Star Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil spoke to the media late last week, giving us an optimistic, though expectedly vague, update on his recovery from that gruesome ankle injury suffered during the Peach Bowl Meltdown: he just started walking, hopes to be running by June and hasn't set a timetable for his return.
Amid that rather generic conversation, however, was this quote, via The Clarion-Ledger:
"I just have to keep working my butt off. When I come back out there, I'm just gonna have to show them who's going to be the first pick [in the 2016 NFL Draft]."
We've known since the day that Tunsil signed his letter of intent as a consensus five-star that he'd probably end up a first-rounder. But how realistic is it that he'll become the first Rebel since Eli Manning to get scooped with the top overall pick?
Pretty damn realistic, actually. WalterFootball.com has Tunsil, who's heading into his junior season, listed as the No. 3 pick in their 2016 mock draft and he's pretty much a consensus top-2 among offensive tackle rankings. So let's take a look at what it will take for the All-SEC performer to come off the board first a year from next month.
Shoo off that injury bug
The one real knock against Tunsil would be his propensity for injuries In addition to the fractured fibula/dislocated ankle he's currently recovering from, a knee issue cost him the 2014 Music City Bowl and he missed a few games in the middle of last season with a torn bicep. The good news is that none of those injuries were connected or chronic. If he was plagued with Darren McFadden-esque lower leg problems or was repeatedly tearing pectoral muscles like Brian Orakpo (seriously, what is that dude's chest made out of? Construction paper?), this would be a different story.
Just keep playing OT (or learn how to play QB)
Since 2007, only three positions have been picked No. 1 overall: quarterback, offensive tackle and defensive end (wideout Keyshawn Johnson was the last to break the mold in 1996). Of course, 12 of those 18 drafts were topped by a quarterback and Michigan State's Connor Cook is eyeing the prize for 2016. The top D-lineman for Tunsil's class will probably be Ohio State's Joey Bosa, who's currently topping most of the early mocks.
Still, two offensive tackles have gone No. 1 in the last seven drafts, including Eric Fisher two years ago (though the Chiefs would probably opt for a do-over on that). If Tunsil can climb atop the left tackle rankings and no quarterbacks step up, he's got a real shot at the top overall spot. Of course in order to do that, Tunsil will first need to...
Beat out the rest of the LT crop
For now, the battle for the best OT prospect is probably a two-horse race between Tunsil and Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley, who, despite being considered by some draft gurus to be the top blindside protector in the 2015 class, opted to return for his redshirt junior season. MSU's Jack Conklin could potentially join the party, as could Baylor's Spencer Drango, provided he shakes off some injury concerns. But none of those guys have the raw ability that Tunsil does -- this is his race to lose.
Beat out his own teammates
Hell, Tunsil might not even be the top pick on his own team: Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell could be top-10 picks themselves. In fact, Walter Football has all three of them coming off the board in the top seven picks next May. This is one hell of an alternate reality we're living in these days.