Ah, the month of April. The snow stops falling and the spring flowers bloom. Baseball and golf return to our television as the collegiate sports year starts to wind down. But something else happens around this time of year, something far more widespread: football fever.
It’s been three months since the last college football game and two months since the last NFL game. That’s long enough to require a football fix, and this month it comes in the form of the 2016 NFL Draft. On April 28th, we football addicts get the hors d’oeuvre before the 2017 season.
In honor and celebration of that day rapidly approaching, SEC Country will be doing a mock draft every Monday from now until draft night. Each one is sure to contain new surprises, but also some more “sure things” as the picture becomes clearer the closer we get.
1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
To me, this one is a lock. Even with game-changing talent available like Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey and Ezekiel Elliott, none of those players could have the overall impact on the Titans’ franchise like Tunsil can as a left tackle blocking for a recently drafted franchise quarterback.
2. Cleveland Browns: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
You’re going to see a quarterback penciled into this spot in many mock drafts until draft day. I, however, don’t think that should happen.
The Cleveland Browns have been disappointing for a long time. Do you know why? They don’t have good football players on their team. Ramsey is a good football player. Cleveland should be picking for best player available, not boxing themselves into a positional need. That starts with Ramsey here.
3. San Diego Chargers: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon
With a weaker class like this one, top five selections become harder to predict because you wonder which players are worth being picked so high. Buckner isn’t a perfect prospect, but he is the best overall choice if the Chargers are going to go defensive line at No. 3.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Greg Hardy is no longer in the picture, Demarcus Lawrence recently had offseason back surgery and Randy Gregory will start the year on a suspension. Those are three very good reasons for the Cowboys to snatch up Bosa if he’s available.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Shaq Lawson, DL, Clemson
Even with no Ramsey and no Bosa on the board, the Jags shouldn’t shy away from a defensive pick. Lawson’s been going through medical protocol to examine his shoulder, but if that checks out, he’s a fine pick for Jacksonville at No. 5.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Imagine a team where Myles Jack and C.J. Mosley get to wreak havoc from the same linebacking corps. I think the two of them could be similar to what we saw from this year’s Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina. Yes, let’s make that happen, please.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
The Colin Kaepernick saga continues to evolve by the day. In fact, I believe it’s following the same pattern as when two people meet each other and try to gauge affection during the early stages of a relationship. One minute the Browns are interested, then they’re not. The next, the Broncos are interested, but they have to play it cool to seem like they’re not interested, so in turn the 49ers become interested, so then they can show they’re interested.
If the Niners really believed in Kaepernick, they wouldn’t let this happen. I think head coach Chip Kelly takes the guy he needs the most, and after his disaster season in Philadelphia, he knows that is a quarterback.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
The Eagles have addressed a lot of their needs in free agency, including dumping the big contracts of Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to Miami while swapping first round picks. That’s how they’re sitting at spot No. 8. The one need they have yet to address is running back.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
The Bucs offensive line was surprisingly good last season considering how inexperienced it was as a unit. But just because it performed better than expected doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some help. If the board plays out like this, I think it’s a debate between him and Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence. I don’t think the Bucs love the idea of taking Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves this high, as many mocks predict.
10. New York Giants: Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
The Giants are another team that would love either Myles Jack or Ezekiel Elliott, but they’d have to move up for both. I don’t see too many trade partners in the top 10 since the class isn’t as solid as we make our way down the middle of the first round.
I think that leaves them to take a chance on one of two players: Ohio State’s Darron Lee or Georgia’s Leonard Floyd. Depending on if they want more help from the true linebacker spot or the edge spot, that’s where this pick will go. I say go with Floyd off the edge for now.
11. Chicago Bears: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Taylor’s a mean dude who can play multiple positions on the offensive line. I realize the Bears have other needs, but protecting your quarterback always has to be near the top. They have to address that here.
12. New Orleans Saints: Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
I’m not sure why I haven’t seen Chris Jones in more mock drafts. He’s one of this year’s more versatile defensive lineman, along with Florida’s Jonathan Bullard, and Jones might be the most dangerous from the 3-tech/4-tech. He’s a do-it-all man the Saints desperately need in their interior defense.
13. Miami Dolphins: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
So the first corner off the board in this mock draft isn’t Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III. Turns out it’s William Jackson III from Houston. I’m sure the next word you’re murmuring under your breath at your reading screen is, “Why?”
I think the NFL loves who Hargreaves is as a player, but I also know many teams will have him lower than his talent deserves because of his physical limitations. Jackson is two inches taller, with longer arms and faster straight line speed. But that’s not all he is; he also has a lot of really good tape in coverage.
Is Jackson’s tape as good as Hargreaves’ tape? No, I don’t think so. But mock drafts are meant to make scenarios. Let’s see how this draft would play out if something like this happens.
14. Oakland Raiders: Keanu Neal, S, Florida
Now this is a name that may surprise a lot of people, but Keanu Neal’s draft stock is currently, as the millennials would say, “lit.”
If you don’t know much about Neal, he’s an explosive athlete with a size, speed and power combination no other safety in this class not named Jalen Ramsey has. He doesn’t have the ball skills of Ramsey, but that could be because he wasn’t asked to do much ballhawking at UF — more man-hunting. It’s not common to see a strong safety go this high, but I believe there are teams who think Neal has the talent to play either safety spot and make a big impact.
Oakland needs an impact guy in deep coverage.
15. Los Angeles Rams: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Quarterback is a common pick here, but I don’t think the Case Keemun love out of Los Angeles is as much of a smokescreen as people think. Doctson is the best receiver in the class. He should be picked as such.
16. Detroit Lions: Mike Thomas, WR, Ohio State
The void Calvin Johnson left for Detroit is large. Realistically, it can’t be filled with just one signing or draft pick, but Michael Thomas is a nice start.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
I’ve had the Falcons taking Ragland for a while now, and no matter how you shake up the first 16 picks before this one, it’s hard to see a player dropping who would be a better choice. Linebacker is a top need, and Ragland can start immediately.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
I foresee Noah Spence’s mundane combine numbers making a team drafting in the lower half of the first round very happy. Spence is still a very good football player and a great presence off the edge. Even if his lower athletic numbers make you wary about selecting him in or around the top 10, the value at No. 18 for the Colts is great.
19. Buffalo Bills: Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
The Bills need an interior lineman who can play defensive tackle and defensive end. If Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche had one of those combine performances that dropped jaws to the floor, he’d be the pick here. I don’t see Rex Ryan as a guy to shy away from Nkemdiche because of the off-the-field concerns, but Bullard can be that guy without the worries.
20. New York Jets: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
The Jets have a ton of power up front in their defensive line and in the middle with linebacker David Harris. What they need is an energy drink, a shot of espresso, lightning in a bottle. That’s where Darron Lee comes in. Lee is one of the most athletic players in this class and can be flying around the field for the Jets in year one.
21. Washington: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
With the loss of nose tackle Terrance Knighton, this pick becomes more solidified. I think it’ll be a preference call between Rankins and Baylor’s Andrew Billings.
22. Houston Texans: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
With the quarterback position addressed (for now, at least), it’ll be the Texans’ job to get newly-acquired quarterback Brock Osweiler some help with the No.22 pick. Even if no receivers had been selected yet, I would still think Sterling Shepard is the best call for the Texans here. With DeAndre Hopkins coming into his own as one of the top-five outside receivers in the entire league, a master of separation like Shepard would work wonders in the open field from the slot. Osweiler would have a constant security blanket.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
I think the Vikings are in a great spot for this class relative to their need. They need a wide receiver, and this draft has three or four nice pass catchers who won’t get overdrafted. Who ever is left between Doctson, Thomas and Treadwell will be the pick here, and honestly, Vikings fans should be happy no matter who it is.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
I was going to try to go interior defensive line with both Nkemdiche and Billings still on the board, but then I saw Brandon LaFell as the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver. That alone won’t get it done, even opposite A.J. Green. Corey Coleman would greatly help.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
The Hargreaves slide finally ends at No. 25 in this mock draft. Is it likely to expect Hargreaves to take a tumble this far? No, I wouldn’t say likely. But is it realistic? I would tell you anything is possible on draft day — and I mean anything.
If Hargreaves makes it this far, it would take the Steelers all of one second to turn his card in. I think Pittsburgh is going corner no matter who is left. VH3 would be a gift.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Pedestrian combine numbers didn’t help Nkemdiche too much, because there were some who thought he’d have an out-of-this-world performance in Indianapolis. However, he’s one hell of an athlete for a man that size, and I think NFL will still recognize that enough to make him a day one pick. He can play inside and out, but needs to learn how to get the most of out that build with better technique and production. Seattle is the team to teach him that.
27. Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark, DL, UCLA
With the retiring of B.J. Raji, Green Bay needs an anchor nose tackle now more than ever. Clark is more of a powerhouse in the middle than Andrew Billings. If not Clark, I see the Packers going Alabama’s Jarran Reed for the same kind of role.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
This isn’t one that many people saw coming, I’m sure.
Mock drafts can be done in one of two ways; they can be prediction-based or they can be personalized to one’s own prospect rankings. This pick is more of the author’s choice than what might actually happen.
Kansas City’s biggest need is quarterback. If you don’t believe that, I’m sorry. Alex Smith can win you a lot of regular season games, but he’s never going to win you a Super Bowl. So if your team is playoff-caliber, why would you settle for a quarterback who can’t take you the distance in those playoffs?
I think Connor Cook is the best quarterback in this class. He shows the touch and anticipation on passes that no other passer does. Those are traits that are very difficult and sometimes impossible to teach.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Whitehair could fill a variety of potential needs for the Cardinals up front. With the recent addition of Chandler Jones, pass rusher is no longer a first-round concern.
30. Carolina Panthers: Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
As I said on Twitter, “Cam Newton is a playmaker, Braxton Miller is a playmaker. Maybe they could make plays.”
31. Denver Broncos: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Back to Kaepernick again.
The Broncos just won the Super Bowl, and had few losses from that roster. Their two biggest losses were both their starting and backup quarterback. They should select a signal caller even if they bring in Kaepernick. I don’t love Wentz as a top-10 selection, but he’s worth it here.