These 10 players have a chance to provide big-time return on investment.
The NFL Draft has become a massively popular event. Everyone knows who was taken in the first round, but teams who dominate the draft from the second round on win Super Bowls. Now that sufficient time has passed to fully analyze the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s time to crown the top value picks.
Defining “value” can be tricky, but in this case, value will be defined by where a player was drafted relative to their ranking on my 2016 NFL Draft Big Board. The formula is simple:
Actual draft slot/Ranking on my board = Value Score
This formula isn’t perfect, but it is sufficient for identifying players who were good value picks according to my board. According to my 2015 board, the top two value picks in the 2015 draft were Grady Jarrett (Falcons) and Henry Anderson (Colts). Both had strong rookie seasons and have bright futures ahead of them.
In order to keep the focus on underrated prospects who were acquired for great value, first round picks are not included in this list. There were some great value picks in the first round this year, but the first-round picks have already received plenty of spotlight. Its time to give some of the unheralded prospects their (rightly deserved) 15 minutes of fame.
Now for the list:
1. DL Jonathan Bullard - Chicago Bears
Draft Slot: 72
My Board: 17
Value Score: 4.24
The Bears struck gold with their third-round pick. Bullard is a plug and play starter from day one with the athleticism to become a difference maker on the interior. Bullard’s combine performance was exceptional, as he ranked third among defensive lineman in SPARQ score. Bullard was also the best run stuffing defensive lineman in college football in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. Why was he still available at 72 overall? We may never know. Sensational pick by the Bears.
2. DT Andrew Billings - Cincinnati Bengals
Draft Slot: 122
My Board: 29
Value Score: 4.21
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Rumors swirled after Billings wasn’t selected on Day Two of the 2016 NFL Draft. Some speculated he was falling due to a previously undisclosed knee injury. Others suggested it may be due to teams viewing him as a two-down player. The injury rumor is concerning, but sources close to Billings have since refuted it.
Billings may never be a pass-rushing menace, but he had more sacks last season (5.5) than Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Butler, Chris Jones, A’Shawn Robinson, or Jarran Reed, all of whom were drafted 70+ spots before Billings. The value Billings brings with the 122nd pick is outstanding, and the Bengals are undoubtedly thrilled with their selection.
3. CB Kalan Reed - Tennessee Titans
Draft Slot: 253
My Board: 72
Value Score: 3.51
Kalan Reed is no ordinary “Mr. Irrelevant.” Taken with the final pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Reed should have gone much earlier. He played at a small school (Southern Miss), and that surely played into his draft position. However, he was highly productive in college and has NFL-caliber athleticism.
In four collegiate seasons, Reed compiled 152 tackles, eight interceptions, 30 pass breakups, and three interception return touchdowns. He put on an incredible showing at his pro day, headlined by a 4.38 second 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical jump. The production and athleticism Reed brings to the table warrant far more than the last pick in the draft. If given a fair shot, Reed should crack the Titans 53-man roster.
4. LB Travis Feeney - Pittsburgh Steelers
Draft Slot: 220
My Board: 63
Value Score: 3.49
Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Admittedly, Feeney is one of my favorite sleepers in the 2016 draft class. His versatility and athleticism makes him a highly intriguing prospect. He began his career as a safety and eventually moved to linebacker and thrived in both spots.
In four seasons at Washington, Feeney accumulated 248 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, and 11 pass breakups. Despite his impressive production, he received almost no love until he blew up the combine with a 4.5 second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical, and 130-inch broad jump. All three numbers bested those of top 10 pick Leonard Floyd.
At 6‘3 with 33.375-inch arms, Feeney has the size and athleticism to cover the slot and also rush the passer. He isn’t a traditional linebacker or safety, but his ability to cover tight ends and blitz from the slot makes him a dangerous weapon, if utilized correctly.
5. Dak Prescott - Dallas Cowboys
Draft Slot: 135
My Board: 43
Value Score: 3.14
Prescott’s pre-draft DUI may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Dallas Cowboys. A three-year starter in the SEC who (incredibly) led Mississippi State to the #1 overall ranking at one point, Prescott is simply too talented to go in the late fourth round in a quarterback-starved league. Many were surprised to see Connor Cook drop to the fourth round, but Prescott outperformed Cook in nearly every relevant statistic in college, save for TD:INT ratio by a hair.
Not only did Prescott statistically outperform Cook, the Cowboys got him 35 slots later than the Raiders did Cook. While Prescott may never be an elite passer, he is arguably the best running QB in the draft and quietly amassed 41 rushing TD in his Mississippi State career.
In a league that just gave Kirk Cousins $18 million for one year and Sam Bradford $35 million for two years, there’s room for Dak Prescott. Even if his ceiling is quality backup/low-end starter, that is still a solid pick at 135 overall. If he proves to be anything more than that, the Cowboys will make out like thieves.
6. TE Jerell Adams - New York Giants
Draft Slot: 184
My Board: 60
Value Score: 3.07
In one of the weakest tight end classes in recent memory, Adams slipping all the way to the sixth round makes little sense. For context, we can compare Adams to fellow 2016 TE Austin Hooper, who went 83 picks earlier to Atlanta with the 81st overall pick.
In terms of athleticism, their combine performances were nearly identical, other than Adams running a slightly faster 40-yard dash (4.64 vs. 4.72). In a markedly inferior offense, Adams put up similar receiving statistics to Hooper in 2015, though Hooper did find pay dirt more than Adams (Adams - 421 yards, 15 yards per catch, three TD // Hooper - 438 yards, 12.9 yards per catch, six TD).
Hooper was solid pick at 81 overall, and the fact that he is almost two years younger than Adams means he has a higher ceiling. Despite being older than most prospects, getting Adams in the 6th round was a smart move. He may never be a dangerous playmaker in the NFL, but Adams has the physical ability to contribute, and for a sixth-round pick, that is great value.
7. DE Shilique Calhoun - Oakland Raiders
Draft Slot: 75
My Board: 26
Value Score: 2.88
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Calhoun gets knocked for his run-stuffing ability (or lack thereof), and it’s unlikely he ever becomes a valuable asset as a run defender. However, the NFL is becoming more of a passing league by the minute, and there is no question that Calhoun can get after the QB. His 27 career sacks were more than any other Division 1 player in the 2016 draft class.
Despite his bad rep as a run defender, his 44 career tackles for loss ranks third in the class behind only Joey Bosa and Shaq Lawson. At worst, Calhoun is a situational pass rusher. Every team needs guys who can rotate in as third-down pass rushers, so even if he never improves his run defense, he isn’t a bad pick at 75 overall. If he can develop into a three down player, this will be one of the better picks of the 2016 draft.
8. DE Bronson Kaufusi - Baltimore Ravens
Draft Slot: 70
My Board: 25
Value Score: 2.8
Kaufusi is a spitting image of Colts DE Henry Anderson, who was playing at a very high level last season before going down with a torn ACL. They profile nearly identically as athletes, which can be seen in the breakdown of their combine performances below, courtesy of mockdraftable.com.
The athletic comparison to Anderson is promising, but Kaufusi’s production is even more impressive. In four seasons at BYU, he racked up 42.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, and 14 pass breakups. The 14 pass breakups are evidence that he knows how to use his 6‘6 frame and 34.5-inch arms to get in passing lanes when his pass rush is not successful. Ozzie Newsome is a wizard, and he showed why again with this pick (and the Ravens class as a whole).
9. LB Myles Jack - Jacksonville Jaguars
Draft Slot: 36
My Board: 13
Value Score: 2.77
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Without being able to see an MRI of Jack’s infamous knee first-hand, it’s difficult to assess how big of an issue the knee will be in the future. Reports state that Jack has an osteochondral defect that may eventually require microfracture surgery. If you’re not familiar with microfracture surgery, just know that it is not easy to come back from, far more daunting than a torn ACL.
While concerns over Jack’s knee are valid, the concerns appear to be primarily over his ability to play in the future rather than now. His immediate availability is what makes Jack a strong value at the top of the second round. Players are most valuable to the team that drafts them in their first four seasons while they are still on a cheap rookie contract. After that, the team is forced to pay market value (or close to it), and that player is now no longer as valuable. Even if Jack doesn’t make it to a second contract, three or four years of a healthy Myles Jack on a second-round rookie deal is highway robbery.
10. EDGE Tyrone Holmes - Jacksonville Jaguars
Draft Slot: 181
My Board: 66
Value Score: 2.74
Two Jaguars round out the bottom of the top 10, an indication of the overall quality of their 2016 draft class. Holmes is a small-school standout, having absolutely dominated for Montana to the tune of 21.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in 2015 alone. Those numbers were good enough to earn him STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
Big numbers at a school like Montana are expected of a NFL prospect, so the stats alone aren’t enough to land Holmes on this list. Holmes, unlike many D2-flameouts, has elite athleticism to match (and beat) his D1 counterparts. At his pro day, Holmes posted a 4.6 second 40-yard dash, 28 bench reps, and a 37.5-inch vertical jump. These numbers are evidence that Holmes has the athletic ability to cut it against NFL tackles.
Holmes will need to gain some weight to play defensive end (he weighed in at 6‘2 - 253 lbs at his pro day), but he has the size to play outside linebacker right away. Holmes is a player Jags fans should keep a close eye on.
Honorable Mentions: DB Jalen Mills - 2.65 (Eagles), WR Mike Thomas - 2.58 (Rams), RB Kenneth Dixon - 2.53 (Ravens), WR Rashard Higgins - 2.36 (Browns), LB Jatavis Brown - 2.30 (Chargers), WR Leonte Carroo - 2.10 (Dolphins)
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