As a part of our partnership with ESPN, this is a part of a story that was originally published on ESPN+ and can be viewed in its entirety here with your ESPN+ subscription — NFL draft 2021 steals: 10 undervalued Day 3 picks who will make an impact, including two Bears
All 32 NFL teams have new players to add to their rosters after three days of the 2021 NFL draft. And while a team's draft is often defined by what it did on Days 1 and 2, finding diamonds in the rough on Day 3 can make all the difference for a championship team. Steals in Rounds 4-7 are key to having an excellent draft class.
By the time Saturday rolled around, there were still a ton of prospects on the board whom we ranked in the top 100 at PFF. Obviously, landing a top-100 player in the draft class is going to help a franchise, but getting them at great value in the second half of the draft makes it even sweeter.
So who were the steals of the draft? Which players can slide into impact roles right away despite waiting at least four rounds before hearing their names called? Here are PFF's best value picks of the draft, including a pair of Bears selections and plenty of playmakers on both offense and defense. We start with a linebacker who shines in coverage.
Dallas Cowboys selecting ILB Jabril Cox (LSU)
The pick: 115 (Round 4)
The fact that the Cowboys even drafted Cox should tell you how high they were on his services. The Cowboys took the LSU linebacker in the fourth round despite a relative logjam at off-the-ball linebacker, with Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, newly signed free agent Keanu Neal and first-round pick Micah Parsons in the fold.
Cox was the 45th-ranked player on PFF's draft board and has earned coverage grades over 80.0 in each of the past three seasons between North Dakota State and LSU. He saw only 41 targets this past season, but Cox still picked off three passes and broke up four more. He may not play right away, but don't be surprised when he locks down a starting role in Dallas.
Los Angeles Rams selecting DT Bobby Brown III (Texas A&M)
The pick: 117 (Round 4)
The Rams' whole defensive structure is predicated on their front seven stopping the run without the help of their safeties. That means the guys up front had better be able to hold their gaps in the running game. And there are few nose tackles in this class more capable when it comes to that than Brown.
He saw significant time for the Aggies going back to his true freshman year and has an 85.1 run defense grade for his career. There's reason to think he can be even better in the NFL, as he tested out exceptionally well for a 321-pounder and has 34¾-inch arms perfect for controlling centers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting WR Jaelon Darden (North Texas)
The pick: 129 (Round 4)
Darden's tape is pure electricity. After putting on nearly 20 pounds over the course of his North Texas career to reach 174, Darden broke out as a senior with 74 catches for 1,190 yards and 19 scores. He also added 23 broken tackles after the catch to lead the country.
At 5-foot-9, he's going to be a slot receiver in the NFL, but that's not a bad thing when Tom Brady is the quarterback.
Denver Broncos selecting S Jamar Johnson (Indiana)
The pick: 164 (Round 5)
It was a massive surprise that Johnson declared for the draft after his junior year. He wasn't a starter until this past season and had only 796 career snaps to his name. But you won't find too many more productive safeties on a per-play basis in the class.
On his 406 career coverage snaps, Johnson picked off seven passes and broke up six others. That's elite ball production. His biggest issues come as a tackler, where he missed 18 of 80 career attempts, but he goes to a Vic Fangio scheme that won't demand much of safeties in run defense.
Kansas City Chiefs selecting WR Cornell Powell (Clemson)
The pick: 181 (Round 5)
The No. 2 receiver position in Kansas City is up in the air at this point. While Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson have each had their opportunities over the years, neither has solidified himself as a legitimate option. There's a chance Powell can step in and be that guy.
Powell is one of the most physical route runners in the draft class at 6-foot and 204 pounds, and he broke out in a big way down the stretch in 2020. Over the final six games of Powell's collegiate career, he averaged well over 100 yards per contest and his 730 receiving yards were the sixth most in college football over that span. He then went to the Senior Bowl and had the second-highest win rate of any receiver in the one-on-ones against press coverage. That skill set can translate quickly.
Cincinnati Bengals selecting RB Chris Evans (Michigan)
The pick: 202 (Round 6)
Evans' production leaves a lot to be desired when compared to most running backs in this draft class. He never got more than 135 carries in any of his four seasons at Michigan and was suspended for all of 2019 because of academic issues. It's what he can do as a receiver, however, that makes this a steal.
Evans was far and away the highest-graded running back in the receiving one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl and possesses some of the best ball skills in the class with only two drops on 51 career catchable passes. He averaged 9.8 yards per reception in his Michigan career, and he stood out at his pro day with a 40½-inch vertical, 10-foot-7 broad jump and 6.85-second three-cone drill.
Seattle Seahawks selecting OT Stone Forsythe (Florida)
The pick: 208 (Round 6)
Honestly, Forsythe could have made this list based on his tape against Georgia edge defender Azeez Ojulari alone. On 46 pass-blocking snaps in Florida's game against Ojulari — who finished with the highest pass-rushing grade in the country last year — Forsythe allowed only one pressure.
Forsythe is one of the most battle-tested linemen in this class, as his 195 true pass-blocking snaps were the fourth most in the country. Not often do you find a tackle this late in the draft who could feasibly start from day one.
Chicago Bears selecting RB Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech)
The pick: 217 (Round 6)
Herbert's 2020 breakout was no fluke. We got a glimpse of that guy in 2019, when he averaged 9.2 yards per carry and broke 18 tackles on 42 attempts before leaving Kansas at midseason. After transferring to Virginia Tech, Herbert lit it up with 1,172 yards on only 155 carries and averaged 4.7 yards per carry after contact.
Herbert has legit home run speed and even had a kick return score called back this past season. At 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, he has the ideal body type to contribute on any down when called upon.
Arizona Cardinals selecting CB Tay Gowan (UCF)
The pick: 223 (Round 6)
Gowan's draft stock took a hit because of the sheer lack of tape. After transferring from Miami (Ohio), Gowan played one season at UCF before opting out in 2020.
In 2019, though, Gowan was one of the highest-graded corners in the country. That season, he allowed only 20 completions on 50 targets for 274 yards with two picks and seven pass breakups. And in man coverage, Gowan allowed only five completions on 12 targets for 71 yards on 107 coverage snaps. He has the kind of length and speed that can hold up on the outside in the NFL as well.
Chicago Bears selecting CB Thomas Graham Jr. (Oregon)
The pick: 228 (Round 6)
Graham was lights out in coverage over his final two seasons, earning a PFF coverage grade of 79.8 in 2018 and 82.9 in 2019. (He opted out in 2020.) He ranked in the top 10 among FBS cornerbacks in both passing stops (23) and plays made on the ball (29) in those two years combined. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder is a patient corner with balanced and nimble feet who also attacks the catch point incredibly well. And his flat-footed breaks are superb.
We saw Graham as a third-round prospect, but the Bears — who were already in the running for having the best draft of all 32 franchises — swooped in and got him with the final pick of the sixth round. He should be a fantastic fit in a Chicago defense that will be bursting with Fangio's influence under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.