By Tom Dibenedetto
It typically takes several years to get an accurate read on an organization’s performance in any given draft and thus I always keep the big picture in mind when deciding on grades (marks for every team listed at the bottom of the page). But in today’s NFL, rookies are expected to compete for playing time right away and recent breakthrough first-year campaigns have made it possible (and in many cases critical) for a franchise to seek immediate returns on their draft weekend investments. With that in mind, I bring you the ten teams whose selections should have the biggest impact on the 2016 NFL season:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Impact Picks: Jalen Ramsey, FS/FSU; Myles Jack, OLB/UCLA; Yannick Ngakoue OLB/Maryland; Sheldon Day, DT/ND
Jacksonville had the guts (slash common sense) to pull the trigger on Myles Jack on Day 2 and thus won the weekend grabbing two of the five best players in the draft. Both Ramsey and Jack appear more than prepared to step into Week 1 starting roles. Adding Ngakoue and Day has created a potential abundance of riches on the front seven for the Jags this season, who committed to rebuilding their 24th ranked defense on draft weekend and succeeded with several extremely promising players.
2. Chicago Bears
Impact Picks: Leonard Floyd, OLB/UGA; Cody Whitehair, OG/KSU; Jonathan Bullard, DE/UF; Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB/WVU; Deon Bush, FS/MIA
The Bears need a lot of help and they definitely acquired some here. Floyd has tremendous upside as versatile edge rusher and is already an impressive player with excellent athleticism. Whitehair, Bullard, Kwiatkoski & Bush all boast high motors, hard noses and big-program experience. Whitehair might be the only player to start in Week 1, but Chicago’s large number of quality defensive selections this year leads me to believe they’ll have at least one breakout contributor on that side of the ball over the course of the season.
3. Washington Redskins
Impact Picks: Josh Doctson, WR/TCU, Su’a Cravens, OLB/USC; Kendall Fuller, CB/VT; Matt Ioannidis, DT/Temple
Even though I had Laquon Treadwell as the top receiver in the class, I understand what Washington was thinking when they took Doctson. They’re both very promising players. I absolutely love what they did with their next three picks, however. Cravens, Fuller and Ioannidis all fit the hard-nosed identity of the Redskins defense and all three should compete for significant roles in year one. Improvements all around for a franchise that is definitely looking up.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Impact Picks: Vernon Hargreaves, CB/UF; Noah Spence, DE/EKU; Roberto Aguayo, K/FSU
Tampa Bay certainly had an interesting draft. They got the best true corner in the class in Hargreaves, a slam dunk selection. If Spence can keep himself clean and focused he has Pro Bowl potential, can play right away and will be remembered as a steal at pick number 39. Aguayo was one of the most controversial selections of the weekend but I like the pick. In a time when kicking is as important as ever in the NFL, grabbing a college legend who will kick and kick well from day one makes a lot of sense to me. Pick 59 is a bit early, sure, but Aguayo has always impressed me.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Impact Picks: Germain Ifedi, OT/A&M; Jerran Reed, DT/BAMA; CJ Prosise, RB/ND; Nick Vannett, TE/OSU; Alex Collins, RB/ARK
The Seahawks continue to prove that they’re really good at this draft thing and scored an exciting haul once again. Jerran Reed and CJ Prosise are particularly interesting as immediate contributors with high upside and were great value picks at #49 and #90, respectively. Ifedi, Vannett and Collins could all find themselves in significant year one roles as well. Most impressively, they addressed a need in the backfield with two of my favorite backs in the class.
6. Los Angeles Rams
Impact Picks: Jared Goff, QB/Cal; Pharoh Cooper, WR/USC
I’m not so high on LA’s draft as a whole but since we’re talking immediate impact, a top-pick QB with this much talent is a game-changer for a franchise in desperate need of solidarity at the position. My best comparison for Goff as a passer is Teddy Bridgewater, but Goff has more upside. And expecting him to match Teddy’s rookie output (14 TDs/12 INTs/64.4%) is not a stretch. Pharoh Cooper is a tough playmaker and a fourth-round steal who will challenge for touches from the first practice.
7. Buffalo Bills
Impact Picks: Shaq Lawson, DE/CLEM; Reggie Ragland, ILB/BAMA; Adolphus Washington, DT/OSU
News of Lawson’s impending shoulder surgery dampens his quick-impact potential and might explain why he lasted to the 19th pick. But I really like him. Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington look to be fantastic fits in Rex Ryan’s 3-4. I wouldn’t be surprised if both are Week 1 starters this year and productive defensive cogs for the Bills for several seasons to come.
8. Miami Dolphins
Impact Picks: Laremy Tunsil, OT/MISS; Xavien Howard, CB/Baylor; Kenyan Drake, RB/BAMA; Leonte Caroo, WR/Rutgers
The Dolphins took some chances here and while all four of the picks above could be considered longer-term projects, I think each could have an impact in year one. Off-the-field nonsense aside, Tunsil was a top-five talent in the class and will start right away. When healthy, Kenyan Drake is an electrifying back and seems to be a fit with Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi. Howard is an impressive athlete who will also have an opportunity to play early on. Miami’s class could go very south in the long run but there is plenty of potential for positive early returns here.
9. San Diego Chargers
Impact Picks: Joey Bosa, DE/OSU; Hunter Henry, TE/ARK; Max Tuerk, C/USC; Joshua Perry, OLB/OSU
Joey Bosa is a monster and will be an immediate difference maker. He alone makes the Chargers better next season but Henry should also feature in the passing game as a rookie and Tuerk gives the team a key depth player, who (knowing the recent fortunes of the San Diego offensive line) will see big action sooner rather than later. Joshua Perry will be a versatile rotation linebacker and his experience at Ohio State makes me believe he’ll see plenty of the field this season as well.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Impact Picks: Ezekiel Elliott, RB/OSU; Maliek Collins, DT/NEB
I don’t like what the Cowboys did in this draft, particularly their reach for Elliott in a deep running back class. However, I can’t deny that Zeke will thrive in that offense if healthy and is already an easy frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. He fills a big need and can potentially be the cog that gets the Dallas offense back to dominance. So I’ll concede that they improved with the pick. But I think an opportunity to be closer to the top of this list was wasted with the way they approached the weekend.
OVERALL DRAFT GRADES
1. Jaguars A+
2. Bears A
3. Seahawks A
4. Bills A-
5. Dolphins A-
6. Patriots A-
7. Redskins B+
8. Colts B+
9. Packers B+
10. Titans B+
11. Ravens B
12. Steelers B
13. Cardinals B
14. Lions B
15. Vikings B
16. Chargers B
17. Bucs B
18. Bengals B-
19. Niners B-
20. Eagles B-
21. Saints C+
22. Broncos C+
23. Rams C+
24. Texans C+
25. Giants C
26. Cowboys C
27. Raiders C
28. Jets C
29. Browns C-
30. Chiefs C-
31. Falcons C-
32. Panthers D
PS – For you, the one Cowboys fan that made it all the way to the bottom of the page after I dissed the Zeke Elliott pick: I LOVE Baylor hoops-star-turned-surprise-NFL-Draft-entrant Rico Gathers. It is admittedly the height of draft evaluation stupidity to be excited about someone who hasn’t played a down of organized football since middle school. I know this. I just have a good feeling about this one.