Joel Klatt’s Big Board is here: Top 50 for 2016 NFL Draft

As we get started in the 2016 NFL Draft process, I am struck by how many quality players are available. 

What makes this process so difficult? Rarely do you see a player that is truly independent of needing the right NFL fit.

Every year we see rookies that are drafted late in the draft make rosters and make an impact mostly because they strike the lottery and get with an organization that is a perfect fit for them.

That said, here is my first Big Board, ranking the top 50 players. I am sure this will change a bit during the process, but what I love about this version more than others is that it is purely based on what I see from these players on the field and around their college programs.

These rankings are not inflated because someone runs fast or jumps high in a pair of shorts. So here we go!

The NFL Draft will be held April 28-30 in Chicago.

Laremy Tunsil*
It’s not often that an OT comes along and is considered the best overall prospect in the draft. But that is exactly what Tunsil is in 2016. Ideal size and athleticism to play on the left side with very quick and powerful hands upon initial contact. He had to deal with some injury issues over the last few years, but he came back to play very well in the back half of the 2015 season. His best trait is his footwork in pass protection, and that is a rarity in today’s CFB offensive linemen. Tunsil has the ability to be an All-Pro player fairly early in his career.

Jalen Ramsey*
Highly recruited out of high school, Ramsey did not disappoint once he got to FSU. With the versatility of today’s offenses it is imperative that defenders have the ability to do several things at an elite level and that is exactly what Ramsey can do. He is smooth and demonstrates great ball skills as a corner both on the outside and in the slot while he is aggressive and instinctive as a safety, as well. Was a track athlete and that explosiveness carries over to the football field. He will likely be a big winner at the combine and then translate that success into on-field productivity early in his NFL career
Myles Jack*
The only reason I don’t have him as the top defender, ahead of Ramsey, is that he is coming off a serious knee injury. Jack was the most versatile player in the nation over the last three seasons and his dominance in every area was staggering. He was the Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the year in 2013 and the coaches at UCLA have said his best attribute wasn’t even used as much as it could have been — his 1-on-1 coverage ability. As a linebacker he followed Nelson Agholor around the field in 2014 when UCLA faced USC, holding Agholor to three catches (tied for his fewest that season) and 24 yards (his lowest total that season) — in a season in which Agholor caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards. Needless to say Jack can do it all and has the type of ability that could result in an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Carson Wentz
I love everything about Carson Wentz! He has tremendous size and also is very athletic. His system at North Dakota State was a pro-style system which will help him immensely as he gets acclimated to the NFL. He is a sturdy mover in the pocket and keeps his eyes down field while also moving through his progressions. Showed terrific leadership ability and presence at the Senior Bowl with players from much bigger programs around him. He anticipates throws very well in the intermediate zones and showed the ability to make all of the types of throws necessary to succeed at the next level. He is the most NFL-ready QB available in the draft.

Jared Goff*
Goff is a beautiful player and plays the QB position with an ease and grace that is extremely uncommon. He showed the ability to build his frame from his freshman year to his junior season, but that will need to continue as he is a bit slight at this stage. He has tremendous footwork and is a terrific worker in the classroom. His WRs at Cal ran very clean and precise routes which tells me he has great leadership ability and he also holds the standard of the offense at a high level, which is what all great QBs do. There is not a better pure passer in the draft, but because of his frame and lack of elite arm strength it will be very important that he finds the right fit in the NFL. If he could land in a warm-weather city or a dome it would be advantageous.
Joey Bosa*
Bosa is without a doubt the best DE in the draft as he can play well against the run and he has the ability to get to the passer with regularity. He tends to play with a better motor than most “pass rushers” as he is a technician against the run playing with solid leverage and above average strength. I love the way that he uses his hands and separates from blockers consistently. There is absolutely no way that Bosa falls out of the top 10 in this year’s draft. He is far too polished for teams to overlook his production.

DeForest Buckner
The 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year was a dominant force on a really bad defense this season. The fact that he was given that award in a year in which his own defense was so terrible speaks to his ability. At 6-foot-7 and around 280 pounds, he has elite size and plays with outstanding effort. I was most impressed with how he played when plays went in the opposite direction (which they almost always did) because he was a force in back side pursuit. He needs to play with better leverage when he is on the interior, but I think he is perfect to play 4-3 DE which will allow his pass rush ability to flourish.
Vernon Hargreaves*
His lack of length and height will be a problem. It has been an issue, in particular, in downfield situations. However, he is so quick and closes so well that he would be a perfect nickel corner (which is essentially a starter in today’s NFL, anyway). He has the attitude of a shutdown corner and does not lack in confidence, which helps him on the rare occasion that he does get beat. Has played well and been productive from all types of coverage and technique which suggests that he is just a quality football player with solid instincts.
Jaylon Smith*
If it weren’t for that horrific injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, Smith would be right up there with Myles Jack at the top of the list for defenders. As opposed to Jack, who hurt his knee earlier in the season, there is some uncertainty about the exact time frame for Smith’s return and availability. Smith possesses great speed and closes as well as anyone on the ball carrier. He JUMPS off the tape and, when healthy, will be perfect weakside linebacker for a 4-3 team. Highly productive player who will be an All-Pro defender very quickly in the NFL.
A’Shawn Robinson*
The potential with Robinson is off the charts. However, he is a bit of a project as he is not refined in any one area. Great size at 6-foot-4, 312 pounds and is solid against the run as it is nearly impossible to move him off the spot. Once he cleans up his technique and learns to play with lower pad level he could become dominant in the run game. He is also very athletic and has shown some ability to disrupt the passing game. So far, he has done that primarily with strength, but once he learns some secondary pass rushing skills he will terrorize QBs.
Ronnie Stanley*
With solid feet and really polished handwork (with long arms) Stanley is excellent in pass protection. In the run game he is decent but not overly dominant; however he shows stickiness once connected to the defender. He seems comfortable in space and will likely be able to play right tackle or left tackle immediately.
Reggie Ragland
A throwback style of linebacker in the run game is hard to find in modern college football, but that is exactly what Ragland is. However, he also has solid range and top-end speed, but he is not overly quick. He has tremendous ability to diagnose and fill in the run game, and possesses great strength and tackling ability upon contact with the ball carrier. He will likely struggle with NFL running backs in space while in coverage and could be more of a normal-down player initially in his career.
Laquon Treadwell*
Instincts and wide-receiver knowledge over flash and top-end speed here. Treadwell has good size and understands how to get open while displaying a unique ability to win the 50/50 ball. Suffered that horrendous injury in 2014 and came back to have a really good year in 2015, showing he has the ability to overcome obstacles. You will likely hear about his lack of top-end speed at the combine, but this guy can play and will likely be the best WR out of this class.
Jarran Reed
There was a reason that Alabama was the best run defense in the entire country last season, giving up only 75 yards per game. That reason, among others, was Jarran Reed. He showed all season, and then again at the Senior Bowl, that it is nearly impossible to move him in the run game. However, he is not just a large run stuffer that would fit well in the 3-4 defense, as he also shows the ability to push the pocket from the middle against the pass. I love Reed’s upside in the NFL.
Sheldon Rankins
Played both defensive tackle and some defensive end at Louisville, but projects more on the interior in the NFL. He is very athletic and relies more on quickness than overt strength to dominate. Had a wonderful week at the Senior Bowl and is rising up draft boards. Some teams might be scared off by his size, but at 6-foot-1 he plays much larger and generally uses his height to his own advantage with leverage at the point of attack. He is a really good football player and will have a good career.
Kevin Dodd*
While his teammates got most of the attention at Clemson, he was absolutely dominant in the College Football Playoffs. When Shaq Lawson left the semifinal game with an injury, Dodd had his best game of his career and opened up many peoples’ eyes, including mine. Has that rare ability to use his athleticism in a powerful way at the point of attack. Getting to the QB is the name of the game and Dodd can do that with regularity.
Shaq Lawson*
More of an effort producer than he is a rare athlete, but he does possess solid size and shows the ability to read and react quickly vs. the pass and the run. I really love his mentality and toughness that are on display constantly while he plays. He is closer to his ceiling than Dodd is so he falls one spot behind his Tiger teammate. However, his ability will translate in the NFL.
Corey Coleman*
When I watch Coleman play I immediately think of Steve Smith. He is not very big and yet plays with a violent disposition, in particular after the catch. He was asked to do very little at Baylor, but that shouldn’t hurt his stock because everything that he was asked to do he excelled at. For a smaller wide receiver (5 feet 11) he is deadly down the field, which is one of the reasons I immediately thought of Smith. Also, he is extremely explosive which translates to his speed and ability to play in the air. Has to learn the game from a system point of view, but he should succeed early in his career.
Mackensie Alexander*
What he lacks in prototypical height he makes up for with raw coverage ability. He is very good in man coverage and was challenged very few times in college. Like most college cornerbacks, he has to develop better technique and early in his career may need to be protected a bit while he develops that. However, this guy will likely be one of the better corners in the NFL in 2-3 years. Will not lack in confidence, either.
Kenny Clark*
One of the younger players available in the draft at 20 years old, Clark has the unique ability to dominate at times from the defensive tackle spot. He was a wrestler in high school and that type of leverage knowledge shows up on a regular basis in tight spaces. He has to get better as a pass rusher, but that is mostly technique-oriented which should come with time, because remember he won’t be 21 until this fall. His potential is endless and I am more bullish on him than others, in particular, if he can find himself with a quality coaching staff that understands development.
Jack Conklin*
This type of offensive lineman is what we are more accustomed to seeing out of college football. He is very strong in the run game and showed moments of dominance in this area. However, he is not a polished pass protector and there are concerns for me about his quickness. He fits more as a right tackle than a left tackle at the next level, and what you see is what you’re going to get. Consistent performer that won’t hurt you but is likely not a special offensive tackle like Stanley or Tunsil at the top of this draft.
Connor Cook
It has become very fashionable to bash Cook and find flaws in his game and his personality, but this guy can play the position. First off, I was right next to Archie Griffin and Cook at the infamous “Trophy Snub” and I can assure you that it did not feel as bad on the stage as it appeared on TV. People have criticized him for not being a captain at Michigan State, but that is not entirely true. The bottom line is when a QB plays as much football as Cook has played over the last three seasons it is easy to take shots and find flaws. However, he understands how to operate a pro-style system and has shown the ability to put his team on his back in big moments and win games. He has made more “Big Boy” throws in his career than ever other QB in this draft. Cook is a solid pick and it won’t shock me if he is the third quarterback taken in this draft.
Paxton Lynch*
I am a fan of Lynch, but it is very easy and en vogue to project him higher than Cook — even though it is extremely tough to evaluate him due to the spread system he played in. He will have to learn and develop NFL footwork which should be possible because of his athleticism. I love how the ball comes out of hands and his arm strength is more than adequate. Lynch would be well served to sit for a few years in the NFL and learn the game while developing pro-style fundamentals. He has solid potential, and would be best served going to a team with an established starter.
Leonard Floyd*
The thing most NFL evaluators are looking for out of an edge front-seven player is length and athleticism. Floyd possesses both of those things in abundance, and he also plays with decent strength against the run. His game is built upon speed and the concern would be how explosive he can be if he gains the 15-30 pounds that he needs to be a solid NFL front-seven, three-down contributor. He can play right away on third down off the edge in the NFL and that is a valuable asset.
Ezekiel Elliott*
It is easy to say that the RB position has been devalued in the NFL. That isn’t the reality, though, when a player has first-round ability. Elliott is a complete back who will make an impact early in his career. It is always hard to project how a “zone read” runner will translate to the NFL, but Elliott performs well regardless of run scheme with his combination of vision, power and speed. There is a lot to like about his game.
Taylor Decker
Very similar to Conklin of Michigan State, Decker will translate more to a right tackle than a left tackle because of his lack of polish in footwork required to be a great pass protector. I love his strength and mentality in the run game and his leadership ability will make him a solid pick for any franchise that needs help on the offensive line.
Eli Apple*
From 0-20 yards, Apple is an elite player with a physical mentality that is rare for an elite CB. However, he has shown some holes on tape when defending down the field which will likely scare some teams in the middle of the first round. I love his willingness to defend the run and he shows tremendous instincts in coverage in the short and intermediate zones. Teams will fall in love with his size at 6-foot-1 and more than 200 pounds.
Darron Lee*
Another Buckeye in the top 50! Now you know why they were so good for the last couple of seasons. Lee is extremely athletic and plays very quick with both his feet and mind. He reminds me of former Washington safety Shaq Thompson as he will look like a bigger safety trying to play linebacker. He is solid in the pass defense and overall his athleticism is too enticing not to give him a high rank here.
Noah Spence*
Originally attended Ohio State before being banned from the Big 10 for failing drug tests. That will obviously be a big topic concerning Spence, but he did go to treatment for his issues and transferred to Eastern Kentucky where he was dominant last season. He is in between positions due to his size, but he can likely succeed as both a 4-3 DE or a stand-up 3-4 OLB. At the end of the day, trials and obstacles that any of us can overcome make us stronger and smarter. This is the case for Spence who should have a very long and solid NFL career.
Emmanuel Ogbah*

This will likely be the classic case of a guy that doesn’t meet the eye test and can be lost at times when watching cut-ups. However, he was one of the most dominant players in the Big 12 last season and every coach that I met with would talk about the need to have a plan just for Ogbah. His production is off the charts though his technique is not very polished, which suggests that he gives tremendous effort and has natural ability. He is a remarkable kid and will be a welcomed addition to any NFL locker room.
Robert Nkemdiche*

It will be hard to overlook some of his off-field incidents that showed up at the tail end of his career at Ole Miss. He is very talented, but, at times, that is not enough to make an NFL organization overlook those transgressions. He is, both as a player and person, the exact opposite of Emmanuel Ogbah as he flashes great technique and raw athleticism, but his production lags behind. His draft slot is likely to be all over the map. Won’t surprise me if he is taken in the first 15 picks and it won’t surprise me if he falls to Round 2.
Derrick Henry*

What a season Henry had in 2016 and what an overall career to boot. I love his work ethic and raw size as an imposing Eddie George-style RB. However, he doesn’t have the shake that George had and runs much more similar to former NFL running back Chris Brown. He gets better as the game goes on and will wear a defense down. For a back nearly 250 pounds, he has good speed and should be a success in the NFL. However, I don’t think he will be the dominant player he was in college.
Andrew Billings*

Head coach Art Briles has often said that he doesn’t recruit players, he recruits freaks. That is what Billings is with his power-lifting background. His defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, also coached Aaron Donald in college and is not shy about making that comparison. However, he will say that Billings isn’t as quick as Donald. I don’t think he is the player that Donald is, but he is very good, and his strength makes him nearly immovable in the middle.
Austin Johnson*

A solid complete player in the middle of the defense for Penn State. I thought he was better vs. the run than he was as a pass rusher, but he does show the ability to disconnect upon initial contact. He is not nearly as flashy as some of the other defensive tackles on this list, but he is reliable and will be a good fit for any style of defense at the next level.
Jonathan Bullard

I love his explosiveness at the snap and he generally wins the leverage battle initially. He is not big enough to be a 3-4 player, but he is a perfect fit for a 4-3 team looking for a productive 3-technique that can flash some productivity as it relates to TFLs. I’m a fan of his effort on tape and I believe that he will be a very solid defensive tackle in the NFL once he develops a bit more size and polish.
Josh Doctson

I’m a big fan of Doctson as he plays with such an easy fluidness, in particular down the field. There was not a better player in the country in the 50/50 ball situation and his grace and elegance in these situations can be mesmerizing at times. My partner Gus Johnson told me all year that he reminded him of legendary ballerina Misty Copeland. Like Treadwell, he will not wow us with a blazing 40 time, but get him on the field and he is a beautiful assassin.
Michael Thomas*

Like Doctson and Treadwell, I think it is unlikely that we see a fast 40 time from Thomas. He is a solid and sturdy pass catcher, however. He shows good awareness, in particular in creating space for himself down the field. Not a flashy player but some QB will be happy with a big WR that will win with his frame and be reliable as a pass catcher.
Will Fuller*

Likely the best deep threat in the draft as it relates to speed and threatening the defense. However, Fuller showed inconsistent hands and he is very slight, which will show up against strong press-coverage at the next level. If he can clean up his catching ability and put on 10 lbs he could be very dangerous, able to take the top off of any defense.
Cody Whitehair

Whitehair played offensive tackle for Kansas State, but he is a prototype offensive guard in the NFL. His biggest weakness was speed, which will be nullified if you put him inside and allow him to operate where he excels — which is tight spaces. He was very consistent for Kansas State and was a team captain in 2015. This is a Day 1 starter at offensive guard and he should have a very long career. This is a very low-risk player that will not excite a fan base but will improve the team.
Vernon Butler

He has a massive frame at 320+ pounds and has extremely long arms, which is perfect for defensive tackle. I didn’t see much of Butler during the season, but once I got some tape on him he showed me a strong, athletic player that will be a solid interior player for a long time. When watching him, it is so obvious that he uses his long arms to his advantage and that should continue at the next level.
Su’a Cravens*

Another hybrid player on the defensive side, which is very valuable for the modern defense. Cravens has played both safety and linebacker at times for the Trojans, but would ideally fit in the front 7 at the next level. I list him as outside linebacker, but I don’t believe he can play in 3-4 system, because he is not strong enough at the point to be an edge player in the NFL. However, he is instinctive and can cover in space, which is highly valuable.
Kamalei Correa*

Correa is all about quickness and speed as an OLB. He uses his quickness and athleticism rather than taking on blockers so he is better in a chase position than he is when they run right at him. It is hard to rate his pass rush ability because of the competition that he played against at Boise, but he does produce mostly via effort and athleticism.
Shon Coleman*

This is the feel-good story of the entire draft. Coleman was one of the best high school players in the country when his priorities were adjusted. He was thrown into a battle — not on a football field, but for his life — in a hospital when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He underwent two and a half years of treatment, including chemotherapy, and eventually found himself back on the football field. He has excelled at Auburn. He has a great frame at 6-foot-6 and will draw comparisons to former Auburn OT Greg Robinson. He must develop as a pass protector but is ready to go as a run blocker in the NFL.
Adolphus Washington

It seems like every Buckeye is on this list, but Washington is a solid player who utilizes his strength well on the interior. He is not all that dominant in any one area, but has a consistent ability to be quality in almost every aspect of game. He did struggle with some injury things early in his career, but if those work themselves out he should be a late first- or early second-round pick
Hunter Henry*

The pass-catching TE has become such a weapon because of the mismatch that is produced and Henry falls right in line with that 6-foot-5 frame. He is fluid in the pass game and shows a rare ability to get open for a big man. He has plus hands and is an immediate weapon. He also is solid in the run game as a blocker. He possesses solid value for a team looking for their next TE.
Jeremy Cash

Cash is one of the smartest players available in this year’s draft. He started his career at Ohio State before finding his way to Duke for the academics. He is not overly athletic against the pass game and in coverage, but he is exceptional in anticipation and against the run. With some development, he could be one of the better strong safeties in the NFL. He is not the player that John Lynch was, but they possess some of the same types of attributes. Cash wins with his mind more often than not.
Shilique Calhoun

Has to win with his first step as he is not dominant with his size and strength. Calhoun is only 250 pounds and will need to get bigger and stronger to reach his potential on the edge. Against the run, he can get pushed around a bit and he doesn’t get to the QB with quite enough regularity to overlook his run game deficiency. I’m a fan of his motor and understanding of defense, plus he plays with a relentless style that is obvious and also contagious.
Braxton Miller

After making the transition from QB to WR, Miller lost nearly 15-20 pounds and it resulted in some amazing explosiveness. On a team filled with remarkable athletes, he may have been the cream of the crop. Technically, as a WR he has to develop, but he has only played the position full-time for one year. He tends to leave his feet to catch the ball and double catches more often than not. Has to learn the importance of timing as he will shake and juke too much during the route leaving his QB exposed. All of this can be corrected and his athleticism is just far too enticing.
Karl Joseph

Like Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, Joseph is coming off of a season-ending knee injury. He should be good to go fairly soon as it was a non-contact ligament injury with very little trauma. Joseph is excellent in downhill mode from his safety position and is a natural leader. His ball skills are above average and he can cover both the slot receiver and the TE. If he proves his health, he will start to rise from this position.
Joshua Perry

I feel as though it is fitting to end with another Buckeye. Perry is the eighth Ohio State player represented in my top 50 and if you include players that spent time in Columbus (Jeremy Cash and Noah Spence) that number is 10. That is 20 percent of my TOP 50. INSANE. OK, now to Perry, who is much better against the run in a downhill aggressive mode than he is in pass coverage. He is very smart and shows the consistency that GMs will like. He is the type of player that will not hurt you on the field and will be an absolute glue piece to your locker room. Perry is a no brainer in the middle of the second round.