You may have heard in passing that the Dallas Cowboys hold the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. This should set them up to take a very good player. Obviously, they are going to have to wait to see who is taken ahead of them. Right now, the top three spots are held by the Titans, the Browns, and the Chargers, in that order.
There is a general consensus about the top two picks. Tennessee has their quarterback of the future in Marcus Mariota, so many expect that they are going to take OT Laremy Tunsil to protect him. Cleveland is once again sorely in need of a quarterback, and they are expected to take either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz (likely ruining the career of the unlucky one they pick). San Diego is somewhat uncertain, and may be looking at Jalen Ramsey or Joey Bosa.
But that may not be how it plays out. While Tunsil is seen as one of the real stars of a draft that does not have an overwhelming amount of true blue-chip players, there are also some questions about whether he is really ready to step in as a day one starter in the NFL, something you would certainly hope for with the first-overall pick of the draft. In a detailed analysis of his game, Stephen White of the SBNation home site reviews the issues.
- There are certain aspects of an offensive lineman's game that almost impossible to project to the NFL level because of the very different demands of the spread and hurry up schemes in college, which his school, Mississippi, uses. He is incredibly athletic for a player of his size, but he simply has not been taught to make the kinds of blocks that have to be made in the NFL. (The college game is not going to be adopted any time soon in the NFL, either, thanks in no little part to the failed experiment of Chip Kelly with the Eagles.)
- He almost never worked a double team with the tight end, which is a staple in the NFL. As White pointed out, that is not something that is always learned with ease.
- Tunsil is over-reliant on his punch. When he failed to stop an edge rusher with his initial punch, his footwork was not good enough to allow him to recover well. Admittedly, he only seemed to have problems with top-level college rushers like Myles Garrett and Carl Lawson - but there are a lot more really talented edge rushers in the NFL than he faced even in the SEC.
A lot of the concerns White has deal with Tunsil's run blocking, but of course that is not the real bread and butter on most NFL teams. Here is where White especially sees Tunsil as being less than a finished product for the league.
For an offensive tackle to get consideration for the first overall pick, their run blocking isn't usually their best attribute anyway. Their pass blocking gets 'em paid. Unfortunately, those same offensive schemes also make it harder to evaluate offensive linemen as pass blockers because so many of the passes are thrown while the linemen are actually run blocking. There were enough plays where Tunsil was pass blocking on an island one-on-one in those four games for me to give a decent evaluation on his abilities in that area.
Quite frankly, he has some work to do.
If the best offensive tackle in the draft is not seen as a day one starter, he probably is not going to be the Titans' choice. And that means that they may be open to a trade, especially with a quarterback hungry team who wants to get in front of the Browns.
While Wentz and Goff, who seem to be the top two quarterbacks in almost everyone's view, also have some questions about being fully ready for the NFL, they also play the most frequently overdrafted position in the NFL. The Browns used first round picks on both Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel, just to name two clear examples. Teams without a viable passer are simply dead in the water in the pros. Many teams have no problem with letting a rookie learn on the field. It is arguable that both Mariota and Jameis Winston were asked to do that last season. The Titans are not looking for a new QB, but there are a bunch of other teams that are. Although it is not universal, there is a view by many that Wentz is the most desirable quarterback in the draft, partly because he played in a system more like the pro game than Goff or the QB usually seen as the third best this year, Paxton Lynch. So if there is a team that covets Wentz, they have an opportunity: Trade up to the first pick of the draft.
That is exactly what has been proposed by Will Lomas of our sister Titans blog, Music City Miracles. He thinks a team with a real problem at quarterback and leadership that is not afraid to take some unconventional risks might be willing to make such a trade. Like, say, the new home of the most interesting man in the NFL, Chip Kelly. The 49ers have a real mess with Colin Kaepernick coming off a bad year and indicating he wants to go somewhere else, and Blaine Gabbert is the next man up. Wentz also seems a much better fit for Kelly's offensive scheme (assuming he keeps it largely intact despite the Philadelphia Experiment, and we all know he will try, because, genius). The 'Niners sit in the seventh spot in the draft, so they would not have to mortgage the future quite as badly as some other teams would.
If that happens, the Browns still are left adrift, and it is very likely they will then take Jared Goff. This still leaves the Chargers to take whoever the Cowboys would have at the top of their board at that point, but Dallas is still going to get a very good player.
It may not change things much for Dallas, unless they had designs on one of the quarterbacks, but it would shake things up. It may even open more possibilities for them to trade back if some other team is really in love with Tunsil. That would obviously completely change the whole draft for the Cowboys.
Admittedly, this is the rankest speculation, but at this point, all draft projections are that, to one degree or another. Nothing can be taken as given. We are just guessing as to who is where on teams' boards. But this time of year, that is what we do.