In NFL.com’s Press Coverage series, columnists Judy Battista, Jeffri Chadiha, Michael Silver and Jim Trotter engage in a back-and-forth discussion on a timely topic, issue or theme. In this edition, with the 2020 NFL Draft fast approaching, the crew takes another look at the 2016 NFL Draft by re-doing that year’s first round — and Michael Silver sets the table by reminiscing about one of the most astounding moments in draft history.
On the eve of the 2016 NFL Draft, Jeff Fisher and I were deep into a bottle of a Northern California Malbec when a genial North Dakotan approached our table to do a bit of last-minute lobbying. Having finished our meal at a bustling steakhouse in downtown L.A., the veteran coach and I smiled politely as our young visitor extolled the virtues of quarterback Carson Wentz, who had just concluded his career at North Dakota State and had become an unlikely co-favorite to be the first player off the board.
Fisher, whose Rams had swung a blockbuster trade with the Tennessee Titans for the No. 1 overall selection, smiled politely during the exchange but did nothing to reveal his intentions. A few seconds after the North Dakotan went back to his table, Fisher said quietly, “He’s going to be disappointed tomorrow.”
Then Fisher smiled and added, “You won’t be.”
Surely, as a proud alum of the University of California, I would not be brokenhearted over the Rams‘ impending selection of former Golden Bears great Jared Goff — an inevitability that had been clear to me since L.A. had landed the top pick two weeks earlier. Yet, for all the self-aggrandizing confidence I possessed that night at Fleming’s steakhouse about the way the first round would play out, my veneer of certainty vanished ingloriously the following evening as I sat open-mouthed in the Rams‘ draft room and watched one of the most stunning draft-night twists in NFL history unfold.
Out of nowhere, just before the start of the first round, a video appeared on the verified Twitter account of Laremy Tunsil — regarded as the top available offensive lineman — that showed the former Ole Miss tackle wearing a Walter White-style gas mask while apparently taking a bong hit. The video, which Tunsil later said was planted by a hacker, caused mini-freakouts in draft rooms across the country, not to mention a freefall: Two other tackles were drafted before the Miami Dolphins took Tunsil off the board with the 13th overall selection.
An hour later, at his formal press conference at draft headquarters in Chicago, Tunsil told reporters, “I made a mistake, a huge mistake.”
No worries, Laremy — we’ve all been there. And by “we,” I include not only the decision-makers of the 32 NFL teams, but myself and esteemed colleagues Judy Battista, Jeffri Chadiha and Jim Trotter, who have joined me in taking the liberty of redoing the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, armed with four years of knowledge after the fact.
Here’s our unassailable attempt at revisionist history, from 1 to 31 (remember: the Patriots were stripped of their first-round selection that year as a penalty for their behavior in the deflated-ball scandal) … with a special bonus selection at the end. All players in the 2016 rookie pool are eligible, including those who went undrafted.
We hope you won’t be disappointed.
NOTE: The draft order below reflects which teams ended up making the picks in 2016 after ALL trading — including trades made during the draft — were completed.
Judy Battista: Injuries are a concern, but Wentz played at an MVP level until he was hurt late in the
Eagles‘ run to
Super Bowl LII, and he elevated an injury-ravaged team again last season, making him the choice over Goff.
Dak Prescott is really tempting here. The deciding factor is that Goff has accomplished more in his career at this stage. He’s thrown for more yardage (13,130 for Goff, 12,111 for Prescott) and touchdowns (82 for Goff, 74 for Prescott) over the last three seasons, and Goff already has a
Super Bowl appearance.
School: Ohio State |
Original pick: Bosa.
Jim Trotter: The
Chargers were able to address a pressing need while staying true to their board. Bosa, who was widely considered the top available edge rusher if not the top defensive prospect, has lived up that billing, helping to upgrade a pass rush that ranked 24th, 29th and 23rd in sacks in the previous three years. The former Buckeyes star has had double-digit sacks in all but one of his four seasons, and he missed the threshold that year only because he was sidelined nine games because of injury.
Michael Silver: This one is painful for the
Cowboys, who landed their quarterback of the future after trying — and failing — to get
Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook and virtually every other passer
in this draft. While
Ezekiel Elliott would deliver in a big way as the fourth overall selection, and while
DeForest Buckner would likely be the top player on their board, Jerry and Stephen Jones know the deal: With Tony Romo destined for another injury and immediate broadcasting excellence, his successor must be selected here. Note to Dak:
host a draft party.
School: Notre Dame |
Original pick: Stanley.
Jeff: Stanley has been everything the
Ravens could’ve hoped for when they selected him. He made his first
Pro Bowl appearance in 2019, earned first-team All-Pro honors and impressed so much that
Pro Football Focus called him “the best pass-blocking tackle in the NFL.”
Lamar Jackson will be a happy man for as long as Stanley literally has his back.
49ers have glaring needs at quarterback (Colin Kaepernick was both coming off a down year and headed for offseason surgery) and at defensive line (SF ranked 29th against the run and in total sacks in 2015), but Thomas is too gifted to pass on. When your floor is a 92-catch, 1,137-yard, nine-touchdown rookie season, there’s no telling where the ceiling is. Even after Thomas set a league record with 149 receptions last year, you sense there is more to come. Another reason for the pick: The team was not going to re-sign Anquan Boldin, its only receiver with more than 33 catches or 700 yards in 2015.
Mike: Sure, future 2019 playoff hero
Derrick Henry is a tempting choice, but Buckner can’t be left sitting there. Since entering the league, all Buckner has done is stand out — as a selfless but impactful player and as a locker-room leader. When all is said and done, we may well be talking about a Hall of Famer.
Judy: Floyd didn’t live up to expectations with this pick, collecting 18.5 sacks over the past four seasons before being released by Chicago this offseason, but Jones has been an impressive run-stopper and interior rusher for the
Chiefs. Imagine the havoc of a pairing with
Akiem Hicks, who signed with the
Bears the month before this draft.
Jeff: Hill’s rapid evolution from return specialist to No. 1 receiver in four years has been nothing short of amazing. The 41 total touchdowns he’s scored thus far is even more jaw-dropping. I understand
the red flags. I also know Hill would not still be on the board at the end of Round 1 were this draft really to be held again. Imagine him and
Odell Beckham Jr. sharing the field before the
Giants tired of OBJ. Eli Manning might still be playing.
School: Mississippi |
Original pick: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida.
Tunsil was actually drafted: by the
Dolphins in Round 1 (No. 13).
Jim: When you have the chance to land an offensive tackle who would later
be the centerpiece of a trade that commands two first-round picks and a second-round selection, you take him. Quickly.
Mike: I don’t even want to think about the punishment Sean Payton could inflict on opposing defenses with
this elite runner sharing a backfield with the great
Drew Brees. Actually, I do want to daydream about it, the next time I go for a run (while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between me and others on the jogging path).
Judy: Tunsil dropped into their laps in real life, but he’s gone in this draft do-over, and
Jack Conklin has been an All-Pro. We’ll take him — and we won’t be dismantling the team a few years later.
Jeff: Defense was one of the weak spots for the 12-4 2016
Raiders, who ranked 26th in yards allowed, 24th in passing yards allowed and 20th in points allowed, and Howard would’ve been a dream pick. His seven interceptions tied him for the league high in 2018, a season that also saw him earn
Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors. The
Raiders could use somebody like that in a division where they face Kansas City’s
Patrick Mahomes twice a year.
Jim: There are always multiple ways to go when talking about the
Browns, but this is a league that places a premium on those who pass the ball and those who rush the passer, and Ngakoue can do the latter. His 29.5 sacks over his first three seasons led his draft class and ranked in the top 10 overall in the NFL in that span, and his 14 forced fumbles over the past four seasons rank fourth in the league.
Mike: Heaven forbid the
Lions have a big-time running back in the post-Barry Sanders era. Throw in the fact that Henry runs with a physicality that evokes images of
the Bad Boys, and it’s obvious that this dude was made for Motown.
School: Alabama |
Original pick: Kelly.
Jeff: There have been a lot of jokes made about the personnel moves of former
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. This one is the opposite of punchline material. The
Colts desperately needed to improve the protection around franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, and Kelly is now the leader of one of the best offensive lines in football.
Jim: The versatile standout from North Carolina State has started every game since entering the league. More importantly, he has improved each season, which contributed to the
Patriots‘ decision to use the franchise tag on him this offseason. When ability and durability sync, you have a Pro Bowl-level talent.
Mike: Smith was being talked up as a top-three pick before suffering a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl that put his football future in question. The
Cowboys took a risk by selecting him early in the second round, and it paid off in a big way. The Smith we saw in 2018 and ’19 would have provided a turbo-sized boost to the
Jeff: It would’ve been easy to take
Robby Anderson here, because the
Redskins did need a young receiver. It turned out they also needed more help at tight end, because
Jordan Reed wasn’t able to stay healthy, appearing in just 31 more games before his release this offseason, and Vernon Davis was on his last legs. Hooper has caught 146 passes over the last two years. Enough said.
Jim: In need of stability and talent up front, the
Vikings select a player who has started every game since entering the league. Not only that, but Whitehair is extremely versatile, having played left guard, right guard and center. While not dominant, he is someone who can be counted on for solid play for a decade.
Mike: Byard has been an impact player from the jump, blossoming into a first-team All-Pro in his second season. He’d help any team, and this one clearly will need it.
Judy: Maybe a reach, because Anderson was originally undrafted, but we know Mike Tomlin has a way of handling occasionally wayward wide receivers, and that crystal ball tells us the
Steelers will need the firepower when things go awry in the coming seasons.
Jeff: Judon is a great value pick here. The
Broncos were one year away from losing DeMarcus Ware to retirement, and Shane Ray, a 2015 first-round pick, wouldn’t pan out. Pair Judon — who made his first
Pro Bowl after totaling 9.5 sacks in 2019 — with
Von Miller, and there would be plenty of opposing quarterbacks losing sleep.
School: UCLA |
Original pick: Clark.
Jim: No need to look elsewhere. Clark has been precisely what the
Packers have needed since they drafted him: solid, dependable and, at times, disruptive. His presence allows the marquee names to make plays on the edge.
Mike: Trent Baalke’s final pick as Niners GM here is viewed as a risk — there were
structural questions about Jack’s knee leading up to the draft — but, as we now know, Jack has been a mostly healthy and productive player for four seasons. The only wrinkle is that Baalke, eight months before getting fired, insists that Jack be converted to running back (where he spent time moonlighting at UCLA).
Judy: Nkemdiche (4.5 sacks in three seasons with the
Cardinals before being released last summer) was a miss, but
Tyler Boyd, overlooked with the
Bengals, has had two straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and would have been a nice target for the young quarterbacks who would later come the
Jeff: Time to take the best available player. Jones has been a stud for most of his career, as he made the
Pro Bowl in his second season. This is also about depth. The
Panthers were feeling pretty good about their linebacker room when Luke Kuechly and
Thomas Davis were Pro Bowlers. Both are now gone (Kuechly retired and Davis is playing in Washington).
Jim: There’s nothing sexy about this pick. Reader is an interior player who does not fill the stat sheet. But his ability to occupy blockers and be disruptive up the middle allows others to make plays. He might not win a name-recognition contest, but smart scouts know he’s the type who is critical to winning games.
Mike: Just trying, in retrospect, to give my man Hue Jackson a fighting chance. With
Robert Griffin III and
Josh McCown suffering early injuries, rookie
Cody Kessler was thrown into the fray during Cleveland’s miserable 2016 season. Brissett, a fellow third-round selection, would have been an upgrade — then
and in the similarly miserable 2017 campaign, when Kessler shared playing time with Kevin Hogan and