The first round of the NFL draft is The Show. It’s what we’re all waiting for. It’s when teams add a new face of the franchise and commit millions of dollars to players they hope can improve their teams. It’s such a major event that it now stands on its own — April 28 on NFL Network — away from the other six rounds, which include two additional days.
Briefly, we lose perspective that the first round is the wedding. It’s all pomp and circumstance, and everyone is there to cherish the moment and memories.
The rest of the draft is the marriage. The players selected from the second round on down are where most NFL rosters are built. There is a good chance a lot of these players — even some who aren’t drafted (Houston’s Arian Foster, Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount) — will upstage those taken in the first round.
We see it every year. Who would have guessed that Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick, Mike Williams, would be the leading rookie wide receiver? That Blount (undrafted) and New Orleans’ Chris Ivory (undrafted) would be the top two rookie rushers? How about Green Bay’s James Starks (sixth-round pick) being the Packers’ leading rusher in the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl?
Many prospects selected after the first round will develop into starters. They typically aren’t rushed because many non first-rounders are drafted for depth and not pushed into rotational jobs. Some players might just be too good to keep off the field, though.
Based on conversations with some NFL personnel, let’s look at some likely non-first-round picks who could make a name for themselves in 2011. To note, quarterbacks weren’t included since few, if any, taken outside of the first round will be expected to see significant playing time right away.
Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Wilson probably would have been selected in the first round a few years ago, but inside linebackers have been devalued. He is a solid player who, if he lands in the right situation, could have a similar impact as Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis, a second-rounder in 2009.
Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
Moore is a combo safety/corner who could find his way into a nickel-set rotation right away. He has good ball skills, which is emphasized more and more. Nickel backs also are valued fairly high with so many teams using three- and four-receiver sets as their base offenses.
Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
He’s massive (6-foot-5, 346 pounds), and a prototype 3-4 nose tackle, although he could play nose in a 4-3 front. He has gained traction this offseason because of his size and explosiveness. If he gets the right coaching and goes to the right team, he could be a factor, much like Atlanta’s Corey Peters, a third-rounder who started 15 games as a rookie.
Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina
Carter tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the season and might not be able to offer much right away. He could end up being a steal if he doesn’t suffer a setback. He is a big-time player who could have been a first-round selection if he stayed healthy. It might take a full season before he gets things together, but some team will give him a shot and be grateful it did.
Marcus Gilchrist, DB, Clemson
Teams have been very impressed with this highly cerebral and athletic prospect who has played nickel back, corner and safety. He also can return kicks. He could be an ideal Cover-2 type. Gilchrist is quietly creating a buzz and, although a projected third-rounder, he could move into the second round.
Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
While it takes wideouts time to grow acclimated to the NFL, the small but stout slot receiver could step in like Cincinnati’s Jordan Shipley. Jernigan also has done a lot out of the Wildcat formation. His return skills add to his appeal.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
Even though Murray hasn’t received the same attention as many other running backs, the 6-foot-0, 213-pounder could find himself getting a lot of work soon. He’s a three-year starter who averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He’s also an excellent receiver, having 71 catches as a senior.
Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
While Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph is considered the top prospect at the position, this tough, dual-threat player could step in and help right away. Tight ends now are valued more as offensive threats, and if he land into the right system, Stocker could be a factor in the running and passing games.
Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse
At 5-9 and 220 pounds, he’s built in the Ray Rice mold and has a somewhat similar style. His low center of gravity allows him to hide behind blockers and deliver a blow. He’s not a burner, but he could be an ideal rotational player able to work in short-yardage situations.
D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas
A projected mid-round pick, Williams, a prolific pass catcher, probably would be used as an H-back or flex tight end in the Dustin Keller/Jacob Tamme style. The roles for these types of threats are expanding as more offenses try to spread out defenses. Williams is excellent running after the catch and could help a ball-control type offense like the Dolphins or Packers