(Photo: Brett Carlsen, Getty)
By Preston Tiffany
The great teams in the NFL don’t just draft for need. The great teams draft ahead and fill positions a year or even two years before an aging player has started to decline. Just look at the Patriots drafting Jimmy Garoppolo while Brady very well could have started to decline beginning the latter part of his 30’s. Or the Packers stacking Aaron Rodgers on top of Brett Favre. Or even the Vikings drafting players like Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter, and Trae Waynes, when they had aging Pro-Bowlers Chad Greenway, Brain Robinson, and Terence Newman all playing well on their roster. The list goes on and on.
In this article, I will be showing you some prime Day-3 candidates that will challenge Pro-Bowl level players in Year 1, and will likely replace their superiors in 2019.
TE: Ian Thomas (Indiana) – 4th Round Selection (101 Overall) by the Panthers
Thomas, if nothing else, is a fantastic story regarding his path to the NFL. His mother passed away due to kidney failure on his eighth birthday, with Thomas’ oldest brother taking care of Ian and his 7 other brothers at the mere age of 19. Thomas played both basketball and football at Digital Harbor High School (located in Baltimore, MD), but was not recruited by any major colleges at either sport, resulting in him ending up playing basketball Nassau Community College in East Garden City, New York. He later switched over to football and garnered offers from Texas A&M, Indiana, Temple, and more, and ultimately chose Indiana.
During Thomas’ two years at Indiana, he was only a starter for his senior season, where he recorded 25 catches for 376 yards and 5 touchdowns. While this might not seem like the production you would want from a potential NFL starter, Indiana’s offense was below average in 2017, placing 69th in total offense and 78th and scoring offense, with two different quarterbacks splitting time. Combine those team-wide woes with Thomas’ raw, unmolded tools, and you get a player that lacked production.
The positives with Thomas are all potential based. His athletic profile is extremely impressive, with his 40 time of 4.74 placing in the 60th percentile and his vertical and broad jumps of 36” and 123” placing in the 83rd and 91st percentiles. With Thomas’ athletic profile and college basketball background, he has garnered many comparisons to players like Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas. Now for the next two years, he will sit and learn from one of the game’s best tight ends in Greg Olsen, and a coach in Norv Turner who excelled in San Diego with great TE play out of Antonio Gates. Scouts also rave about Thomas’ “love for the game” and “humble and focused” approach. What more can a player ask for in terms of tools for success? If Thomas can improve his route running ability, and his technique and effort levels when blocking, he will have a long career in the NFL, eventually replacing the Panthers’ great Greg Olsen.
WR: DaeSean Hamilton (Penn State) – 4th Round Selection (113 Overall) by the Broncos
Hamilton was a four-year starter at Penn State, racking up a whopping 2842 yards and 18 touchdowns for his career. He was not just a great football player, but was regarded as a “high-achiever” and “unselfish,” such as taking the time to teach younger players around the program the right way of doing things. He mostly worked out of the slot in his time at Happy Valley, and that will be his primary position in the NFL as well. Many called him the best route runner in the entire NFL Draft, and he couples that with quality speed (4.52 forty) and elite level agility (6.84 three cone and 4.15 short shuttle, both placing in the top third percentile).
Hamilton not only showed his promise on tape this past NFL season, but also during the NFL’s Reese’s Senior Bowl, where the Bronco’s coaching staff got to see first-hand how good Hamilton really was. Many analysts regarded him as one of the biggest risers from the event, with NFL.com Analyst Daniel Jeremiah even saying this after Day 2 of the event:
While Hamilton struggled some during the actual Senior Bowl game, that is only a fraction of his evaluation, where he overall showed his savvy as a route runner. Overall, Hamilton is a player that has the polish to contribute to an NFL team right away out of the slot, and can learn the nuances of the game from great players in Emanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. He’ll never been a perennial All-Pro player, but if you’re looking for a solid #2 option that can move the sticks on third down, Hamilton is your guy, and everyone can appreciate the value of finding that on day 3 of the draft. Especially when you consider he could be a cheap replacement for Sanders, who has a $10,250,000 team option for the 2019 season.
EDGE: Josh Sweat (Florida State) – 4th Round Selection (130 Overall) by the Eagles
Well, the rich just seem to keep getting richer. Sweat was regarded as a second round lock by the media, with the possibility of maybe slipping into the third if the medicals on his injured knee were serious. It seems as if the past problems with his knee scared some teams off, resulting in him falling to the back end of the 4th round. Sweat once said “I almost lost my leg” when telling the story of how he tore his ACL and dislocated his left knee while in high school. Sweat later tore his meniscus in that same left knee during his sophomore season. Reportedly, Sweat has no current problems with his health, and has shown physically he is not hindered at all by his past injuries, as he ranked at the top of several different events for Des at the NFL Combine. The concern many teams seemed to have was the longevity of Sweat’s career, and that he may not make it to a second contract.
Sweat was regarded as a top ten player coming out of high school, ranking as the number 8 in the Class of 2015 by the 247 Composite recruiting rankings. He contributed right away as a freshman, even after his serious knee injury the year before, recording 41 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and an interception. For his three career, he finished with 138 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and 14.5 sacks. Sweat also tested lights out at the combine, placing in the 80th percentile in the short shuttle, 91st percentile in the broad jump, 96th percentile in the vertical, and 98th percentile in the 40. With those numbers, he passed the threshold to becoming one of Justis Mosqueda’s Force Players, an algorithm that is a pass fail system that is a strong indicator of EDGE success in the NFL.
From a film perspective, what drove many evaluators crazy about Sweat was the way he was coached. He was taught what many call the “tackle read” where he would react to the snap based on what the tackle showed him, as opposed to just timing the snap based on anticipation and visually. This made him a fantastic run defender, but often made him late getting home as a pass-rusher.
The Eagles are currently stacked on the EDGE, with Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, and Chris Long all on the roster, but besides the promising rookie out of Tennessee, all are in their 30’s. Sweat will be able to play as a rotational pass-rusher in 2017, which will be a strong positive to get the most out of his abilities if his knee truly is a concern. Graham, Bennett, and Long all have potential outs in their contract after 2018, possibly opening the door for a younger, fresher Sweat to take a hold of the starting DE spot opposite of Barnett for the future.
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