News & Analysis

The 16 best picks in the 2016 NFL draft

Now that the dust has settled following the 2016 NFL draft, it's time to look back at which picks stood out. A number of elements can lead to a selection being deemed the “best” — team needs, fits, and value of the player at their given selection. Here are the 16 best from this past weekend:

1. Jonathan Bullard, DE, Chicago Bears

To find a defensive lineman with Bullard’s upside in the third round is ridiculous value. However, Bullard isn’t even a high-risk, high-reward type player. His run-stopping ability will most certainly translate to the NFL after he led all of college with a +51.5 run defense grade a year ago. It’s a question of whether his athleticism will ever begin to translate as a pass rusher after he posted the 68th-best pass rushing grade in the FBS last year.

2. Cody Whitehair, OG, Chicago Bears

Whitehair is another college tackle that will almost certainly slide inside because of length concerns. He was the cleanest college tackle in the nation a year ago, leading all of the FBS in grading. His positioning and technique are already at the level of a seasoned NFL veteran and if he can put a bit more strength on his frame, Whitehair has the potential to be a top-5 interior lineman.

3. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

As far as raw talent goes, Jones may have more than any other defensive lineman in the draft class. He posted a +32.5 pass rushing grade against Power-5 competition, which was higher than even DeForest Buckner, who was drafted inside the top 10. He’ll immediately add some juice to the Chiefs pass rush and has the height (6-6) and length (34 ½-inch arms) to play the run on early downs.

4. Joe Thuney, T/G, New England Patriots

Thuney is a guy we’ve banged the table for at PFF a ton in the draft process. He doesn’t always “look the part,” but he produced at an elite level at tackle and guard the past two seasons. He was the fifth-highest graded tackle in the country last season and the 19th-highest graded guard the year before. Thuney is also one of the best athletes among all offensive linemen in the draft and offers the ability to come in and start right away.

5. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota got a first-round talent, and arguably the best man corner in the class, all the way at the bottom half of the second round — and it was all because of size concerns. It wasn’t necessarily a need and he’ll be behind a couple other first-rounders, but you need three cornerbacks to succeed in the NFL today. Alexander shadowed opposing receivers at times and even with that difficult assignment he only allowed 19 catches on 57 targets in 14 games last year.

6. DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers

The iron man in college football a year ago, Buckner was the No. 2 player on our draft board and the 49ers got him all the way at No. 7. Buckner will likely play much the same role in the NFL as he did at Oregon and it’s a role that he is absolutely perfect for. He led all defensive players with a +69.4 grade a year ago and had two separate games where he played over 100 snaps. Pairing his size and athleticism with former Ducks’ teammate Arik Armstead will be a nightmare for opposing offenses.

7. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

This one is not so much about value, as Ramsey was our No. 3 overall player and the Jags got him at No. 5. It’s more the fact that Ramsey is an ideal scheme and need fit. Ramsey has the length and feel for zone coverage that is absolutely ideal for Gus Bradley’s cover-3 defense. He’s the type of player that has been missing in Jacksonville ever since Bradley took over as coach and Ramsey could completely transform their defense.

8. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns

If Coleman was four inches taller, he would have been talked about as a possibility for the Browns back when they were sitting with the No. 2-overall pick. As it stands though, the Browns got the most dynamic receiving threat in the class and also collected a boatload of extra picks in the process. Coleman averaged a ridiculous 4.88 yards per route run before losing his starting quarterback. The only knock outside his height is Coleman’s 10 drops from a year ago, but it was more a concentration issue than a ball-skills one.

9. Andrew Billings, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

Getting a 20-year-old freak-of-nature that can actually provide some pass rush from the nose tackle position all the way in the fourth round was ludicrous. From a technique standpoint, Billings is still extremely raw so he may not contribute much right away. But this is a guy who broke Texas state lifting records back in high school and at times he treated offensive lineman like another rep on the squat rack. His last two years of grading put him among the top-5 for interior players in this draft class.

10. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins

We’ve described Corey Coleman and Josh Doctson as 1a and 1b in this draft class, so if Coleman at 15 was a steal then Doctson at 22 is definitely one as well. There was no better receiver in our charting at contested catches in college football last year and his adjustments to poorly thrown passes from Trevone Boykin were a sight to behold. He had the highest receiving grade in the country despite only playing 10 games last season.

11. Scooby Wright III, LB, Cleveland Browns

Wright has some serious athletic limitations, but if there is one position where you can get away with being a bad athlete it’s at inside linebacker. As a true sophomore he was second overall in our linebacker grading and after missing most of his junior year, Wright returned for their bowl game to collect an obscene 12 stops. He’ll likely only be a two-down player at the next level, but no one in the class is quicker with their run-reads than Wright.

12. Joe Schobert, LB, Cleveland Browns

One of the “sleepers” of this draft class, Schobert just never seemed to be blocked cleanly last season at Wisconsin. His balance, hand usage, and agility are all absolutely top notch, but his size kept him out of the early rounds. A switch to inside linebacker could be in the works and if that’s the case, he’ll immediately be a devastating blitzing threat for the Browns. Last season he led all edge players with a 22.7 pass rushing productivity.

13. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants

After a number of one-dimensional backs came off the board in the mid-rounds, Perkins had to wait all the way until the fifth round to hear his name called. No running back in the class is shiftier than the UCLA product and it bears out in the data. He led the entire country in elusive rating (114.7) and was fifth in tackles broken despite having only the 26th most carries nationally. He may not have the size to pound the rock 20+ times a game, but he’ll be extremely productive in a platoon role.

14. Jerell Adams, TE, New York Giants

Adams is one of two tight ends in this class that we saw as legitimate blocking and receiving threats (Hunter Henry being the other). Among Power-5 tight ends in the draft class, Adams had the highest run blocking grade and the fastest 40-time at the combine. He wasn’t utilized as a receiving threat much at South Carolina, but he when was he was superb. On only 28 catches, Adams broke 10 tackles.

15. Will Parks, S, Denver Broncos

Another versatile piece to add to a loaded Broncos secondary. Parks was our highest-graded cornerback in college football in 2014 after he dominated in a slot role for Arizona. Last season he lined up all over the Wildcats defense while adding more snaps at deep safety and graded out similarly well. He doesn’t check the athletic boxes, but for a sixth-round pick, the Broncos got a heck of a football player.

16. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

Hands down the top quarterback in this draft class, Goff is a legit franchise quarterback. He was easily the highest-graded Power-5 quarterback last season, and graded out higher than either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. If Goff possessed the frame (and hand size) of those two, people would be talking about the Cal quarterback in a much more favorable light. The Rams got a good one.

Cris Collinsworth

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