The late rounds of the 2009 NFL draft produced some immediate help in several offenses. Austin Collie caught 60 passes for Indianapolis after being picked No. 127 overall out of BYU. Three picks before that, Oakland almost made up for its first-round gaffe by plucking Louis Murphy out of Florida. Even in that anemic passing offense, Murphy caught 34 passes for more than 500 yards. It didn't end there.
Johnny Knox was pick No. 140, but became one of Jay Cutler's favorite targets, and guys like Mike Thomas, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson all got into their respective offenses. On defense, guys like Al Afalava, Kevin Ellison and Victor Butler jumped into starting roles or key supporting roles on the defensive side of the ball from day one. We've reviewed early impact players from Round 1 of the draft, as well as players from Rounds 2 and 3. Now, let's look at guys from the later rounds (4 through 7) who have a chance to make an early impact.
1. Aaron Hernandez
I'm familiar with the off-the-field questions that surround Hernandez, and they certainly played a role in his presence as a possible impact player from the draft's third day, as opposed to the first, but if the Patriots get Hernandez focused on the field and integrated into their offense, they're getting a steal. With Rob Gronkowski and Jermaine Gresham sidelined, Hernandez was the best tight end in college football last season, and by far Tim Tebow's favorite target. He could become a favorite target for Tom Brady, as a 250-pound player who you could mistake for a good wideout.
Hernandez catches the ball away from his body, is a threat to run with it after he does, and what you lose from him in blocking, he makes up for as a matchup nightmare as a likely H-back. The deep threats for Brady certainly aren't what they were a few years ago, and Hernandez and Gronkowski could be used creatively both as targets, and -- when well-covered -- as decoys to open up deep lanes for Randy Moss that his diminished speed won't do by itself.