We've spent the past week-plus at PFF analyzing pre-and post-Combine data to get a better understanding of the hundreds of prospects set to hear their names called in the NFL Draft next month. As such, certain rankings and projections have strayed from those of traditional scouts and media.
The pre-draft landscape has been forever altered by the Combine. So, with the help of PFF's advanced database, top-150 big board and 2020 NFL Draft Guide, let's look at some of the prospects who we feel aren’t getting enough love by scouts and other media outlets.
CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
The wide receiver and offensive tackle draft classes are being noted for their high-end talent and depth, but cornerback is right there with them. No one is touching Jeff Okudah as the best in the class, but after him opinions stray considerably. PFF views LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton as the second-best at the position, while some see him as the fifth or sixth best. Here’s why those folks are wrong:
First and foremost, Fulton has dominated in each of the past two seasons, producing the best two-year coverage grade among Power-5 cornerbacks. During that stretch, Fulton played a lot of press coverage against some of the most difficult competition in college football in the SEC (502 coverage snaps to be exact — the fourth most in the FBS). What he did on those reps was pretty nasty. Fulton played the fifth-most coverage snaps per target seen at 7.5. In other words, quarterbacks weren’t going to try and throw his way — understandably so considering he allowed a sub-40% catch rate and FBS-high forced incompletion rate of 38.1%.
You can put this man on an island and let him burn some receivers like the sun — he’s the second-best cornerback in this class.
EDGE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
If it weren’t for his season-ending fibula injury suffered in Week 11, Julian Okwara likely wouldn't be undervalued. Sure, the injury is a red flag, but when healthy Okwara proved to be one of the top edge defenders in the country. Over the last two seasons, he has produced a 19.1% pressure rate, which leads the FBS by nearly a full percentage point.
We aren’t going to let him slide with his tackling, though. This is an area he must improve — he missed nearly a third of his total talking attempts in 2019. Okwara’s athletic makeup and explosiveness off the line is exactly what you want from your edge rusher. Not to mention, his bend is filthy.
T Josh Jones, Houston
It wasn’t that long ago when a few prominent NFL Draft analysts viewed Jones outside the top 200 prospects. He’s now considered by almost everyone as a first- or second-round pick. In PFF’s eyes, he’s the fourth-best offensive tackle in this class, ahead of Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, who is reportedly being considered with the fourth overall pick.
Jones was a reliable pass-protector for Houston during all four-years, but he broke out in 2019. Jones produced the highest grade we have ever given to a Group of 5 tackle at 93.2 and allowed just four pressures on 325 pass-block snaps. As a run-blocker, Jones maintained elite status by owning a 92.7 run-block grade. This offensive tackle class is top-heavy, with elite guys like Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills and Andrew Thomas, but Jones is right there with them.
QB Anthony Gordon, Washington State
PFF's Eric Eager broke down a couple weeks ago how Anthony Gordon was a far better collegiate quarterback than Justin Herbert and Jordan Love, noting that Gordon was worth more wins above average (WAA) than those two combined. Herbert and Love may have more “potential,” but getting a guy like Anthony Gordon in day two or three as opposed to reaching for potential in the first round is the best bet.
Accuracy is the most important trait for a quarterback prospect. Removing any throws behind the line of scrimmage, Gordon produced the third-highest rate of accurate passes thrown in 2019 at 65% according to PFF’s ball-charting process. There are actually some draft analysts out there who don’t even have Gordon in the top 10 at the position. We aren’t saying he’s the next-best option after Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, but we are saying he is a fringe top-five quarterback and deserves a bit more respect.
WR Tyler Johnson, Minnesota
There are a few red flags with Tyler Johnson. He didn’t get an invite to the Senior Bowl despite being one of the top wideouts in college football in 2019, there were murmurs of character issues and then the fact he opted not to partake in any drills at the NFL Scouting Combine to “give himself more time to prepare.” We all know he wasn’t going to run a blazing 40 time, but everyone might be overrating that fact.
Johnson doesn’t crack PFF’s top-10 wide receivers, but he does rank among the 50 best prospects overall in this draft class. Over the last two years, there hasn’t been a wide receiver to produce a higher receiving grade or more yards per route run (3.50) than Johnson. He isn’t going to create separation with speed, but he can do so with crisp route running — he ranks in the 80th percentile among qualifying wide receivers in rate of targets against single coverage to have at least a step of separation. Oh, and let’s not forget what he has done to defensive backs on contested balls: Johnson owns the highest two-year grade on those plays and caught an absurd 94.1% of his catchable contested targets over the past two years.
RB Zack Moss, Utah
In each of the last three seasons, Zack Moss has been one of college football’s best ball carriers. He ranked among the 15 best running backs in PFF rushing grade over that time, topping out in 2019 with the game's third-best rushing grade. Moss was as difficult as anyone to bring down, with the 10th-most yards after contact per attempt (4.45) and second-most broken tackles (89).
One area Moss had to improve on in 2019 was his receiving ability, and he did just that by catching 28 of his 31 targets and averaging 14.5 yards after catch per reception, breaking 15 tackles. We aren’t advocating for a running back to be taken within the first two or even three rounds, but Moss in our eyes is the best running back in the class.
IOL Netane Muti, Fresno State
We aren’t the only ones high on Netane Muti, but there’s still a good chunk of people who aren't recognizing what he brings to the table. The big red flag with Muti is his injury history, and rightfully so, as he’s played in only five games over the last two years and missed all of 2016. That being said, when healthy he has played like one of the best guards in college football.
Muti has registered 1,273 snaps over the course of his career at Fresno State and produced a pass-block grade of 85.4 and run-block grade of 82.2. For perspective, those grades would both rank among the 10 best offensive guards in 2019. He’s an absolute unit of a man and can toss defensive linemen around with ease. Again, there’s risk here, but this interior offensive line class is rather weak and Muti is clearly the best option even with the red flag.
LB Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State
If it weren’t for off-the-field issues ranging from punching his quarterback in the face and injuring him to cheating on a chemistry test that resulted in multiple suspensions, Willie Gay Jr. would be one of the top off-ball linebackers in this draft. He tested like an absolute freak at the Combine:
We saw Gay on the field for a limited sample, but it was apparent that he is an elite player in coverage. On his 239 career coverage snaps, Gay was targeted 35 times and allowed only 21 catches for 183 yards with six combined interceptions and pass breakups — good for a 93.9 coverage grade. The dude has legit range and can pick up slot receivers or close in underneath like a champ. Willie Gay Jr. is worth the risk.
S Geno Stone, Iowa
Good luck finding anyone other the PFF to have Iowa safety Geno Stone in their top 10 safeties, let alone in the top five where we have him. He’s not only the most underrated defensive back in the class, but the most underrated player regardless of position. As PFF draft gurus Mike Renner and Austin Gayle have preached, Stone had unreal instincts — he reacts quickly and is quick to make plays.
Over the last two seasons, Stone has produced the third-best PFF coverage in the FBS. He’s been responsible for minimal big plays downfield and he made more plays on the ball (11) than first downs allowed (9) while also allowing the lowest yards per coverage snap among safeties (0.25).
.@HawkeyeFootball S Geno Stone has some of the best instincts in this class. He's got such a big vision head start on so many plays and really trusts what he sees.
Stone creates big plays with his instincts.pic.twitter.com/mMd4ZvZblv
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 3, 2020
EDGE Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Curtis Weaver has been an impactful player since he first stepped foot on the field back in 2017. During that redshirt freshman season, Weaver produced a 77.1 pass-rush grade and astounding 18.6% pressure rate that ranked 12th in the FBS. As good as that year was, no one expected the once three-star recruit to turn into the Hulk as a pass-rusher. Over the last two years, Weaver has produced a pass-rush grade that ranks behind only top-five lock Chase Young, and he's won 26.2% of his reps — a rate that is nearly three percentage points higher than any other edge defender. There was some concern with his athleticism, but his testing at the Combine was far better than most expected.
S Terrell Burgess, Utah
We only saw Terrell Burgess as a Utes starter for one season, but he displayed some great coverage ability. In 2019, Burgess produced an elite 90.4 coverage grade, which ranked among the five-best in the FBS. Regardless of where he lined up, he found success in coverage:
|Cov Grade||Cov Snaps||Tgt/Rec||Yds||1st downs||INT||FINC|
It’s small sample size, but Burgess proved to be versatile and that he has the man-to-man skills needed to succeed at the next level.
RB/WR Antonio Gibson, Memphis
Whether he’s a ball-carrier or receiver, 6-foot-1, 228-pound Antonio Gibson was an elusive guy and incredibly difficult to bring down. At Memphis he was used mostly as a slot receiver but saw 33 designed carries and broke off an explosive play of 10-plus yards on 11 of those, breaking a tackle on 16.
As a receiver, Gibson wasn’t going to impress with his route running, but he did after the catch. In 2019, Gibson ranked second in both yards after catch per reception (11.7) and percentage of catches with a broken tackle (45%). Getting a versatile guy in the backfield like Gibson is the route to go versus typical power runners, and he’ll likely be a steal in Day 3 at this rate.
EDGE Trevis Gipson, Tulsa
After redshirting in 2015 and playing just 125 snaps combined in the next two years, Trevis Gipson started in 2018 and 2019 for Tulsa. The time on the bench paid dividends in the end. Gipson was slightly above average as a pass-rusher in 2018, producing a 74.4 pass-rush grade, but took his play to the next level in 2019 by raising his win rate by nearly 7% and pass-rush grade to 89.7 — both of which ranked among the top 25 in the FBS.
Gipson has the athleticism, size and length needed for an NFL edge rusher, and we can't ignore the relatively poor situation he was in at Tulsa. Gipson saw the third-most pass-rushes in a three-man rush this past year but still managed to own a 19.8% win rate, which was the second-best on such pass-rushes. He’s far from a finished product but someone worth grabbing in the third round.