It's December, that special time of year when you will get to unwrap your first 2016 NFL mock draft. Monday also marked exactly 150 days until the NFL draft. So, in what has become an annual tradition, we're here with a quick, 20-question primer to get you going for draft season.
1. Who are the quarterbacks we'll be talking about on the first night of the draft?
Kiper: Two for certain, three possible, and a fourth for good measure.
Paxton Lynch of Memphis and Jared Goff of Cal are the two possible top-10 picks right now. Lynch has the great range of tools, and Goff has a special arm, moves well, and has a ton of experience. The third name to add to the Round 1 mix is Connor Cook of Michigan State, who at his best looks like a first-round lock, but can struggle with ball placement on his throws. The name to watch as a possible late-first pick. perhaps by some team trading back into the first round, is Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. Forget the school name. If Wentz, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, were playing for Bama or Florida State you'd think, "Man, that team has a really good QB." He can move really well.
2. Good QB class, bad QB class, or average QB class?
McShay: It's a disappointing QB class compared with its preseason potential. The bright spot has been the emergence Paxton Lynch (28 TDs, 3 INTs). If he leaves early, he's likely to be the first QB drafted. Jared Goff makes some exceptional throws but is still too inconsistent with his accuracy (11 INTs in nine Pac-12 games). I'd like to see him return to school to improve his footwork and add bulk/strength to his frame, but it appears he has different plans. Neither Lynch nor Goff will receive as high a grade as Jameis Winston last year, but I expect both to be first-round picks if they declare.
Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones have been the biggest disappointments this season. Hackenberg's best season at Penn State was under Bill O'Brien as a freshman. With a 53.3 percent completion rate this season, he's simply not accurate enough to warrant first-round consideration. Jones struggled to process information fast enough in Urban Meyer's system, and his accuracy dipped significantly from the three-game sample to end last season. His best option is to transfer to a school where he can play in 2016, but it appears he, too, has different plans.
3. Player who's helped his stock the most this season?
Kiper: I think Paxton Lynch wins this in a runaway. Nobody is saying he's a sure thing, and I really think he could use time on an NFL bench before he's ready to start games, but he has elevated his stock and plays well enough against good defensive competition. He was not projected as a possible top-10 pick before the year started. Not even close.
4. Is there a team who should be at all excited to get the No. 1 pick?
McShay: Of the teams in contention for the top pick, at 2-9 or 3-8, Tennessee (2-9) is the only one without any pressure to reach for a QB. With Marcus Mariota in place for the long term, the Titans could take the No. 1 player on our board, Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, without hesitation. Bosa is scheme-versatile, so he would work no matter the new coaching staff. Ole Miss LT Laramy Tunsil would fill a bigger need for the Titans, but it'd be hard to pass on Bosa.
5. What do you think, Mel?
Kiper: Eh, I think if you asked the teams nobody would want to pick No. 1 this year. It's not because there isn't talent to be had, it's because there's no obvious transcendent talent, and that means you don't get that player and it makes it hard to move down. Not a fun answer, but that's reality as of today.
6. Who are the guys we'll all be calling "freaks" after the NFL combine?
McShay: If they elect to leave early, Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil, Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith, OSU OLB Darron Lee and Clemson S Jayron Kearse should all shine at the combine. Baylor DE Shawn Oakman, who is 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, will also be a workout warrior. (Just type his name into YouTube and watch some of his videos.)
Here's an under-the-radar guy to keep an eye on: Virginia Tech DE/OLB Dadi Nicolas. He's a physical freak who could turn some heads in Indy.
7. What's the deepest position this year?
Kiper: Cornerback. Yeah, that's a position where you constantly see rookies struggle, but you have two top-five talents in Jalen Ramsey of Florida State and Vernon Hargreaves III of Florida, and tons of talent thereafter. Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech and Tre'Davious White of LSU are also potential first-rounders. After that I'd put defensive tackle or interior lineman as a top group.
8. Is there a QB who can start right away and not look bad?
McShay: No. None of the 2016 QB prospects are as NFL-ready as Winston was coming into this season, and we all saw how long it took him to adjust to the NFL. Of this year's batch, Connor Cook is the most prepared mentally, given his extensive experience in a pro-style offense. But like Mel mentioned earlier, his accuracy issues are a concern. Jared Goff, who plays in a spread system, and Paxton Lynch, who has had a lack of elite competition, will face big adjustments at the next level.
9. Is this another group of big, tall wide receivers?
Kiper: Yeah, there's plenty of size once again. Laquon Treadwell is a big body, Josh Doctson has good length, Michael Thomas has a big frame and can win on contested catches. Those are three right at the top. Among the top 10 guys in my current ranking of wide receivers, only Corey Coleman is safely under 6 feet, and he's an absolute burner, so you get the trade-off. It's not a notably huge group -- there's no Calvin Johnson or Mike Evans -- but size isn't lacking in general.
10. Which player comp do you think is most spot-on?
McShay: I can see the Michael Crabtree comparisons with TCU's Josh Doctson. They're similar in size, and neither will wow you in the 40, but both possess outstanding natural ball skills. Taking it a step further, both played in college spread offenses. Doctson will have to adjust to pro-style offenses, just like Crabtree did as a rookie in 2009 coming out of Texas Tech.
11. By the time it's April, Mel, who are people going to be saying, "Oh, Kiper loves that guy!"
Kiper: An injury to Myles Jack of UCLA didn't hurt him in my rankings. I think people will think I'm a big fan of his when others dropped him. Vonn Bell of Ohio State is a safety I'm really high on. A'Shawn Robinson of Alabama is well regarded, but I've been a big fan since he was a freshman and think he's more versatile than some others do. I really liked Emmanuel Ogbah going back to early last season -- he's now draft-eligible. Carson Wentz is a QB I don't think most would consider a possibility for Round 1, but I don't see why not at this point.
12. How about you, Todd?
McShay: I absolutely love watching tape on Joey Bosa. He plays with great energy and always seems to be around the ball. It's been great to see Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell bounce back from his injury last season. He's the most pro-ready pass-catcher in this class. I was pretty high on Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins entering this season, but his stock has risen even more in my book. He's extremely disruptive against the run.
13. Which player has hurt his stock the most this season?
Kiper: Christian Hackenberg could use more help, but there's no question he hasn't been able to really shine and carry the offense at Penn State. He should consider going back to school. Cardale Jones is an obvious one. He's not the starter now and didn't play too well when he was. Shawn Oakman of Baylor has the frame of an action figure, but he's not a first-rounder on my board right now. Su'a Cravens is a player I really like, but fit could be a question at the next level. Leonard Floyd of Georgia is kind of like a Barkevious Mingo from 2013. Still more of an athlete than a player.
14. Which player are you most excited to see play on Sundays?
I don't know if excited is the right word, but I'm really interested to see how some of these off-the-line OLBs transition to the next level. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Myles Jack (UCLA), Su'a Cravens (USC) and Darron Lee (Ohio State) all have great range vs. the run and in coverage, but they'll need to improve their take-on skills in the NFL. Whether they declare this year or next, I'll be watching to see how their big-play ability translates to Sundays.
15. Who's the underclassman with nothing left to prove to NFL scouts?
Kiper: I'll give you a few: Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, Jaylon Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, Laquon Treadwell. Stay healthy and get ready for the combine. These guys have all played plenty of football.
16. What about the underclassman who could use another year of development?
McShay: All of the quarterbacks. Seriously. I talked about it above, but none of these guys are ready to be effective Day 1 starters in the NFL. I'd prefer to see them come back and continue to develop their skill sets.
17. Is there a Todd Gurley in this class?
Kiper: I don't think Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott is at Gurley's level as an athlete, but he's a complete player, good in every phase, and has a high floor. Round 1? Maybe.
18. Who's the player from last year's class you are most surprised by?
McShay: RB Thomas Rawls has been a sparkplug for the Seahawks with Marshawn Lynch out. He's gone off for nearly 300 yards the last two weeks alone and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this season. He went undrafted out of Central Michigan, and we had a free-agent grade on him.
19. Who's the player from last year's class you are least surprised by?
Kiper: Leonard Williams is exactly who we thought he was. The No. 1 player on my final 2015 Big Board, he fell to No. 6 in the draft, but the Jets love him, and he's already a very good NFL starter. Same story with Amari Cooper. Came ready to play, has been ready to play. I really thought both these guys were ones you could plug in from Day 1. So far, so good.
20. The draft is back in Chicago. Better than NYC?
McShay: I was blown away with the fan experience at Draft Town. The weather is a big key. On Thursday last year leading up to Round 1, it was 40 degrees and windy all day, which isn't fun for the fans or those of us on an outdoor set. But it was an amazing scene on Saturday when it was in the 60s and sunny. Here's hoping for more of that in 2016.