The college football regular season may have come to a close, but that means NFL draft season is just starting to heat up.
We’ve already seen a few underclassmen like Joey Bosa, Vernon Hargreaves III and Laquon Treadwell express their desires to declare for the 2016 NFL draft as an early entry, and that list will only grow and solidify as we watch the bowl season unfold.
It’s always fun to do before and after mock drafts during bowl season because how prospects perform on their biggest — sometimes final — stage can go a long way with their draft stock, as it may be the only evidence we see from them until the Scouting Combine in February.
Before we get this mock draft started, I did want to issue a disclaimer I will most likely be repeating many times throughout the draft process:
Mock draft written before April are meant to be more speculative than predictive of the final outcome.
I don’t have a crystal ball; I cannot predict what will happen at the end of a process that has many variables yet to play out between now and draft day. What early mock drafts are for are to explore the “what if?” They’re meant to examine many different (reasonable) scenarios. What if a wide receiver doesn’t get picked until the 20’s? What would the draft look like? What if the first five picks are defensive linemen? What then? What if a team in the Top 5 takes a big risk on a player they like to fit a need instead of taking the guy everyone says they should take, how does that affect the rest of the draft?
If the NFL draft has taught us anything it is that it cannot be predicted. If you want me to tell you who your favorite team is going to draft with 100 percent accuracy, you will be disappointed. What I hope these mock drafts do is start conversations. They should help explore some possibilities (some glaring, others subtle) that each team will evaluate and may even pull the trigger on if player X is available at pick Y.
Make sense? Good. Let’s roll.
1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
3-10 (.498 strength of schedule)
The Titans’ rebuilding strategy is as follows: draft a quarterback, protect that quarterback. They crossed off part one last year by drafting Marcus Mariota. The next step is to grab the best offensive tackle it can find. This duo could be around for along time.
2. San Diego Chargers: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
3-10 (.527 SOS)
The Chargers have been playing quick-fix with its wide receivers since Vincent Jackson left in 2012. It’s time to turn a quick-fix into a cornerstone.
3. Cleveland Browns: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
3-10 (.529 SOS)
Whether or not Johnny Manziel wins Cleveland a few more games seems to be meaningless; the Brown don’t want to build around him. A new coach will want his own quarterback. I think Cook will impress the most scouts, even though I don’t agree with his draft value here.
4. Baltimore Ravens: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
4-9 (.517 SOS)
You’ll see this projected pick a lot between now and the end of April, but it makes a lot of sense. Unless Baltimore addresses a few needs in free agency, Ramsey’s talent fits the draft spot.
5. Detroit Lions: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
4-9 (.529 SOS)
In my previous mock draft, I had Bosa falling all the way to pick No. 10. Calm down, Twitter. I ran through some scenarios in my head where something like that could happen again with this current draft order, but in a spot where Detroit will pick between a pass rusher or an offensive lineman, Bosa’s talent should win out over the next best offensive tackle behind Tunsil (already taken).
Forgive me, Joey!
6. San Francisco 49ers: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
4-9 (.531 SOS)
The Colin Kaepernick experience seems to have run its course in San Francisco. If the Niners are looking for a long-term option to start with in 2016, I think Lynch is their best bet.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
4-9 (.541 SOS)
The Cowboys really need a quarterback, and not drafting a few safety valves at that position over the years is coming back to bite them. But, with two quarterbacks already off the board, the value for Jared Goff, in my opinion, isn’t right. I’ve mocked linebackers like Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith to Dallas before, but let’s give the Cowboys a lockdown corner.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
5-8 (.469 SOS)
No one really knows for sure how Nkemdiche’s recent incident of falling out of a hotel window and subsequent arrest will affect his draft stock long term, but even if you’re on the far end of the spectrum, I can’t see him dropping out of the Top 10 for that reason alone — even though it is very strange.
9. New Orleans Saints: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
5-8 (.512 SOS)
The Saints do need a corner, but a linebacker like Jack boosts an entire defense. You take his talent over a greater need if you’re New Orleans here.
10. Chicago Bears: Noah Spence, OLB, Eastern Kentucky
5-8 (.524 SOS)
Edge pressure is king, and the Chicago defense is learning that lesson. Spence is versatile enough to move to either side of the defensive line as a defensive end or an outside linebacker.
11. St. Louis Rams: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
5-8 (.524 SOS)
Different mock, same pick. Last draft I had the Rams picking Doctson even though Treadwell was available. I honestly can’t wrap my mind around this pick not being used on one of those two.
12. Miami Dolphins: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
5-7 (.473 SOS)
With such a deep linebacker class, Miami should be one of those team that benefits from a big need being rich with talent on Day 1. Smith’s instincts and pursuit of the ball carrier are wonderful to watch. It would be a preference pick between Smith and Reggie Ragland for Miami if the draft plays out like this. I’ll say they take Smith this time around.
13. New York Giants: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
5-7 (.502 SOS)
The Giants are dead last in the NFL with 15 sacks this season; they need edge pressure. Luckily for New York, Lawson is one of the best pure 4-3 edge rushers in the class and should still be available in the early teens.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
6-7 (.478 SOS)
The Bucs need to address the secondary in a few ways, but I don’t think they throw all their chips in the draft for those fixes. If I’m right on that prediction, my bet is they will look to their defensive line in round one. Rather than go to the outside, why not pair one of the best 3-technique defensive tackles in the NFL, Gerald McCoy, with the best nose tackle in this draft class in A’Shawn Robinson? Rather than take a reach at the 4-3 defensive end position, I say, no reason not to. Pick the talent.
15. Atlanta Falcons: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
6-7 (.488 SOS)
Another pick that you’ll see many times before draft day is Atlanta ending up with one of Jack, Smith or Reggie Ragland to fill its linebacker need. It’s not a sexy pick, but let’s not make this tougher than it has to be.
16. Oakland Raiders: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
6-7 (.500 SOS)
I like Stanley pick for Oakland because his value on the big board will be higher than the pick (always a good thing), and I think he’s natural enough of a player to play either right or left tackle. That transition is harder than people think — it’s not just like switching a position in a Madden NFL video game.
17. Philadelphia Eagles: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
6-7 (.512 SOS – 3-6 in conference)
Cornerback Eric Rowe has been coming along nicely for Philadelphia, but its secondary still leaves much to be desired. King might be the next best corner in this class behind Hargreaves when the process is all said and done.
18. Houston Texans: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
6-7 (.512 SOS – 4-4 in conference)
I’ve written 2016 mock drafts where there are no quarterbacks taken in the first round, and now with Goff coming off the board, I’ve written a mock draft where three quarterbacks go in the first round. Though the value for this year’s quarterback class suggests the former should be more likely, we all know quarterbacks will be overdrafted. I don’t love Goff as a first-round signal caller, but Houston needs one. If it will happen, it will happen here. I mean, look at those golden locks.
19. Buffalo Bills: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
6-7 (.522 SOS)
Clark brings a strong interior presence to a team with a head coach that loves to draft those kinds of players. If the organization gives Rex Ryan the green light to take who he wants, Clark will be high on his list.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
8-5 (.510 SOS)
It’s been a trendy pick for Pittsburgh to address its secondary in round one over the last few years, but it hasn’t done so since drafting Troy Polamalu in 2003. I think that changes this upcoming draft.
21. Washington: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
6-7 (.488 SOS)
Washington has been throwing veterans into that interior 3-4 nose tackle spot for a few seasons. It’s time to solidify that role and let it grow organically.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
6-7 (.512 SOS)
Again, let’s not make this pick harder than it has to be. ‘Zeke and Luck can be best friends forever.
23. New York Jets: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
8-5 (.459 SOS)
I’m not the biggest advocate of Floyd to go in round one, but if it were to happen, I see it happening here with the Jets. The need is there for a guy who can rush the passer from the stand-up linebacker spot. That specific pass-rushing skill isn’t as deep as last year’s class, and I think that specific need could boost Floyd up into the first round in this scenario.
24. Kansas City Chiefs: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
8-5 (.486 SOS)
The Eric Fisher pick isn’t looking so hot. I think Kansas City knows he’s not its franchise guy. Time to go looking for a new one.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Vadal Alexander, OL, LSU
8-5 (.493 SOS)
Alexander will benefit from being the highest rated pure offensive guard in this class. Though it isn’t a strong class at that position, a team like the Vikings could take a flyer on him because of the need.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
8-5 (.495 SOS)
This pick just makes too much sense. Billings is an athletic freak who can be effective anywhere from a 0-tech nose tackle who lines up right in front of the center to a 3-tech defensive tackle going up against offensive guards. Seattle loves to get creative with its line, and for goodness sake, Billings is so athletic, Baylor has dropped him back into coverage at times.
That’s a 310-pound man catching a running back from behind!
27. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
9-4 (.486 SOS)
Even with Green Bay agreeing to an extension with defensive lineman Mike McDaniels, I still think Bullard would be an excellent pick. When a team is picking near the end of the first round, it has the luxury of taking a talent it likes but may not need right away. When defensive linemen Julius Peppers and B.J. Raji move on, Bullard could already be a year or two in and ready for a full-time role.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
10-3 (.466 SOS)
Both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are in contract years. With A.J. Green signing a huge extension, my guess is Cincinnati lets one or both of them walk and addresses its wide receiver need here.
29. Denver Broncos: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
10-3 (.490 SOS)
Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe could both be on their way out. That calls for a 3-4 defensive end, and Denver should look no further than Buckner if he’s available.
30. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
11-2 (.462 SOS)
This will certainly be a luxury pick for the Cardinals as this team looks bound for the NFC Championship game. Even with the success, as of now its pass rushers are Calias Campbell (29 years old), Dwight Freeney (35 years old) and Frostee Rucker (32 years old). Alex Okafor and Markus Golden will fill in for Freeney, but Allen allows the Cardinals to get younger and cheaper at the 3-4 defensive end spot.
32. Carolina Panthers: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
13-0 (.444 SOS)
It’s nothing short of heroic that Cam Newton is leading both an undefeated team and an MVP race behind this offensive line and with that receiving corps.. Even if it wins the Super Bowl, Carolina needs major help in both of those areas. Spriggs is an athletic offensive tackle that could really suit Newton’s style of play.