2016 All-NFL Draft Team, Preseason Edition
Although the 2015 NFL season has yet to begin, scouting departments throughout the league are already looking ahead to the 2016 NFL draft and identifying the best prospects at each position, with the upcoming college football campaign slated to start in less than two weeks.
On both sides of the ball, there are a number of players—including Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves—who stand out as likely top prospects at their respective positions despite having one year of eligibility left.
Some prospects will rise from obscurity in the upcoming campaign, while others will start out as top picks and see their draft standing plummet over the next eight months. For example, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was projected to be one of the 2015 NFL draft’s top cornerbacks this time last year, but he ended up falling to the seventh round after a disappointing senior season finished with a torn ACL.
Nonetheless, as major media outlets begin releasing their preseason All-America teams, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the players who could be positioned as the top prizes at each spot on the gridiron when the 2016 NFL draft begins April 28.
Selections for this preseason All-NFL draft team are based on how each player’s skill set projects to the professional level. Only those who are eligible to declare for the 2016 NFL draft were considered for inclusion.
The positions selected and number of players per position reflect those chosen annually for the Associated Press’ NFL All-Pro team.
QB: Jared Goff, California, Jr.
NFL teams hoping to find a franchise quarterback in the 2016 NFL draft should look no further than California’s Jared Goff. Having started two seasons for the Golden Bears heading into his junior year, Goff has already demonstrated an advanced pocket-passing acumen that is not often seen in a quarterback before he turns 21.
At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Goff is average by NFL standards in terms of size, arm strength and athleticism. But while he is not the most physically gifted quarterback in college football, he is the most NFL-ready.
While most young quarterbacks tend to lock on to their intended targets and force throws into coverage, Goff consistently keeps his eyes moving in the pocket and makes active reads. He makes sound decisions and is able to deliver the ball accurately to all regions of the field.
Critics are likely to harp on the fact that Goff is coming out of a spread offensive system that lends itself to high-level collegiate production. That said, his ability to make progressions from the pocket like a veteran should not be overlooked.
A better athlete than you might think, Goff is no dual-threat but is mobile enough to extend plays with his feet. Able to win with both his mind and body, Goff projects as the safest quarterback pick in 2016 for a team looking to find a signal-caller who can step in and quickly take command of an offense.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, Jr.
Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon ended a two-year drought for first-round running backs in the NFL draft when both players were selected in the top 15 this April. Barring an unexpected setback this upcoming season, you can count on Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott doing the same in the 2016 draft, assuming he declares.
While his ultimate draft position could be hindered by the declining value of his position, Elliott is arguably the 2016 draft’s most complete prospect.
A well-built running back at 6’0” and 225 pounds, Elliott also possesses true track speed. He is able to both run through defenders and run away from them.
While Elliott is not a true make-you-miss back, he is a smooth runner who is able to make subtle cuts between running lanes and bounce away from defenders. This makes him very dangerous, because once Elliott gets a path to paydirt, he is tough to catch from behind.
Elliott has also shown that he can be effective as both a pass-catcher and a pass-blocker. Given that, he projects as a true every-down back who can be an asset to his team’s offense in all situations.
RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama, Jr.
While Ezekiel Elliott is the most complete running back in college football, there might be some NFL teams who prefer the bruising, overpowering style of between-the-tackles running they can get from Alabama’s Derrick Henry.
Also entering his junior season, Henry is truly massive for a running back at 6’3” and 242 pounds. Bigger than many of the linebackers he will go up against, even at the NFL level, Henry is known for bulldozing his way through defenders and finishing plays through contact.
With that said, Henry is more than just a plodder. He has terrific burst for a back of his size—which makes him all the more difficult to stop—and he has a surprising degree of lateral agility to make defenders miss.
Having split carries with 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon for his first two seasons at Alabama, Henry needs to prove that he can maintain durability while shouldering the load for the Crimson Tide. He also needs to demonstrate his value in passing situations after catching only six passes in his collegiate career.
Beyond those concerns, Henry’s potential to become one of the best power backs in the NFL is obvious. The national high school record holder for rushing yards, he has bamboozled his competition at every level and would be a great addition to any backfield looking for an inside runner.
FB: Dan Vitale, Northwestern, Sr.
Unlike every other offensive and defensive player on this list, the 2016 NFL draft’s top fullback—because most teams scarcely use the position these days—is unlikely to be more than a late-round pick and is no lock to be drafted.
With that said, the top senior at the position going into the 2015 season is Northwestern’s Dan Vitale. Classified as a “superback” by Northwestern, Vitale’s draftability comes because he's able to be more than just a traditional fullback.
Vitale is a quality lead blocker, as any fullback with a chance to make it in the NFL must be. He is also a skilled receiver who can catch passes out of the backfield and line up at tight end or in the slot.
At 6’2” and 235 pounds, Vitale has a good combination of size and athleticism for the position. He has a track record of accumulating production within the Northwestern offense, with 102 catches for 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns over three years in a run-heavy system.
As a projected Day 3 draft selection, Vitale could prove to be a valuable addition as a role player on an NFL offense and a potential special teams contributor.
WR: Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh, Jr.
Highly productive on the field with a well-rounded skill set, Tyler Boyd projects to be a top prospect for teams looking to add a downfield weapon at wide receiver in 2016.
At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Boyd can separate from coverage deep and has the agility to make defenders miss in the open field. He has the route-running ability to win at all levels of the field, plus the body control and leaping ability to make tough receptions.
Boyd has a proven ability to make plays, having caught 78 passes for 1,261 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He has the skill set to play both outside and in the slot, while he could also be a dangerous weapon on kickoff and punt returns.
Looking forward to this upcoming season, teams will want to see Boyd become even more consistent, as he is susceptible to running a sloppy route or dropping a catchable ball at times. Additionally, Boyd will need to be on his best behavior off the field, having picked up a red flag this offseason when he was arrested for DUI.
In spite of those concerns, Boyd still projects as a likely top-15 pick next April, assuming he declares. With his ability to get open and make things happen with the ball in his hands, Boyd can be viewed as a No. 1 receiver for an NFL offense.
WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, Jr.
A team in position to select the first wide receiver in the 2016 NFL draft could face a tough choice between the aforementioned Tyler Boyd and Ole Miss junior Laquon Treadwell.
At 6’2” and 210 pounds, Treadwell is not much larger than Boyd, but he is stronger and more physical. He exhibits a great ability to compete for the ball in the air and use his size to make contested catches.
For a receiver who plays with length and strength, Treadwell can also move laterally and change direction well. He'll make defenders miss to extend plays in the open field and has demonstrated some ability to run diversified routes.
The biggest question with Treadwell going into his junior season is his health. The wide receiver memorably suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle from a goal-line tackle against Auburn last year. He will have to prove he has made a full recovery and still has the athleticism that makes him a special prospect.
If Treadwell can do that, he could be a top-10 draft choice. While his production has not been at the same level as Boyd's through two seasons, he has the skills and physical traits that NFL teams look for in a No. 1 wide receiver.
TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss, Jr.
Evan Engram does not fit the traditional mold for a tight end, but that might not stop him from becoming one of the most dangerous weapons at the position in the NFL.
A terrific athlete for 6’3” and 227 pounds, Engram could be scouted as a big wide receiver rather than a tight end by some franchises. Regardless of his specific positional classification, his skill will remain the same. He will still be an explosive pass-catching threat who can create mismatches and make big plays.
Engram exhibits field-stretching speed and acceleration. He does not simply rely on that speed to get open, though, as he is also a skilled route-runner.
While Engram does not typically line up as an in-line tight end, he is effective as a blocker in space and on the perimeter. This enables him to be an asset in the run game despite being small for a tight end.
From tight end to wide receiver to H-back, Engram can line up in a multitude of spots within an offensive formation and make plays from each position. There are likely to be some NFL teams who prefer other tight ends with more prototypical size, but it is unlikely any player at the position in the 2016 draft class will emerge as a better receiving prospect.
OT: Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, Sr.
Fitting the prototype for the all-important left tackle position, Ronnie Stanley is a strong candidate to be a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Listed at 6’5 ½” and 315 pounds, Stanley has optimal size for an offensive lineman. What makes him a truly special prospect is that he moves with grace and agility rarely seen from a man of his size.
Sound technique enables Stanley to maximize the benefits of his physical gifts. He has clean footwork and utilizes effective hand placement. As a result, Stanley was consistently dominant in pass protection for Notre Dame in 2014, his first season playing left tackle for the Irish.
Stanley still needs to improve as a run-blocker, as he does not exhibit much drive-blocking power. He has significant potential to grow in that area, though, because he can add strength while his athleticism enables him to get outside and to the second level ahead of plays.
Stanley is classified by Notre Dame as a senior, as the Fighting Irish always list their players by academic year rather than football eligibility, but he could return to Notre Dame for another season in 2017. That said, it would be a big surprise if he did, as he already forwent the chance to be a first-rounder in 2015 and should be one of the first players off the board in 2016.
OT: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, Jr.
Like Ronnie Stanley, Laremy Tunsil has the proven ability and potential to play left tackle that could make him one of the most coveted prospects in the 2016 draft class.
An immediate starter on the blind side as a true freshman, Tunsil has had a dominant presence in his first two seasons leading the Ole Miss offensive line.
This is especially true of Tunsil’s ability to pass block. A nimble athlete with great length at 6’5” and 305 pounds, Tunsil has been consistent in mirroring and enveloping edge defenders. He rarely gets beat around the outside, and once he gets his hands on an opponent, he has the strength to stonewall his man.
Not quite the physical specimen that Stanley is, Tunsil comes into the season with multiple question marks hanging over him.
Tunsil has to prove that he is healthy after suffering a fractured fibula in the Peach Bowl against TCU. He is also coming off an offseason incident with his stepfather after which both men pressed domestic violence charges against one another. Although those charges were ultimately dropped, Tunsil has been investigated by the NCAA after his stepfather alleged that Tunsil was “riding around with football agents,” per Riley Blevins of the Clarion-Ledger.
Even with those concerns, Tunsil is too talented to be kept off the preseason All-NFL Draft team. If he can get back to 100 percent on the field and avoid further issues off it, he will be in the mix to be a top-10 draft pick.
OG: Pat Elflein, Ohio State, Redshirt Jr.
Quarterback Cardale Jones and the aforementioned Ezekiel Elliott got the glory for being the stars of Ohio State’s offense in the Buckeyes’ inaugural College Football Playoff win. Watch those games closely and you’ll find that another Ohio State player, right guard Pat Elflein, was equally outstanding.
He was quietly one of the best guards in college football last season. This was especially true late in the year, when the offensive line blossomed to give its quarterback time to throw and its running back holes to run through.
Elflein is not the most highly touted prospect on that unit, as Taylor Decker, Ohio State’s left tackle, could challenge Ronnie Stanley and Laremy Tunsil to be the top prospect at his position in 2016. Elflein is, however, the most consistent player for the Buckeyes up front.
At just 6’3” and 300 pounds, Elflein does not have outstanding size. That shouldn’t make you think he is not powerful, though, as he has regularly shown the ability to get leverage against defenders and drive them away from the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Elflein has quick feet and is an excellent pull blocker. He might not be a first-round pick because of the position he plays, but he has the skills to be a great player on an NFL offensive line, especially in a zone-blocking scheme such as Ohio State utilizes.
OG: Christian Westerman, Arizona State, Sr.
While Pat Elflein quietly looks to be the best guard for a zone-blocking system in college football, the same can be said for Christian Westerman in a power-based blocking scheme.
With only one year of starting experience at Arizona State, Westerman needs to be at his best in his senior season to establish himself as an early-round draft prospect. His physical potential, though, is through the roof.
Westerman’s measurables of 6’4” and 300 pounds do not stand out on their own, but his strength and power stand out both on the field and in the weight room. Earlier this summer, Westerman made headlines by putting up 20 repetitions of 315 pounds—90 pounds more than the standard lifting weight used at the NFL Scouting Combine—on the bench press, per Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.
The potential is there for Westerman to become an elite run-blocker, and not just because of his strength. He is also a quick-footed player for his position who pull blocks effectively and can get downfield to make impact blocks at the second level.
To be a top prospect, Westerman needs to prove as a senior that he can be consistent in providing pass protection from the left guard position. If he can do that, his physical upside will make him a strong candidate to be the first guard selected in the 2016 draft.
C: Max Tuerk, USC, Sr.
Perhaps the most versatile offensive lineman in college football this year, USC senior Max Tuerk is a talented center whose ability to play any position across the front five only multiplies his appeal.
As a true freshman, Tuerk started games for the Trojans at both left tackle and left guard. In 2013, Tuerk played all but one game at left guard, starting the other at right tackle. Last season, he shifted to the middle of the unit to play center, a position at which he was one of the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014.
Listed at 6’6” and 285 pounds, Tuerk is lean for an offensive lineman but has a top-notch combination of length and quickness. If a team feels confident about its ability to help Tuerk add bulk and strength, it can be confident he can play multiple positions on its offensive line.
Tuerk is not an overpowering run-blocker, but he is a technically sound player who holds his ground well in pass protection. Meanwhile, his movement skills enable him to accelerate off the line of scrimmage and cover ground to make downfield blocks in front of running plays.
As a center alone, Tuerk has not had elite play yet, but the chance to settle in at the same position for a second year should enable him to start maximizing his skill set. If he can dominate in the middle while avoiding issues with snapping the ball this year, Tuerk will be a hot commodity at an important position.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State, Jr.
Going into the upcoming college football season, no player is more universally regarded by draft analysts as a top prospect than Joey Bosa.
Immediately productive as a freshman at Ohio State, Bosa was a unanimous All-American and a dominant force as a sophomore last year. At 6’6” and 275 pounds, Bosa demonstrated that he could wreak havoc both inside and outside by virtue of his length, strength, athleticism and technical skill.
Bosa is outstanding with his hands and able to knock back blockers with his power. This combination enables him to be a very dangerous pass-rusher, even though he is not a player who will win with pure speed on the outside.
Against the run, Bosa likewise does great work. He can be overaggressive and needs to be more disciplined, but he has terrific point-of-attack strength and is a strong tackler.
Bosa is suspended for Ohio State’s season opener, but that’s unlikely to impact his draft stock so long as he avoids any further off-field infractions.
All in all, Bosa might prove to be the top talent in the entire 2016 draft class. A player who looks as though he could be an impact player for an NFL defense right now, Bosa projects ideally to be a 3-4 defensive end but could also line up at both defensive end and defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.
DE: DeForest Buckner, Oregon, Sr.
While Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, he was not even the best player at his position on his own team last season. The player who was, DeForest Buckner, should, like Armstead, draw early first-round consideration as a draft prospect.
Buckner carries a similar appeal to Armstead. He plays as a 3-4 defensive end and has optimal size for the position at 6’7” and 290 pounds. Buckner’s raw power might not stand out as much as Armstead’s, but he is an even better athlete who has great burst and quickness for his size.
While tailor-made to play as a 5-technique, Buckner has the outside speed to play as a 4-3 defensive end and the strength to play situationally. He has quick hands and uses them to create disruption around the line of scrimmage.
Unlike Armstead, Buckner decided to stay at Oregon for his senior year, even though he is a more technically skilled player who was more productive in 2014. That could prove to be a shrewd decision on Buckner’s part, though, as building upon last season with another strong campaign could enable him to make a push for a top-10 draft selection.
Buckner’s combination of length and movement skills is hard to find, and his demonstrated ability to put that to good use should make him a highly appealing prospect, especially to teams who run 3-4 defenses. He still needs improvement as a run defender, but his potential to be a disruptive NFL defensive lineman is high.
DT: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, Jr.
Teams looking to bolster their run defenses in the 2016 NFL draft are likely to have Alabama’s A'Shawn Robinson, assuming he goes pro after his junior year, at or near the top of their draft boards.
Listed at 6’4” and 312 pounds, Robinson exhibits outstanding strength in the trenches. He is a player who consistently holds his ground at the point of attack, even against double-teams. When opponents try to put just one blocker on him, he frequently makes the offensive lineman pay by pushing him backward or shedding him.
Robinson is not the most explosive player. He is best when utilized in small spaces as a block-occupier and gap-filler. Nonetheless, he is a high-quality athlete who demonstrates solid quickness and range for a player with his combination of size, length and strength.
Having not recorded any sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2014, Robinson does not project to be a regularly disruptive pass-rusher. But while he has been known to blow up a play from time to time, his most consistent impact is that he can close running lanes and free up teammates to make plays around him.
Although listed at a different position here, Robinson plays both defensive end and nose tackle in Alabama’s 3-4 front and could project to playing either spot in that same scheme at the next level. That said, Robinson is best fit for a 4-3 defensive scheme in which he could play either defensive tackle spot inside.
DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor, Jr.
While most of the defensive players on this list are household names, at least among college football fans, Andrew Billings has flown under the radar through his first two seasons at Baylor. Even so, Billings should end up in the first-round conversation for the 2016 draft if he builds upon his early success.
Among Baylor defensive linemen, defensive end Shawn Oakman is the one who is more regularly hyped as a top prospect. Yet while Oakman’s tremendous physique achieved meme status in January, Billings is just as freakish an athlete and a better football player.
Although slightly undersized for a defensive tackle at 6’2” and 300 pounds, Billings has great strength and power. He proved that when he was in high school by breaking the Texas state powerlifting record, previously held by Olympic weightlifter and WWE star Mark Henry, with an 805-pound squat, 500-pound bench press and 705-pound dead lift.
On the field, Billings’ athleticism relative to his size and position stands out even more. He has an explosive burst and good lateral-movement skills for an interior defensive lineman. That combination enables him to blow up plays in the backfield and get in on stops all along the line of scrimmage.
Billings is still somewhat raw from a technical standpoint and might not be a good fit for a 3-4 defensive scheme. That said, he has excellent potential to be a difference-maker in a 4-3 front, as he has the functional strength to be a block-occupying nose tackle but also the quickness to be an impactful penetrator.
OLB: Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, Jr.
Hyped to be a top talent since he was coming out of high school in Indiana, Jaylon Smith has shined in his first two seasons at Notre Dame and goes into his junior year as one of the top overall prospects for the 2016 draft.
Listed at 6’2 ½” and 240 pounds, Smith has the size and athleticism NFL scouts covet at his position. A fast linebacker who plays up to his speed, Smith can make plays all over the field whether attacking in pursuit or dropping back into coverage.
While Smith is a sideline-to-sideline athlete who is at his best when he is aggressive, he is also a technically sound player who is disciplined and patient when he needs to be. He has evident football smarts, gets himself in proper positions to make plays and is a strong tackler.
Smith’s value at the top of the draft could be curtailed to some extent by his limited skill set as a pass-rusher. He does not need to be great in that area to be a three-down impact player, however, as he should be a guy who takes on immediate coverage responsibilities and makes plays in that regard.
Proven to line up in various alignments at Notre Dame, Smith is best suited to be a 4-3 outside linebacker but truly has the versatility to play any linebacker position. Regardless of his specific role, Smith should thrive because of his feel for the game and the physical gifts he possesses.
OLB: Darron Lee, Ohio State, Redshirt So.
In his first season playing for Ohio State last year, Darron Lee came out of nowhere to emerge as one of college football’s most explosive defensive playmakers. As such, NFL scouts should already have their eyes on Lee, who still has three seasons of collegiate eligibility but will be draft-eligible after the upcoming campaign as a redshirt sophomore.
The trait that stands out the most within the 6’2”, 235-pound linebacker’s game is his athleticism. Lee has an exceptional downhill burst that makes him a dangerous blitzer. Likewise, he can cover ground to make plays all over the field both against the run and in coverage.
Despite his lack of experience, Lee demonstrated natural instincts and a feel for the game in 2014. He’s not just a great athlete; he understands how to maximize his tools. He gets into position to make plays quickly and seemed to always be around the ball for the Buckeyes last year, especially as the season progressed.
As you might expect, Lee—who was only 205 pounds when he came to Ohio State as a recruit, according to Ohio State’s official athletics website—still needs to be stronger when taking blocks head-on. Although he is a hard hitter, his tackling form could also improve.
He will never be a big linebacker who stands out for his strength, but his ability to put on 30 pounds and still be one of the most noticeable athletes in the country puts a promising outlook on his future.
ILB: Scooby Wright III, Arizona, Jr.
As a true sophomore last season, Scooby Wright III was the best defensive player in college football. After a remarkably productive year in which he led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 163 total tackles, 29 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles, Wright was a unanimous All-American and the recipient of a multitude of national awards, including the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy (both given to the nation’s best defensive player).
A well-built linebacker at 6’1” and 246 pounds, Wright is a strong block-shedder with a good burst. While Arizona has moved him around to line up in various defensive positions, he is at his best when attacking downhill from between the hashes.
Rated as a 2-star recruit out of high school by Rivals.com, Wright derives much of his success from having the best motor in the game. While it is often hyperbole to say a player never gives up on a play, it's true for Wright, who hustles all over the field and makes many plays because of it.
Despite his collegiate success, the same concerns that hampered Wright out of high school could hurt his NFL draft stock. Slow for the linebacker position, Wright might not have enough range to continue being a high-frequency tackler against faster NFL offenses.
Also inconsistent with his tackling form despite his high tackling numbers, Wright could easily end up sliding to the second or third round of the draft as a result of his concerns. If he does, the team that selects him will likely end up coming away with a steal, as Wright will put in the effort to overcome his physical limitations and get every ounce out of his capabilities.
ILB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama, Sr.
NFL teams looking to add a physical, throwback linebacker to the middle of their defenses should be drawn to Alabama senior Reggie Ragland, who has shown that he can be exactly that from the inside linebacker position in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 defense.
A big, strong linebacker at 6’2” and 252 pounds, Ragland is an explosive downhill player who attacks blocks and can muscle his way through them. He is a hard hitter and a sound form tackler.
There is reasonable doubt about Ragland’s ability to drop back into pass coverage, as the Crimson Tide have not used him in that capacity consistently, but he is a skilled blitzer. He is expected to see some playing time as an edge-rusher in 2015, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle, which could show his versatility and bolster his value.
Ragland likely would have been a Day 2 pick had he declared for the 2015 draft. He’ll need to show more as a pass defender to elevate his stock into Round 1, but he should be at least a third-round choice, so long as he continues to excel at being a run-stopping thumper in his senior year.
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida, Jr.
With the emphasis on passing in the modern NFL, it is highly valuable for a defense to have a No. 1 cornerback who is capable of shutting down his opponents regardless of whom he lines up against or where he lines up on the field.
That’s what a team should get in Vernon Hargreaves III.
Fluid and fast, Hargreaves has been dominant in coverage since emerging as a starter in his true freshman season at Florida. He is able to change directions naturally, flip his hips without a hitch and stay in front of receivers when backpedaling.
Hargreaves’ combination of pure athleticism and technical consistency puts him in position to not only force incompletions but also make plays on the ball. Through two seasons with the Gators, Hargreaves has recorded 24 total passes defensed.
At 5’11” and 199 pounds, Hargreaves lacks the size that some teams prioritize now at the cornerback position. That doesn’t stop him from being physical, while his burst to the ball enables him to come forward rapidly and make plays against runs and screen passes.
According to TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline, some NFL scouts feel as though he is “significantly overrated.” Ultimately, though, it would be a surprise if Hargreaves is not an early first-round pick, given the coverage ability he has consistently put on tape.
Hargreaves has all but already declared his intention to move forward to the NFL after his junior season. According to NFL Media’s Chase Goodbread, Hargreaves said at SEC media days that he thinks about declaring for early entry to the draft “all the time.”
CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, Jr.
The Chicago Bears selected former Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Kyle’s younger brother, current Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller, has the tools to potentially get drafted higher.
While Fuller has not shown the same stickiness and consistency in coverage as Vernon Hargreaves, he is a similarly fluid athlete with even better ball skills. He has recorded 34 passes defensed, including eight interceptions, in two seasons with the Hokies.
Fuller has a clean backpedal, flips his hips with ease and has good speed. At 6’0” and 196 pounds, he can play both outside and in the slot and demonstrates a willingness to be physical with opposing pass-catchers and in the run game.
At times, Fuller will play too far off his opponents and leave significant cushions that give them room to catch the ball. As long as he stays close to his man, he has the change-of-direction quickness and burst to click and close to get back to the ball and break up passes.
Regarded as a future top prospect since he began to stand out opposite his older brother during his true freshman year, Fuller should at least be a first-round pick and challenge for a top-15 selection if he can parlay a great junior year at Virginia Tech into an early draft entry.
FS: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, Jr.
A big defensive back with great speed and experience playing a multitude of secondary positions, Jalen Ramsey has the potential to be a star playmaker on the back end of an NFL defense.
Ramsey, who is also a standout sprinter and long-jumper on the Florida State track team, is listed at 6’1” and 202 pounds and has demonstrated the range to make plays all over the field. He is a ball hawk who exhibits not only an ability to break up passes in the air but also aggressiveness as a run defender and blitzing pass-rusher.
A full-season starter for Florida State between the cornerback and safety positions as a freshman, Ramsey moved to the “Star” position for the Seminoles last year, which regularly put him in the box and in slot coverage. For his third and likely final season at Florida State, Ramsey is moving outside to the boundary cornerback position, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.
If he performs well in that role, his value as a corner prospect might end up being higher than at free safety. He has been somewhat inconsistent in coverage in previous years, however, so he has to prove that he can win in man-to-man situations on the outside regularly.
Either way, Ramsey will have a combination of size, athleticism and versatility that makes him a tantalizing prospect for NFL teams. Comparable to Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu but with better physical tools, Ramsey is a potential game-changer who could end up being one of the 2016 draft’s first picks.
SS: Su’a Cravens, USC, Jr.
Like Jalen Ramsey, Su’a Cravens will not play safety in his junior season but is likely to be evaluated for that position—where he projects to be a top prospect, should he declare for the 2016 draft—by most NFL teams.
Cravens began his career at USC as a strong safety, excelling as a freshman before moving to linebacker in 2014. He continued to make plays all over the field in his new position last season but remains undersized for a linebacker at only 6’1” and 225 pounds.
A good athlete who is both an aggressive playmaker in the box and fluid dropping back into coverage, Cravens projects best in a role similar to that which Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor plays in the NFL. At times, that could mean playing at linebacker and taking advantage of his ability to cause disruption at the line of scrimmage, but Cravens is also good at picking up tight ends and other pass-catchers in coverage.
Regardless of where Cravens lines up, he should be a difference-maker. The junior has great instincts and can act upon them quickly thanks to his ability to change directions and accelerate. He has good ball skills in pass defense and is a solid tackler.
Some NFL teams could view Cravens as a “tweener,” which could hurt his stock if scouts are not convinced that he'll have a true position at the next level. Ultimately, though, Cravens should be too talented to fall out of the first round.
K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State, Redshirt Jr.
It is rare to see a kicker declare for the NFL draft with remaining collegiate eligibility, but it would be a worthwhile move to make for Florida State redshirt junior Roberto Aguayo. As long as he performs as well this year as he has in his first two playing seasons, Aguayo is a sure bet to be drafted and a probable top-100 selection.
In his Seminoles career to date, Aguayo has made 48 of the 52 field goals he has attempted for a conversion rate of better than 92 percent.
Aguayo has been consistent with his accuracy, and he has a strong leg. He has converted four of five field-goal attempts from 50 yards or more and consistently gets the ball deep on kickoffs.
Kicking for a program that has played in many spotlight games that have come down to the wire, especially last season, Aguayo has good experience with making crucial kicks in high-pressure situations. This gives any NFL team in need of a kicker reason to be confident he can do the same at the next level.
Investing in a kicker in the early rounds of the draft is typically a panned move, but it can be a smart investment if that player is able to consistently kick the ball deep, with accuracy and in the clutch. Aguayo has proved for two full collegiate seasons, and presumably will prove for at least one more, that he can do all of those things.
P: Tom Hackett, Utah, Sr.
There has been no shortage of Australian-born punters in recent years making their way stateside, performing well in major college football and subsequently landing opportunities to play in the NFL. Utah’s Tom Hackett appears to be the next in line.
Among draft-eligible punters, Hackett is the best in college football. He won the Ray Guy Award in 2014 after a tremendous season in which he averaged 46.70 yards per punt on 80 total punts.
Hackett, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, has a strong leg. More specific to his skill, Hackett has demonstrated the ability to get great hang time and pin punts deep into opposing territory without going into the end zone for touchbacks.
For his three-year career at Utah, Hackett has had 78 of his 181 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, while he's had 45 punts travel 50 yards or longer with only 17 total touchbacks.
Assuming Hackett continues to perform at a similar level of consistency in 2015, he should be a solid middle-round pick for a team looking to upgrade its punting situation.
RET: Alex Ross, Oklahoma, Redshirt Jr.
There might not be any player in the 2016 NFL draft class who is worth selecting solely because of his ability to return kickoffs or punts. But one draft-eligible player who has shown special potential in regard to kick returning is Oklahoma redshirt junior Alex Ross.
Seeing his first significant playing time in 2014, Ross ranked third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an average of 31.22 yards per kickoff return on 23 attempts. Two of those kickoff returns went for touchdowns.
Ross has a great combination of speed and elusiveness that drives his potential to go the distance any time he has the ball in his hands. He is able to make sharp, subtle changes of direction without having to slow down, enabling him to quickly make defenders miss and accelerate away from them.
Unlike many kickoff return specialists, Ross is not diminutive. Listed at 6’1” and 221 pounds, he has the strength to run through tackles.
Ross’ combination of strength and athleticism makes him a dynamic weapon at the running back position as well. On 88 rushing attempts last season, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns.
Opportunities to contribute at running back will be limited once again for Ross this year because of the presence of standout sophomore Samaje Perine at the top of the Oklahoma depth chart. Nonetheless, Ross’ playmaking upside should intrigue NFL teams if he can continue to make impressive breakaways on offense and special teams.
All measurables and statistics courtesy of each player's school's official athletics website unless otherwise noted.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.