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2016 NFL Draft: The first tier of prospects

Who are the top prospects in this year's draft class? Here's who we have at the top.

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Every NFL Draft class is different. Contrast the talent-laden 2011 draft and the 2013 draft, which was long considered to be a weak class. While eight of the first eleven players from 2011 have already been named first-team All-Pro (and A.J. Green is a two-time second-team All-Pro), the top of the 2013 class is lacking in accolades, with only Ezekiel Ansah and Sheldon Richardson being selected to the Pro Bowl out of the Top 16 picks.

The quality of these classes comes down to the depth of talent available. Every year has a certain number of prospects who are clear talents that should have no problem adjusting to the NFL, and a much larger number of flawed or undeveloped prospects. The distribution of players within these tiers explains the strength of a draft class. Here is how I like to break down players, in a way that  avoids sorting them into specific rounds of the draft:

Tier Name Description
1 Star Players The right combination of skill, talent, and mental makup. Foundational member of a team.
2 Major contributors An excellent prospect in most regards. Has one or two flaws holding him back. Should be a clear NFL starter.
3 Flawed impact players Has a significant flaw, but his skill or talent means he could be a great player in the right situation.
4 Sleeper agents Players whose abilities haven't "unlocked" yet. Perhaps held back by injuries or a limited college role. High growth potential.
5 Role players A prospect who would do well in a specialized role due to skill or athletic limitations. Probably too limited to start.
6 Depth and development Skill, athleticism, or off-field items holds this player back too much to be counted on. Should stick in the league for a few years as an injury fill-in.

In my evaluation of this year's class, I believe it to be a medium-strength class, without a star quarterback like the 2011 or 2012 drafts, but with a few excellent prospects and a healthy group of tier two and three players to fill in the first two rounds.

Today, let's take a look at the best this class has to offer: the top tier of prospects.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

You could assign an asterisk to this first player, if you'd like, because Tunsil hasn't completed any athletic testing yet. He also has a difficult relationship with his stepfather, which resulted in his being suspended seven games after the stepfather informed the NCAA of Tunsil receiving improper benefits from an agent. Lastly, he had two career injuries, a torn bicep and a fractured fibula he suffered in 2014.

Despite those question marks, I still have Tunsil as the top prospect in this draft. It comes down to his exceptional skill for playing left tackle - he's a natural talent, and has the legitimate ability to play this position like the next Joe Thomas. Take his junior season for instance. In his first game back from suspension, Tunsil was slated to go against Texas A&M's immensely talented sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett. While Garrett would finish the season with 12 sacks, he failed to notch a single one against Tunsil. Outside of Auburn's Carl Lawson (another future first rounder), no one was able to best Tunsil this year.

Outside of a serious red flag, such as a terrible short shuttle or a revelation that Tunsil is a big part of Robert Nkemdiche's peer group, Tunsil has earned the top spot by being a phenomenal talent at the second most important offensive position.

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State

Ramsey has been a leader at Florida State ever since the five star multi-sport athlete came onto campus. He was the first freshman to start at cornerback for the Seminoles since Deion Sanders, and started as a nickel corner-safety hybrid in every game of their undefeated 2013 season. Ramsey has been used as both a safety and a corner, and the track star has the size, speed, and agility to handle any position in the secondary. He's a dynamic playmaker who can intercept passes and force fumbles with equal skill. His mental makeup is top-notch, and teams love him. One of the safest bets in this draft class.

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Jack reopened the discussion about having top prospects hold themselves out of games to avoid injury when he tore his meniscus early this season. He recently attended the UCLA pro day at "around 80 percent," and while he didn't run the 40-yard dash or the three cone drill, his 40 inch vertical leap and 10'4" broad jump (at 245 pounds) demonstrate the insane athletic talent contained within.

Jack is simply one of the rare do-everything linebackers you see come up every couple of years. He can lock down the middle of the field like Luke Kuechly. You want him destroying the run like Navorro Bowman, he can do that. Need him to play an in-the-box enforcer safety like Kam Chancellor? He's athletic enough for that. Looking for a guy to bring some heat off the edge? Jack could probably do just as well as Jamie Collins in a situational pass rushing role. Want someone you can bring out at the three yard line for a special package on offense? Jack was Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year when he moonlighted as a running back and scored seven touchdowns in five games.

The only thing that might hold Jack behind is youth and inexperience. He's clearly an innately talented player, and will be a game changer for whichever defense he leads.

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

It looks like we've traveled down the spectrum from the JJ Watt comparisons (thank god), to the point where Bosa may now be underrated by the draft community. Bosa's kind of weird, when you compare his playing style with his athletic numbers. He measured up as a quick, bendy rusher, but his playing style is all about power and hand usage. I think a good comparison for him is a more advanced, more athletic Preston Smith. He's limited to a down lineman role due to his stature, but he has a good slate of pass rushing moves, an understanding of leverage, and great consistency to his game. He seems like the type of player you could lock into your starting lineup to pick up 8-12 sacks per year, a Michael Bennett type contributor who plays left end but can flex to three technique on third down.

What might have teams concerned about Bosa? He's not a dominant force on the defensive line, just a very good one in all aspects. Some scouts are also worried that he may have some connections to the drug-using group at Ohio State which saw Noah Spence banned from his conference, but we outsiders can only speculate on the truth of that statement.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

I've gone back and forth on Hargreaves, unsure whether his 5'10" stature or average 40-yard dash time would hold him back in the NFL. Ultimately, the bulk Hargreaves carries on his frame, the incredible athleticism he possesses in areas besides long speed, and his advanced understanding of the game override those concerns. He'll find a role as a top cornerback on just about any defense in the league, even if there are some bumps in the first year.