As difficult as it may be to believe, the 2013 NFL draft is just days away. With minimal time remaining to evaluate prospects, NFL general managers are completing their final analyses and making decisions upon which players they will commit to.
While the stars are known already, which of the borderline first-round prospects possess instant impact value?
Many players selected during the NFL draft will be viewed as project players, as their long-term potential is seen as more valuable than their current contributions. These players are usually athletically gifted but lack the necessary fundamentals to step in to an immediate role.
In that same breath, there are late-round prospects who appear to have honed their fundamentals but may lack the talent to warrant an early selection.
Fortunately for those skeptical general managers, there are promising late first-round draft prospects worth buying into. Whether their fundamentals are polished or their physical gifts are too intriguing to pass up on, these are players with abilities that surpass their current hype.
So which players could go late in the first round and become instant impact rookies?
Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International Panthers
Jonathan Cyprien, the strong safety from Florida International, continues his meteoric rise up draft boards. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN Insider now has Cyprien going 32nd to the Baltimore Ravens, while Todd McShay of ESPN Insider has him at No. 31 to the San Francisco 49ers.
Regardless of where he goes, Cyprien is more than capable of starting from the opening snap of the 2013 NFL regular season.
Cyprien has quality size at 6'0" and 217 pounds, which enables his physical style of play. Cyprien is a hard-hitting strong safety that makes plays on the ball and displays great range when covering the pass.
While he has strides to make in man-to-man coverage, Cyprien could be a high-quality player in a zone setting.
Cyprien has also improved throughout his four-year career at defending the run, as he's strong enough to make plays on power and change-of-direction backs. This bodes well for Cyprien in an NFL which now thrives on having a mix of bruising and field-spacing runners.
Regardless of where he ends up, Cyprien should be a very high quality rookie.
Robert Woods, WR, USC Trojans
After Marqise Lee put on his second consecutive masterpiece at wide receiver for the USC Trojans, the casual observer allowed Robert Woods to get lost in the hype. The truth of the matter is, Woods is an every-down receiver who's as skilled as any at moving the chains.
Expect scouts to take note of that truth.
Woods is an excellent route runner that can go deep or step up as a possession receiver on shorter designs. Although he lacks elite height, Woods is a strong player that knows how to break off of the line of scrimmage.
An ideal fit would be the Houston Texans, where Andre Johnson is in dire need of a reliable No. 2 option to alleviate the defensive pressure.
Even if Woods were to fall out of the first round, he'd be able to step in during his first year in the NFL. Although drops have been an issue at times, Woods has generally reliable hands.
Due to his versatility, Woods can be either an every-down or third-down receiver from the opening snap.
Matt Elam, SS, Florida Gators
Much like Jonathan Cyprien, Florida Gators strong safety Matt Elam is a physical player with mountains of upside. Although size could be an issue at 5'10", Elam plays bigger than his body, which his 208-pound frame permits.
In the right system, Elam could be a first-year starter.
Elam is a strong enough athlete to defend slot receivers, which instantly improves his value in today's NFL. It's no secret that slot receivers are at a premium, which could spark a contender's interest in landing Elam to slow them down.
With disruptive hands and explosive recovery speed, Elam can also make a difference downfield.
Elam will need to answer questions about his motor while on the field, but the ability is clearly there. He played in a reputable SEC defense at Florida and was a standout performer, which proves such a belief.
Assuming he goes at the end of the first round, Elam could see consistent playing time for a contender and make a genuinely powerful impact.
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State Seminoles
Is anyone gaining as much steam heading up to the NFL draft as Tank Carradine of the Florida State Seminoles? You'd be hard-pressed to find a player who surpasses his level of improvement in draft stock.
According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Carradine ran a 4.70 40-yard dash just 135 days after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.
Joe Reedy @joereedy
135 days post knee surgery, FSU defensive end Tank Carradine runs a 4.75 in the 40 during a workout for teams4/20/2013, 6:43:00 PM
As one might imagine, that has scouts buzzing.
Carradine has top-10 ability, but the fact that he's coming off a severe injury clearly puts red flags all over his resume. After shining at his pro day, however, Carradine could quiet the skeptics enough to sneak into the first round.
If he does, you're looking at a potentially elite pass-rusher.