With spring football concluded we now find ourselves in the true horse latitudes of the college football season. But while college players are recuperating and their coaches are on the recruiting trail, players who just completed their collegiate careers are waiting to find out what comes next. For a lucky few, the answer is that their childhood dreams will come true when they hear their names called during the 2016 NFL Draft.
This year's festivities kick of with this evening's first round. Nominally the draft itself will start at 8:00 eastern, though if you're within sight of the ESPN family of networks you'll likely be unable to avoid coverage and analysis for hours before. As usual the worldwide leader in #sprots and their league partners have the NFL draft covered from every angle with live coverage on ESPN, streaming coverage through WatchESPN, and another feed on NFL Network. The order of picks 1 through 31 can be found here.
The once and future L.A. Rams are up first, having traded picks which could have been used on guys to block for Todd Gurley presumably to pick a guy to hand off to him. The consensus is that the guy in question will be Cal's Jared Goff. There's good statistical basis to believe Goff will be successful in the league. And taking quarterbacks high in the draft is a time-honored tradition. Still, I can't help but believe that the Rams could have improved faster with multiple picks on the offensive line and defensive front seven. But then I get paid to second guess football decision makers rather than to make the decisions. Ultimately time will tell on that one.
Goff however won't be the only QB to hear his name called tonight. The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to take North Dakota State signal caller Carson Wentz with the #2 pick, a pick for which, like the Rams, they paid dearly. Wentz has gone from relative unknown at the start of the 2015 season, to a borderline first round pick, to a potential top overall pick in recent weeks. If he doesn't become the next Tom Brady I'm certain the always forgiving Philly fanbase will overlook their team's mistake.
There's also a reasonable chance that Memphis QB Paxton Lynch will hear his name called during the first round, though gamesmanship among several teams makes it hard to know exactly when. There's also an outside shot that a team will take a late first round chance on Michigan State's Connor Cook or Penn State's Christian Hackenberg.
For Georgia fans the main attraction may be seeing where linebacker Leonard Floyd gets picked. Floyd has the type of athleticism only a handful of people on Earth possess. While his college career wasn't uniformly spectacular, Ian Rapaport hinted recently that teams may have begun to appreciate his potential, and that he could become the second top ten pick out of UGA in as many years. If he's still available when the hometown Atlanta Falcons pick at #17, well, they could do a lot worse.
Elsewhere in the SEC Alabama has a host of players who could go in tonight's first round, including linebacker Reggie Ragland, and defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed off Kirby Smart's 2015 defense. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is a bit of a wildcard, with most draft analysts picking him to go in tomorrow's second or third rounds. But a team could take the former Georgia Bulldog commit (man, that still stings...) late in the first. Keep an eye on the Seattle Seahawks, who're looking to replace the recently retired Marshawn Lynch.
All told, the SEC has had the most NFL draft picks of any conference for nine years running and is looking to extend the streak to ten. Georgia is looking to extend a streak of twenty-three consecutive years with a player picked in the draft dating back to 1993. By comparison Alabama last went without a player being picked in 2008. Tennessee had no one selected in last year's draft, and unless linebacker Curt Maggitt gets selected 2016 could make two years running for the first time in over 50 years.