2016 NFL draft grades: Analysis of first-round picks
The Rams and Eagles made blockbuster trades in the lead-up to the 2016 NFL draft to control their own destiny in the first round, but that was far from the end of the dealing—or the intrigue. Once considered the preordained top pick, Laremy Tunsil dropped all the way to the Dolphins at No. 13 after a video surfaced of him smoking a bong through a gas mask. The Raiders and Falcons both sprung for safeties who many thought might not even crack Round 1, and the Broncos jumped up to grab Paxton Lynch, tabbing the Memphis star to be their next franchise quarterback down the road.
Who made the right calls, and whose patience under fire will pay off? Did any teams reach for players they may regret selecting years down the road? Below, Doug Farrar grades every pick of the first round as it comes in.
The first question is, how does Goff—who ran a “Bear-Raid” offense at Cal—fit into the Rams' power scheme with limited passing options? He'll have to adjust protections, which he hasn't really done before. It helps that the onus won't be on him to throw 50 times a game in a complex system, but this is a worrying pick given everything the Rams gave up to move to No. 1. Goff is good under pressure for the most part, and he's used to throwing to iffy receivers, but systemically, it could be argued that Carson Wentz, who ran a more diverse power-based offense at North Dakota State, would have been the better fit here.
Don’t debit Wentz because he played in the Missouri Valley Football Conference—he’s more NFL-ready than you may think. He has great mobility, the size to run QB power like Cam Newton and a full read palette that belies his small-school history. The Eagles got the second quarterback in this draft class, but in the end, they may well have selected the better one overall. Think Ben Roethlisberger as a long-term comparison.
Ramsey is the top player in this year's SI 50, and Jags head coach Gus Bradley must be a bit gobsmacked by his own good luck here. What makes Ramsey special is that he's truly scheme-transcendent at multiple positions—cornerback, safety, and slot defender—and he'll be a force multiplier for Jacksonville's defense from the start. Jacksonville would be smart to start him off as a safety and nickel slot defender. That way, the Jags can take a year developing his CB skills and awaiting his development into the next Charles Woodson. This is a huge addition to an improving defense.
Stanley may be the best pass-blocking tackle in this draft class, though his run-blocking leaves something to be desired. While Laremy Tunsil is the better player, Stanley has more upside. In any case, Stanley can kick over to the right side in the short term and sub in seamlessly for Eugene Monroe if Monroe gets hurt or is a cap casualty. Stanley has the look of a multi-Pro Bowl left tackle if he can get his upper-body strength together and better seal defenders to the edge in running plays.
The 49ers take who the Chargers should have taken with the third overall pick. Unlike Joey Bosa, Buckner actually is the best defensive lineman in this class, with the ability to dominate everywhere from head-over nose tackle to wide-nine defensive end. He is not a carbon copy of Arik Armstead, the former Oregon teammate the 49ers took in the first round last year—Armstead is half the player Buckner is right now. Buckner looks like a faster, more flexible Calais Campbell with all of Campbell's power. This is a major boost for a San Francisco defense that has lost more than its share of stars over the last two seasons.
This is an amazing get for the Titans and new general manager Jon Robinson. They traded down from the No. 1 pick, got most of the Rams’ next two drafts and picked up the offensive lineman they wanted. Now, the question is whether Conklin stays on the left side—he's a tremendous run-blocker with limited pass-protection ability at this point. Conklin can be an elite blindside tackle in a power system over time, and he could also move inside to guard. He’s probably the most fundamentally sound blocker in this class, so the Titans are winning this draft already. Should Tunsil have been the pick instead? That question docks this pick a letter.
Floyd does fit the NFL's preference for rangy, big linebackers who can do a lot of things. At 6' 6" and 244 pounds, Floyd can careen off the edge as adeptly as he drops into coverage. However, he'll have to be used a certain way, because he lacks the tackling strength to take on running backs consistently. Chicago signed Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in the off-season to reinforce their weak linebacker corps, so defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have the option to move Floyd around. The low grade has more to do with Floyd's slight build—he could be Barkevious Mingo or Bruce Irvin just as easily as he could be an elite pass-rusher at the next level.
Many mocks had Hargreaves to the Bucs, given their issues at cornerback in 2015, and full marks to them for giving the Bears their No. 9 pick and still getting their man. Hargreaves is an aggressive, athletic player with a no-fear attitude in run support. He's also one of the best pattern-readers in this class, which will help him against better receivers. On the downside, he does get beaten deep, and there are concerns about his height (5' 10"). But he's matched up against the best the SEC has to offer, and he has the potential to do the same in the NFL.
The Saints need all kinds of help on their defensive line, and Rankins is an absolute monster in the Sheldon Richardson mold. Rankins can play head-over-nose, three-tech and five-tech. His short arms could affect his ability to hold blockers off, but he’s a high-motor guy who will be even better when he adds to his limited palette of hand moves. A huge coup for New Orleans.
Tunsil's drop in the draft for an old video of him goofing around with a gas mask and a smokable substance aside, the Dolphins may have picked up the steal of the draft. Tunsil had the cleanest tape of any prospect in this draft. From run-blocking to pass protection to picking up stunts and zone pressures, there's nobody better in 2016, and few better in recent years. As long as that video isn't indicative of any further issues, Tunsil is a huge addition to an offense in need of blocking help. He gave up no sacks and no quarterback hits in 2015 for Ole Miss. Tyron Smith is a good comparison.
An interesting pick for a team in need of secondary help. Reggie McKenzie has done a lot to put the Raiders back on track, and Joseph is a big hitter with some coverage ability. He'll replace Charles Woodson, which is a major thing to do. But at 5' 10" and 205 pounds, he's a little light for the position at the NFL level. Bob Sanders will be the ideal, but Sanders was an outlier, and he was also hurt a lot. Size debits combined with a physical style seems to be a recipe for danger, but Joseph is a true competitor.
Coleman is unquestionably the most explosive receiver in this class, with the ability to flat-out smoke anyone covering him. In addition, and surprisingly enough for a pure spread offense like Baylor's, he does have a natural sense of route development. Most likely, Cleveland will have to work with what he can do in the short term, while teaching him the full route tree over time. Is he a No. 1 receiver in the Antonio Brown mold? That's a stretch, and it's hard to rationalize this pick with Josh Doctson still on the board. But this guy can really fly.
A safe pick for a team in desperate need of better pass protection. Matthew Stafford has been sacked a ton in the last two seasons, and Riley Reiff hasn't shown the ability to hold up on the blind side. Decker will have to keep his body lean low to avoid getting overpowered, but he is one of the better run blockers in this class. Some may question his potential as a left tackle in the long term, and if he can't hang on that side, this could prove to be a major mistake.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn was in Seattle for the rise of Kam Chancellor, and Neal fits a similar profile. At 6' 0" and 211 pounds, he's a feared hitter who needs development in coverage. Quinn saw Chancellor become a great cover guy over time, but spending the No. 17 pick on a prospect who's best in the box and limited everywhere else is a questionable strategy at best. I'd be surprised if half the teams in the league didn't have him in the second round.
A very safe pick for general manager Ryan Grigson, who has made his share of head-scratchers in the last few years. Andrew Luck has been getting killed with pressure up the middle, and Kelly can come right in and make a big difference. He's a road-grader at the point of attack, but he can also move to the second level and dominate when asked to seal-block linebackers and safeties. Kelly becomes the first solid center for the franchise since Jeff Saturday.
Don't call Lawson a one-year wonder—it was tough for him to find starting time earlier in his career along Clemson's deep line. He amassed 35 solo tackles, 12.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in 2015, and he combined the edge speed to beat tackles outside with the power to move guards inside. He's not the same type of player as Mario Williams, but he may put up similar pressure numbers over time. He needs a little technique work, but where better to hone that than within a Rex Ryan defense?
Adding Fuller to a receiver corps already blessed with DeAndre Hopkins is a force multiplier for the Houston offense. While Hopkins is the do-it-all guy, Fuller is a pure speed burner who will take the top off any coverage. He's not physically dominant, he'll drop passes and he needs work with the full route tree, but he's going to help this offense a ton. Factor in the free agent additions of Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, and Bill O'Brien has himself a pretty formidable offense all of a sudden.
Doctson has been one of the most productive receivers in the nation in the last two seasons, and on tape his talent backs up all those numbers. Doctson is especially strong when asked to compete with cornerbacks and safeties on 50/50 balls, and he combines size, strength and speed to be one of the class's best talents at any position. Kirk Cousins just got himself a very good red-zone target and a perfect fit for Jay Gruden's West Coast offense.
First of all, the talk about Treadwell's lack of speed is overblown—in Ole Miss's limited passing offense, he was often open and unseen. He's a tough, physical, consistent receiver who won't set any land speed records against deep safeties, but he has the skills to become Minnesota's top target. Yes, that's a low bar at this point, but GM Rick Spielman has to start somewhere. Add Treadwell to Stefon Diggs in the Vikings' receiver battery, and things are looking up for Teddy Bridgewater.
With most of the top receivers off the board, the Bengals turn to another need and draft Jackson, a natural press boundary cornerback with the tools and skills to stand up to the fastest and most physical receivers in the league over time. Last season, he put up 34 solo tackles, five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 23 pass deflections to lead the nation in that category. He's a do-it-all player at a key position, though he'll have to get more efficient with his feet to avoid getting turned completely around by more savvy NFL receivers.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has a history of slightly overdrafting defensive players from a value perspective, and Burns fits that category. He's a ridiculous athlete who has overcome a difficult past, but he's going to need time to deal with the complexities of NFL route concepts. This is a person you want to root for, and in time, it's a player who will start and succeed. It's just tough to pick a developmental guy when your team needs cornerback help right now.
This isn't a sexy pick, given Clark's relative inability to rush the passer, but Clark is an instant wall for a defensive line in need of stability. At 6' 3" and 314 pounds, he can play 3-tech in a four-man front, or kick out to end in a 3–4 base. He's also a natural nose tackle with tremendous strength, and he's only 20 years old—he's got a lot of great football in front of him. He may be a two-down rotational guy to start his NFL career, with the opportunity to do a lot more.
When the 49ers were crushing opponents with Jim Harbaugh's rushing attack, Mike Iupati was decimating opponents with his power at left guard. Garnett projects well as a similar player. He's a pure power guy who may need a bit of adjustment in Chip Kelly's zone scheme. Garnett has the talent to switch, and though it may take time for that to happen, he's going to be a special player over time. It's just a matter of scheme fit and how much you believe it's worth it to spend three picks to trade back into the first round for a guard.
The Cardinals get one of the most dominant players in this class regardless of position, as Nkemdiche can be a real problem from any gap. His off-field issues will have to be vetted, as well as the concern that he doesn't get everything out of his potential on the field, but if Bruce Arians can corral Nkemdiche's talent as he did with Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona now has a run-stopping monster with the ability to rush the passer no matter where he is on the line.
Losing Josh Norman means that the Panthers will need to reinforce their defense in other ways, because there wasn't an equivalent talent to Norman on the board at 30. Butler may have received small-school dings from some, but his tape screams NFL starter. He's 6' 4" and 323 pounds with great length, and he combines the speed and strength to take up any gap. He can also hold his own in coverage, and he'll command double teams on most every play.
The Seahawks have had all sorts of issues with their offensive line over the last few seasons, so it's at least good that they're addressing it in the first round for the first time since they took Russell Okung in 2010. However, Ifedi is a bit of a tweener at this point: very strong in his run sets but a work in progress as a pass protector. Perhaps the idea is to move him inside or see how he'll work at right tackle, but this doesn't do much for the worst position group in the NFL.