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#pounditMonday, June 14, 2021

5 best under-the-radar picks from the 2021 NFL Draft

Jaelon Darden

The 2021 NFL Draft has passed and rookies are already reporting to camps. It’s time for some of them to show what they can do and prove they were worth the draft picks.

Who were some of the best under-the-radar selections? Which Day 2 and Day 3 picks will have the biggest impact as rookies in 2021? And do any of them have what it takes to win some awards? Here’s a look at five players who will answer most — if not all — of those questions this season.

5. Walker Little, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars

This is a tricky one because Walker Little, although possessing the talent of a first-rounder, does come with some legitimate medical red flags. He has taken just 72 snaps over the previous two seasons. He suffered a knee injury that ended his season in 2019, and then opted out last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means there’s going to be quite a bit of rust to knock off, and that’s assuming Little can stay healthy. However, if he can, the Jaguars landed a potential starting tackle of the future at pick No. 45 overall. The 6-foot-7, 309-pound Little logged a 93.3 pass-blocking grade (PFF) over the course of his college career and allowed just one pressure. Limited opportunities or not, that’s impressive.

4. Nick Bolton, LB, Kansas City Chiefs

At 6-foot and 231 pounds, there’s no denying that Nick Bolton is an undersized linebacker. It’s part of the reason why he slipped to the Chiefs at No. 58 overall and part of the reason why some believe he was still a reach at that point. We’ll argue that he was a steal, instead. Size aside, Bolton is an extremely instinctive linebacker who excels in coverage. One of those things can’t be taught, and the other is a welcomed benefit in today’s pass-happy NFL. Bolton will also willingly step in and play special teams, adding more versatility to his resume. Bottom line? Don’t let the size fool you — Bolton has superstar potential and landed in the exact right spot with Kansas City.

3. Elijah Molden, CB, Tennessee Titans

Cornerback prospects dropping based on the perceived value of the slot position is an interesting dynamic in the NFL. Considering the league has become so pass-happy, you’d think executives and scouts would place a greater emphasis on the slot position, but that’s still not the case. It’s also why Elijah Molden slid all the way to pick No. 100 overall despite being, arguably, the best slot corner prospect available. Shame on the rest of the NFL for missing out on what Tennessee now adds to their defense. Molden has earned Pro Football Focus’ highest slot grade (91.2) and forced more incompletions (21) than any other slot corner in college football since 2014. He’s also a sound, fearless tackler despite his size (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), which will pay huge dividends in the NFL.

2. Tommy Togiai, DT, Cleveland Browns

Tommy Togiai was overlooked in the 2021 NFL Draft for two very sound reasons: lack of experience and lack of size. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Togiai is considered a bit undersized to play the 3-technique, and his 660 total college snaps weren’t enough to sell most teams. However, the Browns looked beyond those concerns and saw a player who despite some of his shortcomings, found constant success in his limited number of snaps. Togiai is a quality defensive end who can stop the run, eat up multiple blocks, and rush the passer from the inside. He’s disruptive and graded out highly among DT prospects leading up to the draft, often finding himself grouped among the likes of Christian Barmore and Alim McNeill. He’s not going to be a three-down player in Cleveland, but he’ll get his fair share of playing time and likely make the most of it.

1. Jaelon Darden, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 2021 NFL Draft was packed full of talent at the wide receiver position, which is why a player like Jaelon Darden slid silently into the fourth round only to be snatched up by the defending Super Bowl champions. Usually, Day 3 picks and undrafted rookie free agents struggle to make the 53-man roster. But Darden is not only a likely lock, he could play a significant role this season. He capped off his career at North Texas with 74 receptions for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns in just nine games. He will immediately step into a slot role for Tampa Bay. With a ton of talent around him and quarterback Tom Brady throwing him the ball, Darden is a sneaky Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Yes, he’s that talented.

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