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2016 NFL Draft: third-tier prospects

Every draft has a large chunk of players who could be first round talents, but for a few key flaws. Who are the players in this year's draft?

When examining the players in this year's draft, we find it helpful to break the list into tiers of skill and potential. This time we're delving into the third tier of prospects. These players might be drafted in the first round in some years, but haven't necessarily earned that grade in a consensus. Think of players like Phillip Dorsett, Shane Ray, and Cedric Ogbuehi last year. These first round picks were often graded in the second or third round leading up to the draft, but a specific team fell in love with them in spite of their flaws.

When people talk about the talent "drop-off" in a draft, or a lack of depth, they're usually referencing the size of tiers one and two relative to the third tier. In a good draft, teams rarely have to dip into this group in the first round.

Tier Name Description
1 Star Players The right combination of skill, talent, and mental makeup. Foundational member of a team.
2 Major contributors An excellent prospect in most regards. Has one or two flaws holding him back. Should be a clear NFL starter.
3 Flawed impact players Has a significant flaw, but his skill or talent means he could be a great player in the right situation.
4 Sleeper agents Players whose abilities haven't "unlocked" yet. Perhaps held back by injuries or a limited college role. High growth potential.
5 Role players A prospect who would do well in a specialized role due to skill or athletic limitations. Probably too limited to start.
6 Depth and development Skill, athleticism, or off-field items holds this player back too much to be counted on. Should stick in the league for a few years as an injury fill-in.

Jaylon Smith

If he were healthy, he'd be in tier two. Potentially elite off-the-ball linebacker who struggles when he takes on blocks, but has a knee injury with nerve damage that puts his availability in question.

Laquon Treadwell

The numbers don't like Laquon Treadwell - he ran a 4.65 40 at his pro day, and wasn't as successful at breaking open or making contested catches as receivers like Sterling Shepard and Josh Doctson. Still, you have to chalk some of that up to rust from his season-ending injury in 2014, and remember that Treadwell's physicality could give him the upside of Anquan Boldin.

Willie Henry

Any other year, I think this guy is a first rounder - and he might still be if a team falls in love with him. He has above average athleticism for a DT across the board, was successful as a part-time edge rusher, and only just turned 21. He didn't start very much, but his trajectory is pointing upward.

Jonathan Bullard

This is another DT who could see success working on the edge. Bullard has excellent movement ability, but only weighs 285 pounds, making him a tweener prospect. If a team finds a role for him, he will excel.

Robert Nkemdiche

How far will elite, unrefined athletic talent take a player? Nkemdiche's explosion is among the best in this class, and he has the size to play anywhere on the defensive line outside of the 0 technique. His lack of college production, and continuing character questions, hold him back from being more of a sure thing.

William Jackson III

Jackson has the ever-enviable traits of speed and length, and he does a good job playing the ball. He's a gambler though, and his tackling is hit or miss.

Eli Apple

"Springy" is the word that comes to mind with Apple. Fast and agile, He does a good job mirroring on the sideline in man coverage and can break on the ball in a hurry. His off coverage is still a major work in progress, however, and he's pushed around in the run game.

Leonard Floyd

Floyd is the latest Dion Jordan. With outstanding length, a skinnier build, and excellent speed, Floyd has upside as an off-the-ball linebacker who can cover tight ends and be used to rush the passer on key third downs. If he's shoehorned into playing defensive end, he'll struggle to shed blockers.

Darron Lee

He's a great athlete, but is still very raw in coverage, and doesn't do well taking on blockers in the running game. A bigger project than Ryan Shazier. If you're taking him in the first round, be prepared for the possibility that he never has a big impact.

Michael Thomas

At 6'3" and 215 pounds, with nice speed and agility and a devastating double move, Thomas looks like a clean WR2 who could potentially develop into a top target - but he didn't dominate his team's receiving stats the way other top receivers do.

Hunter Henry

Henry is potentially the best tight end prospect this year, thanks to his combination of size, speed, and body control. He can own passing routes like Tyler Eifert and Travis Kelce do, and though his blocking is a work in progress, scouts are optimistic about it.

Joshua Garnett

Stanford has a strong history of graduating linemen to the NFL, with Andrus Peat, Cameron Fleming, David Yankey, David DeCastro, and Jonathan Martin all being drafted in the last four years. Garnett is a pure guard, and an average athlete, but he's a nasty road grader who has drilled his technique until it made him one of the best guards in this class.

Nick Martin

He's not as big or athletic as his brother Zack, but Martin, who played center for Notre Dame, might be the best center in this class. Slides well around the pocket, plays with great technique, and has excellent grip strength.

Taylor Decker

Imposing size and surprisingly nimble on his feet, but had issues with stiff hips and lowering his pad level in college. His game was about 20% dominance and 80% making you want to see more; if he improved his consistency there's a starting left tackle in the cards.

Jason Spriggs

Lives up to his billing as an excellent athlete. Generally very clean in pass protection, although he can play with heavy feet. Struggles when dealing with the unexpected, misidentifying stunts and failing to block someone when asked to move to the second level.

Vernon Butler

No one gained more between the Combine and his pro day than Butler, who improved his 40-yard dash from 5.33 seconds to 5.05 seconds, improved his vertical leap by four inches, and improved his broad jump by seven. Now the athleticism on tape is validated by paper, and Butler suddenly looks like a defensive lineman on the rise.

Javon Hargrave

Hargrave is a "sleeper" prospect because he's coming from an FCS school, but in terms of talent he belongs in this tier, rather than the "sleeper agent" tier (which I reserve for players who didn't appear to be reaching their potential in college). In the last two years, he has 29 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss. He combines athletic talent with technical refinement, and that will play well at three technique.

Chris Jones

Robert Nkemdiche has the most raw talent of any defensive lineman in this draft. In the second tier behind him are Butler and Jones, along with a couple others. Jones has the size of an offensive tackle playing defensive line. He's explosive, has power, can play all over the line, and even makes plays against double teams. He's a bit mercurial right now, sometimes being neutralized if he doesn't win his first attempt, and his pass rushing moves could develop further.

Derrick Henry

In the right offense, Henry is a monster. He's built like a fullback/tight end, but moves like he's twenty pounds lighter. He doesn't move well laterally, but is so difficult to bring down when he's moving forward. He's the type of runner that wears down a defense in the fourth quarter.

Sterling Shepard

The best route runner in this class, setting up double moves, head fakes, and using his full body to sell his route. Was the most successful receiver in college football this year when it comes to beating coverage and making a catch. Short size and short arms will have teams questioning his ability to stick outside as a full-time starter.

Paul Perkins

Watching Perkins play is like watching a less explosive LeSean McCoy. He has a natural gift for setting up blocks and maximizing run yardage. He's shifty, has light feet, and has a great stiff arm. His pass protection and receiving is a work in progress, but he's a potential star runner.

Kenneth Dixon

An extremely competitive and intelligent running back, who does a great job finding a crease and earning all the yards he can. An excellent receiver, a great blocker, and in possession of several moves to break tackles. Susceptible to fumbling due to his running style.

Darian Thompson

On tape, Thompson looks like an outstanding safety prospect. His play recognition is phenomenal, he hits hard in the running game, and he's well-versed in man coverage and playing the ball to make interceptions. His Combine workout was extremely disappointing, though, with Thompson finishing below the 20th percentile in nearly every drill. He was reportedly suffering from a stomach flu; if his pro day on Thursday features better scores, it will definitely boost his stock.

Shilique Calhoun

Calhoun flashes excellent hand usage, and he has four or five moves at his disposal that can take down an unprepared tackle. But he's often worked out of the way in the run game, and doesn't have the bend or strength to turn the corner on a good tackle and finish a sack.

Ryan Kelly

There are a few great centers in this draft, and some have Kelly pegged as a first round talent. It's easy to see why - he's athletic, has great size, and was a long-term starter for Alabama. His weakness is that he's not the best at mirroring - sometimes he blocks his opponent on the side instead of head-on, and this weaker block is more easily defeated.

Jack Allen

Allen is somewhat undersized and not a standout athlete, but if any center is sure to stick on an NFL roster I think it's him. He has a great anchor, excellent grip strength, and is comfortable on the move. His stance needs work, as he lets his arms swing low and away from his body, but he's smart and plays like a coach wants.

Corey Coleman

A freaky athlete who may only be limited by his 5'11" stature. Coleman is a very productive receiver, and one of the most dangerous runners after the catch in this class. He played in a weird offense that coached him to not run out all of his routes in order to keep up his stamina, and he has had difficulty playing the ball at the catch point against a patient cornerback. Despite that, his outrageous production suggests that he'll outplay his weaknesses.

Leonte Carroo

Carroo has excellent hands, does a great job running the go route, and is a solid route runner across the board. He has trouble gaining separation with shorter routes, however, leading to contested catches. Some of that can be chalked up to his average burst. Is he just another Robert Woods?

Landon Turner

Zone blocking line coaches, avert your eyes. The 6'4", 330-pound Turner put together a 5.58 40-yard dash and a 7'4" broad jump. Still, for a team that values power, good enough footwork, and hand usage, Turner will develop into a valued guard. He's a bulldozer in the run game.

D.J. Reader

Reader is a potentially excellent prospect, but as a 6'3", 330-pound nose tackle, he's not valuable for every scheme. He moves well in spite of his bulk, commands double teams, and uses his long arms to bring down runners that come past. Spent a chunk of the 2015 season away from the team after his father's death, and when he returned it helped Kevin Dodd tremendously.

D.J. White

White is an aggressive corner with excellent plant and drive explosion, good tackling form, and good closing speed. He's a work in progress at the catch point, can attack the ball and attack the body but sometimes doesn't make the right choice of action. Sometimes he leaves too big of a cushion in off coverage. At 5'11", he's just big enough to stick on the outside.

Emmanuel Ogbah

I've made comparisons between him and Brian Orakpo before - both are powerful, have great burst, but struggle to bend around the corner. Both also were questioned for having inconsistent technique and effort in college; if Ogbah can overcome that, he can be a good pass rusher.

Vernon Adams Jr.

Yes, I'm buying into the Russell Wilson comparisons - Adams has everything you want from a QB except size and elite arm talent. If he stays healthy, he's capable of slicing apart defenses in the air and on the ground, just like Wilson and Taylor.