The 2015 NFL season is in the books -- and now it's time to turn toward the 2016 NFL Draft. Before the NFL Scouting Combine shines the spotlight on the next crop of incoming talent, Bucky Brooks is taking a division-by-division look back at each NFL team's 2015 rookie class, providing grades and highlighting what teams should be focusing on when they head to Indianapolis.
The Cowboys sought to rejuvenate their defense with the selections of Byron Jones and Randy Gregory early in the draft. Jones certainly added some juice to the lineup with his versatile skills in the back end. The ultra-athletic defender notched 11 starts and made solid contributions as a cornerback-safety-nickel corner for the Cowboys. He had 66 total tackles -- sixth-most on the team -- and eight passes defensed. Gregory, who missed four games with an ankle injury suffered in Week 1, didn't fill up the stat sheet as a situational rusher, but he did flash potential as a speed rusher off the edges. He needs to make a bigger splash in 2016 to live up to draft expectations, but he is a nice building block for Jerry Jones' defense. La'el Collins was a nice addition as an undrafted free agent with blue-chip talent. He upgraded the Cowboys' star-studded line with his rugged play at the point of attack. Grade: B-
Combine focus: Dallas holds the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Cowboys completely fell apart without injured quarterback Tony Romo, who only appeared in four games, and it is time for Jones to find the team's quarterback of the future. North Dakota State's Carson Wentz certainly shined for Dallas' coaching staff at the Senior Bowl, but the intriguing potential of Cal's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch could make for an intense battle when the quarterback drills take place on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. If the Cowboys decide to move on from pass rusher Greg Hardy, the scouting staff could cast their eyes on Ohio State's Joey Bosa, Clemson's Shaq Lawson and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence.
Despite the Giants' disappointing season, the front office can take solace in the strong performances from the team's top two picks, Ereck Flowers and Landon Collins. Flowers made the unexpected move to left tackle in the wake of veteran Will Beatty's season-ending injury in May, and the big-bodied pass protector held his own in matchups with swift defenders off the edges. Although it wasn't always pretty, Flowers showed promise as a blind-side blocker. Collins is a tackling machine as a box defender. He led the Giants in tackles (112) and showed a propensity for delivering big hits in the hole. Undrafted free agent Will Tye, who was signed off the practice squad in October, led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards with 464. He should continue to be a factor in coach Ben McAdoo's offense going forward. Grade: C+
Combine focus: The Giants, who pick 10th overall, have a lack of star power among their front seven that could prompt general manager Jerry Reese to focus on upgrading the defensive line and linebacker corps. The diminished skills of Jason Pierre-Paul could make Clemson's Shaq Lawson, Oregon's DeForest Buckner and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence focal points of the Giants' combine adventures. If the G-Men are looking to beef up the interior, the skills of Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche will garner interest. The team's reluctance to invest in linebackers in the early rounds could result in New York spending more time examining the skills of Arizona's Scooby Wright III and Florida's Antonio Morrison.
The Chip Kelly experiment is over, but the ex-coach's imprint will remain on the organization, thanks to his handpicked selections in the 2015 NFL Draft. Nelson Agholor (23 catches for 283 yards and one score) didn't play up to expectations as a rookie, but the implementation of more West Coast offensive principles under new coach Doug Pederson should play to Agholor's strengths as a catch-and-run specialist. Eric Rowe was thrown into the fire in the Eagles' aggressive bump-and-run defensive system. Although he struggled a bit early, he settled in and showed promise near the end of the season. Jordan Hicks, whose season ended with a torn pectoral in November, appears to be a great find for the team. Not only is he a productive tackler with superb instincts and awareness; Hicks is a natural leader with a knack for making plays in the hole. Grade: C+
Combine focus: The uncertainty surrounding quarterback Sam Bradford's free-agent status makes it imperative for the Eagles, who own the 13th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, to investigate any quarterback with intriguing potential. Thus, they'll certainly spend time with North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Cal's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook to determine whether they have the goods to develop into into franchise quarterbacks. The Eagles could also use a speed receiver to stretch the field. Baylor's Corey Coleman, Notre Dame's Will Fuller and Ohio State's Braxton Miller could draw interest. Boise State's Darian Thompson is a safety prospect to keep an eye on, based on his natural skills as a center fielder and communicator.
Credit general manager Scot McCloughan for upgrading the Redskins' roster with immediate-impact players throughout the draft. Brandon Scherff was a rock-solid blocker on the interior. He solidified the middle and provided the unit with some much-needed toughness at the point of attack. Preston Smith made solid contributions with his workmanlike presence off the edge. He notched eight sacks as a situational rusher and flashed big-time potential as a future starter. Matt Jones showed glimpses of being a future starter at running back. Washington's ground game could revolve around him in Year 2 if Alfred Morris leaves as a free agent. Jamison Crowder is a star in the making as a dynamic slot receiver/kick returner. He is a terrific route runner with outstanding ball skills and playmaking ability. Look for Crowder to play a big role as a WR2/WR3 going forward. Grade: A-
Combine focus: The Redskins, who hold the 21st overall pick, desperately need to find a young, athletic cover corner to upgrade the secondary on the perimeter. Thus, the team's brass will spend a lot of time investigating Ohio State's Eli Apple, Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller and Clemson's Mackensie Alexander to see if they can handle the CB1 role. The Redskins also need a playmaking safety to serve as an apprentice under veteran DeAngelo Hall. Boise State's Darian Thompson, West Virginia's Karl Joseph and Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew will draw interest as potential rovers in the back end.