The 2016 NFL draft class had little star power coming into the annual spring meeting, compared to years past. Although, as a group, the story was the Ohio State Buckeye draftees (5 first round picks, 12 overall).
But, even without the star prospects (2017 Leonard Fournette), there should be a few players that help teams take the next step. 36 linebackers were chosen, that was the most of any position. By comparison, there were only 15 quarterbacks selected. It appears teams are making more of an effort to get after the passer. Who can blame them after the way the Denver Broncos proved in the playoffs that defense still wins championships in this offensive slanted league.
But back to the rookie class of 2016. When you have 253 players selected and close to a hundred more signed as free agents, it’s not an exact science to project who will be the standouts and flame outs years from now. But hey, that’s what makes this fun.
So here’s how I think this year’s class will fare at some point in their career.
Most likely to lead the league in passing yards: Cardale Jones, Buffalo Bills. Cardale Jones rose to the National spotlight when he led the Ohio State Buckeyes to the first ever College Football Playoff Championship in 2014, after starting quarterback J.T. Barrett went down with a season ending injury. Many thought he should’ve entered the draft after that 3-game run, but he went back to school to finish his degree and improve his game. It didn’t work out on the field as he struggled, and lost his starting job after eight games. But, I always said Jones’ skill set is built more for the pro game than the fast break, gimmicky, spread offenses in college. His cannon of an arm and 6’5″ 250 pound frame is the pro-type NFL scouts look for at the QB position. I compare him to two-time Super Bowl winning QB Ben Roethlisberger when he entered the 2004 draft out of Miami of Ohio. Jones will start his career on the bench behind Tyrod Taylor, but the keys to the car in Buffalo will eventually be his. With offensive weapons like Sammy Watkins, tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy, Jones will have the weapons to put up big numbers.
Most likely to lead the league in rushing: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys. The 4th pick in the draft could very likely accomplish this feat in his rookie season. “Zeke” will be running behind arguably the best offensive line in the League, and with Tony Romo out for the foreseeable future, he will be featured more now that they’ll be breaking in fellow rookie and 4th round pick Dak Prescott at quarterback.
Most likely to lead the league in catches/receiving yards: Sterling Shepard, New York Giants. The 2nd round pick, gets to play with Eli Manning who likes to throw it around the field, and across from Odell Beckham Junior who is going to draw more double teams and bracketed coverage, giving Shepard more opportunities. The Oklahoma Sooner product has been compared to Tyler Lockett, but the best comparison may be to his Giants teammate, the often injured Victor Cruz, who’s spot he’s likely to take.
Most likely to lead the league in total touchdowns (non-QB): Ezekiel Elliott is a dual threat as a runner and receiver, a three down back. It won’t be a surprise to see him flirt with having 15+ rushing touchdowns, and 5+ receiving touchdowns a season for the Cowboys.
Most likely to lead the league in interceptions: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars. Gus Bradley is building a defense similar to the one he coached in Seattle. The pass rushers they have are going to put all kinds of pressure on opposing QBs. So what does that mean? More wounded ducks for a multi talented DB like Ramsey to get his hands on. The 6’1″ 209 pound cornerback reminds me of the late Sean Taylor with his ball hawking ability and speed to fly from sideline to sideline.
Most likely to lead the league in sacks: Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears. The 6’6″ outside linebacker out of the University of Georgia is a flat out athletic FREAK. His size and speed (4.6 40-yd dash) with a 35 inch vertical leap, has the athleticism that is reminiscent of Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. To begin his career, the Bears coaches will make it simple for him by just sending him flying off the edges to get the quarterback. Floyd could very well be the next great Bears defender following in the footsteps of Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, And Dick Butkus.
Most likely to lead the league in turnovers: Christian Hackenberg, New York Jets. The Jets selected Hackenberg out of Penn State with the 51st pick in the second round, but re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick for one-year, so they won’t be counting on the rookie anytime soon. However Hackenberg is definitely in their future plans. I was never a fan of his, during his time in Happy Valley. In three seasons he threw 30 interceptions to 48 touchdowns, while completing only 56% of his pass attempts. Draft gurus like ESPN’s Mel Kiper at one point projected him to be the number QB selected when he entered the draft. That obviously wasn’t the case, because the book is out on him. And, it doesn’t read well. He was also accused of throwing his coaches and Nittany Lion teammates under the bus during the pre-draft process.
Most likely to be a bust, and fade into obscurity: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers. I hope I’m wrong on this one as a fellow Ohio State alum. But, being a holdout in the fashion he was, it doesn’t bold well for him. He missed all of training camp and the preseason. The only saving grace is that other Charger rookie holdouts–16 to be exact–like LaDanian Tomlinson, Junior Seau, Philip Rivers and Shawne Merriman worked out okay. Plus, Bosa isn’t playing QB or another complicated position like outside linebacker or in the defensive secondary, so you would think the Chargers coaching staff would just turn him lose and say “Go get the ball carrier” or “just get the quarterback”, making his transition simple.
Most likely to be a Hall of Famer: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys. Look, I’ve bought into the preseason hype. I did in preseason game number one. Check the tweets below and the time stamp.
Actually, I was a fan of his when he was at Mississippi State. Prescott probably won’t lead the NFL in passing yards or touchdown passes in a season, but he has all the pieces around him to win games, and that is what matters most. He’s fallen into the perfect situation, a la Russell Wilson in Seattle. The Cowboys have lucked up and found their new millennium triplets in Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and now Dak. Plus, this offensive line has the potential to be as dominate as the “Great Wall of Dallas” that led Emmitt Smith to the most rushing yards in NFL history. If Dak can channel his inner Troy Aikman–and Jerry Jones can avoid messing it up by forcing the chronically injured Tony Romo back into the lineup–these Cowboys can have a measure of success they haven’t had since the early-mid 1990’s. That would help Prescott’s case to get a gold jacket and bust in Canton one day.