Top NFL prospects by position outside of the Power-5
Here at PFF, we’ve watched and analyzed every player in every FBS game on every play — and that includes players outside of the Power-5 conferences. Today we’re taking a look at the list of top prospects from non-Power-5 schools, so you’ll be familiar with every name that’s called during the 2016 NFL draft. While only a few of these players will hear their name on Day 1, the list also provides intriguing options for teams on Day 2 and beyond.
- Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Wentz is one of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft class, let alone outside of the Power-5. He is expected to be either the first or second quarterback off the board, which has a lot to do with his impressive — though not complete — senior season. The North Dakota State quarterback finished with the ninth-highest grade among senior quarterbacks (+29.2), despite having the eighth-fewest dropbacks amongst his peers. While he impressed mostly from the pocket, Wentz was effective even when it came to beating defenses with his legs, earning himself a grade of +4.9 in that facet of the game.
- Paxton Lynch, Memphis
After playing very well week in, week out in the first half of the season, Lynch’s performance tailed off in the last couple games. He actually saved the worst for last as his -3.3 grade against Auburn was the lowest he recorded since Week 5 of the 2014 season. Despite his late-season struggles, Lynch was still the fifth most accurate quarterback in this draft class. When considering dropped passes and throwaways, Lynch finished with an accuracy percentage of 77.1 percent in 2015.
- Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Dixon was one of the most elusive backs in the country and recorded the second-highest elusive rating amongst running backs in this year’s class with 99.2. He led the class with 16 missed tackles forced on receptions, and was very effective as a runner, too. He averaged 3.27 yards after contact on the ground, which is good for 11th in this class. In addition, he forced 54 missed tackles on running plays, which is tied with Ezekiel Elliott, although Dixon reached the mark with 94 less attempts. While the level of competition is obviously a concern, Dixon combined to force 16 missed tackles against Oklahoma and Northwestern in 2014.
- Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins was our second-highest graded wide receiver in 2014, second only to Tyler Lockett and just ahead of Amari Cooper. If his company on that list is any indication, he can be one of the biggest steals of Day 2. While he took a step back in 2015, it was mostly because Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson left to the NFL in 2014. However, Higgins still finished third in yards per route run in this year’s draft class behind Josh Doctson and Corey Coleman with 3.45 yards. Although Higgins’ overall production decreased in 2015, he did improve in one facet of the game: he was able to decrease his drop rate from 7.69 (eight drops) in 2014 to 3.85 (three drops) in 2015.
- Michael Thomas, Southern Miss
While Thomas was just an average guy in 2014 with 41 receptions and five touchdowns, he took a large step forward in 2015 as he was tied for fifth in the country with 14 touchdowns. Thomas’ big-play ability is shown by the fact that he was 13th in the nation and sixth in this draft class with 19.6 yards per reception. In addition, he finished with the fifth-highest yards per route run in this year’s draft class with 2.98 yards.
- Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa
Analysts often wonder how a prospect’s body will hold up in the longer NFL season. However, that is not an issue for Garrett who played more snaps in 13 games than any wide receiver not named DeAndre Hopkins did in the NFL’s regular season in 2015. This is also reflected by his production as Garrett had the second most targets in this year’s draft class with 161. These numbers will skew the data slightly, however, Garrett flashed elusiveness as he forced 21 missed tackles in 2015, the third most in this year’s class. He also demonstrated his sure hands by dropping only 3 of his 99 catchable targets.
- Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Braverman is expected to be the second slot receiver selected after Sterling Shepard. He ran 96.1 percent of his routes from the slot at Western Michigan and led the nation with 13 touchdowns and 3.27 yards per route run from the slot. One concern for Braverman may be the seven passes he dropped, which result in him ranked 19th in this year’s class with a drop rate of 6.19.
- Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
If you had to identify a modern, pass-catching tight end in this year’s class, Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee would probably come to your mind first. Higbee finished the 2015 season with the second-highest yards per route run amongst draft eligible tight ends with 2.30 yards. In addition, he had the best catch rate from the slot in this year’s class as he caught 81 percent of his targets when lining up there. While Higbee has sure hands, he is also adequate in run blocking and surrendered zero pressures on 50 pass block snaps last year.
- Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
While Spence had troubles off the field and therefore did not finish his collegiate career in the FBS, he did dominate against the competition he faced. In addition, when he had the chance, he impressed against FBS opponents with the six quarterback hurries and one sack he recorded against Kentucky in Week 5. He proved his value in the Senior Bowl yet again. He finished with the most pressures in that game and earned the highest pass rush grade amongst edge rushers on the South team. Spence showed that he is an effective pass rusher and is not a liability against the run either; however, his off-field issues still represent a red flag for teams.
- Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Fackrell is one of the most underrated edge rushers in this year’s draft despite the kind of season he had in 2015. A large reason for this may be the fact that he only recorded four sacks, which may be used by many to evaluate pass rushers. However, Fackrell also recorded 12 quarterback hits and 29 hurries. Consequently, the former Aggie was effective in generating pressure, but failed to finish most of these plays. While he dropped back into coverage 192 times in 2015, he is at his best when rushing the passer.
- Kamalei Correa, Boise State
Correa put together two very similar seasons for the Broncos in 2014 and 2015. He played a situational role for Boise State as he was on the field for 72.9 percent of the snaps in 2014 and the figure even decreased in 2015 to 71.1 percent. Since he was average against the run, Correa was on the field for more pass plays than run plays. However, this was not only because of his work as a pass rusher. Despite being a 4-3 defensive end, Correa dropped back into coverage fairly often, especially in 2014, and when he did so, he was one of the better edge defenders in this role in the nation.
- Will Anthony, Navy
Although Anthony was our fifth-highest graded interior defender in 2015, he projects to be an edge defender at the next level due to his size. The transition should not necessarily cause issues as he consistently proved that he has the speed to beat offensive tackles to the outside. While he probably does not have the speed to become an elite pass rusher at the next level, his strength will help him become a force against the run. His 41 total pressures and 30 run stops were both the fifth most amongst 3-4 defensive ends in this draft class.
- Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Butler has been one of the best defensive tackles against the run over the past two seasons and took a big step forward in rushing the passer in 2015. He recorded the eighth-highest run stop percentage amongst draft eligible defensive tackles with 9.2 percent. While his pass rushing productivity increased from 3.1 in 2014 to 7.5 in 2015, there is still room for improvement for Butler in this facet of the game. Although he recorded 39 total pressures, he finished only 11 of those plays, resulting in two sacks and nine quarterback hits.
- Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
Kaufusi is one of the best interior defenders in this year’s class when it comes to rushing the passer. His 10 sacks were second to only DeForest Buckner in 2015 and he recorded an additional 14 hits and 34 hurries. Although he finished with 57 total pressures compared to Buckner’s 67, he only had 344 snaps to rush the passer to Buckner’s 531. As a result, Kaufusi finished with the best pass rushing productivity amongst draft-eligible 3-4 defensive ends. His work against the run is highlighted by his run stop percentage of 12.1, good for second in the nation. However, his 10 missed tackles were tied for the most at his position and can cause concerns for teams.
- Matt Ioannidis, Temple
While Ioannidis has been only average against the run, he really stood out with his work in rushing the passer. He finished with the fourth-highest pass rush grade amongst defensive tackles and nose tackles in this year’s draft class. He finished the season with four sacks, 10 hits and 19 hurries while he also batted down three passes. However, his run stop percentage of 7.3 was tied for only 35th amongst his peers, which probably leads to him becoming a situational pass rusher in the NFL initially.
- Ronald Blair, Appalachian State
Despite playing fewer snaps than most of the elite interior defenders, Blair led the nation in the number of defensive stops recorded with 50. Out of these, 40 came on run plays, which led to Blair having the highest run stop percentage in college football with 13.8. However, Blair has not been a one-trick pony either. He recorded 37 total pressures and had a pass rushing productivity of 10.2, which was sixth amongst 3-4 defensive ends, just ahead of DeForest Buckner.
- William Jackson III, Houston
Jackson’s draft stock has gradually risen since the end of the season and by now he is projected to be selected in the first round of the draft. Although Jackson did allow 666 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, he also recorded five interceptions and an additional 13 pass defenses as a result of his aggressive style. The fact that he was the fourth-most targeted cornerback in the nation also put the amount of yards he allowed into perspective. While he finished the season with the third-highest grade in coverage among cornerbacks, he did not disappoint against the run either.
- Kalan Reed, Southern Miss
Although quarterbacks targeted Reed 89 times in 2015, he only gave up 495 yards and three touchdowns. Furthermore, he had the fourth-most pass defenses in college football with 14 and he also recorded four interceptions. The (NFL) passer rating of 58.0 that he allowed was the 15th-lowest in this draft class. The fact that he graded negatively against the run may be a concern, as well as the nine tackles he missed last season.
- Tavon Young, Temple
After putting together a really impressive junior season, Young had a very pedestrian senior campaign, which will certainly be concerning for NFL teams that may consider taking him towards the beginning of the fourth round. However, he flashed enough ability in 2014 to show that he can play as he allowed a completion percentage below 50 percent and recorded four interceptions in addition to the nine passes he defended. It will be intriguing to see how his junior season compensates for his size and 2015 tape when draft comes.
- Darian Thompson, Boise State
Thompson is one of the more versatile safeties in this year’s class — he graded well in coverage and against the run. He was tied for third in this class with his five interceptions, while he allowed only 51.5 percent of passes going his way to be completed. He was also productive against the run, which is highlighted by his run stop percentage of 7.4 percent — the third-highest amongst safeties in this class. One major red flag is the amount of tackles he missed, as he is only 75th in this year’s class in tackling efficiency due to his 11 missed tackles.