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 should evaluate the OL, the six guys under the most pressure to perform this season, and five breakout candidates from that draft class.
The 2016 NFL Draft, at least three years out, has produced some incredible players at the top end. Six of the first seven players drafted have already made the Pro Bowl, and both of the top quarterbacks — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz — are franchise guys.
That draft class was more than just a stellar first round, though. It was a deeply talented draft, from second-round standouts like Michael Thomas and Xavien Howard to solid later-round contributors like Jordan Howard.
The draft steal is sometimes a nebulous concept, but really it’s simple: a steal doesn’t have to come from the seventh round. Even first-round picks can be a steal if they’re a sure-fire Hall of Famer (and at least a couple players from 2016 could be on that trajectory, though it’s too early to make THAT judgment definitively).
Tom Brady wasn’t a steal just because he was a sixth-round pick; he was a steal because he turned into a franchise quarterback (there’s also the small matter of him also being widely considered the best to ever throw a football).
So, who is the biggest draft steal from 2016? I’ll run through a few candidates.
This is my personal pick for the biggest steal, and it’s a no-brainer given his position and where he was drafted in the fourth round.
When you look at his snap-to-snap ability, the way he commands the offense, his throwing motion, and his discipline in knowing when NOT to throw the ball, all the pieces of a franchise guy are there.
With two Pro Bowls under his belt, a 66.1 career completion percentage, and 67 touchdowns against 25 interceptions, he’s already doing quite well, especially for being the 135th overall pick.
With the Prescott-to-Amari Cooper connection heating up and a new Cowboys playcaller for 2019, Prescott could prove his doubters wrong this coming season.
Another position that’s only growing in importance and value in the draft is defensive end. The best ones are often drafted in the top 10, alongside the quarterbacks and defensive tackles. Great defensive ends come from all over the draft, but to find one who already looks like a franchise player in the third round is pretty special.
Ngakoue is still overlooked when the conversation turns to the dominant pass rushers in the league. He made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and has amassed 29.5 sacks in three seasons — the most in his draft class and top 10 in the league since then. He’s hoping for a new contract, and the Jaguars would be foolish to not give it to him.
For a steal a bit earlier in the draft, how about Dolphins corner Xavien Howard? The second-round pick led the NFL with seven interceptions last season, made the Pro Bowl, and was a second-team All-Pro.
Howard was the sixth cornerback off the board in 2016, but he’s only one of two to make the Pro Bowl and was the first to get a big extension. He signed a five-year, $76.5 million contract with the Dolphins in May. Like Ngakoue, Howard has inexplicably flown under the radar. He’s got 11 picks, a defensive touchdown, and 31 pass deflections for his career, and is only improving.
Thomas, the sixth receiver drafted in 2016, has lapped the guys taken ahead of him. He is already among the best receivers in the league, eclipsing 1,100 yards in each of his three seasons, with 1,405 receiving yards last year alone. The 2018 All-Pro also has 23 touchdown catches, 321 receptions, and has made the Pro Bowl twice in his career. He holds four Saints franchise records in receptions and yards in both a single game and single season.
Plus he did this:
The Falcons have a high-flying offense, but Matt Ryan has often lacked a sure-handed safety net at the tight end position, especially in recent years. That’s changed with the addition of Hooper.
It’s been something of a slow burn, but Hooper showcased that he’s a reliable weapon. Last season he had a catch rate of 80.7 percent, best among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also fourth among all tight ends with 71 receptions and seventh in receiving yards with 660. Most tight ends aren’t going to break the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season, but Hooper has all the physical tools to do so in his fourth year. Even if he doesn’t, the 24-year-old’s numbers already make him a great value with the 81st overall pick.
Howard is with a new team just three seasons into his career and his numbers have declined, but since I personally believe Howard will bounce back, I think where he was picked — 150th overall — represents pretty significant value. He has two 1,000-yard seasons and even in his “down” 2018 season, he still managed 935 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The Bears went in a different direction, but I expect Howard to do some good things with the Eagles, where he won’t be “the” workhorse and where he already feels he’s better utilized than he was in Matt Nagy’s offense. Maybe he’s no longer a draft steal for his old team, but he could easily wind up being a trade steal, considering the Eagles only gave up a 2020 sixth-round pick for him.
So, who do you think is the biggest steal of the 2016 draft? For me, it’s Prescott hands down, but there are plenty of deserving candidates, beyond the players listed above.