and is now in this same draft class.
Fromm is a QB with plenty of deficiencies. He's not the guy who is going to wow you in workouts with amazing arm strength. He's not 6-foot-4. What he is, however, is a smart, efficient QB. Also, by all accounts he's a hard-worker, and he's a commanding presence in the huddle and a QB room. In other words, he has those intangibles you always hear about. To me, Fromm is a player who can develop into a reliable NFL starter, or prove to be a high-quality backup. Those are both valuable things to have.
He might never be a star, but I'm confident that Fromm has what it takes to spend a decade in the NFL in some capacity.
2. RB Anthony McFarland Jr., Maryland
McFarland has been one of my favorite players to watch at the college level for the last couple of years. He doesn't have eye-popping production (1,648 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 199 receiving yards, 13 total TDs), but that's more of a result of the way he was used in Maryland's offense than his ability. Also, he's perhaps generously listed at 5-foot-9. Still, while he's not large, he's strong, and there's a chance he could prove to be a three-down back at the NFL level. Given his speed and athleticism, he can still prove to be a useful weapon on offense or special teams, even if he doesn't develop into a lead back.
McFarland can squeeze into tight holes, and while he's not going to bowl a bunch of tacklers over, he has a chance to take it to the house if he finds daylight. For teams looking to add running back depth to their roster who don't want to use an earlier pick on one of the top players at the position, McFarland is a great choice.
3. WR Gabriel Davis, UCF
It's challenging to figure out where players in this year's receiver class are going to go because it's such a deep class. In most years, Gabriel Davis is a guy who might project to be a second-round pick. This year, if teams decide there's so much talent available at the position that they can wait on it, he might slip as far back as the fifth.
Wherever he lands, the team taking him is getting a player that should be No. 2 type with the potential to develop into a No. 1. He isn't a burner (4.54 40), but he plays quicker than that. He's got a quick release off the line and does a good job using it to get separation early. He then does an excellent job tracking the ball and can pull it down in traffic. He's a bit raw as a route-runner, but I wonder if that's more a result of the offense he played in than his ability. That's also why I think there's room to grow here.
4. TE Devin Asiasi, UCLA
If I'm drafting Devin Asiasi, I'm not doing it intending to have him lining up and blocking guys like Khalil Mack. If Asiasi had shown the ability to do that at the college level, he's likely a second-round pick at a minimum. Of course, he could develop those skills -- he's 6-foot-3, 260 pounds -- but if I'm drafting him, it's for his ability as a receiver.
Asiasi is a player that's going to need to land with a team that utilizes tight ends of his type. He's a fluid athlete that runs strong routes and can get open against linebackers and defensive backs as well. He also has good hands -- only one drop on 69 targets last season -- and can be an effective weapon for an NFL offense. How good he will be ultimately depends on whether or not he develops as a blocker, but his receiving skills should keep him on a roster somewhere.
5. OL Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn
I'm not as high on this offensive tackle class as a lot of others. Like nearly everybody else, I believe there are four guys clearly in the top tier who will likely be first-rounders. I just don't know if any of those four are high-probability studs at the next level.
After those four, things get even murkier, but Prince Tega Wanogho is somebody I like from a projection standpoint. The native Nigerian has only been playing football since he was 16 years old, and when he first showed up at Auburn, it was as a defensive lineman. He's started 32 games at tackle in his career, and he has shown strong blocking instincts. He's athletic and has quick feet, and a lot of his weaknesses are a result of his lack of experience. I'm confident that given a year or two of development, he will be an above-average right tackle in the NFL. He could even prove to be a left tackle in the future.
6. DL Khalil Davis, Nebraska
Davis did not become a starter until his senior season, starting 11 games for Nebraska in 2019, though he did appear in 37 games in his first three seasons. He showed up in a big way last year, however, finishing with eight sacks, 30 pressures, and 22 hurries, according to Sports Info Solutions. Those are substantial numbers for an interior lineman, but they are a bit misleading. Nebraska played four games against teams that finished the season ranked, and Davis had only one of his eight sacks in those four games.
The truth is that while his pass rush numbers are strong, his pass-rush ability isn't quite there yet. But it can be. Davis should prove to be a solid rotational player at the next level thanks to his ability to plug gaps and his motor. He doesn't take plays off. What will determine his ceiling is how well he develops his ability to disrupt the backfield because while he's able to overpower some players with a strong bull rush, it's the only real weapon in his pass-rush arsenal at the moment. Considering how hard he works on the field, and his athleticism, I think there's a chance he can do so. When you factor in where he's likely to be selected, he's an excellent value pick.
7. EDGE Bradlee Anae, Utah
Year after year I fall in love with players on the Utah defense, and Anae is a player who first caught my eye as a sophomore in 2017. He's been a starter for the Utes the last three seasons, and in 41 games he's compiled 28 sacks, 102 hurries and 150 pressures. He has done all of this despite not being what I would consider a tremendous athlete. His frame isn't ideal, either, as his weight and arm length ranked in the 12th and 11th percentile, respectively, for defensive linemen in the Mockdraftable database.
What he does have, however, is a quick first step and a variety of pass-rush moves that allow him to beat bigger, faster players. He's also a seemingly endless source of energy. He's all gas, no brakes, and that's something I love to see in any defensive player. I'm skeptical that he'll ever become a full three-down player at the next level due to his size, but as a pass-rush specialist, he's somebody you can get with a late pick that has a chance to help your defense.
8. LB Cale Garrett, Missouri
Garrett missed the final seven games of Missouri's 2019 season after suffering a torn pectoral in the team's win over Troy in early October. He suffered the injury during the game and finished the game anyway, so we know he can play through pain (he'd also planned on attending the Naval Academy before Mizzou offered late). In the two seasons before that, he amassed 209 tackles for the Missouri defense, and while he's not the player you're going to marvel at when he comes off the bus, it's hard to miss him when he's on the field. Just look for the ball, and he's going to be there.
He's not a great athlete, but he makes plays thanks to an ability to read an offense and figure out what it's trying to do. I think Garrett is somebody who can be taken with a late-round pick that can provide good cover as a backup at middle linebacker and be a standout on special teams.
9. CB Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
I don't get to see much Louisiana Tech football, so I can't say I knew of Robertson from seeing him play all the time. The truth is I "discovered" him while digging through Sports Info Solutions' database while looking up other corners in this draft. Time after time, Robertson's name kept popping up in the same tiers as the top players at corner in this draft, so I decided to look closer at him.
I have liked what I've seen. I like him even more after talking to my Cover 3 Podcast co-host, and 247Sports' Director of Scouting, Barton Simmons. Robertson was a high three-star out of high school who might have been a four-star if not for his size (he's currently 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds). Schools like LSU had shown interest in the local kid back then. Barton also told me about Robertson really impressing him during a camp while he was still a recruit, and that people only found out later that Robertson had played that well while dealing with a torn ACL (ah, youth).
He overcomes his size by being extremely intelligent and athletic, and he's a bit of a bulldog who is not afraid to stick his face in the fan. He's also one of those corners who just has a knack for finding the ball when it's thrown his way, and he gets thrown at a lot by QBs who think they can take advantage of him due to his size. He played on the outside at Tech, and he'll need time to learn how to play inside, but I think he has a chance to be an excellent nickel corner in the NFL with an ability to play outside as well. Truth be told, of all the players I'm writing about in this article, Robertson is my favorite.
10. S Jaylinn Hawkins, Cal
Like Robertson, I didn't notice Hawkins while looking for him. Instead, I was watching Cal's other safety, Ashtyn Davis. Davis is projected to go much earlier in this draft, but Hawkins can be useful for a team needing a safety to take more of the traditional box role. There were a couple of plays where I saw Hawkins blow up receivers trying to block him in the run game that drew audible chuckles from me. That's where he's at his best, though I think he'd be suitable in coverage in the right schemes, but not exceptional. Like every other defender on this list, he has an engine that never stops running, and he'll likely be a big-time contributor on special teams at the least with a chance to make an impact on defense as well.