This is my fourth mock draft of the 2016 offseason and the first one that probably isn’t a complete shot in the dark because it finally factors in the bevy of free-agent signings that have occurred over the past week.
It also should be noted that this is my first mock draft since the Scouting Combine concluded at the end of February, so I’ll definitely be factoring in how that event shifted things as well.
Sere’s my best guess at what the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft might look like, factoring in the Combine, first week of free-agent signings and potentially some other ones that could be looming on the horizon.
1. Tennessee Titans – DB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
I have projected the Titans to take offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in each of my previous three mock drafts and to be completely honest, I still believe he is the front-runner for the No. 1 overall pick. But Walter Football had some interesting rumors that Ramsey’s Combine workout and interviews really boosted his stock and puts him in the conversation to be the first overall selection. And just so I could be different this time, I decided to roll with it. As for Ramsey’s role with the Titans, they need both safety and cornerback help, so his versatility to play both makes him exceedingly attractive, thus the “DB” designation.
2. Cleveland Browns – OT Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
If the Browns are successful in trading for Colin Kaepernick, then it means they will become less likely to tab Carson Wentz with their top selection. If that is the case, then Tunsil should shoot to the top of their draft wish list. Given the housecleaning that has occurred thus far in free agency with the losses of starters Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz, there is a need to buoy the Browns’ offensive line. Joe Thomas is 31 and signed through 2019, but finding a player like Tunsil that can be his heir apparent long-term and also solidify the right side over the short term is a smart call.
3. San Diego Chargers – QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
This only is a re-hash of the conversations that occurred a year ago when there were rumors about the Chargers dealing quarterback Philip Rivers in an effort to snag Marcus Mariota at the top of the draft. That didn’t work out as Rivers signed an extension last summer. But that extension included potential outs for the Chargers as they could dump or trade him really at any point beginning in 2017. Wentz is a developmental project by most standards and getting a year (or two) to sit behind Rivers might help him. After all, Rivers got that exact treatment behind Drew Brees when he entered the league 12 years ago. Throw in the possibility of a Chargers move to Los Angeles in 2017, something that Rivers has previously expressed disdain for, it makes sense for them to find their future franchise quarterback now.
4. Dallas Cowboys – DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
While there has been much talk about the Cowboys drafting a future heir apparent to Tony Romo at quarterback, the reality is if that is indeed an option it would most likely be Wentz or bust given that is who the team worked with closely during Senior Bowl week. Owner Jerry Jones quashed that talk during the Combine last month, which could of course be a very clever smoke screen. But instead I buy it because getting a player like Bosa at this spot would be very appealing to the Cowboys, who have been working to beef up their defensive line in the same way they have on their offensive line in recent years. Bosa can play that inside/outside role at end and tackle that Greg Hardy was expected to fill.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – ILB Myles Jack, UCLA
The Jaguars were destined to almost certainly take the best defensive player available, unless a guy like Tunsil would slide to them here. Their spending to solidify both the back and front ends of their defense by adding safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Prince Amukamara, and defensive tackle Malik Jackson makes it much likelier that they will look to get better in the middle when the draft rolls around. That puts Jack firmly on their radar, where his abilities could make him an excellent player next to Telvin Smith.
6. Baltimore Ravens – DE DeForest Buckner, Oregon
Solidifying their front with a player of Buckner’s stature, given his big, powerful frame and massive hands would be a smart move for the Ravens. It’s not the replacement for Terrell Suggs on the edge that is also needed, but it does beef up a front that lacks a dominator. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams certainly are good, but Buckner has the potential to be one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the league.
7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Jared Goff, California
Given this mock already has assumed that Kaepernick is on his way to Cleveland, it only makes sense for the 49ers to find his replacement at this pick. Goff may not be the traditional mobile passer that many think of when they envision the guy running Chip Kelly’s offense, but his decisiveness and accuracy will make him a good fit regardless.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami) – RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Swapping this pick as part of the trade to ship off Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso, the Eagles might surprise many with a selection of Elliott. This move makes sense from the perspective that Doug Pederson saw the value of having a good running back like Jamaal Charles in Kansas City. This is a very high pick for a running back, but given the success of Todd Gurley and the fact that some see Elliott as a better overall prospect, it’s a “risk” the Eagles are willing to take to offset any concerns they may have for their passing game.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
Despite the recent addition of Brent Grimes, the Bucs are probably looking for more help at cornerback. Grimes will be 33 years old when the season starts and fellow starter Alterraun Verner is coming off a lackluster season. However the main reason the Bucs choose Apple here is due to his size and length. After all they play in a division that will feature four contests against Julio Jones and Kelvin Benjamin, so they need to find a player that can match up. Apple might be rawer than the other potential candidates, but the presence of Grimes and Verner allows Tampa Bay some leeway to develop him.
10. New York Giants – OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
The Giants splurged in free agency to sign many defensive playmakers, making it a much higher probability that they look to bolster their offense when the draft rolls around. While there are more athletic tackles available, the Giants have shown a tendency to prefer toughness over pure athleticism in their blockers, evidenced by recent additions like Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh and Geoff Schwartz. Conklin fits that bill and is also a bit more athletic than people probably would have guessed.
11. Chicago Bears – OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
The Bears solidified the right side of their line by adding tackle Bobby Massie in free agency and will now need to work on bolstering the left. Stanley has been knocked for a lacking work ethic, but the Bears might hope that a John Fox-led coaching staff can whip him into shape.
12. New Orleans Saints – CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Much like the Bucs, the Saints need help on the back end and have to think of how they can deal with players like Jones and Benjamin for the next several seasons. While Alexander lacks ideal size, he is a physical, press corner with upside that could potentially overcome those height/length deficiencies with time and development.
13. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia) – DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
The Dolphins are old at defensive end now that they seem poised to keep Cameron Wake (34) while also adding Mario Williams (31) this past week. Adding a young edge-rusher like Lawson makes a ton of sense given that reality. Lawson is also the only edge-rusher in this class that seems to fit the bill as a legit top-level talent if you think athleticism matters (and you should).
14. Oakland Raiders – OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Even though expectations have been strong that Donald Penn will continue to man left tackle in Oakland, there hasn’t been a ton of movement on that front. But even if the do retain him, the soon-to-be 33-year old tackle doesn’t have a ton of time left. Throw in the knee injury that right tackle Austin Howard suffered late last season, there is both a need to shore up the tackle spot long and short-term. That’s where Spriggs comes in where his athleticism would make a good fit to be developed.
15. Los Angeles Rams – CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
Despite every effort to indicate that they are fully confident in quarterback Case Keenum, it’s hard to imagine the Rams passing up on a player with Paxton Lynch’s ability. But perhaps they do truly believe that their best avenue for success lies with a dominant defense rather than competent quarterback play. Their blitz-heavy defensive scheme under requires having corners you trust on an island and with the loss of Janoris Jenkins to New York, it’s serendipitous to replace him with another Gator alum in Hargreaves, who is arguably better.
16. Detroit Lions – OLB Darron Lee, Ohio State
If the Lions are able to land a blocker like Russell Okung, it should seriously address holes along the offensive line, freeing them up to potentially add more help defensively. Despite retaining Tahir Whitehead in free agency, the loss of Stephen Tulloch means that the Lions could use another playmaker at linebacker. Lee adds speed and playmaking ability on the outside while the Lions could move Whitehead inside to middle linebacker, as he desires.
17. Atlanta Falcons – DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
The Falcons helped bolster a lackluster pass rush by signing defensive ends Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn already this offseason. They might look for more with Chris Long and are also eyeing middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. With Long and Laurinaitis on their radar, it’s clear that the Falcons are enamored with something about the Los Angeles Rams’ front seven. Obviously the something that stands out about that unit is defensive tackle Aaron Donald. With the departure of defensive tackle Paul Soliai and no incoming free-agent defensive tackle looming on the horizon, the Falcons might be looking to employ Grady Jarrett as the primary option to replace Soliai in the middle. That would seemingly conflict with the vision of Jarrett replacing an aging Jonathan Babineaux as a penetrating pass-rush specialist on the defensive line as early as 2017. If so, selecting Rankins would offer a perfect candidate instead to replace Babineaux with a disruptive, lightning quick pass-rush specialist on the interior that is reminiscent of Donald.
18. Indianapolis Colts – OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
With the Colts releasing former first-round pick Bjoern Werner and having the aging Trent Cole and Robert Mathis still on the roster, there is a need to add another young pass-rusher. Floyd has the long, lanky build that typically hasn’t led to NFL success in the recent past with players like Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo, but the Colts rarely follow conventional wisdom early in the draft.
19. Buffalo Bills – DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
Mario Williams never quite fit in Rex Ryan’s defense because he spent too much time playing five-technique defensive end, rather than being allowed to line up wider and pin his ears back to get after the quarterback. At 277 pounds, Dodd offers enough size to play more of the run-defending role, but also have the ability to create pressure up front that Ryan wants in his 3-4 front.
20. New York Jets – QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Even if the Jets manage to keep quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, their underwhelming enthusiasm for paying him premium dollars is an excellent indicator that they see him as a stopgap. That would mean that getting a guy that they can develop long-term like Lynch makes a ton of sense. Lynch has a big arm and the athleticism that should attract an offensive coordinator like Chan Gailey, who loves to take advantage of quarterback mobility in his offense.
21. Washington Redskins – DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
With the team seemingly moving on from nose tackle Terrance Knighton, the team is likely looking for another body up front that can play in the middle and help free up a lackluster group of interior linebackers to make more plays. Reed has the versatility to play either end or tackle in their three-man front but also get some reps on third downs if need be, offering similar ability as current starter Chris Baker.
22. Houston Texans – WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Now that they’ve solidified their quarterback and running back position in free agency with Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, respectively, it’s time to add another playmaker at wide receiver. With Jaelen Strong’s recent arrest and the fact that neither Nate Washington nor Cecil Shorts are ideal No. 2 options, the Texans should look to get another big target like Thomas for the big-armed Osweiler to target across from DeAndre Hopkins.
23. Minnesota Vikings – WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
The Vikings need a field stretcher and Treadwell’s rumored lack of speed probably doesn’t make him a great fit at first glance. But historically, Norv Turner has seemingly always valued size more than pure speed with receivers in his offenses. Treadwell brings the physical demeanor, both as a receiver, red-zone threat and in the run game, that should make him a great fit in Minnesota.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – WR Josh Doctson, TCU
As the Bengals look to replace backups Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, Doctson offers a potential upgrade. Smooth route-running combined with the ability to win in traffic and better-than-expected speed, Doctson could present the best of both worlds in regards to Sanu and Jones. That gives Cincinnati the ideal complementary threat across from A.J. Green they’ve so desired the past five years.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
By only offering a one-year deal, it doesn’t appear that the Steelers are overly concerned with losing left tackle Kelvin Beachum at any point this offseason. If so, that opens up the need to shore up what had been a problematic position for the team until Beachum’s emergence in 2013. Adding Decker should help them do a better job keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright for the remainder of his career.
26. Seattle Seahawks – DT Jonathan Bullard, Florida
The Seahawks are probably hoping that Ahtyba Rubin will offset the defection of Brandon Mebane at defensive tackle, but could certainly use another interior disruptor up front to play alongside Jordan Hill. With the Seahawks unlikely to budge on Michael Bennett’s contract demands, adding someone that can provide pressure up the middle like Bullard makes sense. Bullard can also play some defensive end in a pinch, but his future appears brightest when projected as a defensive tackle.
27. Green Bay Packers – OT Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga has never started a full 16-game season since entering the league in 2010 and left tackle David Bakhtiari is just serviceable starter at best. The Packers need to invest in beefing up their offensive line as Aaron Rodgers has been sacked more than any other quarterback over the past eight seasons. Ifedi might project better as a guard or right tackle to some, but even if he doesn’t work out on the left side the Packers can just dust off their old plans to move Bulaga there.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Although the Chiefs managed to retain veteran Derrick Johnson, they do need to start preparing for his eventual retirement. Ragland is a good player to tab as his heir apparent with the hope that he helps beef up their run defense. And then over time he’ll be able to either improve in coverage or develop more as a pass-rusher to offset any limitations on third downs.
29. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
The Cardinals managed to be successful taking a chance on a player that got booted out of school for failing too many drug tests once, so they shouldn’t be as afraid as other teams to revisit that same well. Especially for a player like Spence, who was once talked about as a potential top 10 pick. The Cardinals have been too reliant on older pass-rushers like John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in recent years and thus need to find a young stud like Spence.
30. Carolina Panthers – DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Despite testing extremely well at the Combine, there still might be lingering concerns about whether Ogbah is the “real deal” or just another workout warrior. But the Panthers have been looking to solidify their pass rush in recent years with the selection of Kony Ealy as well as the acquisition of Jared Allen a year ago. Allen is now retired and Charles Johnson will be back for one more season, but the Panthers need to look towards the future.
31. Denver Broncos – RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
The Broncos might lose running back C.J. Anderson to the Miami Dolphins. If so, it creates a gaping hole at running back that must be filled given the current quarterback issues and the need to balance the offense in some way. Hopefully for the sake of the Broncos fans, GM John Elway has a better option than Mark Sanchez. But if not, adding Henry would allow the Broncos to have a similar combo of a top defense and strong running game that allowed Sanchez to be successful during his early days in New York.