The Big Ten has boasted its fair share of late-draft steals over the past few seasons: Penn State's John Urschel (fifth round, Baltimore Ravens), Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (fourth round, Chicago Bears), Maryland's Stefon Diggs (fifth round, Minnesota Vikings), etc.
So who's going to be seen as 2016's diamond in the rough? We asked our Big Ten writers the same question: What Day 3 draft pick (from Rounds 4-7) is most likely to surprise at the next level?
Here's what they said:
Jesse Temple: Indiana RB Jordan Howard (fifth round, No. 150 overall, Chicago Bears)
Howard was a star for two different college programs, first at UAB and then at Indiana, and he'll have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in the pros. He was drafted in the fifth round, at No. 150 overall, by a Chicago Bears team that could use more depth at running back. The Bears didn't re-sign veteran tailback Matt Forte, which means former Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford now sits atop the depth chart. He rushed for 537 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season as a rookie. Howard will be vying for carries with Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers, but it's Howard's physicality that could separate him and provide a nice complement to Langford. At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Howard is a bruising tailback who averaged 134.8 yards rushing per game last season for the Hoosiers. There are some concerns about his ability to remain healthy -- he missed games last season because of knee and ankle injuries -- but when he's on the field, he's a load to handle. Indiana running backs coach Deland McCollough sure is confident in Howard's abilities at the next level.
Murray was continually underrated during his Big Ten career, so it’s fitting that he was undervalued in the NFL draft. A second-team all-conference pick in 2014 and a third-teamer in 2015, Murray helped anchor an excellent Golden Gophers pass defense with his ability to lock down receivers, his physicality and his leadership. He didn’t grab a lot of interceptions (just two in his career), but he’s an outstanding athlete who should be able to help right away as an extra defensive back, if not an outright starter. Kansas City got a steal in the fourth round.
Former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said that Cook might be the best quarterback in the draft. Todd McShay felt he would go off the board early in the second round. But Day 3? Laremy Tunsil aside, Cook was one of the biggest surprises of the entire NFL draft. He may have "personality issues," for reportedly being too arrogant. But his physical traits, specifically his arm strength and mobility, aren't at all in doubt. He's had obvious success in a pro-style offense already and, for a fourth-round pick, the gamble on the Raiders' end is minimal while the payoff is potentially great. If Cook can get out of his own way, he could have a long pro career. It's hard not to look at this situation and think back to 2012 fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins, who sat behind Robert Griffin III before claiming the starting job himself. Cook was one of the steals of this draft.
The Super Bowl champion Broncos opened the sixth round Sunday with a bang -- as in the sound that Janovich’s pads will make when he meets a blitzing linebacker. The former Nebraska fullback is a beast in the offensive backfield. He’s stout at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds and performs in the weight room like a lineman. A franchise built on stockpiling tough guys around their superstar quarterbacks, the Broncos will love Janovich’s mentality. His status as an NFL prospect skyrocketed from the ground up in one season under Nebraska coach Mike Riley. Janovich was a solid ball carrier for the Cornhuskers in 2015. He’s good enough to get an occasional touch of the football at the next level, but that’s not why he was drafted. Janovich’s versatility makes him invaluable on a 53-man NFL roster. He will play on all the special teams -- and make a difference doing it. Look for him to develop into a fan favorite in Denver, just as he did after arriving in Lincoln as a walk-on. Others drafted Sunday will score more touchdowns and make it to more Pro Bowls, but no one is likely to fulfill his role more effectively than Janovich. Incidentally, at pick No. 176 overall, he sparked a run on fullbacks. Before the sixth round was complete, the Bucs took Northwestern’s Dan Vitale, who played the hybrid superback spot in college, and the Chargers drafted Wisconsin’s Derek Watt. The West Division trio were the only fullbacks selected in the draft. Who said power football is on the decline in the Big Ten?