Top 10 buyer-beware prospects from the 2016 draft class
Jeff Dooley takes a look at 10 prospects who are projected to be drafted higher than PFF data would indicate is wise.
Top 10 buyer-beware prospects from the 2016 draft class
The final PFF draft board for 2016 is now complete, allowing you to see where our team of analysts placed all the top prospects in this year’s class.
As you’ll likely notice, many players that are higher on other analysts’ draft boards fall much lower on PFF’s board; to put it simply, those lofty projections give us cause for concern, based on the data available to us.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 buyer-beware prospects for the class of 2016:
1. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Our analysts were impressed as anyone else with Lee’s highlight-reel plays for the Buckeyes, and they realize he was asked to do a lot in their defensive scheme. But for a linebacker whose game is built upon speed and coverage ability, he didn’t grade out well in that area, ranking 74th in this year’s linebacker class with a slightly negative grade. He also allowed the 12th-highest yards per coverage snap average and posted the fourth-worst tackling efficiency on passing plays, having missed seven tackles after the catch. Lee earned the fourth-worst run-stop percentage in the class, confirmation of the fact that he can have trouble holding up against the rushing attack. The former Buckeye is worthy of consideration on Day 2, but as a first-round pick, he represents a big risk.
2. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Fuller’s 40-yard dash time of 4.32 seconds has him as a likely first-round pick, and that track speed is backed up by the fact that he ranked No. 1 in the nation last season in deep-ball catch rate, hauling in 59 percent of throws that traveled 20 or more yards downfield. However, the problem with drafting him in Round 1 as a team’s potential top receiver is that his game is rather limited outside of his deep-threat ability and the other pass patterns on the vertical route tree—go-routes and hitches made up 38 percent of his patterns, with WR screens making up an additional 15 percent. He earned the 41st-highest receiving grade in this year’s draft class, and he struggled in contested-catch situations and with his ball skills in general, as his 14 percent drop rate ranks third-worst in this receiver class. If he were to go to a team like Pittsburgh with a big-armed QB in Ben Roethlisberger and a do-it-all No. 1 receiver in Antonio Brown, Fuller might provide the value of a first-rounder, purely based on his ability to stretch the defense—but if not, he belongs somewhere on Day 2.
3. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
There are off-field concerns with Nkemdiche, who missed the Rebels’ bowl win over Oklahoma State due to a marijuana suspension, but our analysts have some concerns about his on-field game as well. He ranks all the way down at No. 47 in run-defense grade among interior D-lineman, something that was backed up by what our analysts saw on tape; too often he was overtaken by double teams, or he took himself out of plays by selling out to go after the quarterback. He was certainly effective as a pass-rusher, and in the right situation, he could warrant a first-round pick—possibly a team like Seattle could use him in an exclusively pass-rushing role during his rookie season. But even in that area, he wasn’t as productive as fellow interior linemen Chris Jones of Mississippi State and Sheldon Day of Notre Dame, which is why taking him before the early second round represents an on-field risk.
4. Artie Burns, CB, Miami (Fla.)
Burns has a size-and-speed combination that could entice a team into taking him as early as the first round: 6-feet tall, 4.46 40-yard dash time. But his production didn’t match what you’d expect from a corner with that physical ability; he ranked just 42nd in coverage grade among this year’s cornerback class, and earned a negative grade overall in large part due to his bad habit for committing penalties. In fact, no corner in this class earned a worse penalty grade than Burns last season. Any team that drafts him in the latter part of the first round will be taking a gamble.
5. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell is similar to Fuller as a receiver who does enough well to be a good No. 2 receiver, but doesn’t profile as a No. 1 WR—which is what a team would likely expect from him if it drafts him in the first half of Round 1. He is effective at separating from underneath coverage and at making contested catches, but struggles to do so on deep routes—he ranked just 31st in this year’s WR class in yards gained on throws of 20-plus yards. His yards per route run average of 2.42 ranked just 29th in the class, well below the top WR prospects of this year’s and last year’s drafts—further indication that while he might be able to excel as a possession receiver in the NFL, he is unlikely to shine as a team’s top target.
[More from PFF: Why Laquon Treadwell is not a top WR prospect]
6. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg has gotten some buzz recently as a possible first-round pick of the Broncos at No. 31 overall, a draft position that would not be supported by our PFF analysts’ evaluation of him. He ranked 41st of 45 draft-eligible quarterback prospects in PFF grades in 2015.
7. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller had his 2015 season cut very short due to a knee injury, but has been discussed as one of the higher-ranked cornerback prospects in this class on the basis of his 2014 season. The problem our analysts see there is that Fuller ranked just 79th in cornerback grades that year, and he has shown a bad tendency of getting burned for big plays. He is a potential risk as an early Day-2 pick, where he is being projected.
8. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Decker has made it into the first round of many mock drafts, but our analysts don’t view him as being worth a first-round pick. He excelled as a run-blocker for the Buckeyes, but pass protection was an issue—he ranked 37th in pass-blocking grades among this year’s tackle class in 2015, and allowed 15 total QB pressures, including two sacks. Any team that selects him needs to do so knowing that his ability to hold up in pass protection is a question mark.
9. Deion Jones, LB, LSU
Jones is an excellent athlete, which is why he is being considered a likely mid-round pick, but his college production simply doesn’t warrant a selection that high. He graded positively as a pass-rusher, but was awful in coverage and as a run defender, missing 12 tackles to earn the fourth-worst tackling efficiency among LBs. His overall grade ranked 130th among 145 qualifying players.
10. T.J. Green, S, Clemson
Green is similar to Jones in that he has tremendous athletic ability, which makes him an intriguing NFL prospect, but he didn’t produce at a high level in college. He earned the 14th-best run-defense grade among this year’s draft-eligible safeties, but dead-last—120th out of 120—in coverage grade. Even if a team is viewing him in largely a run-stopping safety role, that is a major red flag.
Jeff Dooley | Editor-in-Chief
Jeff is the Editor-in-Chief of PFF, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post's NFL coverage. He previously worked as the editor for ESPN Insider's NFL, Fantasy, and College Football coverage.