When a player is selected in Round 1, there is an expectation that the player and team will instantly mesh. Those players should be scheme and fit agnostic with that much draft capital invested in them. We know that’s not always the case. Sometimes there are better fits later in the draft when teams identify certain traits that fit perfectly with the overall plan in place. That is what we are going to focus on here — five players who were taken after the first round who might have landed in the perfect spot to add an immediate impact.
Terrace Marshall, WR, Carolina Panthers (59th overall)
Marshall was expected by many to be a first-round pick before some medical red flags popped up that concerned some teams. Marshall fell to the end of the second round but might have ended up in the situation that might be the best fit for him going forward.
Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady was the passing game coordinator at LSU during the 2019 season when Marshall was the third option behind Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson and the influence was still clear in 2020 when Brady moved on to the Panthers.
In 2019, Marshall spent most of his time outside while Jefferson was used as the big slot receiver in that offense. That switched in 2020 when Marshall took over that role. 60 of his 72 targets came from the slot this past college season, as did 72% of his routes. That figure was 41% in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions.
What makes Brady’s offense work is the ability to move the receivers around and use players with inside-outside versatility. Over the past five seasons, 2016 Greg Olsen has the most targets from the slot for the Panthers. The next three-highest target totals all come from the 2020 trio of Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, and D.J. Moore.
Marshall showed a number of traits Anderson flashed last season when he was moved into the slot more often under Brady. There is the ability to work leverage on slants to create yards after the catch, shallow drags that create separation, plus there’s the vertical threat from both the outside and the slot.
One additional element Marshall brings that was missing on the 2020 Panthers comes as a red zone threat. On the 2019 LSU offense, Marshall only had one fewer red zone target than Chase (18-17) and more touchdowns (11-10). In 2020, the Panthers tied with the New England Patriots for the fewest touchdown receptions on end zone targets (four).
Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, New York Giants (50th overall)
There was some connection between Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari and the New York Giants as early as pick 11, though that might have come as a reach to some. The match seemed more aligned in value when the Giants traded back to pick No. 20. Then the Giants traded down again from pick 42. It was a steal when Ojulari was still there at pick 50.
The Giants needed a pass rusher. In 2020, the Giants finished 18th in pressure rate but much of that came later in the down. The team ranked 32nd in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate, which measures how often the defense won within 2.5 seconds after the snap. Much of that pressure also came from the interior. If edge pressure is isolated, the Giants only ranked 25th in pressure rate per SIS. Last year, Ojulari had the second-highest true pressure rate (pressure on straight dropbacks) in this class.
It’s not just the pass rush upside, either. There’s something about the Bill Belichick defensive tree that favors a three-man rush. It spread to Miami and Brian Flores, where Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham coached before he landed with the Giants. Graham brought that strategy over last season in his first year. Three of the four teams with the highest rate of a three-man rush last season were the Patriots (22%), Dolphins (17%), and Giants (17%).
But it’s more than just a three-man rush. The Patriots and Dolphins both use blitzes at a high rate to confuse the quarterback, so anywhere between three to seven defenders could be rushing. Miami took it to another level last season with their Amoeba fronts that had all defenders standing up without giving away who was coming on the rush.
The Giants didn’t quite have the personnel for that, but Ojulari gives them a potential piece to play with. Last season, Ojulari was a stand up rusher 42% of the time and rushed on just 78% of his pass snaps. The Giants won’t want Ojulari dropping back into coverage that often but it’s only something that needs to happen a few times for it to be a threat to confuse quarterbacks when the defense lines up pre-snap.
Dyami Brown, WR, Washington Football Team (82nd overall)
Last year’s Washington receiving corps consisted of Terry McLaurin and not much else. In free agency, Washington signed Curtis Samuel as a No. 2 and the addition of Dyami Brown in the third round helped round out the shape of that group. Brown was an outside deep threat, who could immediately bring a vertical element to an offense now helmed by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Brown’s 17.6-yard aDOT in 2020 was the highest of this draft class, by almost two yards. No team had a lower aDOT (6.2) than Washington in 2020.
Just 5% of Brown’s routes came from the slot last season and while that might not be great for Brown’s versatility specifically, it could force Washington’s hand in using Samuel more in the slot when he and Brown are on the field together. Samuel’s great 2020 usage came with more snaps and targets in the slot but there were some concerns whether his previous coaching staff from Carolina — now in Washington — would embrace what went well under a different staff last season.
Brown’s ability to line up on the outside, and specifically as an iso receiver, could also help McLaurin. Last season, Washington had the second-fewest routes run with an isolated receiver. But McLaurin individually had the ninth-most routes run as an isolated receiver in 2020, per SIS. Only D.K. Metcalf and DeAndre Hopkins had a higher team share of routes run as an isolated receiver than McLaurin’s 40.8%. Brown had the 11th-most routes run as an isolated receiver in college football last season and he ranked second in yards per route run in that alignment.
That could potentially set up Washington to roll out Brown on one side with McLaurin and Samuel on the other. If defenses overcommit to the McLaurin-Samuel side, that could leave Brown one-on-one to win down the field where he did in college.
At North Carolina, Brown wasn’t asked to have an extensive route tree, but that won’t be much of an issue as the No. 3 receiver in this offense — the ability also appears to be there even if the practice isn’t. Brown also already has the ability to use the downfield threat to break off vertical stems for curls and comebacks, something Stefon Diggs perfected in the Buffalo offense last season.
Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Los Angeles Chargers (47th overall)
Whoever Brandon Staley selected to join his secondary would have brought intrigue, but there might not have been a better fit in this draft than Asante Samuel Jr. Under Staley last season, the Rams relied on zone coverage that allowed the cornerbacks to read and react to what happened in front of them. Samuel was a great corner in zone coverage last season.
Per SIS, 63% of Samuel’s coverage snaps came in some type of zone coverage last season, which meshes with the 66% Staley used last season, which was the eighth-highest rate in the league. Samuel allowed a 25% positive play rate in zone coverage last season, which was one of the best rates in this year’s cornerback class.
The zone coverage did not mean passive coverage, as Samuel still pressed off the line for 30% of his coverage snaps. Samuel could be considered undersized by some — at 5’10” his height is only in the 32nd percentile among cornerbacks while his 180-pound weight is in the seventh percentile — but he brings a physicality that plays bigger than his actual size.
His instincts in coverage are also what should make him such a fit in Staley’s defense. He was one of the best corners at making a play on the ball in this draft class with 0.35 passes defensed or interceptions per target (sixth) and 0.04 per coverage snap (fifth).
Even with much of Staley’s coverages based on zone, there are match responsibilities that also bring the need to excel in man coverage. While Samuel’s coverage rates in man took a bit of a hit in 2020, he was a fantastic man corner in both 2019 and 2018, with positive play rates allowed of 23% and 31%, respectively. Overall, Samuel had one of the lowest adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap figures in this draft class.
Samuel’s presence on the outside will allow Chris Harris Jr. to continue playing inside while a mix of Michael Davis and Trevaughn Campbell can play on the other side.
Hunter Long, TE Miami Dolphins (81st overall)
Miami made an effort to improve the group of playmakers on offense and while Jaylen Waddle was the biggest swing with the sixth overall pick, selecting Boston College tight end Hunter Long in the third round could also help.
Long is an athletic 6’5”, 254-pound tight end who was a big part of a Boston College passing game that didn’t have much going for it. During the 2020 college football season, Long led all tight ends in routes run, targets, and receptions. Only Kyle Pitts had more receiving yards. Only Quintin Morris (undrafted) of Bowling Green had a higher target share among tight ends in this draft class than Long (24%).
There were a number of ways Long was used in his final college season that could easily translate to help the Dolphins’ offense. Long has the most routes run as an isolated receiver among tight ends in 2020 with 149. His 40 targets as an iso-receiver were nine more than the next tight end (Pitts). Long also led all college football receivers in targets and receptions on deep crossers (10). As an added bonus, Long was the only college player to have two receptions on Leak in 2020.
Long is a good enough blocker that he can play a traditional tight end role and is a good enough receiver to be split out wide. That can give the Dolphins flexibility when they’re rotating wide receivers and figuring out how to keep Mike Gesicki on the field.
While some of this was personnel driven because of injuries, the Dolphins used 12 personnel on 28% of their offensive snaps in 2020, which was the fifth-highest rate in the league. A 12 personnel package with Gesicki and Long could still serve as a dangerous passing threat without losing much in the passing game. There’s a ton of versatility that could be used to mix and match formations and personnel as the offense looks to expand in 2021.