PFF’s team of draft analysts has spent the past weeks and months putting together their overall draft board and positional prospect rankings, in preparation for the 2016 NFL draft.
In doing so, PFF has identified players at each position who qualify as potential sleeper prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards.
Here are three sleeper prospects among this year’s running back class.
1. Jordan Howard, Indiana
Howard continues to be overlooked and finds himself as an afterthought of Day 2, or even later. Based upon his body of work, however, we have him at No. 59 overall, and one lucky team could end up with a steal by drafting him.
No running back in this draft class had a higher yards after contact per attempt average this season, at 3.69 yards per carry, and over the course of the last two seasons he caught passes at an 80 percent clip and provided a level of pass protection ranking at the top of the class (just five total pressures allowed in 178 pass-blocking snaps). Should his drafting team convince him to drop his force-first-contact approach, which has led to some injury issues for him, Howard could become a special player at the next level.
2. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Had Williams declared for the draft at the conclusion of the 2014 season, he might have been one of the top prospects in the class, given he was coming off a 1,200-yard, 14-TD season. Williams made the decision to return for the 2015 season and a spring practice foot injury resulted in season-ending surgery. His showing at the scouting combine was limited to measurements and bench-press reps, but Williams was able to record times in the 40-yard dash (4.59), three-cone (6.97), and short shuttle (4.29) at the Arkansas Pro Day that mirrored the combine results of Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, one of the most elusive backs in this class.
But the reason Williams makes this list is based on how he produced in 2014. He earned the 12th-highest rushing grade among running backs, and the fifth-best elusive rating — which is PFF's measure for how well a back produces independent of his blocking. He forced 65 missed tackles as a runner, which would have ranked third in this year's class for the 2015 season.
3. Kenneth Farrow, Houston
Farrow didn't put up the same kind of numbers in 2015 that he did two years ago, when he earned PFF's fifth-best grade among running backs, but he still enters the 2016 draft with the position's fourth-highest overall and seventh-highest rushing and receiving grades over the last two years. He also showcased next-level blocking chops, allowing just 10 QB pressures, and secured every catchable target over the last two seasons.
Farrow is unlikely to be drafted, but he should be a priority free-agent pickup based on those production numbers and the plus strength and athleticism he displayed at the Houston Pro Day. His vertical (38 inches) and times in the three-cone (6.95), short shuttle (4.14), and 60-yard shuttle (11.31) drills would have ranked within the top three at the combine.