Every year, the NFL draft captivates football fans with the promise of new talent destined to shape the future of their favorite teams. While star prospects like USC’s quarterback Caleb Williams and Ohio State’s wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. often steal the spotlight, it’s important to remember that the draft is much more than its headliners.

While the first round is reserved for just 32 names, the excitement doesn’t stop there. The second day brings another 68 selections into the fold, expanding the possibilities and anticipation. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the draft unfolds after the 100th pick.

Any player chosen from the 101st pick onwards who emerges as a significant asset for their team is often celebrated as a draft steal, proving that talent can be found well beyond the initial rounds. Just ask guys like Tom Brady, Terrell Davis, and Richard Dent.

1. Devontez Walker, WR, North Carolina

Despite being ranked 101st on the latest B/R big board, Devontez Walker seems almost too good to be a Day 3 pick. Officially kicking off the final day of the draft, Walker’s position at No. 101 could easily lead him to be one of the most talked-about steals.

At 6’2″ and running a 4.36-second 40-yard sprint, paired with a staggering 40.5-inch vertical leap at the combine, Walker’s physical abilities are undeniably impressive. Though there was a small error in earlier reports about his height—he’s not 6’5″—his performance more than makes up for it.

With 11 touchdowns during his sophomore year at Kent State and another seven in his eight games with North Carolina in 2023, resulting in a total of 1,620 receiving yards over those seasons, his potential is evident. While adapting to the NFL’s physicality remains to be seen, Walker’s athletic prowess makes him a fascinating prospect to watch.

2. Luke McCaffrey, WR, Rice

Luke McCaffrey’s lineage reads like a sports fan’s dream. He has connections to NFL greatness through his father, who played 13 years in the league, his grandfather, an Olympic sprinter, his mother, who was a soccer star at Stanford, and his brother Christian McCaffrey’s outstanding NFL career.

However, these impressive familial achievements don’t guarantee success in the NFL draft. What does intrigue scouts about Luke is his own history and adaptability in football. Initially enrolling at Nebraska as a quarterback in the 2019 class, McCaffrey transferred to Rice in 2021, where he made a significant pivot to wide receiver in 2022.

In his first year out, he secured 58 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. By the following year, he amped up his game, racking up 71 receptions for 992 yards and 13 touchdowns. His Combine performance further highlighted his physical abilities, boasting a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, the fastest shuttle run, and the second-best three-cone time among his fellow receivers.

Despite being rated only 185th on the latest B/R big board, largely because he’s new to the position and faced mostly AAC competition, McCaffrey’s trajectory suggests he’s an intriguing late-round prospect with a notable blend of genetics and growing skill at his adopted position.

3. Zak Zinter, IOL, Michigan

Zak Zinter’s story in the run-up to the draft is one of resilience and proven talent. A late-season leg injury might have kept him from participating in Michigan’s national championship pursuit and the subsequent predraft events, but his past performances have loudly spoken on his behalf. Since joining the Wolverines’ line-up in 2020, Zinter has been an immovable force at right guard, never once losing his spot.

His consistent excellence on the field has earned him All-Big Ten honors in three consecutive seasons, with the 2022 and 2023 seasons highlighting him as a first-team choice by the conference coaches. Despite the setback of his injury, Zinter’s college tape is enough to impress.

It’s easy to envision someone like former Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, now leading the Los Angeles Chargers, recognizing Zinter’s potential and drafting him in either the fourth or fifth round. There, Zinter could become an invaluable asset, possibly anchoring the team’s offensive line in the future.

4. Tanor Bortolini, IOL, Wisconsin

Wisconsin is known for producing big bodies in the NFL. Since 1990, 22 of the 25 Wisconsin offensive linemen drafted have started in NFL games. A testament to Bortolini’s promising future is his score on the “Relative Athletic Score” metric, a system devised by Kent Lee Platte of Pro Football Network.

This metric evaluates NFL prospects based on their size, speed, explosiveness, and agility. Remarkably, Bortolini ranks as the 33rd-highest among all offensive guards since 1987 in this measurement. This outstanding ranking makes it tempting to aim high with him.

Beyond impressive athletic scores, Bortolini’s versatility on the line adds significant value. He started as a right tackle in 2021 before moving to guard on both sides in 2022 and then taking the center spot in Wisconsin’s revamped offense during the last season.

Despite being ranked only 118th on the latest B/R big board, Bortolini stands out as a potential Day 3 pick. His exceptional athletic profile, coupled with the ability to adapt to various roles on the offensive line, makes him a hidden gem in this year’s draft.

5. Sione Vaki, S, Utah

Sione Vaki’s final season at Utah showcased his remarkable versatility as both a defensive powerhouse and an offensive contributor. Defensively, he tallied 51 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. He also added two sacks and snagged an interception, proving his capability to disrupt plays and secure the ball.

Offensively, Vaki demonstrated his athleticism and adaptability, rushing for 317 yards with a robust average of 7.5 yards per carry. Additionally, his ability to catch was on full display as he reeled in 11 passes for 203 yards, culminating in five total touchdowns in a part-time offensive role.

Though Vaki might not be expected to achieve two-way stardom in the NFL, his rank at 175th on the latest B/R big board positions him as a likely fifth- or sixth-round pick. His comprehensive skill set suggests he could significantly contribute to defensive depth and make his mark on special teams, which will take on added importance with the new kickoff rule. Vaki embodies the potential for a Day 3 draft steal, affirming that players can provide substantial value beyond the glare of the spotlight.

The Takeaway

In this year’s NFL draft, looking beyond the early rounds and marquee names can uncover significant talent capable of making a substantial impact on a team’s success. From Walker’s athletic potential to McCaffrey’s impressive transition and determination, Zinter’s resilience and proven prowess in the Big Ten, to Bortolini’s varied and standout athleticism, and Vaki’s unique dual-threat capabilities—all these athletes present intriguing possibilities for teams willing to dig deeper.

Especially in the context of teams like the Chicago Bears, understanding the game’s intricacies and valuing latent talent can dramatically influence their strategy and, consequently, the Bears game odds in future seasons.

Identifying and nurturing such talents can be the difference-maker in a highly competitive league. Therefore, as fans and analysts, keeping a keen eye on these prospects not only adds to the excitement of the draft but can also hint at the shifting dynamics of NFL teams’ fortunes in the years to come.