The San Francisco 49ers had five picks on the final day of the 2018 NFL Draft, and they went with some intriguing upside options. They went with a throwback to the Team ACL era, selecting Kentavius Street a few weeks after he tore his ACL in a workout. They later added Marcell Harris, coming off an Achilles tear last summer, and their seventh round picks, Jullian Taylor and Richie James, have both dealt with their share of injuries.
Different teams have different strategies for how they approach the final day of the draft. Upside is important, but sometimes teams will grab a player they know can plug and play fairly quickly.
Recently, former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner sat down with Sheil Kapadia, Eagles report for The Athletic Philadelphia. They had plenty to discuss about the Eagles coming out of the draft, and at one point, Kapadia asked Banner about the Eagles drafting an Australian Rugby League player in the seventh round, and the notion of swinging for upside with late picks.
Banner talked about what they came up with in studying day three picks.
We found that players in rounds five, six and seven that turn out to be quality starters came from three categories. One, they came from a small school. Two, they had been injured their last year in school so they were undervalued. Or three, they were undersized but for some reason overcame it. If you’re in the sixth round and you’re picking some guy from Ohio State that has great height, weight and speed, your chances that everybody missed him and he turns out to be a starter are miniscule. Now if you’re picking somebody from a small school that maybe didn’t get scouted as carefully or people worried about the quality of competition or somebody that was maybe a good player through their junior year, and then the senior tape isn’t really very good because they were playing with a high ankle sprain, we found that if you were trying to find guys in those rounds that could actually develop into real contributors or starters that you should stick to those three categories.
This is not exactly a shocking comment, but I thought it could be fun to look at the 49ers day three picks this year and compare it with what Banner’s strategy. He talked about fifth through seventh round picks, but I thought I would include all the day three picks.
4 (128). Kentavius Street, DE: Injury
He tore his ACL in an early April workout with the New York Giants, crashing a previously rising draft stock. He will spend this season on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list and then come back next year to compete for a defensive end role.
5 (142). D.J. Reed, CB: Undersized
He’s a big school player, but at 5’9, 188 pounds, his size is likely to “limit” him to slot corner duties. There’s talk he can play all over the field, but size matters in the NFL more often than not. I imagine he slid a bit in part because of that.
6 (184). Marcell Harris, S: Injury
The Florida safety missed the entire 2017 season after tearing his Achilles in July during team conditioning activities. His timeline should have him good to go for training camp, where he’s competing at strong safety. His best chance to make an impact in year one will be special teams.
7 (223). Jullian Taylor, DT: Injury, small school
Temple football isn’t exactly a tiny program, but for purposes of college football it’s on the smaller end. More importantly, he missed most of two seasons after surgeries on his left knee. He returned in 2017 with a strong season (41 tackles, 11 for loss in 12 games), but there is limited film prior to that. At 6’5, 280 pounds, he brings tremendous size with that final year production for a seventh round pick. If he can stay healthy (still a big if), he could prove a steal as an option both inside and outside on the defensive line.
7 (240). Richie James, WR: Injury, small school
He was incredibly productive as a freshman and sophomore at Middle Tennessee State, but a broken collarbone and high ankle sprain cut short his final season. He stands 5’10, 183 pounds, and while he’s not a tiny guy, there are questions about how he’ll hold up in the NFL. But if healthy, he’ll compete with Trent Taylor in the slot.