Of the 50 players selected to All-Pro teams the past two seasons, 32 were former first round draft picks. 12 of the 50 were drafted in the second and third rounds and the rest came from later rounds or entered the league as undrafted free agents.
Players like Leonard Fournette and Myles Garrett along with fellow first rounders will likely account for most of this draft class’s All Pro selections in coming years. But every year, there are a few players who fall out of the first round, get overlooked, and leave scouts, GM’s, and fans asking themselves how that one slipped through the cracks.
Second round Safety, Budda Baker, and third round Running Back, Alvin Kamara, are two that I expect to turn heads as rookies and develop into among the league’s best at their positions in the coming years.
Alvin Kamara, RB – New Orleans Saints
University of Tennessee
3rd Pick, Round 3 (67th overall)
5’10” 214 lbs | 4.56 40 Yd Dash | 39.5″ Vertical | 10’11” Broad Jump
Kamara has been one of the most underutilized players in college football the past two seasons. The 5’10, 215 lb back is a very capable runner between the tackles but what makes him special is his versatility and his ability as a receiver.
The former 5 Star recruit started his career at Alabama but injuries forced him to redshirt his first and only season in Tuscaloosa. Kamara opted to transfer and landed at Tennessee where he’d see more playing time than Alabama’s crowded backfield allowed.
Tennessee used him primarily as a change of pace back and receiver out of the backfield. As talented as he is, Kamara only started 7 games during his two year career with the Vols. In spite of being underutilized and barely coming into his own until the midway point of his second and final season, Kamara twice racked up close to 1,000 total yards and produced double digit touchdowns playing for the Vols.
A lot of Running Backs can be dangerous on screens and catching passes out of the backfield. Few, if any, have the hands and route running skills to be a threat split out or in the slot like Kamara. With the ball in his hands, Kamara has elite balance, quickness, and vision. He’s elusive, makes defender’s miss and breaks tackles every time he touches the ball. Even without a blazing 40 time at the combine, he’s still shown that he can be a homerun threat against the speed of NFL caliber defenses in the SEC.
Now just imagine what he’ll be able to do on an offense led by Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Darren Sproles, who is significantly smaller and less physically gifted, fit perfectly into the Saints’ scheme putting up career years rushing and receiving. He was one of Drew Brees’ favorite weapons and following his departure, a disappointed Brees called Sproles a “once-in a lifetime talent in the NFL”.
Well Drew, say hello to the second coming.
Expect the Saints to line Kamara up all over the field – in the slot, out of the backfield, and in the return game on special teams. Even as part of a loaded backfield that includes Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram, Kamara should be a key piece of this Saints offense. Sean Payton will find creative ways to get the ball into his hands and using him in a capacity similar to Sproles during his 3 years with the Saints.
It may take him some time to learn the complexities of the Saints offense, but as soon as he does, watch out.
Budda Baker, S – Arizona Cardinals
University of Washington
4th Pick, Round 2 (36th overall)
5’10” 195 lbs | 4.45 40 Yd Dash
The name may not be well-known to casual fans outside the Pac12 but it’s definitely catchy. It rolls off the tongue, it sticks, just an awesome name.
When you watch Budda Baker play, you hear it a lot. And it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s a name you’ll be hearing on Sundays and Monday nights for a long time.
Starting 39 games during a 3 year career at the University of Washington, Baker racked up nearly 200 tackles and 8 turnovers leading to 2 All-Conference Selections. He capped his stellar collegiate career with an All-American Junior campaign that included 70 tackles and 9.5 TFL.
The numbers and accolades are impressive but they don’t even begin to do him justice.
Baker makes his fair share of highlight reel plays with athletic interceptions and big hits on receivers over the middle. What’s more impressive though, is the volume and consistency of plays he makes. He flies to the ball. He’s all over the field, before, during and after the play. And wherever he starts or finishes the play, watch a couple and it’s hard not to say he’s the best player on the field.
Defensive Coordinators dream about the kind of Swiss Army Knife versatility he brings to the table – breaking up a pass over the middle on first down, coming off the edge on a run blitz the next play, then reading and blowing up a screen to force a 3 and out.
Baker doesn’t hit as hard as LSU’s Jamal Adams who went 6th overall and he doesn’t have the electrify with the ball in his hands like Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, who went 25th. When it comes to instincts and making open field tackles thought, he’s as good if not better than any player in his draft class.
With 4.45 speed, smooth hips, and great lateral quickness, Baker was also one of the best coverage safeties in the country. His quickness and closing speed breaking on routes and his ability to locate the ball make him a solid pass defender in man or zone. At 5’10”, 195 pounds, NFL scouts worried that his size could be a detriment when matching up against pro Tight Ends. He’ll need to bulk up and learn to play with more physicality but I expect him to develop into a well-rounded enough player to hold his own in any situation.
Baker obviously impressed the Cardinals who traded up in the second round to select him despite already having solid pair of safeties in Tyrann Matheiu and Tyvon Branch. As he picks up the complexities of the Cardinals’ defense, he should benefit from guidance of the two veteran safeties as well as corner, Patrick Peterson. If Tyrann Matheiu struggles to bounce back from injuries or stay healthy, Baker may be playing a huge role on the Cardinals D sooner than later.
Even if it takes Baker some time to break into the rotation at Safety, he’ll be able to make an impact at Nickel and on Special Teams. But it’s only a matter of time before he plays his way onto the field and when he does, expect him to be a force in multiple facets of the game and to quickly grow into a Pro Bowl caliber player.