2016 NFL Draft: Sleeper Prospects Who Could Move into the 1st Round
Those who follow the NFL draft closely already know most of names likely to land near the top of the draft. But every year a few names rise in the months leading up to the draft and sneak into the late first round.
Even though the games are complete, the scouting process is far from over. Players can rise and fall in the coming months as teams dive deeper into game film, learn more about prospects off the field and discover potential injury concerns during predraft medical checks.
Any player who isn't already among those considered first-round locks obviously has some flaws preventing that elite grade.
For this reason it's tough to say with any confidence whether a team will be interested in gambling on them early in the draft. However, here's a list of six draft prospects who have skill sets which may draw interest from a team at the back end of the first round.
Joshua Perry, LB, Ohio State
It's rare for an Ohio State prospect to fly under the radar, but with so many high-profile Buckeyes turning pro, at least one seems to have slipped through the cracks.
Linebacker Joshua Perry has been overshadowed by Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and many others, but could potentially join his teammates in the first round.
Unlike his fellow linebacker Lee, Perry's athleticism doesn't immediately jump out on film. However, his impressive consistency is what makes Perry stand out.
According to CFB Film Room, Perry missed just five tackles in 2015—a remarkable stat for a player who rarely left the field for the Buckeyes.
Listed at 6'4", 252 pounds, Perry fits the profile of a traditional strong-side linebacker, but he has the versatile skill set to play any of the three linebacker positions.
Perry could be a fit for the Minnesota Vikings, who may need to replace free agent Chad Greenway. Even if Greenway is re-signed, the 33-year-old linebacker is nearing the end of his career.
Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah
Carson Wentz isn't the only FCS prospect getting high praise from NFL scouts.
Level of competition is obviously a concern with Southern Utah linebacker Miles Killebrew, as is the case with all small-school prospects. But Killebrew appears be a legitimate top-50 prospect as a linebacker/safety tweener.
Earlier this season, a pro scout told NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah that Killebrew was further ahead in his development than Shaq Thompson (Carolina Panthers' 2015 first-round pick) and Deone Bucannon (Arizona Cardinals' 2014 first-round pick)—two prospects with a similar skill set and physical build to Killebrew.
Killebrew is listed at 6'3", 230 pounds, putting him in an awkward size range that might force some teams to shy away based on their height and weight requirements.
However, we're seeing more teams take chances on smaller linebackers or oversized safeties with elite range, which is what Killebrew can provide.
Seattle's Kam Chancellor has become the poster boy for the success this type of prospect is capable of finding in the NFL.
In the late first round, a team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still looking for Troy Polamalu's replacement, could be interested in Killebrew.
Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State
There's a lot of uncertainty at the linebacker position in this year's draft class, especially with UCLA's Myles Jack and Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith coming off significant season-ending injuries.
That uncertainty could open the door for a prospect from the next tier, such as Utah State's Kyler Fackrell, to rise into the first round.
Listed 6'5", 250 pounds, Fackrell has the size and strength of an edge defender and could project as an outside linebacker in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. However, he's also a strong athlete, demonstrating the ability to run with most tight ends and running backs in coverage—skills which could allow for a move to inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme as well.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah is one of Fackrell's biggest supporters in the media, ranking him at No. 28 on his recently released big board and calling him a "very athletic edge defender with the ability to make plays on all three downs."
Given his strength and explosive burst, Fackrell may fit best with a team needing to add a pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme such as the New York Jets.
The Jets own the 20th pick and could view Fackrell as a replacement for free-agent veteran Calvin Pace.
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
There isn't an elite tight end in this year's draft class, but if a team is looking for an immediate starter who can make plays in the passing game, Arkansas' Hunter Henry should be high on their draft board.
The downside to Henry is his struggles as a blocker. That fact needs to be acknowledged because it could cause some teams to dramatically drop him in their rankings.
However, many NFL teams are using tight ends almost exclusively as pass-catchers, and Henry can excel in that role immediately.
Henry's skill set closely resembles New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro, who also lined up primarily as a slot receiver at Texas Tech.
In the late first round, the Denver Broncos make the most sense as a team potentially interested in adding a tight end. They missed Julius Thomas this year, and could seek to find a young, reliable weapon at the position to work with Brock Osweiler.
Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland
Maryland linebacker Yannick Ngakoue is a developmental prospect, but he has a chance to rise in a year with few pass-rushers near the top of the board.
Ngakoue can succeed immediately as a pass-rusher due to his burst off the edge, and should be viewed as a candidate to play that role as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Where he struggles, however, is against the run, where his lack of functional strength is apparent against more physically dominant offensive tackles.
It's difficult to envision Ngakoue playing a three-down role for a defense in 2016, but even as a situational pass-rusher he offers immediate value.
In recent years, other prospects such as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford (2014 first-round pick) have climbed throughout the draft process for the same reasons that make Ngakoue an intriguing sleeper this year.
In the late first round, multiple teams could be interested in adding another pass-rusher, including the Panthers and Cardinals.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
When evaluating Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd, one of the traits that stands out most is his body control. That's a skill that's difficult to teach, and also one that helps receivers make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Amari Cooper and Odell Beckham Jr. are two recent examples of receivers who showed elite body-control skills when adjusting to balls in college, and both receivers have used that skill set to make an easy transition to the next level.
Boyd lacks some of the other physical gifts that made Cooper and Beckham elite prospects—most notably their speed—but his skill set should make him an immediate asset in an NFL offense, even if his ceiling a notch lower than those two receivers.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler has compared Boyd to Miami's Jarvis Landry, another receiver who lacks the burst to create consistent separation but wins with excellent routes and reliable hands.
Landry came off the board in the second round of the 2014 draft, but his production after two years in Miami has certainly proved worthy of a higher selection.
Any contender drafting in the late first round looking for immediate production could be enticed by Boyd's skill set.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who could lose unrestricted free agents Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, could be interested in Boyd's services.