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How likely is it to find values on Day 3 of the NFL draft?

Not exactly like looking for a needle in a haystack, but...

NFL: New York Giants Rookie Minicamp
Giants’ 2022 4th round pick Daniel Bellinger
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Bellinger. Dane Belton. Micah McFadden. D.J. Davidson. Marcus McKethan. Darrian Beavers.

More than half the New York Giants’ draft picks this year occurred on Day 3. Although many of them were little known or unknown to many of us before the draft, Giants fans and BBV staff writers have been digging into their college careers to get a sense of what they might offer to a Giants team that is somewhat thin on talent.

This raises the question: What are the odds of any of them becoming valuable parts of a future playoff-caliber Giants roster (whenever that happens)?

Identifying good players

To get an idea, we can look at previous drafts. I use the Pro Football Reference weighted Approximate Value (wAV) career scores for every Round 4, 5, 6, 7 draft pick made by every team in the past 5 drafts (2017-2021). A mean wAV per year of 5 or better roughly identifies starting-caliber players in the NFL.

wAV is an imperfect metric because it uses different approaches for different positions. Also, it is an accumulated statistic, so games lost to injury or any other reason lower a player’s score, and below-average players who nonetheless start every game may accumulate enough wAV to make the list. In general, though, it is a pretty good indicator.

Better statistics would be derived by going farther back in time, but the NFL has changed so much in recent years in how the game is played, how different positions are valued, and how much information exists about prospects, that there is probably little real value in doing so. No one blinked an eye when Dallas drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott No. 4 in 2016 (they could have had cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who went at No. 5). Elliott was a monster those first few years and was generally regarded as a great selection. Now, it’s not even clear whether he is RB1 for Dallas, and no one would think of drafting a RB that high anymore in today’s passing-driven NFL.

From 2017-2021, 757 players were drafted in Rounds 4-7. Of those, a grand total of 39 have achieved a wAV/year of 5 or greater. That is slightly better than a 1 in 20 chance of finding a starting-caliber player. To put it another way, Joe Schoen would statistically have to conduct 3-4 drafts with as many Day 3 picks as the Giants had this year to find even one starter on Day 3. By comparison, there are 56 such players in Round 2 and 39 in Round 3.

Another sobering thought: Almost one-third of the prospects drafted in Rounds 4-7 during this period have a wAV of zero or have never played in a regular season NFL game. That number will decrease over time as some recent draftees get to play, or play more, after being injured or serving on a practice squad their rookie years. But the whiff rate in the late rounds is nonetheless substantial.

And the winners are...

In each of the five years studied there were at least six but no more than 11 Day 3 draftees that satisfy the criterion wAV = 5:

2017: Aaron Jones (RB, GB), Eddie Jackson (S, CHI), George Kittle (TE, SF), Matt Milano (LB, BUF), Chris Carson (RB, SEA), Anthony Walker (LB, IND), Samson Ebukam (EDGE, LAR), Jamaal Williams (RB, GB)

2018: Bradley Bozeman (C, BAL), Bilal Nichols (DT, CHI), Wyatt Teller (G, BUF), Nyheim Hines (RB, IND), Jordan Whitehead (S, TB), Ja’Whaun Bentley (LB, NE)

2019: Maxx Crosby (EDGE, LV), David Edwards (OT, LAR), Cole Holcomb (LB, WAS), Gardner Minshew II (QB, JAX), Hunter Renfrow (WR, LV), Tony Pollard (DAL), Andrew Van Ginkel (LB, MIA), Dre Greenlaw (LB, SF)

2020: Darnell Mooney (WR, CHI), Tae Crowder (LB, NYG), Michael Onwenu (G, NE), Gabriel Davis (WR, BUF), Kamren Curl (S, WAS), Jordan Fuller (S, LAR)

2021: Trey Smith (G, KC), Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, DET), Royce Newman (G, GB), Dan Moore (OT, PIT), Elijah Mitchell (RB, SF), Michael Carter (RB, NYJ), Roy Lopez (DT, HOU), Rhamondre Stevenson (RB, NE), Chuba Hubbard (RB, CAR), Marco Wilson (CB, ARI), Kenneth Gainwell (RB, PHI)

Tae Crowder shows the limitations of wAV. He has started 23 games for the Giants in two years, and his volume of play gets him over the wAV/year = 5 threshold even though he has severe limitations in pass coverage. In the other direction, Jordan Mailata, offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, does not make the cut despite being a rising star. He was drafted in 2018 but has only played two years because of the road he took through the International Player Pathway Program, having never played football before, and having multiple injuries once he did play.

Where to get values and who gets them

We can stratify the results in a couple of ways to see that the process of getting value on Day 3 is not completely random:

Day 3 values by round and position

Round # of draftees Position # of draftees
Round # of draftees Position # of draftees
4 15 RB 10
5 14 LB 7
6 7 WR 4
7 3 G 4
S 4
OT 2
EDGE 2
DT 2
QB 1
C 1
TE 1
CB 1

Rounds 4 and 5 are clearly the places to have the best chances of finding an overlooked gem. There is still some chance of getting one in Round 6. Round 7 is highly unlikely (Crowder, who may lose snaps this year to Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers, is one of those three). But Chris Carson, the Seahawks’ workhorse running back for three years, who has had two 1,000-yard seasons and has scored 24 TDs for them, was a Round 7 pick. And Kamren Curl has been a starting safety for Washington for two years and will probably remain so in 2022.

RB and ILB are clearly the best positions to seek out in the later rounds, accounting for 44 percent of all Day 3 players who have been significant contributors. The situation at running back reflects the devaluation of the running game in today’s NFL. In the 2022 draft, only six RBs were taken on Days 1 and 2, and 17 on Day 3. Highly-ranked prospects such as Dameon Pierce, Zamir White, Isaiah Spiller, Pierre Strong, and Hassan Haskins were all drafted in Round 4. ILB was more evenly distributed, with about as many prospects drafted on Day 3 as on Days 1 and 2 combined.

Wide receiver, guard, and safety are also positions where some late round values can be found - wide receiver because there has been great depth at the position the past few years, and guard and safetybecause these positions are not as highly valued as others. The late rounds have produced very few important players at OT, EDGE, DT, QB, C, TE, and CB.

Day 3 values by team

# of draftees Teams
# of draftees Teams
3 GB, SF, CHI, NE, BUF
2 LAR, WAS, IND, LV
1 NYG, PHI, DAL, TB, CAR, DET, MIN, SEA, ARI, NYJ, MIA, HOU, JAX, PIT, BAL, KC
0 NO, ATL, TEN, CLE, CIN, LAC, DEN

Five teams have managed to find three significant players in the lower rounds. Green Bay got starting RB Aaron Jones and another RB, Jamaal Williams (now with Detroit), in addition to starting guard Royce Newman. San Francisco grabbed two-time All-Pro TE George Kittle, starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and starting running back Elijah Mitchell on Day 3. (Mitchell beat out third-round pick Trey Sermon for the starting job.) Chicago got starting free safety Eddie Jackson, starting wide receiver Darnell Mooney, and former starting defensive tackle Bilal Nichols in the later rounds. New England got RB Rhamondre Stevenson, guard Michael Onwenu, and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley. And of particular interest to Giants fans, Buffalo found starting linebacker Matt Milano, starting wide receiv er Gabriel Davis, and guard Wyatt Teller (who only made his mark after being traded to Cleveland) on Day 3.

Five years may be too small a sample to draw conclusions, but these five teams may just do a better job identifying talent than the 7 teams that have not found a single important player in the lower rounds the last five years. A few other Day 3 steals during this time period are edge Maxx Crosby, WR Hunter Renfrow, guard Trey Smith, and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Why do valuable players drop to low rounds?

One reason certain players last until the late rounds is injuries or other medical problems. That was certainly the case with George Kittle and Trey Smith, and in this year’s draft the most prominent player to fall all the way to Day 3 was LB Damone Clark (taken in Round 5 by Dallas), who underwent spinal fusion surgery in March.

Joe Schoen was interviewed by Bob Papa and Carl Banks on the BLEAV in Giants podcast earlier this month.

“Team health has been an issue here over the last few years, so to collect more injured players, ...obviously isn’t a priority. That’s part of the data we collect. We talk about analytics, and we always talk about catches, or completion percentage, but... we do try to predict a durability score... with past injuries, what the injuries are, what our medical team says. Let’s look at past data on players that had these issues, and then let’s project how many games they may miss over the first three years. Similar players in the past that have had this injury at this position, what does their play time look (like).”

Giants fans who hoped that Schoen would draft players like David Ojabo, Nakobe Dean, or Clark who fell past their projected draft slots? There’s your answer. Teams with solid rosters can afford to gamble on injured players. Teams with shallow rosters with an extensive injury history like the Giants are not in a position to make such bets.

Character issues, real or even suspected, can also sour teams on draftees. Tyreek Hill dropped to Round 5 because of a domestic violence incident. La’el Collins went undrafted due to police wanting to question him (not as a suspect) in connection with a murder. But even much lesser character concerns can be show-stoppers. Schoen had something to say in that interview about the role of character in creating the Giants’ big board for the draft:

“If you’re at the school, this guy’s never on time, he shows up late, doesn’t study the playbook, you can’t trust him on Saturdays, well, those guys may be off our board. Well why has that guy fallen? Well he’s not even on our board because he’s not for us. Again, we end up with about 160 guys on the board, so part of it is identification, but it’s also elimination.”

In other words, maybe half the prospects that fans considered when doing 2022 mock drafts were eliminated from consideration by the Giants for one reason or another before the draft began. By the end of Round 5, there may not have been very many players even remaining on the Giants’ big board at all.

Combine performance and measurements seem to affect some teams’ views of players, but other teams mostly ignore these and rely on their own judgments based on watching players in game action on film or in person. This is where good scouting comes into play, and where it is hoped that the Giants may eventually develop an advantage as Schoen fills out the front office with the people he wants and retains whichever good ones were already there. The 2022 draft seems to be a good first test of that, since after Day 1, almost every subsequent Giants pick was a surprise - to fans and draft experts alike.

Do any of the Giants’ Day 3 picks figure to become starting players?

Some people feel that Round 4 tight end pick Daniel Bellinger, the sixth tight end chosen and drafted ahead of names often mocked to the Giants such as Charlie Kolar, Jake Ferguson, and Isaiah Likely, is the sleeper of this Giants draft class. Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranked Bellinger as TE3 in the draft:

Skill is the first priority for a starting player, but opportunity matters too. Given how thin the Giants’ safety room is, the Giants’ other Round 4 pick, Dane Belton, has a golden opportunity at the SS position this season. Likewise, with Tae Crowder an incumbent at ILB despite subpar play in the passing game, there is an opportunity for both Round 5 pick Micah McFadden and Round 6 pick Darrian Beavers to see significant snaps, especially in pass rush situations. Really, the question for all three of these draftees is: Can any of them cover the NFL-caliber TEs and RBs that have exploited the Giants’ pass defense for what seems like eternity? If any of them answer yes, that player will be a steal. D.J. Davidson and Marcus McKethan seem more like long shots, but training camp will tell.

The wAV metric is about the long haul, not the sprint. Some players who are injured or see the field little early in their careers develop into starters over time. Fans tend to dismiss players who don’t produce early on, but don’t rule out 2019, 2020 and 2021 Day 3 picks Julian Love, Darius Slayton, Darnay Holmes, Shane Lemieux, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, T.J. Brunson, Elerson Smith, Gary Brightwell, and Rodarius Williams. At the moment, Love, Holmes, and Lemieux are projected starters on at least one Giants depth chart. Slayton, whom many Giants fans now dismiss, had almost 1,500 receiving yards and 11 TDs in his first two seasons before injuries and dropped passes caused his stock to plummet. He just missed the wAV cut for being a Day 3 value (4.7).

Will any of these players become stars? Thirty-nine out of 757 Day 3 picks says the odds are very small. But if the new coaching staff can develop these players and put them into positions in which they can succeed, some may produce great value to an eventual winning team considering where they were drafted, even if none of them never sees a Pro Bowl.