The 2015 NFL Draft featured two franchise quarterbacks in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, and one team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – that was going to decide which one would be the first overall draft pick. All eyes were on the Buccaneers last year, and the Buccaneers’ eyes were on Winston and Mariota as they dueled at the NFL Scouting Combine for the top spot in the draft.
With Winston as Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback coming off a rookie year in which he threw for over 4,000 yards and capped off his debut season with a Pro Bowl berth, the Bucs, who are armed with the ninth overall draft pick, have a different quest in Indianapolis this year. Here are some of the more interesting story lines and some inside scoop on some of the top draft prospects entering this year’s 2016 NFL Scouting Combine where PewterReport.com will be in attendance beginning on Wednesday:
• California’s Jared Goff is the best quarterback in a mediocre class that includes potential first-rounders in North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and Michigan State’s Connor Cook. Multiple NFL sources tell me that there is no Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota in this bunch, which means there won’t be any rookie QBs coming in and lighting it up in their first NFL season.
• The biggest issue at the NFL Scouting Combine for Cook won’t be getting his shoulder looked at after a late-season injury that kept him out of the Senior Bowl. It will be his lack of leadership skills. Despite being a good, high profile quarterback the last couple of years, Cook was never voted a team captain and didn’t have great chemistry with his Spartans teammates.
• It would not be a surprise to see Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil go first overall to Tennessee, which needs to shore up its offensive line to protect Marcus Mariota, followed by Goff to Cleveland, which desperately needs a franchise quarterback after Johnny Manziel flamed out. San Diego is a bit of a wild card with the third overall pick, but Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner is an ideal 3-4 defensive end with an NFL frame.
• Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah would make a great fit in Carolina at the end of the first round. With Jared Allen retiring and the 29-year old Charles Johnson being a likely salary cap casualty after seeing his role reduced (12 tackles, one sack) with the emergence of Kony Ealy and Mario Addison, drafting Ogbah, who at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds resembles the 6-foot-2, 282-pound Johnson, makes sense.
• If Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd proves to be more athletic than teammate Shaq Lawson in Indianapolis as some scouts project he will be, look for him to vault over Lawson in the first round – possibly into the top 15.
• Another edge rusher that could really receive a boost with a good showing in Indianapolis is Boise State junior Kamalei Correa, who was originally thought of as a third-round pick before he declared for the NFL Draft. Now that scouts have done some digging he seems to be a sure-fire second-round pick. A fast 40-time and acing some of the athletic tests at the NFL Scouting Combine could drive him into the first round.
• Don’t be surprised if the medical tests at the NFL Scouting Combine reveal significant damage to the knee of Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith and a much longer recovery time than running back Todd Gurley, a first-round pick by the Rams last year. Smith is a popular pick in the first round, but teams would be foolish to spend a first-round pick on a player that may only see part of his rookie season. I say he slips to the second round if he gets an unfavorable medical evaluation as expected.
• Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell isn’t going to run at the NFL Scouting Combine, and that’s a bad sign for a player who isn’t regarded to be very fast to begin with. What will also hurt Treadwell is if he measures smaller than the 6-foot-2, 210 pounds he’s listed at on the Ole Miss roster. Not being fast is one thing if you’re a big 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver like Keyshawn Johnson, Marques Colston or Devin Funchess. It’s another thing if you’re closer to 6-foot-1, 208.
• Personal interviews with NFL teams are critical to the character side of evaluating draft prospects, and no potential first-rounder may be under the microscope more than Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, especially with the recent news of Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory being suspended for four games next year after failing multiple drug tests during his rookie season. There were red flags galore that Gregory was addicted to marijuana before the 2015 NFL Draft. Spence’s addiction to ecstasy got him kicked out of Ohio State. Is his drug use behind him, and will he pass the drug test administered in Indianapolis? If the answers are yes and yes, Spence is a top 10-draft pick, as he is the best pass-rushing defensive end in the draft. He could go as high as No. 5 to Jacksonville, which coached him in the Senior Bowl.
• I wouldn’t touch Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche until the second round for two major reasons. The first is some questionable character issues stemming from falling 15 feet from a hotel window from a room that had marijuana in it, and a subsequent arrest that caused him to miss the Sugar Bowl. The second reason is that despite great athletic ability Nkemdiche underperformed for the Rebels with just seven career sacks, including three as a senior.
• He doesn’t possess the suddenness that Aaron Donald has, but Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has quick hands and explosiveness that will make some team in the top 20 very happy. He’s the best defensive tackle in the NFL Draft in my opinion – and several NFL scouts share that opinion, too. He’s more explosive than Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson.
• Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is this year’s top running back and could be considered a top 10 talent if he lights it up at the NFL Scouting Combinbe. But Elliott might not get selected until the early 20s as no team inside the top 20 has a pressing need for a running back. The New York Jets, Washington and Houston all select 20-22 and may have the need for a feature back.
• Many scouts believe Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin, who is a first-round talent, will follow a similar path to that of Brandon Scherff and move inside to guard at the next level. The NFL Scouting Combine will reveal a lot about his athleticism, but some scouts believe he would have to at least move to right tackle at the next level – if not to guard. That could affect his draft status and push him down in the first round.
• Fast times in the 40-yard dash always help elevate the stock of some NFL Draft prospects every year. Some players to keep an eye on this year are TCU wide receiver Kolby Listenbee, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman, Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard, LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson, Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Miami cornerback Artie Burns, Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller and Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com