A 2016 NFL Draft one year in advance? Yup. We do this every year. It’s impossible to project what might happen, but it’s still fun. And without fail, one year out, the skill position players are rated higher than many others, which is why you see three QBs in the 1st round. Will they continue to improve, or level off or struggle?
1. Oakland Raiders – Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. Comical how Penn State fans note his rough sophomore season as a reason there’s no way he can go 1st. He was 19 years old, lost his head coach, and had one of the worst offensive lines of any top-flight QB. Also, please read this. If the Raiders are here, they’ll have a new GM and I think, a new QB.
2. Tennessee Titans – Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound monster had a tremendous sophomore season – 21 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles – and would have been a 1st round pick in 2015. As the hype built and teams focused on slowing the 1st team All-American, he was very quiet against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to end the year (just one TFL, zero sacks).
3. Tampa Bay Bucs – Leonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia. Led the Bulldogs in sacks (6) and had 8.5 TFL as a redshirt sophomore. He played most of the season with an injured shoulder and have offseason surgery. Probably a bit light to play DE in the Bucs’ 4-3 (he’s 6-foot-4, 230) but check out this Clemson tape.
4. Cleveland Browns – Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State. The Browns were wise not to trade up for Marcus Mariota. They’ve got too many needs. They’ll give Johnny Manziel a shot, but when that doesn’t work, they’ll have to draft a QB, and how about the strapping Ohio State star? He’ll turn 23 in September, and only has a limited body of work, but the 6-foot-5, 250-pound QB ended the season with three straight incredible games. If Braxton Miller transfers, Jones could win back-to-back titles.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss. Jags have a decent group of WRs – Robinson, Hurns, Lee – but Treadwell has a higher ceiling than all of them. Treadwell was a Top 10 recruit coming out of high school, and at 6-3, 200 pounds, he might remind you of Julio Jones. He’s coming off a nasty injury. Finally, a legit target for Bortles.
6. San Francisco 49ers – Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida. Could the 49ers go from the Super Bowl to the NFC Championship game to five wins in a three year span? Yup. I don’t see how they could possibly improve losing half a dozen quality starters and one of the best coaches in the NFL. Hargreaves was 1st team All-SEC each of his 1st two seasons and was a track star in high school (long jump, 200 meters, 100 meters).
7. Atlanta Falcons – Scooby Wright, DE/OLB, Arizona. The Falcons still have no pass rush, and that’s where Scooby Wright comes in: He was 3rd in the country in sacks last year (14.0), 1st in tackles for loss (29.0) and 1st in tackles (163). All he does is produce. Good size and speed for 6-1, 245, and should start for day one
8. San Diego Chargers – Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. After trading up to get Melvin Gordon, they’ll realize the Wisconsin star won’t fully realize his potential until the offensive line improves dramatically. I don’t know if Stanley will be the best OT in college football, but scouts I’ve talked to said he more than held his own against Leonard Williams of USC last November (Williams had 0 TFL and 0 sacks).
9. New Orleans Saints – D’haquille (Duke) Williams, WR, Auburn. Sturdy, swift 6-2, 220 pound receiver is primed for a monster campaign after staying in school. JUCO star had nice games against Arkansas, Kansas State and Mississippi State, but really blew up against Alabama (while playing hurt): seven catches, 121 yards. The Saints will go back to ground-and-pound in 2015, but they sorely lack a #1 WR.
10. Washington Redskins – Darron Lee, OLB/DE, Ohio State. Injured halfway through his freshman season, Lee redshirted, and came back in 2014 to absolutely dominate: 16.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks and every Alabama fan will forever know his name (3 TFL, 2 sacks in the National Semifinal). At 6-2, 230 coming off the edge, he’s a blur.
11. New York Jets – Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State. Love what the Jets just did in the offseason, and they had a very good draft, including grabbing Bryce Petty from Baylor in the 4th round. But without an average QB, this team is destined for 6-10. Geno & Fitzpatrick are below average, and I suspect both are gone after this year. Don’t like that Cook is only a 58 percent passer two years in a row, but he’s 6-4, 220 pounds, has a cannon arm and if he can improve as a senior, he’s a 1st day pick.
12. Chicago Bears – A’Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, Alabama. The 6-foot-4, 320 pound behemoth could be the nation’s best interior lineman next year, but he’s so skilled and quick he can play on the end. In the Bears 4-3 3-4, that’ll work. He’s the only true freshman at Alabama since Nick Saban’s been the coach to lead the team in sacks (5.5). Bonus: I actually think Jay Cutler has a good season in 2015.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State. If he falls this far, the Steelers would be lucky. All-American is an unbelievable playmaker, is a great tackler, and at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he reminds me of a young Ed Reed. Why aren’t the Steelers in the playoffs? The secondary. Also, toughest schedule in the NFL, no Bell for games against the Patriots & 49ers and three of the final four games on the road.
14. Cincinnati Bengals – Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. Bengals secondary will be a big issue for the team in 2016 free agency. Was the ACC Defensive rookie of the year in 2013 after grabbing six interceptions. First team All-ACC as a sophomore. Could be 1st team All-American as a junior. Two of his brothers are in the NFL (Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Corey Fuller, Detroit Lions).
15. Kansas City Chiefs – Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA. What is he at the next level? Anything he wants to be? Or is he Shaq Thompson – highly productive in college, but without a position? Best position could be as an inside linebacker. At 6-1, 232, he’s an athletic freak and still only 19 years old.
16. New York Giants – Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss. Best recruit in the country in 2013 will be a junior this Fall, and expectations are high for the Rebels and Nkemdiche. Had modest numbers last year (4 TFL, 2 sacks), but the guess here is that the 6-foot-4, 280-pound explodes as a junior and has an All-American season.
17. Minnesota Vikings – Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh. The Vikings are close to being a playoff team. They defensively will be much improved, I just don’t know if they have enough offensively … yet. Sorry, not a fan of Mike Wallace, and they don’t know how to use Cordarrelle Patterson. Boyd broke all of Larry Fitzgerald’s freshman receiving records. Can return punts, too.
18. Dallas Cowboys – Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor. The 6-foot-8 goliath wanted to enter the draft, but didn’t get an early-round grade. He had 19.5 TFL and 11 sacks in his second year with the Bears; if he improves technique instead of just dominating because of his size, he could be a Top 10 pick.
19. Arizona Cardinals – Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Played sparingly as a freshman, carrying the ball just 30 times. Blew up as a sophomore with 1,874 yards and was an absolute beast to close the season: 20-220-2 TDs vs Wisconsin; 20-230-2 TDs vs Alabama; 36-246-4 TDs vs Oregon. Reminds me of Le’Veon Bell. Heisman favorite for 2015. If Gurley and Gordon have big rookie years, and Elliott stays healthy, don’t be shocked if the 6-foot, 220-pound back sniffs the Top 10.
20. Miami Dolphins – Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. The Dolphins drafted Jay Ajayi from Boise State, but it’s anyone’s guess how long his career will be due to a lengthy injury history. Henry is a monster (6-foot-3, 240) who no longer has to split time with TJ Yeldon and I think looks like the second coming of Eddie Lacy.
21. St. Louis Rams – Josh Doctson, WR, TCU. Yes, I have the Rams in the playoffs. But I also have them getting the big, speedy receiver they lack.
22. Carolina Panthers – Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor. Yes, I’ve got the Panthers in the playoffs again. And yes, I have them taking another OL.
23. Houston Texans – Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss. Behemoth of a tackle – 6-foot-5, 315 pounds – could be the first tackle taken in the draft. He’s that good. Suffered a broken leg in the Peach Bowl loss to TCU, and has an injury history during his two seasons as a starter.
24. Philadelphia Eagles – Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame. Incredible athlete who sort of reminds me of Georgia’s Alec Ogletree. Smith (6-2, 235) led the Irish in tackles last year.
25. Detroit Lions – Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee. Enters junior year as a sleeper to make the leap to star in the SEC. Scouts love his size (6-1, 190). Started all 25 games in his first two seasons.
26. Baltimore Ravens – James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 TDs, but how will he bounce back from the 298-yard carry workload. Doesn’t have the speed of Jamal Lewis, but at 6-2, 250 pounds, he’s a bruiser.
28. Denver Broncos – Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame 6-2, 290. Had a strong junior season (7.5 TFL) and would be an ideal fit in a 4-3 defense on the inside, but could still have the speed to play in Denver’s 3-4.
29. New England Patriots – Shilique Calhoun, DE/OLB, Michigan State. Nearly entered the 2015 draft, but apparently didn’t get a high enough grade that he liked, so he returned to school. Had eight sacks and 12.5 TFL last year. At 6-5, 255, I’d project him now at a DE in a 4-3 as opposed to a OLB in a 3-4.
30. Seattle Seahawks – Su’a Cravens, S, USC. Cravens is another hybrid – a 6-foot-1, 225-pound safety who could play linebacker. Likely to play safety in the NFL. All-American candidate. Yes, I have the Seahawks narrowly missing the Super Bowl and drafting a guy to a position where they already have All-Pros in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
31. Indianapolis Colts – Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville. Field was one of the best pass-rushers in college football as a freshman in 2012 when he had 10 sacks, but he was dismissed from TCU for alleged misdemeanor assault of his ex-girlfriend. It looked like his career might have been over, but he’ll start for Louisville this year. He’s 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and would fit in the Colts 3-4. Yes, I have the Colts losing in the Super Bowl.
32. Green Bay Packers – Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia. Has been starting for the last 2.5 years and could have gone to the pros, but another year could help his stock. Has 15 sacks in his career, and five came as a true freshman.