Professional sports in the United States have a unique way of adding young players to teams. Rather than young players choosing where to play, most sports have a draft where teams select eligible players. While this system promotes parity in each sport, the downside is that the best draft-eligible players usually wind up on bad teams. The National Football League is no different. As teams prepare for the 2024 draft, elite prospects like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Marvin Harrison Jr will surely wind up on poor-performing teams. However, some less heralded prospects have a chance to wind up on good teams. Let's look at some unsung late-round NFL draft picks in the last few years, as well as three names to keep in mind for 2024.
Great teams can find elite talent, but it is much more difficult. The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs have done a great job finding underrated prospects in recent years, including former 4th rounder L'Jarius Sneed, 6th rounder Trey Smith, and 7th rounder Isiah Pacheco. The odds of a team landing those types of talents are so low that it might have fans asking: is sports betting legal in my state? However, some can do it.
The team Kansas City beat in the Super Bowl last season has also done a phenomenal job, starting with their MVP-caliber quarterback, Jalen Hurts. The former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback fell to the 2nd round in the 2020 NFL draft and wasn't even a first-round pick. They struck gold again in 2023, drafting Jalen Carter with the 9th overall pick. Carter entered the draft as arguably the best player but fell due to off-field issues. Carter is a rare example of a top-5 draft prospect winding up in the hands of a Super Bowl contender, and that only happened thanks to a trade. Here are a few draft prospects that could wind up on great teams.
How could Shedeur Sanders be an unsung draft hero? Few college players have had more attention than Sanders this season, and he’s an electric talent on the field. However, he’s still a largely unproven talent. He spent his first two seasons at Jackson State with his Hall of Fame dad, Deion Sanders, as coach. He performed well, but only at an FCS level.
He followed his dad to Colorado this season and has looked incredible at times, but he also struggled in his first season at a Power 5 school. After starting 3-0, he lost seven of his last eight games. However, that’s primarily due to a defense that can't compete with Pac-12 offenses. Sanders has been stellar, putting up 27 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 11 games this season before an injury sidelined him. He’s a first-round talent and a future #1 overall pick. However, if he comes out this year, there are at least two quarterbacks above him in the rankings and many question marks surrounding him. A team lower in the draft could wind up with an elite talent if he doesn't stay in college.
Offensive linemen are the most common position where elite talents fall in the draft. Guyton is a great candidate to be an elite player taken later in the first round, thanks to his raw but unrefined talent. At 6'6 and 319 pounds, Guyton brings elite size to the table, but he also possesses uncommon athleticism for a big man. His tape isn't great, which will cause teams to balk at him early in the first round, but his attributes and traits alone will garner attention toward the end of the first round. He is one of the highest-upside players in the draft. Look for a playoff-contending team with offensive line problems and look to find their solution in Guyton.
Like offensive linemen, it’s not uncommon to see elite defensive backs taken in later rounds. However, where size and athleticism are the telltale signs of a high-upside lineman, speed is the trait teams look for in a cornerback. Quinyon Mitchell has that kind of speed. The junior out of Toledo is currently projected to be a fringe first-round pick, as is often the case for players at mid-major schools. However, he has 4.3 speed and enough size to make him a physical nightmare for wide receivers. L'Jarius Sneed compares nicely to Mitchell, possessing the same speed and physicality combination. Mitchell should be higher in the rankings than he is, which means that one of the last teams remaining in the postseason will likely have a chance to capture him.
If you're an NFL fan of a contending team, players who can make a significant impact are available late in the first round. For college fans, these are likely names you know, but the general public might still need to, aside from Sanders. This time next year, however, they could be household names.