The gap between the top tier of prospects in this year’s draft and the second tier is rather significant. Taking the quarterbacks out of the equation (they work on their own team need-to-draft slot ratio), there is but a small handful of prospects who look like top-five talent.
That’s not overly unique compared to past classes. What makes the 2016 draft stand out is the paper-thin margin that separates everyone the top of tier two on down. There is very little separation between the players at, say, spots 25 and 55 on the rankings below. Same for 60–100.
The prospects landed where they did based on a combination of factors including their tape, their health, their combine performance and interviews, so this is not just a dart throw. Odds are, though, you will see quite a bit of variation from writer to writer (or fan to fan) when comparing rankings.
The draft should be a lot of fun because of that variation, even if this class does not go down as an all-time great one.
As for this specific top 100 list, let’s start by discussing—what else?—the quarterbacks. Four of them sit within the top 50: Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, Carson Wentz and Connor Cook. Goff is the only one within striking distance of the top 10. Does that mean those players all will slide into late Round 1 or even beyond? No. But if we’re stacking all the prospects up across position, there are 30-plus evaluations I feel more comfortable with than those of Lynch, Wentz and Cook.
The next QB on my list doesn’t appear until past No. 100, so that is the shortest answer I can give to any questions about Christian Hackenberg’s first-round potential.
The combine helped confirm the depth of this class at a few positions: defensive tackle, wide receiver and, at least up top, cornerback. I could see five or six players from any of those positions taken in Round 1 ... and that even might be a low estimate on DTs.
Finding a home on the top 100 for Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was among the toughest challenges. Healthy, he would be in that small group with top-five talent; as is, his recovery timeline is very much up in the air and the opinions spouted at the combine matched the uncertainty—some argued Round 2 should be his floor, while others questioned if he could be drafted at all. I’ll lean in the former direction for the time being because the payoff of landing a healthy Smith could be immense.
In most cases, the combine should be largely used to confirm any scouting reports formulated off a player’s game performances, but there are two noteworthy exceptions that: 1) When the workouts in Indianapolis stray far from the notes, as often happens with surprising 40 times, and 2) when the combine demands a second look at a player sitting in the middle of the board. Ole Miss WR Cody Core (just off the top 100) might be the best example of the second instance this year. He was stuck behind Laquon Treadwell in the Ole Miss passing game and had several forgettable Saturdays, but he was outstanding at the combine, so I’ll rewatch another game or two of his. When players sneak within range of the top 100 between now and late April, that’s usually what happens.
A lot of prospects should be red-stamped after Indianapolis. Laremy Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey, Ezekiel Elliott, Jason Spriggs, William Jackson, Vernon Butler and a bunch of others did succeed in backing up what they’d shown during the year. The players who did not work out will get a chance to do the same at their pro days.
For now, this is how the top 100 looks, about two months out from Chicago: