Per Jason Fitzgerald of the indispensable OverTheCap.com site, 37% of all fourth-round picks make it to a second contract, and 10% make it to a major contributing role in that second contract. Last year, Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (taken with the 138th overall pick out of Louisiana Tech) and Bills receiver Gabriel Davis (takcn with the 128th overall pick out of Central Florida) proved to be important additions to top NFL teams. Other active impactful players taken in the fourth round include David Bakhtiari, Kirk Cousins, Geno Atkins, K.J. Wright, and some guy named Dak Prescott. You may have heard of him.
If we want to take this into the Wayback Machine, Hall-of-Famers like Steve Largent, Andre Reed, Harry Carson, John Stallworth, and Charles Haley were all taken in the fourth rounds of their drafts.
So, just because you were taken outside the first three rounds doesn’t mean you can’t take the NFL by storm, even if the NFL didn’t think much of you to start. Here are four players who could prove to be absolute steals in the 2021 fourth round.
New York Jets: Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina (107th pick)
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The Jets’ running back room coming into the 2021 draft? Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and Josh Adams. The 37-year-old Frank Gore led the team in rushing last season. So, there will be opportunities for Carter, who likely fell this far because of his size (5-foot-9 1/2, 184 pounds), but Carter, who was the lightning in North Carolina’s backfield to Javonte Williams’ thunder, has a lot on the ball. He’s an explosive play machine — Carter led all backs in the 2021 class with 29 carries of 15 or more yards, and gained 780 of his 1,245 rushing yards on those plays. He has great contact balance for his size, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and has some similarities to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who the Chiefs selected with the last pick in the first round last year. New Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur should have a schematic field day with a runner of Carter’s big-play ability and versatility.
Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (112th pick)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Speaking of depth charts… woof. Jared Goff needs good receivers more than most quarterbacks do, and Goff’s receiver room after the Lions lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in free agency led with Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and Quintez Cephus. No offense to any of those fine gentlemen, but Goff has always required at least one slot bully with a wide catch radius and the ability to create after the catch. The Lions went elsewhere in the draft until this pick, and the addition of Amon-Ra St. Brown, the brother of Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, should make Goff happy in every regard. Last season, St. Brown had just 16 slot catches on 18 targets, but he maximized those opportunities for 161 yards and two touchdowns. And while he’s not a burner, St. Brown also caught four passes of 20 or more air yards for two touchdowns. At 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds, St. Brown doesn’t project as a natural WR1, but he’s an improvement in a room full of WR3s.
Dallas Cowboys: Jabril Cox, LB, LSU (115th pick)
(Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)
The Cowboys have partied like it’s 1999 in this draft, doubling down on athletic linebackers with Penn State’s Micah Parsons, and taking Cox — the best player left on the third day on a lot of boards — with the 115th overall selection. Injuries may have caused Cox’s trip down the boards of NFL teams, but a healthy Cox perfectly fits Dallas’ preference for highly athletic, defense-defining linebackers. Cox is by no means an inside thumper, but he fits the NFL’s present paradigm at the position(s). Last season, Cox played 388 snaps in the box, 187 in the slot, 31 at cornerback, and 73 on the defensive line. Like Parsons, Cox can line up all over the place, and he’s a plus coverage defender.
Baltimore Ravens: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State (131st pick)
(Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports)
In his pre-draft press conference, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta bridled a bit at the characterization of his receiver group as mediocre. DeCosta may have stood up for his guys with a microphone in front of him, but Baltimore’s draft strategy indicates that the franchise doesn’t disagree with the idea. The Ravens took Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman with the 27th overall pick as the bigger, Keenan Allen-style wideout with outstanding route-running ability, and DeCosta’s group now doubles down with Tylan Wallace, a highly productive target who got a bit lost in this receiver group. In 2018, Wallace led all Power Five receivers with 1,491 yards, with 12 touchdowns on 86 catches. A torn ACL halted his development in 2019, but he recovered nicely last season with 59 catches for 922 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games. 16.8 yards per catch in his collegiate career, which tells you what you need to know — he’s a burner, especially when you put him inside to mitigate his issues against more aggressive cornerbacks.