3 sleeper WR 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 wide receiver class.
1. Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
A member of two conference all-academic teams, Carroo carried the passing component of the Scarlet Knights’ offense despite his quarterbacks recording a combined negative passing grade since 2014. While Carroo posted the third-highest yards per route run over the last two seasons (3.31) and the third-highest average depth of target in the class (12.98), he was still consistently overlooked on open routes. The all-time Rutgers TD-reception leader had a season marred by two suspensions, an ankle injury, and a hip injury. Returning to 100 percent took Carroo some time following those injuries, and have actually pushed his PFF draft projection into the early second-round. However, many draft evaluators continue to project him falling into the third-round.
Carroo used the ability to accelerate to top speed and maintain at the top of his routes to produce 100-plus yard games in 10-of-17 games over the last two season. He collected every catchable target (21) of 20 yards or more and posted the lowest drop rate (1.27 percent) in the class since 2014. Carroo averaged 92 receiving yards and a TD facing Power-5 opponents in 2015 and produced the second-highest blocking grade—thanks to proper leverage and footwork—in the class during the last two seasons. Carroo has first-round potential and could be available into the second.
[More from PFF: Top draft prospects by position from the Big 10]
2. Michael Thomas, Southern Mississippi
Thomas broke out in a big way in 2015 while in his second season removed from a Dodge City Community College transfer. That success included eight games with 100-plus receiving yards and averages of six catches, 115 yards, and 0.67 TDs when facing Power-5 opponents. We think Thomas has a chance to develop into a quality receiver at the NFL level, but many in the industry have failed to take notice. Thomas has projections ranging from the fourth to the fifth round, but he has displayed the potential for more.
After dropping seven passes in 2015, Thomas finished a two-year stretch with the 29th-lowest drop rate within the class. He also expanded his average depth of target from 9.8 yards in 2014 to 12.5 yards last season. Thomas offers the maneuverability to evade tacklers and has the strength to win on contested passes. Keep an eye on the maturation of Thomas, as he offers an impressive ceiling and could become an impact player in the NFL.
[More from PFF: Southern Miss’ Michael Thomas can develop into a top NFL WR]
3. Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins closed out 2014 with a monster season (1,749 yards and 17 TDs), but lost QB Garrett Grayson to the NFL, and was hampered by a lingering foot injury last season. Despite the injury and a QB-carousel in 2015, Higgins managed to produce the 12th-best receiving production grade in the FBS. Higgins produced positive overall grades in 23-of-24 games the last two seasons, and exceeded 100 receiving yards in 15 of those contests.
While his production is impressive, Higgins has essentially been overlooked during the NFL draft evaluation process. We see a solid early-second-round value, while the consensus projects him to fall to the end of the third round. He doesn’t offer blazing speed, but he produced the class’ top-ranked yards per route run value (4.06) during the last two seasons with crisp route-running, and can track the football with the best in the draft.
[More from PFF: Top non-Power-5 draft prospects by position]