Almost every single season, some sure-fire high first-round pick drops in the draft because of largely superficial reasons. Maybe it's the scepter of character concern (which caused Vontaze Burfict to drop from a potential 1st round pick to an UDFA in 2012), maybe it's height (Russell Wilson was too short to be an NFL quarterback). Maybe it's something as superficial as leg shape and one bad work-out. Every single season, prospects see their draft stock plummet for stupid reasons.
That looks to continue this season. Cal quarterback Jared Goff, who has drawn comparisons to both Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers from NFL scouts, looked like a surefire top ten draft pick heading into the pre-draft process. He still might be a top ten draft pick depending on how situations play out, but prior to the draft process, he looked like the favorite to be taken with the #2 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. What happened?
Two things predicated the change (albeit slight as of right now) in Goff's draft stock. First, Carson Wentz rode the hype train into the Senior Bowl coming off of an injury that kept him out of nearly the entire season and performed admirably. That's a good reason for him to pick up draft stock. However, Jared Goff's hand size is generating a terribly large amount of buzz at the combine for all the wrong reasons, and his draft stock might suffer because of it. That, my friends, is a superficial reason.
From now until the NFL draft, you will hear analysts obsess over the fact that Jared Goff has 9 inch hands, as measured at the Combine. Yes, statistically there does seem to be some level of correlation between completion rates and hand size; guys with bigger hands tend to generate more completions. However, hand size, in and of itself, does not make an NFL quarterback. Michael Vick had 8.5 inch hands. Tony Romo had 8.86 inch hands. Colin Kaepernick? 9.18 inch hands. Aaron Rodgers measured in at a smallish 9.38. Ryan Tannehill had 9 inch hands, and Derek Carr came in at 9 1/8 inches. While quarterbacks with larger hands seem to be historically more accurate since they are better able to grip a football, small hands do not mean a player is a bad NFL prospect.
Jared Goff reminds me a lot of Teddy Bridgewater right now. Bridgewater was a hot name leading up to the draft process and suddenly cooled off following imperfect measurables and a bad pre-draft workout. Goff was the hot name at quarterback through most of the regular season and cooled off heading into the draft process, especially after showing up with small hands. However, Goff also had a strong workout at the combine, and looked to be a strong passer in drills. He may not slide as far as Bridgewater did in the draft, especially given the fact that there are potentially anywhere from two to four teams that could look at a quarterback in the top 10 spots of the first round.
My point in this post is this. Just because a player doesn't measure perfectly does not mean he is not a good player. Russell Wilson was too short to play quarterback in the NFL, and he's been to the Superbowl twice already (winning once). Ryan Leaf had prototypical size, and he had little success in the NFL. If you are an NFL scout and you are reading this, don't let Jared Goff's hands be the deciding factor in whether you draft him or not. Watch the tape. Good measurables and workouts in shorts mean nothing if a player cannot perform on the field. Bad measureables or a bad workout does not necessarily equate to a bad player. If you want to know whether Goff is a good fit for a football team, stop worrying about his 9-inch hands and focus on his on-field performance. Your front office will be much more successful in the long run.
While it is early in the draft season still, it's time to start looking at where players might fall in the 2016 draft. This mock draft will definitely be an imperfect one; many things change after free agency begins and as teams show interest in players following the combine. A few notes on this year's draft. There is a ton of defensive talent in this year's draft, especially along the front seven. While next year's draft will likely be punctuated by many great running backs, this year, the defensive players will steal the show. I assumed that the 49ers hold onto Kaepernick even though he is requesting a trade, because right now he is still on the roster. Their projection will trade if Kaepernick is moved. There's a lot of parity still to come, but here's an early glimpse of what could happen in the first round. --Mike B.
1. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi. Tennessee Titans. The Titans would allegedly like to trade out of this pick and move back, but as of right now, they still possess the first overall pick. With that pick, they take the best offensive tackle in the draft to help protect their franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota.
2. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State University. Cleveland Browns. Just like nearly every year, the Cleveland Browns are searching a franchise quarterback, and will draft a quarterback with the #2 pick in the NFL draft. I could have just as easily put Jared Goff (or even Paxton Lynch) here, but most of the current rumors connect Wentz to the Browns. I'm following the rumor train and following suit. Hue Jackson has said that hand size matters to him, and with Goff's 9 inch hands, Wentz might be the guy.
3. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. San Diego Chargers. Every year, one of the top prospects in the draft starts to slide in evaluations during the draft process. This year, it's Joey Bosa, and many experts expect him to slide due to character concerns. That being said, I think his talent speaks for himself and he remains a top ten pick. San Diego takes him and adds another strong piece to their defense.
4. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA. Dallas Cowboys. Many current rumors have Dallas looking at a quarterback in this year's draft. However, this is a team in win now mode with Tony Romo still under contract (even if he is a major injury risk). That leaves them looking at WR, RB, and defensive prospects. There's not a surefire top 5 WR pick in this year's draft, but Zeke Elliot has the talent to be a top 10 pick at RB. However, top tier defensive players are tough to come by, and I think the Cowboys ultimately go with Jack. This was the toughest pick in the entire draft to pin down.
5. DeForest Buckner, DE, UCLA. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars allegedly prefer to target a pass rusher in the first round of the draft, and Buckner is a great option. With Bosa off their board, their choice is simple. DeForest Buckner or shift gears and draft a cornerback. I think they draft Buckner.
6. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State. Baltimore Ravens. The Baltimore Ravens draft team runs to the commissioner with this card as soon as their selection comes up. Baltimore needs secondary help badly, and Ramsey is the best defensive back in the draft. Easy pick.
7. LaQuan Treadwell, WR, Mississippi. San Francisco 49ers. If the 49ers move on from Colin Kaepernick, then Jared Goff is the pick here. However, Kaepernick is still on roster in San Francisco currently. If he remains there, Treadwell might be the pick here due to the 49ers dire need of wide receiver help. Treadwell is the top WR in this draft and would be a major asset for their offense.
8. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida. Miami Dolphins. Miami is a team, like Dallas, that could go many different directions with their first selection. I considered guys like Reggie Ragland here, but the Miami secondary is a wreck, and Hargreaves would be an upgrade.
9. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers are interested in Leonard Floyd, but this might be a bit high for him. They are also interested in Jalen Ramsey, but he doesn't fall this far in this mock. I'm giving the Buccaneers the pass-rush help they so direly need at this slot with Spence. Spence would have gone higher if it wasn't for character concerns, but he has a ton of talent.
10. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State. New York Giants. The Giants could go a number of directions with this pick, including multiple options on defense. However, running back is a potential direction for them as well, and Zeke Elliot has the potential to be special.
11. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. Chicago Bears. The Chicago Bears have a ton of holes on defense. They also need offensive line help and could go Ronnie Stanley here instead, but DL is a bigger hole, and Rankins is a solid talent.
12. A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama. New Orleans Saints. The Saints, like the Bears, have no defense. They also, like the Bears, have a big need along the defensive line. In an extremely deep defensive line draft, the Saints go DT as well, giving us our fifth defensive line prospect in the top 12 picks.
13. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles could go a number of different directions with this pick. I've seen them projected to go with a quarterback or defensive help as well, but with Stanley falling, he could be a perfect fit in Philly. Stanley is my pick.
14. Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU. Oakland Raiders. The Raiders could go a number of directions with this pick, but cornerback is a likely option. I've seen reports that the Raiders (and Giants) front office thought that Robinson would be viewed as the top CB in this draft had he played more games. They could roll the dice on him here at 14.
15. Jared Goff, QB, UCLA. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams might not go quarterback with this pick, but with Goff and Lynch staring them down in the middle of the draft, I think they take the plunge and snag Goff. They have a glaring need at the position and if they can get a potential franchise quarterback here I think they take a chance. They could also go WR or defense here.
16. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech. Detroit Lions. The Lions need help along the defensive line and allegedly love Vernon Butler as a prospect. Could be a perfect fit. They could also go a number of other options including OL and WR, but Butler might be their guy at 16 if he is there.
17. Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons need help at linebacker, and Jaylon Smith is an absolute steal at 17 overall. This one is a no-brainer in my opinion; if Smith is somehow there, he's the pick. He may drop because of his knee injury which is the only reason he is available at 17.
18. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State. Indianapolis Colts. The Colts want to upgrade their defensive line at some point in this year's draft as well, but Conklin is a good fit here. They need help along their offensive line (expect them to target RB in this draft a well), and Conklin can provide that.
19. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss. Buffalo Bills. Kyle Williams is 33 and the Bills need a new option at DT to eventually replace him. Nkemdiche drops because of character concerns, but Rex Ryan has never been one to shy away from these concerns. He could be a perfect fit here.
20. Paxton Lynch, QB, New York Jets. The Jets still need a quarterback! They drafted Geno Smith a few years back, and he has yet to take the reigns as a starting quarterback. They drafted Bryce Petty last year but he's a developmental guy right now. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a stopgap. Lynch could be the guy here if he is available.
21. Mackenzie Alexander, CB, Clemson. Washington Redskins. The Redskins could also go defensive tackle here, but a lot of guys have fallen off of the board already. Alexander is a decent value at #21, and could be a fit.
22. Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas. Houston Texans. The Texans again miss out on the top options at quarterback and continue to exist in a state of quarterback purgatory. Zeke Elliot is also off the board, leaving the Texans to shoot for contingency plans. They could also go tackle here, but TE is a glaring need in Houston as well. They draft Henry in the first and target Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd at QB.
23. Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are showing lots of interest in Whitehair and have already met with him twice. He could be their main target heading into the first round. At that point, I expect him to wind up here.
24. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia. Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals could go a number of directions here, but that mostly depends on free agency. I've seen Corey Coleman mocked there multiple times based on the fact that both Sanu and Marvin Jones hit free agency, but the Bengals are weaker at OLB than they are at WR, especially if they can re-sign either Sanu or Jones. Floyd would be a great option this late.
25. Keanu Neal, S, Florida. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers will go defense with this selection most likely, and Neal is a great option. The team allegedly has a ton of interest in him, and if he falls to them, they could snag him here.
26. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks always like drafting defensive players, and Lawson is a steal this late in the draft. Lawson fell due to the sheer depth of defensive talent in this year's draft, and the Seahawks snatch him up immediately.
27. Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama. Green Bay Packers. This is a bit low for Ragland compared to most mocks I've seen, but inside linebackers tend to fall in the draft. If Ragland isn't here, they could go for a guy like Hunter Henry if he falls, but with Ragland here, they'd be foolish to pass him up. Ragland is the pick.
28. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are another team that could go a ton of different ways in the draft. That being said, Taylor Decker presents a decent value at 28 overall, and the Chiefs snag him. Andy Reid loves drafting linemen, and Decker is an option.
29. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson. Arizona Cardinals. Arizona could use help along their defensive line, especially at end. Dodd is a versatile player who is arguably the best end left on the board. He's a fit here.
30. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State. Carolina Panthers. Carolina has one solid cornerback in Josh Norman. However, Charles Tillman is a 35 year old free agent. Expect them to target a corner in the draft. Apple is an option. I considered Corey Coleman here (imagine him paired with Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Greg Olsen in the passing game?!), but Apple is the bigger need.
31. Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State. Denver Broncos. The Broncos could go a number of directions here, especially along the defensive line, but at 31 overall, Lee is an option. So is an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, or a running back. Denver could go a number of ways here.
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