Every year there are a handful of late-round or free-agent prospects from the NFL draft that emerge from under the radar to become contributors early in their careers.
This year's defensive back class could have several such players. The safety and cornerback positions are arguably two of the deepest in this year's class. It is a strong pool that has a lot of variety to fit various schemes, and there should be runs on both positions over the first two days of the draft.
However, teams that dig deeper could find great value on Day 3 with players similar to Cortland Finnegan (seventh round, 2006, Tennessee) and Corey Graham (fifth round, 2007, Chicago). Neither entered the league with a high profile, but each has turned into a valuable piece on the back end. The players listed below have the skills to join them as late-round sleepers who bring value.
Sam Houston State CB Daxton Swanson: A transfer from Toledo, Swanson (5-foot-10, 186 pounds) is a quick-twitched and explosive athlete on tape. He shows quick feet and balance, with excellent short-area burst and the ability to plant and drive on balls in front of him. He ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.56 seconds at the combine, but Swanson's route recognition and anticipation skills allow him to play faster than his timed speed.
Swanson's tape from last season's Baylor game stands out, and is loaded with impressive plays from start to finish. None caught my eye more than a second-half interception on which he showed the awareness in zone coverage to read Baylor QB Nick Florence's eyes before closing on the ball and taking it from Bears WR Terrance Williams.
What also jumped out was his ability to quickly flip the switch to an offensive mentality after securing the interception and pick up more than 30 yards with the return.
Swanson could get stronger in run support, but his ball skills and explosiveness out of breaks could make him a good value on Day 3. He could add valuable depth early in his career and have a chance to develop into a starter.
Rutgers S Duron Harmon: I kept seeing flashes of Harmon while studying tape of Scarlet Knights prospects Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan, and Harmon (6-foot, 198) looked very good when I saw him in person against Pittsburgh and at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
The first thing that jumped out was that he has more range than I initially thought. Harmon shows good eyes in coverage, takes quality angles to the point and closes in a hurry on tape. He also loves to hit and brings a physical element versus the run. Harmon painted a picture of what he could become against Arkansas last season, making his presence felt early and consistently getting around the ball.
He will likely be a sixth- or seventh-round pick, but don't be surprised to see Harmon make an immediate presence on special teams and push for playing time earlier than expected.
South Carolina State S Jakar Hamilton: He began his career at Georgia in 2010, where he competed with fellow 2013 prospects Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo for playing time. However, Hamilton didn't see eye-to-eye with the Bulldogs' coaching staff, which played a role in his transfer to South Carolina State.
On tape, Hamilton (5-11, 196) is a fluid athlete who has the versatility to handle middle-of-the-field responsibilities as the last line of defense, and also line up in the nickel and hold up in man coverage. He shows strong diagnostic skills which can allow for an early break on the ball. In addition, Hamilton is reliable in run support. He takes quality angles in pursuit, breaks down well in the open field and can deliver a violent strike when able to line up ball carriers.
Based on talent alone, Hamilton is a fringe Day 2 prospect, but some maturity and off-field issues will likely drop him into the later rounds. However, if a team with strong leadership can bring him in and keep him focused, Hamilton could offer a great return on a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Virginia Tech DB Alonzo Tweedy: He lacks a true position fit, but Tweedy (6-0⅜, 188) could catch on as a late-round pick or priority free agent and make a roster based solely on his special-teams ability.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a better gunner on punt coverage. He works hard to get a free release, tracks the ball well and consistently shows ability to break down and corral ball carriers in the open field. Tweedy could very well make the back end of a roster and have a good career as a special-teams maven who adds depth when necessary in the secondary.