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Grading the First Round of the 2016 NFL Draft

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The first round of the 2016 NFL Draft is in the books. There are still six rounds and 222 picks to go, but it’s always the first round that gets the most attention and usually the most scrutiny.

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So although none of these guys have signed their contracts let alone play a single down in the NFL, it’s never too early to size up the moves teams made. The first two picks went according to plan and were followed by more trades with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

The end result? Thirty-one former college players heard their name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. When it comes to initial reaction, several teams fared well in my classroom while others left me scratching my head. Here are one football fan’s grades for the first round.'

2016 NFL Draft: First-Round Grades

1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, QB, Cal

Give credit to the Rams for doing what was necessary to get their guy. However, the cost to get the first pick from the Titans can’t be ignored. Goff may be Los Angeles’ choice for No. 1, but he’s not considered the “can’t miss” type of quarterback that Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck were nor is he on the same level as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota from last year’s draft for that matter. But Goff is the Rams’ guy and hopefully he will end up being worth trading all those picks away.

Los Angeles Rams

Grade: B+

2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

Let’s not forget that the Eagles made two trades to get to No. 2. They first sent Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins to move from the 13th pick to eighth, and then sent that and four other selections to the Browns. The end result is Wentz, who didn’t even face the same level of competition as Goff did. Between all the capital spent in the trades to get him and the unresolved Sam Bradford situation, the Eagles may need Wentz to produce positive returns even sooner than Goff to justify the moves.

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Grade: B-

3. San Diego Chargers: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The first surprise of the draft? Perhaps, but the moves made by Los Angeles and Cleveland made it apparent that San Diego would have the pick of non-QB litter. For some, Bosa was the No. 1 player on the board, while for others his stock slipped after an uneven showing at the Scouting Combine. Regardless, the safe bet was Bosa would go somewhere in the top 10 and the Chargers hope they have found their playmaker on defense.

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Grade: B+

4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Running back was certainly not the Cowboys’ biggest need, but many think Elliott can be special. Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from going against the grain, as it’s no longer common for running backs to be drafted this high. However, when you factor in Elliott’s skill set and his appealing upside and combine that with one of the best offensive lines in the league, you really can’t quibble much with this pick.

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Grade: A-

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State

Ramsey proclaimed himself to be the top player in this draft, a sentiment that was echoed by others. Whether he’s a safety or a cornerback or a hybrid defender remains to be seen, but this is a solid pick by Jacksonville. Ramsey becomes the latest building block for a young Jaguars team that has addressed most of its needs through the draft and free agency over the past two offseasons.

Grade: A-

6. Baltimore Ravens: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

If Jalen Ramsey made it here, I think he would have been the pick, but Baltimore also needed to address its offensive line. The Ronnie Stanley vs. Laremy Tunsil debate will probably rage on, but the Ravens went with the left tackle that best fit their team. My guess is Joe Flacco approves of this choice too.

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Grade: B

7. San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

Ignore the Oregon connection with Buckner and new head coach Chip Kelly, this is all about rebuilding a 49ers defense that was terrible last season. Given where the 49ers were picking, taking Buckner makes plenty of sense. The question is will be produce like a top-10 draft pick?

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Grade: B-

8. Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

I thought the Titans would capitalize on their inventory of picks to move back up and get a tackle. I just didn’t expect it to Conklin, at least not initially. The trade with Cleveland cost Tennessee its third-round pick this year and a second-rounder in 2017, but it’s a price the Titans could afford after acquiring the picks from Los Angeles. Credit Tennessee for using free agency and now the draft, to build around its cornerstone, Marcus Mariota.

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Grade: B

9. Chicago Bears: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia

The Bears moved up two spots, sending their fourth-round pick to the Buccaneers, to grab Floyd. The measurables and athleticism are there and everyone knows that John Fox is a defensive-minded coach. But the production at Georgia doesn’t match his top-10 status, so this is a pick based more on potential than track record. Chicago didn’t have to pay much to get their guy, but was the cost worth it in the first place?

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Grade: C+

10. New York Giants: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

Between the Laremy Tunsil situation along with the other tackles going in the first eight picks and Dallas taking Elliott at No. 4, the board didn’t exactly go the Giants’ way. That said, I was surprised that Apple was the choice when New York decided to go with a defensive back, especially with Vernon Hargreaves and William Jackson still on the board. The name (both first and last) certainly fits with the G-Men, but does the player?

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Grade: C

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

He may not possess ideal size, but Hargreaves showed he has plenty of game during his years with the Gators. Not only did the Buccaneers get what some analysts thought was the best defensive back available, they also got him two spots lower and acquired a fourth-round pick in the process.

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Grade: B

12. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville

The Saints need all the help on defense they can get. Rankins’ versatility should help bolster both the run defense and the pass rush. He won’t be a miracle worker, but he can certainly be part of the solution to New Orleans’ defensive woes.

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Grade: B

13. Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

Whether we ever get the full story of what transpired Thursday night to cause Tunsil to tumble all the way out of the top 10 remains to be seen. But the end result is the player that ESPN’s Mel Kiper had No. 1 on his final big board fell into the Dolphins’ lap. Ryan Tannehill certainly approves of this choice. If Tunsil plays as advertised, this could be viewed as the steal of the draft. But it’s certainly not a choice that doesn’t come with risk, as Tunsil’s first press conference showed.

Grade: B+

14. Oakland Raiders: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

The prevailing thought was the Raiders would go defense with this pick, but I’m not sure how many figured Joseph would be the choice. The hard-hitting safety certainly looks the part when you think Silver and Black defensive back and someone is going to have to replace Charles Woodson. But Joseph is coming off of a torn ACL so there’s some risk here too.

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Grade: B-

15. Cleveland Browns: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

You had to figure Cleveland wouldn’t reach for a quarterback if it stayed put, but I’m not sure this is the direction I would have gone. The Browns need help in so many areas it’s hard to say this is a “bad” pick. And wide receiver is one of the areas that needs to be addressed, but did it need to be done with the first pick? Coleman is fast and he put up video game-esque numbers at Baylor. But that was college and there’s no guarantee Coleman’s athleticism will immediately translate into success as a NFL wide receiver. Look no further than fellow Bear and now teammate Robert Griffin III. Fortunately, the Browns still have quite a few picks left (and more in 2017 and ’18).

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Grade: B-

16. Detroit Lions: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

Detroit was last in the league in rushing and gave up 44 sacks last season. Decker isn’t a sexy name, but all he did at Ohio State was consistently get the job done. Solid pick for a Lions offense that will be going through a transition this season with Calvin Johnson retired.

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Grade: B

17. Atlanta Falcons: Keanu Neal, S, Florida

Dan Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator before he became the Falcons’ head coach so you know how he values big defensive backs. Whether Neal will become part of the east coast version of the “Legion of Boom” remains to be seen, but he looks the part and should provide the Falcons with a physical presence on the back end.

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Grade: B-

18. Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama

You can quibble about taking a center this early, but the Colts had to get some help for Andrew Luck. With the other tackles off the board, why not take the No. 1 center and a guy who was a three-year starter for Alabama? Maybe Luck and Kelly can become what Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday were for the Colts all those years.

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Grade: B

19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

There’s some concern regarding his shoulder, which will probably require surgery at some point, but the risk is somewhat mitigated by taking Lawson here. One of the most productive pass rushers in college last season, Lawson will be asked to do more of the same for a Bills defense that struggled mightily (21sacks, 31st in NFL) in that department in 2015. As long as the shoulder holds up, this is a great pick for Buffalo.

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Grade: A-

20. New York Jets: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

The Jets are loaded on the defensive line and have Darrelle Revis anchoring a fairly stacked secondary. Now they add an athletic, rangy linebacker that can cover a lot of real estate and has the potential to develop into an every-down contributor in the middle. Who needs a quarterback with this defense?

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Grade: A-

21. Houston Texans: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

Houston gave Washington a 2017 sixth-round pick to switch places and get DeAndre Hopkins a tag-team partner. Fuller has the speed and was considered the best vertical threat in this draft. His big-play ability could make him and Hopkins a formidable duo for years to come. It all depends on the quarterback. Between Fuller and the signing of Lamar Miller (not to mention all that money), Brock Osweiler has no one to blame but himself if he doesn’t succeed with the Texans.

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Grade: A-

22. Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

Doctson is an intriguing talent. His numbers at TCU speak for themselves and he appears to have all the tools necessary to develop into an effective NFL wide receiver. The quibble here is that Doctson wasn’t Washington’s biggest need. Adding some sort of defensive piece made more sense.

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Grade: B-

23. Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

After finishing second to last in the league in passing offense in 2015, it was pretty clear the Vikings needed to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more weapons. Mission accomplished. While some questions have been raised about Treadwell’s speed, the size (6-2, 221) will certainly play in the NFL and you can’t question his production at Ole Miss. He may not be a burner or a big-play machine, but Treadwell should provide Bridgewater with a big, physical target on the outside and in the red zone.

Grade: B+

24. Cincinnati Bengals: William Jackson III, CB, Houston

Wide receiver was the bigger need, but once the first four were taken it made sense for the Bengals to change their focus. Jackson had plenty of positive momentum entering the draft and appears to be a good fit for the Bengals’ defensive style and system. A team also can’t have enough reliable cornerbacks in today’s pass-happy NFL.

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Grade: B-

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Artie Burns, CB, Miami

The Steelers need secondary help, especially after finishing 30th against the pass last season. But is Burns a first-round talent that belongs in the same class as the defensive backs taken before him? He has the tools, but it still feels like a reach here.

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Grade: C

26. Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

John Elway sent a third-round pick to Seattle to move up five spots to get his quarterback. Lynch will certainly come a lot cheaper than Brock Osweiler. The size and strong arm certainly appealed to the Broncos, but it would probably be in the team’s and Lynch’s best interests if he’s not thrust into action right away. That means Mark Sanchez (or someone else) needs to seize the starting job. Lynch arguably has just a high a ceiling, if not higher, than Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. But it will take time.

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Grade: B-

27. Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA

B.J. Raji is taking a break from football, so the Packers need another big body up front. Clark certainly fits that bill (6-3, 314). He’s young (won't turn 21 until October), got plenty of starting experience with the Bruins, was highly effective against the run and made strides as a pass rusher. The only question I have was he the best option here? Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Butler, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed were all on the board when the Packers went with Clark.

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Grade: B-

28. San Francisco 49ers: Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford

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When I first heard the 49ers had traded back into the first round I thought it was for a defensive lineman to pair with their first pick, DeForest Buckner. To be fair, offensive line, specifically guard, was a need for the 49ers. But the fact they sent three picks, including a pretty high second-rounder (No. 37 overall) to Kansas City to get a player no one had graded as a first-rounder is puzzling to say the least. The Chiefs get an A for the pick they didn’t make. And even though the 49ers entered this draft with a bunch of picks (12), this does not seem a wise use of some of that extra capital.
Grade: D

29. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

The “Most Interesting Man” in this draft ended up being a first-round pick. Red flags/character questions aside, Nkemdiche landed in an ideal situation. If there’s a head coach whose personality would seem to mesh with the eccentric Nkemdiche it’s probably Bruce Arians. And if there’s one thing Arizona’s defense is missing it’s an impact playmaker up front. If he can show he’s learned from his mistakes, Nkemdiche could make the Cardinals look like geniuses. Remember, Arizona took a chance on an All-American-caliber defensive player with character concerns a few years ago in LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu and that has worked out pretty well so far.

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Grade: A-

30. Carolina Panthers: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech

Butler may not have the name recognition of Alabama’s Jarran Reed or A’Shawn Robinson, but what the former Bulldog has is a rare combination of size (6-4, 323), strength and athleticism for a defensive tackle. The potential is there for Butler to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, he just has to put forth the effort and bring it every play he’s on the field.
Grade: B

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31. Seattle Seahawks: Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M

There was some talk that Seattle had traded this pick (Cleveland?) but in the end the Seahawks stayed put and addressed their biggest area of need. Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy both left in free agency, so Ifedi makes all the sense in the world here. Where he plays, guard or tackle, will be determined, but chances are Ifedi will be a part of Russell Wilson’s protection detail fairly early once the season gets started. And don’t forget the Seahawks added a third-round pick in swapping places with Denver before taking Ifedi.

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Grade: B

Note: There were only 31 picks in the first round because New England forfeited its selection as part of the punishment associated with the Deflategate scandal.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)