In the last two weeks at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, I’ve seen over 200 NFL prospects firsthand. I’ve also had a chance to talk to various folks in and around many NFL teams to better get an idea for what their teams might be looking for, or how some players are valued.
The results of that, combined with a lot of guesswork, produced the three rounds here. It’s still way too early in the process to know anything definitive. We still have to go through free agency, and the Combine and private workouts, over the next three months before we arrive at draft time.
The goal here is more about player and draft slot than team and player matches, though I do try to tie those together based on recent draft trends and any acute needs. This in no way is indicative of the choices I would make or the order in which I have players ranked.
1. Titans: Laremy Tunsil, T, Ole Miss. Retaining Mike Mularkey at Head Coach, a move widely reviled by fans and smirked upon by many NFL insiders, means the team is doing everything it can to augment Marcus Mariota. That means upgrading his protection here and weaponry later. Tunsil is as can’t-miss of an offensive tackle as you can find these days.
2. Browns: Jared Goff, QB, California. With Johnny Football on the way out the door and Josh McCown a barely functional band-aid, it is patently obvious the Browns must address the quarterback position. Even though Carson Wentz impressed mightily in Mobile, I still get the feeling some teams will value Goff’s Pac-12 experience and upside over the small-school wonder.
3. Chargers: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State. Wentz did what he needed to do during Senior Bowl week, showing he has all the tools to become a future NFL franchise QB. The Chargers need a successor to Philip Rivers and might not ever be in a better position to get one.
4. Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Surprise! Yet you probably shouldn’t be so surprised, for two reasons. First, Elliott is a special RB prospect; he’s right there with Todd Gurley last year, only with a clean bill of health. Second, the Cowboys must upgrade the offensive skill position talent beside Dez Bryant, and Tony Romo’s potential successors are off the board here.
5. Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State. Safeties don’t typically get drafted this high, but Ramsey’s ability to also play corner augments his status with NFL scouts. The Jaguars need impact playmakers and Ramsey has that potential.
6. Ravens: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. This is admittedly too low for Bosa, barring some unforeseen medical or interview collapse as the process plays forward. Yet strange things happen in the draft, and this time the do-it-all defensive end falls to the Ravens. Best player available trump card.
7. 49ers: Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame. The athletically awesome Smith is likely to miss his rookie year with his gruesome Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Despite that, I do think a team takes a chance on his potential; two different NFL folks have told me Smith was the highest-rated player they saw this fall. The Niners are under little pressure to win right away, and Smith certainly fits Chip Kelly’s desires at linebacker.
8. Dolphins: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA. The easy part with Jack is to see what all he can do with his twitchy speed and surprising power for a 230-pound athlete. The hard part for new Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase is to figure out just where to play him. OLB? Safety? Inside backer? Slot corner? I suspect they’ll have fun figuring that out. I’m assured by several his health is not an issue.
9. Buccaneers: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. His Senior Bowl week was not fantastic, as the thumping backer played out of position and about 10 pounds heavier than optimal. Yet he still has a whole lot to offer as an inside backer to help fix Tampa’s dreadful run defense. His Combine weight and agility scores will make or break Ragland.
10. Giants: Noah Spence, OLB, Eastern Kentucky. Spence proved in Mobile he has the speed and bend to bring sizzle to any pass rush. I like him better as a 3-4 rush OLB but he can be just fine in the JPP role in New York’s defense, which needs both sizzle and steak. Don’t overplay the character issues; I’m reliably told he’s successfully put the drugs behind him.
11. Bears: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. Well-coached and NFL-ready at either tackle spot, Stanley would immediately upgrade the Bears OL. Other tackles might have higher ceilings but Chicago needs the stability and consistency in both the run and pass game.
12. Saints: LaQuon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss. The first wideout heads to New Orleans as the best player available theory really kicks in. Treadwell’s ability to win contested throws and provide a big target on third downs and in the red zone instantly make the Saints offense better.
13. Eagles: Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State. Perhaps the biggest winner from Senior Bowl week in terms of elevating draft stock, Miller proved he’s got the moves and quickness of a slot receiver but the size and speed of an outside threat. In short, he’s a versatile playmaker who can create both before and after the catch. The Eagles sorely lack that guy. If you think this is too high for Miller, wait until he runs a 4.32 40 at the Combine at 215 pounds…
14. Raiders: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson. This is unusually low for the first CB to come off the board, but this shapes up to be a very odd corner class. The top guys, Alexander included, either lack desired size or speed. Mack plays with a lot of swagger and can blanket in coverage, traits the Raiders should covet as they upgrade the secondary.
15. Rams: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. Lynch is quite difficult to slot right now. I have to think he’s still the No. 3 QB off the board at worst, and it’s very hard to see the Rams passing up a potential solution to their long-running QB woes with the 15th pick. Just don’t play him as a rookie!
16. Lions: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor. I toyed with a lot of different defensive linemen here. In the end Billings won out over Sheldon Rankins, Vernon Butler and Shaq Lawson because what he does well fits exactly what the Lions need along the D-Line: he’s an attacking nose tackle who plays the run very well on his way to the pass rush. Note--if you see any national pundit giving the Lions a cornerback in this slot, you have my permission to assault them with blunt objects; that is about as likely with this CB class as Martin O’Malley winning the Democratic nomination.
17. Falcons: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon. A prospect with unusual size and skills, Buckner is a proven disruptor for the Ducks. The question is, where does a team like the Falcons play him? I like the concept of him being a versatile DL joker in the Ziggy Ansah mold. Buckner isn’t that dynamic or sudden of an athlete but Atlanta can definitely use a guy like that.
18. Colts: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. An injury kept him out of the Senior Bowl, but Decker is still viewed as a high-ceiling first-round offensive tackle. The Colts need to do whatever they can to get Andrew Luck protected and back to being above-average, and putting Decker in front of him does more than any other offensive player at this point.
19. Bills: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana. The buzzword I heard regarding Spriggs all week in Mobile was “upside”. He’s got outstanding length and plus athleticism for the position. Spriggs must get stronger and master the geometry of the position, but he’s a tantalizing prospect. With Cordy Glenn a free agent and with zero depth at the position, adding a tackle with promise makes sense for Buffalo.
20. Jets: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida. Every year there’s at least one player who falls a lot further than most fans expect come draft weekend. This year I strongly believe that player is Hargreaves. From a lack of size to an undisciplined approach in coverage, my sense is the media is much higher on the talented Gator than the NFL. The Jets can roll the dice and hope his ball skills and positive attributes outweigh the knocks.
21. Washington: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. Another big winner from Mobile, Rankins showed the ability to disrupt and also finish the play both during Senior Bowl practices as well as for Louisville. His quickness off the snap and ability to shed and flow is unusual for such a big man.
22. Texans: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State. Probably not the most popular pick, but the Texans have unrivaled QB thirst and Cook offers a lot of potential with his arm and ability to make the big play at the right time. Will Bill O’Brien turn his way, or look to his Penn State protégé Christian Hackenberg? Cook is much better-regarded in NFL circles, I can tell you that much in hopes of answering that question.
23. Vikings: Darian Thompson, S, Boise State. Thompson is still flying under the national radar for too long. A strong Senior Bowl week--including a weigh-in where he was taller and heavier than listed at Boise-- should help remedy that. He’s a playmaking coverage safety with range and twitchy energy. The Vikings have their No. 2 and No. 3 safety both hitting free agency and could use an upgrade regardless to patrol with Harrison Smith.
24. Bengals: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA. The Bengals are posited to strengthen the defense, and adding an interior immovable object like Clark is a good way to do it. He’s not going to be a sack artist at the next level, but he’s more than an adequate replacement for the aging Domata Peko on the nose.
25. Steelers: Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M. He’s got an unusually wide stance, but Ifedi is well-heeled from a program that has sent many linemen to the NFL recently. Although I expect Kelvin Beachum back, the Steelers are seemingly always battling OL depth and attrition issues and Ifedi is a safe way to bolster the line.
26. Seahawks: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss. Placing the enigmatic Nkemdiche is a toughie. He’s got so much athletic promise, and every so often he flashes the kind of power and skills that have made Ndamukong Suh a very rich man. But the production is not great, and he’s got some tough off-field questions to answer. I like the concept of Pete Carroll trying to coax greatness out of him in a culture where other guys with character questions have thrived. He could also be long gone by this point.
27. Packers: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech. Butler is a perfect guy to fill in B.J. Raji’s (an impending free agent) role in the middle of the defensive line. He’s got quickness and strength for a big man and is very good at splitting the gaps before the OL can close him off. There are inconsistencies to his game but he’s a definite draft riser after a great week in Mobile.
28. Chiefs: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame. It might seem obvious to keep piling wide receivers onto a Chiefs team that still lacks a lot of playmaking chutzpah outside the tackles, but until they fix that glaring hole it remains the biggest hindrance to their success. Fuller is wiry but lightning fast and has proven he works well with a QB who can extend plays like Alex Smith does.
29: Cardinals: Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia. Often overlooked in a class chock full of exceptional athletes at the LB position, Floyd has experience playing both off the ball and as a rush specialist. He’s not the biggest need but has the potential to make a strong defense even better and more athletic.
30. Broncos: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama. Lower than you’ll see Robinson in most mocks, but he’s more of a facilitator type of player than an instigator or finisher. Those kind of players are critical to a strong defense, and the Broncos are in position to do whatever they need to keep the defense so highly rated. His high floor and NFL-ready body are a nice fit.
31. Panthers: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. This is another player I had a lot of trouble slotting. Lawson is a powerful pass rusher but is surprisingly pedestrian at the other aspects of playing end right now. He has the speed to make a big impact and adds an important piece to an already fearsome defense.
32. Browns: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
33. Titans: Cody Whitehair, OG/OT, Kansas State
34. Cowboys: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
35. Chargers: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
36. Ravens: Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
37. 49ers: Jonathan Bullard, DT, Florida
38. Jaguars: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
39. Buccaneers: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
40. Giants: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
41. Bears: William Jackson, CB, Houston
42. Dolphins: Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
43. Rams: Von Bell, S, Ohio State
44: Raiders: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
45. Rams: Nick Martin, C/OG, Notre Dame
46. Lions: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
47. Saints: Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
48. Colts: Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
49. Bills: Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
50. Falcons: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
51. Jets: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
52. Texans: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
53. Washington: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
54. Vikings: Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
55. Bengals: Josh Perry, LB, Ohio State
56. Seahawks: Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson
57. Packers: Kentrell Brothers, ILB, Missouri
58. Steelers: Su’a Cravens, LB, USC
59. Chiefs: Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn
60. Patriots: Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina
61. Cardinals: Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
62. Broncos: Vadal Alexander, OG/OT, LSU
63. Panthers: Artie Burns, CB, Miami FL
64. Titans: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
65. Browns: Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
66. Chargers: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
67. Cowboys: Leontee Carroo, WR, Rutgers
68. 49ers: Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
69. Jaguars: LeRaven Clark, OT, Texas Tech
70. Ravens: Christian Westerman, OG, Arizona State
71. Giants: Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State
72. Bears: Sterling Shepherd, WR, Oklahoma
73. Dolphins: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
74. Buccaneers: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
75. Raiders: Deion Jones, LB, LSU
76. Rams: Jalen Mills, S, LSU
77. Eagles: Sebastian Tretola, G, Arkansas
78. Saints: Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State
79. Eagles: Roberto Aguayo, PK, Florida State
80. Bills: C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
81. Falcons: Deondre Houston-Carson, S, William & Mary
82. Colts: Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
83. Jets: Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
84. Washington: Kamalei Correa, OLB, Boise State
85. Texans: Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
86. Vikings: Deiondre Hall, CB, Northern Iowa
87. Bengals: Jack Allen, C/OG, Michigan State
88. Packers: De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
89. Steelers: Maurice Canady, CB, Virginia
90. Seahawks: Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
91. Chiefs: Harlan Miller, CB, SE Louisiana
92. Patriots: Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford
93. Cardinals: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
94. Broncos: Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
95. Panthers: Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida