Shifting Draft ideas...
This player, or that? The dust had hardly settled on the 2015 NFL season before a new dance began. The NFL Combine followed the Super Bowl win by the Denver Broncos within a handful of weeks. Fans shifted from what was, to what's next in the blink of an eye.
Guys like Turf Show Times Joe McAtee - a college prospect savant/nerd - were way ahead of most fans as the NFL Draft tsunami began to gain strength and form. In a wave that washes over NFL fans each year, it's headed toward the shore in Chicago in the last week of April. To that end, Mock Drafts of every stripe have filled NFL media sites. If you're like me, there's a saturation point that hits right around the week before the NFL Draft. While most Mocks are wildly wrong - especially mine - they're interesting, in that they help generate player knowledge.
The thing I find funny, is just how many time "the guy" we think fits our favorite team changes leading up to the NFL Draft? I started out think Ole Miss wide receiver Laquan Treadwell was the right move for the Rams in the first round, then did a "180" to the now-dubious defensive end out of Eastern Kentucky: Noah Spence. While I believe Treadwell is still the right move for the wide receiver starved Los Angeles Rams, I doubt he'll be around when they pick at #15 overall. Spence has all but imploded his draft stock via "Ecstasy" echoes, and a down right shoddy NFL Combine effort. There's a good chance Spence's draft days can take the course of Paul Dawson, whose off field titches caused him to fall into the 3rd round in 2015.
While our overall choices shift before the actual NFL Draft like sand in a wind storm, the top five or so picks tends to settle into a clearer picture. The players I think - in no particular order - who are a lock to hear their names called in the first five picks:
Jeremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon
Close those dropped jaws at me for not putting Ohio State's Joey Bosa, or North Dakota's Carson Wentz in this select field. Wentz won't make it out of the Top 15 picks (wink, nudge, wink!), and Bosa has just enough "ceiling" left to make teams think they haven't seen all there is from the Buckeye's star defender. Buckner may be the most shocking choice to be in my Top 5, and I think he's a fit for Jacksonville at the fifth pick overall. It'll come down to how the Jaguars' first round pick in 2015 - Dante Fowler - comes out of his knee injury suffered on Day 1 of training camp last year. I see this draft as pivotal for Jacksonville, with "smart" over "flashy" being the keys to success in the 2016 season. Don't look now, but the Jaguars may very well be the team that'll make a leaps and bounds improvement in the coming year...
Shape of the NFL in 2016...
Speaking of the coming year, I think the - way off in the distance - postseason will feature more than a few surprises. With the Jaguars leading the way as my dark horse team to make it to the playoffs, you can add the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, and Dallas Cowboys (By the way, they shock everyone - including me! - in the coming draft, and select Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot at #4 overall) to a list of teams that'll make serious noise in 2016.
Don't hold onto your dreams of a New England swoon too tightly. They'll be there in the post season for what seems like the zillionth time. What could surprise you is it may be their defense that leads them through the 2016 season as much as "His Brady-ness"... Carolina will have an odd "Boom or Bust" year that's hard for me to suss out right now. Their offense over-achieved in 2015, and opposing defensive coordinators will be slathering at the bit to prove it.
Waaaay to early Top 10 Power Rankings, but here they are anyway...
My absurdly early Top 10 Power ranking will have Brandon Bate spewing his Luck Charms across the breakfast table at his lovely wife...
#10 - Kansas City Chiefs
#9 - Jacksonville Jaguars
#8 - Cincinnati Bengals
#7 - Dallas Cowboys
#6 - Oakland Raiders
#5 - Pittsburgh Steelers
#4 - New England Patriots
#3 - Minnesota Vikings
#2 - Green Bay Packers
#1 - Arizona Cardinals
On the outside edge, looking in: Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, and the Denver Broncos. And yes, I'm not buying into the hype that the Houston Texans will spring board anywhere in 2016...
Winners and loser in 2016 free agency...
The coming 2016 NFL Draft has been effected by free agency more than any I can remember? In fact, the pressure to pick "Day 1" starters in this draft for some teams is well past the HUGE stage. Coaching hot-seats will be decided in this coming late April. Teams like the Los Angels Rams, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, and Washington Redskins are literally going to cement solid seasons, or tank, if they don't hit this NFL Draft in a big way...
So which teams had great free agency dabbling? Let's start with the teams who - in my opinion - screwed up. Leading the way, I think it's a tie between the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Giants. First, when Miami signed Mario Williams, they failed to take into account a "guy named Suh". The odds these two mercurial - though vastly talented - ego driven defensive line divas will change this team's fortunes is a sticky, if not down right gooey, mess waiting to happen. I almost feel sorry for Cameron Wake, as he becomes a destined to fail Maginot Line between Suh and Williams... Kind of odd that "being overrun" may be the descriptive for the Dolphins' defense in 2016, no?
The New York Giants' biggest flaw was their over spending on defense. At best, their panic buying may have satiated a fan base left screaming after a dismal 2015 season. In a rush to cobble together a Denver-esk defensive model to help an offense with promise, they've pinned their hopes on Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins to fill in the gaps. I wonder if they realize neither of these players were even the best at their positions on the teams they left? Money doesn't make a #2, into a #1. It never has, and it never will...
The teams who shined in free agency? Near the top of my list are the New England Patriots. They snagged draft day capital - a second round pick from the Cardinals -, and a former first round pick - OG, Jonathan Cooper - in a trade with Arizona. While Cooper hasn't lived up to his 2014 hype thus far, I think he'll flourish in the Patriots' system. Bill Belichick's quest to find another tight end to compliment "The Gronk" may have happened, when they signed Chicago's Martellus Bennett. But the two signing-s that are going to pay the biggest dividends are former Buffalo's WR Chris Hogan, and the Rams' Chris Long. Hogan gives Tom Brady a Rodgers-Jordy Nelson-esk look. Chris Long will be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year, as he brings his work ethic and passion for the game to New England. They won't miss pass rushing specialist Chandler Jones, who went to Arizona in the trade...
Kudos to Minnesota, for building an impressive offensive line, at least on paper? Arizona did a decent job in free agency too, but I give the Oakland Raiders the win in this year's free agency spending fur-ball. Signing Seattle's Bruce Irvin has a "boom or bust" factor to it, but not a big one. Khalil Mack needs a guy on the other side of the line to take heat off, and Irvin has the skill set to do just that, and more. Adding Sean Smith to the secondary was pure win-win for both sides. The Raiders added excellent offensive line help with Kelechi Osemele, and veteran Donald Penn.
Have a great weekend, and look into Turf Show Times tomorrow. I have a special piece that may mean more to me than others. Yet, it's a milestone for me, personally, so I hope you'll give it a read... Until then, be sure to follow me in the Twitter-sphere: @thenovelroad