Most athletic prospects in the 2016 draft class

John Kosko IDs the most athletic prospects in the 2016 NFL draft class, and explains the PFF grades of each.

| 8 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Most athletic prospects in the 2016 draft class


Being the most athletic player on the field doesn’t make you the best football player — but there’s no question that how a player performs in his athletic testing drills at the combine and at Pro Days has a major impact on where a player gets drafted.

We took a look at the top athletes at each position, and noted how they performed in our PFF college grades and where they stack up on our draft board.

(For these prospects, we used a combination of combine and pro day workout numbers along with their movement skills on tape.)

Quarterbacks

1. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech

At 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, the former Florida and Louisiana Tech quarterback impressed with some eye-popping combine numbers: 4.56-second 40-yard-dash and 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump. While his change-of-direction skills weren’t the best, they were average and in a class lacking quarterbacks with elite athleticism, Driskel’s speed and hops are enough to put him on top. He earned the 12th-highest PFF grade among QBs in this draft class, including the 12th-best rushing grade.

2. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State

Comparisons to Cam Newton’s athleticism are blown out of proportion, but Wentz still has slightly above-average speed (4.77-second 40-yard dash) and broad jump (9-feet, 10 inches) with good change-of-direction skills (6.86-second 3-cone drill). He will make plays with his legs, but won’t force defenses to change the way they defend the position. He is our second-ranked QB prospect after Cal’s Jared Goff.

Running backs

1. Daniel Lasco, California

Lasco was flying under everyone’s radar until he blew up the combine with ridiculous numbers in broad jump (11-foot, 3 inches) and vertical jump (41.5 inches) while also impressing with a 4.46 40-yard-dash. If he can stay healthy, Lasco might surprise in the NFL. He graded very well in 2014 before injuries plagued his 2015 season.

2. Tyler Ervin, San Jose State

While Ervin didn’t run agility drills at the combine, his change-of-direction skills are evident on tape. He impressed with the drills he did perform: 4.41 40 with a 1.56 10-yard split, 39-inch vertical and 10-feet, 10-inch broad jump. Quick and shifty with tremendous explosiveness, Ervin projects as a third-down back who should never be asked to stay in pass protection. He earned the second-best receiving grade among RBs in this class.

Wide receivers

1. Josh Doctson, TCU

Doctson ranks very highly for us, based on his college production (No. 3 grade among WRs in this class), but he was somewhat flying under the radar until he put up these numbers at the combine: 41-inch vertical, 10-feet-11-inch broad jump, 4.08-second short shuttle, 4.50 40-yard-dash, and 6.84 3-cone. Combine that with his body control from Trevone Boykin’s wayward passes, and you have yourself an athletic freak.

2. Corey Coleman, Baylor

Coleman is right up there with Doctson in terms of athleticism. He plays larger than his height (5-foot-11), and his highlight reel is making defensive backs look like they’re running through mud.  He backed up his tape with impressive numbers from his pro day and combine, running a reported sub-4.4 40 at his pro day to go along with a 40.5-inch vertical and 10-feet-9-inch broad jump. His yards per route run average in 2015 was higher than what Oakland’s Amari Cooper produced in 2014.

Tight ends

1. Jerell Adams, South Carolina

Adams didn’t grade well as a receiver last season (South Carolina’s QB situation didn’t help), but he impressed as a run-blocker. His athleticism will intrigue, as there aren’t many tight ends who can run a 4.64 40-yard-dash and post better 3-cone and short shuttle times than several skill players, including former Alabama RB Derrick Henry. His 10 forced missed tackles were tied for the most among TEs in this class.

2. Beau Sandland, Montana State

Sandland doesn’t get much publicity, but his combine numbers can’t be ignored: 35-inch-vertical, 10-feet-4-inch broad jump, and 4.74 40-yard-dash. He has similar short-area quickness as Adams, and will be drafted purely on his athleticism.

Offensive tackles

1. Jason Spriggs, Indiana

Spriggs is touted for his athleticism, and he didn’t disappoint at the combine, putting up some of the best numbers ever for the position: 4.94 40-yard-dash, 4.44 short shuttle, 9-feet-7-inch broad jump and 31 reps on bench. We have a second-round grade on Spriggs, as he graded out as just the 16th-best tackle in 2015.

2. Joe Thuney, NC State

Thuney is another tackle we have a second-round grade on (he ranked fourth among tackles last season, and is higher on the PFF draft board than most), and while there is a debate to whether he will be a guard or tackle at the next level, there is no doubting his athleticism: 4.95 40-yard-dash, 9-feet-2-inch broad jump, and 4.54 short shuttle. His numbers aren’t quite on Spriggs’ level, but still very impressive.

Guards

1. Connor McGovern, Missouri

Full disclosure here: McGovern grades out as a Day 3 prospect for PFF. He graded as the 44th guard in the 2016 draft class. That being said, guards don’t do 33 reps on bench, run 7.50 3-cone, and 4.65 short shuttle without being athletic.

2. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

Whitehair dominated at OT the past two years, earning the No. 1 grade at the position last season, but his size and frame project him to move to guard at the next level. While he lacked in the bench reps, Whitehair moved well, running a 5.02 40-yard-dash, 4.58 short shuttle, and 7.32 3-cone.  Whitehair might struggle with NFL interior defenders initially, but his quick hands and footwork will ease his transition.

Centers

1. Joey Hunt, TCU

Hunt is undersized for the position, but his movement skills in pass protection and in zone blocking are impressive. He will likely be limited to those outside zone scheme teams as his strength is a question. He earned the fourth-best grade among centers in this year’s class.

2. Ryan Kelly, Alabama

Kelly didn’t wow in any single drill at the combine, but he performed well in all of them. Kelly was solid in bench (26 reps), impressive with short-area quickness (1.75 10-yard-split, 7.58 3-cone, and 4.59 short shuttle). Kelly understands how to leverage defenders, and is extremely active with his hands and feet in the run game.

Defensive interior

1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon

Buckner is an absolute freak athlete, so his topping this list is no shocker. He dominated everyone he faced in college, whether he used his tremendous length, strength, power, quick hands or explosiveness. Consider these numbers for a player Buckner’s size (6-7, 293): 7.51 3-cone, 4.47 short shuttle, 1.77 10-yard split. Buckner will be considered for the top pick in the draft, and he was by far the top-graded interior defensive lineman in the nation last season.

2. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville

Some would say Rankins is undersized, but no one is complaining about Aaron Donald’s size after what he has done his first two seasons. While I’m not comparing the two other than their size, Rankins shows good athleticism with 1.73 10 yard split, 9-feet-10-inch broad jump and 34.5-inch vertical. In 2014, Rankins graded out even higher than Buckner, and was second only to Henry Anderson, who had a promising rookie season with the Colts cut short due to injury.

Edge defenders

1. Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Tapper seems to be flying under the radar, even after impressing at the combine. When an edge defender runs 4.59 40 with a 1.59 10-yard split, jumping 34 inches in the vertical and 9-feet-11-inches in the broad jump, you’d think he would get more publicity. Tapper graded well for PFF in 2015, and warrants a mid- to late-round pick.

2. Joey Bosa, Ohio State

Despite the public perception that Bosa had a bad combine, Bosa wasn’t expected to blow away the competition in measurables. Perhaps because he is unfairly being compared to generational talents like J.J. Watt, Bosa was never going to be good enough in the eyes of many. The truth is Bosa performed well, running 1.65 10-yard split, 6.89 3-cone, and 4.21 short shuttle. His 10-feet-1-inch broad jump and 28 reps in bench at his Pro Day also highlight his strength and explosion. Bosa dominated at Ohio State, ranking as PFF’s top-graded edge defender two years in a row, and there is no reason to believe he won’t be very productive as a pro.

Linebackers

1. Myles Jack, UCLA

Take a look at the last gif in this article on Jack by senior analyst Sam Monson. Need I say more about this Jack’s athleticism? While still not 100 percent, he jumped 40 inches in the vertical and 10-feet-4-inches in broad jump at his pro day. He graded well in all facets of the game during his 2014 season.

2. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

It’s unfortunate that Smith suffered such a serious knee injury in his final collegiate game, because Smith is another special athlete at the linebacker position. Quick to react, smooth-moving and powerful, Smith will be productive at the next level if he can recover from his injury — he earned the sixth-best grade among LBs in this class.

Cornerbacks

1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

Ramsey is another special athlete in this draft class with the combine numbers to back it up: 4.41 40 with 1.51 10 yard split, 41.5-inch vertical, and 11-feet-3-inch broad jump. The only concern is his change-of-direction ability, but he makes up for that with his instincts and smarts. No cornerback in this draft class earned a higher grade in 2015.

2. William Jackson III, Houston

Jackson impresses with elite speed (4.37 40 with 1.52 10-yard split) and solid change-of-direction skills (6.86 3-cone). Jackson played in a weaker conference, and that might concern some, but he has the athleticism to overcome the leap to the NFL better than most. His coverage grade was second-best in this year’s class.

Safety

1. Justin Simmons, Boston College

The safety position has been weak in recent years, and this class doesn’t do anything to buck that trend. Simmons doesn’t have top-end speed, but is elite almost everywhere else: 3.85 short shuttle, 6.58 3-cone, 1.56 10 yard split, 40-inch vertical, and 10-feet-6-inch broad jump. His short area quickness is arguably the best of any position in this draft class. He graded out as the seventh-best safety in 2015.

2. Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State

Byard doesn’t have combine or pro day numbers to report, but what he shows on tape is worthy of this spot. His range and ability to break up passes deep are impressive. He shows both short-area quickness and top-end speed, including catching Alabama running back Kenyan Drake — one of the fastest players in this draft — from behind to save a touchdown. Byard put up solid grades in coverage and against the run in 2015.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • Al Fonso Capone

    Not sure how you can leave out Robert Nkidechme. Dude is 294 lb’s and ran a 4.87 and jumped 35.5

  • zinn21 zinn21

    I know Jack is a great athlete but he is coming off a major knee injury. I don’t draft a knee in the first round..

    • lewk

      Yeah, both linebackers have major injury question marks.

  • Steve

    FWIW, DeForest Buckner didn’t dominate Jack Conklin.

  • Craig W.

    Jalen Ramsey is the best athlete hands down. This dude is a natural.