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Safest prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft

The concept of risk aversion comes up more often in finance and economics classes than in NFL draft discussions. But if you want a real-life case study in the subject, check out how teams operate in the early rounds in this year's draft.

Being averse to risk means that you are not inclined to take unnecessary gambles. So, how high will teams select linebackers Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, given their respective injury history? Can Robert Nkemdiche be a first-round pick, despite concerns about his inconsistency and off-field issues? Is Carson Wentz worth the No. 1 pick even though he played at a lower level of competition in college (FCS)? Any general manager taking the gamble on these quandaries is not risk averse.

Other teams, however, will take the safer path to success. Sure, they might miss out on Nkemdiche or Jack if they consider those prospects' issues too heavy to lift. But they'll also build a solid team around the superstars they currently have on the roster, which can be a good way to ensure a foundation that won't crumble.

The following players will be higher on draft boards for teams leaning toward the risk-averse road:

  1. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State: When Conklin suits up, you know what you're getting. He is a bull with better athleticism than his thick body would suggest. He uses his frame to his advantage in the run game and no one will bull rush him. Whether he plays left or right tackle doesn't matter, especially in a league in which pass rushers are no longer lining up exclusively on a quarterback's blind side.
  1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Picking a running back as a "safe pick" is tricky. Not because Elliott doesn't deserve the accolades -- he's a complete back who runs hard and possesses quickness, straight-line speed and elusiveness. He catches the ball well, and is an outstanding blocker. But almost all running backs run into injury problems of some sort in their career. If he finds the fortune to stay healthy more often than not in his career, then he'll be one of the best backs in the league over the next 10 years.
  1. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon: Anyone who thinks Buckner is a risky prospect like Dion Jordan was coming out of Oregon has not watched Buckner's film. Buckner is already quite talented, and should only improve on his strengths as his body matures. The first-team All-Pac-12 pick has the potential to be a Calais Campbell-type presence inside, or could slide inside for teams like Dallas that value length in the interior. Either way, he'll be a long-time playmaker.
  1. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: If I had a top-10 pick in this draft and needed a receiver, I'd take Thomas. I don't care about his 40-yard dash results (4.57 seconds) -- he has elite quickness, hands and agility. Every time I watch him, all I can think of is how DeAndre Hopkins is ripping up the league with a similar skill set.
  1. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama: Reed doesn't have the "upside" of Chris Jones, Nkdemiche, or others in the loaded defensive tackle class. But he plays low enough to get leverage when using his power to hold the line of scrimmage, and is agile enough to move down the line to limit stretch plays. And unlike some larger nose tackle prospects, he is able to at least get in the way of quarterbacks trying to step up in the pocket to affect their throws on a consistent basis. Getting a three-down player with his strength is a worthwhile endeavor in the mid-to-late first round.
  1. Jared Goff, QB, Cal: Goff's pocket presence, footwork and accurate ball placement actually remind me quite a bit of Teddy Bridgewater's game. His decision-making is a bit quicker, however, and he'll only get stronger in the NFL. So ... what else do you want from an NFL quarterback? As the QBs expected to come off the board first (and potentially with the first two overall picks), history tells us that either Goff or Wentz won't meet expectations during their careers, but it's tough for me to think that Goff won't at least be good enough to help a team reach the playoffs consistently with a solid offensive group and some help from his defense.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter _@chadreuter_.

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