By Zach Walker
The 2016 NFL Draft is right around the corner. It’ll be the 81st annual meeting of National Football League franchises to select eligible players. Once again the draft will be held at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, just like last year. Save the date for Thursday night, April 28 for first round picks. The Tennessee Titans with last season’s horrible record have the first overall selection and will set the tone for the draft.
This mock draft is based on perceived needs. Some of the players drafted will start immediately while others will ride the pine and learn. This mock draft will probably change a few more times as teams explore the free agent market for some of their needs. Onto the first round selections…
#1: Tennessee Titans: Ole Miss – OT Laremy Tunsil
Whether or not Marcus Mariota has the support or ability to stay around for ten years, he’s the quarterback of the Titans for the here and now, and the Titans have the best chance to win games with Mariota behind the wheel. Making sure that Mariota is on the field will be Laremy Tunsil. Not a sexy pick, an offensive linemen selection never is, but it’s worth it. Realistically, the Titans are in a great position. They can trade back, to almost any position within the top-ten, absolutely raid a team’s pantry of all their future draft picks, because the Titans don’t need one man, they need a lot of help, and picks are bricks in building a franchise.
#2: Cleveland Browns: Cal – QB Jared Goff
Which of the quarterbacks that will be drafted in the first round are going to have the toughest uphill battle? Actually, it won’t be Goff. No, seriously. He’s got the coach in Hue Jackson, who pumped MVP grade play out of Andy Dalton, and knows how valuable this second shot is at being a head coach. Jackson isn’t a pair of ‘mowing the lawn’ shoes. He’s a high grade, almost too above the Cleveland front office to try and murmur out the door. The Browns need a quarterback not to compete, but to do much more simple things, like move the chains on third down, take losses on the chin, wins with a grain of salt, and lead the team. Goff has the arm to really take the fight to the AFC North.
#3: San Diego Chargers: Ole Miss – WR Laquon Treadwell
For the Chargers, getting a player across from Kennan Allen is a paramount task. They could possibly answer their problem in the free agency if they can sway the talented Alshon Jeffrey down to play with Philip Rivers. I’ll assume that that won’t happen, because I don’t know the Chargers’ financial situation, and I doubt the draw of San Diego. Treadwell would be a really, really great pairing with Allen on the opposite side. They’d be like peanut butter and jelly, and Rivers, being of the aggressive nature, would be able to fire rockets any which way he can look.
#4: Dallas Cowboys: FSU – S/CB Jalen Ramsey
Despite all the crap of the 2015 season, the Cowboys now know a few things about their defense. They know that Byron Jones is a keeper, and when Orlando Scandrick gets back, those two can be very good when they finally reach the field together. They also learned, though I’d guess reaffirm their suspicions, that their safeties need an overhaul. Barry Church, especially in the front half of the season, was just taking horrible angles on plays. JJ Wilcox, though one of the more entertaining missiles to watch, is more interested in plastering someone than playing good coverage. Jalen Ramsey is said to be a lock top-five pick, though I’ve heard that before. The edge to Ramsey is his versatility, his ability to play either corner or safety, and is said be a top-flight safety for whichever team is lucky enough to be in line to take him. With Byron Jones, and his versatility, Ramsey and Jones could be specialized weapons to play against special weapons.
#5: Jacksonville Jaguars: Alabama – DT A’Shawn Robinson
The Jags have the firepower to be the winner of the offseason, they have massive heaps of cash to throw at free agents to pull them to their team, and the kicker is, they actually have to spend it. No joke, they must make it rain or there are penalties. They have the ability to make any free agent, who isn’t franchise tagged; raise an eyebrow and consider Jacksonville. I’d say join in. It’s a bold call, but I say the 2016 Jaguars are going to look like the 2015 Oakland Raiders, offensively there’s ton to like, defensively, they just need more help. They can buy some secondary, and they’ll be getting their 2015 first rounder Dante Fowler back from injury. Adding some more bulk to Gus Bradley’s front four is ideal. Robinson isn’t exactly a tall drink of water, he’s more like a six pack of tall-boys. At 320 pounds, he moves with rare speed and skill without giving up power, and can be effective at any interior defensive line position, regardless of scheme.
#6: Baltimore Ravens: Ohio State – DE Joey Bosa
If Nemesis (Terrell Suggs) really is THAT important to the Ravens, they’ve got to get a young specimen to absorb Suggs’ wisdom and hunt. Bosa is good, maybe great, maybe overhyped, but there’s a lot to like when anyone pops on some tape of the Buckeyes on defense. Bosa can take a game over, and he has the size to get even the most grounded quarterbacks to the ground. Besides, it’s Ozzie Newsome, so it’s not like he’s going to make a bad choice, because he just doesn’t do that.
#7: San Francisco 49ers: UCLA – LB Myles Jack
And the overnight bag beside Navarro Bowman’s bed takes a bigger role in Niner nation. With Chip Kelly, comes great possibility of shucking aside damn good vets. Bowman is the Niners best player, so he has value. He’s also tradeable in the eyes of Kelly, but let’s assume that Baalke that the role that he wouldn’t surrender to Jim Harbaugh, he won’t just hand to Chip, so Bowman, please, unpack. They need to rebuild from their nightmare offseason that preceded the 2015 season. Giving Bowman someone to bounce off of, in the middle of that defense, is paramount. Myles Jack could be the most athletic player in the draft, and despite an injury that kept him from impacting 2015, he’ll be a top-ten selection. That’s a massive endorsement from the start. Jack is a Kelly type of player, like Kiko Alonzo, just a lightning rod for play-making, and brings talent to a drained talent pool in Santa Clara.
#8: Miami Dolphins: Florida – CB Vernon Hargreaves
As with every team in the AFC East, fighting against the pass is the most important thing, and the Dolphins need it. Scratch that, they gotta have it. They have Brent Grimes and that’s about it, getting a Florida native is just what the Dolphins do, and despite a few forgettable games late in his career as a Gator, he’s still a top corner in this draft. He’s not giving a big time size difference when he’s across from someone, and is player that likes to get physical with an opposing receiver, which can get dicey, depending on the quarterback and stadium that he’s playing in. The Dolphins can’t afford to not take the top corner off the board.
#9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Oregon – DL DeForest Buckner
Tampa has their offense pretty much set, they need to decide on what to do with Doug Martin, but besides that they just need their offense to grow and get more playing time under their belt. I became a Jameis Winston fan during that ‘Mustard versus Ketchup’ Thursday night game. During an offsides by St. Louis, the defender went to tap Winston on the back of the helmet while the ref announced the penalty, and Winston wouldn’t let him do it. It’s dumb, but that spoke to me, and the type of moxxy that Winston is going to carry. DeForest Buckner is a giant that can be placed beside Gerald McCoy, freeing him up to attempt to take a game over. If he runs anything like a 4.7 at the Combine, his stock could explode.
#10: New York Giants: Alabama – LB Reggie Ragland
The Giants need a rock in the middle of their defense so that Landon Collins can concentrate on his coverage. The Giants haven’t had anything in the center of their defense since Antonio Pierce retired, and they need someone with the instincts to stick around for a decade. Ragland was the hammer for the ‘Tide and came through at every turn, replacing the drafted CJ Mosley with no hiccups in the process. The Giants need Ragland badly, and I’m sure they can get a nice background of him from their second round pick from last year, former Bama safety Landon Collins.
#11: Chicago Bears: Notre Dame – OT Ronnie Stanley
The Bears need to add to their defense, but that could be filled by players in the 30+ year old free agent pool. Keeping Jay Cutler upright isn’t a luxury, it’s been a true uphill battle, and the shine has faded from Jordan Mills a bit. So they need a true blindside protector, because like Jacksonville, they’ll be getting their draft pick back from last year, wide receiver Kevin White. Ronnie Stanley is supposed to be the draft’s best pass blocker, and during the combine could really use a solid bench press showing to attempt to put to bed his supposed ‘lacking in strength’ title.
#12: New Orleans Saints: Ole Miss – DL Robert Nkemdiche
The Saints improved via the old ‘addition by subtraction’ adage, by ditching Rob Ryan in the middle of the season. Simply put, he was sabotaging the Saints from the inside out. Now they need to add players to their improving defense. Robert Nkemdiche is a Jadeveon Clowney type of size/speed/agility athletes, and at nearly 300 pounds, he can really shell out the turnstyle treatment to opposing offensive linemen. For his ability, he doesn’t use a whole heap of moves to get by linemen, it’s mainly just torque and strength.
#13: Philadelphia Eagles: Memphis – QB Paxton Lynch
For all of their over-clevering and genius coaching, the Eagles are now filled with just as many questions as they’ve ever had. They won’t be bringing back Sam Bradford, or they shouldn’t. They should get a new quarterback. Lynch isn’t a project player, but is raw, but EVERY quarterback coming into the league is. They just don’t know what to actually expect in that first year. The best thing for Lynch would be that he’s got some solid running backs and two young receivers and a youngish tight end in Zach Ertz. They need to add to their offensive line to protect Lynch, but he’s got the size and strength to make all the throws from the pocket.
#14: Oakland Raiders: Notre Dame – LB Jaylon Smith
And the award for the most unfortunately timed injury of the 2015 season goes to Jaylon Smith, he was hit repeatedly after a play and overextended his knee and bad things happened in that knee. There’s no way he does any combine workouts, or pro day work, and will likely miss everything up until training camp, so that’s a real bug. But once on the field, Smith is a true play-maker and game influencer. He’s so far beyond the last linebacker to roll out of Notre Dame, Manti Te’o, that he makes him look like a hired-on fire dancer at a Hawaiian airport greeting tourists. That’s how good Smith is. He played multiple linebacker positions at Notre Dame, and showcased even more playmaking ability. On the same side of the ball with the Khalil Mack, that’s a tandem of talent that would be dangerous for AFC West opponents.
#15: Los Angeles Rams: North Dakota State – QB Carson Wentz
With great spotlight, comes great expectation. The Rams are in the big dance in LA, and to avoid the short attention span of LA, they need some dazzle from a quarterback that can help the fan base grow to accept their new team. Wentz is a high-riser early in the draft process and really took full advantage of his Senior Bowl work. People have likened him to a Big Ben, and that’s a pretty strong comparison. I think he moves a little easier than Ben, but that might just be because I think of current Ben, and not starting out Ben. Wentz sees the field very well, but the Rams don’t have many passing options for Wentz to look for. If the Wentz water gets to a boil near draft time, the teams in the top five can be major players for a trade.
#16: Detroit Lions: Michigan State – OT Jack Conklin
The Lions are in Phoenix ashes mode. They could potentially get rid of Matt Stafford, they’ve lost Megatron to retirement due to lack of winning, and it’s more front office turnover. But, it being Detroit, ain’t nobody holding their breath for a Phoenix to emerge. Start with infrastructure, start with a potential decade protector. Balance is Conklin’s biggest strength, he’s good in both pass protection and run support. He’s said to not be the most athletic lineman but he’s consistent, and that’s more important. Getting a local-ish product to staple your new team together is a big step in the right direction.
#17: Atlanta Falcons: Arkansas – TE Hunter Henry
Matt Ryan was at his best when he had Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez to choose between on plays. Julio is a top five threat in the league, because of the way that Kyle Shanahan has decided to use him like a Swiss army knife and scheme him open, but Ryan can’t fly by just featuring Jones with every throw. During that Ole’ Miss game, I realized Hunter Henry is a first round tight end. To, in the middle being tackled, have the bearings tuned correctly to whip the football backwards to another player (Alex Collins, who I like) and the play led to the Razorbacks winning. Henry is an underrated blocker, and an under used receiver and when the Falcons watched Jimmy Graham pull them apart, and still line up against Greg Olsen, they know what a tight end could do for Ryan, like the days of Gonzalez. And this is a SHALLOW tight end draft pool, so strike early.
#18: Indianapolis Colts: Ohio State – RB Ezekiel Elliott
Take a moment to really think of the last back that had a serious impact to the Colts. Joseph Addai in the 2006 playoffs is the most recent that can be taken seriously. Pep Hamilton was cast aside in 2015. The fact that Andrew Luck needs someone in the backfield was never more evident than this past season. Luck pressed too much, then got injured, but Luck had always been a one man army, and to avoid him becoming John Elway or Dan Marino, they need someone for Luck to confidently hand the ball off to. Ezekiel Elliott is the first back taken off the boards in April. He’s got the miles and the remaining tread. I really, REALLY didn’t like his Michigan State post-game everything, but despite that, he’ll still be the first and most polished back taken. With Elliott next to Luck, they have a true double threat backfield, now the just need to fix that awfully offensive, offensive line.
#19: Buffalo Bills: Oklahoma State – DE Emmanuel Ogbah
The Bills aren’t likely to retain Super Mario Williams, so they’re going to need to replace him. In the last two seasons, Ogbah has 24 sacks, as has showcased an elite skill set that’ll definitely intrigue Rex Ryan, tasty size, good speed with power, and a knack for taking quarterbacks to the turf. The Bills could use some threats outside of Sammy Watkins, but Rex should stick to his side of the ball with his first round picks.
#20: New York Jets: Ohio State – OT Taylor Decker
The Jets actually had a pretty great offense this season, no seriously. The best ever Jets offense was led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, throwing to Brandon Marshall, with Chris Ivory running the ball. Tell the 2009 Pro Bowl that they want their B-listers back. Alright, that’s cruel, but in reality they’re working with some pretty old play creators. But the age isn’t actually the problem, it’s the line. Remember the days where D’Brickashaw Ferguson was a big time offensive lineman? Neither do I, but that’s what the Jets have had for almost a decade. Upgrades need to be made. For the type of offense, Taylor Decker is ideal for the Jets. A road grader and true bulldozer to run behind, with alright pass blocking skills, but not much to write home about. Decker can pave the way for a really good run game for the Jets as they settle their aging stars problem.
#21: Washington Redskins: Virginia Tech – CB Kendall Fuller
Putting someone across from Bashaud Breeland must be a priority. The corners behind Breeland aren’t up to the same scratch as he is and the bar that he set for his side of the ball. Kendall Fuller was hampered with injuries in 2015, but maybe his sophomore tape is enough to keep him in the first round.
#22: Houston Texans: Penn State – QB Christian Hackenberg
When anyone looks at Christian Hackenberg, they won’t see what Bill O’Brien knows. Hackenberg isn’t a first round pick, but he won’t be around when the Texans are back on the clock in the second. Maybe they trade back into the first to get him, or get aggressive in the second, but Hackenberg WILL be the starting quarterback for the Texans, and will help Bill O’Brien stick around in Houston.
#23: Minnesota Vikings: Pittsburgh – WR Tyler Boyd
The Vikings are moving indoors, and that could be a very welcomed sight for Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of the Vikings. But what would be more of a welcomed sight would be a pass catcher for Bridgewater. Tyler Boyd has a cloudy past, with a DUI that cut into his 2015 season, but still ended up with 91 catches, 40 carries, 1275 total offensive yards, and six scores. Boyd brings skill to the Vikings skill positions.
#24: Cincinnati Bengals: Alabama – DT Jarran Reed
The Bengals are the NFL team most likely to succeed, then supernova. They’ve got great talent, with bad coaching, and they need to replace aging players. Domata Peko needs replacing. He’s old and winding down. Jarran Reed is a big, run stuffing defender that can use his size and strength to also put pressure on the quarterback.
#25: Pittsburgh Steelers: Clemson – CB Mackensie Alexander
Alexander plays like a Steeler, physical and tight. The Steelers are still trying to get younger, but can only do so much talent hoarding when they continue to sit atop of the AFC North, and draft in the 20’s every season. Alexander isn’t the most talented, but is a strong worker.
#26: Seattle Seahawks: Texas A&M – OT Germain Ifedi
The Seahawks discovered that Russell Wilson really can win from the pocket. The problem is protecting him. They really don’t do that well at the moment, and they could be losing Russell Okung to free agency. Germain Ifedi isn’t a finished product, but isn’t a ways off. Ifedi is a pretty decent sized player, and has pretty dang good power behind him. The thing with Ifedi is, especially compared to past Aggie drafted O-linemen, that he plays with little more of a mean streak than those guys do.
#27: Green Bay Packers: Clemson – DE Shaq Lawson
The Packers defense has really leaned on Clay Matthews for the past two seasons, and have been rewarded with some really great middle linebacker play. If they decide to keep him on the inside, they need someone on the outside to get after quarterbacks. Shaq Lawson doesn’t have the same burst as Vic Beasley from a year ago, but the consistent pressure is there. Lawson is a thick bodied player with power that plays strong and smooth with his rush.
#28: Kansas City Chiefs: TCU – WR Josh Doctson
The Chiefs need a threat other than just one good pass catching tight end and a solid threat in Jeremy Maclin. However in the playoffs, once Maclin was down, the Chiefs were sunk. Doctson is a number one receiver, no bones about it. Strong after the ball, good speed, reliable hands, solid route runner. Andy Reid knows his wide receivers, and he’ll be giving his offense a serious boost.
#29: New England Patriots: PICK FORFEITED – Punishment for the Deflategate scandal.
#30: Arizona Cardinals: Michigan State – DE/LB Shilique Calhoun
The Cardinals just need to continue to add pieces to their team where they can and just stay healthy when the playoffs come around. Calhoun refined his game in his senior year, adding stronger moves, and looking stronger when viewed, despite being straight tossed by Derrick Henry in the Cotton Bowl. Calhoun is a player I didn’t like previously and it really took 2015 to kick me onto his side.
#31: Carolina Panthers: Baylor – OT Spencer Drango
The Panthers need help on the offensive line, badly. The ‘Blind Side’ got rocked in the big game and exposed the Panthers to supreme pressure. The Panthers need help big time, and Drango is a good start. Preseason, Drango was supposed to be a top ten pick in the 2015 draft, the season unfolded and Drango is towards the bottom of the top tier tackles, or maybe the top of the second tier. He’s got caged power and road grading ability for the read-option offense that the Panthers run.
#32: Denver Broncos: Michigan State – QB Conner Cook
The Broncos aren’t returning Peyton Manning, he’s riding off into the sunset, on a wave of Wade Phillips’ coached genius. Are the Broncos going to bring back Brock Osweiler? Gary Kubiak would probably like to, because he’s already saturated within the offense, but what about the money? How much does it take to keep Brock around? Why not start over from scratch? Conner Cook has a heap of arm talent, a good head on his shoulders, and NFL size. Cook dodging the Senior Bowl could end up costing him a real shot at being a starter from day one, but in Kubiak’s run first offense, Cook could be a very effective quarterback rolling off of play-action.