These eight prospects will be impact rookies and dominant NFL players.
Now that the NFL combine is complete, the evaluation of the 2016 NFL Draft class is approaching a close. Pro Days will matter for a few potential first round prospects (namely Laquon Treadwell), but most of the top players have solidified their position in the first round.
After careful examination of this year’s crop of players, a group of eight elite non-QB prospects has emerged on my board. To avoid this becoming a Wentz vs. Goff debate, quarterbacks have not been included in this list. Goff is my personal preference, though Wentz certainly has the tools to be a successful NFL quarterback.
The players below are listed in the the order that they are ranked on my board, though this order is very flexible at this point and will undoubtedly change a few times before the draft. Regardless of their final ranking, these eight players are going to be very good for a very long time.
1. DB Jalen Ramsey
Age: 21.37 years
School: Florida State
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Some draft analysts questioned Jalen Ramsey’s athleticism prior to the NFL Combine last week. These doubts were emphatically squashed by Ramsey’s marvelous performance. He showcased the size, length, and speed that will allow him to become a game-changing chess piece in the secondary for a long time.
The one big question about Ramsey’s game is whether he will play safety or corner. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. He most likely will alternate between the two throughout his career. If his defensive coordinator is smart enough to design a scheme that will allow him to play a hybrid safety/corner role, Ramsey would excel.
He could be very successful in a role similar to the one Tyrann Mathieu plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Mathieu spends time near the line of scrimmage and also in coverage which accentuates his play-making skill set. No matter where he lines up, Ramsey will be a star for years to come.
2. OT Laremy Tunsil
Age: 21.6 years
School: Ole Miss
Tunsil is as safe a prospect as there is in the draft. Offensive tackle isn’t the most valuable position on the field, so Tunsil doesn’t offer quite as much upside of some of the other top prospects. However, he looks ready to start from day one and lock down the blindside for the team that drafts him.
Tunsil elected not to do some of the combine drills, which may mean the Titans have informed Tunsil they will take him first overall. While one could argue they should take one of the other elite eight prospects, adding Tunsil to protect Marcus Mariota’s blindside makes perfect sense.
The addition of Tunsil would allow the Titans to move Taylor Lewan to right tackle and improve two positions at the same time. These changes would markedly improve the Titans offense in 2016, and the Titans front office appears to understand the value Tunsil will bring.
3. LB Myles Jack
Age: 20.51 years
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
If not for the torn meniscus he suffered early last season, Jack would be in strong consideration for the first overall pick. He excelled as both a running back and a linebacker in college and offers the versatility to be the prototypical three down linebacker that every team desires. Jack has the ability to cover tight ends/slot receivers and the explosiveness to rush the passer and make downhill plays in the running game.
While Jack’s knee injury was season-ending, it is not as serious as a torn ACL or a multi-ligament injury like the one Jaylon Smith suffered. He should have no problem being 100% for training camp and enter Week 1 ready to be an impact rookie. At only 20.5 years old, the sky is the limit for Myles Jack.
4. Joey Bosa
Age: 21.49 years
School: Ohio State
The endless critiquing of Joey Bosa’s imperfections is reminiscent of the way Leonard Williams was picked apart prior to the 2015 NFL Draft. Williams ended the 2014-15 college football season as one of the favorites to be a top-5 pick, and his game was heavily scrutinized as a result. Williams dropped all the way to the New York Jets at six and they happily selected him. Unsurprisingly, Williams was dominant as a rookie.
While Bosa is not perfect, his flaws are few and far between. He could be a little bigger, a little faster, but so could every other prospect since, well, ever. Bosa was was incredibly productive as a sophomore (21.5 TFL, 13.5 sacks) which provides strong evidence for his ability to translate his success to the NFL against bigger and stronger players.
Despite his average 40 yard dash time, Bosa had a solid combine and showed remarkable quickness (3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle) that will be integral to his success at the next level. The production and athleticism are there. No need to overthink this one. Bosa should be off the board within the first five picks.
5. DeForest Buckner
Age: 21.98 years
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Buckner was a force for the Ducks during his time in Eugene. He racked up 81 tackles, 13 TFL and 4 sacks as a junior and had 83 tackles, 17 TFL and 10.5 sacks as a senior. Pro Football Focus graded Buckner as their top defensive player in the nation for the 2015-16 season.
Buckner’s combination of skill and frame (6‘7 - 290 lbs) has drawn comparisons to Cardinals DE Calais Campbell. Campbell (6‘8 - 300 lbs) is one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL, so the comparison may be a bit lofty, but that’s the type of size and athleticism Buckner brings to the table. He didn’t produce quite as much as Boa, but his size may lead to a higher ceiling. Don’t be surprised if he comes off the board before Bosa due to his aforementioned upside.
6. RB Ezekiel Elliott
School: Ohio State
Elliott may not be the home-run threat that Todd Gurley is, but he may be a more well-rounded running back. He stayed substantially healthier during his three years in college than Todd Gurley did and is by all accounts an exceptional blocker. Todd Gurley was taken 10th overall and has paid dividends already for the Rams. Elliott should be viewed in a similar light.
While Elliott’s proficiency as a ball carrier may not be up to Todd Gurley’s standard, he is still exceptional as a runner. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a Buckeye and accounted for 44 touchdowns from scrimmage in three seasons. The running back position has become devalued in recent years, but Elliott is a true feature-back and is worth a top-10 pick. It would be a bit surprising if he does ultimately go in the top 10, but if a team does pull the trigger in the 6-10 range, they won’t regret it.
7. DE Shaq Lawson
Age: 21.72 years
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Lawson had to wait his turn behind former Clemson and current Atlanta Falcon Vic Beasley for a starting spot at defensive end. When he got his chance in 2015, he took full advantage. Lawson was extraordinary, notching 24.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks. That includes two sacks against Alabama in the National Championship game while playing on a sprained MCL. He also was productive in a more limited role as a freshman and sophomore, averaging 10.5 TFL and 3.75 sacks per season.
Lawson backed up his collegiate production with an impressive combine performance. He weighed in at a robust 6‘3 - 269 lbs, ran a 4.70 40 yard dash and excelled in the broad jump (120 inches) and 20 yard shuttle (4.21 seconds). Lawson put up the numbers you look for in a defensive end and has the athleticism to match. He will be a force in the front seven for years to come.
8. DT Sheldon Rankins
Age: 21.93 years
For most people reading this, Rankins will be the most surprising name on this list. He shouldn’t be. Rankins was an outstanding college player, but is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle which is leading to him being undervalued. Cue the Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins highlights.
Rankins may not ever be as good as Donald or Atkins, but his collegiate stats and combine performance suggest he has a chance to come close. As a junior he logged 13.5 TFL and 8 sacks while he recorded 13 TFL and 6 sacks as a senior. These numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, but when compared to the rest of the defensive tackles in the class, they are top-notch.
While there are many run-stuffing defensive tackles in the 2016 class, Rankins is one of the few with established pass rushing ability. Having a disruptive force on the interior is crucial to a successful pass rush and Rankins will provide that for the team that takes a chance on him.
Edited by Julian Boireau.
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