By Zach Walker
With free agency, and some teams trading some players and picks, the NFL draft landscape has changed big time. There are still a few pieces yet to fall in place, mainly if quarterback Colin Kaepernick will remain a 49er or end up being traded. Beyond that, free agency is trickling to a… trickle. Most of the big names are paid, and now what’s leftover are players to bring in to ease a draft need, not necessarily become prime star players.
#1: Tennessee Titans: Ole Miss – OT Laremy Tunsil: It doesn’t matter what happens between now and the draft, no one will convince me that Tunsil won’t be the correct pick for the Titans. They’ve got their backfield set now, with Mariota and DeMarco Murray, and now they tab their franchise blindside protector. It’s all in the movement, Tunsil glides where others step. Tunsil keeps a solid base and keeps his hands up, ready to joust in taking on pass rushers. In the run game, while he’s no La’el Collins, he’s no liability either. Could play with a meaner streak, but at the NFL left tackle position, Zen is the best temperament.
#2: Cleveland Browns: Cal – QB Jared Goff: The Browns landed Robert Griffin and with him and Hue Jackson working together could be a very good Griffin for the Browns, but there’s no guarantees with Griffin staying healthy, so an insurance policy would be good for the Browns. The Browns are going to head into the 2016 season with Griffin as their quarterback, and if it works out for Griffin, the Browns could flip Griffin for a pick or two, and still have their guy in Jared Goff. I believe the Browns, led by Goff, and coached by Hue Jackson could be a real problem for the AFC North. Sure, detractors will carve into Goff saying it was his system that helped propel him to be the top quarterback prospect. Just hate. Goff sees the field well, trusts his eyes, and sometimes sees the big picture before the throw, which leads to a few overshoots, but that’s something Hue Jackson can coach out of him.
#3: San Diego Chargers: Ohio State – DE Joey Bosa: The Bolts picked up Casey Hayward, and that makes me supremely happy, for multiple reasons. He didn’t end up in the NFC East, he’s young enough so that the Chargers won’t necessarily be looking at Jalen Ramsey at the third pick. The Chargers need some pass rush help. Along with Bosa’s pass rushing abilities, he also can plug the run pretty well. He’s a three downer for any team that will have the option to tab him in the draft. Bosa is a more consistent player than athletically gifted, but that’s a good thing.
#4: Dallas Cowboys: FSU – S/CB Jalen Ramsey: It looks as though Brandon Carr won’t be going anywhere, or will be a June 1st cut, but for now he’s here, and the Cowboys need a plan in place to replace him. Jalen Ramsey aces the eye test, and blitzed the combine. Actually, it’s quite shameful to admit this, I thought Ramsey was a lot smaller than he is. I assumed that he was a five foot ten inch type guy that was just a technical dynamo. He is the latter, but is six one and has the meat on the bones to compete with the best of them. Recently, rumors as well as the draft climate shift has put Ramsey in the coveted cross hairs of the teams in front of the Cowboys, to potentially be taken by any of the first three teams, and that would bum me big time, because I believe Ramsey is a ringer.
#5: Jacksonville Jaguars: UCLA – LB Myles Jack: Whether or not the free agents that Jacksonville bought into pan out, they’re rounding their roster nicely, though the Chris Ivory thing puzzles me, I thought TJ Yeldon kicked some tail in his rookie season. But, they’ve brought in a lot of players to bridge gaps in their roster. That gives them great flexibility with their fifth overall pick. Myles Jack appears to be more ready for training camp than earlier expected. Placing Jack, next to Telvin Smith, who himself is quite a dynamic linebacker, would be what Gus Bradley would love to see smacking players in the middle of his growing defense. Potentially, that tandem has Kuechly/Davis duo upside.
#6: Baltimore Ravens: Ole Miss – WR Laquan Treadwell: Flacco sans Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin just doesn’t threaten. I expect an expanded role for Maxx Williams in year two, and I think the Ravens are paddling in the same pond boat as the Cowboys. They had bad injuries that crippled their season, and will bounce back in 2016. But getting their quarterback someone with some game-breaking ability must be priority number one. Treadwell is the top target in this draft. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s faced adversity to get to the status where he is at, and he’ll be the best thing for Ozzie, Flacco, and the Ravens.
#7: San Francisco 49ers: Memphis – QB Paxton Lynch: I’m not under the same umbrella of the Carson Wentz hype train as others are. I just don’t like the sample size. I like Wentz, but I think his transition is a longer process. Lynch is raw too, but everything is there. Size, vision, arm, it’s packaged nicely in Lynch. This will be a first for Chip Kelly in the pros, his own quarterback that he’s drafted and started. The 49ers are still reeling from the 2015 start of the season, where they lost a ton of their vital organs, but they’ve got a young roster, that Harbaugh left pretty well stocked.
#8: Philadelphia Eagles (From Miami): Ohio State – RB Ezekiel Elliott: Doug Pederson is from the Andy Reid tree, and when Reid has been kicking and taking, he’s had a running back focal point. Westbrook, McCoy, Charles. Pederson is coming in from Kansas City, where he watched life with, and without a prime back. Zeke is a three down back. He’ll put it on his shoulders to get the yards required to keep the chains moving, and he can do it through the air or on the ground. He has the vision and moves to be what McCoy was for Philly, but at the same time, keep the ball going north and south, he won’t need to bounce outside as Eagles’ fans remembered McCoy doing.
#9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Oregon – DL DeForest Buckner: The offense is going to work itself out, they just need time, and with bringing Doug Martin back, there shouldn’t be a hitch-step in the maturation of Winston. Getting someone to do big things along the Tampa defensive line has been pretty much all Gerald McCoy, and that needs to change. They signed Robert Ayers, which will help, but adding one of the draft’s biggest players to the line, and they’ve got something brewing. DeForest Buckner is a massive athlete and can provide actual quarterback affecting presence from the defensive tackle position. I feel that Buckner is a more polished product than last year’s extremely sized Oregon product, Arik Armstead, and could be a big player right out of the box for the Buccaneers.
#10: New York Giants: Notre Dame – OT Ronnie Stanley: The Giants uncorked the piggy bank and threw money all over to help fix their defense. I don’t much fear Vernon, but the Janoris Jenkins acquisition is an excellent move. The Giants aren’t sewn up on defense, but the moves made make their first round pick a tad less taxing for a home run selection. The Giants grabbed Ereck Flowers last year in the first, and played pretty well, from what I watched of him in his first year, especially on the blind side. More help is needed, however. Eli Manning takes a beating during most games, and if the Giants want to see him attempting to ride off into the sunset, and not strapped to a gurney, they better continue to build their wall. Ronnie Stanley is a no nonsense tackle, not the shiniest penny, in terms of special things he can do, but what he does is his job.
#11: Chicago Bears: Clemson – DL Shaq Lawson: The under the radar riser early in the 2016 offseason are the Chicago Bears. Signing high end linebackers, and a young defensive tackle in Akiem Hicks. But when was the last time the Bears had a true pass rusher? Richard Dent? I’ll count Peppers, because he played longer than I realized, but I’m talking home grown product. Lawson is a tad undersized, but has the explosiveness of former Tiger Vic Beasley, but carries much more bulk. He has the pursuit ability to chase down plays from behind, and be much more of an impact in the pass rush game for the Bears.
#12: New Orleans Saints: Ole Miss – DL Robert Nkemdiche: The Saints are likely rolling into the final year with Drew Brees, his cap hit next season is almost unfathomable. But cross that bridge when they have to. The biggest addition to the Saints defense won’t be a player in the draft, or free agency, its having dropped from the coaching staff. The Saints do need to add players, though, to their defense. Nkemdiche might have scared a lot of teams, scouts, and coaches away with that crazy story of him and synthetic marijuana and him leaping from a building. Ask me in person, and I’ll use much more colorful language in my laughter at that story, but Nkemdiche is a monster. The grace and quickness that a man his size can move with has NFL longevity plastered over him. For the Saints, he’s exactly the kind of talent that they need to right the ship from the Rob years.
#13: Miami Dolphins (From Philadelphia): Florida – CB Vernon Hargreaves: The Dolphins mopped up some solid players from Philly, though at a pretty penny, then cut their most consistent defender in Brent Grimes, even though one of their biggest needs is a cornerback. They got Byron Maxwell in that Kiko deal, but they still need help, and I thought Vernon Hargreaves would be a great pickup at eight, and he’ll still be there for the Dolphins at 13. Hargreaves sort of faded in the final couple of games in college, but that doesn’t spoil the whole resume. Hargreaves is a physical corner that sometimes out physicals himself into compromising positions, but does look like an NFL cornerback.
#14: Oakland Raiders: Alabama – RB Derrick Henry: As I’ve written before, I believe the Raiders have won the offseason thus far, and with this pick, I think they truly move into another bracket of possibility. Henry isn’t so stallion, or a colt, nor is he to be compared to either Marcus Allen or for gosh sakes Bo, but Henry is an handful. With the Broncos losing interior defenders, and with the Chargers still a work in progress, having a sledgehammer like Henry running at those teams twice a year could yield some very smiley results for Raider Nation.
#15: Los Angeles Rams: North Dakota State – QB Carson Wentz: The Rams don’t have a ton of options in this draft. Get a quarterback that will excite the new fan base or else they will be watching and wishing for Raiders football to come to town. The Rams are going to be in the spotlight like no one in the social media era knows, being the NFL team in LA. They’re already booked for Hard Knocks and they need more than Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald to help microwave a fan base. Carson Wentz is just the apple of all scouts collective eye. All of the physical traits, has mobility, is aggressive, and has a pretty decent frame. I don’t much like him because I feel that he’s been injured a lot in his past, and these won’t be FCS players knocking him around, it’ll be Michael Bennett, Calais Campbell, and Navarro Bowman trying to put him in traction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams pulled a Washington and hooked themselves up with a second young gun to help compete.
#16: Detroit Lions: Michigan State – OT Jack Conklin: The Lions need infrastructure. They need to build at the base and start adding to the offensive line. They’ve done a pretty good job selecting the guards that I’ve liked in the last two drafts, Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson, now they to build along the outside. Jack Conklin was the stand out among the offensive linemen at the combine, and that really doesn’t do anything for me. I had him going to the Lions before the combine, and I have him going there now. Conklin is a lunch pail operator, much like Ronnie Stanley, a blue collar worker in the trenches. Pass protection is solid to above average, and pretty well rounded in the run game too.
#17: Atlanta Falcons: Arkansas – TE Hunter Henry: Like a lot of my mock, this pick is staying the same as last time. Matt Ryan without a tight end, is not a good Matt Ryan. Hunter Henry is the only tight end likely to be drafted in the first two rounds, as this is not a strong class of tight ends. Hunter Henry can block, if it’s asked of him, has really solid hands, and has a high football IQ. The Falcons need a player of Henry’s caliber to take heat away from Julio Jones, and off of Matt Ryan.
#18: Indianapolis Colts: Alabama – LB Reggie Ragland: The Colts wouldn’t do anything like help Andrew Luck stay upright, or anything, with this pick so adding a piece on defense could be their next best option. I’d argue, that the Colts haven’t had a player in the center of their defense that has been a difference maker since Bob Sanders, and with Reggie Ragland, the Colts could start to have that again.
#19: Buffalo Bills: Alabama – DT A’Shawn Robinson: The positive for the Bills, they were close to the playoffs and Tyrod Taylor looked pretty darn sharp at times. The negative, Rex Ryan brought in Rob Ryan. That WILL better their defense for THIS year, but beyond that, expect the cliff fall. Teaming Marcell Dareus with another Tide member, of A’Shawn Robinson’s caliber, could be very bad for Tom Brady’s final seasons, because these big men can really bring heaps of interior pressure right into a quarterbacks face.
#20: New York Jets: Eastern Kentucky – DE Noah Spence: Last year, the Jets snagged perhaps one of the draft’s biggest and best young defenders, in Leonard Williams. The Jets need a QB, but could either pick one up later in this draft or develop Bryce Petty. Noah Spence is the latest in the small school risers, and is hoping to grow into something along the lines of a Khalil Mack/DeMarcus Ware type player, though those players are great, and a cruel comparison, but that’s what a team like the Jets are hoping for down the road.
#21: Washington Redskins: Ohio State – LB Darron Lee: The Redskins appear to have their quarterback, and with Jay Gruden drafting Matt Jones, and Bill Callahan coaching the offensive line, the offense should actually be pretty squared away for the early portion of the draft. The Redskins have been missing a presence in the middle since London Fletcher retired. Lee is a sideline-to-sideline defender, with exceptional range, but can become overwhelmed by blockers.
#22: Houston Texans: Notre Dame – LB Jaylon Smith: Osweiler for $70+ million, on the strength of less than ten games in the NFL. Alright, that’s pretty bold, especially since I heard that Bill O’Brien hadn’t actually met Osweiler before signing him. They also replaced Arian Foster with Lamar Miller, so they’ve revamped and upgraded the entire Texans backfield. Adding another body for the Texans medical staff is their next move. It really does suck for Jaylon Smith, that guy was on the gravy train, and a Buckeye went and took a big ass bite out of crime, now it looks as though Smith will have to redshirt his rookie year. It’s not a bad plan if the Texans were to select him. Brian Cushing is up in age and declining in aspects of his game, and by the time they’re ready to move on from him, they’ll have Smith waiting in the wings.
#23: Minnesota Vikings: TCU – WR Josh Doctson: The Vikings are moving back indoors, and that could mean a very different Teddy Bridgewater moving forward. Well, perhaps not, if the Vikings don’t address the pass catchers available for Bridgewater, the development for Teddy will be a trickle. Doctson has an amazing catch radius, ability to catch a ‘dirty’ ball, and is a crisp route runner. On top of his ability, his size can help him win battles.
#24: Cincinnati Bengals: Baylor – DT Andrew Billings: The Bengals need to begin the process of replacing Domata Peko, because his performance isn’t where a young player should be. Andrew Billings is a 20 year-old true junior, who plays with immense power and quickness, and plays very low for a man of his size. He has yet to learn all the angles when tracking the play down, but being 20, he’s got time to learn.
#25: Pittsburgh Steelers: Oklahoma State – DE Emmanuel Ogbah: The Steelers need to add some pressure back to their defense, and with even Jaylon Smith gone, Emmanuel Ogbah could be what the doctor ordered. Ogbah is a big presence coming off of the edge, being an out of the box eight sacks a season player.
#26: Seattle Seahawks: Ohio State – OT Taylor Decker: The Seahawks must protect Russell Wilson, because last season, it looked like Wilson showed that he can take out opponents from the pocket. Decker does all the things well and good, but the thing that Decker does that the Seahawks’ former left tackle, Russell Okung, didn’t do well is stay healthy, and that’s the most important.
#27: Green Bay Packers: Alabama – NT Jarran Reed: The Packers lost BJ Raji to a ‘hiatus’ so they need a player to supplement their loss. Jarran Reed is a player that plays as broad as he is strong, often times moving along the line, shuffling like a crab to meet the play head on. He isn’t the most decorated pass rusher though, but has serious run stuffing ability.
#28: Kansas City Chiefs: Oklahoma – WR Sterling Shepard: The Chiefs have a guy that can take the top off of a defense, in Jeremy Maclin. They have an upper-echelon tight-end in Travis Kelce. The Chiefs need a player that can take that remaining third of the field back for the Chiefs, and Sterling Shepard is the shape of player that fits in Andy Reid’s puzzle. He has the route running down to an art form, and has the shake-and-bake for those slants and crossers, to bail him out from behind a safety’s crosshairs.
#29: New England Patriots: PICK DEFLATED
#30: Arizona Cardinals: Mississippi State – QB Dak Prescott: The Cardinals needed a pass rusher, and got one in a trade with the Patriots, grabbing Chandler Jones for Jonathan Cooper. The Cardinals need to think beyond Carson Palmer. The Cards are said to really, really like Dak Prescott. Curiously enough, both Bruce Arians and the Cardinals’ quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens are former Bulldogs’ assistant coaches, and that could be an underground connection. Prescott isn’t the biggest guy, but IS built correctly, six foot two and 230 pounds, and has supreme movement skills and really proved to have improved his game a senior, working from the pocket and succeeding. The DUI might have cooled his iron with a lot of teams, but a coach like Arians can get a man back on the right track.
#31: Carolina Panthers: Texas A&M – OT Germain Ifedi: The Panthers need offensive tackle help, no clever words or metaphors, they need help. Ifedi is a run-heavy offensive tackle which would work very well for the Panthers. Ifedi is a power operator that if life gets too dicey outside, could kick inside and be a big time guard to match with Trai Turner as a hell of a pair of guards.
#32: Denver Broncos: Michigan State – QB Conner Cook: The Broncos have Mark Sanchez, so the Broncos must have a quarterback in this draft. Cook has the football stuff down pretty well, but has had his character and leadership thrown under the microscope for the world to analyze. Cook has the tape to suggest that he could operate very well within the Gary Kubiak offense. There is an outside shot that this pick is a different quarterback, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan.