With the 2016 NFL draft quickly approaching, there’s a whole heck of a lot going on around the league.
Two huge trades atop of the draft have already shaken things up big time. Meanwhile, rumors of multiple veteran quarterbacks being on the trade block could shake things up even more.
Now that the final mock drafts have been conducted and we’re past the point of analyzing the draft itself, it’s time for the selections to be made and for teams to build for the future.
From what happens with the first two picks to how the teams that traded down in those colossal deals will fare, here are your top-10 storylines for the 2016 NFL draft.
1. The top two picks
It sure seems like a given that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will be the first two quarterbacks off the board to the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles at one and two, respectively.
Despite plenty of smokescreens, the Rams don’t seem locked into Goff 100 percent at this point. They are not telling either one who the pick will be until right before the call is made by Roger Goodell at the podium. This could create some drama as Round 1 gets going Thursday evening in Chicago.
Either way, if the top-two picks of the draft play out as expected, it will set up other teams picking in the top five with good position to nab one of the top-two players on their draft boards.
On the other hand, if Philadelphia throws us a curve ball with the second pick (Ezekiel Elliot?), it would have wide-ranging ramifications throughout the remainder of the first round, forcing teams to scramble below the Eagles.
2. Quarterbacks on the trade block
Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Josh McCown, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Mark it down: At least two of these quarterbacks will be traded during the draft this week.
That’s two starter-caliber quarterbacks, two more that can act as stop-gap options and two other former early-round busts that could be moved.
Most of the talk has surrounded Kaepernick, who could very well be traded at the end of Day 1 or early on Friday. A lot of that is going to depend on what the Denver Broncos do at 31 overall and whether San Francisco goes Lynch with the seventh pick.
On the other hand, Bradford is a new entrant on the trade block. He reportedly requested a trade from Philadelphia earlier this week. And while the Eagles seem intent on keeping him, something could very easily come up during the draft. Though, Philadelphia will have to lower its asking price in any potential trade.
As it is with Kaepernick, we are going to have to wait and see how the first round plays out to draw a conclusion about whether Bradford will actually be moved.
If the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos all miss out on quarterbacks in Round 1, something could quickly be worked on to send Bradford to one of those four teams.
As it relates to the rest of the quarterbacks, we’re likely looking at mid-to-late round compensation. None of those players are going to be moved during the first two days of the draft.
Instead, it’s all about quarterback-needy teams that didn’t address this position looking to find competition in camp.
3. What do the Dallas Cowboys do at four?
Does Jerry Jones look to make the splash by adding former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott? That’s the biggest remaining question within the top five of the draft.
A recent report also suggests that the Cowboys may look to move down in order to pick Elliott up later in the first round. Though, that would be a tricky proposition with other teams in the top 10 potentially looking to nab the consensus top running back.
The likelier scenario here would be for Dallas to actually go after a position of need with the fourth pick. After all, the team does have Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris on the roster. They are more than capable of holding down the fort, and there are other running backs to be had outside the first round.
This doesn’t mean the decision will be less difficult for the Jones family. If San Diego were to go Laremy Tunsil at three (best case for Dallas), that would give the Cowboys the ability to choose between defensive ends Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner as well as the top consensus defensive back in Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey.
If Dallas were to trade down, there’s no guarantee the target would be Elliott. Instead, it could still land an elite-level defensive player while acquiring enough assets to get one of the second-tier quarterbacks on Day 2. That must be taken into account with Tony Romo’s injury history and advanced age.
4. Moving up and down
Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco and Cleveland have all been bandied about as trade-down options leading up to the draft. All four of these teams need more than just that one guy in order for them to improve off what were dreadful performances during the 2015 campaign.
For Dallas and San Diego, a trade-down scenario might come in the form of a team looking to add former Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Meanwhile, Cleveland and San Francisco both could use a quarterback of the future but might still look to trade down with a quarterback-needy team later in the first round.
There have been rumors about two AFC East teams, New York and Buffalo, looking to move up in order to pick up former Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Something could definitely go down here, especially as it relates to the Jets and 49ers. This might include defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and the 20th pick heading to San Francisco for the seventh overall selection.
Any team looking to move up for Lynch would likely have to jump ahead of the Browns at eight in order to make it happen. Then again, if San Francisco were to pass on Lynch at seven, Cleveland would be in position to either take the quarterback or move down, which is something the team is rumored to have interest in pulling off.
We can also expect a team that’s selecting at the top of the second round to move into the bottom of the first. It happened back in 2014 when the Minnesota Vikings moved up to the final pick in the first round with Seattle to nab Teddy Bridgewater.
What if the defending champion Broncos decide that adding a quarterback later in the draft makes more sense than reaching for one at 31?
They would then need the assets to move up latter in the draft, which would bring the final pick of the first round into play. A team like Dallas or San Francisco at the top of the second could make some sense here.
This would enable one of them to add a quarterback at 31 while giving the Broncos more assets to bring in a prospect later in Day 2 or in the latter rounds.
5. The wide receiver effect
Who will be the first wide receiver off the board? How long will the first round last without a receiver being drafted? These two questions could alter the entire landscape of the second half of Day 1.
Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell has spent the entire draft process as the consensus top receiver. Though, Baylor’s Corey Coleman and Texas Christian’s Josh Doctson are now getting play as the first receiver off the board.
San Francisco at seven has a pressing need for a receiver, but that slot would represent a tremendous reach. Same goes for Cleveland at eight. After that, we’d have to go all the way down to the 16th pick with the Detroit Lions to find a team with a tremendous need at receiver.
If the first pass catcher doesn’t go off the board until the late teens or early 20s, this would set into motion a trickle-down effect in which four or five more players at this position are selected in the final dozen picks of Day 1.
The Buffalo Bills (19), Houston Texans (22), Minnesota Vikings (23), Cincinnati Bengals (24), Kansas City Chiefs (28) and Carolina Panthers (30) all have obvious needs at receiver in the second half of the first round.
This would be tremendous news for teams picking atop the second round — teams that might not necessarily be in the market for a top-end receiver. Instead, they could focus on getting value at other positions of need.
6. Day 1 slides
Myles Jack’s injury concerns could have wide-ranging implications for the former UCLA linebacker.
Easily considered one of the top-three talents in the entire draft, a condition called osteochondral defect could drop him down a great deal come Thursday.
The condition occurs when the cartilage and bone begin to separate in the knee, causing concerns over a player’s ability to hold up over the long term. This came up following a medical recheck recently that was needed due to the lateral meniscus injury Jack suffered in his final game with the Bruins.
Whereas Jack will almost certainly remain a first-roun pick, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is likely to drop completely out of the first round and potentially all the way to Day 3. His issue lies in a nerve condition stemming from a knee injury (torn ACL) suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
Considering Smith is a player some had as the best all-around talent in the draft prior to his injury, this is rather sad development. Now off draft boards of some teams around the NFL based on this injury, Smith may see a deep slide down to the fourth round or later.
Another player that has seen his name take a hit recently is former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa.
While not injury related, there have been whispers around the league that Bosa may no longer be the top-five lock he was just a couple short weeks ago.
It will definitely be interested to see where he lands in the first round and whether a team picking in the middle of Day 1 will be able to pick up the talented pass rusher.
7. Landing spots for second and third crop of quarterbacks
If it is Goff and Wentz as the first two quarterbacks off the board, what does that mean for Paxton Lynch’s stock?
The Memphis product has long been considered a mid-to-late first-round pick. But now with Goff and Wentz expected to go much higher than originally anticipated, Lynch’s stock has increased a great deal.
In terms of the top 10 and how it’s situated right now, the absolute ceiling for Lynch would be the San Francisco 49ers.
In fact, one of the greatest players in that franchise’s history suggested recently that San Francisco has to go in this direction. Though, there’s plenty of other areas Chip Kelly and Co. must address in the draft.
After trading down from the second spot to eighth overall with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland is also a possibility for Lynch at eight.
Of course, this is all about how the top 10 is situated right now. There are multiple teams picking later in the first round that could look to trade up with San Francisco or Cleveland to nab Lynch.
If Lynch is now considered a lock to go in the top 20, that will also push Connor Cook’s draft stock up to the first round. Does this mean that the defending champion Denver Broncos could bite on the Michigan State product at 31st overall? It’s a real possibility.
Interestingly enough, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King is also suggesting that Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg could be a target of the Bills at 19.
While that’s absolutely ridiculous on the surface, it just goes to show us how much the quarterback position is being overvalued leading up to the 2016 NFL draft. We’ll likely see more than a few end up being over-drafted in the coming days.
It’s also going to be interesting to see where the Broncos go at 31. Are they really going to reach for a quarterback at 31 instead of adding a veteran that would come at a considerably lower cost in terms of draft-pick assets?
Heck, would the defending champs engage in a trade-up scenario in order to find a way to land Paxton Lynch? This is one of the most intriguing stories heading into the draft.
8. Value, value and more value
It’s been said that there are about 10 elite-level prospects in this draft. The next 50 or 60 are very much interchangeable. This means that teams are potentially going to get second-round value in the middle of the first while still being able to add similar value in the middle of the second.
It’s a half glass full/empty theory. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
What we do know is that there’s going to be a ton of value to be found in Day 2 and early in Day 3, especially at specific positions.
One such position is quarterback. How much better of an option is Christian Hacekenberg in the second round compared to Cardale Jones in the third and Vernon Adams in the fifth?
Are any of these three more over-valued than the others? That will be an interesting story to keep an eye on.
Though, it wouldn’t be incredibly surprising to see Jones and Adams go much higher than they are currently being projected.
Another position that’s lacking elite-level talent is safety. But much like quarterback, there’s a ton of value to be had after Round 1.
Florida’s Keanu Neal, Ohio State’s Vonn Bell and West Virginia’s Karl Joseph have all been mentioned as first-round possibilities. While one could find himself selected within the first 31 picks, that seems highly unlikely.
Instead, these three should join the likes of Boise State’s Darian Thompson, Duke’s Jaremy Cash and LSU’s Jalen Mills as Day 2 picks.
That’s a heck of a lot of starter-caliber safeties going off the board later than their talent would normally suggest.
In a NFL where the value of safeties who can cover has taken precedence, teams could very well find an incredible amount of value here, especially with the likes of Mills, Neal and Thompson.
9. Ohio State domination
Including Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, there’s a strong possibility that six or seven former Ohio State players could go in the first round. This depends on where the aforementioned Bell, as well as wide receiver Michael Thomas, land.
Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if well over a dozen former Buckeye players hear their names called during the first two days.
While Elliott and Bosa have received most of the press leading up to the draft, the backdrop here has to be quarterback Cardale Jones. Blessed with an untapped ceiling, Jones is seen as a project signal caller.
He’s also going to draw a ton of interest from teams that are looking for a starter two or three years down the road. If put in the right situation, Jones could be the steal of the draft.
The same could be said for quarterback-turned-wide receiver Braxton Miller, who should hear his name called sometime in Round 2. A project after switching positions a season ago, Miller has all the athletic measurables teams look for in a stud receiver.
10. How will Cleveland and Tennessee fare?
These are the two teams to really keep an eye on throughout the first two days of the draft. By trading down from the first and second spots respectively, Tennessee and Cleveland boast a ton of picks in the first four rounds.
For the Titans, it’s going to be all about adding a ton of talent to a roster that has won five games over the past two years. This is great news in a sense for new general manager Jon Robinson.
It means that the Titans will be able to go best player available with each of their first four selections, all within the top-45 picks of the draft.
Cleveland’s situation is a bit different. By trading down from the second spot, Hue Jackson and Co. gave up on the opportunity of adding one of the top quarterback options. Add in the signing of Robert Griffin III, and quarterback might not be a target here.
Instead, the Browns will likely look to build elite-level skill-position talent around RGIII to see if he can regain earlier form. That’s going to be a tricky proposition. But with six picks in the top 100, the Browns have the assets to do just this.