10 most underrated 2016 NFL draft prospects
Jeff Dooley identifies the best under-the-radar prospects in this year's draft.
10 most underrated 2016 NFL draft prospects
With the majority of big free-agent signings now complete, the eyes of NFL fans are turning toward the NFL draft, and the analysts at PFF are getting further into their draft evaluations of the top 2016 class.
Which prospects do PFF analysts like better than many other evaluators? Below we have compiled a list of players that we think should be ranked higher than they generally are right now.
Here are the top 10 most underrated NFL draft prospects for 2016:
- Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Our analysts see some Steve Smith in Coleman’s game, and have him as a possible top-10 prospect in this class as opposed to the late first-rounder or early second-rounder he’s being viewed as elsewhere. His 10 drops on 84 catchable passes is a minor red flag, but he has the deep speed to burn cornerbacks and also the ability to take a short gain and turn it into a touchdown. He ranked ninth in receiving grade in this draft class, and prior to Baylor’s second quarterback (Jarrett Stidham) going down with a season-ending injury, he led the nation in yards per route run average (eventually finishing second in the class behind TCU’s Josh Doctson).
- Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
If teams are willing to overlook Jones’ up-and-down effort during his college career, our analysts view Jones as being worth a top-15 pick. For a guy with the “questionable motor” label, he was awfully productive in our grading system. He earned the No. 1 pass-rush grade among defensive tackles in the nation, after having produced 46 total pressures including three sacks on 284 pass-rush snaps. He will be viewed as raw by some, but his combination of length and power bear some resemblance to the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson – which is why he’s a potential fit either at 4-3 defensive tackle 3-4 defensive end.
- William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Our team of analysts views Jackson as possibly the best pure cornerback prospect in this class, if you view Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey as more of a cornerback/safety/slot corner hybrid. That places him further up the PFF board than he is for many other evaluators. His 4.37 40-yard dash time at the combine turned some heads, especially given his impressive size for the position, but he was already impressing in our grading system. His coverage grade is second-highest in the class behind only Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose, and his 55.6 passer rating allowed ranks 11th-lowest.
- Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
There are a couple of reasons why Wright isn’t showing up in the first few rounds of most draft boards. For starters, he missed most of the 2015 season due to injury. He also had an underwhelming combine performance, which included a 4.90 40 time, leading some to question whether he’s anything more than a two-down player in the NFL. Our analysts share that concern, given that some coverage issues show up on his tape, but if he slips to the third round or later he could wind up being an enormous value. Wright was one of the highest-graded players in all of college football in 2014, ranking only behind TCU’s Paul Dawson (who was drafted by the Bengals last year) among linebackers. He graded positively in coverage, ranked fourth in pass-rushing and second against the run.
- Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
He isn’t being considered one of the top few wide receiver prospects in this draft class, but his production indicates that he should be. His 4.11 yards per route run average led the nation this season, and he has proven to have reliable hands (just two drops on 96 catchable passes the past two years). He is both a force with the ball in his hands (averaged 7.2 yards after the catch in 2014 and 2015 combined) and a threat to beat defenses deep (68 percent deep-ball catch rate ranked second in the nation). He was excellent during Senior Bowl week, catching seven passes (including a touchdown) on eight one-on-one practice reps. The drop-off in his play while he was injured and his modest 40 time at the combine (4.50 seconds) are concerns, but overall there’s a lot to like here.
- Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Day isn’t showing up in the first round of many mock drafts, but there’s a case for him to be selected that early based on his senior-year production. No defensive tackle in the country earned a higher grade this season than Day, a testament to his non-stop motor and quickness to disrupt the backfield on both running and passing plays. He has size limitations that will cause some teams’ concern, and he wasn’t always able to finish plays with tackles for loss and sacks, but he projects well as a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle in a four-man front. It’s also worth noting that he was effective when used as a 4-3 defensive end during Senior Bowl week, both during the game and while winning three of his four reps from that position in one-on-one pass-rush drills.
- Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
He is another guy who appears to be on the outside of the first round in many projections, but has the college numbers to warrant a selection that high. Whitehair was PFF’s top-graded offensive tackle in 2015, holding up well in pass protection (just two sacks allowed) and absolutely dominating as a run-blocker. Our analysts view him as a guard in the NFL, with the potential to fill in at tackle on occasion.
- Shilique Calhoun, DE/OLB, Michigan State
He graded just slightly above-average against the run last season, and that plus his size (6-foot-4, 251 pounds) likely has most teams viewing him as a 3-4 outside linebacker more than a 4-3 defensive end. But he was outstanding at getting after the quarterback in 2015, earning the top pass-rush grade among edge defenders and producing 78 quarterback pressures, which tied with Emmanuel Ogbah for the national lead among 4-3 defensive ends. If he slips to Day 2, he could be an excellent value pick.
- Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Shepard isn’t going to be ranked among the very best wide receiver prospects in this class based on the fact that many will view him as a slot receiver in the NFL. But his college production stands out as elite among this year’s WRs. He was PFF’s top-graded wide receiver, and while his ability to win from the slot is undeniable (best yards per route run average from the slot among Power-5 receivers), he can also make plays deep (caught 11 of 17 deep targets, including four touchdowns and zero drops). He might get docked by some for a supposed lack of size (he’s 5-10, 194 pounds) or top-end speed (he ran a 4.48 40), but seeing as how last year’s top-graded college wide receiver Tyler Lockett had a breakout rookie campaign after being drafted in the third round out of Kansas State, perhaps Shepard is worth a closer look. Bonus stat: He earned a perfect WR rating during team drills at Senior Bow practices.
- Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin
He is one of the more intriguing prospects in this class, because while he might be pegged by some as a traditional linebacker in the NFL, there are signs he could be an effective pass-rusher in the pros. He graded slightly above-average in coverage in 2015 (although it’s worth noting he struggled in limited coverage reps at Senior Bowl practices), he was very good against the run and ranked No. 1 in the nation among 3-4 OLBs in pass-rush productivity, having recorded nine sacks, 14 hits and 29 hurries. He’s a second-round talent who might slip much further than that in the draft.
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.