The stakes for Day 3 of the NFL draft typically don’t compare to the first two nights of the event, but the final four rounds are hardly meaningless.
The final four rounds are an important avenue for teams to round out their rosters and take on long-term projects that can pay significant dividends. As this year’s draft wrapped up Saturday, a few teams set themselves apart with shrewd decisions while others made some confusing calls. Similarly, some incoming rookies ended up in fortuitous situations while others could face a tough road ahead as they launch their professional careers.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from Saturday’s action.
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Really, really good class from top to bottom for Chris Ballard in a critical year. While Anthony Richardson is obviously the centerpiece, the Colts continued to snag some promising pieces in the later rounds. On Saturday, fourth-round defensive tackle Aditomiwa Adebawore is a high-upside disruptor, while tight end Will Mallory and running back Evan Hull can help lighten Richardson’s load in the passing game.
Signal-callers were the story of the day, as a scramble for them resulted in nine being selected on Day 3. That’s the number of quarterbacks who were chosen all of last year in what was a famously weak class at the position. The buy-in for developmental passers or expected backups was surprising given the uneven or uninspiring college careers that many had.
Georgia-Philadelphia Eagles connection
Philadelphia’s affinity for defenders from the two-time college football champions went from meme to full-blown parody when Howie Roseman brought on his third Bulldog of the class with fourth-round cornerback Kelee Ringo. Then, for good measure, he swung a trade with the Detroit Lions for running back and former Georgia star D’Andre Swift. Given the trend, it’s surprising Roseman didn’t find a way to add safety Christopher Smith II and edge rusher Robert Beal, who both went in the fifth round. Eagles scouts should just park themselves in Athens next fall.
Back to the running back: Perhaps no person had a more dramatic shift in fortune on Saturday than Swift. After the Lions surprised everyone by taking Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs to join David Montgomery in Detroit’s backfield, Swift looked like the odd man out. Before the draft wrapped, however, the Philadelphia native was headed home. Swift will have to compete against Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott for touches, but the defending NFC champions’ ultra-effective ground game and support of a dominant offensive line bodes extremely well for the 24-year-old as he enters as contract year.
Stetson Bennett IV
The wins for former Georgia stars just keep piling up. Amid widespread speculation that he would be a late-round pick at best – and possibly go undrafted – the two-time national champion instead wound up as a fourth-round selection of the Los Angeles Rams. For a 5-11, 192-pound former walk-on, that draft status is a remarkable ascension. Bennett should stick around as Matthew Stafford’s backup while getting coached up by Sean McVay – not a bad way for a launch his pro career.
Who doesn’t love a good against-the-odds draft story? Zavala began his career as a 250-pound offensive lineman at Division II Fairmont State. Transferring to North Carolina State helped put him on a trajectory to become a fourth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers. Zavala will now be blocking for No. 1 pick Bryce Young while reuniting with former Wolfpack teammate Ikem Ekwonu, who is entering his second year as the Panthers’ starting left tackle.
Los Angeles Rams
It sure was an odd turn to see this franchise pivot from “(expletive) those picks” to “grab those picks.” The Rams left Day 3 with 11 new players, all of them pivotal in helping round out a top-heavy roster that was perilously thin in several spots last year. Among the potential early contributors are edge rusher Nick Hampton, wide receiver Puka Nakua and slot cornerback Tre’Vious Hodges-Tomlinson. Meanwhile, running back Zach Evans and edge rusher Ochaun Mathis provide some long-term upside.
His once-shaky standing with the team now looks to be heading toward a smooth resolution. The Bengals did not end up drafting another running back – Illinois’ Chase Brown – until Round 5. More important, Zac Taylor seemed to make a commitment that had not materialized until this point. “His future is here with the team,” Taylor told reporters in a news conference. “I like Joe Mixon.”
There were plenty of family connections in this year’s class, but this one might have been the best of them all. The Cowboys’ sixth-round selection of the Kansas State running back created another link between Vaughn and his dad Chris, who is the Cowboys’ college the assistant director of college scouting for Dallas. The move must have had both the 5-foot-5 ball carrier and his father feeling 10 feet tall.
New England Patriots
Taking a special teams player in the draft can be bold. Grabbing two is something else entirely. With fourth-rounder Chad Ryland and sixth-rounder Bryce Baringer, the Patriots became the first team since the then-Oakland Raiders in 2000 to take a kicker and a punter in the same draft. Sure, if Bill Belichick knew he were getting the equivalents of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, the moves would be more palatable. But both players will need to be impeccable for these decisions to pay off. And Belichick’s most recent kicker pick, 2020 fifth-rounder Justin Rohrwasser, was a whiff.
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Skipping out on the Senior Bowl after one day of practices might have cost Jones, as Sports Illustrated reported that the decision didn’t sit well with some evaluators. The 6-8, 374-pound Jones ended a supersized draft wait into the fourth round. There’s not an easy path to significant playing time here, with 28-year-old right tackle Jack Conklin having signed an extension last December that keeps him under contract through 2026. At least Jones lands with one of the league’s best offensive line coaches in Bill Callahan.
A class that was underwhelming across the board wrapped up with 10 picks in the final four rounds. Adding that many end-of-roster players to an already young team feels like a miscalculation. At least GM Trent Baalke landed an additional fourth-round pick next year as part of his maneuvering.
When Fresno State’s Jake Haener became the first quarterback to hear his name called Saturday, it seemed like McKee might not be far off from learning his landing spot. Instead, the Stanford product would up being the eighth quarterback chosen on Saturday, not coming off the board until the sixth round to the Eagles. While learning from new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson could aid his long-term growth, he might be stuck as a developmental option for the foreseeable future with Jalen Hurts entrenched as the starter and Marcus Mariota serving as the backup. Maybe the 6-6, 231-pound passer would have been better off hitting the transfer portal rather than declaring.
Green Bay Packers
It’s fully understandable that the Packers would want to bring aboard a backup quarterback as they hand the starting reins to Jordan Love. Turning to Penn State’s Sean Clifford in the fifth round, however, is bizarre. The 6-2, 211-pounder didn’t show enough in four years as a starter to suggest he could see meaningful playing time, and the 24-year-old – who is more than three months older than Love – isn’t a particularly tantalizing developmental prospect. GM Brian Gutekunst said the team plans to bring in another quarterback, and it seems like a veteran will be necessary.