With the 2016 NFL Draft season now under way, here's a look at the top five prospects at each position.
The 2016 class doesn't feature a sure-fire franchise quarterback, but there are several intriguing prospects with the potential to develop into quality starters early in their respective careers. Goff is a polished pocket passer with a mix of arm talent and athleticism that perfectly fits a West Coast offense. Wentz has shot up the charts as a big-bodied passer with A-plus arm talent and terrific movement skills. Although scouts will question his level of competition, he has played in a versatile pro-style offense that should allow him to easily transition into the NFL. Lynch is the wild card of the pack as an ultra-talented playmaker with remarkable athleticism for his size. He struggled down the stretch, but a strong performance in workouts could send his stock soaring heading into draft day.
Teams looking for workhorse runners are certainly in luck this year with several enticing options at the top of the board. Elliott is a dynamic "three-down" back capable of producing explosive plays as a runner or receiver on the perimeter. Most impressively, he's a punishing blocker in pass protection, which will make it easy to put him on the field from Day 1. Henry is a big-bodied "one-cut" runner with exceptional speed and athleticism. He needs room to be effective, but teams employing zone-based blocking schemes could view him as the best option in the class. Collins has flown under the radar for most of the season, but the Arkansas standout is a prototypical runner with light feet and excellent vision.
The 2016 crew lacks the pizzazz of previous classes, but astute evaluators will find several role-specific playmakers in the early rounds. Treadwell is a classic WR1 with the size and ball skills to do the dirty work between the hashes. He has recovered nicely from a gruesome leg injury in 2014 to re-emerge as solid red-zone threat as a junior. Coleman is an explosive touchdown-maker with speed to burn. Despite his limited exposure to the route tree, teams looking for "catch-and-run" specialists will covet Coleman's skills at a premium. Boyd isn't a flashy playmaker, but his sneaky athleticism and sticky hands could make him a terrific option as a complementary wide receiver.
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas
2. Nick Vannett, Ohio State
3. Bryce Williams, East Carolina
4. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
5. Jerrell Adams, South Carolina
The recent success of athletic tight ends in the NFL will prompt scouts to value physical traits over production at the position. Henry is a polished tight end capable of making an impact from Day 1 as a "Y" (conventional tight end) or "H" (movement tight end). His experience playing in a pro-style offense should help him become an immediate contributor as a rookie.
Franchise left tackles are always viewed as hot commodities on draft day. With several intriguing options at the top of the 2016 class, teams looking to find an answer at the position could be in luck this year. Tunsil is a polished technician with quick feet and exceptional body control. He is a "plug-and-play" blocker capable of stepping into the starting lineup from Day 1. Stanley is a long, athletic blocker with the tools to snuff out elite rushers off the edge. He is a top-five talent with the potential to emerge as a Pro Bowler early in his pro career. Coleman isn't a household name, but he could soar up the charts as the draft draws closer.
Interior blockers are important cogs on the offensive line, but few are selected early due to the premium placed on offensive tackles and other marquee positions. Whitehair has a chance to come off the board on Day 1 as a rugged blocker with strong hands and adequate body control. Garnett is the next Cardinal offensive lineman to make his way to the NFL. He is not only technically sound, but he displays adequate functional strength to move defenders off the ball.
Pass rushers are viewed as the second-most important position on the majority of draft boards. Thus, teams are willing to invest heavily in edge players with a knack for getting to the quarterback. Bosa is generating significant buzz in scouting circles after dominating the Big Ten for the past two seasons. With a legacy (his father, John Bosa, was a first-round pick for the Miami Dolphins in the 1987 NFL Draft), instincts and a non-stop motor, Bosa is poised to come off the board as the first edge rusher in the 2016 class. Buckner is a long, athletic edge defender with a high-revving motor and versatile skills. The Oregon standout should be an impact defender from Day 1 after refining his technique as a senior.
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The 2016 defensive tackle class is arguably the deepest position in the draft. There are not only several blue-chip talents at the top of the board, but there are plenty of quality starters that can be found on Day 2. Robinson is a monster interior defender with the size, strength and length to dominate opponents as a one- or three-technique. Nkemdiche is one of the most talented defenders in the draft, but character concerns could lead to a draft day slide. Billings is an immovable force at the point of attack. Teams looking for a rock-solid run defender could tap the Baylor defender to be a designated run stopper.
The transformation of the NFL into a "spread-and-shred" passing league has changed the job description for linebackers. Defensive coordinators are searching for athletic linebackers with safety-like cover skills. Jack and Smith are recovering from injuries, but each player is considered a dynamic defender with game-changing potential. How well they progress from their ailments will determine whether they are drafted where their talent and potential merits. Cravens might be best suited to play safety, but his experience at linebacker could prompt a team to take him as a nickel linebacker.
The proliferation of 3-4 defenses in the NFL has prompted more teams to convert long, rangy athletes into stand-up linebackers on the edge. While 4-3 teams will categorize these players as defensive ends or Sam/Will linebackers, teams running the 3-4 will tag them as "elephants". Floyd is an explosive athlete with promising rush skills. He hasn't posted elite production, but his athleticism will intrigue teams looking for a rangy edge defender. Spence must convince teams that his personal problems are an issue of the past, but there is no disputing his talent and potential as designated rusher.
Date: Saturday, Jan. 23
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
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The pass-happy nature of the NFL continues to make "lockdown" corners hot commodities on draft day. Ramsey is a versatile talent in the secondary with the potential to make immediate contributions as a cornerback, safety or slot defender as a pro. He has a knack for making splash plays in the back end, but is also one of the best tacklers in the college game. Hargreaves is a natural cover corner with a feisty demeanor and polished skill set. Despite lacking ideal physical dimensions, he plays like a CB1 in most systems. Apple is soaring up the charts based on his size and solid skills as a cover corner.
The emergence of dominant tight ends has led more NFL defensive coordinators to place a greater emphasis on acquiring safeties with dynamic skills in the box. Cash is a tackling machine with solid instincts and awareness. He is ideally suited to play near the line as a hybrid linebacker with the potential to change the game as a tackler or blitzer off the edge. Bell is a natural "MOF" safety with a nice feel for the game. He capably covers tight ends in space, but also shows enough athleticism to handle slot receivers down the field.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.