With college football at its end and basketball yet to hit its postseason fervor, all eyes will be on the NFL playoffs this weekend. Two entertaining matchups—both on the field and off—provide even more intrigue for what were already going to be two of the most watched events this weekend.
But while the players for the four teams left in the postseason are preparing to take the field and achieve their goals, college athletes are devoting much of their time to preparing to join the league and possibly become teammates with the eventual Super Bowl champs.
It is NFL draft season—when isn’t it, really?—for the elite from college football, and offseason prep is in full swing with the combine and personal workouts just around the corner.
For guys like Laremy Tunsil, Joey Bosa and Jared Goff, though, this time of year is just another chance to show off their skills and solidify their spot at the top of the draft. But for others, those lower down on the big board, the next few months will be the perfect stage to show off why they deserve to be in the discussion for a top draft selection.
Although some of these players already have high draft stocks, these are the guys who have the most to gain, and subsequently the most to lose, during the offseason leading up to the draft.
|2016 NFL Mock Draft|
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil||OL||Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff||QB||California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Joey Bosa||DE||Ohio State|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Myles Jack||LB||UCLA|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jalen Ramsey||DB||Florida State|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Ronnie Stanley||OL||Notre Dame|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Laquon Treadwell||WR||Ole Miss|
|8||Miami Dolphins||DeForest Buckner||DE||Oregon|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Shaq Lawson||DE||Clemson|
|10||New York Giants||Vernon Hargreaves||CB||Florida|
|11||Chicago Bears||A'Shawn Robinson||DT||Alabama|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Mackensie Alexander||CB||Clemson|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||Oklahoma State|
|14||Oakland Raiders||Leonard Floyd||LB||Georgia|
|15||St. Louis Rams||Paxton Lynch||QB||Memphis|
|16||Detroit Lions||Taylor Decker||OL||Ohio State|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Reggie Ragland||LB||Alabama|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||Jack Conklin||OL||Michigan State|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss|
|20||New York Jets||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Ohio State|
|22||Houston Texans||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota State|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas||WR||Ohio State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Kenny Clark||DT||UCLA|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Eli Apple||CB||Ohio State|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Darron Lee||LB||Ohio State|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Jarran Reed||DT||Alabama|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||Sheldon Rankins||DE||Louisville|
|29||Arizona Cardinals||Noah Spence||DE||Eastern Kentucky|
|30||Denver Broncos||Jonathan Bullard||DE||Florida|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Jason Spriggs||OL||Indiana|
Players with the Most to Gain in the Offseason
QB Cardale Jones
There was a point early in the season—right after Ohio State was finished looking unbeatable against Virginia Tech—that Cleveland Browns fans were calling for the team to go ahead and throw the season for the Buckeyes' then-starter, Cardale Jones.
This says two things: First, Browns fans are a negative bunch but also realistic about their team, and second, Jones, at one point in the past few months, was considered worthy of a No. 1 overall pick.
Jones was one of the stories of the 2014-15 season, taking over for an injured J.T. Barrett—who was taking over for an injured Braxton Miller—and transforming into an overnight superstar with his three-game run. Leading the Buckeyes to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to a national title, Jones was projected as a second-round pick in the 2015 draft despite his lack of experience, but he elected to stay in school for another year.
A poor season saw his draft stock drop significantly, but with a quarterback class that is hardly set in stone, Jones has the ability to rise back up the ranks quickly with a strong showing this offseason. He had built his draft stock on his big arm, size (6'5", 250 lbs) and athleticism rather than on-field production—all things that he will remind scouts of at the combine and workouts.
With a good showing this spring, don’t be surprised if Jones is able to climb the ranks once again and find himself on the fringe of the first round. A team might be willing to take him on as a long-term project rather than an immediate starter.
LB Jaylon Smith
By all accounts, former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith should be a top-10 draft pick. He has the skill, size (6'2", 240 lbs) and speed—pretty much everything you need to be a top selection in the NFL draft.
But often in life, things don’t go according to plan, and for Smith, his once outstanding draft stock took a serious hit against Ohio State with what appeared to be a gruesome injury, as he tore both his ACL and MCL.
The injury probably could have come at a worse time, only if it had happened in the subsequent months with Smith training and preparing for the combine. But as things stand, such a serious injury means a team’s willingness to spend an early pick on him in the draft decreases immensely.
Even though it is unlikely he will be healthy enough to participate in the combine or even personal workouts, if Smith can convince scouts in the subsequent months that his surgery went well and he will recover quickly, there is a chance he still goes in the first round.
It will take a lot to convince a team to spend a first-round pick on a player who might not be healthy enough to play until well into the season, but so long as things keep going well on his road to recovery, there is a chance Smith could be that prospect.
RB Derrick Henry
Some might not have agreed with Derrick Henry’s decision to leave school early and try his hand at the NFL. His long legs and top-heavy physique are not what pro scouts typically want out of their running backs, which led many to believe the Heisman Trophy winner should have returned to school for another year.
But one thing gets overlooked when comparing Henry to other backs in the draft and the NFL throughout history: He is a better running back than they were.
Sure, his body size (6'3", 242 lbs) might not line up with what scouts usually dream up when evaluating running back talent, but few players have been able to produce at a college level quite like Henry did during his time at Alabama.
Unlike system quarterbacks from past years at schools like Texas Tech and Hawaii, the numbers are more a reflection of his skill than of the play-calling—at times Lane Kiffin seemed apprehensive to let his big back carry the load until this season. Henry shouldn’t struggle to find similar success on the ground in the NFL.
He is already seen as a late first-round, early second-round pick, but if Henry can blow people away this spring—don’t count it out, he is an athletic freak—expect his stock to rise. Ezekiel Elliott could have some competition at the top of the running back charts.