Never before had a team moved from so far down up to the No. 1 spot in the draft, as the Los Angeles Rams did going from No. 15 to No. 1. But perhaps never before has a top-tier quarterback so closely correlated to claiming the Lombardi Trophy. Four men have quarterbacked their teams to 10 of the last 13 championships. And that’s not including quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, Super Bowl MVPs who keep their team in contention every year.
Have a good quarterback, and you’re positioned for a good season. Have an elite passer, and you’re likely pushing for a title. Los Angeles and Philadelphia are all-in on that concept with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. But it’s worth noting that the guy with four rings, Tom Brady, was a sixth-round pick. Wilson went in the third, Brees at the top of the second and Rodgers was 24th overall in the first round. Of course, those Manning boys were the top overall picks in 1998 and 2004. It’s far from an exact science. And long is the list of highly drafted signal-callers who led their teams to the gates of mediocrity, if even that far.
Not everyone is chasing a quarterback in 2016, however. For most teams, it’s about assembling those complementary pieces around their signal-caller — from pass catchers to pass rushers, and running backs to run-stuffers. The draft, after all, is the best way to find and fit players into that championship puzzle. A great quarterback can elevate a team to greatness. But they can’t do it alone. Packers general manager Ted Thompson has worked the draft better than most in his 12 years at the helm. Their key to another title could come down to playmakers on the defensive line and linebacker. Making sure a former second-round pick from Kansas State is back to full strength will go a long way, as well.
With that in mind, here’s how I see the first round playing out.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Jared Goff, QB, California
The Rams gave up a king’s ransom to move up for what most believe is Goff. They’ve got one of the league’s best defensive lines, one of the best young backs in last year’s first-round pick, Todd Gurley, and an explosive playmaker in receiver Tavon Austin. Now they get the most pro-ready triggerman for their return to L.A. — and he’s a Cali native, to boot.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Eagles GM Howie Roseman compared Goff and Wentz to sausage and pepperoni pizza. It’s not that one is better; some people just prefer one over the other. Philly loves the upside on Wentz, isn’t worried about the level of competition he played against, and is excited to have former NFL QBs Doug Pederson and Frank Reich coach him up while he sits for a year behind Sam Bradford — unless they honor Bradford’s request for a trade, which seems unlikely.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
It will be tempting to take CB Jalen Ramsey with this pick to improve their 20th-ranked defense. But Tunsil was talked about for months as the top overall pick and the Bolts grab a player that can open holes for last year’s top pick, Melvin Gordon, and keep veteran QB Philip Rivers clean.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Jalen Ramsey, FS, Florida State
The Cowboys need a pass rusher so Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa will be tempting here, but they opt for the ubertalented Ramsey, who could play either free safety or corner.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
The medical rechecks are a cause for concern, but the Jags worked him out personally and can’t resist adding this instinctive, athletic difference-maker. Along with last year’s pick, Dante Fowler, who spent the year on IR, the Jags will have a young, aggressive defense to be reckoned with for Green Bay in Week 1.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Deforest Buckner, DE, Oregon
With quarterbacks going one-two, talented players get pushed down the board. It’s not necessarily a need, but the Ravens can’t pass up a physical and disruptive force that played defensive end in Oregon’s 3-4 scheme and even some nose tackle at 6-7, 291.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers: Ronnie Staley, OT, Notre Dame
It wouldn’t be a shock to see them grab Memphis QB Paxton Lynch, but with holes to fill on the line, the Niners opt for a franchise left tackle to protect whoever becomes the long-term answer at quarterback.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Cleveland passed on Goff and Wentz and opted for a bevy of picks to bolster the roster. It passes on Memphis QB Paxton Lynch and takes the best pass rusher on the board — a local favorite — who surprisingly is still available.
TAMPA BAY BUCANNEERS: Vernon Hargraves III, CB, Florida
Hargraves isn’t the biggest or fastest corner but the three-time all-SEC pick is instinctive and aggressive, excelling as a ballhawk and run stopper.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The Giants have former Packer Marshall Newhouse at right tackle. Need we say more? They also were 18th in rushing last year with a less-than-stellar running back by committee. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot will be tempting, but Conklin is considered by some to be on par with Tunsil.
CHICAGO BEARS: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The Bears need a versatile, impact edge rusher as they enter Year 2 of their transition to a 3-4 scheme, and Lawson is just too good to pass up. An “elephant” type of end-linebacker, he’s a powerful package in the mold of current Bears defender Pernell McPhee.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
One of the premier defensive linemen in arguably the draft’s deepest position, Rankins immediately improves a Saints defense that finished near the bottom in most categories with proven run-stuffing ability and an improving pass rush skill-set.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
With running back Lamar Miller leaving for Houston, Miami’s new coaching staff is ecstatic to grab the draft’s most complete back to take over their ground game. This could wind up being the steal of the draft. Then again, they may need to trade up if they really want him.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Elliott might’ve been the call had he been available. But with considerations on the defensive line, linebacker and offensive tackle, the Silver and Black upgrade a secondary that just lost Hall of Famer Charles Woodson to retirement.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
The Titans get a boatload of picks to trade down to the Rams’ spot and still get a talented offensive tackle to keep Marcus Mariota clean and help out in the run game. Not too shabby.
DETROIT LIONS: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
It would be tempting to add a pass rusher like Kevin Dodd on the other side of NFC sack leader Ziggy Ansah, but the Lions look for a transforming presence on offense after Megatron’s retirement.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
The fourth Ohio State player comes off the board and the Falcons get a speedy three-down backer who ran a 4.38 and can cover as well as make plays against the run, in the mold of Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier, whom Lee replaced at OSU.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
The Colts are comfortable that Spence’s off-field issues are a thing of the past and grab one of the draft’s premier pass-rush talents. If he stays on the straight-and-narrow, it’s a great pick at this spot.
BUFFALO BILLS: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
In a run on red-flag prospects, Rex Ryan opts for both sacks and “baggage” with the selection of the draft’s most talented enigma. The 6-foot-3, 294-pound Nkemdiche was charged with marijuana possession after falling 15 feet from a hotel balcony, but has an undeniable blend of raw talent and athleticism that can wreak havoc on AFC East opponents.
NEW YORK JETS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
In passing on a quarterback, the assumption is that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be back under center. In selecting Floyd, the assumption is that the Jets watched Damarcus Ware and Von Miller pressure Tom Brady all afternoon and would like to get in on the act.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
It’s time for Washington to cut down on that 4.8 yards per carry given up to opposing runners, which ranked 31st in the NFL. In Ragland, they get the top-rated inside linebacker, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, defensive captain for the national champions and first-team All-American.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Some see Doctson as the draft’s best receiver. Not the tallest or the fastest, the Texas native has a big catch radius, great hands and body control, and will make an excellent complement to DeAndre Hopkins for new QB Brock Osweiler.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets the little red Corvette of receivers in Fuller, a speed demon who blazed a 4.28 at his pro day. Fuller had too many drops in college but, baby, he’s much too fast to pass up here.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Coleman was the Biletnikoff Award winner as college football’s top receiver with 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns. If teams want to overcommit to A.J. Green, Coleman will make them pay.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
It’s back-to-back Baylor Bears as the Steelers grab an athletic, high-effort big man who can clog the middle at nose tackle and offer some pass rush, as well. Billings gets the nod ahead of Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State
There’s not a single starting offensive lineman left from the unit that won Super Bowl XLVIII. Whitehair is a 50-game starter with experience at guard and tackle who can offer immediate help.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Jarron Reed, DT, Alabama
Assuming Green Bay doesn’t trade out of this spot to a team antsy for a quarterback, a defensive lineman seems like a foregone conclusion. The only question is which one. Reed gets the nod over Robinson, but you could argue he was no less valuable to the Crimson Tide’s defensive dominance. Reed bolsters arguably the team’s biggest area of need after nose tackle B.J. Raji surprised everyone with his hiatus, and Mike Pennel got served with a four-game suspension to start the year after testing positive for a banned substance. At 6-foot-3, 311 pounds, Reed is definitely more run stopper than pass rusher, but he can be an anchor for the Packers’ run defense the way he was in Tuscaloosa. A plug-and-play starter for the Packers at nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense, he’s got the strength and athleticism to play outside as needed or inside in the nickel.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
A first-team all-ACC pick, Alexander draws comparisons to Josh Norman. In two years with the Tigers, Alexander was so sticky in coverage that teams rarely even looked his way. The caveat to that skill-set is that after two years of college ball, he had zero interceptions and just 11 pass breakups.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Forfeited pick
ARIZONA CARDINALS: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
The Cards need a starting center and Alabama’s Ryan Kelly is there for the taking, but they opt for the other side of the line when man-child Robinson slides down to them. Just 20 years old, Robinson has length, strength and two years of experience lining up all over the right side of Bama’s defensive front. Questions about his pass rush and passion push him down the board, but Arizona bolsters an already-stout defensive front.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
This pick isn’t all about Josh Norman, but Apple falling to Carolina seems like the perfect marriage of need and best player available. An aggressive playmaker that’s equally adept at man or zone coverage, Apple can be a difference-maker in a Panthers secondary that suddenly has a gaping hole.
DENVER BRONCOS: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
Out with one 6-foot-7 quarterback and in with another. Considered a bit of a project, Lynch is an accurate passer with enough of an upside to warrant hearing his name called at the end of Round 1. More importantly, he gives the defending Super Bowl champs someone to groom behind Mark Sanchez — who was never viewed as a long-term answer. How long GM John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak wait to put Lynch into the starting lineup remains to be seen.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered every Packers draft since 1994 and will be crisscrossing his way between Chicago and Green Bay this year. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.