The 2016 NFL draft order is far from set. We still have more than a month of playoff action left before things are truly sorted out, and come draft day we'll probably see a trade or two that will alter what we expect when commissioner Roger Goodell hits the podium.
That said, things are set for those teams sitting at home over the next few weeks. The Tennessee Titans clinched the No. 1 overall pick with a loss Sunday, and the Cleveland Browns followed suit to lock up No. 2. Both finished with matching 3-13 records and will likely spent their offseasons reshuffling their entire organization. Again.
The same goes for much of the remainder of the top 10, which features a number of teams that expected more from their 2015 campaigns. With that in mind, here is a quick look at the first-round draft order as it stands after Week 17.
Current NFL Draft Order
|3||San Diego Chargers|
|7||San Francisco 49ers|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|10||New York Giants|
|12||New Orleans Saints|
|15||St. Louis Rams|
|20||New York Jets|
|22||Green Bay Packers|
|24||Kansas City Chiefs|
Note: Only top 20 picks are set. Picks No. 21-31 are contingent on postseason. The New England Patriots lose their first-round pick as part of their punishment for the Deflategate scandal.
Storylines to Watch
Who Will the Titans Take at No. 1?
The Titans already drafted their quarterback of the future last season in Marcus Mariota. Now they'll be tasked with deciding how they want to surround him. Most agree the top overall player on the board is Ohio State pass-rusher Joey Bosa, an All-American built in the mold of J.J. Watt. Bosa's counting stats were down from his sophomore season, but he's an absolute no-brainer at the top of this class.
That said, the Titans are still in need of an offensive line infrastructure around Mariota. Taylor Lewan has the potential to develop into an All-Pro at left tackle. He already ranks 14th in Pro Football Focus' tackle metrics, marking a huge bump up in production from his lost rookie campaign. If his health checks out, adding someone like Laremy Tunsil might give the Titans the one-two punch at tackle necessary to keep Mariota upright.
The ultimate decision may depend on which direction Tennessee goes with its next head coach. If the club keeps interim head coach Mike Mularkey, it may stick to building the offense. Mularkey is a longtime offensive coach around the league, but his head coaching resume is dismal. A defense-oriented coach may be more tempted by Bosa, who is the safer pick, all things considered.
Right now, the smart money is on Bosa. We'll just have to see how far outside the box the Titans are going to go on their coaching search.
How Will the QB Situation Shake Out?
At the moment, Cal's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch have strongly placed themselves in the first round. Goff ended his college career in style, throwing for 467 yards and six touchdowns in an Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force. In his final two collegiate games, he threw for over 1,000 yards and 11 scores—quite the way to make an impression on his way out the door.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes believes Goff's experience will help him succeed at the next level, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com:
A team is drafting high because they haven't had success, so you're going to have some growing pains and the fact that he came to Cal and was 1-11 as the starter—he's had that experience. He's had to deal with failure and he's also had to deal with success. That helps prepare a guy mentally and emotionally as well as anything, when you've gone through what Jared has gone through.
While Goff will be ahead on most boards and is the more traditional choice, Lynch has gained ground throughout 2015. The 6'7" junior threw for 3,778 yards and 28 touchdowns against four interceptions, adding another 239 yards and two scores on the ground. While those numbers aren't gaudy, Lynch scored 13 touchdowns on the ground in 2014 and uses his size well.
Unlike Goff, though, he did not end his college career on a high note. Lynch's Birmingham Bowl performance against Auburn was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. He completed only 16 of 37 passes, throwing for 108 yards and failing to score a touchdown while throwing a pick. The performance paled in comparison to Lynch's brilliant outing in Memphis' win over Ole Miss and could once again raise questions about his level of competition.
As it stands, Goff is the more pro-ready prospect while Lynch might need a year. The Browns at No. 2 should be looking at quarterback, as will the Cowboys and 49ers. San Francisco and Cleveland are the best bets to go under center at the moment.
What Happens With Robert Nkemdiche?
A surefire top-five pick a month ago, Nkemdiche's troubled December puts his draft stock in jeopardy. The former Ole Miss star was charged with marijuana possession after falling from a fourth-floor window at a hotel in Atlanta. It resulted in his immediate suspension for the Rebels bowl game, and ended an otherwise brilliant career in a cloud of disappointment.
There's few who question Nkemdiche's talent. He's a 6'4", 296-pound behemoth with quick feet and an aggressiveness off the ball. While his overall numbers never showed it, Nkemdiche was one of the most dominant linemen in college football over the last couple of seasons. His skill set is perfect for a team in a 3-4 scheme, where could realistically play inside or out.
At issue here is which team will be willing to take a risk on his character. The hotel incident will be the subject of Nkemdiche's entire draft process and will come to a head at the combine, where teams and media alike will pepper him with questions.
We've seen these types of situations before. Nkemdiche's draft stock will depend as much on his answers to questions publicly and behind the scenes as it does his on-field measurables. If he answers smoothly, it's possible he returns to the top 10. If not, his slide may wind up being all the way out of the first round.