This week, we’re looking back at the 2016 NFL Draft. You can also check out our list of the top 10 players, how we ranked the 15 quarterbacks, how we evaluate the offensive linemen now, the biggest steals, five breakout candidates from that draft class.
Every NFL season there’s a cycle of players who are either handed massive extensions or face the chopping block. This time the focus is on the 2016 class. It’s been three years since the 2016 NFL Draft, which means those players’ rookie contracts expire soon.
The big names either have already been signed to extensions or will be soon, like Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. But there are also players who face uncertainty heading into their fourth season. Some will be playing in hopes of a sizable payday either by their current team or a new one in free agency. Others will be trying to show they are worthy of the role expected of them — or just that they can just stay on the field.
Here is a look at six players from the 2016 NFL Draft class who have something to prove. These guys will all be facing the pressure to perform but for different reasons.
That he can stay healthy: Will Fuller
Despite being one of top scoring threats for the Houston Texans, Will Fuller has yet to play a full 16-game season. After a 2017 season when he showed a lot of promise with seven receiving touchdowns, Fuller’s 2018 campaign was cut short due to a torn ACL in Week 8.
Fuller was having a good season for the Texans until then. His 503 receiving yards were more than the 423 he totaled the year prior, his catch rate was at 71.1 percent, and he had a career-high 15.7 yards per reception as he and Deshaun Watson continued to torch defenses down the field.
We do really need a full season of Will Fuller + Deshaun Watson.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 21, 2019
Fuller was truly playing at his best before going down with injury last season; you have to hope for a full year of him and Watson playing pitch & catch. pic.twitter.com/ruH0SU2kNe
Fuller is expected to be back for Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints this season. His ability to stretch the field is crucial as it draws away safeties for guys like Keke Coutee to work underneath routes.
More importantly, it focuses attention away from DeAndre Hopkins, who continues to be a top receiver in the league. With defenses worried about Fuller getting over the top of them, Hopkins will have an easier time getting open.
Although the Texans exercised his fifth-year option, Fuller will be hoping to play himself into a bigger contract. At his best, Fuller can be a fantastic No. 2 option alongside Hopkins while gashing defenses with deep routes. He just has to stay on the field and contribute consistently for a team trying to repeat as division champs in a competitive AFC South.
That he’s worth the contract he just signed: Sterling Shepard
The New York Giants have a massive project on their hands when it comes to replacing Odell Beckham Jr. There is no one player on this roster who can do what OBJ did for this team, but the Giants will be hoping that Sterling Shepard can at least pick up a good chunk of the workload.
Following an eight-touchdown, 65-catch rookie season, Shepard only played 11 games in 2017 due to migraines. He bounced back last season with his total yards and yards per reception numbers going up. Shepard had a lot of one-on-one opportunities on the outside, mostly thanks to Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley being there to command the attention of defenses. However, he hauled in just four touchdowns and his catch percentage remained around average at 61.7 percent.
Shepard got a four-year, $41 million extension this offseason, and with Bennie Fowler and Corey Coleman as the backups, then a bump in production is a must.
The signing of Golden Tate should help some of the pressure from opposing secondaries from Shepard, and the big-play threat of Barkley is still there. The Giants need all the help they can get from Shepard to make sure defenses don’t key in on Barkley and stagnate the New York offense.
That he can be the No. 1 guy: Kenyan Drake
2018 was a strange season for Kenyan Drake. With Frank Gore as the Miami Dolphins’ main running back, Drake worked well in a secondary role and provided a dual threat out of the backfield (477 receiving yards and five touchdowns). His averages were solid with 4.5 yards per rush and 9 yards per reception.
However, his opportunities weren’t consistent and in turn, his production suffered. Drake had more than 10 rushing attempts in just five games last season and only one came after Week 8.
Things are changing this year. Drake moves up the depth chart with the loss of Gore, who signed with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. For this season at least, the job will be Drake’s for the taking. He will have to show he can excel as a No. 1 back while continuing to be an option in the passing game.
Drake will also be playing for his future as a Dolphin. His contract is set to expire after the season and at the moment there are no talks between both sides for an extension. With a new head coach in Brian Flores, it makes sense for him to want to get a good look at Drake before committing to him long term.
From watching the Miami offense when Drake was on the field last year, it was clear he needed to be featured more:
Now Drake is expected to get the majority of the carries in the Dolphins’ backfield and get his chance to prove himself as a starting running back.
That he can produce for a new team: Emmanuel Ogbah
Change was abundant for the Cleveland Browns this offseason. They traded for Odell Beckham Jr. and also sent away defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah to the Kansas City Chiefs for safety Eric Murray.
It’s been tough sledding for Ogbah after a promising rookie year in 2016. A second-round draft pick, Ogbah recorded 5.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss and looked to be a bright spot for the Browns’ defense. His numbers dipped the next two years, though. He only played 10 games in 2017 and last year he had career lows in sacks and tackles for loss. Now he gets a new challenge in a different city with a defense that is currently undergoing a much-needed retooling.
It’s no secret that the Chiefs had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season. They were 31st in yards allowed, 24th in scoring, and 24th in yards per play. They have a lot of different faces on the defense now, including Tyrann Mathieu and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
KC will be hoping Ogbah can add to a defensive line which was the brightest spot of the defense, a unit that ranked first in the NFL in sacks last season (52). However, the defensive line wasn’t immune to change as players like Dee Ford and Justin Houston left this offseason.
Ogbah will back up Frank Clark, but it doesn’t mean he won’t have expectations placed on him. There is still a lot of potential with Ogbah as a pass rusher and even in a lesser role, he could shine for this defense. Strong play from Ogbah could also mean more rest for guys like Clark and Chris Jones, making them fresher for late-game situations and the playoffs.
Ogbah was the 32nd overall player taken in the NFL Draft, but he’s failed up to live up to the standard he initially set as a rookie. He will be an unrestricted free agent next year and a bounce-back 2019 season could go a long way in helping his free agency plans.
That he’s not a bust: Artie Burns
Like many players on the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2018 was a rough season for cornerback Artie Burns. After a decent rookie year and 2017 season in which he started all 16 games, Burns was benched halfway through his third year as he struggled to stay in front of opposing wide receivers.
With the lack of playing time, Burns saw all of his stats drop off. He only recorded one pass defended as compared to the 26 combined he had in the two prior seasons, while also failing to net an interception. His production really fell after Pittsburgh’s bye in Week 7. Burns put up just three total tackles in those 11 remaining games.
Given that Burns had only 17 solo tackles last season and played just 308 snaps last year, it’s safe to say the clock is ticking. It didn’t help Burns’ chances either that the Steelers signed Steven Nelson this offseason and took Michigan State’s Justin Layne in the third round of the draft in April.
Burns, who was drafted in the first round in 2016, had his fifth-year option declined by the Steelers, so now it’s gut-check time in terms of his roster spot. If he doesn’t show any signs of improvement during training camp, Burns could be looking for a different team by the time the season kicks off.
That’s he’s worth a top-10 pick: Leonard Floyd
Expectations were high for Leonard Floyd in the 2016 draft. The rookie from Georgia was the second first-round pick in the Ryan Pace era and performed right off the bat. Floyd totaled seven sacks, 23 solo tackles, and six tackles for loss as a rookie, and his one defensive touchdown against Green Bay warmed the hearts of Bears fans.
His play was strong enough for him to make the All-Rookie team. Since then, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Floyd. He’s missed time due to injury in 2017 and has struggled at times. He will be 27 when next season rolls around and in the prime of his career, we still don’t have much of a read on him as a player.
Despite being inconsistent in rushing the quarterback, Floyd was great at defending the run last season. He was a gigantic part of a defense that gave up the least rushing yards in the league. Floyd used his 6’4 frame to shrug off offensive linemen and plug the gaps to stifle opposition running backs. He improved in setting the edge and when he wasn’t stopping the running back himself, Floyd opened up spaces for guys like Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, and even Eddie Jackson to come swooping in for the tackle.
That’s why, despite the drop in sacks, Floyd registered more tackles and tackles for loss.
With the presence of Khalil Mack, the other guys on the Chicago defensive line should have favorable matchups every time they line up. But Floyd needs to do more in his role, especially when rushing the quarterback.
Floyd can use his length to swarm the quarterback and flashed the potential to be a good pass rusher, coming with two huge sacks that helped seal the Bears’ NFC North title.
Overall, though, he only had four sacks in 2018, a total which needs to be higher next season.
Chicago picked up Floyd’s fifth-year option so it’s likely he will be in the Windy City for the next two years during its run as contenders in the NFC. With a vaunted defense returning the majority of its starters, Floyd has to prove he was worth that high of a selection all the way back in 2016.
His abilities to be a steady all-around defensive player are there — he just has to put it together.