The NFL teams that get the most from their drafts are the ones that consistently find impact players after the first two rounds, where players cost far less and aren’t expected to contribute as much initially. Chris Tripodi breaks down his top 10 value picks of the 2013 NFL Draft to close out the regular season, a list that won’t include any of last April’s top 62 picks.
Keenan Allen (WR-SD, Round 3, Pick 76)
Allen fell into the third round thanks to a lingering knee injury and as a result, the Chargers got the steal of the draft and a player that has been crucial to their playoff run. With Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd injured early in the season to nobody’s surprise, Allen was the lone constant of the San Diego receivers this season. Eddie Royal quickly fizzled after a sizzling start and Vincent Brown proved that he’s not a capable NFL starter. Allen’s reliability played a huge part in a resurgent season from Philip Rivers, making the veteran glad the rookie receiver from Cal decided against quitting football early this season.
Larry Warford (G-Det, Round 3, Pick 65)
Warford barely made the cut to be considered a “value pick” but regardless of where he was taken, he played like a first-rounder this season and was a big reason Reggie Bush and Joique Bell were able to run the ball successfully. Despite his reputation coming out of Kentucky as a strong run blocker who struggled in pass protection, Warford went the entire season without allowing a sack and proved to be a well-rounded blocker in a system many thought he wasn’t a great fit for. As long as Warford doesn’t take a step back next season, he could get Pro Bowl consideration at the guard position.
Tyrann Mathieu (CB-Ari, Round 3, Pick 69)
Mathieu’s off the field issues were well chronicled coming out of LSU and dropped his draft stock out of the top two rounds despite being a finalist for the 2011 Heisman Trophy. As we suspected after the draft, Mathieu indeed was a perfect fit in Arizona under the tutelage of former teammate and close friend Patrick Peterson and made big plays almost every week for the Cardinals before a torn ACL ended his season after 13 games. Despite a lack of size, Mathieu showed off toughness making tackles in the running game and had 9 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. Big things will be expected from him next year as the team’s primary nickel back and sub-package safety.
Zac Stacy (RB-StL, Round 5, Pick 160)
Stacy started the season third on the Rams’ depth chart but after Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead struggled throughout the first month of the season, Stacy got the start in Week 5 and never looked back, rushing for 78 yards on 14 carries in his debut and rushing for at least 125 yards in three games the rest of the way. The former Vanderbilt star’s vision and quick feet were on display almost every time he touched the football and while he lacks the long speed to be a true big-play threat, he proved to be the workhorse runner the Rams needed with three games of 26 or more carries. This year’s version of Alfred Morris, Stacy did much of his damage with career backup Kellen Clemens under center as well, making his numbers even more impressive and giving hope to an offense getting Sam Bradford back next season.
Andre Ellington (RB-Ari, Round 6, Pick 187)
A slow 40-yard dash (4.61) at the NFL combine and questions about his size and durability dropped Ellington late into the sixth round of April’s draft, which proved to be a huge mistake for every team that passed on the electric former Clemson star. His slow time was a direct result of a tweaked hamstring during the run and once he got on the field, Ellington’s speed and quickness were a noticeable asset to a Cardinals offense that lacked playmakers in the backfield. Totaling over 1,000 yards on just 118 carries and 39 receptions, expect Ellington to see an increase in carries next season into the 12-15 per game range with Rashard Mendenhall hitting free agency, making 1,500 total yards a legitimate goal for the Cardinals’ most exciting offensive player.
LaAdrian Waddle (T-Det, Undrafted)
The second Lions’ offensive lineman on this list, Waddle entered the starting lineup in Week 8 and never looked back, proving to be an adequate pass protector along with his expected skills in the run game. An All-Conference tackle at Texas Tech who was not highly regarding by media and NFL scouts alike, Waddle had a strong season next to Larry Warford and will head into the offseason looking to maintain his surprising level of play from this year. It’s still too early to say the scouts were wrong about Waddle but he’s already done more than most thought he would at the NFL level and should get the chance to build on an impressive second half next year.
Jordan Reed (TE-Was, Round 3, Pick 85)
Reed would be higher on this list if it weren’t for his concussion issues at the end of the season. The former Florida star who drew comparisons to fellow Gator Aaron Hernandez, Reed showed why with his ability to create yardage after the catch and averaged over 11 yards per reception this year. He missed the final six games after suffering a concussion in Week 11, which is worrisome for his future considering Reed also suffered two concussions in college. One more concussion may prove to be the end for Reed but his numbers (45 receptions, 499 yards, 3 touchdowns) in just nine games point to a very bright future if he can avoid any further head injuries. It would be a shame to see talent like his wasted due to injury.
Sio Moore (LB-Oak, Round 3, Pick 66)
After taking over a starting role in Week 2, Moore had a very solid rookie season and showed his skills against the run and as a pass rusher. While his 50 tackles (38 solo) may be underwhelming, Moore played well on the strong side of Oakland’s 4-3 defense, a position that doesn’t get as many tackle opportunities as the other linebacker spots. His 4.5 sacks ranked third on the team and Moore was every bit the speedy, instinctual player scouts saw at Connecticut, which helped him show well in coverage as well. The Raiders might have a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball in 2014, but Moore should stick.
Joseph Fauria (TE-Det, Undrafted)
The third Lion on the list this season and the second undrafted rookie signed by Detroit, the former UCLA star made an immediate impact in the red zone for a Lions team desperate for another threat in the passing game besides Calvin Johnson. While he caught just 18 passes for 207 yards on the season, his 7 receiving touchdowns ranked second on the team and at 6-7, Fauria is a monster target in the tight quarters of the end zone. He showed good athleticism attacking the ball in the air and was an impossible cover for smaller defensive backs when Matthew Stafford was accurate with high passes. Brandon Pettigrew is nothing special as the team’s starter, so expect Fauria’s role to grow even further next season.
Nickell Robey (CB-Buf, Undrafted)
Left on the waiver wire due to size limitations (5-8, 165), Robey proved to be a very good nickel back for the Bills this season. We had a 5th round grade on Robey and his interception return for a touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 7 officially put him on the map. The former All-Conference corner at USC continued to excel in the slot as the season went on and he even picked up 3 sacks in the final three weeks of the year, adding another wrinkle to his game. Robey didn’t have anywhere near the impact Mathieu did in the slot but both players helped prove that height isn’t as important as awareness, aggression and closing burst when covering the slot in the NFL.
Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, contributing Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and interviewing NFL prospects. He also writes for Optimum Scouting, Yahoo! and Jets 101 and has previously worked at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.