News & Analysis

2016 NFL draft: Pick-by-pick grades and analysis of Round 1

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: A view inside of the Roosevelt Auditorium Theatre prior to the start of the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

The next generation of NFL talent will find their new teams tonight. Steve Palazzolo will be here to grade every first-round pick in real time, breaking down the selection with unique analysis on every prospect using PFF data.

Be sure to check back and stay tuned as soon as the Los Angeles Rams are on the clock.

1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff | Grade: A

As expected, Jared Goff is the No. 1 pick in the draft, and rightfully so. The Los Angeles Rams made a splash by moving from No. 15 to No. 1 in the draft to secure their quarterback of the future.

Our top-graded FBS quarterback is the best in the draft, and he excels in a number of key areas that translate at the next level. He’s excellent under pressure, handling the blitz and he has the quick mind to work through progressions to find the open receiver. Goff elevated a subpar Cal team in a difficult Pac-12, and while QB Carson Wentz has the more enticing physical tools, Goff is the right pick for the Rams. At only 21 years old, Goff continues to fill out physically and his three-year development is a good sign for Los Angeles as they move out west with their new franchise quarterback.

2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz | Grade: A-

Making a power move of their own, the Philadelphia Eagles are looking to find their quarterback as well and they’ve gone all-in on North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Even with Sam Bradford re-signing and the signing of Chase Daniel, the Eagles felt that Wentz was worth trading a plethora of future picks.

Wentz graded as well as any quarterback in the class, though he did it at the FCS level with a strong supporting cast. He throws a beautiful deep out and comeback route, showing off his great velocity. With his big arm, he can develop in a vertical passing system that features his ability to make big throws in the 15-25 yard range, picking up big chunks at a time. There are a few concerns to his game – timing in the passing game, not going through progressions and deep accuracy – but the overall tools were too much to pass up for the Eagles. Wentz is going to a good situation with a coaching staff that has developed many different styles of quarterback, so if any staff can get the most out of his ability, it’s this group in Philadelphia.

3. San Diego Chargers: Joey Bosa | Grade: A

There was little hype surrounding Bosa and the Chargers, but San Diego nets the top player on our draft board. He’s a classic 4-3 defensive end, but he’ll play 3-4 outside linebacker for the Chargers. He’s been our top-graded edge defender the last two seasons, posting the top grade against the run and topping the pass rush rankings in 2015. He doesn’t have the look of some of the other top edge rushers in the league, but he wins with his hands and can be a disruptive presence on the edge. The Chargers are now suddenly loaded at outside linebacker with Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu on the edge — two of the only bright spots in a poor defensive front last season.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott | Grade: C+

The rumors were heavy in Dallas all draft season, linking them to almost all of the top players, but they went the safe route with the best all-around running back in the draft. With one of the league’s best offensive lines, they’re looking to re-establish the running game with Elliott who can run in any scheme while showing good hands out of the backfield and pass protecting better than any back in the nation (one pressure surrendered on 102 pass blocking attempts).

He’s always moving forward through contact and given his ability in the passing game, Elliott is a three-down option for the Cowboys. However, given the value of the running back position around the league and CB Jalen Ramsey on the board, they may have passed up a home-run defensive chess piece for their defense.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey | Grade: A

The Jaguars sprinted to the podium to take Ramsey who continues the defensive overhaul in Jacksonville. He’s a defensive chess piece, capable of playing in the slot, on the outside or even free safety — all roles he played during his college career. If he plays in the slot in Jacksonville’s scheme, he brings linebacker-like ability against the run (top grade among all cornerbacks), and his range and athleticism make him perfect for their zone scheme.

However, ultimately the goal will be to develop Ramsey on the outside where he only has one year of experience, but he has the potential to become one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Our top-graded overall corner in 2015 is a great pick for the Jaguars with a high floor of a versatile slot defender and a ceiling of a top-5 outside corner.

6. Baltimore Ravens: Ronnie Stanley | Grade: B-

There had been rumors about Stanley being a top-10 pick, and our No. 16 player on the PFF Draft Board goes No. 6 overall. He’s an excellent pass protector, moving smoothly and rarely getting beaten cleanly. The problem with Stanley’s game is his run blocking where he doesn’t play with great power, but Baltimore’s outside zone scheme is a good fit for his movement skills. Throughout the draft process, we expected to see Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil become the first tackle off the board, but various off-field issues may have dropped him lower than expected. On the field, Tunsil is a better all-around player, but Baltimore went with the safer option in Stanley. Baltimore may release current left tackle Eugene Monroe, but if he comes back, expect Stanley to start on the right where Ricky Wagner struggled last year. While Stanley is a solid player, Baltimore may regret leaving Oregon’s DeForest Buckner on the board.

7. San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner | Grade: A+

A perfect fit for the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, DeForest Buckner reunites in San Francisco with former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead. Buckner was our top-graded interior defensive lineman in 2015, leading the nation with a +43.8 pass rush grade and ranking eighth against the run at +29.8. Perhaps just as impressive, he led the nation with 951 snaps and still kept up his incredible production. Buckner’s a disruptive presence, capable of pushing the pocket, winning with his hands and adding excellent range in the run game to make plays. Buckner is the No. 2 player on the PFF Draft Board and the 49ers got a steal at No. 7 overall.

8. Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin | Grade: B-

(Pick acquired in trade with Cleveland Browns) 

In an eventful draft process for the Tennessee Titans, they move from No. 1 to No. 15 then back up to No. 8 and take Conklin to shore up their right tackle spot opposite Taylor Lewan. They had been rumored to want Laremy Tunsil throughout the process, but off-field concerns may have forced their hand to go with Conklin. He was our No.3 overall offensive tackle in the nation in 2015 and it’s his run blocking (fourth in nation each of last two years) that separates him from other offensive tackles in the class. He’s a crushing run blocker, fit best for a power blocking scheme and he’ll immediately bring that edge to the Titans’ running game. We’re getting to the point where the talent difference in players in shrinking and Conklin is a solid pick for Tennessee.

9. Chicago Bears: Leonard Floyd | Grade: B+

(Pick acquired in trade with Tampa Bay Buccaneers) 

The Bears traded up to get a versatile edge defender in Leonard Floyd. He’s been a hot name in recent weeks as his long frame, athleticism and on-field production had both 3-4 and 4-3 teams intrigued. Perhaps most impressive about Floyd is his transition to a more traditional linebacker role last year as he took to it quickly and added even more value to his game.

Ultimately, he will be judged on his ability to rush the passer, and he ranked fifth in the class with a +28.9 rush grade last year. He also ranked fifth against the run at +18.4, so that all-around game and positional versatility will make him a key cog in Chicago’s defensive resurgence.

10. New York Giants: Eli Apple | Grade: C-

In a major surprise, the Giants take Eli Apple and bypass better options at cornerback. Apple is an excellent man coverage corner, capable of locking onto his man as well as any player in the draft, but he doesn’t have the same versatility to play zone and make plays in space (nine missed tackles last season). Even when he’s locked into man coverage, Apple struggles to find the football and make plays, something he has to improve at the next level. If the Giants play more man coverage – they only played pure man coverage 30.4 percent of the time last year, 21st in the league – Apple is a good fit, but if they continue playing more zone-heavy concepts, his issues closing on the ball will be accentuated.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves | Grade: A-

(Pick acquired in trade with Chicago Bears) 

We had mocked Hargreaves to the Bucs multiple times throughout the process, and they move back and still get their guy. No cornerback moves as smoothly as Hargreaves who posted our No. 2 coverage grade in 2014 and despite a step back in 2015, he’s the most scheme-diverse cornerback in the draft outside of Ramsey. Hargreaves is outstanding when playing in “off” coverage, capable of closing on the ball and he features some of the best ball skills in the draft. He can get into trouble at times biting on double moves, but the aggressiveness and closing skills are a great fit for Tampa Bay’s zone-heavy scheme.

12. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Rankins | Grade: A

We expected defense to be a focal point for the Saints and they take one of the best interior defensive linemen in the draft in Rankins. He’s versatile enough to play all over the defensive front, whether heads up on offensive linemen or shooting gaps to disrupt the backfield. He posted the No. 3 overall grade in the nation in 2014, behind Henry Anderson and Grady Jarrett, and he was one of the best in the nation in 2015 as well before he slowed down late in the season. Rankins is next in the line of “undersized” defensive tackles that will produce at the next level and he adds a much-needed disruptive presence to the Saints’ defensive front.

13. Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil | Grade: A

The story of the draft, Tunsil finally comes off the board and Miami gets the top offensive tackle in the draft. The last-minute video of Tunsil that took him off some team boards ends up working in Miami’s favor, though they do inherit the risk that most teams were wary of even before the last-minute shenanigans.

Tunsil has all of the tools to be one of the best tackles in the league as he’s smooth in pass protection (only five pressures surrendered last season) and an explosive run blocker capable of moving defenders at the line of scrimmage or climbing to the second level to find linebackers. Perhaps even more impressive about Tunsil’s work last year was the slate of pass rushers he turned away week after week in the SEC and in the bowl game against potential first-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah. When it’s all said and done, the Dolphins will either get burned, or they will have found the steal of the draft — and without speculating about off-field issues, we’ll lean that they got a steal.

14. Oakland Raiders: Karl Joseph | Grade: B+

Another surprise, the Raiders take the top safety on the board in Karl Joseph, our No. 30 overall player. Even though he’s rated that low, it’s still a good move given the rest of the safety options in this draft. Joseph’s early 2015 was incredible, as he made plays on the ball in every type of coverage – single-high, two-high, in the box, man coverage – and showed that he can play all over the field. He’s more known for his work against the run as a box defender, but that 240-snap sample before he got hurt showed that Joseph is the most versatile safety in the draft. There are concerns about his open-field tackling as he had 17 in 2014, but if he continues to clean that up, he’s a great addition to the Oakland secondary.

15. Cleveland Browns: Corey Coleman | Grade: A

(Pick acquired in trade with Tennessee Titans) 

Our top receiver is off the board as Corey Coleman goes to Cleveland. He’s dynamic both before and after the catch, capable of separating as well as any receiver in the draft and then taking it to the house after he catches it. Coleman posted a ridiculous 4.88 yards per route (best in the nation) before a poor quarterback situation hurt his production. His 10 drops are cause for some concern, but not nearly enough to offset what he brings to the table as both a short and deep threat. Even with his limited experience running a number of routes in Baylor’s offense, Coleman has all of the skills to separate on any type of route once he transitions to the NFL.

16. Detroit Lions: Taylor Decker | Grade: D+

Decker is not among the elite tackles in this draft as he does his best work in the running game, but he’s questionable in pass protection. He finished with the No. 22 overall grade in the draft class, but more importantly, his +1.6 pass blocking grade ranked 37th and it’s cause for concern for a first-round offensive tackle. He certainly has the frame and length to develop, but it’s a huge risk in the middle of the first round for a player we saw as more of a late second-round prospect. As a power run blocker, Decker is strong, creating movement at the point of attack and fitting well into a power scheme. Ultimately, he has to make major strides in pass protection to warrant the first-round selection.

17. Atlanta Falcons: Keanu Neal | Grade: D

Another questionable pick, Neal is a powerful box safety, but he is merely a projection at this point. His -3.0 overall grade ranked 93rd in the nation and his 16 missed tackles were too much for a player that didn’t make enough plays in the run or pass game. Neal is a big hitter, capable of working downhill and imposing his will, but the number of missed plays is still concerning. In Atlanta’s scheme, he’ll likely play strong safety and they’ll hope he can play the Kam-Chancellor role in their defense. At this point, however, this pick looks like the yearly first-round reach on a box safety that has infiltrated the league in recent years.

18. Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Kelly | Grade: B

The offensive line has taken a lot of heat in Indianapolis, but they grab the top center on the board in Kelly. Kelly gave up only 11 hurries on the season. He’s strong in the run game, playing with good balance both at the point of attack and at the second level. Every offensive line coach that we talked to this offseason raved about Kelly’s ability, both on and off the field. He’s a great fit for the Colts’ power run scheme and he’ll go a long way toward shoring up what has been a poor center position the last few years.

19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson | Grade: A-

With Mario Williams moving on, Lawson steps in as the power defensive end/outside linebacker in the Bills’ scheme. He’s strong against the run – second in the nation behind Bosa – and his +25.9 pass rush grade ranked ninth. Lawson had a breakout season after a strong showing in limited time in 2014 on a loaded Clemson defense. For the Bills, he’ll play opposite DE/OLB Jerry Hughes, adding a formidable presence off the edge to complement their stout strong interior defensive linemen, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus.

20. New York Jets: Darron Lee | Grade: C-

The Jets go with the athletic Lee who flies around the field, but still has work to do to become the coveted “3-down linebacker.” His athleticism does not translate directly to his coverage as he ranked 73rd among linebackers in 2015 after posting a negative grade in 2014. Lee can make plays against the run, using his speed to get to the ball when unblocked, but he’s not special enough in this area to warrant the first-round pick. His best work comes as a blitzer as he can defeat blocks and his +8.2 rush grade was among the best in the nation last year. Ultimately, for Lee to live up to his draft spot, he must get better in coverage.

21. Houston Texans: Will Fuller | Grade: C

(Pick acquired in trade with Washington Redskins)

The Texans go with the best speed receiver in the draft in Will Fuller to add a weapon for QB Brock Osweiler and complement the overall game of DeAndre Hopkins on the other side. Fuller’s 4.32 speed shows up on tape as he constantly gets behind the defense, and he has a second gear that few receivers possess. He’s also good at running the vertical route tree (curls, comebacks), but he doesn’t have the well-rounded game of the other receivers in this draft. Throw in his questionable hands (116th and 113th in drop rate the last two years) and there’s a lot of boom-or-bust to Fuller’s game, which is why we listed him as a buyer beware prospect. Still, his 707 yards on deep passes (third in nation) were too much to pass up for Houston and they’ll use him to stretch the field opposite Hopkins.

22. Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson | Grade: A

(Pick acquired in trade with Houston Texans)

After moving back a spot, Washington gets one of the draft’s best receivers in Doctson, whose +28.9 receiving grade led the nation in 2015. Doctson has incredible body control, making downfield catches over defenders with regularity and separating well in the intermediate game. TCU quarterbacks had a passer rating of 149.2 when targeting Doctson last year — the best in the nation — and he ranked third in the country with 17 catches on deep passes (20+ yards in air). His ball skills will give him a chance to become the most productive deep threat in the draft, even better than the faster Fuller. Doctson’s catch radius will make Redskins QB Kirk Cousins look even better and he adds yet another dimension to an already well-rounded passing game.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell | Grade: C+

Receivers are flying off the board as the Vikings add a physical outside presence in Treadwell. He’s a solid late-round pick (+19.8 receiving grade ranked 13th in the draft class), capable of winning in the short game (slants) and adding a red-zone presence with his size. The problem with Treadwell is creating separation at the intermediate and deep level, right where offensive coordinator Norv Turner is trying to get the ball. In addition to not separating well, his pairing with QB Teddy Bridgewater is not ideal as Bridgewater is hesitant to throw into tight windows and that marriage may not play to Treadwell’s skillset.

Even when playing in the contested game, Treadwell is not as exceptional as scouting reports may indicate. Overall, he’s a solid possession receiver, but the pairing with the Vikings and Bridgewater may not be a good one unless the offense turns to a more quick-hitting passing game that takes advantage of both Bridgewater and Treadwell’s skillsets.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: William Jackson III | Grade: A

An excellent pick by the Bengals, we may be talking about William Jackson as the best pure cornerback in the draft a few years from now. He’s intriguing because his +17.3 coverage grade ranked second in the nation, but he still has room to improve his technique both in press coverage and in zone. Throw in his 6-foot frame, sub-4.4 speed and excellent movement skills and Jackson has all of the tools to improve on his already-impressive production. Jackson flashes the downfield ball skills to become a playmaker in both a man or zone scheme and the Bengals may have gotten one of the steals of the draft.

 25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Artie Burns | Grade: D

In a mismatch of skillsets and scheme, the Steelers take Burns with the hope that they can develop his 6-foot plus frame into a dependable player. The problem here, much like the Apple pick to the Giants, is that the Steelers played more zone coverage than any team in the league last year and that’s where Burns has his struggles. His +2.8 coverage grade ranked 42nd in the draft class, and though he does show skills as a man coverage cornerback, but his overall game remains raw. If Pittsburgh plans on altering their scheme to play more man coverage, this pick makes more sense, but at this point, it’s an example of a cornerback’s size and speed moving him up a draft board at the expense of his on-field play.

26. Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch | Grade: B

(Pick acquired in trade with Seattle Seahawks)

The Broncos came into the draft in desperation mode at the quarterback position and they made the move to get their guy in Lynch. He was our top-graded QB when rolling out — a key part of head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense —  and he’s continued to progress every year since he was a freshman. His +30.5 overall grade ranked seventh in the draft class and there are certainly things to like about his game. His 70.3 percent accuracy percentage when pressured led the class, and he did a nice job of taking care of the ball in the passing game.

The questions Lynch has to answer surround his ability to play from the pocket and get through his progressions on a snap-to-snap basis. The Memphis offense featured a lot of screens and he only threw three passes beyond 40 yards in the air (though he completed two of them). Lynch has flashed many of the necessary skills to be a good NFL quarterback, but it’s all about doing them more consistently at this point. Colleague Sam Monson penned a thorough breakdown of the signal-caller here.

27. Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark | Grade: C+

Often overlooked in a deep defensive line class, Clark is a strong run defender that can push the pocket with the best bull rush in the draft. There’s not a clean fit along the defensive line for Clark, but he’ll likely play defensive end in their 3-4 scheme while dabbling inside at nose tackle. He’s not a pure nose, as he wins in the running game by reading blocks and getting up and down the line of scrimmage, and he sometimes struggles with power at the point of attack.

Clark finished at +43.9 overall — good for 12th in the loaded class — and finishing fifth in the nation with 34 run stops. His excellent run game instincts will give him an early-down role, though he has to develop more than just a bull rush as a pass rusher, as he rarely wins with speed either to the outside or inside of blockers.

28. San Francisco 49ers: Joshua Garnett | Grade: C+

(Pick acquired in trade with Kansas City Chiefs) 

The top run-blocking guard in the class, Garnett is the best run blocker on the move and he will crush opponents at the point of attack. Coming out of Stanford’s power/gap scheme, he pulled quite a bit and he’s excellent at blocking through targets while on the move. It’s an interesting fit for the 49ers and new head coach Chip Kelly (who likes to run more zone concepts), but Garnett will still have plenty of opportunities to block on the move, but also move defensive tackles on their inside zone concepts. Pass protection is an issue at times – he ranked 26th in the draft class at +2.8 – but Garnett’s run blocking was too much to pass up for San Francisco.

29. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche | Grade: B-

A former top recruit, Nkemdiche is one of the best interior pass rushers in the class (+23.4 ranks ninth) and his quick burst and power are tough to handle for opposing guards. Some of Nkemdiche’s struggles come in the running game — particularly when he’s playing on the interior — as he can get pushed off the point of attack against more powerful linemen. There are also times his explosiveness can disrupt in the running game, and there are ways to hide his deficiencies in the run game to maximize his down-to-down production. This pick will be remembered by how well Nkemdiche rushes the passer — if he can learn how to keep his balance and finish better, he’ll be a disruptive force in the middle of Arizona’s defense.

30. Carolina Panthers: Vernon Butler | Grade: B

Carolina has been strong on the defensive line the last few years and they continue to replenish their depth with Butler. He’s a versatile interior lineman that can play multiple positions for Carolina with perhaps his best fit being at nose tackle in nickel situations. His strong hand usage led to a +32.1 run stop grade that ranks fifth in the class, and like Kenny Clark, he can push the pocket with a strong bull rush. With Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei entrenched as starters at defensive tackle, Butler represents an immediate backup for both players and a nickel pass rusher.

31. Seattle Seahawks: Germain Ifedi | Grade: D

(Pick acquired in trade with Denver Broncos)

Many experts expected the Seahawks to address their offensive line and Ifedi will step into one of their offensive tackle spots. His awkward technique led to some ugly plays and a -1.9 pass block grade that ranks 67th in the draft class, as he gave up five sacks, three QB hits and 18 hurries. He was much better in the run game at +7.8 (23rd in the class), but there’s a lot of work to do before he becomes a worthwhile first-round pick. Seattle is banking on his athleticism shining through as he develops, but there are parts of his game — particularly in pass protection — that need to be overhauled.


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