Grades for 2016 first-rounders three years in – NFL.com




Some people say you can’t fairly evaluate a draft class until three seasons into the players’ NFL careers. Well, we’ve reached that milestone for the class of 2016. With that in mind, I recently revisited the players selected in the first round three years ago, giving a grade to each now that they have (in most cases) a substantial body of work to examine.

NOTE: The Patriots were forced to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick for the team’s role in Deflategate, so there were only 31 picks in Round 1.




Jared Goff – QB

Grade: A | School: Cal

Goff lost all seven of his starts in his rookie season, but he’s thrown 60 touchdowns to just 19 interceptions over the last two seasons and shown a level of high-end growth that many talent evaluators doubted they would ever see from a former Air Raid quarterback. The
Rams have done an excellent job of surrounding Goff with premium talent to help bring out the best in him.




Carson Wentz – QB

Grade: B+ | School: North Dakota State

Clearly, Wentz has A-level talent and potential. After all, he was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2017, when he was a top MVP candidate before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December. However, his grade has to take a small hit because of his injury history. He’s missed eight games over the last two seasons, with a back ailment sidelining him down the stretch in 2018. In fact, dating back to his senior season at NDSU, Wentz has missed out on playoff football each of the last three times his teams have advanced to the postseason. The
Eagles paid a steep price to move up for him in the 2016 draft, and this grade shoots back up if he can stay healthy.




Joey Bosa – DE

Grade: A | School: Ohio State

When Bosa is healthy, he brings the ruckus. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury, and he’s been remarkably productive, collecting 28.5 sacks in 35 career regular-season games. The
Chargers have attempted to build a championship contender by investing heavily in the defensive side of the ball, and drafting Bosa was critical in that regard. However, Bosa was sidelined again in 2018. He missed nine games with a foot injury, which takes his grade from an A+ to an A.




Ezekiel Elliott – RB

Grade: A+ | School: Ohio State

Many football purists saw the decision to select a running back with the fourth overall pick as foolhardy, but Elliott’s success has made it easier for teams to consider elite, game-changing backs with earlier picks once again. Elliott led the league in carries and rushing yards in 2016 and 2018. His talent has helped provide the
Cowboys with a smashmouth identity, and his pass-catching acumen is another area where he has helped take pressure off of
Dak Prescott‘s shoulders. There’s no denying off-field issues have been a problem for him, resulting in
a six-game suspension in 2017, but based purely on how he’s performed on the field, he deserves an A+.





Jalen Ramsey – CB

Grade: A+ | School: Florida State

The
Jaguars landed an elite CB1 when they selected the DB out of Florida State. Ramsey has more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns allowed (eight) as a pro, and his combination of confidence, physicality and length creates challenges for just about every wideout he faces. He hasn’t missed a game and is more than happy to perform his duties as a tackler.




Ronnie Stanley – OT

Grade: A | School: Notre Dame

The
Ravens‘ left tackle played at a quality level right off the bat, and he’s done nothing but improve with each season. Stanley is a good technician with nice physical tools and is on the verge of becoming a
Pro Bowl player.




DeForest Buckner – DL

Grade: A | School: Oregon

Buckner was my No. 3 player in the 2016 draft, and I felt like he had a chance to develop into a ”
dominant force in the NFL” at the time. While he flashed over his first two seasons, he grew into a
Pro Bowl talent last year with 12 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Buckner’s best football appears to be in front of him. Well done, Niners.




Jack Conklin – OT

Grade: B- | School: Michigan State

This is a bit tricky, because Conklin got off to a strong start with an All-Pro season as a rookie, but his play fell off in his second season, and injuries (including an ACL tear suffered in the 2017 postseason) helped derail parts of his 2018 campaign. The
Titans declined to
pick up his fifth-year option, which is telling, since quality starters at tackle are difficult to find.




Leonard Floyd – OLB

Grade: C+ | School: Georgia

Floyd was drafted as a “projection” pass-rush talent who needed to add weight and get stronger to make it as a force in the league. His grade now is based on what he’s done to this point as a rusher (15.5 sacks in 38 games), but in fairness, he’s the type of player who needs to be re-evaluated after his fourth season, as we could see a big leap forward from him this year.




Eli Apple – CB

Grade: D- | School: Ohio State

The
Giants should probably be given an F for this pick, since Apple failed to live up to his billing and was called ”
a cancer” by then-teammate
Landon Collins late in the 2017 season before being shipped off to New Orleans ahead of the trade deadline last year. However, it’s also worth noting that Apple played much better with the
Saints and could be in the midst of finding himself as an NFL cornerback. We shall see.




Vernon Hargreaves – CB

Grade: D+ | School: Florida

While Hargreaves made the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team in 2016, injuries over the last two seasons (hamstring, shoulder) caused him to miss a total of 22 games over that span. With only one interception in 26 career games, there isn’t much production for him to hang his hat on, but his grade can certainly improve with a healthy, productive 2019.




Sheldon Rankins – DT

Grade: B | School: Louisville

Rankins missed the first seven games of his rookie season with a broken fibula and failed to impress that year, but he showed some growth as a full-time starter in Year 2 and finished last season with a career high in tackles (40) and sacks (eight). Rankins was trending up as a run stopper and pass rusher, but he suffered an Achilles injury in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and is currently on the PUP list. He needs to prove he can come back and pick up where he left off.





Laremy Tunsil – OT

Grade: A | School: Mississippi

An unauthorized video
posted to Tunsil’s Twitter account just before the beginning of the draft caused Tunsil to fall into the
Dolphins‘ lap. He was my top-rated player in the 2016 draft, thanks to his elite pass protection talent. After displaying some inconsistency in Year 2, Tunsil took a big step forward last season and appears poised to challenge for one of the top tackle spots in the NFL.




Karl Joseph – S

Grade: D+ | School: West Virginia

The
Raiders drafted Joseph despite the fact he had suffered an ACL tear in October during his final college season. And nagging injuries have been an issue for him during his time with the
Raiders (he’s missed eight games in three seasons). The hard-hitting safety has failed to make the type of impact the
Raiders had hoped for, although he did post his best season to date last year. With the
Raiders adding safeties via the draft and free agency this offseason, it’s hard not to wonder if Joseph is on the way out in Oakland.




Corey Coleman – WR

Grade: F | School: Baylor

Coleman was the first receiver off the board in 2016 and figured to see plenty of targets early in his career, but he was shipped to Buffalo after two disappointing seasons, and the
Bills released him weeks after acquiring him last year. After a couple cups of coffee with the
Patriots, he managed just five catches in eight games with the
Giants last season and suffered an ACL tear during the team’s first camp practice last month. It’s been a disastrous run for Coleman up to this point.




Taylor Decker – OT

Grade: C | School: Ohio State

Decker has been a starter since Day 1, but he did miss eight games in 2017 after undergoing shoulder surgery. His play has been fairly average, with his pass blocking being more consistent than his run blocking. The
Lions picked up the fifth-year option on Decker’s rookie deal, but he’s failed to play at a level expected of most first-round tackles.




Keanu Neal – S

Grade: B+ | School: Florida

The only thing keeping the
Falcons and Neal from earning an A here is the unfortunate ACL tear he suffered in Week 1 last season. Neal has rare size and strength for the safety spot. He showed off his physicality and alpha demeanor over his first two years, making the
Pro Bowl in 2017 with 116 tackles and three forced fumbles, respectively. He’s back this year, so look out!




Ryan Kelly – C

Grade: C | School: Alabama

Considered one of the top interior linemen in the 2016 draft, Kelly was the final first-round selection of former general manager Ryan Grigson. Kelly got out of the gate with a strong rookie season, but a broken foot and concussion caused him to miss nine games in 2017. Last season, Kelly rounded back into form playing next to
Quenton Nelson, but the injury bug caused him to miss another four games. Kelly is a solid center, but he has to stay on the field.




Shaq Lawson – DE

Grade: D+ | School: Clemson

The
Bills drafted Lawson despite concerns over an existing shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery and landed him on the PUP list to start the 2016 campaign. In the past two seasons, Lawson has started 16 total games while totaling eight sacks. He has good play strength and handles run duties effectively, but his lack of consistent pressure as a rusher helps make this a below-average pick at No. 19.




Darron Lee – OLB

Grade: D+ | School: Ohio State

After a disappointing rookie season and mediocre second season to begin his career with the
Jets, Lee was putting together a fairly solid campaign in Year 3, but he missed the last four games of the season while
serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. This offseason, Adam Gase’s first move as interim general manager was to ship Lee out to the
Chiefs in exchange for
just a sixth-round pick. This pick was a miss.





Will Fuller – WR

Grade: C+ | School: Notre Dame

Fuller was my top-rated WR prospect in 2016 because of his explosive playmaking ability. Over his first three seasons with the
Texans, Fuller has averaged a touchdown every 8.2 catches, but he’s also missed 17 games during that span, and durability has become an annual concern. He’s incredibly impactful for the
Texans‘ offense — when he manages to stay on the field.




Josh Doctson – WR

Grade: D+ | School: TCU

Doctson missed all but two games as a rookie due to an Achilles injury that has continued to nag him since that season. Given his lack of production (81 catches for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in 33 career games), it was no surprise Washington declined to pick up his fifth-year option this spring. He has flashed at times, and there is some hope that he can finally put together a solid campaign in Year 4.




Laquon Treadwell – WR

Grade: D- | School: Mississippi

Treadwell entered the draft as a big target (6-foot-2, 221 pounds) with ball skills, but some teams were concerned about his speed and ability to separate. With just 56 career catches, one touchdown and only one game of 50-plus yards receiving over his first 40 career contests, I would say those concerns were justified.




William Jackson – CB

Grade: B+ | School: Houston

Jackson missed his entire rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle, but the
Bengals did a nice job of bringing the talented cover corner around at an appropriate pace, and Jackson has turned into one of the better young cornerbacks in the AFC. While he’s done a solid job of making plays on the football and showed signs of becoming a lockdown corner over the second half of 2018, converting on more interception chances could push this grade even higher in the future.




Artie Burns – CB

Grade: C- | School: Miami

If this grade reflected a recency bias, Burns would be given an F after an ineffective 2018 that saw him lose both his confidence and his starting job. He’s a physical, willing tackler who had some positive moments over his first two seasons, but at this point, Burns is battling to stay on the roster.





Paxton Lynch – QB

Grade: F | School: Memphis

It’s always painful to miss on a first-round quarterback, since it typically sets franchises back at least a couple of years. In this case, the
Broncos traded up to land a player who only made four starts and who was waived after his first two seasons in the league. Maybe he can resurrect his career
as a backup in Seattle.




Kenny Clark – DT

Grade: A | School: UCLA

Clark went from good to great in his final season at UCLA, and his transition to the NFL was a smooth one. While Clark isn’t a dominant pass rusher, he’s better than functional in that area, and he goes to work as a top-notch run defender. Former
Packers GM Ted Thompson, who made this pick, didn’t overthink this one at all. He just took a good football player who has lived up to his potential.




Joshua Garnett – OG

Grade: F | School: Stanford

Garnett has played in just seven games (59 total snaps) over the last two seasons, thanks to injuries to his knee, toe and thumb. He hasn’t been on the field nearly enough, and he hasn’t blown anyone away with his play when he has been healthy. I was a fan of Garnett’s when he was coming out of Stanford, but he simply hasn’t provided the
49ers with much value, and he’s currently recovering from finger surgery.




Robert Nkemdiche – DT

Grade: D- | School: Mississippi

After a disappointing first three NFL seasons, Nkemdiche came into camp out of shape, according to Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and the
Cardinals
sent him packing last month. You heard a lot about Nkemdiche’s talent and potential when he entered the draft, but he dropped to this spot in Round 1 due to questions about his character. The
Cardinals took a chance on the talent and missed. Nkemdiche is getting
a second chance with the
Dolphins, but he’s on the PUP list as he recovers from the ACL surgery he underwent in December.




Vernon Butler – DT

Grade: D | School: Louisiana Tech

Butler has supplied depth as a backup interior lineman, but he’s fallen well short of performing to his athletic ability thus far. Butler simply hasn’t shown a level of consistent improvement from his rookie season, and he’s produced just 45 tackles and two sacks in 849 career snaps. At this point, it seems unlikely that 2019 will see Butler become the player the
Panthers were hoping for when they drafted him.




Germain Ifedi – OT

Grade: C+ | School: Texas A&M

Ifedi has all the physical tools one could want in an offensive lineman, and he’s come a long way as a pass protector since entering the league, although it’s still a work in progress. While Seattle’s offensive line has been somewhat in flux over the past few years, there is more consistency in place now, and left tackle
Duane Brown believes Ifedi is
due for a big season this year. If Ifedi does take a significant step, this grade will deserve a bump.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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