The Carolina Panthers selected Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and are now on their way to the Super Bowl following a 49-15 dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals. That means the formula for rebuilding teams is to draft a franchise cornerstone, groom the talent around him and wait for a Super Bowl appearance when he hits his prime.
Simple enough, right?
In all seriousness, drafting in the NFL is an inexact science at best, and there seems to be five JaMarcus Russells and Ryan Leafs for every Newton. Those teams that do deliver on draft day often set themselves up for sustained success, especially if they spread multiple impact picks across different areas of the field.
Fortunately for those teams looking to reach the Super Bowl like the Panthers and Denver Broncos, there are plenty of talented playmakers available in this year’s crop of college prospects.
Here is a look at the order of the picks in the first round, as well as a projection for each team’s selection. The New England Patriots do not have a first-round pick as part of their punishment for Deflategate, and this mock predicts the Panthers to beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl and clinch the final pick of the first round.
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff, QB, California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson|
|8||Miami Dolphins||DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida|
|10||New York Giants||Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson|
|11||Chicago Bears||Myles Jack, LB, UCLA|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame|
|14||Oakland Raiders||A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama|
|15||Los Angeles Rams||Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis|
|16||Detroit Lions||Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama|
|20||New York Jets||Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama|
|21||Washington||Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State|
|22||Houston Texans||Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA|
|29||Arizona Cardinals||Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State|
|30||Denver Broncos||Noah Spence, OLB/DE, Eastern Kentucky/Ohio State|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor|
NFL Draft Storylines to Watch
Who Goes No. 1?
The Tennessee Titans hold the No. 1 pick and are one of the few rebuilding teams in the league that should be set at quarterback for years to come with 2015 rookie Marcus Mariota.
That means it is realistic to rule out the signal-callers as the potential top choice after Mariota and Jameis Winston went in the first two picks of last year’s draft. Instead, the Titans will look to other positions and could take someone expected, like Laremy Tunsil or Joey Bosa, or go the dark-horse route with a wide receiver to open up the offense for Mariota.
Bosa is tempting as the possible superstar in this draft who could one day turn into the type of quarterback menace in the NFL that J.J. Watt is today, but the Titans will think of Mariota with this pick. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote that Tennessee’s top need heading into the draft is offensive tackle, and Tunsil would be a major boost in that area.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports projected Tunsil to go No. 1 overall:
Since 1996, the first selection of every NFL draft has been spent on a quarterback, edge rusher or offensive tackle. Given the big investments in Marcus Mariota and Brian Orakpo a year ago and the need for improved play at right tackle, Tunsil looks like the early favorite to be the Titans' pick at No. 1 overall. Pairing Tunsil - who scouts call a future Pro Bowler - with 2014 first round pick Taylor Lewan would give Mariota a chance to become the star this franchise needs to return to relevance in a winnable AFC South.
Tunsil was a force in 2014 and earned All-SEC recognition from the Associated Press, but he dealt with injuries and an NCAA suspension in 2015. Still, his overall skill set is impossible to ignore, especially when his foot speed and overall power at 6’5” and 305 pounds is taken into account.
He also brings hand strength and quickness, as well as the athleticism to get into the second level if needed or the brute force to steamroll holes for the rushing game at the point of attack.
That will fit in nicely alongside Mariota for the foreseeable future.
The NFL seemingly continues to grow more pass-happy with every new season, and defenses have to find a way to counter that. In fact, take a look at the differences between the 2015 campaign and one as recently as 2004 between the top 10 quarterbacks in the league in passing attempts:
|Rank||2004 Quarterback||Attempts||2015 Quarterback||Attempts|
|1||Trent Green||556||Philip Rivers||661|
|2||Daunte Culpepper||548||Drew Brees||627|
|3||Aaron Brooks||542||Tom Brady||624|
|4||Brett Favre||540||Eli Manning||618|
|5||Jake Delhomme||533||Matt Ryan||614|
|6||Jake Plummer||521||Blake Bortles||606|
|7||Kerry Collins||513||Matthew Stafford||592|
|8||Peyton Manning||497||Ryan Tannehill||586|
|9||Vinny Testaverde||495||Derek Carr||573|
|10||Joey Harrington||489||Aaron Rodgers||572|
Physical and athletic cornerbacks who can defend on an island and open up the safeties to either patrol the middle of the field or help against the run if necessary present one potential option for defensive coordinators looking for ways to stop those additional passes. Fortunately for them, there is plenty of first-round talent at the position in this year’s draft.
Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is 6’1” and 201 pounds, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander is 5’10” and 190 pounds, Ohio State’s Eli Apple is 6’1” and 200 pounds and Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves is 5’11” and 199 pounds. Only Alexander is noticeably short of 200 pounds, and he just finished leading the Clemson Tigers defense into the national title game as a First-Team All-ACC performer.
All four of those cornerbacks thrive in man coverage and are fast enough to keep up with speedy receivers downfield and physical enough to press at the line of scrimmage or even offer support against the run.
That skill set alone is enough to garner first-round consideration in today’s NFL.
Where Have all the Running Backs Gone?
Tying in with the pass-first attack of the NFL, there will once again be a shortage of running backs taken in the first round, even though two were selected in last year’s draft.
Todd Gurley went No. 10 overall to the St. Louis Rams and Melvin Gordon went No. 15 to the San Diego Chargers in 2015, and the two rookies finished with mixed results. Gurley was third in the entire league with 1,106 rushing yards, but Gordon struggled to maintain consistency behind a suspect offensive line on his way to 641 rushing yards.
Who will be the better pro?
Still, Gurley was seen as a surprise draft pick at the time, especially because he was the first running back to be taken in the first round since the 2012 draft.
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance at the position to go in the first round in 2016 after a tremendous career at Ohio State. He ran for more than 1,800 yards in each of the past two seasons and led the Buckeyes to the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship with 246 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against Oregon to cap off the 2014 season.
Some may look toward Alabama’s Derrick Henry as a potential first-round pick after he ran for 2,219 yards, won the Heisman Trophy and captured the national title this season, but CBS Sports projected him as someone between first- and second-round status and said of the 6’3” and 242-pound back:
Not many running backs in the NFL look like Henry, which can make his pro projection difficult. Like most big backs, Henry needs some space to get moving. He's not nearly as powerful running east to west.
Long legs and taller torso aren't ideal for the position, lacking shifty moves to make defenders miss. He struggles to consistently create on his own with choppy feet when forced to redirect, requiring a runway to get started.
Perhaps the biggest reason Elliott will be the first running back taken is his pass-blocking ability, as Ryan Jenson of Pro Football Focus noted: “Ezekiel Elliott was able to complete the perfect pass-blocking season as a running back. He didn’t allow a sack, hit or even a hurry on 103 pass-blocking snaps.”
Those are incredible numbers, and Elliott himself discussed his approach in that area, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com:
Little league football, you know, you're not running the spread offense, there's not just one running back playing, you're running wishbone, wing-t offenses where running backs are blocking for other running backs. The blocking part was just drilled into me at a young age. That's something I'll carry with me for the rest of my career.
Elliott may be the only running back taken in the first round this year, but the 2017 draft could see LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook competing for that designation.
They better work on their pass-blocking.