In some ways, the NFL Draft is the ultimate crap shoot, and sometimes teams need good luck more than anything else. That was the case with the Patriots landing Tom Brady in the sixth round along with a host of other teams finding diamond sin the rough in the late rounds. Only 50 percent of second-round picks actually pan out in the NFL. In the later rounds, the odds are obviously even worse. Less than 20 percent of sixth-round picks stick in the NFL, while less than 10 percent of picks in the seventh round work out.
With that in mind, my personal belief is teams should target boom-or-bust picks in the late rounds. The odds are against a so-called "safe pick" panning out, so they may as well go for players who could turn into a massive steal. Here is a list of three offensive players and three defensive players who are late-round boom-or-bust picks who could be worth a shot.
Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State
The issues with Wylie are size and health. When he has been in the lineup, he has been a dangerous weapon on offense and special teams. He's only 5-foot-9, 187 pounds. At that size, Wylie had a hard time staying healthy in college. He missed the 2010 season with an injury and was out for four games in 2009 and 2008. However, he was a nice weapon for Fresno State as a senior and followed that up with a good week at the East-West Shrine.
Wylie caught 56 passes for 716 yards and one touchdown in 2011. He also returned 29 punts for 446 yards (15.4 average) and two scores. He is a quick receiver who has good hands and is a quality route runner. He projects as a potential slot receiver and returner in the NFL.
Marc Tyler, RB, USC
The running back position may be the the quintessential position for late-round steals. There have been so many over the years like Terrell Davis, Ahmad Bradshaw and the undrafted Arian Foster. Tyler could be next in line. He looked very good at the East-West Shrine. He was a one-cut downhill runner who could be a load in a power-man or zone-blocking scheme. The 5-foot-11, 219-pounder runs with power and physicality. He is a North-South power back who has enough of a burst to get through the hole and reach the second level of the defense. He could be a back who picks up a lot of yards after contact and could serve as a short-yardage option.
Tyler was suspended for the first game of the 2011 season for a appearing drunk in a video on TMZ. He labeled USC the "University of Sexual Ballers." When he came back to the lineup he wasn't the focal point of the Trojans' ground offense, as Curtis McNeal received more carries throughout 2011. Tyler totaled just 568 yards and four touchdowns this past year. He dislocated his shoulder against California, and that knocked him out for basically two games.
Tyler led USC in rushing in 2010 with 913 yards and nine touchdowns while part of a running-back-by-committee approach. Tyler comes from a pro-style West Coast offense under Lane Kiffin. He has some potential to make a late-round pick a worthy gamble.
Rishaw Johnson, G, California-PA
The 6-foot-3, 313-pound guard is a gritty blocker who has some strength along with athletic ability. Johnson had a good week of practice at the East-West Shrine. He was gritty blocker who showed a combination of power and quickness. He had a tenacious style and blocked through the whistle.
Johnson received a late invitation to the Senior Bowl, and had some struggles with the increased competition. Johnson took some snaps at center but did not perform well at all snapping the ball, so he should be viewed as a guard only. He had some off-the-field problems that got him kicked out of Ole Miss after he had multiple suspensions prior to his dismissal.
There have been many late-round offensive linemen who have panned out, and Johnson has the skill set to turn into something if he lands with good coaching and is allowed time to develop.
Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia
Miller was a productive pass rusher in college, so he definitely could be worth a late-round pick. He had nine sacks with 14 tackles for a loss, 54 tackles, three passes broken up and one forced fumble in 2010. He then was abused by his coaching staff when they moved him to defensive tackle. He was even playing some 3-4 nose tackle despite being 6-3, 256. He still recorded 57 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles in 2011.
Miller could be a nice pass-rushing outside linebacker for 3-4 teams to consider. He played well at the East-West Shrine. Miller has nice quickness off the snap and doesn't shy away from getting physical to fight off blockers. He also has a non-stop motor. He is a sleeper prospect who could fall late in the 2012 NFL Draft, but bring a nice reward to the team that gives him a chance.
Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Burfict (6-1, 248) may be the ultimate example of a boom-or-bust pick, and there is a good chance that he will never amount to anything as a pro. However, there is also a chance that he could be a steal and turn into a difference maker. As a freshman and sophomore, Burfict flew around the football field and was a violent force. He was a good run stopper, pass defender and blitzer. He made a steady stream of big plays while being an intimidating presence on the field.
As a junior last season, Burfict seemed to be protecting himself, and his production was diminished significantly. He had 69 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, five sacks, three passes broken up and an interception. He was even benched late in the season after butting heads with his coaching staff. He then entered the 2012 NFL Draft and bombed at the Combine along with his Pro Days. His team interviews have reportedly gone poorly as well.
Burfict could go in the Round 5-7 range, but if a team has good veteran leadership that can get through to Burfict, he could turn into a starter and potential difference-maker.
Matt Merletti, S, North Carolina
Merletti was really playing good football in 2011 before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the eighth game of the year (he also had a knee malady in 2009). It's a shame, as he was always around the ball and was a playmaker for the Tar Heel defense.
At his Pro Day, Merletti (5-11, 200) ran an extremely impressive 40-yard dash at 4.55 seconds. He could easily fall out of the 2012 NFL Draft, but in a weak safety class, Merletti might be worth a pick in the seventh round.