How NFL draft might go if teams only looked at college performance
With so much information to evaluate, it’s no wonder projecting the draft is such an inexact science. It’s also easy to see why sometimes it seems like the least important data used to evaluate a prospect is his actual on-field performance.
Here on the college football side of things, draft picks’ on-field performance is our wheelhouse for the three to five years they spend in school. It’s why we celebrate players like Troy Smith with a Heisman Trophy while NFL draft criteria makes him a fifth-round pick.
Obviously NFL teams have good reason to consider more than just what players did on the field in college. But there are already plenty of mock drafts based on NFL scouts’ criteria. Let’s take a look at what the 2016 draft might look like if all teams had to go off of was players’ college performance. For each pick, we’ll use SI.com NFL writer and draft expert Chris Burke’s latest mock draft to determine what position each team will target and select the player at that position with the greatest college career.
Think the Rams traded up to have their choice between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz? Not in this scenario. Los Angeles instead selects Mississippi State’s Prescott as its franchise QB after the dual-threat passer’s sensational junior and senior seasons. He led the Bulldogs to the top of the rankings in 2014 when he threw for 3,449 yards, rushed for 986 yards and scored 42 total touchdowns. Then, when many expected Mississippi State to come crashing down in ’15, Prescott helped the Bulldogs finish 9–4 with 3,793 passing yards, 588 rushing yards and 39 scores.
Here’s one point upon which draftniks and college football fans agree: Bosa is a beast. Ohio State’s star defensive end was a two-time All-America honoree after compiling 18.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He’ll likely be a top-10 pick Thursday night.
Another point of agreement between scouts and college football fans is that Florida State’s Ramsey is a can’t-miss star at defensive back. He made 10 tackles for loss, intercepted two passes and forced three fumbles as a sophomore in 2014 before transitioning to cornerback as a junior and helping the Seminoles lead the ACC in yards allowed per attempt.
Lawson continues the trend of Clemson defensive linemen who were studs in college and elite draft prospects, too. Stuck behind Vic Beasley until last year, Lawson broke out with a nation-leading 24.5 tackles for loss. He also recorded 12.5 sacks to help the Tigers reach the College Football Playoff national championship.
Scouts question whether the Baylor left tackle has the athleticism and frame to start on the offensive line in the NFL, but there’s no denying his dominance in college. Drango, the Big 12’s offensive lineman of the year, was an anchor on the line for the Bears’ attack, which ranked first in the nation in scoring offense and total offense in 2015.
Ohio State’s left tackle is a likely first-round pick but isn’t expected to go this high in the draft. The 2015 All-America honoree and the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year started three years for the Buckeyes. Decker helped running back Ezekiel Elliott average 6.7 yards per carry during his Ohio State career.
On a loaded Alabama defense, Ragland may have been the unit’s best player. He helped the Crimson Tide lead the nation in yards allowed per play with 102 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Ragland is a likely first-round pick but faces concerns about his pass coverage skills at the next level.
Nassib came out of nowhere to win the Lombardi Award as the top lineman or linebacker in college football last year. He was also named the Big Ten defensive player of the year after racking up 19.5 tackles for loss and a nation-best 15.5 sacks. Unfortunately for him, that success only has him as a projected third-round pick in the draft.
The second Alabama defensive player to be selected here, Robinson was a force in the middle of the line, consistently plugging holes despite frequently drawing double teams. The All-America defensive lineman recorded 7.5 tackles for loss and helped Alabama allow just 2.43 yards per carry. He’s expected to be a first-round pick.
The Bears nab the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner to improve their backfield after Henry helped carry the Crimson Tide to a national championship. A workhorse back, he rushed 395 times for 2,219 yards with 28 touchdowns last season after gaining 990 yards with 11 touchdowns in ’14.
Ogbah was a dominant presence on Oklahoma State’s defensive line, recording a combined 29.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He was named the Big 12’s co-defensive player of the year in 2015 after leading the conference in sacks and finishing second in tackles for loss.
The consistency of Hargreaves’s elite level of production makes him the clear choice for the Dolphins. After working his way into a starting role and a third-team All-America selection as a freshman, Hargreaves went on to establish himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in college football. By his junior year he racked up 27 career passes defended and 10 interceptions.
Clemson’s cornerback may have been the toughest matchup in the country for opposing wide receivers in 2015. According to Pro Football Focus, Alexander surrendered only 19 catches on 58 targets for 258 yards and no touchdowns. When he tangled with explosive Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller, Fuller left Death Valley with just two catches for 37 yards, his lowest totals of the season.
A seven-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits limited Tunsil to just six games in 2015, but whenever the former five-star recruit was on the field he was a stabilizing force on Ole Miss’s offensive line. Tunsil earned a second-team All-SEC selection as a true freshman before becoming a second-team All-America honoree as a sophomore. He capped off his Rebels career with a two-yard touchdown run on a passback in Ole Miss’s Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.
Stanley’s building a late buzz that could make him the first offensive tackle off the board in the draft Thursday, but he’s the third to go here. The Notre Dame left tackle could have entered the draft last year but returned for another dominant season, earning a second-team All-America selection. However, memories of what it took for him to “block” Clemson’s Lawson ignite some concern.
Matakevich may have to wait until Saturday to hear his name called in the draft, but NFL scouts’ concerns about his strength and speed don’t matter here. The Temple linebacker was one of the most consistent players in college football, recording over 100 tackles in all four seasons. He won the Nagurski and Bednarik awards this past season after compiling 138 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and five interceptions in a breakthrough season for the Owls.
Though NFL teams have issues about Sanchez’s size, it wasn’t a problem for the junior at Oklahoma. The three-year starter finished off his time in Norman with a season-high seven interceptions in 2015, giving him 15 for his career. He was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 honoree and helped the Sooners reach the College Football Playoff last season.
Sooners defensive players go back-to-back here with the selection of the pass-rushing specialist Striker. Striker was one of the nation's most effective players getting into the backfield, making 34.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in the past two seasons. Like his teammate Sanchez, Striker faces concerns at the NFL level because he’s viewed as a tweener.
The All-America center was part of a physically dominant offensive line at Michigan State, where he started for four years. He was a Rimington Trophy finalist in 2015 after being named first-team All-Big Ten in ’14.
Coleman shone in Baylor’s explosive offense, gaining 2,482 yards receiving with 31 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He was so skilled at getting to the end zone in 2015 that he needed only six games to break the Bears’ record for touchdowns in a season, grabbing 16 in those first six games before finishing with 20. His numbers might have been even more impressive had he not suffered a sports hernia that limited him to 183 yards over Baylor’s final five games.
Of course, Coleman and Doctson go one after the other. The inseparable duo battled in the Big 12, much to the entertainment of all fans. Doctson put together an incredible 2015 season, gaining 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing most or all of the final five games of the year with a wrist injury. That was on the heels of a ’14 season in which the TCU wide receiver caught 65 passes for 1,018 yards with 11 scores.
The No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2013 lived up to the hype in his three seasons at Ole Miss. A three-year starter on the defensive line, Nkemdiche finished off his college career with seven tackles for loss and three sacks in 2015. The second-team All-America even got involved on offense last season, rushing for two touchdowns and catching one.
Despite his role as a safety, Cash was an expert at crashing down to stop ballcarriers in the backfield. Just 10 players averaged more tackles for loss per game last year than the Duke defensive back, who finished his career with 38 TFLs. Though hampered by questions about his ability to cover receivers in the NFL, he could still go on Day 2 of the draft.
While fellow Baylor defensive lineman Shawn Oakman drew much of the hype due to his intimidation factor, Billings proved to be the better player for the Bears, racking up 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2015. That was enough to earn him a share of the Big 12’s defensive player of the year award.
The Notre Dame defensive tackle was a three-year starter and developed into a leader on an Irish defense that relied on his consistency amid some injury-plagued seasons. Day capped off his career with his best year in 2015, making 15.5 tackles for loss and four sacks and forcing two fumbles.
A torn meniscus cost Fuller nearly all of the 2015 season, but he did plenty to demonstrate his impact in his first two years at Virginia Tech. Fuller became a freshman All-America in ’13 when he led the ACC with six interceptions and followed that up with two more interceptions and 13 passes defended in ’14 despite playing much of the season with a fractured wrist. He’s set to become the fourth of his brothers to play in the NFL.
Washington joins fellow Ohio State defensive lineman Bosa in the first round here after starting on the Buckeyes’ defensive line for the past three years. He shined on Ohio State’s run to the national championship in 2014, picking up 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks despite often drawing double teams to create room for now-Jaguars defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
Lee rounds out the first round despite playing only two seasons for Ohio State. The linebacker immediately stepped into the Buckeyes’ starting lineup and became a freshman All-America in 2014, helping win the national title with 80 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. In ’15, he was named second-team All-America after recording 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a pivotal pick-six that helped Ohio State avoid an upset against Northern Illinois.