Top 10 impact sleeper picks from the 2016 NFL draft
Now that the 2016 NFL draft is over, we get a chance to look back over the picks and highlight the lesser-known picks that could end up having a major impact for their teams down the line. Here are the top 10 sleeper picks from Day 3:
1. Kalan Reed, CB, Tennessee Titans
Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick of the entire draft at No. 253 overall, was arguably the biggest steal in the entire draft. The No. 54 player on our big board, the Southern Miss cornerback had the third-highest coverage grade among all CBs in this draft class. He allowed just 48.3 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, coming away with four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2015. He has a real chance to make a big impression in Tennessee, and become one of the most relevant Mr. Irrelevants in recent memory.
2. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Many believed that Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was a great fit for the Ravens in the first round of the draft, but after he went before they even had a chance to consider him, they were able to grab the best receiving running back in this class in the fourth round. Dixon was dynamic out of the backfield for Louisiana Tech in 2015, leading the RB class in receiving grade and forcing 16 missed tackles on 35 receptions, the best mark in the class. He ranked No. 2 in elusive rating, PFF’s measure of a back’s ability to generate yards on his own, among this year’s RBs.
3. Mike Thomas, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Thomas likely fell in the draft due to average measurables and the fact that he played against a lower level of competition at Southern Miss. But he had the 11th highest receiving grade in this draft class, and flashed the kind of ability at times that leads you to believe he has a chance to develop into a very special player. His 2.98 yards per route run average was the fifth-best mark of any receiver in this draft class. His second-highest game grade of the year came against Washington in the bowl game, which should at least somewhat dampen fears about the level of competition he faced. He’s a potential steal for the Rams, which currently doesn’t have the strongest offensive supporting cast around new QB Jared Goff.
4. Rashard Higgins, WR, Cleveland Browns
The NFL draft is often a fascinating case study over the debate between measurables and on-field production, and Higgins is clearly a player who fell due to below-average measurables. While they are a concern, to get him in the fifth round, as the Browns did, is a gamble worth taking. Consider this: Two wide receivers had a higher overall PFF grade than Alabama’s Amari Cooper in 2014. One was Tyler Lockett, who had an impressive rookie year for the Seattle Seahawks. The other was Higgins. And while his grade slipped a little in 2015, he still had the sixth-highest receiving grade in this class this past season, and forced 31 missed tackles over the past two years.
5. Kyle Murphy, OT, Green Bay Packers
We had a third-round grade on Murphy, and the Packers grabbed him all the way down at pick 200 in the sixth round. That’s great value for a player who had the seventh-highest grade of any offensive tackle in this draft class. Murphy is apparently prepared and ready to play any spot on the Packers’ offensive line, but at tackle last season he had the 14th-highest grade in the class as a pass-blocker, allowing just three sacks, three hits and seven hurries, while churning out the seventh-highest grade as a run blocker.
6. Christian Westerman, G, Cincinnati Bengals
We had a third-round grade on the former Arizona State Sun Devil, and the Bengals got him at pick 161 in the fifth-round. Tied for the 16th-highest grade among guards in this draft class, he was better as a pass-blocker than a run blocker. In pass protection he had the eighth-highest grade in the class, allowing just one sack, five hits and nine hurries in 2015. He put together a pair of solid seasons for the Sun Devils, grading positively both as a pass blocker and a run blocker in 2014 and 2015.
7. Scooby Wright III, LB, Cleveland Browns
Measurables, measurables, measurables. Wright ran an official 4.90-second 40-yard dash time at Indianapolis during the combine, and that coupled with concerns about his ability to cover at an NFL level saw him drop all the way to Round 7. Here are the cold hard facts about Wright’s play on the field at Arizona, however: In 2014, the only linebacker to grade higher against the run was Paul Dawson, then of TCU and now of the Cincinnati Bengals. Wright graded positively in coverage that year too, and had tremendous production as a pass-rusher with 14 sacks, seven hits and 27 hurries. Hurt for most of 2015, he has a shot to make a big impression in Cleveland.
8. Sheldon Day, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars
Day is a great fit on the Jaguars’ defensive line as a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle, but he also moved around a bit for the Fighting Irish in 2015, spending 106 snaps lined up outside the offensive tackle, including 45 of those standing up — indicating he could be able to contribute some as an edge rusher for Jacksonville. He finished the 2015 season with the second-highest grade among players on the defensive interior, with only Oregon’s DeForest Buckner earning a higher grade than Day’s +60.0. The concern with Day, in addition to the fact that he doesn’t have ideal measurables, is that he doesn’t finish plays often enough, but along with four sacks, he added nine hits and 33 hurries last season. He’s a fourth-round steal.
9. Daniel Braverman, WR, Chicago Bears
If you’re looking for a slot superstar in this class, Braverman is your guy. He had the highest yards per route run average from the slot in this draft class at 3.27, racking up 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns from the slot. He has reliable hands, having dropped just seven of the 113 catchable passes thrown his way when lined up in the slot, and has a real chance to make an impact on that Bears offense as a rookie. Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick.
10. Andrew Billings, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
Did the belief that he isn’t more than a two-down player cause Billings, the No. 22 player on our board, to fall this past weekend, or was it concerns about his knees? Either way, it allowed the Bengals to draft a perfect long-term replacement for nose tackle Domata Peko in the fourth round. Billings had the 14th-highest overall grade of any player on the defensive interior in this draft class, and had the eighth-highest grade against the run. A perfect fit at nose tackle, he should be an upgrade over Peko, who has graded negatively in each of the past eight seasons.