It’s about time to roll out the first mock draft of the offseason. With most of the first-round draft order (up to pick No. 24) being finalized, I’ll take a guess at how the last seven picks in the first round will play out in the playoff chase.
As is the case with any mock draft, January mocks especially should be taken with a grain of salt. Until free agency occurs in March and teams start to fill their needs, this is as big a shot in the dark as you’ll find. But nonetheless, making these first
guesses predictions as to how the first round of April’s draft unfolds is always fun.
Underclassmen are denoted by an asterisk (*).
1. Tennessee Titans – OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss*
The Titans gave up 54 sacks last season, the most of any team in the league. Adding a player like Tunsil should help the team do a better job protecting quarterback Marcus Mariota, likely prompting Taylor Lewan to move to the right side, where he might be even better.
2. Cleveland Browns – QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis*
The Browns have missed on first-round passers Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel over the past five years, so for the sake of new head coach Hue Jackson, here’s hoping their third swing is a charm. Lynch is a big, strong-armed and athletic quarterback that may have Jackson reminiscent of his days coaching Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco.
3. San Diego Chargers – DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State*
The Chargers sported one of the league’s weakest defenses with both an underwhelming pass rush and run defense. The addition of a player like Bosa will help transform a front seven that is quickly falling behind their AFC West rivals in terms of formidability.
4. Dallas Cowboys – DE DeForest Buckner, Oregon
The Cowboys may want to have a defensive line that is just as renown as their offensive line. Buckner should slide easily into the same role filled by Greg Hardy this past year, playing outside on run downs and inside on passing downs. With Buckner, the Cowboys might be able to achieve a pass rush with equal acclaim as their blocking.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB/S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State*
The Jaguars have spent a number of years under head coach Gus Bradley trying to bolster their secondary to little avail. Ramsey offers much versatility, either as a ballhawk beside safety Jonathan Cyprien or locking up No. 1 receivers across from cornerback Davon House.
6. Baltimore Ravens – CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida*
The Ravens are desperate for playmakers in their secondary, having given up 30 touchdowns a year ago and only nabbing six interceptions. Hargreaves tallied 10 picks during his career at Florida, helping solidify the cornerback spot opposite Jimmy Smith.
7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Jared Goff, California*
With the recent hiring of Chip Kelly, the 49ers might be tempted to give it another go with the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. But it’s likely Kelly and the Niners won’t pass on the opportunity to get another young passer to mold for the future in Goff.
8. Miami Dolphins – CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson*
The Dolphins’ top corner in Brent Grimes is on the decline and could be released this offseason, leaving a massive void to fill at this position. Alexander is a bit but has the upside to be a No. 1 corner down the road.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson*
The Bucs have devoted far too many picks to the offensive side of the ball in recent years, and it’s time they address what has been an underwhelming pass rush for many years. Lawson gives them a solid edge-rusher that should help complement the pressure Gerald McCoy brings up the middle.
10. New York Giants – OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame*
Ereck Flowers was a disaster at left tackle last year and would be less exposed potentially playing the right tackle. While Stanley is not an elite left tackle prospect, he should offer a sizable upgrade to allow Flowers’ move.
11. Chicago Bears – ILB Myles Jack, UCLA*
While in San Francisco, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had dynamic inside linebackers in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, both of whom were capable of covering the best tight ends in the league one-on-one. Jack offers similar coverage potential, making him an attractive option to anchor the middle of the Bears defense.
12. New Orleans Saints – DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama*
The Saints are looking for any help they can get on the defensive side of the ball and adding another body up front to team with Cameron Jordan would be a smart move on their part. Whether the Saints employ a 4-3 or 3-4 next year, Robinson offers the ability to start at tackle or end and help out the 31st-ranked run defense.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
The Eagles opted to go with reclamation projects like Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford the past few years to little avail. Now it’s time to draft their future starter in Wentz, who offers good size, athleticism and a live arm.
14. Oakland Raiders – CB Eli Apple, Ohio State*
The Raiders’ decision to use their No. 1 pick on D.J. Hayden a few years ago looks bad in retrospect, as Hayden has struggled as a starter and might be destined to be a nickel corner. If so, they need to find a starter on the outside and Apple should be it.
15. St. Louis Rams – WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss*
While the Rams have gotten decent production out of Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin in recent years, neither represent a true No. 1 target. Treadwell can be that guy, giving them a dynamic weapon outside to complement their strong rushing attack.
16. Detroit Lions – OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The Lions need help up front and Decker should help provide it. He can slide into the left tackle spot, resulting in Riley Reiff being shuffled to either guard or right tackle, where he should be better.
17. Atlanta Falcons – ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
The Falcons need help on defense where middle linebacker Paul Worrilow has been abysmal the past two seasons despite high tackle numbers. Ragland essentially is the polar opposite of Worrilow due to the fact that he’s a big, physical run thumper in the middle. Ragland certainly fulfills the “physical” aspect of Dan Quinn’s requirement on defense, but also offers more speed than you’d expect in a 250-pound linebacker, certainly passing muster in the “fast” department as well.
18. Indianapolis Colts – OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia*
While the Colts probably would be smarter to draft an offensive lineman, GM Ryan Grigson can’t help himself. Bjoern Werner has been a bust thus far so adding another edge-rusher like Floyd gives them much-needed youth here with Trent Cole and Robert Mathis nearing their ends.
19. Buffalo Bills – ILB Darron Lee, Ohio State*
Currently, there is little to love at the linebacker position for the Buffalo Bills. As Rex Ryan tries to build up his defense, a player like Lee will be a very tempting target given his potential in coverage as well as blitzing.
20. New York Jets – OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is on the decline and might be able to give it one more year before the team moves on. The athletic Spriggs will be a nice heir apparent there, but also can potentially provide an immediate upgrade over right tackle Breno Giacomini.
21. Washington Redskins – S Jayron Kearse, Clemson*
The Redskins were stuck utilizing DeAngelo Hall at safety at the end of the year. While Hall fared well enough to think that he could stick there in 2016, the other safety spot is in desperate need of being upgraded. Kearse offers the size and speed that will have Redskins fans reminiscent of the late Sean Taylor, although he falls far short as a player.
22. Houston Texans – QB Connor Cook, Michigan State
Bill O’Brien did the best he could trying to keep the Texans treading water and in playoff contention with quarterbacks Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Ryan Fitzpatrick the past two years. It’s time he gets a young quarterback he can develop in Cook, even though this could be considered by many to be another reach at pick No. 22.
23. Minnesota Vikings – OT Shon Coleman, Auburn*
The Vikings need help on their offensive line and Coleman offers intriguing potential as a big, athletic blocker that is reminiscent of former teammate Greg Robinson. Coleman can be groomed as the heir apparent to Phil Loadholt at right tackle, where T.J. Clemmings struggled as a rookie.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame*
The Bengals showed no aversion to taking a flyer on a player like Smith that will need a redshirt season when they selected offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi a year ago. Smith can be stashed on the roster for a year with an eye towards him eventually replacing the mercurial Vontaze Burfict in 2017.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – DT Andrew Billings, Baylor*
Nose tackle Steve McLendon has been a serviceable stopgap in recent years, but is probably better suited to being a reserve than a starter. Billings can play the nose, solidifying what should be a stout three-man front alongside Casey Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
26. Seattle Seahawks – OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Recent first-round trades have cost the Seahawks opportunities to draft blockers like Travis Frederick and Joel Bitonio in recent years. They paid for that neglect this past year with one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Whitehair should be a welcome addition at guard to help solidify that unit.
27. Green Bay Packers – DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
The Packers have managed to get away with employing B.J. Raji as their nose tackle in recent years, but a player like Reed could be a significant upgrade there.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Corey Coleman, Baylor*
With Jeremy Maclin’s durability always a question mark and no legit secondary option on the outside, the Chiefs getting an explosive player like Coleman makes sense. Coleman has that game-breaking ability that should remind head coach Andy Reid of DeSean Jackson.
29. Denver Broncos – RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State*
With the likelihood that Brock Osweiler takes over the reins as the starting quarterback in 2016, the Broncos will need to transition even more into a run-first offense. Adding a potential workhorse back like Elliott is a significant upgrade over Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.
30. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky*
The Cardinals have managed to get away with employing a number of veteran edge-rushers like John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in recent seasons. Spence offers much-needed youth at the position and could be a formidable complement to Markus Golden and Alex Okafor in the future.
31. Carolina Panthers – RB Derrick Henry, Alabama*
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman believes in drafting the best player available, and it’s hard to argue that Henry isn’t exactly that. His size and power would make a good workhorse behind quarterback Cam Newton, especially given that Jonathan Stewart still struggles to stay healthy even considering his recent uptick in production the past two years.