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.