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Cover 3: Sleeper picks to watch in 2021 (and beyond)


Players drafted in the first and second rounds are typically expected to produce right away. But what about the long game? The crew discusses which mid-to-late round picks could play a significant role on the roster down the road in this week's edition of Cover 3.

John Schmeelk: Elerson Smith has elite athleticism, which gives him a chance to be an impact pass rusher in the NFL. So let's focus on Aaron Robinson. Even though he was primarily a nickel corner at UCF, he has the size (5-11) and physicality to eventually play inside and outside. He also has the mentality to be the type of press-man cornerback many teams around the league covet. Given his well-rounded game and ability, it would not be surprising if he was a full-time starter by the end of his rookie contract.

Dan Salomone: People often talk about the importance of surrounding quarterbacks with the right people and how they could benefit from taking a year (or more) to learn behind a veteran. The same can be said for cornerbacks, which is right there after quarterback in terms of the toughest positions to play as a rookie. Thus, Aaron Robinson, a third-round pick out of UCF, walks into an ideal situation for his long-term growth.

With veterans like James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Adoree' Jackson, and Jabrill Peppers in the defensive backs room, Robinson will have the opportunity to learn the ropes without the Giants needing to throw him in the deep end right away. With that said, Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge won't just give away roster spots as placeholders. Robinson, like the rest of the draft class, will be expected to contribute. And in today's NFL, you can never have too many cornerbacks.

"He gives us more perimeter muscle, and he's also got that flexibility to play the nickel and play the star," Gettleman said of Robinson's versatiliity. "We think he's a great fit, obviously, because we traded up. … We think he's a great fit for our defense and our back end and we feel like you can never have too many assets back there because players come and go; you have injuries. People will say it's a passing league and it is to a degree. And the other thing that we really liked about Aaron is you do the studies, you do the analytics -- I do do it, people -- and the best defenses have the best tackling secondaries, and Aaron Robinson is a really good tackling corner."

Lance Medow: Fourth-round pick Elerson Smith of Northern Iowa didn't play in 2020 because his Fall season was postponed due to the coronavirus. He was only a one-year starter in college, red-shirted in 2016 and was a rotational player in 2017-18 before playing a more significant role in 2019, when he led the Missouri Valley Conference in sacks (14), tackles for loss (21.5) and forced fumbles (5). Smith also completely transformed his body since leaving high school, adding 60 pounds while moving from tight end to edge rusher.

When you take all those factors into consideration and his 6-6 frame, there's a lot of upside and intrigue surrounding Smith. At the same time, you could argue he's still raw and developing as a pass rusher. That means his true value may not present itself until several seasons down the road. Based on where he's at in terms of his development and the other players on the roster at his position, Smith will likely contribute on special teams and serve as a rotational pass rusher during his rookie campaign before growing into a larger role on defense.

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