Keep your chin up, Arizona Cardinals. At least Sunday’s loss in the NFC Championship Game ensured that you will have a more favorable selection in the upcoming NFL draft.
While that is a small consolation for missing out on the chance to play in the Super Bowl, especially since their pick is still near the bottom, the rest of the NFL has already turned its attention toward improving their rosters with a talented crop of college prospects set to hit the league.
With that in mind, here is a look at the updated 2016 NFL draft order following Sunday’s results, as well as some potential late-first round picks who could still be available for the teams who reached the conference title games. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com passed along the order and noted “the NFL breaks ties in reverse order of strength of schedule.”
Remember, the New England Patriots do not have a first-round pick as part of the franchise’s punishment for Deflategate.
|3||San Diego Chargers||4-12|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||5-11|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6-10|
|10||New York Giants||6-10|
|12||New Orleans Saints||7-9|
|15||Los Angeles Rams||7-9|
|20||New York Jets||10-6|
|27||Green Bay Packers||10-6|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||11-5|
|30||Loser of Super Bowl 50|
|31||Winner of Super Bowl 50|
Potential First-Round Targets for Conference Championship Participants
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
The 2016 NFL draft is loaded with cornerback talent, including Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander. Ohio State’s Eli Apple has the makeup to be an immediate starter and long-time contributor as well, and could be available later in the first round than the previously mentioned playmakers.
Ohio State was loaded with defensive stars who will hear their names called on draft day, including potential No. 1 pick Joey Bosa, but it was Apple who won the Defensive MVP of his team’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports projected Apple to go to the Carolina Panthers in a recent mock draft:
Josh Norman might have been the NFL's best cornerback in 2015, but he is also a pending free agent and the Panthers lack depth behind him. Carolina may have a hard time affording Norman given the massive deals given to Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Whether complementing him or replacing him, Apple has natural coverage skills, including the fluidity and quick hands to make plays on the ball to help the Panthers build for the future.
At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Apple has the size to be an NFL corner, but he also has the speed to keep up with receivers downfield and prevent over-the-top breakdowns during press coverage.
He only tallied one interception all season, but that was largely because opposing quarterbacks typically looked toward the other side of the field because he rarely allowed air space to the No. 1 receiver.
The Buckeyes secondary was eighth in the country this season in passing yards allowed per attempt, and Apple’s presence and ability to contain the best receivers was a major reason why. Apple could be an impact steal late in the first round for a number of teams looking for secondary help.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
There are always some understandable concerns when it comes to Baylor wide receivers projecting to the next level that their production was largely a byproduct of the Bears’ up-tempo, basketball-type of offense that frequently keeps the ball in the air.
How many receiving yards for Corey Coleman in his rookie season?
Still, it is impossible to ignore Corey Coleman’s production in 2015.
He led the nation with 20 touchdown catches and finished ninth in the country with 1,363 receiving yards on the way to the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football. He also tallied more than 100 receiving yards in seven of his team’s first eight games before quarterback injuries decimated what was arguably the nation’s most dangerous offense.
Coleman is only 5’10”, but his straight-line speed and ability to rack up yards after the catch with shiftiness in the open field made him a threat to score any time he touched the ball. He also outleaped defensive backs for contested catches with head-turning athleticism, despite his shorter stature.
Coleman can slide right into an NFL offense with his overall skill package and compete from the opening week of his rookie year.
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
It may seem counterintuitive, but run-stuffing defensive tackles continue to take on more importance in the pass-happy NFL because defenses must focus so much attention on stopping the aerial attack. Having someone to occupy multiple blockers in the middle or contain the rushing attack without safety help proves critical for defenses in the numbers game.
UCLA’s Kenny Clark can do just that as a 6’3”, 310-pound anchor in the middle of a defensive line.
He also boasts an impressive ability to pressure quarterbacks up the middle, and even notched three sacks in his team’s loss to Washington State. The Bruins defense lost Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau to injury this season, but Clark’s presence helped keep it afloat during a difficult Pac-12 slate.
UCLA coach Jim Mora did not hold back his praise of the defensive lineman, per Dan Greenspan of the Associated Press:
There are a lot of guys, it's just in their DNA to always go hard. And then there are some that kind of go hard, and you've got to crank those guys to go hard all the time. With Kenny Clark, he's a 'Go hard all the time' kind of guy.
Effort doesn't always mean running 10, 20 yards down the field and making a play. It can be shedding a double team and laying out to make a shoestring tackle at the line of scrimmage that no one really notices. What you see with Kenny is just a consistent level of effort, high effort, high energy.
That type of effort level, combined with his talent, will likely earn Clark a starting nod within his first couple of seasons in the NFL.