2016 NFL Draft Grades: Round 1 Report Card
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Jared Goff first overall, as most of us expected. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carson Wentz second overall, as all of us expected, assuming that the Rams took Goff.
Then came the drama.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott, meaning that the best running back in the nation will play behind the best offensive line in the NFL. Defense? The Cowboys will worry about that on Friday. Elliott's Ohio State teammates dominated the first half of the first round so thoroughly that no one would have blinked if some team drafted Brutus the Buckeye.
The Denver Broncos traded up for Paxton Lynch. The Cleveland Browns traded down for Corey Coleman. Injury fears dropped Myles Jack out of the first round entirely. And the sudden appearance of a marijuana video on the social networks turned Laremy Tunsil from the best non-quarterback in the class into a guy who had war rooms scrambling.
Here are grades for all 31 selections along with scouting reports, stats, analysis, a joke or two and even some insight on why Eli Apple's culinary selections might matter to an NFL scout.
1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, Quarterback, California
Bleacher Report proudly presents Mike Tanier’s Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparisons for Jared Goff:
- Teddy Bridgewater, with infinitely better predraft buzz.
- Matt Ryan, with no hope of getting a Julio Jones.
Jargon-Free Scouting Nutshell: Goff is an extremely accurate short passer with solid mechanics whose size (6'4", 215 lbs), athleticism and arm strength meet minimum NFL-starter standards. If the stars align and 20 things break right for him career-wise, Goff could be Aaron Rodgers. He’s much more likely to max out as a mid-tier starter.
Start with the typical pressure a first-round quarterback faces.
Factor in the pressure that comes with being the quarterback a team traded a swag bag of draft picks to select. He isn’t just a quarterback; he’s a quarterback and a defensive back and a developmental lineman and that impact player in next year’s draft the team wants but cannot have. He’s not just an investment; he’s a mortgage who forces the kind of belt-tightening that’s always being felt.
Layer on the pressure that comes from being the first starting professional quarterback in 20 years in one of the largest media markets on earth. His team must sell tickets and PSLs. Heck, it’s still working out facility-type plans.
Oh, and the coaching staff has been going 7-9 for nearly half a decade and cannot fritter around in rebuilding mode too much longer. So slather that pressure on top of all the other pressure.
Now, take that simmering cauldron of multidirectional pressure and place it on the shoulders not of a Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck who grew up around the NFL, not of an incandescently talented Cam Newton, not even of a Jameis Winston, who is already a seasoned veteran of the highs and lows of the limelight, but on the shoulders of Goff, whose greatest career victory came in something called the Armed Forces Bowl.
Clearly, there are forces that will determine Goff’s success that are well beyond the realm of his accuracy or footwork.
It’s impossible to take this pick out of its context. Goff is a very good prospect. The NFL and draft media have spent four months convincing themselves that he is a great one. He’s being asked to do the work of a generational prospect. His margin for error will be nearly nonexistent.
Goff drew a lot of Ryan comparisons during the draft runup. Let’s examine that comp. Ryan is bigger and has a better deep-sideline arm, but other similarities hold up well: Both are accurate, mature and technically sound (ignore the second half of last year for Ryan), and their college profiles were similar.
Ryan was successful immediately, winning 11 games with decent stats as a rookie. The Falcons went out and got him a Hall of Fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez the next year. They then moved up in the draft in 2011 to select Julio Jones to reinforce their investment and turn Ryan into a Pro Bowler who could duel with the Seahawks in the playoffs.
Where will Goff’s Gonzalez and Jones come from? The Los Angeles Rams spent all of those extra picks to get him. Their tight ends are currently Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey.
Ryan also joined a Falcons team in obvious rebuilding mode, with new coaches and executives with the luxury of time and fans delighted to have a quarterback who wasn’t in prison. Ryan faced pressures but not the incalculable ones Goff now faces.
Did I mention Goff will have to face the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals twice? He is expected to compete for the playoffs in this division—not learn from his lumps until he settles in and help arrives. Because help isn’t coming.
For this pick to succeed, Goff cannot be Ryan or Andy Dalton, because the Rams are not the Mike Smith Falcons or the Cincinnati Bengals. Goff must be transcendent enough to save a franchise from itself under insanely difficult conditions. The Rams have saddled Goff with what should not be a job for Goff. It’s a job for a Luck or Manning. Or for an experienced quarterback such as Brock Osweiler (pressure-tested last year) or Ryan Fitzpatrick (could hand off to Todd Gurley and charm the crowd while the stadium is being built). Or one of the quarterbacks who was available while the Rams had all those extra picks but were quadrupling down on Sam Bradford.
Good luck, Jared Goff. There is a lot to love about your game. But the pressure is on. And on and on and on.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State
Bleacher Report proudly presents Mike Tanier’s Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparisons for Carson Wentz:
- Joe Flacco, only faster than your basic maple tree.
- Pleasant Jay Cutler.
- See below.
Jargon-Free Scouting Nutshell: Wentz is a tall small-school guy with a great arm, excellent long-range accuracy and decent athleticism. The 6'5", 237-pounder played in a non-gimmicky offense against competition just a rung below mid-majors, but he still faces a steep ramp-up to NFL competition, and his short accuracy, footwork and pocket presence all need refinement.
The Philadelphia Eagles are desperately seeking another Donovan McNabb.
We should have seen this coming when they hired Doug Pederson. Pederson is an Andy Reid surrogate. He’s also a herald in Philly for the Coming of the McNabb, dating back from his days as McNabb’s bumbling on-field mentor in the late 1990s.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is harkening back to the glory days of the early 2000s. The Eagles never won the Super Bowl back then, but they won about 11 games per year and the organization operated like a precision-tuned machine. The coach and quarterback were among the keys to that stability. When McNabb aged and Reid’s system began to yield diminishing returns, the Eagles were rudderless. Dream Team? Chip Kelly? Tim Tebow? Lurie wants things back the way they were.
So the Eagles sought their new McNabb. But what would he look like? He would be big and athletic. He would throw an exquisite deep pass. His short-range accuracy would make you want to go watch that exquisite deep pass again. He would be calm, confident, professional and pleasant, though not exactly a glass-eater.
There would be other signs and portents. Eagles fans must prefer a running back to the next McNabb; Ezekiel Elliott was this year’s Ricky Williams. There would be fan outrage. That light-throwing incident in the Flyers playoff game right before the Browns trade? The Philly Phaithful felt a disturbance in The Phorce.
OK, that’s pushing it. But the Eagles see a little McNabb in Wentz, just as they see Reid in Pederson and Pederson in Chase Daniel. (Not even the Eagles are sure what they see in Sam Bradford anymore.)
The Wentz-McNabb comparison is complicated, however, and it’s a stretch. There’s a quarterback in the NFL right now from a smallish program with a great deep arm, pretty good mobility, emerging decision-making and short- to mid-range accuracy who will never remind you of Tom Brady. He’s still a work in progress, but he has many Wentz-like attributes.
Don’t laugh or cry. Bortles threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns last year. He is destined for a fine career if the Jaguars ever figure everything out. His 2015 performance was a solid indicator of what Wentz could develop into after a year of tutelage.
Now…how many high draft picks would you trade to get Bortles?
Come to think of it: How many high draft picks would you trade to get 2000-10 McNabb?
Like the Rams, the Eagles incurred so much risk that the reward must be nearly stratospheric. Wentz is a very good prospect. But for this selection to work out, he has to be much, much more.
3. San Diego Chargers: Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State
The human brain can only hold between three and five San Diego Chargers facts at any one time.
Try it for yourself. Philip Rivers is a great veteran quarterback. (One.) The franchise may be moving. (Two.) Antonio Gates has been around forever. (Three.) Keenan Allen looked like a superstar before getting hurt last year. (Four.) Eric Weddle, the best, most famous player on the defense, is now on the Ravens. (Five.)
New fact: The Chargers just drafted Joey Bosa.
Yikes! What’s their coach’s name again? Who are their top pass-rushers? Did Melvin Gordon play for them last year, or is “Melvin Gordon” some name I just made up? Who are these children in framed photographs on my desk? Who am I?
OK, it’s not that bad. But when the Chargers are bad, they disappear from public consciousness. This draft is a chance for them to become more than Rivers and a stadium controversy. This team was 9-7 in 2013 and 2014. The infrastructure of a playoff contender is on the roster somewhere—I think. The Chargers depth chart keeps evaporating from my memory. An upgrade to a pass rush that recorded just 32 sacks last year can get San Diego back where it needs to be.
The folks at Optimum Scouting published an excellent draft guide this year that included an in-depth scouting feature by Anthony Chiado. Chiado and his team analyzed several hundred snaps by each of the top pass-rushers in this year’s draft class to determine where each prospect lined up, how he was blocked, what moves he used (spin, rip, race around the edge and hope the quarterback was still there), and so on.
Chiado’s team determined that when lined up between the tackles, Bosa generated quarterback pressure on 60 percent of pass plays. When double-teamed, Bosa created pressure 40 percent of the time. The double-team figure is remarkable: No other top prospect generated pressure with two blockers draped over him more than 16 percent of the time.
The in-depth analysis shows what makes Bosa unique. Watch his film superficially, and he appears to belong in the Melvin Ingram-Brandon Graham class of not-so-quick pass-rushers. The Chargers already have Ingram (who developed very slowly into a useful pass-rusher) and don’t need another. Bosa's ability to hand fight and slide inside to cause mismatches makes him more like Chandler Jones but with higher upside.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State
The Dallas Cowboys arrive at the 2016 draft with typical Dallas Cowboys problems. Tony Romo has traded his young-dude issues (younger readers should consult the second and third Carrie Underwood albums as reference material) for old-guy issues (doctors are doing to his shoulder what the guys on American Restoration do to old pinball machines), but he’s still Romo.
The locker room culture is still somewhere between “seventh graders with a lenient substitute teacher” and “Mos Eisley Cantina.” Planning for the future remains something Dallas plans to do sometime in the future. The Cowboys have some top-tier talent and positions of championship-caliber strength, but as usual the whole does not add up to the sum of the parts.
Just one year ago, the Cowboys looked like a whole new organization. They built an offensive line that is the envy of the conference, if not the NFL. They dabbled in analytics and sports science. Jason Garrett started to look and sound like he had more autonomy than the assistant manager of a strip-mall Game Stop.
But the Cowboys are a study in contrasts: Part of the organization is very progressive and modern, but the part that makes the final decisions is still flying by the seat of its pants.
That’s how you get a situation like this. The Cowboys have an offensive line so great that it makes the running back almost irrelevant (the modernist faction). Now they have splurged on a great running back despite a smoldering crater of a defense (Jerry Jones' call).
The questions about Ezekiel Elliott are not whether he can be a productive NFL runner but whether he will rise to the Adrian Peterson level.
On film, he looks like LaDainian Tomlinson: capable of running with speed or power, able to read blocks and beat defenders with multiple moves in the open field, effective when finishing runs for extra yards, and useful as a short receiver. Elliott played fullback at the start of his college career and is a great blocker by the standards of college featured backs, which is to say he actually understands his assignment and puts effort into it.
The nitpicks in his game could keep him out of perennial All-Pro territory. Elliott chirped about his carries after Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State. As complaints about carries go, Elliott’s sounded measured—he wasn’t screaming, "Gimme the damn ball!"—and all great running backs think they should get 40 carries per game. Still, no one wants a rookie running back sitting next to the owner on the team plane and unplugging his noise-canceling headphones so he can complain about the game plan, DeMarco Murray-style.
Elliott called the Michigan State game “a great learning experience” and told teams he has “grown up a lot since then” at the combine. Chances are Elliott will pipe down about game plans until he reaches the Peterson level where everyone agrees with him. Even if he doesn't pipe down, he's in Dallas now, so a little brashness won't matter. There's also a high collegiate carry total and other things that make the analytics crowd cringe, including the fact that Elliott was drafted fourth overall in the first place.
Elliott will be a blast to watch and a nightmare to defend behind the Cowboys offensive line. The problem is that Elliott may be overkill. The difference between him and a committee won't matter much if the Cowboys are allowing 30 points per game.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, Defensive Back, Florida State
Ponder if you will the Riddle of the Jacksonville Jaguars:
- Individually, all Jaguars players/coaches/executives appear to be pretty good at their jobs.
- Individually, all Jaguars transactions appear to be sensible, or at least defensible.
- Collectively, Jaguars players, coaches, executives, transactions and decisions result in a team that wins as many games in four years as the Patriots win in one year.
So as I prepare to praise the Jalen Ramsey selection (he may be the best overall player in this draft), I remember that I praised the Blaine Gabbert, Tyson Alualu and Luke Joeckel selections in the past. Something will happen: a sudden injury like the one Dante Fowler Jr. suffered as he was walking off the podium last year (it was actually during his first practice, but you get the idea), stunted development, the expansion of some minor flaw into a career-crippling shortcoming.
Now, here is why the Ramsey selection appears to be awesome: The standard defensive depth chart consists of two cornerbacks, a free safety who plays deep and helps in double coverage, and a strong safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage, defends the run and covers tight ends.
The standard defensive depth chart is between five and 25 years out of date.
Modern defensive coordinators are looking for three starting cornerbacks, a fourth starting cornerback who might be a little bigger or better at diagnosing plays (the old free safety), and a safety who ideally has near-cornerback speed and near-linebacker physicality (the old strong safety).
There is now a high demand for safeties who are essentially versatile cornerbacks. Tyrann Mathieu is the prototype. Malcolm Jenkins and Damarious Russell are other examples. If offenses are going to line up three wide receivers and a Rob Gronkowski in a spread formation on first down, defenses need to counter with players who can be ready for anything.
There aren’t many defensive backs who fit the bill. Ramsey is the right player at the right time.
Ramsey is the perfect modern nickelback—not the backup quarterback who plays on 3rd-and-10 older fans think of but the starting slot defensive back. He has the size (6'1", 209 lbs) to match up against big receivers and fast tight ends in coverage. He has the aggressiveness to blow up blockers in run support and the receiver screen game. He can range back to safety and use his instincts to play deep zone. Ramsey can do just about everything except jam Antonio Brown at the line and expect to turn and run with him for 30 yards. Can any defensive back do that?
The NFL would like to requisition about 30 more Ramseys. But they are still rare commodities. That’s what makes this one so special.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame
Could Ozzie Newsome be any happier about how this draft turned out? Two quarterbacks and a running back among the first four picks, ensuring that several of the top impact players fall to the Baltimore Ravens? Ozzie couldn’t be happier if you sent him a gift basket full of fancy mustards and third-day supplemental picks. He couldn’t be happier if he died and went to heaven, only to have Saint Peter and Bear Bryant greet him at the pearly gates with a “Roll Tide.”
That said, the usually reliable Newsome selected the wrong guy. Laremy Tunsil is a better lineman than Ronnie Stanley. Even if the Ravens thought otherwise (teams have been sniffing around Tunsil's minor-but-numerous off-field incidents, including some recent marijuana shenanigans), they should have looked to DeForest Buckner, a great system pick for the Ravens defense.
When his quarterback is taking a seven-step drop or a deep setup after a shotgun snap, Stanley may be a better pass protector than Tunsil. He has the smoothest, quickest kick slide to set against a wide rusher... maybe ever. Stanley can mirror that first pass-rush move and either punch or engulf his defender. After that, it’s usually curtains.
There are just minor quirks in Stanley’s game. He doesn’t always finish his blocks with intensity. He will lunge or whiff on the second level now and then. A top pass-rusher such as Shaq Lawson can work through that original set-and-punch and win. Stanley could use a little more polish and a splash of orneriness. He has Pro Bowl upside.
The problem is that Tunsil and Buckner have better upside.
7. San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon
All has been quiet this offseason on Wundagore Mountain, the secret lair of a trio of the NFL’s misunderstood geniuses. Chip Kelly, Jed York and Trent Baalke made nary a peep in free agency, give or take a Zane Beadles signing.
What could possibly be going on in their war room, the one with the shark-infested moat around it?
Chip Kelly (watching dozens of television monitors at once and stroking a kitty cat): That’s right, foolish mortals. Sign free agents. Go about your meaningless everyday lives. Even as you spend millions of dollars, my energy shakes and advanced training regimen are turning the San Francisco 49ers into super soldiers I can program to do whatever I please! Muah-HA-HA-HA-HA!
Trent Baalke (hunched and sniveling in a corner): That’s right, arrogant fool. Spin your elaborate webs. Your scientific principles will be of no more use to you than Jim Harbaugh’s motivational skills. I need only bide my time and wait for you to make a mistake. Then, the world will discover that their true overlord is Lord Baalke. Muah-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!
Jed York (biting his pencil over a word search): Oh snap, some of these are diagonal! You guys wanna order takeout?
Nah...they are probably just examining scouting reports and listening to trade offers like normal team executives. And, wisecracks aside, making some very shrewd decisions!
DeForest Buckner is the best prospect of his type since Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson left LSU, were drafted fifth and third overall by the Chiefs in 2008 and 2009, and went on to rock-solid careers and nearly total obscurity.
Buckner’s “type” is a two-gap defensive end, the brick and mortar of any 3-4 defense. The two-gap defensive end causes congestion that forces running backs to bounce outside and disrupts or occupies blocks so the pass-rushers can get all the glory. Few 3-4 defensive ends have long sizzle reels full of highlights. Even their “wins” are so subtle that even film grinders can miss them: a perfectly sealed edge against the run, a sacrifice to neutralize the left tackle so Tamba Hali or James Harrison can notch a sack.
Buckner is more explosive than Dorsey or Jackson, who were (and still are) more like massive, semimobile highway barriers. Buckner can use his hands and hips to disengage from blockers without leaving the broom closet of space he’s working with. The handful of 3-4 ends who achieved a measure of stardom have similar traits. Calais Campbell of the Cardinals has a similar body type and style. Steelers end Cam Heyward is shorter and thicker but just as explosive and tenacious as Buckner.
Campbell and Heyward were second- and late-first-round picks, because two-gap ends can be a little like running backs: They wear down quickly, often have trouble with the NCAA-to-NFL jump, and a rotation of two pretty good ones can sometimes be indistinguishable from one great one.
Buckner should develop into another Campbell. Just don’t measure his success by his own sack total. If Buckner achieves his potential, Aaron Lynch and others will be the ones flashing on the highlight reel.
This is a tremendous infrastructure pick for a team that needs infrastructure.
Oh yeah, and Buckner played for Oregon. But criticizing Kelly for drafting Oregon players is sooooo 2013.
8. Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin, Tackle, Michigan State
Quick: Close your eyes and try to imagine a signature Tennessee Titans play.
You just pictured Chris Johnson running for 91 yards, didn’t you? Johnson has been gone since 2013, and most of his highlights fizzled out in 2010. Try again. Can you picture Marcus Mariota doing...something? It’s hard, isn’t it?
The image of Tom Brady throwing a slant to Julian Edelman comes unbidden to your mind, as does the image of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch running an option, Adrian Peterson churning off tackles, Chip Kelly’s teams doing Chip Kelly stuff, and even Blake Bortles watching a snap sail over his head or throwing a pass when five yards past the line of scrimmage. But the Titans lacked an identity, even after drafting Mariota and putting him in a system that Ken Whisenhunt custom-tailored to the needs of Kurt Warner.
The Titans gained an identity two weeks ago. They became the team that fleeced the Rams for an SUV full of draft picks. The Titans will be defined for years by what they do in the next three days and next April. And they promise to be very busy.
This first selection, however, doesn't tell us much about what direction they will be taking. It looks like a need pick. The Titans surrendered 54 sacks last season. Right tackle was a particular trouble spot, with three players (Byron Bell, Jeremiah Poutasi and Jamon Meredith) combining for 16 sacks allowed at the position, according to Pro Football Focus.
Before Jack Conklin, the last Michigan State offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round was Tony Mandarich in 1989. Conklin may be as unlike Mandarich as any offensive lineman can be.
All scouting reports are in agreement on Conklin. He’s a coach's son with impeccable technique, a great football IQ, the character to run a daycare center and just enough athleticism to get by. He will never be quick enough to mirror and stymie Khalil Mack coming off the edge, but he will do enough to stay in the lineup for years.
It’s as far a cry from Mandarich—who was basically Ivan Drago from Rocky IV—as an offensive tackle can get.
Conklin is also a superficially safer choice than Laremy Tunsil, whose marijuana-related slide continues. Some team is going to wake up, realize it's not 1984 and get a heck of a bargain.
9. Chicago Bears: Leonard Floyd, Linebacker, Georgia
Leonard Floyd is a strange-looking prospect. At 6'6", he has the height of an edge-rusher (or tight end or small forward), and Georgia often lined him up at defensive end and let him use his combination of quickness and pretty good hand technique to defeat offensive tackles. But Floyd also lined up as a traditional linebacker and even split out in man coverage against slot receivers. A 6'6" defender running up the seam looks like a lineman who got lost, though Floyd was quick enough to stay with many SEC tight ends.
Floyd falls in the same “Where do you put him?” category as Su’a Cravens, though Cravens is more of a safety-linebacker than Floyd, who is a weird safety-defensive end combination. (Let’s not forget linebacker-running back Myles Jack. This is an odd linebacker draft).
For every coordinator who loves Floyd as a versatile role player on the edge, there are other coaches who will try to hammer him into a round hole by asking him to gain 25 pounds and play with his hand in the dirt. If Lovie Smith drafted Floyd, it would be a waste for the ages.
Vic Fangio is clever about using square pegs like Floyd, and the Chicago Bears already have Pernell McPhee on the roster as a move-around linebacker. Floyd feels like a reach with the ninth pick, but he does give the Bears front seven versatility and a sense of identity.
10. New York Giants: Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State
Eli Apple cannot cook meals for himself and eats out all the time. He’s a “baby” with “no life skills,” according to the scouting sources of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn.
The Internet made plenty of hay with this scouting lunacy Wednesday; there is no need to rehash it here. NFL scouting, like American political and social life, is dominated by old guys misremembering how tough and independent they were as youths. No doubt this scout fondly recalls the days when the lads in the athletic dorms hunted wild boar before practice, slow roasted it all day and then served it with a wild berry sauce to the comely maidens of Gamma House at an evening mixer.
It’s even funnier now that these graying tough guys are actually Generation Xers who grew up in the age of cable television and dorm fridges full of wine coolers. No, wizened sage of the manly arts, football players did not cook beans over a campfire while waiting for the general to sound the charge in your day. They nuked pizza squares and listened to Bell Biv Devoe.
Cooking skills aside, Apple is a smooth man-to-man defender who lines up in tight coverage, turns and adjusts quickly to his receiver’s route, and can run stride for stride with anyone in the open field. He also reacts quickly to options, screens and other misdirection plays, stepping up to fill lanes or engage blockers.
Apple gets pretty high marks as a run defender, though he will get pushed around by blockers and is more likely to appear at the edge of a pile than in the middle of one. He’s also not a physical press corner, and he uses his hands far too often in downfield coverage, as do most top collegiate cornerbacks. Apple’s game is all about quickness and the ability to erase his receiver, plus upside.
Apple joins Janoris Jenkins on a totally rebuilt cornerback corps. The New York Giants allowed 62 pass plays of 20-plus yards last season, the third-worst figure in the NFL behind the Saints and Colts. An overhaul was necessary, and the most injury-plagued professional sports team on earth is wise to upgrade units by grabbing guys two at a time.
Apple does not turn 21 until August 9; he’s another of this draft’s extra-young first-round prospects. Maybe he should have helped his draft stock by running straight from practice to the set of MasterChef Junior, just like we all did back in the day. The only thing that lowers this grade is the fact that I have three cornerbacks ranked above Apple, for reasons that are not culinary in any way.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves, Cornerback, Florida
Last year’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were only the third team in history to allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 70 percent or more of their passes. Opponents completed precisely 70.0 percent of their passes against the Bucs; the 2011 Colts hold the record by allowing a remarkable 71.2 completion rate, and the 2007 Lions are second all time with a 70.1 percent rate allowed.
Lovie Smith’s outdated version of the Tampa 2 was a big part of the problem, but so was the secondary’s foosball approach to zone defense: Bucs defenders often looked like they were sliding back and forth on rods instead of reading pass patterns and anticipating where the ball would go.
The Buccaneers made minor changes in the secondary in free agency (D.J. Swearinger out, Josh Robinson and an aging Brent Grimes in) but are obviously in need of better long-term solutions.
Pro Football Focus has been keeping track of the number of times NCAA cornerbacks are targeted in coverage for the last two years. It’s a valuable resource: College defensive stats are all either misleading or nonexistent, and game tape is of limited usefulness when a cornerback is only engaged in seven or eight plays per game. Though the fact that he is engaged in only seven or eight plays per game is enlightening in its own way.
Vernon Hargreaves was targeted for 48 pass attempts last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Only 24 of those passes were completed. Opponents threw 424 passes against the Florida Gators, and Hargreaves was on the field for a high percentage of those attempts, matched up against the best receivers in the SEC. It’s safe to say that opponents were avoiding Hargreaves. When they did challenge him, Hargreaves intercepted four passes.
Hargreaves is less versatile than Jalen Ramsey and a little less polished than Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander. He’ll definitely get challenged more in the NFL than he was in college. But he can develop into the kind of cornerback who makes opponents adjust their game plans, just like he was in college.
12. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville
Throughout this draft coverage, we'll pepper the New Orleans Saints' defensive selections with carefully curated "Random Depressing Saints Defensive Stats."
Random Depressing Saints Defensive Stat No. 2043B: The Saints allowed 129.4 rushing yards per game last season (31st) in the NFL and 4.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Luckily, this is the best defensive tackle draft in years. It's so good, and defensive tackles are so hard to keep straight, that Bleacher Report proudly presents this year's first installment of Big Uglies: A 2016 Field Guide. Don’t try to tell one monstrous interior lineman from another without it!
A quick Sheldon Rankins primer ...
Size: 6'1", 299 pounds
Athleticism: This dude moves like a 210-pound safety
Honors: All-ACC selection
Numbers: Six sacks in 2015
Defining Special Trait: Exceptional first-step quickness and fluidity
Potential Flaws: Smaller than the prototype
Also Worth Mentioning: Obliterated every blocker he faced in Senior Bowl practices.
Rankins looked like Aaron Donald’s twin brother at the Senior Bowl and could be a special player, though nitpickers warn he lacks a counter move as a pass-rusher and may not be built to bulk up to the 310-pound range without sacrificing quickness. Nitpickers sometimes mix old-fashioned analysis paralysis with "let’s pour ice water all over this prospect who is slaughtering offensive linemen in front of 500 reporters so we sound extra-discerning" ulterior motives. Rankins can start in the NFL; the details are what will decide if he develops into a Pro Bowler.
The Saints will be easy to grade this year. Every time they pick a solid defensive player, they get a reward.
13. Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, OIe Miss
It has been a Miami Dolphins offseason like any other, only more so. Big-name acquisitions arrived: Mario Williams, Byron Maxwell. Similar but less famous, cheaper and possibly better players left: Olivier Vernon, Brent Grimes. There’s a new head coach (Adam Gase) and a new top executive (Mike Tannenbaum) who recently usurped the last general manager (Dennis Hickey). The Dolphins are amazingly deep and talented at some positions (defensive line) but, despite lots of wheeling and dealing, have gaping holes at others (none of their running backs could start for Alabama).
Tannenbaum said in March that this year’s Dolphins “would beat the crap out of the 2015 Dolphins,” per Steve Shapiro of WSVN-TV (via Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel). From the bullying scandal through last year’s Dan Campbell Okie drill experiment to a decade of front-office power struggles, the Dolphins have always been the best team in the NFL at kicking the crap out of themselves. Someday, they’ll figure out how to turn that aggression on the Patriots.
So it's great to finally give the Dolphins some unqualified love after years of teasing them for paddling their canoe around in a circle.
Laremy Tunsil is the best offensive line prospect since Joe Thomas entered the NFL in 2007. He’s better than the offensive linemen who have been drafted first or second overall since then: Greg Robinson (a pile driver who still cannot pass-protect), Eric Fisher (small-school project in a weak class), Luke Joeckel (spread-option one-strike blocker in the same weak class), Jason Smith (huge, high character-effort guy who was a real reach) and Jake Long (great player, just not as good a prospect as Tunsil). Tunsil is one notch below the Jonathan Ogden-Orlando Pace-level prospect, and it’s not a huge notch.
Tunsil has the footwork and balance of a perennial All-Pro. His pass-protection set looks computer-generated, as if someone motion-captured Pace in 1999, slapped a new skin on it and used it every time Ole Miss threw the ball. Tunsil’s quickness and footwork allow him to get position against defenders in the running game, sealing the edge to the outside or turning the defender out of the hole on runs between the tackles. He’s very effective when blocking for screens or on the second level.
Tunsil missed half of last season because of your basic NCAA “gotcha.” He’s currently being sued by his stepfather over a domestic altercation between the two men; whatever the particulars of the incident, criminal charges were dropped, and the stepfather’s official story sounds a little like a shaggy dog tale.
A video of Tunsil smoking weed mysteriously appeared on his social networking feed Thursday. The feed was quickly deleted. Lots of football players smoke marijuana, of course, but there’s definitely something squirrely surrounding Tunsil right now, something just enough outside the box to make many general managers skittish.
The Dolphins got an absolute steal here. For once, they are getting more than they bargained for with a player.
14. Oakland Raiders: Karl Joseph, Safety, West Virginia
Karl Joseph tore an ACL in a non-contact drill while he was leading the nation with five interceptions after four games last year. Joseph has not run for scouts at all this season. He considered running at his pro day but only lifted.
Like any rookie coming off ACL surgery, Joseph comes with two related concerns: that he may have lost some explosiveness with the injury, and that he may not be ready to be a full participant for those critical early-career developmental reps. If he really was a last-minute decision away from running in early April, he should be available for training camp, if not rookie camp.
Joseph was both a top player and respected leader at West Virginia. He tracks and catches the ball well, and will win contested-ball battles. He’s a fine hitter and tackler. Joseph projects as a reliable starter, assuming the injury isn’t much of a setback.
Joseph was one of the biggest draft risers of the last month; the Oakland Raiders and other teams were clearly satisfied with what they saw and heard at his pro day. Joseph will pair with Reggie Nelson at safety in a rebuilt secondary that also added Sean Smith. It's a heck of a mentorship program. But I am docking the Raiders half a grade because of the memory of D.J. Hayden, the 12th pick in 2013. Hayden has been slow to develop, and the Raiders have a bad track record of reaching for damaged-goods defensive backs.
15. Cleveland Browns: Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor
Give the Cleveland Browns some credit. They looked themselves in the mirror and realized they weren’t ready to draft a franchise quarterback just yet. They were like the family that realized it should not bring home a new puppy until it cleans the rusted car batteries out of the backyard and Junior outgrows ripping the heads off his Build-A-Bears.
The Browns are building infrastructure with extra draft picks. Yes, they have tried that before; they have tried everything before. Just because it never works for them doesn’t mean it isn’t the best course of action.
Corey Coleman is fun to watch when the ball is coming his way. He has great quickness and lateral agility, allowing him to separate from defenders in the open field, track and haul in over-the-shoulder catches, and do all sorts of exciting things with a screen pass.
Without the ball in his hands, Coleman isn’t nearly as much fun. His route tree consists mostly of flies, hitches and screens. He doesn’t sell routes well when the ball is going to the opposite side of the field, and he doesn’t block much or block well. That was Coleman’s role in the Baylor system; Art Briles would rather have Coleman clear out defenders by running a deep sideline route than have him throwing blocks around. But Coleman’s game is severely unrefined, which should limit him to a situational role early in his career.
Coleman is broadly similar to former Baylor receiver Kendall Wright, now with the Titans, but Wright was more polished. Coleman’s ability to squirt for extra yardage on screens and take the lid off the secondary will get him into the huddle this year. He could develop into Emmanuel Sanders down the road a year or two, but he has a lot to learn to get there.
Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III knows all about Baylor receivers, of course. Coleman is more of a long-range pick than an immediate star, but the Browns traded down twice, stockpiled picks and still got the receiver they had at the top of their board. So this is a win for them.
16. Detroit Lions: Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
Taylor Decker is a high-effort, tough-guy type who sometimes is one of the last linemen out of his stance and can get out-quicked on double moves. If that sounds like a “career right tackle” to you, then you are probably right, but the truth is more nuanced than that.
Decker’s get-off at the line of scrimmage improved between 2014 and 2015. It is the kind of thing that can be improved: technique correction, comfort with the quarterback’s cadence, and lots and lots of reps can make an offensive lineman drop and set more quickly. Decker has good feet and movement skills on the second level, so he has the athleticism to play left tackle. The gulf between left and right tackle has been grossly overstated over the years by agents for left tackles and Sandra Bullock movies, anyway.
Besides, the Detroit Lions' immediate need is at right tackle. Riley Reiff is solid on the left side for now, but Michael Ola is penciled atop the depth chart on the right side. Decker is a three-year starter and unquestioned leader for the Buckeyes. He has better hand technique than Ronnie Stanley and maybe even Laremy Tunsil. The Lions can replace Ola with Decker now and worry about a switch to the left side later. This is not a franchise-changing selection, but it's a sound one.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Keanu Neal, Safety-Linebacker, Florida
The Atlanta Falcons were the worst team in the NFL at covering opposing running backs out of the backfield, according to Football Outsiders.
The problems with underneath coverage are not hard to isolate. Their names are Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant. Pro Football Focus gave opposing receivers a 104.6 efficiency rating when Worrilow was in coverage; Durant was only a little better. The Falcons are probably planning to use Keanu Neal as a linebacker-safety hybrid, finally adding some top-notch talent in the middle of the back seven.
Neal does two things exceptionally well. (1) He blows up plays in front of him. (2) He has a right-place, right-time knack for picking up loose balls, retrieving tip-drill interceptions and the like. He’s kind of like a cross between Donte Whitner and DeAngelo Hall but with all of their weaknesses magnified.
Pro Football Focus charged Neal with 17 missed tackles last year; Neal will go for the highlight reel/$50,000 fine tackle and miss too often. His coverage skills are rudimentary. Sometimes he gambles; sometimes he just looks like he is late to read the pass pattern.
So Neal is more talented than some of the guys the Falcons played at linebacker and safety in recent years, but he has a similar shortcoming. I am giving the Falcons a decent grade primarily because I don't want to watch Worrilow play football anymore.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Kelly, Center, Alabama
Sack totals don’t always reflect just how bad an offensive line is. Take the Indianapolis Colts for example. They allowed just 37 sacks, but Matt Hasselbeck took more punishment than Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Anyone who watched the Colts knew that line offered as much protection as a row of cubicle walls. Andrew Luck ran for his life, Hasselbeck flicked short passes with three defenders about to divide him up, Colts coordinators called quick protections and seven-man protections, and everyone survived the season—barely, in Hasselbeck’s case.
Center was a particular trouble spot for the Colts. It's time to give up on Khaled Holmes as anything but a multiposition sub.
Ryan Kelly is the best center in this draft, though you wouldn’t know it if you judged him on the College Football Playoff National Championship. He whiffed on several open-field blocks against Clemson and was on the ground an awful lot. Kelly also got out-quicked on an inside blitz late in the game, though he did a great job picking up blitzes for most of the contest, often switching off his defender to take on a linebacker or a stunting lineman.
The College Football Playoff title game can be tricky to evaluate, as can most major bowls. On the one hand, facing top-quality, unfamiliar competition can expose a player’s weakness. On the other hand, different individuals respond to a several-week gap from competition (followed by the most important single event of their young careers) in different ways.
Kelly was an outstanding second-level drive blocker throughout his Alabama career, blasting out to eradicate linebackers on hundreds of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon handoffs. So it was surprising to see him flail against Clemson. Maybe he won’t be quite as devastating as a second-level opponent in the NFL. Or maybe a long layoff without a regular Saturday opponent took its toll on his play speed.
One place Kelly didn’t struggle in the championship game was as a short-yardage blocker. He is nasty in goal-line situations, firing out of his stance so low to the ground that he submarines defenders and tunnels them backward.
Kelly was a three-year starter in the best football program outside the NFL. He reads blitzes, makes adjustments and is athletic enough for zone-stretch blocking. He’ll need a double-team against Aaron Donald-level defenders, but most centers are in the same boat. His championship game may have been a little ragged, but think of it as a dress rehearsal for his first NFL start.
19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, Pass-Rusher, Clemson
Biggest foregone-conclusion selection in middle-of-the-first-round history. Rex Ryan drafting a Clemson guy? What's next? Is he going to make a bunch of goofy boasts and then coach a team that leads the league in sloppy penalties?
Then again, Ryan can surprise you. Last year, he inherited a front four of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes: three former Pro Bowlers and a player coming off back-to-back 10-sack seasons. Yet the Buffalo Bills defense generated a meager 21 sacks and was nothing special against the run (24th in the NFL in yards per rush, 16th in yards per game).
That should not be physically possible. Yes, Mario Williams didn’t like his role in the scheme and throttled down the effort a bit. But 21 sacks? Super Mario wasn’t turning around and knocking Dareus into Hughes at the snap or anything. Anyway, this was an obvious need pick with Super Mario exiled to Miami.
According to Optimum Scouting, Shaq Lawson generated pass pressure when single-blocked 44.1 percent of the time (a very good rate) but generated pass pressure when double-teamed just 11.1 percent of the time (a pretty good rate). Wait, if both of Lawson’s pressure rates are good, what’s the problem? The problem is that Lawson was double-teamed so regularly that it made him look a little like a one-trick, feast-or-famine type of pass-rusher.
When facing one offensive tackle on the edge, Lawson could win on the first step, use a shoulder dip to torque to the quarterback, or just bull-rush his blocker backward. Once that second blocker appeared, which was often, Lawson was stymied.
But Lawson won't face many double-teams with Hughes and the others to his left. He has the potential to live up to his billing and then some. After all, 12.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss is an awful lot of production for a guy the whole opposing offensive line is focused on stopping.
20. New York Jets: Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State
In a draft full of super-athletic "Will" linebackers, Darron Lee may be the most super-athletic. He tore up the combine with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash and other eye-popping results. The measurements confirmed the tape: Lee combines outstanding speed and lateral quickness with instincts and diagnostic skills to always be around the football.
And now for a word from "Wonky," the scout who still thinks it’s 1974:
Lee is not a traditional linebacker who can stack up the fullback in the hole on an iso run or keep a mauler of a tight end from setting the edge. He’s one of those newfangled, in-space, pass-coverage types.
In other words, Lee is the kind of linebacker who can play every down in the modern NFL—not some dinosaur who makes old-timers misty for the days of Sam Huff. Seriously, reading linebacker scouting reports is like listening to grandpa talk about how much postage stamps used to cost.
The New York Jets are in no position to upgrade their tackle spot with this pick. Lee provides an influx of talent at a position with too many over-the-hill David Harris and developmental Taiwan Jones types at the top of the depth chart. And passing on Paxton Lynch was wise. So this is a solid move.
21. Houston Texans: Will Fuller, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
It’s easy to write off Will Fuller as a college burner and combine hero with a 4.32-second 40 and an unrefined game. But that’s not all he is. Not quite anyway.
Fuller has a wiggly release off the line of scrimmage that complements his pure speed well. Even in off coverage, cornerbacks can be feinted out of position by his release. Fuller is also a high-effort blocker on wide receiver screens. He’s strong enough to stymie the typical cornerback, and he’s always looking for work to do instead of jogging alongside the play. Put Fuller in the middle of trips-bunch formations, and he will keep a safety deep, can threaten the defense by catching a screen or throw a block for a teammate.
So Brock Osweiler can throw Fuller screens or bombs. Or he can throw DeAndre Hopkins screens and count on Fuller throwing a block. Or Osweiler can throw Hopkins a bomb knowing the safety has at least one eye on Fuller.
Fuller drops too many passes, doesn’t do much more than run the highly pruned screen-and-bomb route tree, and needs a GPS to find his way over the middle of the field. He will never be a complete receiver. But completeness is overrated when you run a 4.32 40. I think Josh Doctson or Laquon Treadwell would have made more complete, more immediately helpful selections than Fuller. But there is more to Fuller than just that stopwatch result.
22. Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, TCU
Josh Doctson was targeted 108 times in 10 games before suffering a wrist injury last year. That’s 10.8 targets per game (division by 10 is easy!), though the rate is higher when you account for the fact that he was hurt early against Kansas and had a decreased workload against some early-season cream puffs.
Doctson caught 18 passes on 22 targets for 267 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech. Those weren’t 18 screen passes: There were sideline bombs, back-of-the-end-zone leaps and quick slants in traffic mixed in with a few gimmes on screens. I got tired just watching the tape.
Doctson's tape makes him look like the ultimate receiving rock star, but Big 12 games look so much like video games that you have to adjust for the loosey-goosey defenses and the 55-52 final scores. Doctson’s game needs a little bolt-tightening, but he has go-to-receiver characteristics.
The Washington Redskins need help on defense. But I like the fact that they are not resting on last year's late-season results on offense, either. Kirk Cousins beat a lot of bad teams with a lot of short passes; he needs weapons so he can continue developing and generate big plays against tougher opponents. The Redskins are in "best player available" mode, and Doctson is arguably that player.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss
Laquon Treadwell is slow by the standards of a first-round wide receiver. He ran a 4.63-second 40 at his pro day, according to SiriusXM NFL Radio, and there isn’t much tape of Treadwell sprinting past defenders in the open field.
The bad workout times and lack of DeSean Jackson-like highlights made the tastemakers of draft Twitter turn up their noses at Treadwell as if he were a Michael Bay movie starring Justin Bieber. Ironically, the draftinistas usually love technically sound receivers with slow 40s, but Treadwell got the opposite treatment. The worst thing you can do to please the cool kids is try to please the cool kids.
Draftnik snobbery aside, there is a risk that Treadwell is another Michael Jenkins. The Falcons drafted Jenkins 29th overall in 2004; he was a big possession receiver who had three fine seasons at Ohio State. Jenkins was a tough blocker and sound route-runner who hung around for years catching 50 passes for 600 yards or so and a couple of touchdowns. Jenkins lacked even the threat of big-play capability and maxed out as a situational possession receiver (though the Falcons kept starting him forever; I thought he was sneaking onto the field in Roddy White’s uniform last year).
There are several reasons why Treadwell should be better than doubters think, but his release off the line is the key. Treadwell has one of the best releases I’ve seen in years. In the NFL, a lot of downfield “wins” take place in those first five yards: The cornerback gets knocked out of position or loses a step in transition, and he cannot just grab hold and ride along like college defenders do. Treadwell is also still coming back from a 2014 injury and could gain back a half-step.
Treadwell won’t be Jackson or Antonio Brown, but he could be Allen Robinson, ripping off 50-yard catches against defenders a step faster than him.
I'm a little skeptical of the theory that Teddy Bridgewater "needs more weapons." I think he has to develop his downfield game so he can make better use of the weapons he has. Still, adding receiving talent is Quarterback Development 101, and the Minnesota Vikings are in great shape at most positions. So another target for Bridgewater it is.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: William Jackson III, Cornerback, Houston
William Jackson III is a natural 6-footer with 4.37 speed who throws his body around. The Houston Cougars used him as a blocker for punt returns at times, and he would chase the gunner back to the returner, nail him at the last second, get up and continue hunting for defenders to hit. What’s not to love?
Not much. Jackson plays the ball well, and while he is not incredibly polished in coverage, he can run with most receivers and reacts quickly in zone coverage. Jackson will whiff on some open-field tackles (see Florida State) and isn’t a bone-crusher in run support. He also draws a lot of clutch-and-grab fouls at a level where the refs allow much clutching and grabbing.
But combine Jackson’s size and speed with effort and instincts, and Cincinnati Bengals coaches will happily work on applying the polish. Jackson is both a talent influx for a defense that is starting to age out and a potential impact player for a team that is perpetually one player away.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Artie Burns, Cornerback, Miami
Artie Burns’ mother died suddenly of a heart attack last year. His father is in jail. Burns is supporting two younger brothers as well as a son. This is the stuff of a tragic superhero origin story, not a scouting report, and it has as happy an ending as you could hope for under the circumstances. University of Miami fans crowdfunded $35,000 for funeral expenses for Burns’ mother. It's wonderful to see this young man's difficult collegiate journey end with a first-round selection.
Burns is a pleasure to watch on tape. He’s an instinctive defender in space who diagnoses pass patterns and reacts quickly. He turns and runs well in man coverage. He’s always around the ball in run support. He has good ball skills and runs well after an interception. There were concerns about his raw speed before the combine, but he clocked in at a solid 4.46 seconds.
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't drafted a defensive back in the first round since Troy Polamalu in 2003. Burns fills an obvious need. Try not to think about whether the Bengals snatched William Jackson III away from them at the last second.
26. Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis
Bleacher Report proudly presents Mike Tanier’s Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparisons for Paxton Lynch:
- Ryan Tannehill with his strengths and weaknesses enhanced.
- Jumbo-sized Blaine Gabbert.
Jargon-Free Scouting Nutshell: Lynch looks like a Mike Mayock quarterback fantasy come to life, his collegiate stats make your eyes bulge (8,865 career yards, 59 touchdowns), and he makes a few passes per game that will make you think you are watching a buffed-up John Elway. But Lynch threw about 5 million screens per game at Memphis, and when you focus on his downfield throws, you discover he has suspect touch and accuracy on a pass-for-pass basis, getting a lot of mileage from a quarterback-friendly system.
Lynch is this year’s boom-or-bust quarterback, and whether you love him or hate him depends on whether you drool over the things he can sometimes do or dwell on the things he didn’t do.
This is the best possible situation for Lynch. Gary Kubiak's system is friendly to huge, strong-armed, semimobile guys who can only read one side of the field. Lynch can be that guy. Mark Sanchez is around to handle the chores while Lynch learns some very basic basics. The Denver Broncos defense will provide him some 16-13 victories when he takes the helm. Lynch has a better chance of developing in Denver than he would have had in Cleveland or New York.
As for the Broncos, they put themselves in such a desperate situation that they had to trade up to select an extremely long-range, moderately high-risk project at quarterback. Lynch could be as good as or better than Brock Osweiler in three years. But the Broncos may spend three years wondering why they didn't just pay Osweiler for three years to stay in the thick of the Super Bowl picture.
27. Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark, Defensive Tackle, UCLA
Boy, it sure has been one whirlwind of an offseason for the Green Bay Packers, hasn’t it? They haven’t been this busy in years. They signed tight end Jared Cook in free agency! And...someone named Lerentee McCray at linebacker! And...they also re-signed James Starks, Nick Perry and Don Barclay to provide extra anxiety for Aaron Rodgers! Re-signings are transactions, too!
Phew. What tumult. Can you stand the excitement, Packers fans? General manager Ted Thompson may need to sleep this one off for the next three or four free-agency periods.
Thompson stayed awake long enough to dip into this year's deep defensive tackle class, which means it's time for another installment of Big Uglies: A 2016 Field Guide. Don’t try to tell one monstrous interior lineman from another without it!
Here's Kenny Clark's profile:
Size: 6'3", 314 pounds
Athleticism: Former high school wrestler
Numbers: 47 tackles and six sacks last year—a lot of production for a defensive tackle
Defining Special Trait: High football IQ; Clark wins by reading blocks and diagnosing plays
Potential Flaws: Lacks top-notch physical traits
Also Worth Mentioning: Clark plans to coach after his college career
Clark is a film junkie who anticipates the snap count, diagnoses blocking schemes and out-thinks his blockers. Those skills don’t translate as well to the NFL as you might expect: Pro blockers are less predictable and more likely to grind a lot of film themselves than guys in the Pac-12. Still, Clark should excel at the smaller tasks of defensive line play: sniffing out screens, cleaning up sacks after the quarterback is flushed from the pocket, and so on.
You can tell why the Packers like Clark: He's like a giant Ted Thompson. That said, there are many other defensive tackles on the board with higher upside than Clark.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Joshua Garnett, Guard, Stanford
Joshua Garnett’s specialty is the power block, in which he loops behind the center and drives into the hole. Garnett is like a dump truck rolling down a hill on power blocks, and he will be an effective drive blocker on straight-ahead running plays.
The trouble comes when Garnett must rely on his quickness. Pass-rushers can beat him off the snap, and linebackers can elude him on the second level. Garnett can use anticipation and technique to compensate for his athletic limits, but he may not be much more than a sturdy, reliable guard who needs a double-team to handle top defensive tackles.
Garnett is an odd choice for a Chip Kelly offense. He will be stepping laterally and reaching out to block on zone-stretch runs about five times every two minutes if everything goes according to plan. Then again, the 49ers allowed 53 sacks last year, Joe Staley is the only lineman who looks like a starter on a playoff team, and Kelly works well with high-IQ players like Garnett. Trading up for a guard? Trent Baalke may be running the draft, but Kelly gets what Kelly wants.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss
With so many excellent defensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft class, Bleacher Report proudly presents Big Uglies: A 2016 Field Guide. Don’t try to tell one monstrous interior lineman from another without it!
Here's Robert Nkemdiche's profile:
Size: 6'3", 294 pounds
Athleticism: Ran a 4.87-second 40 at the combine, a blistering pace for a 290-pounder; built like a Renaissance statue
Honors: All-SEC, second-team All-America
Numbers: 27 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus, but just 20 tackles
Defining Special Trait: Flashes Ndamukong Suh-caliber quickness-power-technique combination
Potential Flaws: Looks like a blocking sled for long stretches
Also Worth Mentioning: Gets intoxicated and falls out of windows now and then
Gravity: mankind’s greatest frenemy. Gravity keeps us from soaring like the eagles and makes nearby windows a potential source of catastrophe if you are really clumsy or have partied a bit too heartily. Gravity also gives earth a breathable, life-sustaining atmosphere, so there are pluses and minuses.
Defenestration jokes aside, lots of players party in college to varying degrees, and many prospects arrive at the draft with a DUI, marijuana bust or embarrassing barked-at-a-police-dog or drove-a-golf-cart-through-a-pizzeria type of incident. NFL teams will draft a guy who got in trouble for some tipsy hijinks. The more an incident or incidents look like a pattern of behavior, however, the more nervous most teams become. (See Laremy Tunsil and the difference between "positive marijuana test" and "weird video of a guy using a mask bong.")
Falling out of a window is on the fringe of the spectrum of normal college partying. Nkemdiche’s bizarre combine press conference, in which he dimed out Tunsil and played the “somebody else’s weed” card that was old when I used it in 10th grade, may be an indicator that team interviews did not go swimmingly. Factor in game tape that runs blisteringly hot and lukewarm, and there are good reasons why a top-15 talent probably dropped off the bottom of a few NFL draft boards.
But the Arizona Cardinals have a good track record with players whose college careers were a little sketchy. They are also in a good position to incur risk in the name of finding over-the-top impact. The Cardinals defense registered a modest 35 sacks last year despite playing some awful offensive lines in the NFC West. Adding Nkemdiche and Chandler Jones—another guy who had an eventful winter, substance-wise—changes the complexion of the Arizona front seven for the better.
30. Carolina Panthers: Vernon Butler, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Tech
With so many excellent defensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft class, Bleacher Report proudly presents Big Uglies: A 2016 Field Guide. Don’t try to tell one monstrous interior lineman from another without it!
Here is Vernon Butler's profile:
Size: 6'4", 323 pounds; that’s huge even for the huge guys
Athleticism: Not fast or quick but nimble
Honors: All-Conference USA selection
Numbers: 28 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus
Defining Special Trait: Natural two-gap defender (better at moving laterally and controlling lanes than penetrating); better-than-expected pass-rush technique
Potential Flaws: Isn’t super quick
Also Worth Mentioning: Drew comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson from various sources, such as NFL.com's Lance Zierlein; looked good at the Senior Bowl
For a team that finished 15-1 and won a conference, the Carolina Panthers sure do have a lot of needs.
Josh Norman’s departure opened the biggest gaping hole. The Panthers secondary is suddenly populated by the likes of Bene Benwikere, Robert McClain, Brandon Boykin, Teddy Williams and the immortal Ras-I Dowling. Benwikere is capable, Boykin is a gritty little nickel defender, McClain couldn’t crack the 2013-14 Falcons defense (where two missed tackles per game were the norm), I have no idea who Williams is, and Dowling clings to the bottom of depth charts like a barnacle to a tramp steamer. This is not a playoff-caliber secondary.
Still, general manager Dave Gettleman passed on Mackensie Alexander of Clemson, an obvious Norman replacement.
Defensive end is also a problem position. Kony Ealy had an eye-opening Super Bowl but was inconsistent at best in his first two seasons. Charles Johnson is on a one-year contract. But Gettleman passed on Noah Spence and others.
The Panthers are stacked at defensive tackle with Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Butler is a heck of a player, and Gettleman believes you can never have too many defensive tackles. And you can't. But you can have too few cornerbacks and defensive ends. There were worthy, non-reach picks available at need positions. Butler is a luxury the Panthers may appreciate in 2018, but they will miss someone like Alexander when trying to win the conference again in 2016.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Germain Ifedi, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Seattle Seahawks need offensive line help more than any Super Bowl contender has ever needed anything entering the draft (except for the Broncos at quarterback this year, but that's a whole different kettle of mountain oysters). So Germain Ifedi is a logical selection.
Unfortunately, he's another Texas A&M offensive tackle. What does the wide-open, spread-option program that brought us Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi have in store this time? A tremendous athlete who is great at blocking in open space and pass-protecting for approximately 1.2 seconds but has no idea what to do if the quarterback actually has to hold the ball long enough to find a second read?
Um, yes. That’s exactly the case.
Joeckel and Matthews have faced a long, difficult adjustment to the NFL despite high-level skills and, in Matthews’ case, the best family tree a lineman can hope for. (Ogbuehi was at least drafted as a developmental player by the Bengals). The Aggies don’t just make life easy for their linemen; they ingrain some bad habits, such as a tendency to strike an edge-rusher once and declare “mission accomplished.”
The Aggies kept Ifedi on the right side of the line where he faced fewer rock-star pass-rushers. Ifedi used his size (6'6", 324 lbs) and strength, plus the quickness to get out on screens, to be effective on that side. If asked to pass-protect on an island, Ifedi will have problems. He often sets too far to the outside when pass-protecting, allowing any rusher with an inside move an easy lane to the quarterback. When beaten inside, Ifedi will hold.
Ifedi makes sense as a developmental pick, just as Joeckel and Matthews would have made sense as developmental picks. The Seahawks need linemen who can play soon, and there were a few (Jason Spriggs leaps to mind) sitting on the board.
Let's give the Seahawks the benefit of the doubt: They may not have found Russell Wilson's blindside protector for 2016, but perhaps they did for 2017 or 2018. They have more picks to come and more offensive linemen to select.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.