Every year, there are late-round NFL rookies who end up making an immediate impact, playing a critical role in their team’s success. In the last three years alone, we’ve seen offensive players like Michael Onwenu, Isiah Pacheco, Braxton Jones, Tyler Allgeier, Trey Smith, and Amon-Ra St. Brown find ways to immediately help their team despite being picked outside of the first three rounds.
Who are the offensive rookies this year who might have the ability to make a Day 1 impact for their team despite being picked on Day 3?
Which Offensive Late-Round Rookies Can Make a Day 1 Impact?
OT Jaelyn Duncan, Tennessee Titans
There are higher-rated tackles in this year’s draft who went in the final four rounds, but no one has as obvious a path to start as Jaelyn Duncan from Maryland does. Duncan is a gifted mover, and though his Combine testing isn’t up there with the top tackles in the NFL, his on-field fluidity in both pass protection and as a run blocker is appealing.
He has the experience to slot in immediately and just needs to play with better upper body technique in order to access his power. With first-round pick Peter Skoronski likely to play guard, Duncan would compete with Andre Dillard or Nicholas Petit-Frere at tackle — neither player is a lock, and both have similar issues with power. Duncan could win a camp competition at either tackle spot.
WR Kayshon Boutte, New England Patriots
After a disappointing two years at LSU following an explosive rookie season, Kayshon Boutte has had difficulty getting teams to trust him. But the upside is there, and Boutte’s experience in NFL-style offenses should help him acclimate if he has the want-to.
It’s not as if his sophomore season was a complete bust, given that he averaged nearly 85 receiving yards a game. However, the injuries that year and subsequent underperformance in 2022 gave teams pause. Nevertheless, without a remarkably talented group of receivers in New England, Boutte should be able to see the field quickly and make Mac Jones’ day if he has anything close to the talent of an NFL-worthy wideout.
RB Zach Evans, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams aren’t guaranteed to give Cam Akers every opportunity. It’s entirely possible that Zach Evans, who seems perfectly suited for zone-style running, could overtake him.
Evans is a remarkably fluid runner with fantastic one-step burst and can create big gains almost on command. Though he’s never carried the load as a full-time runner in college, he has the size to be a primary back and could wrest the job from Akers.
OT Blake Freeland, Indianapolis Colts
One of the best athletes at the NFL Combine, Blake Freeland fell a bit further in the draft than many people expected. The Colts indicated that they see Freeland as a depth tackle, at least this year, but there’s no guarantee that Bernhard Raimann gets the starting job heading into the 2023 season. His rookie year was full of struggles, and it’s entirely conceivable that Freeland is ahead of him in development.
WR Xavier Hutchinson, Houston Texans
The Texans did draft a receiver ahead of Xavier Hutchinson in Tank Dell, but both will be on even footing when it comes to the fairly open competition Houston has at receiver. Ahead of them are Nico Collins, John Metchie III, Robert Woods, and Noah Brown.
Excluding Metchie, who missed last season because of a cancer diagnosis, the group averaged 521 yards and 36 yards per game. None of them broke 575 yards. Opportunity is there for either or both receivers, and Hutchinson’s surprising polish, excellent after-catch ability, and size should give him a role to be a friendly target for their new quarterback.
OT Ryan Hayes, Miami Dolphins
You don’t often see seventh-round offensive linemen starting, but given that the Dolphins didn’t activate Austin Jackson’s fifth-year option, we know that there’s some opportunity available for someone who looks impressive enough in camp.
Miami could lean on a veteran like Kendall Lamm, but he has a limited ceiling as well. Ryan Hayes’ athleticism might be appealing. If he can work on his leverage and strength issues in Year 1, he could be a quick upgrade.
Zack Kuntz, TE New York Jets
The Jets have been looking for a tight end for some time and still haven’t found one. They aren’t exactly lacking in talent with starting-capable players like Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah, but there’s room there for a player with upside to take over.
Zack Kuntz had perhaps the best Combine performance at his position in a TE class that could turn out to be truly historic. If Kuntz has developed his baseline skills enough, his upside will be enough for the Jets to put him out there for Aaron Rodgers.
Deuce Vaughn, RB Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have never expressed confidence that Tony Pollard could carry the full load at running back, and without Ezekiel Elliott, there are opportunities for a player or two to take on a complementary role. While Malik Davis will likely play the part of a bigger back, there’s still room for an explosive scatback like Deuce Vaughn to take a couple of carries and targets and make the most of them.