While you can’t get an accurate picture of the draft until 3-4 years down the road, you can still make an early prediction at some of the top draft classes. Though there were some draft classes that I wasn’t a big fan of, I’m not going to label any classes “losers” at this point. Here are my five top winners of the 2016 NFL Draft in the AFC and NFC:
– It’s hard to not love a draft when a team lands arguably the two best defensive players and two of the top 5 players in a class. The Jaguars somehow had CB/S Jalen Ramsey fall to them at the 5th pick and then with some injury concerns LB Myles Jack was sitting there in the 2nd round. Both players are incredible talents and have the potential to be elite players at their respective positions. The Jaguars weren’t done as their next three selections OLB Yannick Ngakoue, DL Sheldon Day, and DE Tyrone Holmes all have intriguing skills sets and specialize at getting after the quarterback. None will likely be starters anytime soon, but all could be valuable role players on what is quickly becoming one of the most talented and deep defenses in the NFL.
– The Ravens passed on OT Larmey Tunsil in the first round, which some will question regardless of the off the field concerns, but offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley is a talent in his own right. Stanley has the talent to be a franchise LT as well and he gives Baltimore options along that line and he should do a nice job protecting Joe Flacco where ever he lines up as a rookie. After Stanley the Ravens stockpiled picks and were able to add depth on both sides of the ball. Defenders OLB Kamalei Correa, DE/OLB Bronson Kaufusi, CB Tavon Young, DL Willie Henry, OLB Matt Judon, and CB Maurice Canady all had draftable grades from me and all have the talent and upside to make the team and deepen that roster. I don’t know if I’d expect any to start as a rookie, but it gives the Ravens a nice influx of youth and potential to their defense.
Offensively the Ravens weren’t done with Stanley as they added WR Chris Moore, OT Alex Lewis, RB Kenneth Dixon and RB/WR Keenan Reynolds. Moore fits a need at receiver and he could compete for the 3rd or 4th job as a rookie. Lewis gives the Ravens further OL depth. Dixon is a speed back who can complement Buck Allen going forward (with Forestt also in the mix). Reynolds is a conversion quarterback who may need a year on the practice squad, but has some nice skills and could help in the return game if he makes the team.
– The Bills had a nice draft class and came away with a lot of help to their defense. First round pick edge rusher Shaq Lawson and 2nd round pick ILB Reggie Ragland, both should be immediate starters on this defense and give Buffalo a pair of really good defenders. Some were down on 3rd round pick DL Adolphus Washington, but he flashed some skills at the Senior Bowl and he could develop into a starter down the road.
Offensively the Bills added some nice depth with project QB Cardale Jones, RB Jonathan Williams and WR Kolby Listenbee. None are likely to contribute much as rookies, but all add positive depth and the potential for more down the road.
– The Colts clearly had a mission in this draft and that was to protect Andrew Luck. They accomplished this mission with four offensive line picks including their 1st and 3rd round selections that netted them C Ryan Kelly and OT Le’Raven Clark. Kelly was the top interior lineman in this class and an instant day one starter. Clark is a bit more raw, but he’s got really nice upside and he could compete for a starting role as well as a rookie. Later in the draft the Colts landed a pair of intriguing depth options in G/T Joe Haeg and C/G Austin Blythe. Neither will likely see the field as a rookie, but they both have some developmental potential.
Defensively the Colts still added four players including three that could contribute early on. CB/FS T.J. Green has excellent size and potential and he could quickly find his way into a starting or key contributing role for the Colts. DL Hassan Ridgeway probably won’t start as a rookie, but he’s got the skills to be a rotational player early on. ILB Antonio Morrison likely won’t have a shot to start as a rookie, but he offers nice depth and should be a key special teams player.
– It’s always a risk to draft too much based on need and too much based on upside and the Steelers did both. Despite that I felt like Pittsburgh had one of the stronger draft classes landing a really intriguing top four group of players and some solid depth late.
Pittsburgh’s first four picks CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis, DT Javon Hargrave, and OT Jerald Hawkins, all carry a bit more risk than you’d like, but they also have huge upside. Bursn and Davis should both compete for starting roles as rookies, while Hargrave should at least be a rotational DT this season. Hawkins might not play as a rookie, but he could be a long term starting LT option.
Later in the draft the Steelers landed three more solid depth/special teams guys. OLB Travis Freeney has some natural pass rush skills, WR Ayers can be a return/slot option and ILB Matakevich depth at ILB and ST.
– The Seahwaks really had one of the better drafts, particularly when you factor in where they were selecting. Their top two picks OL Germain Ifedi and DT Jarran Reed, should both be starters or top contributors as rookies.
They addressed both lines later in the draft with G Rees Odhiambo, C Joey Hunt, and DT Quinton Jefferson as all guys who fit the mold of what they like in their OL and DL players.
Other than that they went skill position heavy with RB C.J. Prosise, TE Nick Vannett, RB Alex Collins, WR Kenny Lawler, and RB Zac Brooks. Adding three backs is smart as while Thomas Rawls showed promise last season, the Seahawks don’t want to be unprepared as they look to replace Marshawn Lynch. Both Prosise and Collins have future starting potential as well. Vannett could work as the number 2/inline TE with Jimmy Graham, while Lawler is a solid depth receiver option.
– DT Kenny Clark should be a starting NT/DE in the Packers defense and give them a strong run defender who can still get after the quarterback. Second round pick OT Jason Spriggs has a chance to compete for a starting LT role as a rookie and gives the Packers future insurance if they can’t keep their offensive line together going forward.
Later in the draft the Packers added a number of nice depth players. OLB Kyler Fackrell might not be a year one starter, but he could be a situational edge player. ILB Blake Martinez will be a ST stand out and he can potentially compete for a starting role as well. DL Dean Lowry has some intriguing tools and could be a rotational player. WR Trevor Davis is a young deep threat, and OL Kyle Murphy offers nice depth.
– The Giants added a pair of defensive backs early in 1st rounder CB Eli Apple and 3rd rounder FS Darian Thompson, who could both start as rookies. Neither is a complete prospect as they both need some refining, but they have a strong skill set and a lot of potential. They should both be positive additions to a really bad Giants defense from a year ago.
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard is a potential steal as a 2nd rounder. His size was a knock on him, but he’s got the talent and ability to overcome it and be a Steve Smith type of a player. He should do exceptionally well in this offense and make a nice contribution as a rookie.
Running back Paul Perkins has some starting potential and he could push for a significant role as a rookie and possibly the long term starting option on this team. Tight end Jerell Adams has a lot of upside and he could develop down the road. Linebacker B.J. Goodson might just be a two down player, but he could find a role on this team as well.
– The Vikings took the fourth receiver of the first round, but I think you can make a strong case that they ended up with the best one in Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell’s skill set also balances out Stephon Diggs skill set, giving Minnesota a nice young 1-2 option for Teddy Bridgewater to develop with.
Second round corner Mackensie Alexander is very intriguing and could become a very good long term starter for this team. Fourth rounder Willie Beavers is a raw tackle, but he could develop as a starting LT a year or two from now. Fifth rounder Kentrell Brothers has some of the best instincts in this class and Mike Zimmer will find a way to utilize him.
Later in the draft the Vikings got some intriguing developmental prospects in German WR Moritz Boehringer, OLB Stephen Weatherly and S Jayron Kearse. None are a finished product right now, but all can develop. Also the Vikings picked up a future 3rd and 4th round pick in a trade with the Vikings.
– The Redskins stuck to their board and didn’t panic for immediate needs. In the first round they took WR Josh Doctson, who could push for a starting role as a rookie, but could be needed in 2017 when their top two receivers are free agents.
Second rounder S/ILB Su’a Cravens and third rounder CB Kendall Fuller might only be situational players as rookies, but both are leaders with good instincts and skill sets. Fifth rounder DL Matt Ioannidis could be an early down run stopper as a rookie and potentially a full time player down the road.
Later round picks QB Nate Sudfeld, ILB Steven Daniels and RB Keith Marshall all offer solid depth as well. In addition the Redskins added an additional 4th, 5th and 6th round selection for next year’s draft.