Will Fuller plays like Mike Wallace, and more prospect-player comparisons

Steve Palazzolo IDs five of the draft's best comparisons between a 2016 prospect and current NFL player.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

Will Fuller plays like Mike Wallace, and more prospect-player comparisons

One of the staples of draft season is the use of player comparisons. It’s often a dangerous game, as no two players are exactly alike, but comparisons often help to paint a picture of a player’s style or skill set.

And that is the real key to properly using player comps: They may never completely encapsulate a player, but they must be clear which part of their game is being compared. A stylistic comp is just as it sounds, as it compares how two players play the game. A production comp is one that we should have more of an advantage with at PFF, as we can project what a player will look like as far as on-field performance in our various areas of grading.

During our draft process, we never tried to force any comparisons — some players simply don’t remind of any specific players — but along the way, there were a number of comps that worked well from a style or production standpoint, or sometimes both.

2016 prospect: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

NFL player: Mike Wallace, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Comparison type: Style and production

Fuller is receiving first-round hype after a big-play career at Notre Dame and a 4.32 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. There’s no doubt that Fuller’s speed shows up on the field and it compares favorably to Mike Wallace’s, as both players are more than capable of scaring defensive coordinators with their ability to get behind the defense. Fuller’s 708 yards on deep passes ranked third in the nation and made up 56 percent of his season total, so that was a massive chunk of his production.

Wallace’s peak seasons as a deep threat came early in his career with the Steelers between 2009 and 2011, including a career-high 571 yards on the deep ball in 2010. But starting in 2012 there was a steep drop-off in his production, and he’s never had more than 263 yards on deep passes since 2011. The difference has partially been because of quarterback play (his more recent quarterbacks, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, do not possess the same arm strength as Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger), but a big part of Wallace’s downtick in production is a lack of downfield ball skills in contested situations. He’s still shown flashes of being able to get behind defenses, but he needs the right quarterback to get the ball out to him, as any underthrow that takes him back into the coverage is rarely caught. (See Wallace’s grades below.)

Mike Wallace

Fuller is similar in that his second gear is impressive and he will create downfield separation, but he will also need the right quarterback to get him the ball, as he’s not good at the catch point and his questionable hands (89th and 82nd in nation in drop rate the last two years) will leave a lot of big plays on the table. Both Fuller and Wallace have the speed to get behind the defense, they can create separation on the vertical route tree, and they are boom-or-bust players who need the right quarterback and system to fully maximize their skill sets.

2016 prospect: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

NFL player: Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona

Comparison type: Style and production

With both players standing in the 6-foot-7 range, this feels like a perfect comparison, but when looking at how both players succeed and Buckner’s future projections, it hits home even further. They are both good run defenders, able to shed blocks and make plays, though one distinct difference is how they handle double teams at the point of attack. Buckner can get moved off the spot by a good double, while Campbell is generally more stout, but it may be an area in which Buckner can improve with more strength.

As a pass-rusher, Campbell has had three top-five finishes among interior defensive linemen in his career, and Buckner posted the top mark in the nation in 2015. Buckner looks like a strong all-around player, particularly in the 3-4 defensive end role in which Campbell has succeeded during his career (see Campbell’s career grades below).

Calais Campbell

2016 prospect: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

NFL player: Joe Staley, OT, San Francisco 49ers

Comparison type: Production

From a scheme standpoint, Conklin is best suited to follow Staley’s career path, as the 49ers have been a power-blocking team for much of his career, and that’s where both players excel as run-blockers. Conklin posted the nation’s fourth-best run-blocking grade each of the last two years, doing so while dominating at the point of attack. Staley has been a top-10 run-blocking offensive tackle since 2011, and while he has generally shown well as a pass protector, the run game is clearly his strength.

Joe Staley


Conklin is similar in that he’s not the cleanest pass-blocker in the class (seventh in the nation last season), and he may struggle in the early going, but he should be good enough over time. Conklin’s production profile projects similar to Staley’s as a powerful run-blocker and solid pass protector once he hits his prime.

2016 prospect: Steven Daniels, LB, Boston College

NFL player: Brandon Spikes, LB, New England Patriots/Buffalo Bills

Comparison type: Style and production

Every year the NFL moves toward being more of a passing league, the Steven Daniels and Brandon Spikes of the world lose value. The run-stopping “thump” linebacker sees fewer snaps every season, but there’s still some value in the early-down run-plugger. Daniels had the highest run-stopping grade among the nation’s linebackers in 2015, doing so by attacking blocks with power to blow up plays while quickly diagnosing and getting in on a ton of run stops. He did so at a very high rate, ranking second in the draft class with a run-stop percentage of 15.3 percent.

Spikes was a similar player in the NFL, destroying offensive linemen and lead blocks at the point of attack, allowing for his teammates to clean up and make plays in the run game. Daniels and Spikes also used that same power and aggression to attack in the blitz game, where they could overpower running backs to create pressure.

Brandon Spikes


Where both players are limited is in the athleticism department. Spikes was rarely left on the field in passing situations, and Daniels also projects as an early-down option only. Still, getting 300-400 snaps of a strong run-stopping presence has middle-round value in today’s NFL, though Daniels would have been drafted much closer toward the top of the draft 10-15 years ago.

2016 prospect: A’Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, Alabama

NFL player: Cedric Thornton, DE/DT, Dallas Cowboys

Comparison type: Production

There’s plenty of first-round hype surrounding Robinson, so a comparison to Thornton may temper those expectations. But it’s important to describe Robinson’s current skill set and show just how good Thornton has been as a run-stopping 3-4 defensive end. Thornton ranked eighth among 3-4 defensive ends against the run in 2014 and third in 2013 (see Thornton’s grades below), an area in which Robinson has excelled, ranking 13th in the nation each of the last two years.

Cedric Thornton


However, Robinson has done little as a pass-rusher, and that’s where the first-round projections become risky. His pass-rush grade ranks 62nd among interior defensive linemen in the draft class alone, and that was an improvement from his work in 2014. Thornton posted one slightly positive grade in his career, and it was his rookie season in a limited sample. From a production standpoint, Robinson projects similarly as a run-stopping 3-4 defensive end with limited pass-rush potential.


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • JonLee

    “…they are boom-or-bust players who need the right quarterback and system to fully maximize their skill sets.”
    As opposed to receivers who can work with any competent QB, like Josh Doctson, or Sterling Shepard, or Michael Thomas (OSU), or Laquan Treadwell, or….

    • John

      Yes. Fuller’s specific skillset, as outlined, needs the right type of QB, not necessarily just a good one. Those other receivers are better all around.

    • wva88

      But, if he has the right QB, he can do what those WR cannot do – run past any secondary in the NFL. With the right QB, he can basically dictate what defenses cannot be used, which is an incredibly valuable commodity in making the game easier for any QB. That is a game changing ability that makes up for everything else.

      • JonLee

        This is all dependent on him playing with the right QB: not just someone with a cannon arm, but pinpoint accuracy on the deep ball. Fuller lacks the ball skills to catch even slightly inaccurate throws.
        Also, defenses have been figuring out ways to contain speed WRs ever since Bob Hayes. Unless he figures out how to run a full route tree, or has that rare Olympian track speed, Fuller’s gonna run into the same problems Ginn and Wallace have right now.

      • matt

        Fuller is just too much of a one trick pony to risk anything more then a mid to late 2nd or 3rd round pick. Players that are one dimensional like Fuller need just too many things to be just right for them to succeed. Needs a QB with not only with a strong arm but with an accurate deep ball too. Needs a true number 1 receiver across from him to be effective to stop teams from double and triple covering him.