Now that the 2016 NFL draft is in the books, the temptation to start dreaming about the future and counting down the days to training camp is almost overwhelming.
The end of the draft feels a little bit like the unofficial end of the offseason. But before we turn the page, there’s something to be said for taking a day to reflect on the 253 picks that teams just made.
Every year, NFL teams tweak their approaches to the draft just a little, and collective trends emerge. Sometimes those trends are as short-lived as the Girl Scout Cookies-buying season, and sometimes those trends become something akin to draft commandments, a list of rules teams are expected to follow.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five trends that stuck out as pick after pick rolled by on the ESPN or NFL Network ticker — depending on whether you’re a Rich Eisen or Trey Wingo fan.
1. If you want a quarterback, chances are you’re going to have to go get him.
Five of the first seven quarterbacks off the board — Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Cody Kessler and Connor Cook — went to teams that traded up to get them, sometimes at a premium.
No position in the NFL is more valuable than quarterback, and teams are always on the lookout for the next face of their franchise. So unless a team is holding the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, it has to be willing to part with some assets to get the guy it wants.
2. A defensive tackle who has trouble getting after the passer might have to wait to hear his name called.
Interior defensive linemen were widely considered the deepest position group in the class, an analysis confirmed by general managers, coaches and scouts in the months leading up to the draft.
Within that position group, though, there was a clear pecking order. Players with pass-rush potential, like Saints pick Sheldon Rankins and Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, who ended up in Carolina, came off the board quickly. Nose tackles, on the other hand, often had to wait.
UCLA’s Kenny Clark, who filled a need in Green Bay, was the only primary run-stuffer taken in the first round, and players like Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Andrew Billings fell well below the expectations placed on them by most analysts. In an NFL game increasingly dominated by the pass, defenders who might only be a factor on first and second down seem to have lost some of their value.
3. Cover linebackers have more value than ever.
Five of the six off-the-ball linebackers who heard their names called in the first three rounds profiled as versatile, athletic linebackers in coverage, rather than traditional run-game thumpers.
The other linebacker in that group, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, was a projected first-round pick who fell to the second round. A lot like the interior linemen, the position has been changed by the NFL’s prolific passing attacks, and teams were willing to take chances on injured all-around linebackers like Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack as high as the second round because of their unique skill sets.
Beyond the top tier, LSU’s Deion Jones and Utah State’s Nick Vigil — a pair of linebackers who would have been considered undersized in the past — came off the board much higher than a run-first defender like Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers.
4. The right running back can force teams to rethink the NFL’s devaluation of the position.
Two years ago, analysts wondered whether the days of the first-round running back were gone, given the short shelf lives that often come with the pounding of the position.
When no running backs were chosen in the first round in 2013 and 2014 — and Saints back Mark Ingram was the only one in 2011 — the trend seemed to be in full force. But now teams have taken backs in the top 10 in consecutive years, and both Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott were taken much higher than initially projected.
Gurley lived up to his spot. If Elliott does the same, everything bodes well for LSU’s Leonard Fournette, widely considered the next transcendent player at the position.
5. Cleveland might be charting an entirely different path through the draft.
Everybody knew the Browns, all-in on a new analytical approach in the front office, wanted more picks, and Cleveland tied a record by assembling 14 selections.
What nobody expected was the Browns’ decision to draft four wide receivers — five if a receiver Cleveland projects as a tight end is counted — and completely remake their roster at a single position. Teams have doubled down, even tripled down on rebuilding position groups before.
Taking enough to fill a game day lineup? That hasn’t happened since the 1967 Saints, when the draft had 17 rounds.