By John Harris
March 28, 2011
About four years ago, I had a draft epiphany. I was talking to Lance about players about to be drafted and he was asking me whether I "liked" particular players. I said to him I liked this guy in the third round, but thought it was a mistake if he went in the fourth. I hated a guy in the fourth round, but loved him in the sixth or seventh. At that point, it dawned on me that the NFL Draft was all about maximizing value. It's always been that way, but when the "value" window opened for me, it was enlightening to say the least.
Here's a perfect example, if you're still confused. The New England Patriots found tremendous value with some guy named Brady in 2000. Getting a Hall of Famer in the sixth round would be great value. Follow me now? As such, my mission over the past few years has been to find the best "value" in the draft.
Keep in mind, I can better assess "value" after the draft, but based on where most media types are projecting players, I came to my own judgment about value. In no certain "best value" order, here are my top value plays.
North Carolina, DE
(If he doesn't go in the top 10...) This guy has more ability than any other defensive player in this draft. Yes, I said any other player and I believe it. He just didn't play last year due to his dealings with an agent and he's suffered chronic headaches in the past. But, allegedly he's a good kid who learned a valuable professional/business lesson. If you're hung up on the missed season, keep in mind there was someone who missed an entire season before getting drafted last year. Remember the name Sam Bradford? All he did was win offensive rookie of the year in 2010. Something to think about.
New Mexico State, CB
He's starting to get some recent publicity for his abilities, but playing for a dormant program like NMSU, no one had a chance to see him play much. But, he can fly and he's got the perfect dimensions (6' 200 lb) to be a big-time player. Even if he's drafted in the 2nd round, he's extremely good value.
Florida State, C/G
Take all your high profile tackles and your Maurkice Pounceys and none of them are better "players" than Hudson. I love his ability to win at the point of attack. He can pull to the outside and get a hat on defensive backs. He's tremendous getting to the second level. However... and you knew it was coming, he's light. Very light. If he were 310 lbs., he'd be a top 25 pick, no question. As such, he'll probably get into the second and that's still good value.
NC State, LB
I'm a big fan of Irving for a number of reasons. He's incredibly smart on the field, high football IQ. Always around the football. Tackles well. Makes plays in coverage. He's bounced back from gruesome injuries to become a player. As he continues to get healthy, he's going to really please a team that takes a 4th round flyer on him. I'm telling you right now, if Irving hadn't suffered horrible injuries off the field, he'd be a lock for early in the 2nd round.
Salas was a highly productive, and by highly productive, I mean the nation's leading receiver in yardage and third in receptions in 2010. All in all, he had 285 receptions in four years at Hawai'i, but plenty of people didn't anticipate he would run a 4.5 at the combine. Other receivers in this draft class may have more explosive abilities, but Salas runs great routes, has innate ability to get open against both man and zone coverages and catches everything. He'll be a guy who'll catch 75+ balls each year for the next eight years. Solid value in the 4th round.
Oregon State, RB
He's short and he's not a 4.4 guy with straight-line speed. So what? He's got everything else you'd want. He catches the ball out of the backfield. He's tough. He's durable. He's incredibly difficult to tackle. If he "falls" to the fourth round, or even the third, an NFL team found great value.
Good size (6' 219). Great straight-line speed (4.4). Helu was productive as a Husker. He's not a top three round back, but he'll be a guy who flies down the field on teams in the first few weeks of the season and then can work his way out on the field as a "second" running back in due time. I've liked Helu as a downfield runner for a while, but as a 4th or 5th round option, I REALLY like him.
Okay, here's a guy that epitomizes exactly what I outlined in the open. I'm not the biggest Romeus fan...in the first three rounds. 4th or later (if his back is okay), I'm completely on board. Now, he missed the 2010 season with a back injury and that may have thrown people off the scent for sure. If his back gets the medical okay and he's ready to go, he'll make some team happy. If a playoff team takes a flyer on a 6'5" 264 lb. 4-3 defensive end, with ability to play both the pass and the run, in the 5th or 6th round, but sits for a while to get fully healthy, it's great value. He's not a dynamic edge rusher, but he's got length and ability to get separation from tackles.Photo: NFL Soup