Well, the 2016 NFL Draft is finally upon us and it's an exciting time because NFL teams can no longer lie. They're forced to play their cards and show us what they really value and what they believe their team needs to win football games. We've already had two blockbuster trades to acquire the top two picks in the draft and there is sure to be more fireworks on Thursday night and through the weekend.
Before I unveil this year’s big board I'll share some thoughts on the 2016 NFL Draft Class as a whole. It's honestly a little underwhelming. There are only a few players who I see as foundation pieces of an offense or defense. Not much separates players 25-50 in this class and the talent really thins out fast after that.
As I mentioned above there were two blockbuster trades that involved the Rams and Eagles acquiring the top two picks in the draft. Regardless of whether the players they selected will be worth the capital each team gave up the class will ultimately be headlined by the two QB's, California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz will likely go 1-2 to start things off. What's odd to me is that these two QB's have been propped up the whole draft process despite being inferior talents to the likes of Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater of recent years who were picked apart.
This class does boast an impressive crop of defensive lineman. There are some great interior rushers and run stuffers from big and small schools alike so there are plenty of flavors to choose from if you're in need.
It should be interesting to see how the NFL handles some of these positionally ambiguous defenders. Players like Duke S/LB Jeremy Cash and USC S/LB Su'a Cravens have put up incredible collegiate careers but where do they play in the NFL? Will teams force them to play Safety or will they allow them to flourish and be undersized, aggressive, "in the box" defenders, in the mold of Deone Bucannon. Georgia LB Leonard Floyd is another player without a home and there are rumors that he could go #5 overall to Jacksonville.
Now onto my rankings. I'm not a doctor. I don't have access to medical reports nor am I in the room during the interview process for these prospects, so I do my best to evaluate with the resources that I am given.
This wouldn't be possible without the phenomenal people at DraftBreakdown.com and NoonKick.com.
1. Laremy Tunsil - OT - Ole Miss
Tunsil has arguably been the most dominant player in college football the past two years. He's nimble on his feet in pass protections and a mauler in the run game. Tunsil handled the best SEC pass rushers with ease over the years. In 2015 he didn't allow a sack or QB hit. He checks all the boxes.
2. Ezekiel Elliott - RB - Ohio State
Zeke is an incredible all around back. He has the ability to be a foundation piece of an offense from Day 1. Many will compare Elliott to Rams RB Todd Gurley, who went #10 overall last year, but stylistically they're different runners. Gurley is physical force with the ball in his hands and has a special burst when he hits the second level of a defense while Elliott is a little savvier of a runner and a more complete back. Elliott is a phenomenal receiver and blocker in both the passing and run game.
3. Joey Bosa - Edge - Ohio State
Bosa doesn't have a special trump card in his bag of tricks but he is still a special player. His 8-10 sack years may not wow anyone but his relentless aggression in the pass and run game will make him a nightmare for offensive lineman.
4. Jalen Ramsey - S - Florida State
If it were up to me Ramsey would play Safety at the next level. I question his man coverage skills with quicker wide receivers and polished route runners. The main reason why I prefer him at safety though is because he has that playmaker mentality. Use him as a chess piece on D. He has shown the ability to come off the edge as a pass rusher, roam around the secondary and play a boundary corner. Think of his upside as a '09 Charles Woodson.
5. Myles Jack - LB - UCLA
Myles Jack is the new age linebacker in the mold of Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner. Jack is a unique talent who has spent time at running back and even used a slot corner at UCLA. Since UCLA has used him all over he hasn't spent much time mastering the MLB position but his physical traits and mentality translate. Jack's knee is a red flag for many teams and may cause him to drop in the draft.
6. Sheldon Rankins - DL - Louisville
Rankins elite level quickness makes him a handful to contain in the running and passing game. Rankins dominated the postseason draft process with an impressive Senior Bowl and Combine performance. His size (299lbs) is questioned but I'll take a scheme versatile lineman with the ability to collapse a pocket all day with how pass happy the NFL is these days.
7. Jaylon Smith - LB - Notre Dame
A healthy Jaylon Smith would slot in right here. Now considering what we know from medicals I probably wouldn't spend a pick on him until Day 3 but you might be able to talk me into taking him in Round 3. Smith athleticism jumps off the screen when watching Notre Dame. His burst has made him a special pass rusher and his overall athletic ability plays well in the passing game. He has some things to iron out as a run defender, notably the ability to stack and shed linemen. Here's to hoping he can bounce back from his gruesome leg injury.
8. Shaq Lawson - Edge - Clemson
It boggles my mind that some major media members have questioned Shaq Lawson's athleticism over the past month. Lawson is the best edge pass rusher in this draft and his stats prove that (led the nation with 25.5 TFL in 2015). Lawson has shown the ability to string together multiple pass rush moves to get to the quarterback.
9. Ronnie Stanley - OT - Notre Dame
Stanley is an impressive pass protector and looks like a natural dropping into his pass-set. He shows great quickness and hand use to redirect pass rushers. His technique and mean streak in the run game is lacking at times. Stanley's "love for the game" has been brought up plenty of times in the draft process. I can't speak on that.
10. Deforest Buckner - DL - Oregon
Buckner is an intimidating presence, 6'7", 291 lbs., who was dominant in the run game the past few years at Oregon. His ability to stack and shed lineman and immediately find the ball carrier is impressive. He can improve as a pass rusher but he has all the tools to be a nice well-rounded building block for a defense. Often compared to Cardinals DL Calais Campbell.
11. LaQuon Treadwell - WR - Ole Miss
Treadwell has exceptional ball skills and his ability to win contested catches is why he draws comparison to the likes of Bears WR Alshon Jeffery. The most underrated aspect of Treadwell's game is how big of a menace he is in the open-field, often making the first defender miss by displaying a shifty move or throwing out a stiff arm. Treadwell may not be seen as your traditional deep threat because of his "poor" 40-yard dash time (4.63) but he's such a good route runner to all levels of the field I don't have any issues with it. I think a Brandon Marshall type career is in store for Treadwell.
12. Josh Doctson - WR - TCU
If Laquon Treadwell is LeBron James then Josh Doctson is Kevin Durant. Treadwell makes plenty of highlight reel plays and is thunderous with the ball in his hands. Conversely, Doctson has a long and lean frame to go along with his silky smooth game. His elite body control and ability to win above the rim allows him to makes the most difficult plays look easy.
13. Jared Goff - QB - California
Goff is the most "NFL Ready" QB in my eyes. Goff is comfortable maneuvering a muddy pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. Goff throws with excellent timing and anticipation in the passing game and has displayed beautiful touch on "bucket" throws down the sideline.
14. Ryan Kelly - C - Alabama
Kelly's ability to move the line of scrimmage is what propelled RB Derrick Henry to his Heisman Trophy. Kelly's great feet and hands allow him to get position on interior defenders and has proven to be a great anchor in the passing game. Kelly was not flagged nor did he allow a sack in 2015. Should be a Day 1 Starter.
15. Noah Spence - Edge - Eastern Kentucky
Spence is one of the few impact pass rushers in this class. His last two years he's racked up an impressive 37 TFL and 19.5 Sacks at Ohio State and Eastern Kentucky. Spence is most known for getting kicked out of OSU due to failed drug tests but has apparently cleaned up his act in the past year. His combine performance was a little underwhelming but I still think he has shown the ability to win at the next level.
16. Sterling Shepard - WR - Oklahoma
Shepard is hands down the best route runner in this draft class. He'll likely make his living in the slot in the NFL but he has the ability to play on the outside as well. Shepard plays bigger than he's listed and has shown the ability to make the over the shoulder catches look routine when given the opportunity. A common player comparison that has been handed out by major media is Green Bay Packers WR Randall Cobb and it wouldn't surprised me to see him produce similar results given the opportunity in the NFL.
17. Darian Thompson - S - Boise State
Thompson is one of the more underrated players in this class. A ball-hawking safety (19 career INTs - MWC record) that loves to come up and make plays in the run game. Thompson plays faster than he tested and with his ball skills and aggressive playmaking mentality there is a lot to like in his game. In a league that is starving for just adequate safety play I would think plenty of teams would love to get their hands on him.
18. Robert Nkemdiche - DT - Ole Miss
Nkemdiche's explosive get off and lateral agility allows him to make splash plays in both the run and pass game. He a special talent who may be limited to passing downs early in his career while he develops his overall game. Although Nkemdiche is an interesting personality who can struggle in the run game he's too talented not to be a 1st RD pick in this draft.
19. Javon Hargrave - DT - South Carolina State
Arguably the most explosive interior rusher in this class, Hargrave dominated the FCS the past two seasons recording 46 TFL and 29.5 Sacks. Hargrave's thick, powerful and flexible lower body allows him to gain leverage move and slip past lineman. He constantly lives on the other side of the ball. Every team can use more interior pass rushers to collapse and move QBs out of the pocket. Hargrave can do just that.
20. Taylor Decker - OT - Ohio State
Decker is a really well rounded tackle prospect with no real obvious weaknesses. He's got a mean streak in the run game and was impressive blocking linebackers at the second level. As a pass rusher he can struggle with speed but technically sound otherwise. Decker doesn't have the same ceiling as Tunsil or Stanley but he should be considered a plug and play option at tackle.
21. Eli Apple - DB - Ohio State
Apple has the size (6'1") and speed (4.40) that NFL teams covet at the DB position. Just 20 years old, he's shown the ability to be physical and stick with WRs in man coverage. One thing you'll notice when watching Apple is that he doesn't always get his head around and play the ball. I wish there was a little more "my ball" mentality to his game. With that being said Apple is the clear #1 boundary corner in this class.
22. Corey Coleman - WR - Baylor
Coleman is an explosive "twitched up" athlete in the mold of Redskins WR Deseasn Jackson. His speed and big play ability immediately add a new dimension to any offense. Although slight in build Coleman plays with the physicality you love to see. He's prone to concentration drops. Per Pro Football Focus, Coleman had the 5th highest drop rate among Wide Receivers in this draft class. I'll be interested to see how Coleman handles more physical and competent NFL DB's. Coleman has as high of a ceiling as any WR in this class.
23. Vernon Butler - DT - Louisiana Tech
Butler stands in at 6'4" 323lb but his style of play would have you guessing he weighed much less. Butler wins with quickness and excellent hand use. Butler has gigantic 35 1/4 inch arms and uses them to his advantage. Butler has shown an impressive bull rush but will need to add more moves to his repertoire. Motor is always running hot and can play anywhere along the defensive line.
24. Chris Jones - DT - Mississippi State
Chris Jones is a lot like Vernon Butler but with a more questionable motor. Jones was a 5-Star recruit coming out high school who has struggled to play at a consistently high level. When Jones does flash his immense talent he is scary. Jones' quick first step, brute strength and ability to play everywhere along the defensive line is why teams may say the risk is worth the reward.
25. Darron Lee - LB - Ohio State
Lee is one of my favorite players in this class. He's such a physical freak and has shown the ability to be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. Lee is a tough evaluation, much like Myles Jack, because he hasn't spent much time as a traditional LB. Lee spent time covering slot WRs as well as rushing the passer off the edge. Lee's rawness as a LB does show in the run game. It's hard to say if Lee's timid play against lineman is due to his inexperience or not wanting to get down and dirty. I'd lean towards the inexperienced route. Lee came to Ohio State at 195lbs and was recruited to play QB, WR and DB. Lee has as much upside as anyone in this class. He's worth the risk.