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Which unknowns will be the next NFL stars

By Lisa Zimmerman | Engagement Insider

One of the biggest events on the NFL's annual calendar is the NFL Draft. Over the years it has evolved into a star-studded extravaganza, with millions watching around the country. The excitement is understandable; it is a moment of pure possibility for the young college football players being selected and for the teams selecting them. However there is very serious business at hand; all teams are hoping to find the next diamond – or diamond-in-the-rough – to add to their arsenal.

While the lion’s share of the attention (and the most bells and whistles) is focused on the first round picks, the reality is that the lower rounds provide just as much talent and possibilities.  When the 2015 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 30th in Chicago (the first time it has been held outside of New York since the mid-1960s) a wide range of talent will be available and showcased.

The face-off between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX is a prime example of how players from all levels of the draft and free agency can rise to the top and make an impact. The stories of quarterbacks Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) and Russell Wilson (third round, 2012) are two of the most highlighted. However, there are many, many others. In fact, if you think about it, the majority of players in the NFL are from the later rounds, not the first round.

In addition to Brady and Wilson, there were numerous players who made significant contributions on both Super Bowl teams. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, a fifth round pick in 2010, didn’t start a single game in his rookie season.  By 2014, he was a team captain and recorded 10 tackles in the Seahawks ultimate loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Similarly, Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent in 2010, has become the team’s leading receiver. He has started all but two games in the past four seasons and in 2014 recorded 66 receptions for 825 yards.

On the other side of the field was Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, a 2009 seventh round Draft pick who led the team in receptions in 2014. Patriots running back Jonas Gray, the team’s leading rusher in 2014 was an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

The process of finding these players can be complex. There are two main philosophies followed by personnel of NFL teams in arriving at their choices. The first is selecting “best player available.” So, regardless of what a team’s position needs are, they will take the player they have determined as the best still available even if it’s not a position they are weak at.

The second philosophy is drafting based on need. Some personnel people look at this as a more dangerous route to take.

First-round selections are actually considered the easiest. The pool of players is at its largest and teams have had a significant amount of time to determine which player or players they think will serve them best.

One prominent team personnel executive explained it like this, “Just because you’re not a first round pick, doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a star in the league,” he said. “The first round picks are actually pretty easy, but after that is when the interesting part comes. Teams start drafting for need. You have a vision for the players in the lower rounds.”

Teams drafting solely based on need can risk missing out on a player who might ultimately be a better contributor. On the other hand, they may be able to fill a spot where they currently have a serious void. That’s where the research and vetting comes in and the pick ultimately becomes a leap of faith.

For example, if a team needs a cornerback and they are on the clock in the third round, they may skip over selecting a cornerback if they see a wide receiver they deem a better pick at that spot, especially if they feel serviceable cornerbacks will still be available when they are next on the clock.

So, as you settle in to watch whom your team selects in the Draft, know that there are many variables being considered by teams in their war rooms around the country. And while you’re waiting, so are hundreds of hopeful young football players. You might want to watch through all seven rounds lest you miss that diamond-in-the-rough who’s about to become a star.



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