Sep 23, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell (47) breaks up a pass intended fro Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Teams expect to see early returns from their early-round picks as rookies, while late-rounders and undrafted players usually receive a pass for at least their rookie campaigns. However, some of the draft’s castaways make an immediate impact at the NFL level. This is a list of those guys.
[Editors’ note: This list is compiled of each team’s top late-round contributor, which is considered any rookie player drafted after Round 3 or undrafted that has played at least 40 primary (offense or defense) snaps or 30 special teams snaps.]
Sixth-round Virginia State product Trenton Cannon has played just 13 offensive snaps this season, but he’s made the most of his 37 special teams snaps. He has played at least seven special teams snaps in four separate units and earned a 71.1 overall grade in the process.
Unfortunately for the Patriots’ late-round star, Ja’Whaun Bentley can’t build on his stellar start to his rookie campaign, as he will spend the rest of it on the Injured Reserve with torn biceps. Before bad news struck, however, the former Purdue linebacker earned an 81.7 overall and 84.5 coverage grades – an early sign that Bentley has a bright future ahead in Foxborough.
Stepping in as the Bills’ primary slot cornerback, Weber State alumnus Taron Johnson has performed well on the big stage. He earned 77.0-plus overall grades in Weeks 4 & 5, and he ranks inside the top-20 in yards allowed per coverage snap (1.03) among qualifying slot cornerbacks.
Stowed behind the likes of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, former Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage has just three offensive snaps this season. He has, however, made a positive impact on special teams, earning a 70.7 overall grade across 33 special teams snaps. Making his way onto the field will take time, but yielding positive results in the game’s third phase is always a strong way to start as a rookie pushing for playing time.
With injuries to Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, former Miami (Fla.) running back Mark Walton has played 47 offensive snaps in Weeks 3-5. He has just five carries for nine yards in said span, but he did flash his pass-catching ability on a 24-yard reception against Atlanta in Week 4 and has slowly started to adjust to the speed of the NFL. He’s also the only Bengals late-rounder to qualify, so that helps his case.
Former Memphis standout Genard Avery was on pace for Defensive Rookie of the Year to start the season with his 90.3 overall grade in Week 1. And though he’s settled down a bit since, Avery still owns an 80.0 overall grade and an even more impressive 80.0 pass-rush grade so far this season. He has recorded multiple pressures in four of five games, as well.
Kenny Young has undoubtedly struggled as a primary piece to the Ravens’ defense, earning just a 58.2 overall grade across 170 defensive snaps. However, the experience he’s gaining will benefit him long term, and the high-end potential he has flashed in bursts is promising for the young buck’s future. He currently ranks fourth among all rookie defenders in defensive stops (15).
Undrafted Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, a former five-star recruit coming out of Miami (Fla.) in 2013, recorded one defensive stop in his four defensive snaps in Week 5 and may be in line for more defensive snaps in the near future. He has also contributed significantly on special teams, playing 50 total snaps across three separate units and recording three tackles.
The Colts called on fifth-round pick Braden Smith earlier than they likely wanted to, and they called on him to play a position they likely didn’t want him to, either. However, Smith has responded to the calls admirably, as the former Auburn guard allowed just one pressure en route to an 80.1 overall grade across his 83 offensive snaps at right tackle in Week 5. With veteran Matt Slauson heading to the Injured Reserve, Smith will return to guard for Indianapolis and likely maintain his high-end play.
Former Texas Tech wide receiver Keke Coutee has come alive in recent weeks, catching 17-of-20 targets for 160 yards and a score in Weeks 4 & 5. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound wideout rebounded after two early drops in Week 4 to become a reliable target for Deshaun Watson with great yards-after-the-catch ability.
Undrafted Temple edge defender Sharif Finch has quietly turned in quality performances with Tennessee in his limited role on the defense, as he’s recorded three total pressures and one defensive stop in just 41…