IRVING, Texas – As much as we might think we know about the 2016 NFL Draft, it's all going to change within the next week.
If you're following the draft cycle, you know we're about to gear up for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Assuming this isn't your first rodeo, you also know that – as silly as it seems – this upcoming week of tests, interviews and evaluations is going to change a lot about the draft landscape.
Look no further than just last year. Perhaps the most educated of draft prognosticators were familiar with Byron Jones before the 2015 NFL Combine, but he didn't cement his first-round draft status until he set a world record in the broad jump – not to mention his laundry list of other impressive results.
OK, great. So we know that a relative unknown can climb his way into the first round with a good week in Indy. But the Cowboys took Jones at No. 27 overall, and this year they'll pick at No. 4. It's hard to imagine that this draft's top 10 talents haven't already been nailed down. Surely, we're already familiar with the fourth overall pick, right?
Not quite, if the past is any indicator.
As much as we think we know about the upper echelon of the draft, it seems like a safe bet there will be at least one or two late risers. Conversely, there likely could be one or two elite prospects – guys who seem like top 10 locks – who will drop over the next few months.
Case in point: the Cowboys' own second-round draft pick last spring, Randy Gregory. For months before the draft process kicked into gear, Gregory was widely-regarded as a top-5 pick.
That was the case even as late as last February. I went back to last year, just before the league descended on Lucas Oil Field, and checked the consensus. Three draft experts whose opinions I respect – CBS' Dane Brugler, SBNation's Dan Kadar and ESPN's Todd McShay – all had Gregory as a top-10 pick.
In fact, in those three mocks, Gregory was slotted to go No. 2, No. 3 and No. 3, respectively.
As you likely know, Gregory failed a drug test in Indianapolis, and he plummeted all the way to the Cowboys at No. 60.[embeddedad0]
But he's not the only example. Just looking at these three mocks, you can see room for movement within the top 10. Missouri's Shane Ray was largely considered a top-10 pick at this time last year, and drug-related issues pushed him to the tail end of the first round.
Or perhaps at this early date we're assuming a lot based on potential. Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings was a gifted but raw prospect heading into the Combine last year. He had first-round buzz, but ultimately fell to the fourth round – likely because of a foot injury that concerned NFL evaluators.
In his place rose guys like Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers – talented players to be sure, but guys who took their time rising into the upper echelon of the draft order.
Position grade can have a lot to do with that. As has been discussed ad nauseam, teams tend to overvalue quarterbacks because of their importance. The same can be said for pass rushers and elite blockers. It's a safe bet that the value of a position is going to push some people up – and down -- the draft board as this process goes along.
I looked back further than just 2015, too. I took a quick look at the landscape in February of 2014, right around the time of the Combine. As you might expect, the familiar names were all in place. Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and Blake Bortles were all well-represented, but so to were Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Kony Ealy – all of whom fell far outside that top 10 range.
Point being: it's easy to feel like we've got it all figured out, given how much we've analyzed things so far. For the most part, we probably do. The early going of the draft should be largely predictable by the time the picks finally start happening.
That doesn't mean there's no room for a few curveballs, though. And if history is any indicator, they'll probably start flying in the next few weeks.