At this very early stage of the 2016 NFL draft process, all there is to examine are questions. Prospects have established themselves on the college stage and given scouts plenty of tape to pore over, giving the first round some shape.
Yet look back to past drafts and take note of how drastically things changed after a workout or the scouting combine or some off-field issue that caused a top talent to fall out of the first round. Remember when ESPN.com's Mel Kiper had Damontre Moore as the No. 2 overall pick in 2013?
A lot is going to change over the next four months, so the best way to examine the 2016 draft right now after listing the mock picks is focusing on the biggest storylines for key players.
|2016 NFL Mock Draft (Order Based on Week 16 Standings)|
|1||Tennessee Titans||Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff, QB, California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis|
|6||Miami Dolphins||Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State|
|7||Jacksonville Jaguars||Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida|
|8||Baltimore Ravens||Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon|
|10||New York Giants||Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Su'a Cravens, LB, USC|
|12||Philadelphia Eagles||Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi|
|13||Detroit Lions||Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame|
|14||Chicago Bears||Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State|
|15||Buffalo Bills||Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State|
|16||Oakland Raiders||Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech|
|17||Indianapolis Colts||Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State|
|18||St. Louis Rams||Josh Doctson, WR, TCU|
|19||Atlanta Falcons||Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama|
|20||Pittsburgh Steelers||Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU|
|21||Washington||Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State|
|22||Houston Texans||Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State|
|23||Seattle Seahawks||Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State|
|24||New York Jets||Tim Williams, LB, Alabama|
|25||Kansas City Chiefs||Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State|
|26||Minnesota Vikings||Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State|
|28||Denver Broncos||Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas|
|29||Cincinnati Bengals||Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama|
|30||Arizona Cardinals||Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana|
Note: New England Patriots forfeit their first-round pick as part of Deflategate punishment.
Kendall Fuller's Knee
Injuries are always a huge question mark for many players coming into the draft, but perhaps no one has more to prove during the predraft workout process than Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller.
The junior star only appeared in three games last season before having September surgery to repair a torn meniscus originally suffered during preseason.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports noted all the ways in which Fuller had scouts drooling over his NFL potential before his injury:
He was often described as the most gifted of a family that included former Virginia Tech standouts and current NFL players Vincent, Corey and Kyle Fuller. He'd earned ACC Defensive Freshman Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 and First Team all-conference accolades after last season and currently projects as a first round pick...
One positive for Fuller is that he didn't sustain the big knee injury (torn ACL) to scare teams off. ESPN.com's Todd McShay had Fuller going in the first round, 21st overall to Indianapolis, in his initial mock draft posted on Dec. 16 because of his ability to play on the outside or in the slot.
The medicals will be Fuller's biggest hurdle to get over during the evaluation process. Assuming he does that, there's no reason to think teams won't be itching to select him. Coming off a knee injury, it's possible the drafting team gets him at a better spot than he originally would have been taken.
Robert Nkemdiche's Stock
OBJ's Trade to Cleveland Has the Browns Hyped
Le'Veon's Power Move Pays Off After Signing Massive Deal with Jets
WR Metcalf Looks Ready to Destroy NFL Combine or Take Down Thanos
Friends to Foes, Ex-UGA Teammates Meet in Super Bowl
Cooks Gave a Super Gift to This Rams Employee
Mahomes Loves Ketchup as Much as Torching Defenses
Bears Hoping to Ride Club Dub to the Super Bowl
The Worst Fantasy Football Punishments for Last Place
NFL Players Bring Soccer Traditions to the NFL
JuJu Is a Man of the People
Bills Superfan 'Pancho Billa' Continues to Inspire
Happy 26th Birthday to OBJ 🎉
Mahomes Is 'Showtime' Off the Field Too
Thielen's Ride from Underdog to Record-Breaking WR
Shanahan and His Son Carter Are Hyped for Carter V
Browns Winning Off the Field with Community Service
Conner's Journey from Beating Cancer to Starting RB
Does Donovan McNabb Deserve Your 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Vote?
B/R Fantasy Expert Matt Camp Gives His Picks for Keep or Release After Week 2
Does Hines Ward Deserve Your 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Vote?
Like Fuller, Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche has seen his stock fluctuate during the season. Unlike Fuller, Nkemdiche's draft standing has been hampered by off-field issues.
Nkemdiche was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana by Atlanta police on Dec. 15, leading to Ole Miss suspending him for the team's Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State.
Talent is always going to be the most important factor for teams, but player conduct and character has become more important than ever. Regardless of anyone's personal opinion about marijuana, Nkemdiche knew the laws, still decided to put himself at risk and got caught.
There were already questions about Nkemdiche's ultimate NFL ceiling before the problem, with one AFC personnel director telling NFL.com he didn't want to touch the Ole Miss star in the top half of the first round:
'I know he gets a ton of attention, but I'm leery ... actually, I would stand on a table and tell my franchise to not take him in the top 15 picks.' Why? The personnel director says Nkemdiche is a great talent who can overpower college players with his bull rushes and speed, but he doesn't think Nkemdiche is a natural pass rusher and said he flagged the Rebels' star numerous times for not finishing plays.
Those sentiments about Nkemdiche echo similar ones expressed by B/R draft guru Matt Miller:
It's worth noting some experts still have Nkemdiche firmly in the first-round mix. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports has him going 15th overall to Oakland, citing the sky-high ceiling as the biggest point in his favor.
Given all the doubt and questions with Nkemdiche right now, he's not in my first-round mock. That can change over the next few months, but there's too much risk to feel comfortable slotting him in the top 31 today.
The Small-School QB
Quarterbacks always headline the draft, especially in the first round, and regardless of whether they are going No. 1 or 31.
Most fans are aware of the two big names at the top, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and California's Jared Goff, but one name that keeps popping up to challenge for a mid- to late-first-round pick is North Dakota State's Carson Wentz.
Jon Ledyard of USA Today articulated the points working in Wentz's favor with his draft stock rapidly rising:
Wentz’s rocket arm and ideal measurables have garnered him a ton of attention already in the pre-draft process, and rightfully so. The 6-6 senior shows a ton of poise in the pocket, stepping into throws to zip the ball through tight windows. Velocity isn’t an issue for Wentz, who shows generally sound mechanics to all levels of the field, displaying an arm that can make every throw.
Just from a physical standpoint, Wentz looks the part of an NFL quarterback. It's hard to find a 6'6", 235-pound athlete who can stand under center, make every throw and bring touch with accuracy.
Wentz still has to figure out certain things, like reading a defense and how to make plays in an offense that's not timing-based. He will also be making a huge step up in competition, even more than a typical college quarterback, because North Dakota State plays FCS competition.
While not likely to be a starter from Day 1, Wentz has all the physical tools to be worth a look for teams in the back half of the first round who can get away with stashing a rookie quarterback on the bench for a season.
In that regard, the Houston Texans may not be the ideal fit because they will have to find a starting quarterback after going through four this season. A team like the Arizona Cardinals, who have 36-year-old Carson Palmer, would be a better match because there isn't an immediate urgency.
Yet the draft is where teams find quarterbacks because free agency so rarely lets anyone worth having reach that point. Wentz is going to be a risk worth taking since his physical attributes are so spectacular that the developmental needs can pay off in a big way.