3 safety sleeper prospects in the 2016 draft class

Zoltán Buday identifies three under-the-radar safety prospects that could pay off as late-round picks.

| 6 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3 safety sleeper prospects in the 2016 draft class

In preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, PFF’s team of analysts has spent the past few months putting together an overall draft board, as well as positional prospect rankings.

In doing so, we have identified players at each position who qualify as “sleeper” prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards.

Here are three sleeper prospects to watch among the 2016 safety class.

1. Justin Simmons, Boston College

You might expect Simmons to be on this list because of his five interceptions in 2015; however, he earned his spot for his work against the run rather than his play in coverage. While he did have the third-most interceptions among the 2015 safety class, most of those were easy picks that you would expect every safety to make. Furthermore, he struggled in man-coverage and tried to compensate for his speed by being grabby at times.

On the other hand, Simmons was very good against the run and is an excellent tackler. He might be the best at making tackles in this safety class, which is highlighted by the fact that he missed only five tackles last year while also recording 24 defensive stops. Simmons does not make many flashy plays, but he seems to have a high floor due to his disciplined tackling and tendency to choose correct angles.

2. Jayron Kearse, Clemson

To an extent, Kearse is the complete opposite of Simmons. The former Clemson Tiger is an instinctive player who likes to take risks, which will lead to splash plays, as well as blown assignments and missed tackles. While his instincts lead him to the right spots, he often lacks the discipline and patience to find the right angle to make a play. As a result, he was easily eluded by running backs with jukes, which led to him ranking 71st in tackling efficiency on runs in this year’s safety class.

While his overall production was typically lacking, Kearse showed traits that can be used at the next level. For example, his instincts are something that cannot be coached. He is quick to recognize plays and good at reading the quarterback’s eyes, which allow him to break on routes. Although he will be a developmental player, Kearse could be well worth a fourth-round pick.

3. Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin

McEvoy is one of the most intriguing players in this year’s safety class, as he played three different positions in college: quarterback, wide receiver, and safety. Due to him splitting duties at Wisconsin, McEvoy is far from a complete safety and will probably see the field mostly on special teams in his rookie season. Even there he can be a liability due to his inconsistent tackling technique, which leads to mixed results: he finished the 2015 season with the 91st-ranked tackling efficiency among 96 safeties in this year’s class.

However, when it comes to McEvoy’s coverage ability, he might be the best in the 2016 class. Lining up as a free safety, he excels at breaking on routes and benefits from his days at wide receiver when it comes to making plays on the ball. He led draft-eligible safeties with six interceptions and did not allow a single touchdown in coverage last season. Furthermore, he finished in the top 15 in all relevant coverage statistics (targets/receptions/yards/YAC allowed, yards per cover snap, etc) in 2015. If a team has the patience to develop McEvoy, they can get a solid free safety for 2017 and beyond by spending a Day-3 pick on the former Badger.

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