Breaking down hottest rumors heading into 2016 NFL Draft

By Michael Dixon

While the 2016 season is still months away, we’re only a few days away from knowing where rookies will be playing with the 2016 NFL Draft getting underway on Thursday.

As is the case every year, the 2016 NFL Draft is giving us plenty of rumors and hearsay to speculate on.

But with only three days to go before that first name is called, what are the hottest rumors from the 2016 NFL Draft and what can we make of them?

Jared Goff will be No. 1 overall pick

Once the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles traded for the top two picks, it became pretty clear that Cal quarterback Jared Goff and North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz would be the first players taken. But the question remained, who will go where?

Right now, all signs point to Goff being the first named called to the podium. Even Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, who had initially speculated that Wentz was the signal caller that the Rams coveted, has had a change of heart.

Goff is certainly the safer of the two picks. While Wentz is the more impressive physical quarterback, Goff isn’t exactly tiny. Goff’s numbers were also better than Wentz’s, despite playing against much tougher competition.

At the No. 1 pick, teams have to use some caution. Wentz is an FCS quarterback, and realistically an FCS signal caller will lose most tiebreakers over an FBS counterpart. Wentz would have had to have been the clear superior player to go ahead of Goff. That’s not the case.

Race for Paxton Lynch?

Courtesy of USA Today Images

We know that the first two picks will be quarterbacks. But once Goff and Lynch are gone, who will be the next quarterback taken and where will he go?

Smart money is on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch to be first quarterback of the next group taken. Where he goes is wide open.

Charlie Campbell of Walter Football reported that the Denver Broncos are interested making a trade with the Green Bay Packers to take Lynch with the No. 27 pick.

Of course, that becomes moot if the New York Jets take Lynch at No. 20. Seth Walder of New York Daily News quoted Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who said in no uncertain terms that the team “inquired” about the No. 1 pick before the Tennessee Titans traded it to the Los Angeles Rams. Walder also mentioned Memphis quarterback as a possibility for the Jets, who pick at No. 20.

That only happens if the Cleveland Browns don’t take him at No. 8, something that the NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein noted was possible.

Even for a quarterback, this is a pretty wide variety.

With all of that in mind, a team to keep an eye on is the San Francisco 49ers. They not only have a need at quarterback but hold the No. 7 pick. As such, they’re a prime trade partner for a team looking to trade up.

Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg as first rounders?

Christian Hackenberg

As we went over with Lynch, there are plenty of teams in need of quarterbacks. ESPN’s Jon Gruden had already stated his feeling that Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg will go in the first round, something he’s more recently stated with even stronger language, via Dustin Hockensmith of Penn Live

“I think he’s put together,” Gruden said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s a lot better athlete than you think. He just has this presence about him. He has the loudest, most commanding snap count that I’ve heard in Andrew Luck. He has a lot of playing experience in two different systems. I think he competes his butt off. I think he wants this real bad.”

Lance Zierlein also noted that Michigan State’s Connor Cook is a viable first round option.

Quarterbacks are often reached for, but this is surprising. One would be hard pressed to find a big board that ranks either player as even close to being a first-round talent.

The good news for both players is that they’d likely be taken later in the first round, which means they’d go to a better team. Of course, that changes when trades and possible trades are factored in.

If a quarterback is reached for, he needs to go to a stable franchise. Otherwise, he’s most likely to toil in mediocrity for a few years, or even worse.

Uncertainty of Myles Jack

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Quarterbacks aren’t the only players that have a great deal of mystery heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. UCLA linebacker Myles Jack could go just about anywhere in the first round based on reports, and it wouldn’t be that surprising.

In the last week, we’ve heard reports that “bone and cartilage is starting to break away” in Jack’s knee. We’ve also heard NFL executives ripping said reports. Most recently, we’ve heard that his right knee has a “chondral defect,” though how much that will impact his on field prowess is uncertain.

Jack is a top-10 talent and his knee injury is an unknown factor. In reality, he’s the kind of talent that should be gambled on, even by teams picking early. Certainly anyone not drafting in the top 10 should pounce if he remains available.

At any rate, stay tuned. Given how much fluctuation has already occurred with the rumors surrounding Jack’s health, anything can happen.

Giants-Titans trade?

Laquon Treadwell Ole Miss

While it likely wouldn’t happen until draft day, there is a strong possibility that the Titans and New York Giants will make a trade. Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net noted that the Giants are targeting Ole Miss receiver, Laquon Treadwell, though probably not at No. 10. That would open up the possibility of a deal with Tennessee, who sits at the No. 15 pick.

“The Tennessee Titans could be the perfect trading partner, as the team has a host of extra selections, thanks to the trade with the Los Angeles Rams, and have stated their desire to move back into the draft’s top 10 selections. As I’ve previously stated, offensive tackle Jack Conklin is the name I hear most associated with the Titans.”

Obviously this only works if the Michigan State tackle makes it to the No. 10 pick.

Both players make sense to the teams that are reportedly targeting them. Treadwell would form a potentially hellacious WR trio with Odell Beckham Jr. and a now “100 percent” Victor Cruz. Tennessee needs to focus on protecting Marcus Mariota, something Conklin could do.

These two teams have the assets and the need to work together on a trade. Common sense says that they should do it if the situation allows.

No more high trades?

While there had been speculation that the San Diego Chargers were a strong possibility to trade out of the No. 3 spot, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is now reporting that both them and the Cowboys seem likely to hold serve.

This says a lot about the interest, or lack thereof, that teams have in some of the other top prospects. It’s all but 100 percent certain that Goff and Wentz will be the first two picks, so the rest of the NFL knows that guys like Joey Bosa, Laremy Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey, DeForest Buckner, or any other top prospects will be available at No. 3.

Three days can be an eternity in the world of the NFL. But if the talks are cooling now, they’re not likely to get re-heated unless something stunning happens with the first two selections.

Robert Nkemdiche a ‘red-flag’ prospect

Robert Nkemdiche

In a discussion with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn labeled Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche as a “red flag” player. Still, he also stated that “red flag” doesn’t necessarily mean “stay away.”

“If they have a red flag — and that’s not what we use on our draft card, that’s just a generic term that we spoke about, I think it was at the combine,” Quinn said. “That’s just things that we have to consider the value of the player compared to the risk involved in taking him. So it’s not like these guys are off the board. You just got to manage the risk and the reward of taking a guy like that.”

Logically, someone will take a chance on Nkemdiche, and relatively high. This isn’t exactly a draft with a lot of sure thing stud prospects. While Nkemdiche has given teams plenty of cause for concern, he is a top-5 talent and can wreak havoc in the trenches.

He may not end up going that early, but based on pure talent Nkemdiche should be off of the board well before Detroit picks at No. 16. Nkemdiche is worth the risk if the Lions are in position to draft him.

Dallas Cowboys after Ezekiel Elliott?

ezekiel-elliott

No running back has been taken as high as No. 4 since Trent Richardson, who went third to the Cleveland Browns in 2012. If that doesn’t scream “stay away from early running backs,” then dnothing does.

Still, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports speculated that that might change come Thursday.

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report had previously indicated that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was interested in Ezekiel Elliott, hoping that Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Elliott would recreate the “Triplets” model that Dallas had so much success with in the 1990’s when they had Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith.

Running backs just don’t tend to get taken that early. After 2012, no running backs were taken in any spot of the first round until Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon last year.

If the Cowboys want Elliott, they should trade down. Unfortunately, as we’ve already gone over, that may not be in play. If that is indeed the case, they need to let Elliott go elsewhere and focus on one of his college teammates.

The much more logical option is defensive end Joey Bosa, who they’ve also been linked to. Bosa isn’t exactly a sure thing, but he supplies more potential value and fits into the Dallas scheme.

The Cowboys are often one of the more interesting teams on draft day, but have bucked that trend in recent years, going with more logical selections. If they want to be interesting, they’ll take Elliott. If they want to be logical, they’ll take Bosa, or at least another defender. This is certainly something for Dallas fans to keep their fingers crossed about.