While there are any number of NFL teams still very much alive in the 2015 playoff hunt, there are a good dozen or so teams that are already looking ahead to the 2016 NFL season, and another half dozen who are a loss next week away from being in the same boat.
With so much football (ergo draft position) still to be played and, er, decided, it’s largely impossible to speculate upon whom may be available when your hometown Lions (or Browns, or Chargers, or Cowboys, etc.) step up to make their pick. For that matter, it’s still unsettled which players may rise or fall in terms of draft ranking, but it’s quite easy to offer up an analysis of which positions are strong in this year’s draft, and which are a bit thin.
And that can tell you a lot about whether your team is having a bad year at a good time (just ask, for example, the Colts, who landed Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with #1 overall picks when they were precisely in need of a quarterback).
First, let’s take a look at which positions are particularly well stocked in the upcoming draft. One that jumps out almost immediately is defensive backfield. Although time will tell if the position winds up being all that deep in this year’s draft, it is decidedly top heavy, with both Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III and Florida State S Jalen Ramsey grading out as top 10 prospects. In the last 10 drafts, only 3 times have 2 defensive backs been picked in the top 10, so for teams with a need at that position, this could be a relatively infrequent opportunity.
Another position to take a look at is offensive tackle. While good tackles are always in demand in the NFL draft, this year seems to have a significant number of teams who will be picking top 10 and who will be looking at tackles specifically. Don’t be surprised to see the good ones all go early. The good news is that there’s no shortage of them this year, with at least three grading out as top 10 and a few more figuring to be top 20.
Two skill positions, quarterback and running back, while not necessarily showing elite prospects (there’s no Andrew Luck in this year’s draft), are both fairly deep in terms of first round quality potential picks. I see a good 3-4 quarterbacks who are worth taking early for teams that need them, and the running back position, which has been getting short shrift in recent drafts, should generate some real buzz in the first round this year, with the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and Derrick Henry both being potential early picks.
Finally, what positions are thin this year? The most notable seems to be wide receiver. That may be a function of literally all of the good ones having already been gone, but there is no Odell Beckham or Amari Cooper in this year’s draft, and don’t expect to see any receivers get taken before pick 20 or later, and possibly no picks at all in the first round, something that seems unthinkable. Similarly, there are no real standouts at linebacker this year, and although the position may wind up having some depth to it, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the linebackers go in Rounds 2 and 3, but not earlier.
One final note: As always, a high degree of risk seems to attach to the defensive end position, and this year does not appear to be any different. There are a half dozen defensive ends who could go in the first round, but other than Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, I’d be cautious about taking any of them too high.
For those whose teams have already resigned themselves to hoping for a successful offseason, I hope this offers a little holiday hope as the season winds down.