3 linebacker sleeper 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 and positional prospect rankings.
In doing so, PFF has 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 this year’s linebacker class.
1. Scooby Wright III, Arizona
It’s understandable why Wright isn’t showing up until late Day 2 or, more frequently, Day 3 on a lot of boards. He missed much of the 2015 season due to injury, and there are legitimate concerns (shared by some of our PFF analysts) as to whether he has the athleticism to hold up well enough in coverage to be a three-down NFL linebacker. The reason PFF has him higher on the board than most is because he graded off the charts in 2014, finishing that season as the highest-graded linebacker, crushing opposing running games and producing a position-high 37 total pressures, including 11 sacks, as a pass-rusher. His coverage numbers from 2014 are relatively favorable, as well. He earned a positive coverage grade overall and allowed the eighth-lowest yards per coverage snap and sixth-highest coverage snaps per reception average among linebackers. He also missed just one tackle in coverage all season long. For a team that can limit his exposure in passing situations, Wright has the potential to be a steal.
2. Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
The likely reason why Schobert isn’t higher on other draft boards has to do with questions about his NFL position fit. For teams considering the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Schobert as a traditional off-ball linebacker, there will be questions asked about whether he is athletic enough to succeed in coverage. He was relatively untested in this area at Wisconsin, allowing 20 catches on just 31 targets over the past two seasons and earning a slightly positive coverage grade in each season (in team drills at Senior Bowl practices, he earned a negative coverage grade, allowing all six of his targets to be caught). He was incredibly productive in the other two facets of defense, earning the third-best run-defense grade in the country among 3-4 outside linebackers, and ranking No. 1 in pass-rush productivity each of the past two seasons. If a team can avoid placing him in bad one-on-one matchups in coverage, and instead take advantage of his underrated abilities as a pass-rusher, Schobert could be an impact performer in the NFL.
3. Steven Daniels, Boston College
We are now three-for-three in identifying underrated linebackers who will be dropped based on potential pass-coverage issues, and Daniels is clearly the lowest-rated out of this trio. He won’t wow anyone with his size-and-speed combo (5-foot-11, 243 pounds, 4.86 40-yard dash), but he was PFF’s top-graded college linebacker this season for a reason: he was absolutely dominant against the run. Additionally, he earned a very good grade as a pass-rusher, and didn’t show up as a complete liability in coverage, either, as he allowed 19 catches on 29 targets. Even if teams only consider him a two-down player, Daniels could be a valuable pick based on where he’s showing up on many draft boards, which is later in Day 3-territory. His abilities as a run defender could make him worth taking a chance on him.