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2016 NFL Draft: fourth-tier prospects

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Which players in this draft have the chance to break out and outperform their draft position? This is who we have.

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 looking at the fourth tier of prospects. As the "sleeper agents" moniker suggests, these are players who have high growth potential, but may not have reached it. Maybe they suffered from injuries in college, or were not given a large opportunity to play, or their technique is so bad they need to spend time on the bench before they have a chance of succeeding. These players are good enough that they separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

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.

Charles Tapper

Tapper's stock is still unstable due to his change in build and position at Oklahoma. As a freshman, he weighed 260 pounds and moved fast enough to run down Amari Cooper for a tackle, playing as a defensive end. By his senior year, he weighed 285 pounds and had been moved inside to three technique. As he demonstrated at the Combine, Tapper hasn't lost all of the impressive speed from his freshman season. He wasn't as productive on the interior, but his combination of power and burst should make him a potential NFL starter at defensive end.

Jihad Ward

There's something hidden inside Ward, but he needs a good defensive line coach to unlock it. The 6'5" 290 pound defensive lineman was miscast as a three technique at Illinois, lacking the quick feet to split double teams and make any kind of impact. He dominated the bag drills at the Senior Bowl, showing off immense power in his hands. There might be a strong five-technique defensive end to be had.

CJ Prosise

Prosise is a wide receiver converted to running back. Given that he stands 6'0" 220 pounds, this was probably the right choice. He combines great athletic ability for a runner with impressive vision and smooth movement. There are still parts of his game that need work, however - setting up blocks, pass blocking, adjusting his run tempo. It's possible he has an impact as a rookie if placed in a situation like David Johnson of the Cardinals.

Mike Thomas

This is the 6'1" 200 pound receiver from Southern Mississippi, as opposed to the Ohio State receiver. Thomas has barely received any exposure in the draft process, and it's probably due to a lack of resume. He only has two years of stats, with a 41/592/5 receiving slash in 2014 and a 71/1391/14 in 2015. He wasn't invited to any all-star games or the Combine, and it's probably because his first four weeks were pedestrian, with 11 catches, 181 yards, and no touchdowns. Still, I implore you to watch this guy play. He's like an Odell Beckham lite. Fast and explosive, with outstanding body control. The odds are stacked against him, but if an NFL team drafts him, they're getting a contributor.

Shon Coleman

A four star offensive tackle recruit in high school, Coleman arrived at Auburn to terrible news - he was diagnosed with leukemia. Not one to let cancer beat him, Coleman spent two years going through treatments, and he conquered that illness. He rejoined the football team as Greg Robinson's backup in 2013, then became a starter in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The 6'5" 307 pounder has impressive strength and moves well, but has very little experience and needs to relearn his technique (especially pass blocking) before he can be trusted as a starter.

Jacoby Brissett

This draft is filled with raw, toolsy quarterbacks, and it's filled with polarizing quarterbacks. Brissett is in both of those categories. Count me as a Brissett Believer. It comes down to his pocket mobility. Brissett is very difficult to sack, thanks to his size, core strength, and refusal to give up on plays. That's a rare trait, and one worth developing. He has a good arm, and has flashed the ability to absolutely dominate the scoreboard. Still, he's mercurial, and he's a gambler. In the best case, you sit him for a year or two, he cleans up his mechanics, and you have a Ben Roethlisberger. In the worst case, he's never going to see the field.

Andrew Billings

Billings is a star powerlifter playing nose tackle, and his tremendous strength is clear when watching him take on blockers on the field. Still very young, and it shows, as he buries his head and doesn't play with much finesse to his game. If he improves his technique and movement, he could be a premier two-gap defensive tackle in the NFL.

Braxton Miller

Miller is the latest college quarterback to attempt to convert to wide receiver, although his decision was prompted by a shoulder injury, and he started the process by playing his new position as a senior at Ohio State. Miller has always been a dynamic running threat, and is a very agile player. That shows up in his route running and yardage after the catch. While his catching technique isn't bad, he still has a lot of polishing required before he's the next Julian Edelman. Teams might decide that he'll have a better impact playing running back, like Denard Robinson ended up.

Kyler Fackrell

As a sophomore, Fackrell was looking poised for greatness. He had a good season, won a few significant one-on-one matchups in the Pac-12, and was supposed to take a leap forward as a junior to enter the draft as a first round edge rusher. After tearing an ACL, Fackrell had to sit out the whole season, and when he came back in 2015 the burst wasn't the same. Now Fackrell is closer to Manny Lawson than DeMarcus Ware on the pass rushing spectrum. He still offers value as a SAM linebacker, but if he ever regained his burst, he would be a steal from the second day of the draft.

Max Tuerk

The USC center was looking like he'd be trading off with Alabama's Ryan Kelly for the consensus top center in the draft, until he tore his ACL late in the fall. Tuerk hasn't been able to work out for teams other than the bench press, but the 6'5" 295 pound center flashed good technique, a strong grip, and impressive mobility in college. If his injury news goes well, he might claim a starting job before long.

Kyle Friend

The Temple center has been overlooked through much of the draft process, and didn't get an invite to the Combine. That's unfortunate, because his 42 bench press reps at the Temple pro day would have led the pack of offensive linemen. Friend combines his strength with good mobility, solid technique, and heady awareness. He sure looks like a starting NFL center to me.

Dean Lowry

This is a cross between last year's Henry Anderson (the 6'6" 290 pound Stanford DT who had issues with balance) and Xavier Cooper (Wazzu's 6'4" 290 pounder who was an exceptional athlete but dropped due to short arms). Standing 6'6" 296, Lowry measures in the 90th percentile or better among DTs for every athletic drill except the vertical leap (his 32.5" jump places him in the 82nd). That said, he has 31 inch arms which are amazingly short on his tall frame. If he can overcome that flaw, he otherwise looks like an ideal five-technique.

Germain Ifedi

Ifedi has the potential to be a top ten offensive tackle in the NFL, but with the caveat that he must be benched for his rookie season or he'll never see it. Ifedi has the size, core strength, and quick feet to be a great starter, but his technique is a mess, just like Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews both struggled to adjust to the NFL after leaving Texas A&M.

Carl Nassib

Nassib is the definition of a late bloomer. The brother of New York Giants backup quarterback Ryan, Nassib was a walk-on at Penn State who stood 6'6" and weighed only 218 pounds. He lived in the weight room on campus, and ended up adding 59 pounds between his freshman and senior year. Entering his last year, Nassib only had two career sacks, but he exploded for 15.5 this season. He's not particularly athletic for an edge rusher, and his best fit in the pros could be as a five-technique defensive end. Can his frame support adding another 15 pounds to make that work?

Devon Cajuste

His combination of size (6'4" 234 pounds, long arms and big hands) and agility (6.49 second three cone drill) make him a curious, potentially high upside receiver. He wasn't the preferred receiver at Stanford, and rarely put up big statlines. He does flash a good process at the catch point, and has a few nuances to his route running.

Paxton Lynch

The 6'7" 240 pound Lynch has an outstanding arm, moves well enough in the pocket, and is capable of manipulating defenses to set up very difficult throws. He also has inconsistent throwing mechanics and plays in a "one read and bail" passing system that gave him simple decisions and inflated stats. Lynch needs a lot more work to play in the pros than his first round consensus grade suggests, and that's why I have him ranked where I do.

Su'a Cravens

Cravens is in a tough spot because he exists firmly between the NFL's notion of what a linebacker and safety should be. He's 6'1" 226 pounds, but runs a 4.69 forty that would be too slow for a full-time safety. What's apparent is that Cravens is a good football player, and if a team finds a scheme that keeps him away from offensive linemen, he can make plays on the ball.

Jeremy Cash

This is the other tweener safety/linebacker prospect at the forefront of most people's minds. While Cravens was an all-around defender for USC, Cash played a narrow blitzing safety role that racked him up a ton of impact stats, but may have hidden some of his deficiencies. The range of Cash's athletic ability is still a mystery; due to a nagging hamstring injury, he hasn't worked out for scouts this offseason, and is scheduled to run the 40 and other tests on April 13th.

Cardale Jones

Jones is the ultimate wildcard in this draft. Take Cam Newton, slow him down a bit, make his arm a bit more erratic, and give him less support, less time to establish himself on the football field. That's Jones. He's a magnetic personality, has flashed more pocket presence and ability to read the field than people give him credit for (and more than most quarterbacks in this class), and his arm strength is top tier. Right now, he doesn't have strong accuracy, being better at throwing to a neighborhood than threading a needle. He needs to sit on the bench, but his upside is immense, and he looked better in his abbreviated college career than previous toolsy players like Logan Thomas and EJ Manuel.

Moritz Boehringer

You're excused for not knowing this player - a 6'4" 227 pound star receiver who was the rookie of the year in the German football league this year. He came to the Florida Atlantic pro day and had a workout on par with the most athletic receivers in football - 93rd percentile in the three cone drill, 77th in the forty yard dash, 96th in the broad jump, 86th in the vertical leap, 76th in the short shuttle (all of which is more impressive given his height and weight). He was basically playing against Division III or high school talent in Germany, so it's very difficult to judge his skill. Think of him as this year's Jeff Janis.