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The draft hoopla rather naturally centers on Round 1, and the prospects selected therein. A successful draft, however, depends just as much (and sometimes more) on what happens in Round 2 and beyond.
Just look at the defending champion Broncos. Sure, they landed Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas and Sylvester Williams in the first round, but where would they have been without guys like Derek Wolfe (Round 2) and Danny Trevathan (Round 6) or undrafted stars Chris Harris and Brandon Marshall?
Even if a team hits a Round 1 home run, it’s just one player. The superstars amongst any draft class are spread throughout the league.
So what happens if a GM misses out on a player he wants Thursday night? Here are 10 fallback options to be found on Friday or Saturday of the 2016 NFL draft.
Round 1 option: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Backup plan: Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
There will be larger gaps between a few of the forthcoming Round 1 options and their backup plans than there is between Elliott and Howard. The latter is considered by many a realistic Day 2 option, and by at least one analyst (NFL.com’s Ike Taylor, in a rather out-of-the-blue prediction) as a top-10 pick.
Howard almost certainly will not climb that high, but he did join Elliott on the All-Big Ten team this past season thanks to 1,300 yards from scrimmage ... in just nine games. Knee and ankle injuries held Howard back from more.
His durability, even at 6' 0" and 230 lbs., will be a concern both because of those missed games and his physical running style. That lower-the-shoulder mentality, however, is one of the reasons his game resembles Elliott’s. Another is his vision with the ball in his hands—Howard patiently waits for holes to open, finds them and attacks.
To be a three-down back like Elliott, Howard has to ... ya know ... play on all three downs. He showed off his blocking chops for Indiana but caught just 24 passes over his three-season college career (two with UAB, one with the Hoosiers); Elliott caught 27 balls last season alone.
“I feel like I’m a three-down back,” Howard said. “At IU they didn’t really focus on throwing the ball to the running back, but I feel like I can catch passes and protect.”
If an NFL team agrees with his assessment, he should be gone by Round 3, and he could be starting just as early as his Ohio State counterpart.
Round 1 option: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
Backup plan: James Bradberry, CB, Samford
Ramsey would have been a candidate to go No. 1 overall, had Tennessee held its pick, with the potential to star at either cornerback or safety. Bradberry is a name to file away for Day 3, a big college CB (6' 1", 211 lbs.) who was recruited as a safety.
It is anyone’s guess as to whether or not Bradberry could move back to his original position and thrive in the NFL. He does have the body type to be a force there, with 4.5 speed and a nose for the ball—35 career pass breakups and eight INTs. Bradberry also does some of his best work coming downhill, supporting on run plays or planting to generate a burst in coverage.
His upside at corner is based on size, and on what his next team believes it can do with that size in press coverage. A shift to safety would be no walk in the park, but possessing traits that fit there could give him a bump come draft weekend.
Round 1 option: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Backup plan: Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State
Haeg essentially is an FCS Jack Conklin: both were sparsely recruited, walked on, then later received scholarships and developed into standout college tackles. Haeg (6' 6", 304 lbs.) even cuts a figure nearly matching Conklin (6' 6", 308). Both face questions about their capabilities to play the NFL tackle position—in Conklin’s case, the mystery is if he’d fare better as a guard; with Haeg, it’s if he can survive as a pro lineman at all.
The strength with which Conklin plays is part and parcel to the guard discussion. Haeg does not have that punch. His selling points, like Stanley’s, start with his athleticism. To wit: check out MockDraftable’s graph comparing Haeg’s combine numbers to all other offensive tackles. He is in the 86th percentile or higher for the broad jump, three-cone drill and short shuttle.
Obviously, a team taking Stanley is doing so in hopes he can be a franchise left tackle. The floor and ceiling both appear to be lower for Haeg, which is the point of this entire exercise. But in the right fit, given some time, Haeg can be a nimble edge run blocker and an adequate pass protector.
Round 1 option: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Backup plan: De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
So you’re a fan of big, physical, possession receivers who have limited deep speed? Well, if your team does not score Treadwell, Wilson could be a value commodity later on. His 40-yard dashes at the combine (4.85 seconds) and pro day (4.78) were plodding, and in the process hammered home that he may be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get prospect.
What you should see is this: A 6' 5", 224 lb., receiver who scored 10 touchdowns last season, uses his hands well and is very difficult to bring down. An ability to clear out cornerbacks plus red-zone effectiveness makes up a significant portion of the Treadwell equation.
“I feel like I can dominate in the red zone. Being a basketball player, I was a leading rebounder when I was playing,” said Wilson, who actually did not convert to football until his senior season in high school. “I can box out a defender. I look at it like a jump ball.”
There is a definite limit to what Wilson will be able to do, at least as a rookie—he has neither the speed nor the technique to take over games. He still could have a role.
Round 1 option: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
Backup plan: Adam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech
Were it not for the season-ending ACL injury Gotsis might be pushing the top 100. As it is, the 287-pounder likely will have to wait awhile on Day 3, although indications thus far are that he should be good to go for the 2016 season.
Both Reed and his Alabama teammate, A’Shawn Robinson, carry with them questions about how much they can contribute on passing downs. Both players, plus Gotsis, flash the athletic traits necessary to become at least serviceable in those situations. But Gotsis’s real hook comes from his run-stuffing and versatility. He slid along multiple spots in Georgia Tech's front, including playing over the nose.
“I think I have a lot of upside. That’s a big thing for me,” said Gotsis, an Australian native. “I’ve only played four years of really high level football. I came in as a true freshman and ended up playing 12 games. For a kid who’s never really played semi-professional at a high level, that was a big thing and showed how quickly that I developed into a player. I think just my upside is huge.”
Round 1 option: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Backup plan: Travis Feeney, LB, Washington
Don’t be surprised if Feeney sneaks his way into Day 2. The NFL is foaming at the mouth trying to find rangy linebackers to match up with modern offenses, and Feeney could be that type of player, just as many view Lee.
A former safety, Feeney actually finished this past season with 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks as the Huskies’ BUCK linebacker—the same spot 2015 draft pick Hau’oli Kikaha played. His rather lanky size (6' 4", 230 lbs., compared to Lee’s 6' 1", 232) likely will keep him from being a pure edge player in the NFL, which is where Kikaha’s future may lie.
But look no further than Feeney’s combine performance to see why defensive coordinators would love to get their hands on him: 4.5-second 40, 40-inch vertical jump, 130-inch broad jump and an 11.71 60-yard shuttle (third best among LBs), all while dealing with a sports hernia which eventually required surgery. His strength will be a concern. So, too, will his medical history.
If nothing else, though, he’ll carve out a role on special teams. The ceiling is much higher.
Round 1 option: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Backup plan: Juston Burris, CB, NC State
In truth, Burris’s early-round comp probably falls between Alexander and, say, Eli Apple or William Jackson—two cornerbacks whose scouting reports will start by mentioning their size and length. Burris (6' 0" with a 31 1/2-inch wingspan) is one of the heavier CBs at 212 lbs., so he should be able to hold his own physically against most wide receivers.
His so-so speed (4.53) falls closer in line with that of Alexander (4.49), who by now has a well-known reputation of being a cocky, aggressive defender. Likewise, Burris figures to appeal most to teams featuring heavy press-man concepts, because he can negate his average deep speed by punishing WRs off the line.
The challenge for Burris as he transitions to the NFL will be to show more discipline in his coverage. That brawling nature can bite him when he doesn’t force a stalemate at the line. But he is quite a physical specimen, one who can develop into a starter.
Round 1 option: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Backup plan: Victor Ochi, DE/OLB, Stony Brook
A bit of this comes down to personal preference: While 3–4 teams could take a shot at Bosa as an outside linebacker (or an undersized five-tech), his ideal position is as a 4–3 DE who kicks inside to pass rush at times. Ochi will be more pigeon holed because of his size (6' 1", 246 lbs.)—a build that points more toward an OLB transition and far less toward any pass-rushing DT possibilities.
That said, he often excels in Bosa-esque fashion, using a strong punch to clear blockers so he can penetrate.
“Most people would call me undersized because I’m 6' 1" coming off the edge,” Ochi said, “but I feel like it helps me get under tackles. and I still have a very large wingspan at the same time. My height and my leverage and my hands gives me a great advantage over other people.”
Round 1 option: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Backup plan: Trae Elston, S, Ole Miss
We are talking about safeties here so pass coverage is critical, without question. However, drawing a line from Joseph to Elston mainly happens for two reasons: 1) Their willingness to step up vs. the run; 2) Their desire to blast ball carriers into the next zip code.
Despite a strong senior season (70 tackles, four interceptions, 14 pass breakups and two touchdowns) that concluded with a second-team All-America nod, Elston was left off the combine invite list. Why? Maybe blame his size—at 5' 11", he has an inch on Joseph but the West Virginia product is more rocked up than is the 195-lb. Elston.
There is an occasional ugly moment for both players, usually caused by poor angles coming downhill. When Elston gets to the ball, though, he makes a play.
Round 1 option: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Backup plan: Quinton Jefferson, DT, Maryland
“I feel like I’m versatile enough to play in any scheme,” Rankins said at the combine. "I feel like I’m versatile enough to play all up and down the defensive line.”
He is right on both counts. And you know what? Jefferson might be able to offer a morsel of the same potential, at a bargain-basement price. Jefferson stands 6' 4", 291—NFL size, even if he doesn’t always play with NFL-level strength against the run.
His frame makes him an option for 3–4 teams. His quickness off the line and ability to get blockers off balance will appeal to 4–3 teams, as well, particularly those hoping to find a disruptive presence in the late rounds. Jefferson likely will not be on the field all that much as a rookie, instead limited to pass-rushing situations, but he brings just enough versatility to make his a name to keep in mind.