2016 NFL draft Big Board 2.0: Notes on the top 40 eligible prospects
Our previous Big Board rolled out in early September, just before the college football season swung into full gear. Several of the names spotlighted then are still hanging around our top 40, but there have been significant changes overall—expected given the months’ worth of extra tape available on the 2016 prospects.
The picture will continue to evolve through the end of April, when all 32 teams descend on Chicago for this year's draft.
The usual caveat applies here, too: the Big Board is not a mock draft, so this is not a prediction of where players will land. There are a bevy of players just outside the top 40—Cody Whitehair, Jason Spriggs, Ryan Kelly, Christian Hackenberg, Carson Wentz, Jonathan Allen, Jayron Kearse—who realistically could push into round 1, and certainly into the top 40 range, before all is said and done. So we’ll see.
But with bowl season set to get underway next week, here's how the Big Board stands.
The main reason Bosa thrives inside and outside along the D-line (and probably why people have loved the J.J. Watt comparison for him) is that he plays with incredible power. No matter the matchup, Bosa has the strength to drive his blocker back, plus the wherewithal to finish.
Splitting hairs between Stanley and Tunsil. If they both turn pro, as expected, count on them jockeying for position near the top of the draft—the No. 1 pick is in play for both. Stanley’s size and footwork had him on the NFL radar for the 2014 draft before he opted to stay at Notre Dame. He should be a long-term answer at left tackle.
Tunsil sat out the first seven games of 2015 as the NCAA investigated alleged dealings with an agent. He stepped right back into the lineup in the Rebels’ game against Texas A&M and excelled against likely 2017 top prospect Myles Garrett. The Ole Miss product plays with a little more punch than Stanley. The preference here still is Stanley by the slimmest of margins, but both prospects have the look of future All-Pros.
From our preseason Big Board: “Treadwell’s biggest challenge right now is proving he is all the way back from the gruesome leg injury he suffered last season.” He did it. The physical 6'2" receiver topped 1,000 yards on 76 receptions. Treadwell could be an immediate go-to threat for an NFL passing game.
He set a career high this season with four interceptions, and he might have had more if QBs hadn’t been so hesitant to challenge him. Hargreaves matched up with top receiver after top receiver during his SEC career, usually winning those battles. He falls just shy of the 6-foot mark, but he plays bigger than that height.
Jack played just three games this season before suffering a meniscus tear, then he left UCLA to train. Provided he is healthy again, Jack did plenty in his two-plus college seasons to justify this lofty ranking. The 6'1", 245-pound linebacker has incredible athleticism, allowing him to make plays in the backfield or to drop in coverage. He’s physical, rangy and smart.
He could be the first player selected, and I’m not sure it would catch anyone all that off guard. Nkemdiche is a 300-pound athlete—not just a gap-filler or run-stuffer. His stats (7.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks this season) mask the type of impact he could have inside for an NFL team. Nkemdiche’s burst alone should make him a contributor.
This defensive tackle class appears to be loaded. Which style of player do you want? Robinson (6'4", 312) throws his weight around at the point of attack, enough to be a possible anchor up front for an NFL defense.
Like Smith and Jack, Lee possesses special athletic traits from the linebacker spot. He flies around to the football, as evidenced by his stats—139 career tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks and three INTs in just two seasons. Lee is comfortable in any assignment.
I have seen at least a few Aaron Donald comps for Billings’s game. In truth, Billings is bigger (6'1", 310) and plays with more strength than Donald, but he doesn’t have quite the explosiveness. He has been a breakthrough star this season, only getting better as the Bears faced tougher opponents.
From the looks of it, I’m still higher on Boyd than most. It’s not a slight on the rest of the WR class. Boyd is just so polished that, after Treadwell, I have the fewest questions about his transition to the NFL. His route-running will pay off early, especially if a team can afford to use him out of the slot.
Lawson just revealed on Tuesday that he is entering the 2016 draft. Smart move. He’d be hard-pressed to elevate his stock any more than he did during this season—21.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks. The 270-pounder is strong and quick, with a good feel for which element of his game he should use to exploit a matchup.
It sounds a little odd to say that Buckner, who recorded 9.5 sacks and was just named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, still needs work as a pass rusher. That’s the area for growth, though. The 6'7", 290-pounder is a matchup nightmare against the run, setting the edge with his length and strength, then staying active through the whistle.
The Cravens case sets up as one where we get hung up trying to pin down his exact position. Forget about it. In fact, the mystery should add to his stock—he can play downhill as a linebacker (78 tackles, 14.5 for loss), but there also is ample evidence that Cravens can cover the slot or releasing running backs.
Looking for an explanation for Michigan State’s playoff presence? Start with Conklin’s return from a leg injury midway through the year. He was outstanding against Ohio State and absolutely dominated in the Big Ten title game, protecting Connor Cook’s blind side as well as paving the way to the second level on multiple runs.
A big-play threat and a big body at 6'3", Thomas fits the bill for any team hunting for a receiver who can stretch the field and win in the red zone. Thomas scored on 16% of his receptions while at Ohio State (17 of 106), a pace nearly on par with record-setting Baylor receiver Corey Coleman.
Not every game was a gem from Clark (see: USC), but the majority of the time he was disruptive. He really came into his own this season after injuries depleted the UCLA front. Even at 6'3" and 308 pounds, he can line up in a variety of spots.
The Horned Frogs’ star runs 6'4" and uses all of that frame to ward off defenders when the ball is in the air. His 1,300 yards and 14 TDs this season were the product of a great offensive system, sure, but he earned those stats by creating space.
Calling Collins’ rise “rapid” would be ignoring the fact that he was quite effective last season. That said, he elevated his game in 2015—don’t be fooled by his diminished stats. Collins, all 300 pounds of him, moves well and flashes NFL-ready strength.
The Senior Bowl will be a critical week for Decker, who may have to convince scouts that his talent translates outside of Ohio State’s system, at least if we’re talking about Round 1 consideration. He’s the ideal size for an NFL tackle job (6'8", 315 pounds); his quick feet will ease the transition to the pros.
The way Lawson uses his hands to shed blockers is advanced, at least when we’ve seen it. The main issue here is health: Lawson played just six games this season because of a hip injury and missed all of 2014 after tearing his ACL.
Lynch has made his way to the top of the quarterback—and in some cases, overall—draft board. This is a bit more reserved approach, though the upside is obvious. He actually has a game reminiscent of Marcus Mariota, albeit less refined. Lynch is an outstanding athlete, and he completed 69% of his passes this season with 28 TDs and just three INTs.
Coleman absolutely torched the early part of Baylor’s schedule—he had a staggering 20 touchdowns through eight games. It would have been nice to see him navigate the tougher finish with starting quarterback Seth Russell in tow, as opposed to backups. He’s special nonetheless, if somewhat raw.
Alabama getting to pair Reed with A’Shawn Robinson inside is borderline unfair. Reed (6'4", 313 pounds) finished the season with 53 tackles, and there could be teams who prefer him to his teammate. He’'s stout at the line, while also nimble enough to make plays edge to edge.
Rand Getlin reported just last week that White was “entertaining” the possibility of sticking around for his senior season. It could be because his 2015 wasn’t always up to expectations after a stellar 2014—he allowed a 23.4% completion rate as a sophomore. But he moves well enough to stick on NFL receivers. His return prowess (12.2 yards per punt return, plus a TD) is a bonus.
Still like Cook. Still not really sure what to do with him in this context. For every few intelligent decisions or pro-caliber throw he makes, there is a complete head-scratcher. Hence, the 57.8% career completion mark. Expect teams to dig into why he wasn’t named a captain this season. All things considered right now, I’d nab him early on Day 2 if I had a reliable 2016 starter in place.
He has been a tackling machine for the Blue Devils, hitting the century mark in that category for three straight years, with 18 tackles for loss this season. Safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon could be the reference point for Cash, but he’s also very capable of helping in coverage downfield.
Cooper compiled 1,084 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns this season, all while South Carolina worked through horrendous issues at QB. The 5'11" junior can go the distance whenever he has the ball in his hands, whether lined up as a receiver or coming out of the backfield. Bonus: Cooper threw four touchdown passes as a Gamecock.
Bell broke up nine passes this season and intercepted nine for his career. While he did finish 2014 with 91 tackles, his real strength lies in seeing the field and getting to the ball while it’s in the air. A creative NFL defensive coordinator will be able to move him around so he can get after it in all down-and-distance situations.
This season has put a lot of mileage on Henry’s tires, and he has one or two games left. Already, he’s touched the ball 349 times (339 rushes), in the process accounting for 2,000-plus yards and 23 touchdowns. He may never be a home-run threat at the next level, but he does show more than enough acceleration when he sees a hole, especially for a 240-pound back.