The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is already in the books and teams are now moving on to the next order of business, prospect analysis. Burrowed in the depths of 32 cluttered office spaces are coaches giddily examining their recorded data and notes. Time is winding down, and the big day is seemingly approaching fast.
While the confident analysts already have their mock drafts set in stone, the reality is that we don't really know what's going to go down on that fateful Thursday. Like how every draft day has been, you know it's surely unpredictable (for the most part at least). There are so many angles and factors that you have to consider to get the slightest idea of what need a team is actually looking to address. And, until they pull the trigger do we truly get a sense of what direction they're heading in. Ah, the love-hate, anxiety-ridden relationship of the NFL draft.
Many teams are in tough positions in terms of talent and are looking to the draft to supply them some much-needed help. This year's class has no shortage of impact players either (i.e. Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey, Deforest Buckner, etc.)
Finally, you have the projected late-rounders that are coming in with a chip on their shoulders. While they aren't receiving much love from the analysts, we all know that once they lace up their cleats for their first game, it's a whole different ballpark (erm... stadium). By the way, don't sleep on Shilique Calhoun, the 3-4/4-3 hybrid end could be a major role player for the right team.
So, while we patiently wait for that glorious day, I invite you all to take a peek at my realistic but unrealistic bold list of predictions of what I believe could happen - with enough delusion - on the carnival that is known as the NFL Draft.
12 Laremy Tunsil Kickstarts the Draft
This may be my least bold prediction but you've got to admit that Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil and the Titans are a perfect fit for each other. With such a glaring weakness at the tackle position, the Titans need to draft someone that'll buy Mariota more time. Tunsil can do just that. With elite quickness and textbook hand usage, Tunsil fits the mold of an NFL starter and will be planted on the line come week one. I also expect him to fill out a bit more and pack on some extra pounds of muscle mass during training camp.
11 A'Shawn Robinson Is First D-Lineman Drafted
While it may not be a flashy choice for any team with a lower draft pick, I consider Robinson an extremely talented run stopper that's worthy of being swooped up before any other defensive lineman. Why? Because of just that. His ability to plug holes and close gaps on a porous defense are absolutely game-changing. The versatile big man lined up from the zero to the six position on the line, thus elevating his draft stock. I expect him to come right into a leaky defensive line and immediately make an impact, even if it's before the highly-coveted Joey Bosa.
10 More D-Linemen Will Be Drafted In the First Round Than Any Other Skill Positions
Given the deep talent at both DE and DT, I expect a plethora of edge rushers and hog mollies to be picked up during the first round. Granted, there are numerous talented skill players that are projected early, I still believe this draft is going to be dominated by the big men up front. You have speedy edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Deforest Buckner, bruising run-stoppers in A'Shawn Robinson and Sheldon Rankins, and even the mysterious Robert Nkemdiche (who might be taken early, you never know). The deep pool of defensive linemen this year is a sign that big bodies are being prioritized more and more each year.
12. San Francisco 49ers Don't Draft QB
Colin Kaepernick is still a 49er. And he could remain a 49er too if no teams bite at the embattled quarterback. That being said, don't be surprised to see Kaepernick begin the 2016 season as the starter in now head coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense. Many believe that Kap would flourish under the new system, which may not seem as far-fetched considering this system plays a lot more to his strengths. Regardless, having Kaepernick on the roster, along with backup Blaine Gabbert, is decent enough for the 49ers to get through the 2016 season. And besides, if things don't exactly pan out the way it should, there's always next year's draft.
9 Cleveland Chooses Joey Bosa Over QB In First Round
It's safe to say that the Browns have been the laughingstock of the NFL for quite some time right now. Johnny Manziel's failure as a franchise quarterback along with previous draft busts has scarred Cleveland to the point that they draft defensive end Joey Bosa over a QB. Coach Hue Jackson "appreciates" what Josh McCown brings to the table and believes that he still has enough gas left in the tank, although many fans would disagree. Still, it isn't a long shot to see them pass on a quarterback until the later rounds. Additionally, they could also swoon Kaepernick or RGIII into playing for them too, considering neither of them has committed to any team as of late.
8 Ezekiel Elliott Will be a Top 10 Pick
With other skill positions being focused on, running backs are suffering when it comes to draft day. However, Ezekiel Elliott could become the Todd Gurley of the 2016 draft, considering his high draft stock and game-changing abilities. Will teams gamble on the Ohio State product early in the draft? It could happen. Most predict Elliott will be drafted mid-to-late first round, but it's possible that a team like the Eagles or Giants will take a chance on the best back in the draft.
The Eagles make sense at no.8, having just traded DeMarco Murray, and they'll need a replacement. With Sam Bradford presumably back as their starting quarterback, they'll have to take the load off him with a good running game.
7 The Jets Draft a QB
The Jets are already intent on retaining Fitzpatrick due to his strong play last year. However, the two are still at an impasse and struggle to find a "middle ground" contractually. Geno Smith, on the other hand, lost his starting job and continues to underwhelm, showing inconsistency in his rhythm that's holding him back from being the true leader of the offense.
It's pretty obvious that the Jets don't fully trust Smith, and they could look to begin anew with a quarterback like Connor Cook, Paxton Lynch or Christian Hackenberg manning the reigns. Unless Smith can prove that he has the ability, and maturity, to lead an NFL franchise to glory, his career doesn't look too promising. But, stranger things have happened (i.e. Tyrod Taylor's sudden resurgence).
8. Miami Trades Down Again
Ryan Tannehill has been obliterated in the pocket over the last three seasons. By addressing that need through the draft, and by trading down, they'll be able to pick up several other key elements that will round out their team. If the Dolphins were to trade down from their current spot at no.13, the Buccaneers and Giants were to focus on defensive ends, they could look to grab either offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley or the best cornerback available (possibly Vernon Hargreaves III or Mackenzie Alexander if available). On top of that, the extra draft picks will benefit them on days two and three.
6 Carolina Continues To Add Big Bodies At WR
There was much speculation on how Carolina would fare in the 2015 season with mediocre wide receivers, but they turned out just fine as evidenced by their second-ever Super Bowl berth. Carolina's fondness for big-bodied receivers could lead them to picking up Ohio State's Michael Thomas. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound possession receiver would complete the mammoth triumvirate receiving corps composed of 6-foot-5, 243-pound Kelvin Benjamin and 6-foot-5, 236-pound Devin Funchess.
Cam Newton tends to throw high at times and Thomas embodies a tall enough physical frame to play "over" the defense. Considering general manager Dave Gettleman's love for hog mollies, most analysts project the Panthers picking up a defensive end, but, if Thomas is still on the board, it's definitely something that's worth considering.
5 Philadelphia Takes Dak Prescott Over Cook, Lynch, and Hackenberg
I'll admit, this one is pretty bold. We all know that the Eagles need stability at the QB position. Sam Bradford isn't cutting it and his replacement is coming sooner or later, possibly in this year's draft. Now, it's likely Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are taken early by QB-needy teams. Who are the next best prospects? Let's see, you got Connor Cook, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, and Dak Prescott.
In my opinion, Prescott has the biggest upside of the four. His vision and awareness have improved over the years and his last season under center proved that he's capable of making smarter decisions. He isn't going to immediately come in and take over for Bradford (unless an injury were to occur, which could happen considering Bradford's durability issues) but he's a project with a huge upside that could eventually develop into starting material.
4 Oakland Takes a Running Back in 1st Round
The Raiders own the 14th pick in the draft, which still gives them plenty of options. They're still in the process of rebuilding, but their immense improvement over the past two seasons has breathed new life into the franchise. With needs at inside linebacker, cornerback, and running back, look for Oakland to shock the draft by selecting either Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry. Teams often draft the best positional player on the board, but in many cases, it doesn't exactly work out for them. And, with a near mid-round pick for the first day, they could already be watching players like Myles Jack, Reggie Ragland, and Mackensie Alexander get picked up by other teams.
The Raiders need a workhorse in their ground game and drafting a running back makes complete sense for them. Pairing either Elliott or Henry up with Latavius Murray could provide a dangerous 1-2 punch that could push them into the playoffs.
4. Josh Doctson Is The First WR Off The Board
Most mock drafts project Doctson to be claimed in the second- or third- round. With a relatively weak wide receiving corps this year, the top prospects include Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Tyler Boyd, and Josh Doctson. All of these players had solid years and put up statistically impressive numbers, but I believe Doctson shouldn't be overlooked. At 6'2" 202-pounds, he has good size for a receiver along with a steady set of hands. Quarterback Trevone Boykin often looked to Doctson due to his vertical jumping abilities and his shifty separation moves. Additionally, his athleticism will allow him to naturally ease into the NFL (just look at his catches in tight traffic).
3 The Bears Take Jared Goff
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler turns 33 next month. Although he's arguably had the best season last year since 2009, when he first joined Chicago, the Bears still need to start looking for his future replacement. With the 11th pick in the draft, Chicago is in a good enough position to land a quarterback that they can groom until they cut ties with Cutler. It may seem implausible that Cal QB Jared Goff falls all the way down to number 11, especially with QB-needy teams like the Browns and 49ers, but you never know, teams may look to address other areas in the draft.
2 A Kicker Gets Chosen On Day Two
Not just any kicker, but Florida State's Mr. Automatic, Roberto Aguayo. I know, this seems extremely unlikely to happen, but good kickers are hard to come by these days. Here are some of his accolades that are worth mentioning. As a redshirt freshman, Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker. Additionally, the three-time All-ACC pick displayed astounding leg strength on kickoffs with 57 percent of his kicks being touchbacks. He's never missed a field goal 39 yards and under, going 46 of 46. Although it's not a major factor, Aguayo also possesses the speed and athleticism to track down ball-carriers on returns. The placekicker has all the tools to succeed in the NFL and teams may even take a chance on him come day two.
1 The Denver Broncos Trade Up For QB
The Denver Broncos had Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler on their roster and now have Mark Sanchez penciled in as their top QB. If John Elway and the Broncos want to avoid a Super Bowl hangover, they're going to need to do better than that under center. Being the Super Bowl champions, the Broncos have the last pick in the first round, making it hard to take a QB who may be ready to start Day 1.
John Elway is not just going to sit back with the status quo. With their defense, the Broncos could still contend for the next few Super Bowls, but thye'll need decent play at QB. Expect them to trade up to grab their next QB. Paxton Lynch is a good possibility, given his similar traits to Osweiler.