10 draft prospects we’re higher on than most

Senior Analyst Mike Renner identifies 10 prospects our team is higher on than the general draft community.

| 3 months ago
Derek Barnett

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

10 draft prospects we’re higher on than most

Each offseason, after countless hours of tape study and data analysis, the team at Pro Football Focus identifies a number of prospects that our analysts are higher on than the general draft community. Here we highlight those players and explain why they’ve climbed up the PFF Draft Board.

1. Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee

This one should come as no surprise. We’ve been pumping Barnett as the closest thing to Myles Garrett in this class for the last couple of years. The athleticism numbers are certainly concerning, but they aren’t devastatingly prohibitive—especially considering that the former Volunteer was still well above average in the 3-cone (6.96 seconds). Barnett led the entire FBS by a good margin with 37 combined sacks and hits last season. In each of the past two seasons, he’s actually graded out higher overall than Myles Garrett. Barnett is a special talent, just without special athleticism.

2. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

Most places have Tre’Davious White as a borderline first rounder at this point. If it were up to us, he might not make it out of the top 10. White is the second-highest cornerback on our board, and the No. 12 prospect overall. He is a bit of a one-year wonder, as his 2016 tape far and away trumped the previous two seasons, but it was so good that it’s hard to see him land outside of Round 1. Last year, he allowed 26 of 61 targets for only 302 yards, intercepted two passes, and broke up 12 more.

3. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

The general consensus seems to imply that there is no slam dunk No. 1 receiver in this class. We’d contend that Davis is that guy. There’s question marks around his level of competition and the fact that he’s yet to work out, but when you push play, those concerns dissolve. He’s been a top-seven-graded receiver nationwide each of the past three seasons, with superb production against Power-5 competition, as well.

4. Nathan Gerry, S, Nebraska

In terms of production grades at the safety position in 2016, LSU’s Jamal Adams was PFF’s top safety. It may surprise that second on that list was the unheralded Nebraska safety, Nathan Gerry, who collected four interceptions and six more pass breakups. What’s even more impressive, though, is that he allowed only one completion of 20-plus yards into his coverage all season long. That reliability on the back end has considerable value in the NFL.

5. Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn

The SEC was loaded with pass-rushers this past season. In terms of pure pass-rushing grade, Lawson actually outdid Myles Garrett a season ago. His nine sacks don’t appear to be anything special, but his 69 total QB pressures paint a better picture. That mark was sixth-best in the country, and looked even more impressive when you consider those pressures came on over 150 fewer pass-rushes than the FBS leader, Hunter Dimick (Utah).

6. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

There seems to be a consensus on the top five running backs in this class to some degree. The sixth slot is up for grabs, though, and on our board, that spot is filled by Hunt. His 1,473 yards and 5.6 yards per attempt average aren’t eye-popping, but he still came out as PFF’s highest-graded running back by far in 2016. Much of that was due to his 76 broken tackles on 261 handoffs (second-most in the country) and 22 broken tackles on 41 receptions (third-most in the nation).

7. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

Off-field issues aside, Lewis’ size and speed combination is never going to make a team excited about drafting him in the first round. If ball-skills could be quantified, though, teams might rethink that stance. Over the past two seasons, Lewis has 24 total pass breakups, easily the most in the nation. That’s all the more impressive when you consider the fact he missed a good portion of his senior season. Lewis has been targeted 135 times over the past two years and has only allowed 49 receptions into his coverage.

8. Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina

It’s difficult to get too excited about a receiver with 81 catches on 144 targets over the past three seasons, but that’s exactly how we feel about Mack Hollins. Hollins turned those 81 catches into 1,667 yards for a per catch average of 20.6 yards. At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, that is ridiculous big-play ability. His speed is so easy and formidable at his size that he could develop into a terrifying deep threat.

9. Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane

As it stands, this defensive tackle class leaves a lot to be desired. There are a handful of guys in the Day 2 mix, with only “tweeners” like Jonathan Allen and Solomon Thomas getting first-round hype. One guy who we believe should be firmly in that Day 2 mix is the ultra-productive Tulane defensive tackle, Tanzel Smart. Smart was an iron man, playing 100 snaps in a game against Louisiana-Lafayette this season. Even though he rarely came off the field, Smart was still PFF’s ninth-highest-graded interior defender last season.

10. Blair Brown, LB, Ohio

Blair Brown is another non-Power-5 mid-round prospect whom we believe is more than that. Brown was the second-highest-graded off-ball linebacker in the entire country a season ago, trailing only Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Brown is not only a fantastic athlete for the position, but he’s also an unbelievably sure tackler. On 134 attempts last season, Brown missed only three tackles.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • James Winslow

    Derek Barnett is nothing compared to to Garrett and shouldn’t be picked higher than the third round.

    • Zach

      Based on what exactly?

      • James Winslow

        Based on lack of size explosiveness and strength, he reminds me too much of guys like Damontre Moore and Jarvis Jones.

    • Anthony

      Don’t try to become a scout. You won’t make it.

      • James Winslow

        He’s too small and unathletic, it’s hard to be an effective rusher in the nfl with those traits.

        • Anthony

          He’s almost the same exact size as Khalil Mack. With room to add more weight…

          • James Winslow

            Khalil mack has elite athletic traits so his size isn’t a problem. Barnett is a poor nfl athlete for his size.

          • Anthony

            Yeah don’t say he doesn’t have the traits when he ran a faster 3 cone by over a tenth, which actually has merit as a pass rusher and put up nearly the same amount of reps. Mack is a freak. Barnett is a great athlete, with all the technique to be the top pass rusher to come out of this draft. I’ll remember this comment and come back to it in 1 year. That’s all the time you’ll need to see you’re flat wrong.

          • James Winslow

            While the three cone is good, he lacks explosion in his legs and length. But we’ll see.

    • TradeBait

      One of the dumber statements made on here lately. Nothing to base it on. Everything to base DB’s superior performance on.

      • James Winslow

        You can be a good pass rusher in college if you just get off the ball quickly as the tackles have shitty foot work. In the nfl you need the physical tool’s which he lacks in all areas.

        • Zach

          But that’s not why he was productive in college, he won with his technique and his hands against tackles in the best conference in college football. He’s not going to be a Von Miler type of rusher but he’ll be Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett type

          • James Winslow

            Michael Bennett and Bosa have a huge size advantage over him, and Bosa is a much better athlete who has a ton of length. Jarvis jones was defensive player of the year in college cuz he had violent hands and technique, but his below average athleticism held him back in the nfl. Overall he could be a good player, but I believe he is most likely going to be a reserve pass rusher in the NFL.

        • insidej0b

          The same tools that Terrell Suggs lacked coming out of college. Seemed to have a decent career.

          • James Winslow

            True, but I’m not betting on him. To many guys like him have flamed out in NFL over the past years.

    • Mandax

      What a Putz….

  • Bradyn Jones

    yall are missing one of the best players in college Skylar Howard he has been looked over his whole life because hes to short look at him now bout to be in the NFL

  • shaunhan murray

    I would be interested to see how White graded out as a run defender, that oddly seems like the only true concern the NFL has of him.

    • Phil

      2014 he played just below average with a few missed tackles. 2015 was his worst year, missing a third of his tackles and graded out far below average. 2016 was his best year against the run and graded well above average.
      2014 – C-
      2015 – D+
      2016 – B

      • shaunhan murray

        Very interesting, unfortunately he is going through a domestic voilence case so he is gonna go late

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    i actually saw mel kiper mocking to the broncos carl lawson… at pick #101, lol

    • Tim Edell

      I think Lawson falls to the late 2nd or 3rd round.. very deep class of edge rushers and Combine that with his injury history and stiffness and he is definitely not a 1st round pick.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        understandable, PFF can fall in love with guys who end up going much later than they anticipate, grady jarrett instantly comes to mind

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        their recently updated big board as lawson number 14 overall btw