March Madness might be slowly approaching, but over the years it has become a more apt term describing the run to the NFL draft than a college basketball tournament.
Not that the latter isn't fun, but the NFL has ensured the draft process has morphed into a borderline yearlong event. Fans enjoy it, and if teams think about and prepare for the draft all year, why not talk about it?
The stakes seem higher than ever, too. Certain positions, and not just quarterback (though Nick Foles' name making the rounds is both hilarious and the perfect example), have become more and more difficult to draft.
As such, the year-round boil is about to spill over. Here's a look at a mock with an emphasis on top prospects who aren't household names just yet.
2016 NFL Mock Draft
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil||OT||Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff||QB||California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Ronnie Stanley||OT||Notre Dame|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Joey Bosa||DL||Ohio State|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jalen Ramsey||CB/S||Florida State|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Mackensie Alexander||CB||Clemson|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Myles Jack||LB||UCLA|
|8||Miami Dolphins||Reggie Ragland||LB||Alabama|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DeForest Buckner||DE||Oregon|
|10||New York Giants||Jaylon Smith||LB||Notre Dame|
|11||Chicago Bears||Jack Conklin||OT||Michigan State|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Paxton Lynch||QB||Memphis|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Taylor Decker||OT||Ohio State|
|14||Oakland Raiders||Vernon Hargreaves III||CB||Florida|
|15||Los Angeles Rams||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota State|
|16||Detroit Lions||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Ohio State|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Darron Lee||LB||Ohio State|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||A'Shawn Robinson||DT||Alabama|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Jarran Reed||DL||Alabama|
|20||New York Jets||Noah Spence||DE/LB||Eastern Kentucky|
|21||Washington||Laquon Treadwell||WR||Ole Miss|
|22||Houston Texans||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas||WR||Ohio State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||Oklahoma State|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Eli Apple||CB||Ohio State|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Shaq Lawson||DE/LB||Clemson|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Sheldon Rankins||DT||Louisville|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||Corey Coleman||WR||Baylor|
|29||Arizona Cardinals||Leonard Floyd||LB||Georgia|
|30||Carolina Panthers||Josh Doctson||WR||TCU|
|31||Denver Broncos||Jason Spriggs||OT||Indiana|
Top Destinations for Lesser-Known Prospects
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
DeForest Buckner might be a household name in certain regions of the country, but by and large he falls behind bigger names such as Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and a few others when one thinks of the top defenders in the class.
Buckner certainly has the talent to change the conversation. A giant at 6'7" and 290 pounds who can stuff the run and apply pressure, defenders of his size and talent simply don't come around often.
That combination plus upside is the reason Buckner comes in as the No. 6 player in the class in Todd McShay's rankings:
In a draft full of versatile D-linemen, Buckner stands out because of his ability to convert speed to power, no matter where he lines up. He shows a nasty, aggressive demeanor on tape, which is exactly what you want from your defensive linemen. A consistent force, Buckner posted 17.0 TFLs (including 10.5 sacks) in 2015.
If the rest of the league proves slow to catch on, Tampa Bay won't mind taking Buckner. The Buccaneers, even with Gerald McCoy collapsing lines from the interior, only managed 38 sacks this past season.
Buckner would help raise that total in a hurry by coming in and playing on one of the edges, if not rotating into the middle with McCoy.
For a team that has to put up with the NFC South, which includes Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees playing quarterback, the Buccaneers will want to take the best player available. Buckner is the guy in this scenario.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Eli Apple is another guy who simply falls behind in the hype department.
When it comes to defensive backs, the aforementioned Ramsey, Mackensie Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves III and a few others come to mind before the Ohio State product's name pops up.
For shame, too, because Apple certainly looks the part of the bigger defensive back who can counter top receivers these days, coming in at 6'1" and 200 pounds with solid coverage skills on an island and a willingness and durability to attack a running play with violence.
A conclusion posted by NFL.com's Lance Zierlein paints the full picture of a guy who should see his stock rise between now and draft day:
Highly recruited two-year starter who is entering the draft as a draft eligible redshirt sophomore. Apple’s size and strength allows him to compete against physical receivers, but he also has the talent to mirror and match as a man defender. Covering for longer could be challenging early on after playing with talented defensive fronts who ravaged quarterbacks. Apple will have to learn to trust his feet rather than grabbing so often or he’ll find that quarterbacks and refs will find him often.
Will Apple's stock rise enough to supplant bigger names? Maybe not, which should have the brass in Pittsburgh rubbing their collective hands together.
The Steelers ranked 30th last year by coughing up 271.9 passing yards per game. Some will point out it was a bend-but-don't-break approach, but without the proper massaging of the problem area it becomes a break before long.
William Gay, Cortez Allen and Brandon Boykin, healthy or not, won't get the job done next season. Adding a talented rookie to the mix will help, not to mention ensure future success.
30. Carolina Panthers: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
There seems to be a certain stigma about wideouts who play in pass-happy offenses of the spread-it-out variety.
Quarterbacks from such schools tend to struggle in the pros, but it's odd that the perception tends to follow wideouts, too—wouldn't a pass-happy offense give a top-tier wideout plenty of chances to prove himself to the pros?
Such seems to be the case here with TCU's Josh Doctson. Folks might dismiss the 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and accredit it to the system.
Such an analysis makes it easy to forget, though, that Doctson stands at 6'3" and 195 pounds and looks like one of the smoothest route-runners in the class, not to mention his impressive catch radius.
NFL Network's Ben Fennell summed it up well:
The discrediting of Doctson might land him with the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina learned the hard way what ignoring a need for years can do. Ted Ginn wound up as the No. 1 wideout on the offense after Kelvin Benjamin went down with an injury. Stephen Hill, Devin Funchess and a host of others still makes for an iffy core, especially if injury strikes again.
Maybe it's overcompensating. But with a lack of major needs right out of the gate, the Panthers have to think about ensuring things don't fall flat around Newton again. Doctson looks like a strong fit.