Evaluating The 2016 NFL Draft Class: Third Year Is the Charm?

Photo: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

They say it takes three years to really determine how good a player is in the NFL, and while there are certainly exceptions to that rule, generally I've found it to be true. Some NFL players hit the ground running and stay that way. Others don't figure things out until they've spent a couple seasons in the league. Still others start out hot, than regress back to the mean, or worse.

Lost in the conversation about rookies and draft prospects is the development of players who weren't ready for a starring role out of the gate, but have become studs in time. With Kyle Crabbs recently taking a look at how the 2017 class is faring, I thought it would be wise to do an overview of the 2016 group, which is in the midst of what is typically considered a defining season for NFL players.

I'll probably take another peak at the third-year crew near the end of the season, but five weeks into the 2018 campaign, we've already got a pretty good idea how the group is stacking up.


A lot of quarterbacks from the 2016 class have fallen flat on their face in the NFL, but three have made their case to be franchise cornerstones in their third seasons. In 2016 during their rookie campaigns, the order of greatness was clearly Dak Prescott > Carson Wentz > Jared Goff. Have those early impressions completely reversed themselves in 2018?

Goff has clearly been the best of the trio this season, with his Thursday night game against Minnesota standing out in my mind as one of the best efforts I've seen from a quarterback in the past few years. In his second year under McVay, Goff looks like he has put it all together, with the help of good protection and a full arsenal of weapons.

Wentz has the most potential of the group, and he looks like he's returned to form from the knee injury that ended his second season prematurely. He's not getting the same level of help that Goff is however, and it has led Philly to a 2-3 record through five weeks. Wentz still looks like the star that he was blossoming into last season, but right now the results aren't there despite his best efforts.

Time To Bury...

Paxton Lynch. Cardale Jones. Connor Cook. Christian Hackenberg. Take your pick. All four of these duds are still hanging around, except for Lynch who has yet to land on a new team, but we've seen enough from all of them to know how this thing ends. Lynch has to take the cake however, as not many first round picks flame completely out of the league before their third season gets underway.

Running Backs

It's been a quietly disappointing year for Jordan Howard, who is averaging just 3.2 yards a pop and seems to be struggling to take advantage of creases due to his limited burst. He's also not breaking tackles like he has in the past, going down on first contact much easier.

Howard's limitations as a receiver further complicate his overall value to the Bears, while Ezekiel Elliott is making his mark on that front this season, and leads the NFL in rushing. Do you remember when they were rookies, and people tried to make the case that Howard was better? Yeah, I blocked it out too.

In my observations this season, Alex Collins is running hard despite not having a lot of space, Wendell Smallwood is coming off the best game of his career and Kenyan Drake should probably be getting the ball more in Miami. All of those guys are at career crossroads, and a big year this season could position them nicely for future earnings.

Derrick Henry continues to disappoint. He's averaging under 3.5 yards per carry and seems far too hesitant as an inside runner. He's athletic enough to make something out of nothing at times, but overall he seems like an inferior option to Dion Lewis, when you take into account the latter's impact in the passing game.

Time To Bury...

C.J. Prosise. The third-year back was a healthy scratch on Sunday and is now firmly the fourth running back in Seattle, in real danger of being bounced from the roster completely. Devontae Booker is also clinging to a spot in Denver's rotation, with only his receiving prowess keeping him from being completely eliminated by Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay.

Wide Receivers

Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill are stars, far-and-away the best of the much-hyped 2016 class. Several first rounders have struggled to find their way, but Will Fuller is emerging as a productive pass-catcher when healthy. He has his limitations, but he'll carve out a nice career if he can stay on the field.

The same can be said for Tyler Boyd, who is emerging as a reliable possession threat for Cincinnati this season. It took awhile for Boyd to get going, but he's been a revelation for a Bengals team that desperately needed another real threat at receiver.

There are plenty of other receivers from this class who have been solid this season, but the biggest disappointments so far have been Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson. Treadwell is only still on the Vikings roster because of his price tag, and Doctson is still looking for his big breakout game. Could it come tonight, against a Saints secondary that has struggled?

Time To Bury...

Corey Coleman. Cut from three teams in six weeks, Coleman was the first receiver off the board in 2016 and will go down as one of the biggest busts in recent NFL draft history. You can probably put Braxton Miller and Leonte Carroo in this group as well.

Tight Ends

With Hunter Henry out for the season, Austin Hooper has emerged as the best tight end from a pretty weak crop in 2018. There are some strong role players in David Morgan, Tyler Higbee and Nick Vannett, but remember, only four tight ends came off the board before round six in this draft class. No real disappointments, but not many big hits either.

Offensive Line

It took awhile, but it looks like four legit offensive tackles will be one of the calling cards of the 2016 class. Taylor Decker, Ronnie Stanley and Jack Conklin have been good for awhile now, but Laremy Tunsil's emergence this season, his second at left tackle, has been huge. All four look like long-term cornerstone pieces for their franchises this year.

While players like Cody Whitehair and Joe Thuney continue to build on already impressive resumes, a few linemen are breaking out in the third year of their careers. Rams guard Austin Blythe, Broncos guard Connor McGovern and Ravens center Matt Skura have worked on their craft behind the scenes over the past few years, and are now playing at a high level in 2018. Blythe has been one of the best guards in the league this season.

Brandon Shell, Ryan Kelly and Nick Martin all continue to grow in their third years. If they can stay on an ascending path, the 2016 offensive line class will go down as one of the best groups in a long time. I was high on all three coming into the draft, so count me among the believers that the trio will be at least quality starters in the NFL for a long time.

Those who have struggled include Germain Ifedi (no surprise there), Joshua Garnett (knees might be shot, can't get on the field) and Le'Raven Clark.

Time To Bury...

Jason Spriggs. He's only played 41 snaps this season, and after watching him the past two seasons, that's 42 too many. You can probably put Ifedi in this group too.

Interior Defensive Line

DeForest Buckner and Chris Jones are complete players and utter stars for their teams, each competing to be the best defensive lineman from that class. They're not alone however, as Kenny Clark and Sheldon Rankins have continued their ascension to the top 20 interior defensive linemen in the NFL, arguably the league's most loaded position group.

It's hard to find many disappointments in this group. D.J. Reader, Jarran Reed, Michael Pierce and even A'Shawn Robinson have been strong against the run, with the first three even flashing a bit as rushers this season. As rotational players, Matt Ioannidis and Dean Lowry have continued to make an impact, and even Robert Nkemdiche has been at least solid this season.

Time To Bury...

Vernon Butler is a guy I haven't seen at all this season, but the reports out of Carolina haven't been good, and I know he isn't playing very much either. As a former first round pick, his time may have come and gone in Carolina.

Edge Defenders

Outside of Joey Bosa, who hasn't played this season, and Yannick Ngakoue, who has just one sack through five games, this group has been mostly a disaster since entering the league. That has remained true in 2018, where a bunch of third-year edge defenders have been fine against the run, but few have made any impact as pass rushers.

Emmanuel Ogbah has continued to play strong run defense with little passing downs impact when he is on the field (he's been banged up), while Romeo Okwara and Stephen Weatherly have quietly become solid players for their respective teams. But there isn't much to write home about, and that includes Leonard Floyd failing to make much splash in the year that was supposed to be his big breakout. Still looking for sack no. 1...

Time To Bury...

The biggest disappointment of the group is probably Noah Spence, who has played just a couple snaps this season and is the last guy off the bench for Tampa Bay right now. The Bucs can't rush the passer, and he still can't get on the field. It's over.

Shaq Lawson hasn't been much better. With Kevin Dodd already out of the league and Kamalei Correa hanging on to a depth spot in Tennessee, we're in real danger of having four of the top seven edge defenders drafted on the roster bubble or out of the league by next season.


What an odd group. Guys like Blake Martinez, Nick Vigil and Joe Schobert are solid but unspectacular, while Reggie Ragland hasn't looked good at all in the Chiefs games I've seen. With Deion Jones on IR, Myles Jack is the star of the group, but Jaylon Smith and Darron Lee look much improved this season as well.

Overall, the 2016 linebacker group has produced some good players, even if consistency and injuries have been issues for several of them. I'm not sure there is anyone of note worth burying just yet, but a couple of these guys could be headed that way by next year.


New year, same story on the 2016 cornerback class. Jalen Ramsey is the star of the group, William Jackson is a keeper and Kendall Fuller and Xavien Howard are the rising studs of the class if they can become a little more consistent.

On the other side of the coin, Artie Burns has been a nightmare for Pittsburgh, and Jalen Mills has barely been better for Philadelphia. Burns has already lost his full-time starting job, while Mills is in danger of seeing his play time cut short as well. Mack Alexander hasn't improved much in Minnesota, and could be a trade candidate when the Vikings get Trae Waynes back from injury.

Time To Bury...

Vernon Hargreaves. His season-ending injury came at a very inopportune time, with two new rookies in the fold and Ryan Smith showing signs of improvement. It's tough to foresee Hargreaves, who was already a major disappointment, working his way back into the starting lineup next season.


The top two safeties off the board in 2016 were Karl Joseph, now benched, and Keanu Neal, currently on injured reserve. Those were the only safeties taken in the top 50, but the next one off the board was T.J. Green, who has already been cut from one of the league's worst secondaries in Indianapolis.

Fortunately, things did pick up for the class as the draft progressed, most notably in the case of Kevin Byard who is one of the more underrated players in the NFL. Von Bell, Justin Simmons and Sean Davis have become solid starters for their respective teams, although the jury is still out on the latter after moving to free safety this season. Early returns are promising, but we'll see.

Time To Bury...

I think Green is cooked, although Seattle does have a thing for castaways with raw athletic upside. Some would say Karl Joseph, but the Raiders' regime is insane, and many who I trust that cover the team believe Joseph should be starting. I hope he gets traded by the deadline.