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2016 NFL Draft: The second tier of prospects

Who are the best prospects just below the "elite" tier in this year's draft? These are our picks.

As we break down the value in a draft class, it's often helpful to try and separate the players into value groups for their traits. We already examined the top players in this draft and what makes them so special.

Today, we're learning about the second tier of prospects in this year's draft. These make up the bulk of your first round selections in a good draft. Each of these players has a strong enough skill set that he should be expected to start in the NFL and earn another contract. Some of them will develop into big name players, potentially NFL icons. The thing that holds them out of tier one is either a lack of dominant traits or a significant flaw that needs to be corrected.

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.

DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon

The most physically imposing player in this draft: six foot seven, 291 pounds, with 34.4 inch arms and 11.8 inch hands. Athletically, somewhere in the space between defensive tackles and defensive ends.Think of Calais Campbell - swatting a few passes every season, getting around five or six sacks per year, and generally holding down one side of the line of scrimmage no matter who's in his way.

Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

Mostly an outstanding left tackle for the Fighting Irish. Extremely long arms, quick feet, and plays with solid technique so that he rarely makes mistakes. Not an advanced run blocker, but one of the best pass blocking offensive tackles in this draft, and capable of playing left tackle as a rookie. More of a finesse tackle than an all-around talent. When faced with a power lineman, especially one gifted with counter moves, he'll be beaten because he can't sink his hips. Some scouts saying that Stanley needs to have a hungrier mentality to his training and play.

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

The 6'3" 270 pound defensive end is one of the more athletic rushers this year, a top performer in the forty yard dash and the short shuttle. He's thickly built, has a strong upper body, and can play as a down lineman from the five technique out to the seven or eight. Has a powerful punch, a great bull rush, and does a great job shutting down the run in the backfield. Can't quite bend the edge, and he's not comfortable dropping into coverage, rushing technique could improve. Has a shoulder injury that he's played with in his career, which was apparently flagged at the Combine.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

A natural passer with clear gifts in reading the field, placing throws in good spots, and moving around in the pocket. Moves cleanly in the pocket, is comfortable stepping up against edge pressure, will use pocket movement to bait defenders, and has athleticism to run away and head for a first down or the sideline if the protection breaks down. Fast, compact throwing motion. Arm strength is average. He can zip passes into place on difficult routes, but many of his deep passes take a lower arc than you'd like. He still displays good touch and placement on those throws, helping his receivers reel them in despite the arc. Accuracy is generally very good, and he knows how to lead receivers downfield, but sometimes if pressured he will throw behind receivers or overthrow.
Goff's field reading is effective, and if he sees a man coming open he'll deliver, but sometimes he can get locked onto a specific read, believing his receiver open, and throw up an interception. It's not so much staring down his receiver as it is making a throw, only to have his receiver lose on the route and the defender be in position to make the catch.

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

The best pass rushing defensive tackle in this draft. Excellent burst and agility, but also features strong hands and advanced pass rushing techniques. Has a powerful bull rush, rip and swim moves, and an awesome spin move as a counter to everything else. Doesn't have great size at 6'1" 300 pounds, so he's most effective at the three technique, but a creative defensive coordinator could get a lot of production from him. Also very deadly against the run, if he keeps from rushing too far upfield.

Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

Mr. Draft Hype himself. Outstanding size, great arm talent, and a head familiar with pro-style concepts. His accuracy is mostly consistent, and when he's on he can hit players in stride anywhere on the field. He has a good use of pump fakes and play action for fooling defenses. Mobile enough to run for a first down on a bootleg, and is comfortable running between the tackles.

Has the tendency to stare down his intended target. He tries to bait defenders into peeling away with pump fakes, but it doesn't often work. He can be slow to move through his progressions, and when pressured he likes to pull a Favre and try for a high risk, high reward throw.
Wentz missed most of his senior season with a broken wrist but returned for the championship game to lead NDSU to victory. If he played for Florida State, would he already be the consensus #1 prospect?

Mackenzie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Didn't work out at the Combine, which may have hurt his stock when Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, Eli Apple, and others looked so good in workouts. At his best, a dominant off corner. Reads plays quickly, takes great angles, gets off blockers to make tackles. Excellent at the catch point, breaking up plenty of passes (though he never intercepted any in college). At times a tick slow to change direction, plant and drive, or just get over the top of a receiver. Footwork could be more refined. Very intelligent, very competitive, and very talkative - the mentality of a star cornerback.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

The best running back in this draft class, or at least the most well-rounded by far. Excellent long speed, great at navigating through small spaces to find an opening, a big and powerful body that can spin through arm tackles for extra yards. His main weakness is that his size makes him somewhat of a momentum-based runner. If he gets two or three steps, he's dangerous, but he's vulnerable in the backfield. Excellent blocking back with good form and effort. Also dangerous as a pass receiver, and has nifty footwork near the sidelnes.

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

One of my favorite players in this draft, yet one of the most polarizing overall. His game versus DeForest Buckner was a fascinating litmus test. (Who do you think won the matchup?) Great size for the position and more athletic than many give him credit for. Great playing strength and handfighting power. Can sink his hips into a rock-solid anchor, run-blocks with a mean streak. Still has a few technical flaws - sometimes steps backward in pass protection, giving up leverage, and handfighting needs to be faster and less shoving. Should be able to start at left or right tackle.

Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

After some internal back-and-forth, Doctson is my top receiver in this draft. In terms of analytics, The 6'2" 202 pounder is the best receiver this year: big hands, top-tier jumps and shuttles at the Combine. In Matt Harmon's Reception Perception metrics, Doctson is a top-three receiver against man, zone, and press coverages, and the best at contested catches. I think he has the best shot to be a number one receiver out of this year's group.

Noah Spence, ER, Eastern Kentucky

The first question with Spence is his off-field concerns. Since moving to EKU, he's been totally clean. The only incident was an arrest one year ago for disorderly conduct because he tried throwing a glass bottle into a trash can at night and missed, while a cop was nearby. The second question is how his athleticism matches to his size. Spence, at 6'2" 251 pounds, has above-average athletic metrics, but you'd want to see more eye-opening numbers for a top-tier edge rusher. Still, Spence has an excellent dip-and-rip technique, and a lower tier Dwight Freeney is still in play for him.

Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State

This year's Zack Martin. Whitehair was a 6'3" 300 pound left tackle at Kansas State who's moving inside. Outstanding technique, has a wide base and plays with balance. Can sink his hips to establish a strong anchor. Advanced handfighting. The best at mirroring in this class. Moves very well. My only concern is that he might struggle a bit to open running lanes on the inside working against 310 pound tackles instead of the 250 pound defensive ends he faced in college.

Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

A throwback middle linebacker, with both the good and the bad that entails. Excellent at taking on blocks and stuffing the run. Tracks plays very well through the backfield. Has good enough athleticism, especially on plays in front of him, that he can chase players down towards the sideline for short gains. Great form tackler. Awareness plays up in coverage, and he can shut down his immediate zone. That said, he doesn't have the fluid hips that the modern NFL tends to desire, and he'll struggle covering faster tight ends. There are also concerns with his fluctuating weight pre-draft.

Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA

Clark is an athletic, country-strong nose tackle beginning to develop handfighting techniques. A rare nose tackle who is worth a first round pick, because he is athletic enough to be on the field for three downs. Flexed between 0, 1, and 3 tech at UCLA, sometimes played standing up, sometimes played in a four point stance. Very powerful bull rusher with strong hands. Can even push back on a double team. Pass rushing is decent, mainly relying on the bull. Handfighting is developing and rips are starting to show up in his game. Good awareness, especially for screens and misdirection. Doesn't play a crucial position, but will improve the line around himself.