As April 28 draws closer, rumors will be flying from reporters and insiders around the league trying to piece information together that could help form a clear picture of how the 2016 NFL draft will play out.
As those who closely follow NFL organizations begin to leak certain information about who a team may be targeting — or at least what position — some of those familiar prospects’ stock drop, and new players emerge as potential first-round candidates.
So, who are some of these players? Which guys are no longer first-round locks? Which players have gone under the radar until now?
Here are 10 players on the rise and 10 players trending in the opposite direction.
Keanu Neal, S, Florida
After Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, this safety class has been a toss up. Now, it appears that the second-best safety among the group could be Florida’s Keanu Neal. After a great showing at the NFL Combine, where he posted a 38-inch vertical jump and a 11-foot broad jump, people began to watch his tape and realized that his athleticism and explosiveness does show — and shows often. That’s something you can’t teach, and teams know it. The Falcons at No. 17 and even the Raiders at No. 14 could have their eyes on him in the first round.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Shephard fits the mold of Julian Edelman and Randall Cobb. A player like that in the right offense makes every aspect of the unit better. I think one team in the latter half of the first round will see that potential and pull the trigger.
Braxton Miller, WR/RB, Ohio State
Miller, at his best, can simply make plays as well as any player in this class. He needs some fine-tuning, if you will, but it goes back to coveting something you can’t teach other players to do. There are a few teams at the end of the draft who could take the bait, specifically Carolina.
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
In an age where teams are trying to get as many receiving threats on the field as possible to create as many mismatches as they can, Henry has a chance to be the first tight end selected, and that title could very well come along with being a first-round pick. Henry’s six-foot-five, 250-pound frame and 4.68 40-yard dash time at his pro day puts him in great position for that to happen.
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Fuller has been labeled a “one-trick pony” by many draft evaluators who claim his speed is his only true asset. Most people would assume that’s enough incentive to not take a player like him in the first round, but the thing is, that one trick is something he does very, very well. Fuller’s 4.32 40-yard dash speed cannot be overlooked, especially when stretching the field is an integral part of the game. He’s a burner, but more importantly, a scorer. A very fluid wide receiver class leaves the door open for a team like Cincinnati, Minnesota or Carolina to make Fuller its first-round deep threat.
Jeremy Cash, S/LB, Duke
Every team is searching for that next hybrid player, the one who’s going to take advantage of that “tweener” title — of being in between two positions due to size or athleticism. That’s what the Cardinals did with safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon. Cash is not on Bucannon’s level of athleticism, but he is a very intelligent football player; he recognizes plays before they happen. Football smarts count for a lot, and with good production in college, a team picking in the later part of the first round with a linebacker and safety need could kill two birds with one stone by picking Cash.
Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
A few weeks ago we might have been talking about Jenkins’ teammate Leonard Floyd as a possible first-round pick. But after gaining weight and showing up with favorable measurables, Floyd seems like a first round lock. As people went back to watch Floyd’s tape, however, I’ve noticed many have also begun to love what they see from Jordan Jenkins. Some think he’s even better than Floyd in terms of pass rush (just without the body length). If that is in fact true, the first round wouldn’t be completely out of the question, especially given how teams value pass rushers from the outside linebacker position.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Going back to the paragraph about Neal, the same theories can be applied to WVU’s Karl Joseph when referencing his increasing draft stock. If there’s no clear-cut second best safety in the class, most teams will take the most athletic guy and hope to develop him into a complete football player. Joseph isn’t a perfect prospect, but if you’re looking for a guy who can make a difference in the defensive backfield and make a hit, he’s the guy. We saw Calvin Pryor go No. 18 to the Jets in 2014. Joseph could get that same treatment.
Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
Butler is a name that may be unfamiliar, given his Louisiana Tech pedigree. Teams are well aware of what Butler can do from the nose tackle and 5-tech positions along the defensive line. With teams like Green Bay, Buffalo and Washington needing anchors in the middle, keep your eyes on Butler.
Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
Ifedi’s stock seems to be making a strong push, and that isn’t from anything new he’s doing. I think teams are backing off on players like Jack Conklin and Jason Spriggs a little more as the weeks go by, but the need for offensive linemen doesn’t just disappear. Ifedi’s a name I’ve heard some buzz around for a team like the Broncos and the Cardinals if they go that direction.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Robinson was one of the top names to know during the season, but he has really cooled down as of late. There are a number of defensive tackle prospects who are rising, and that could help explain why people are down on Robinson. But I think the main reason comes from people taking a closer look at his tape. He’s athletic for a 6-foot-4, 307-pound man, but being athletic isn’t enough; you have to be athletic in the right areas to get the most out of that kind of body. Robinson is often slow to get out of his stance, and can be late on a number of snap counts. Even though he can make up for it at times, reactions to the ball and instincts off the snap aren’t something every player can just learn — which is why teams may be wary of taking him high.
Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
Depending on who you talk to, Conklin can be anything from the third best offensive tackle in the class to the seventh or eighth. There are a number of plays where Conklin is either overpowered at the snap or isn’t able to anchor himself against stronger defenders. Team aren’t looking for projects in the first round; they want sure things. Chances are one team believes Conklin can be that, but if I’m playing the odds, I know there are other teams who don’t share that sentiment. That’s why there’s a chance he slips.
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Following the national championship game, Dodd was viewed as a better prospect than his teammate Shaq Lawson — but those beliefs may have simply been magnified by the moment. Dodd is a fine pass rusher and should be a Day 2 pick, but where any top-ten projections came from, I have no idea. Lawson has consistently been more effective and explosive off the edge in more games. Dodd’s stock is now on the first round fringe only because it was irrationally blown up to begin with. He can be a good player, but his hype has been unwarranted.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Ogbah’s production made peoples’ eyes pop, but on a consistent basis, I didn’t see that kind of production for all 60 minutes. I’m not trying to sit at my computer and say a guy should be a sack player on every snap he’s in on, but there are times when Ogbah’s effort isn’t as explosive as we know it can be. It might not affect his career at all if he gets it in gear. But when we’re talking about draft stock, teams certainly notice that stuff.
Su’a Cravens, S/LB, USC
We talked earlier about the class being fluid at the safety position beyond Jalen Ramsey. Cravens was penciled in as that second best secondary player early in the year. However, USC lined him up mostly as a linebacker, limiting his progression as a player in space. When you combine that with pedestrian athletic scores compared to Neal, Joseph or Thompson, Cravens becomes less alluring. I think he’s out of the first round.
Noah Spence, OLB/DE, Eastern Kentucky
Spence was the hot name after the Senior Bowl. During that time, draft readers saw his name as high as No. 5 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, after posting disappointing Combine numbers (I use the term “disappointing” loosely because he is who he is, we are the one who make up expectations for these guy that could be totally irrational), his hype has cooled down a lot. When you combine the range he could be selected (in the middle to late first round) with his past off-the-field issues, a slide out of the first round is possible.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg was the mock draft king going into 2015. After his freshman season, people thought this guy was going to be the next Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, you name it. But after his head coach Bill O’Brien left the Nittany Lions to take the Texans job, Hackenberg really struggled over the last two season. So much so that I don’t think he’s worth a first-round pick, heck, I don’t even think he’s worth a second or third-round pick. You can’t just be tall in the NFL to succeed at the quarterback position.
Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
This one is all about how you view linebackers. Lee is athletic as they come with blazing speed and good range in coverage. However, you can see glimpses of how he sometimes relies on that too much. His tape shows various plays where he’s a step late to react to the ball, but makes up for it with his speed. Some could call that nitpicking, but everyone is fast in the NFL. If Lee can’t improve his anticipation, he’ll be lost on too many occasions. He’s only 20 years old, and I think he’ll figure it out (I’d take him in the first round). But, if Jaylon Smith’s health checks out, and a team prefers more of a pass-rushing outside linebacker than a traditional one, who knows?
Jonathan Bullard, DT, Florida
I’ve read a lot of mock drafts and prospect rankings that say Bullard does a lot of things well but not one thing great. If the NFL agrees with this, Bullard won’t be a first round pick. Versatility can often be confused with not having something to hang your hat on. Bullard played nose tackle, defensive tackle and even a little defensive end for the Gators over the last two years, and while I’d say that’s a plus, some just label him a “tweener” and call it a day. Bullard’s a first round guy in my eyes, but my eyes also see his name absent from many first round mocks.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Most people in the draft circle would tell you Nkemdiche is a top five player in this class. So how in the world is his name on this list? Nkemdiche’s raw talent is through the roof for a man his size. Where that is a compliment, it’s a bit of a backhanded one because raw implies that he has some fine-tuning to do — which he does. If he was more of a technically sound pass rusher who showed consistency in his success rather than chaos, I think a lot of people would overlook the glaring off-the-field concerns. Teams rarely take projects on the field who are also projects off the field, even with all that talent. It has been reported that he’s off a few teams’ boards completely.