When we talk about the 2012 NFL draft, we spend the majority of our time discussing the first three or four rounds. That's completely understandable considering that the first-round guys are generally expected to contribute to the team in some way immediately (I'm looking at you Andre Smith). The late-round guys, like the guys selected in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, are utilized on special teams or they provide depth and that's if they make the team in the first place.
There's a reason the NFL broadcasts the first round by itself on one night and the second and third the next night and then leaves the fourth through seventh rounds for the following day. The first three rounds are primetime television, the last four aren't watched by nearly as many fans.
However, that doesn't mean that late-round picks aren't important. Sure, a lot of them never make it in the NFL but there are more than a few diamonds in the rough and, as pointed out by SB Nation's Mocking The Draft, this year's free agency class is a great example.
MTD points out that some of this year's biggest potential free agents were late-round picks or undrafted free agents and they show the importance of finding the right players in the the late rounds of the draft. Of course, everybody knows the story of Tom Brady, but how about Steve Johnson, who just signed a five-year, $36 million deal with the Bills? He was a seventh round pick. So was Marques Colston.
If the Bengals could go back to the 2009 draft, don't you think that they would have use any one of their picks on Texans running back Arian Foster, who went undrafted that year? Another player that has been linked to the Bengals and a guy that we've all been drooling over is Carl Nicks, this year's best free agent guard, who was a fifth-round pick in 2008. And Cortland Finnegan is another guy the Bengals are likely interested in, he's a seventh rounder.
So what does this tell us? This tells us that we should put a little more stock in the guys the Bengals are grabbing in the last few rounds. It also tells us that we should give some more time to guys like safety Robert Sands, Roddrick Muckelroy, Otis Hudson and Armon Binns, who all could contribute to the team in the upcoming season.
The Bengals have had a few good drafts in a row and while Andre Smith and Rey Maualuga may have been disappointing to many fans based on where they were drafted, guys like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins outweigh the questionable picks. Hopefully the Bengals are not only able to bring in one of these late-round draft pick free agents, but they are able to make all their picks count in 2012.