Four weeks of college football and three weeks of NFL action have given us a better glimpse of what the 2016 NFL draft will look like. I’ve had a chance to talk with several NFL scouts and their input influences the choices. Here’s one stab at forecasting the first round.
This mock reflects what I think the given teams would do in the given situation. It does not necessarily reflect the choices I would make, though my personal influence on the picks are stronger this far out than they will be in later editions.
1. Chicago Bears: Jared Goff, QB, California-- It’s fitting the draft is in Chicago, because the Bears appear hellbent on securing the No. 1 overall pick. Goff offers the poise, precision and pocket presence the Bears need to move forward.
2. New Orleans Saints: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State--You’re probably surprised to see Cook this high, but the scouts in attendance at Sparty’s game in Western Michigan would unanimously tell you otherwise. That was his worst game this year and two different AFC scouts there told me he’s a legit candidate for #1 overall pick. I’ll ride that horse until I have reason to dismount. So will the Saints, who must start over after an impressively long run with Drew Brees.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State--For as much as the Jaguars and Gus Bradley have tried to upgrade the defense, it’s still a largely toothless unit. Bosa immediately changes that with his ability to physically dominate opposing blocking from a variety of spots on the line. I’m more confident about this team/player pairing than any other, should the board play out this way.
4. Cleveland Browns: LaQuan Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss--Treadwell is a big, playmaking wideout who also happens to block incredibly well and brings the intensity every snap. He’s exactly what Johnny Manziel needs on the field, and the Browns will value that…assuming they don’t fire everyone and start over once again. Apologies to the fans in my hometown, but at this point the Browns have lost benefit of the doubt on that front.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State--Even though he’s playing CB for the ‘Noles this year, the rangy, heady Ramsey projects as a better NFL safety. The fact the Bucs employ Chris Conte, let alone start him, indicates the desperate state of their secondary.
6. Detroit Lions: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss--I know the Lions have already taken a long look at the physically freakish Nkemdiche, who has taken a step forward with his field awareness and finishing ability this season. He’s the kind of interior catalyst the team is looking for, and that trumps the need for an edge complement to Ziggy Ansah or an offensive tackle.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame--Is Stanley, the most technically sound pass protection tackle in the draft, the biggest need for a rebuilding Niners team? Of course not, but this franchise needs stability and building blocks, and Stanley is perhaps the lowest-risk pick in the top 20.
8. Tennessee Titans: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame--Perhaps no player has done more to eliminate doubts about his game than the athletically gifted Smith. He can play inside or outside, blitz or cover, and he has improved his tackling. The Titans D needs an impact weapon at the second level, and Smith’s versatility could give opposing offenses fits.
9. St. Louis Rams: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State--This selection probably surprises most folks, as right now Thomas is widely viewed as a second or third rounder. He’s not super-fast but shares a lot of similarities to Kevin White from West Virginia a year ago, a big, strong, field-aware receiver with a knack for the big play. White went higher (7th) than anyone thought at this point a year ago, too. The Rams have perennial passing game thirst and no QB belongs here.
10. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia--Much like Jaylon Smith, Floyd has done a lot to improve his scouting perception this year. He’s taking better angles and showing great versatility, and few LBs in the NFL right now can match his long speed or range in coverage. The Washington defense is close to being real good, and adding a versatile piece like Floyd helps nudge them closer. Another case where a team doesn’t address a primary need with the first round pick. History says more teams follow this path than not.
11. San Diego Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss--He hasn’t played this year because of some off-field technicalities, but Tunsil showed more than enough for the Rebels last year to merit being a very high pick. San Diego’s OL is in a real state of flux, and adding a stud left tackle who plays with attitude like Tunsil would really help shore up a primary weakness. I strongly considered DL and CB help here.
12. Oakland Raiders: Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson--A 6’5” safety with NFL pedigree (uncle Jevon, cousin Phillip Buchanon) and his sort of athleticism and aggression, you’d better believe Kearse is going high. He would provide more back-end oomph to a young and improving Raiders defense in a division where all three opponents prominently feature the TE in the passing game.
13. Houston Texans: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State--Since the overwhelming negative spotlight hit him, Hackenberg has quietly played better. Quiet is what he needs to solidify himself in scouting eyes. I still buy into the concept of reuniting with Bill O’Brien, the man who marshalled his stellar freshman campaign. The Texans have to address QB.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA--His season is over, and the timing of his knee injury means Jack will almost certainly be able to contribute as a rookie. What position he fills on Baltimore’s defense is unclear, but he can help all over the field. I thought hard about WR here but I don’t see Ozzie Newsome falling in love with any in this range.
15. Miami Dolphins: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke--If his appearance this high surprises you, study up on the terrific Blue Devils safety. The Ohio State transfer has impressive physical tools but also a high football IQ which helps prevent breakdowns. Again, this isn’t the team’s biggest need (RB, OL) but still helps the Dolphins improve.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida--His lack of length probably keeps the very talented Hargreaves from being drafted much higher than this. The Steelers take advantage and pounce on the most skilled cover man in this class. This is another pick I’m pretty confident would actually happen if this scenario played out next spring.
17. Minnesota Vikings: Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU--The man mountain plays RT for LSU, but in the NFL he’s a better fit at guard. The Vikings need help at either spot on the right side. Note that I had Reggie Ragland here before a pesky voice in my head convinced me to switch to Alexander. Either one works.
18. New York Giants: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State--Honest to God, before I even sat down to write this I had Jason Pierre-Paul as my comp for Ogbah, one of the best natural pass rushers in this class. Might as well assign him to replace JPP on a needy Giants DL.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon--Is it a little too convenient to predict Chip Kelly selecting a former Oregon player? Of course it is. Yet Buckner fits the profile for Kelly’s defense and this is the right range for his skills, which are strong but not dominant as a pass rusher.
20. New York Jets: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama--With David Harris on the wrong side of 30 and needing a sizeable presence on the inside, this sure seems like a perfect fit between team need and talent fit. Ragland is a 260 lb. thumper with excellent instincts and attacking mindset. Sounds like a Todd Bowles ILB to me.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State--Because Eric Fisher has not worked out. Because this organization believes in building the core before addressing the pressing needs on the perimeter. Because history is doomed to repeat itself. Because Decker could be really, really good.
22. Buffalo Bills: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State--He’s an undersized whip with an overachieving mentality, a better football player than athlete but certainly no slouch athletically. Lee can cover lots of grounds quickly as well as flat-out cover, and that’s something which will appeal to Rex Ryan. I’ll bet anyone $10 right now the Bills go defense in the first.
23. Carolina Panthers: Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh--Boyd is a divisive prospect, but his advocates are correct in pointing out his high-end potential and ability to torch good coverage. He’d make a nice fit opposite Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina’s passing offense. I thought long and hard about Rashard Higgins instead.
24. Seattle Seahawks: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor--No player looks more imposing getting off the team bus. He’s a truly rare physical specimen, though it doesn’t always translate to on-field production. Pete Carroll has rolled the dice on similar players, notably Bruce Irvin--a player who won’t be back in Seattle. I had Josh Doctson here in the original draft.
25. Dallas Cowboys: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama--Robinson is a bedrock presence inside, a run stuffer extraordinaire but also a guy who can be a great facilitator for pass rushers around him. The Cowboys have a surprising amount of needs for a team that appears bound for another playoff run, so keep an eye on TE or CB here too.
26. Indianapolis Colts: TreDavious White, CB, LSU--So many different directions the Colts could go, so why White? He’s a playmaker with confidence and a high floor at a position where those traits don’t often come in the same package. He adds value as a strong special teamer too.
27. Denver Broncos: Su’a Cravens, OLB/SS, USC--Is Cravens a LB or a safety? Either way, the strong Broncos D will find a way to get him to contribute with his opportunistic manner and tenacity. Is he redundant with TJ Ward? Sure. That’s called insurance. Good teams think that way.
28. Atlanta Falcons: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor--He doesn’t get the acclaim of Oakman, and the Baylor defense often looks like an unpleasant diversion to its high-octane offense, but Billings has a chance to be a major impact interior rusher in the NFL. His strength numbers will pop eyes, but it’s his ability to move so lithely with that bulk that will endear him to the Falcons.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: Sheldon Day, DL, Notre Dame--Cincinnati has a nice collection of talent across the board, so it comes down to finding the best talent available who fits their profile. Day is a smart, versatile and humble player with a high floor and the ability to assimilate into whatever Marvin Lewis asks of him.
30. Green Bay Packers: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU--Doctson is coming off one of the most impressive college games I’ve ever seen out of a wideout. Does that make me inflate his value a bit? Maybe, but his size, hands and ability to morph into different roles makes him mighty appealing. This is an atypical Ted Thompson pick but that’s more of why I went in this direction; just when you think you’ve got the Packers figured out, their GM does something crazy/brilliant/unexpected.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State--A running back does crack the first round with the hard-charging Elliott. His vision and balance are top shelf. The Cardinals need someone with his rushing style to help grind out the clock and pick up big first downs in close games, and he’s good in the passing attack too.
32. New England Patriots--forfeited.
Next 10 picks:
Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
Max Tuerk, C, USC
Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State
Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
Nick Martin, C, Notre Dame
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA