Two of the most surprising picks of the 2016 NFL Draft were selected two picks apart early in the second round.
Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith were bigger stars than some top-10 picks, but their draft slots were eye-opening for different reasons. Jack, taken by the Jaguars at No. 36, was expected to go as high as Jacksonville's No. 5 overall pick. The Cowboys passed on Jack to pick Smith, who reportedly was at risk of falling to the fourth round because of his devastating knee injury and the nerve issues that followed. One year later, would the teams make the same picks again?
Jack fell in the draft because of medical concerns that the media never fully recognized. As late as draft day, he was expected to go in the first half of the first round despite a knee that eventually could require microfracture surgery. He didn't miss any practice time in his rookie season, but made little impact playing only 239 snaps. A rotational backup, Jack perhaps played slow because he had to learn multiple positions as a rookie. The expectation is for Jack to play all three downs this year, according to coach Doug Marrone and general manager David Caldwell. Last season's starter at middle linebacker, Paul Posluszny, confirmed Tuesday that he'll move to strong-side 'backer so that Jack can take over MLB duties.
Dallas shocked the football world by taking Smith so early despite knowing he would miss his entire rookie year. In typical Cowboys fashion, the team has started to hype up Smith this offseason before he's even hit the field.
Dallas has defended having a "method to their madness" when trying to explain the team's defensive departures this offseason, with Smith being a key factor. Drafting Smith was a calculated gamble and it's still too early to tell if it will pay off. "Calculated Gambles" might as well be the title of Jerry Jones' memoir.
One year removed from the 2016 NFL Draft, let's check in on how some of the other surprising picks fared as rookies:
Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants: A big surprise as the No. 10 overall pick, especially considering the depth of the Giants' secondary, the rookie had his share of struggles after taking over as a starter midway through last season. The Giants staff stuck with Apple throughout, a strategy that Aaron Rodgers used to his advantage when picking on Apple in the playoffs. The experience should serve Apple well in Year 2, but there's no guarantee he'll ultimately prove to be an upgrade from Prince Amukamara.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens; Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans; and Laremy Tunsil, OL, Miami Dolphins: It will be difficult for this year's draft to top the surreal spectacle of Laremy Tunsil's bong hit heard around the football world. The video was released from Tunsil's own Twitter account just minutes before the draft started, sending front offices, television networks and Tunsil's agent scrambling for how to respond.
Tunsil's representation wound up releasing a statement during the draft confirming it was their client in the video. The Ravens, who were looking for a tackle, wound up selecting Stanley with the No. 6 overall pick. (Reports later indicated Tunsil would have been Baltimore's pick if not for the video.) The Titanstraded up to select Jack Conklin instead of Tunsil. And the Dolphins happily jumped at the value of selecting Tunsil 13th overall.
The shakeup could wind up working out amazingly well for all three teams. Stanley was Pro Football Focus' top-rated left tackle over the last five weeks of the season. Conklin was key to turning around the Titans' running game, earning first-team All-Pro honors at right tackle. Tunsil played out of position at left guard, but the Dolphins saw enough from him to trade away LT Branden Albert this offseason to make Tunsil the future on the blind side.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, New York Jets: Hackenberg was graded on a curve for a quarterback taken in the second round. He still failed by all accounts. Never expected to play, the hope was that Hackenberg could begin to overcome his accuracy issues with the help of pro coaching. The practice reports about his progress last summer amounted to cyberbullying. Hackenberg will be given every chance to play this year, but it won't be easy learning his second offensive system in as many season. General manager Mike Maccagnan must fear that his future is tied too closely to Hackenberg.
Roberto Aguayo, K, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs already are preparing to potentially move on from Aguayo only one season after trading up to take him in the second round. After a rough rookie campaign, Aguayo will compete with Nick Folk for the starting job, with Folk having already pocketed $750,000 guaranteed. General manager Jason Licht is lucky that the picks taken ahead of Aguayo (cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and defensive end Noah Spence) are panning out a lot better.
Storylines that deserve more attention
1) There's something strange about the Redskins' skill-position players practicing with coach Jay Gruden's brother Jon in Florida. This would seem strange even if you ignored the fact Jon works for ESPN and is betting Benjamins with Terrelle Pryor on 20-foot putts at a nearby golf course, according to ... ESPN. The Grudens essentially have created a work-around for the offseason rules limiting coach and player contact. Next April, keep an eye on Mike Shanahan's passing camp for the 49ers.
2) Kawann Short's new contract in Carolina will pay him $40 million over the next two seasons. That's more cash than nearly every quarterback in football will make over that span, including Aaron Rodgers. Expect some market-adjusting upgrades for top-shelf signal-callers like Rodgers as training camp approaches.
4) Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, by any measure a huge success as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2010 draft, had some surprising words when he met the media Monday. Spurred on by three separate conversations he had at the Pro Bowl in January, McCoy took ownership of not doing enough over the last seven seasons.
"The gist of what it is -- I haven't done enough to lead this team. It's as simple as that," McCoy said via Pewter Report.
Consistently disruptive, McCoy admonished himself for not doing more, especially in the fourth quarter of games.
"It wasn't even about my play. It was just about me as a man and as a leader, and what I need to do moving forward. It hit home to the point where I re-evaluated myself and my whole career up to that point. It wasn't devastating, but it was a reality check."
McCoy said his approach to "everything" -- from media to workouts to practice -- will be different. This has offseason trope written all over it, but it's worth keeping a closer eye on No. 93 in Tampa this season.
I've always thought McCoy had a Defensive Player of the Year season in him and it's not necessarily too late. In some ways, his career can be explained by the difference of being a Pro Bowler and being a first-time All-Pro. He's gone to the Pro Bowl five times, but only made first-team All-Pro once, in 2013.