Top 10 sleeper prospects for the 2016 NFL draft
It’s extremely difficult to have true draft “sleepers” today, given the full coverage of all schools and the wide net that the NFL and media can cast in order to unlock the best players in the nation.
But our down-by-down grading at PFF has highlighted a number of players that played football at a high level, yet they’re still not getting the proper hype during the process. Here’s a look at the players we think have a chance to become good players at the next level who justify being selected as early as Day 2, but can likely be had at a reasonable point in the middle of the draft or even in undrafted free agency.
1. Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State
There are a number of receivers in this class who project as good NFL players, and that depth has pushed Lucien down draft boards, making him a potentially excellent value. He has strong hands, and plenty of experience adjusting to poorly-thrown passes at Arizona State, so he can make plays even when covered. He’s effective on the outside and on shorter routes, so look for Lucien to provide an effective option in the second or third tier of wide receiver prospects.
2. Bronson Kaufusi, DE, BYU
Whether rushing the passer or playing the run as a 3-4 defensive end for BYU, Kaufusi was one of the nation’s most productive players in 2015, ranking sixth among all interior defensive linemen at +47.1. He led the way with a pass-rush productivity of 13.2, while ranking fourth in run-stop percentage at 12.1. He works non-stop, picking up clean-up pressure more than any lineman in the nation and he looks like an interior pass-rush threat at the next level as he continues to learn how to use his long frame more effectively in the running game.
3. Joe Thuney, OT, NC State
Few offensive linemen in this draft bring Thuney’s versatility, as he graded as a top-20 guard in 2014 and top-five offensive tackle last season. He is strong at the point of attack, rarely losing in the run game, while allowing only seven total pressures on 507 pass-blocking attempts all season in 2015. While Thuney doesn’t fit the mold of a tackle, and the offensive line coaches we’ve talked to don’t think he has the length to play outside, he has shown that he can play there if necessary while likely providing strong play on the interior.
4. Darius Latham, DE/DT, Indiana
The defensive line class has moved a number of quality players down the board, and Latham is quietly one of the best interior rushers in the group. He can use his hands or win with a spin move, getting inside blockers once every 21 rushes to create pressure, third-best in the class. He also has the size and frame to play in multiple schemes, so Latham deserves a look in the middle rounds as a player who can initially be a pass-rush specialist, with the hope that he eventually becomes an every-down option.
5. Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss
Few analysts are discussing Reed, but we like him a lot as a prospect who brings athleticism and scheme-diversity to the secondary. His +13.7 coverage grade ranked third among the cornerbacks in the class, as did his 14 passes defensed. He intercepted or defended over 20 percent of his targets on the year, and those ball skills put him in the second-round range on the latest PFF Draft Board. NFL teams may overlooked Reed since he’s “only” 5-foot-11, but he’s proficient in man or zone coverage and may end up as one of the steals of the draft.
6. Michael Thomas, WR, Southern Miss
We’ve highlighted Thomas a few times now, but it remains to be seen if the NFL values him highly enough to make him an early-round pick. He plays bigger than his 6-1 height on tape, making contested catches better than any of the other top receivers in the class. Thomas will also dabble with the spectacular catch, turning poor throws into productive plays. The wide receiver class features a healthy mix of skillsets and Thomas’ ball skills and upside as a route-runner should have teams eyeing him as early as the second round.
7. Isaac Seumalo, G, Oregon State
One of our favorite guards in this draft, Seumalo doesn’t wow with any crushing blocks, but he sustains well and should be a good fit for a zone-blocking scheme. As a pass protector, he surrendered only four pressures in all of 2015, and that includes three games in which he has to kick out and take on a more challenging role at left tackle for three games. As a guard, sometimes simply “not losing” is better than highlight-reel blocks, and that’s what Seumalo brings to the table in the run and pass game.
8. Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
With no invitation to the NFL Combine, VanHoose is flying under most radars, but he’s an excellent fit for a zone scheme at the next level. He can play “off” coverage, planting and driving on the ball as well as any cornerback in the class and he got his hands on 19.2 percent of his targeted passes. He’s weak against the run and less effective in man coverage, but in the right scheme, VanHoose can be a very effective player.
9. DeVante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Harris won’t reach the 6-foot threshold a number of teams seem to have, but he plays big at 5-11. He moves extremely well in coverage, with a good feel for routes in both man and zone coverage. Even against taller receivers, he’s held his own, as he’s only surrendered 15 catches on 28 targets against 6-3 or taller receivers the last two years. There’s some boom-or-bust to his game, as he’ll go all in to make plays at times, but there’s more good than bad and he’s flying under the radar heading into the draft.
10. Joe Schobert, LB, Wisconsin
Even as an undersized edge player, Schobert can have an impact at the next level. He’ll likely earn a chance to play as a traditional linebacker, but his pass-rushing ability should not be ignored. Even with a large chunk of his pressures coming unblocked, Schobert’s shoulder dip and hand usage allowed him to have plenty of success against offensive tackles (one pressure every 13 attempts, 17th in the class). He’s not your classic edge defender against the run, but his every-down production gives him a chance to succeed in the right role at the next level.