With the 2015 NFL Draft now in the books, it’s time to take an early look at the potential class of 2016. After reviewing my past Fast Forward mock drafts, I am reminded about the way the value of these young players can change over a full season. Some of the top players, running backs especially, saw an extreme drop in dynasty value, while a large number of running backs and wide receivers bypassed the top quarterbacks in terms of value. Some of these are difficult to predict a year out, while some have been factored into the 2016 version of the dynasty rookie mock draft.
Before we get to the picks, let’s take a quick glance at the overall strength of each position.
The quarterback class of 2016 does not look like a strong one at all, though it did get a boost when Big Ten signal callers Cardale Jones and Connor Cook opted to return to school rather than enter the NFL. Along with these two, another Big Ten quarterback, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, has a chance to be among the highly drafted players in the 2016 NFL Draft. Don’t worry, I’ve finally learned my lesson and you won’t see any of these players in the first round of my 2016 mock draft.
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A year away, the running back class of 2016 looks to be top heavy with a pair of highly valued backs in Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliot, but also has nice depth. Some of the key backs to watch over the next year are smaller school runners like Elijah McGuire (Louisiana-Lafayette), Devon Johnson (Marshall) and Kareem Hunt (Toledo).
The wide receiver group also has a pair of top end studs but there’s not much of a drop to the next tier, which is a deep one. There are as many as a dozen wide receivers that could be viewed as future fantasy starters. This group could match the depth we saw at wide receiver from the class of 2014. Among the players to watch who didn’t make the first round cut are Tajae Sharpe, Leonte Carroo, Rashard Higgins, Marquez North and Josh Doctson.
It seems that each year, a tight end or two emerges from relative unknown to become a player highly targeted in dynasty rookie drafts. That might be the case again in 2016, because as of now, there’s not much depth to the class at all. A pair of athletic pass catchers headline the group, namely Bucky Hodges and Evan Engram, with OJ Howard playing the more traditional tight end game.
1.01 – Laquon Treadwell, WR Ole Miss
This pick may come as a surprise to many after Laquon Treadwell’s 2014 season ended with a broken leg, but I still expect the Ole Miss wide receiver to be the first player off the board for a couple of reasons. First, we know how trendy it is in recent years to build dynasty teams around wideouts. We are seeing examples of that this year. Even with one of the best running back prospects in years, many are still advocating for Amari Cooper or even Kevin White to be drafted ahead of Todd Gurley. I’ll get to the other reason soon.
1.02 – Ezekiel Elliot, RB Ohio State
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot was already having a fine sophomore season for the Buckeyes but he really turned things up a notch as the season neared the end. Elliot finished his season with five consecutive games of rushing for over 100 yards, including 200+ yards games in the final three contests, all three post-season contests against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. This performance jumped Elliot to the top of devy ranks alongside Georgia back Nick Chubb.
He’s second on this list because of the aforementioned affinity for wide receivers, along with my opinion that we see some regression from Elliot in his junior season. Right now, his dynasty and devy value is based on our most recent memory of his play, and Elliot made sure those were good memories.
1.03 – Tyler Boyd, WR Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd doesn’t possess the elite size or speed of other wideouts in recent draft classes, but that hesn’t stopped him from dominating the competition during his first two seasons, averaging over 1,200 receiving yards so far in his college career. I expect Boyd to be a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and easily a top five dynasty rookie pick.
Here’s more on Tyler Boyd from Russell Clay.
1.04 – Derrick Henry, RB Alabama
In a constantly crowded Alabama backfield, Derrick Henry has stood out. In just two years, he’s looked like a better back than TJ Yeldon, who was once considered the top devy player in college football. Henry led the team in rushing during his sophomore season after a late season breakout in 2013 that saw him average nearly 12 yards per carry in his final two games.
With Yeldon gone, Henry should certainly be the man in the Crimson Tide backfield, especially given the recent ACL injury for Bo Scarbrough. As I said earlier, there is always competition for carries in Tuscaloosa, but expect Henry to come out on top and prove he’s worthy of a high draft pick a year from now.
1.05 – Mike Williams, WR Clemson
Yes, there’s another Mike Williams and I think this one might be the best yet. After former the USC wide receiver was a bust for the Lions and Tampa Mike sputtered out after an impressive rookie year, this version broke out for the Clemson Tigers during his sophomore season. With Sammy Watkins off to the NFL and plenty of targets to go around, Williams showed consistency even with constant change at the quarterback position. Williams showed a penchant for making big plays out of short routes and averaged over 18 yards per reception on his way to a 1,000 yard receiving season. With Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant entering the league in recent years, Clemson is becoming Wide Receiver U and Williams should continue the trend and makes a very solid pick in the mid-first round in 2016.
1.06 – De’Runnya Wilson, WR Mississippi State
At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Mississippi State wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson is an ideal fit in the mold of the NFL’s new stud receiver, but having that size/speed combination is not enough. Wilson led the run heavy Bulldogs in receiving, but his final numbers were not eye popping, hauling in 47 catches for 680 yards, though he did find the end zone nine times.
Wilson also ran into some trouble already this off-season as he was arrested for possession or marijuana in March. This off-field trouble, combined with his modest numbers, could lead to many doubting or even overlooking Wilson’s talent, but that would be a mistake. Assuming he can overcome the arrest, Wilson is in for a huge year with senior quarterback Dak Prescott.
1.07 – D’haquille Williams, WR Auburn
Auburn’s D’haquille Williams is another big-bodied SEC wide receiver that could really explode this year. It didn’t take Williams long to show up Sammie Coates once they were on the field together following Williams’ transfer to the school.
Williams played so well, and was so highly recruited exiting junior college that many expected him to follow the Cordarrelle Patterson path of junior college to one year of major college football and onto the NFL. Instead, Williams opted to return to school for his senior season after his junior year ended with a suspension for the team’s bowl game. The other red mark on Williams’ scouting report for dynasty players is his age. His birthdate has been very difficult to track down and as someone who has found many prospect birthdates, I can tell you that’s a bad sign. Most who have done their research seem to think Williams will be 24 years old as an NFL rookie this time next year. Just as age scared some away from Kelvin Benjamin, it would do the same for Williams, deserved or not.
1.08 – Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan
While I was well aware of Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis, it was our own Nick Whalen who really let us all know what a special player Davis could be. Nick did an awesome job covering Davis (and all of these devy players) in his Devy Report. While it’s tough to find much video of Davis, he has become well-known for his excellent route running and versatility. He combines these skills with the frame so many dynasty owners dream about, measuring in at 6’2” and 205 pounds. If you are able to catch a Western Michigan game this fall, be on the lookout for Davis and you’ll see why this mid-first round range is his floor.
1.09 – Corey Clement, RB Wisconsin
Running back Corey Clement is the next in the line of successful University of Wisconsin runners, following recent players like Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and James White. While we’re not sure how Gordon will fare with the Chargers, many other former Badgers have not enjoyed the same level of success as pros as they did against Big Ten competition. Clement (and Gordon) hope to break that pattern. Clement is being somewhat overlooked and I think that is due to the impressive group of backs at the top of the college ranks, including Henry, Elliot and Nick Chubb. The general disdain for the running back position as a whole also likely plays a part. This will benefit many who don’t give in to this notion. Clement is a complete runner with ideal size for a back. Thanks to Gordon and his predecessors, Clement does not have the huge volume of touches that some of his fellow backs have already amassed, which should be a huge plus when he enters the NFL. There is plenty of time for things to change, but I see a tier drop after Clement to the next group of players.
Here’s more on Corey Clement from Rob Leath.
1.10 – Jordan Villamin, WR Oregon State
At this late point of the first round, there are many directions to go, and while there is a large group of talented players, it is nearly impossible to predict which will emerge as being worthy of a first round rookie pick. With the tenth pick, I look out west to another underrated player, wide receiver Jordan Villamin. Villamin was not really on my radar until the end of the 2014 college football season, showing a nice combination of size (6’4” and 210 pounds) and speed. If Villamin continues his impressive play throughout the coming football season, I would not be at all surprised if he’s being talked about with Boyd, Williams and Wilson.
1.11 – Bucky Hodges, TE Virginia Tech
Again, there is much time for change, but 2016 looks like another weak crop of tight ends. The one player who has my attention is the young athletic freak from Virginia Tech, Bucky Hodges. Hodges, a former quarterback, is a huge man at 6’6” and 245 pounds, but has speed to burn. While he’s still learning some basic pass catching skills, his combination of measurable and pure athleticism has me drooling.
1.12 – Pharoh Cooper, WR South Carolina
There are many ways to go with this final pick of the 2016 first round rookie mock, but I’ll opt for a personal favorite, South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. Cooper is undersized, but every time I tuned in to a South Carolina game last season to watch Mike Davis and Shaq Roland, it was Cooper who had my attention, thanks to some big time playmaking ability.
Here’s more on Pharoh Cooper from Russell Clay.