The Super Bowl is over and that means the 2016 NFL offseason has officially begun. Perhaps the most exciting part about the offseason is the draft, so without further ado, here is my first edition of the 2016 NFL First-Round Mock Draft:
1) Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT from Ole Miss
The NFL’s worst team in 2015 (according to their record) already has a franchise QB in Marcus Mariota, who had a rookie year that impressed even the doubters, like myself. Now, it’s time to protect that franchise centerpiece. The Titans’ offensive line could be worse, as right guard Chance Warmack presents a powerful run blocking presence and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan has shown promise. However, Lewan’s talents would be much more useful at right tackle, as the second year pro started at left tackle in 2015 more so out of necessity rather than individual talent. I think new general manager Jon Robinson knows this, and he’ll look to move Lewan to right tackle and bring in the dominant Laremy Tunsil to play left tackle and protect Mariota’s backside.
2) Cleveland Browns: Jared Goff, QB from Cal
Another year, another coaching search for the Cleveland Browns. This time, they tabbed Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to be the newest head coach, and he immediately announced the franchise would be moving on from talented but troubled QB Johnny Manziel. Given that the best impending free agent QB is Ryan Fitzpatrick, it makes sense that the Browns will draft a franchise QB with the second overall pick. There are some attractive names, like Connor Cook from Michigan State and Paxton Lynch from Memphis, but those two also have some question marks with them. Cal’s Jared Goff has question marks too, but far less. Over the course of his final collegiate year, Goff exhibited NFL-caliber accuracy and his footwork alone makes him the best QB prospect in this draft. The idea of Goff receiving his tutelage under the genius of Coach Jackson would sound better if we left out the name “Cleveland Browns”.
3) San Diego Chargers: Laquon Treadwell, WR from Ole Miss
The Chargers had a terrible 2015 campaign after two consecutive winning seasons. Head coach Mike McCoy is still there, and the front office is hoping to see a return to form for this team. Drafting a guy like Laquon Treadwell would go a long way towards that resurgence. QB Philip Rivers had a rough time after top WR Keenan Allen went down with an injury, making the need for a talented receiver to compliment Allen even more obvious. Tight end Antonio Gates still has some miles left in the tank, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more. A WR duo of Allen and Treadwell would make Rivers’ life much easier, and a happy Rivers is a happy Chargers franchise.
4) Dallas Cowboys: Myles Jack, LB from UCLA
First of all, I find it very hard to believe that the Cowboys won’t trade back in the draft. In fact, I’d bet good money that they make a trade. But nevertheless, this mock is assuming there are no trades, because trying to predict all the crazy trades that will happen on draft day is as pointless as trying to predict what Donald Trump will say next.
That said, Myles Jack would be a great fit for the Cowboys. Rolando McClain, their starting Mike linebacker from the past two years, showed signs of wear and tear in 2015 and his contract is up. Jack offers a much more talented player at a slightly smaller price and without any of the baggage that McClain has. Additionally, the Mike linebacker in Dallas’s scheme requires someone who can play excellent pass coverage, and Jack might just be the best pass coverage linebacker in this draft.
5) Jacksonville Jaguars: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB from Florida
The Jaguars are a team that is slowly making progress, but their defense took a huge step back in 2015 and it resulted in their defensive coordinator, Bob Babich, being fired. The Jaguars signed free agent CB Davon House last offseason, but he really fits better as a number two corner option, and the high motor Dwayne Gratz would likely see a huge uptick in production if he were relegated to the nickel corner. But who plays the top corner slot? Vernon Hargreaves III. VH3 is undoubtedly the top corner in the draft and has NFL-ready speed to defend against top wide receivers. While he’ll experience his fair share of growing pains, his addition would help the Jaguars’ defense significantly.
6) Baltimore Ravens: Joey Bosa, DE from Ohio State
Why is Joey Bosa this low? Certainly one of the five teams up til now would have picked the supremely talented pass rusher by now, right? Possibly. The Titans may very well choose to try and bolster their defense instead, but I expect them to continue in their committal to Mariota. The Browns could, but they have a much more glaring need at QB. The Chargers very well could, as well, as they’ve got holes at nearly every position. But an offensive minded coach like McCoy can’t possibly be expected to pass up a talent like Treadwell. Bosa doesn’t fit well in the Cowboys or Jaguars defenses, either.
At the sixth overall pick, the Ravens finally get some good luck after all the bad juju that was their 2015 season. Bosa, who some have eagerly called the next JJ Watt, would be a gift wrapped inside a gift for the Ravens, who could pair this force of nature with their powerful run-stopper Timmy Jernigan and field a top-tier defense yet again.
7) San Francisco 49ers: Paxton Lynch, QB from Memphis
Chip Kelly is the head coach in San Francisco, for better or worse, and all reports are that QB Colin Kaepernick is out. Which is a shame, because I’d love to see what Kaepernick and his skillset could do in Kelly’s scheme. Oh well. Kelly will need a new quarterback, and as confident as the recently-fired coach is in his abilities to develop anyone, he can’t expect Blaine Gabbert to get him where he wants to be. Paxton Lynch actually suits Kelly perfectly: strong arm with great short accuracy, pretty mobile when he needs to be, and he isn’t 100% ready to start in the NFL yet. That pretty much fills all the requirements to be a starter for Chip Kelly. All kidding aside, Lynch would be a good fit for this offense and the 49ers could use just about anyone at this point.
8) Miami Dolphins: Ronnie Stanley, OT from Notre Dame
The Dolphins hired Adam Gase as their new head coach to do one thing, really: fix Ryan Tannehill. The guy that Miami intended to be their franchise QB in 2012 has struggled more and more with each passing season. Gase commanded the Peyton Manning Revival with the Broncos and then got solid production out of the mercurial Jay Cutler, so he should be able to fix Tannehill. But Tannehill can’t do anything without time to throw. Left tackle Branden Albert will return from injury next year, but adding Ronnie Stanley, the standout offensive tackle from Notre Dame, and playing him at right tackle would create a successful bookend for the much-maligned Dolphins’ offensive line.
9) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jalen Ramsey, DB from Florida State
Jalen Ramsey played cornerback for the Seminoles and he did a magnificent job at it, but his frame and physical skillset makes him an ideal candidate to switch to safety in the NFL. The Buccaneers’ defense was very good in 2015, but there’s no way of ignoring the gaping hole on the depth chart at safety next to Major Wright. Ramsey would fill that position nicely, and would help bolster a defense that has to go up against Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees two times each next year.
10) New York Giants: DeForest Buckner, DE from Oregon
Even if the Giants bring back DE Jason Pierre-Paul, whose contract is up this offseason, the G-Men still need to address a pass rush that ranked 30th in the NFL in sacks. DeForest Buckner wouldn’t offer much immediate impact, but his potential is immense. His athletic prowess is impressive and he is terrifyingly explosive as a pass rusher, and possesses the size to stuff the run as well. It’ll take time for him to fully develop in the NFL, but with last year’s rookie DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the Giants could take a step toward a promising pass rush in the coming years.
11) Chicago Bears: Mackensie Alexander, CB from Clemson
The Bears in their first year under head coach John Fox took some promising steps forward. Jay Cutler cut down on his turnovers and rookie RB Jeremy Langford made impending free agent Matt Forte expendable, and with receivers Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White both returning from injury next year, the offense looks good to go. The defense, however, could use some reinforcements, especially in the secondary, as the Bears ranked 29th in passing defense. Kyle Fuller is proving to be a valued commodity at CB, so adding Mackensie Alexander would give the Bears two young and talented pass defenders in a division that has to go up against talented QB’s, like Matthew Stafford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Aaron “Hail Mary While Discount Double-Checking” Rodgers.
12) New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE from Clemson
The Saints are going ahead with Dennis Allen as their defensive coordinator, and that means a switch to a 4-3 base defense. That creates a lot of questions, primarily concerning whether DE Cameron Jordan will move inside to play defensive tackle and if pass rushing OLB Hau’oli Kikaha will convert to a defensive end. Either way, the Saints will need another edge rusher and Shaq Lawson is just that. He uses impressive upper-body strength to drive back offensive linemen and disrupt the quarterback, which would make a great combination with Jordan and Kikaha.
13) Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB from North Dakota State
So, I’m probably the only one out there who isn’t sold on Wentz as a first round pick right now. But the Eagles need a QB, because new head coach Doug Pederson has said he doubts Sam Bradford will return. Pederson has also said he likes what he has seen of Wentz and thinks he’d fit in perfectly. Besides quarterback, the Eagles’ other big need is in the defensive backfield, and there aren’t too many first round players at the position by now.
14) Oakland Raiders: A’Shawn Robinson, DT from Alabama
The Raiders are on the verge of being good again. In 2015, the offense started coming together nicely with QB Derek Carr, rookie WR Amari Cooper and RB Latavius Murray. This year, it’s time to make the defense come together. They already have two amazing linebackers in Malcolm Smith and Khalil Mack, and rookie DE Mario Edwards Jr. looks like he’ll be a consistent pass rusher for years to come. Drafting A’Shawn Robinson, the gigantic defensive tackle from Alabama, would immediately make it harder for opposing offenses to run the ball against Oakland.
15) Los Angeles Rams: Connor Cook, QB from Michigan State
Well, the Nick Foles project didn’t work out, and Case Keenum is still just Case Keenum. The Rams under Jeff Fisher have had the same issue every single year: a stout defense with a good running game, but a quarterback that can’t throw accurate passes farther than 5 yards. There are better players on the board at this point, but the Rams need a quarterback so much more. With Goff, Lynch, and Wentz all gone by now, Connor Cook becomes the answer, and he’s not a bad answer at all. If not for the shellacking that Michigan State endured at the hands of Alabama in the College Football Playoff this year, Cook would be a higher-rated prospect for sure. He has all of the tools to be a successful NFL QB. The only question in LA would be if he’d have the right coaches. SPOILER ALERT: he probably won’t.
16) Detroit Lions: Josh Doctson, WR from TCU
For nine years, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson was the star of the Detroit Lions. At times, it seemed the offensive gameplan revolved solely around getting the ball from QB Matthew Stafford’s hands to Johnson’s gigantic hands. That all comes to an end this year, as Johnson has decided to retire, almost unexpectedly. This creates a gaping hole on the Lions’ roster that demands immediate attention. After Johnson, the best receiver is Golden Tate, a man who thrives as a second option. Josh Doctson is far from being Megatron 2.0, but he possesses an ability to locate the ball and climb the ladder to catch the ball over the heads of everyone else, a skill of Johnson’s that made it easier for Stafford to throw jump balls. Taking Doctson at 16 may very well be a reach, but he has a high ceiling and, at the very least, can help stop the bleeding that this offense is sure to suffer.
17) Atlanta Falcons: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE from Oklahoma State
In 2015, the Falcons took the much-lauded pass rusher Vic Beasley from Clemson with their first pick. He struggled in his rookie year, only generating 4 sacks, but showed some refinement in his raw athleticism that made him so attractive as a pass rusher. In addition to developing Beasley’s pass rushing techniques, the Falcons would do well to find a mainstay on the other end of the defensive line. Emmanuel Ogbah would serve to take some attention away from Beasley with his powerful physique, opening up lanes for Beasley to speed through. The pairing of Beasley and Ogbah won’t produce immediate results, but the Falcons aren’t in win-now mode anyways. This would take another step toward building a dominant defense in the Dan Quinn-era Falcons.
18) Indianapolis Colts: Jack Conklin, OT from Michigan State
Andrew Luck is the face of the Colts franchise, but what happens when your face gets beaten and bruised so badly that it misses almost all of the action? Well, you get an 8-8 result after three straight 11-5 seasons. Which is actually a pretty good outcome, considering Luck only played 7 games in 2015. Nevertheless, the fact is that Luck has never had a good offensive line in his time in Indianapolis. By drafting Jack Conklin, a First-Team All-American, the Colts would suddenly have two book-end offensive tackles with Conklin and incumbent starter Anthony Castonzo, who could and should move to right tackle. The point is simple: the Colts need to invest in their offensive line if they want Luck to last. Conklin is the best way to start that investment in this offseason.
19) Buffalo Bills: Jaylon Smith, LB from Notre Dame
Prior to tragically tearing his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl, Jaylon Smith was caught up in debates about who the top linebacker in the draft was: Smith or Myles Jack? There’s no question that Smith is teeming with talent, but the recent injury might scare off some teams, despite recent reports that he’ll likely be healthy enough to play by the start of the 2016 regular season. But if Smith falls to the 19th spot, the Bills may not be able to contain their excitement. Despite playing in a 4-3 defense at Notre Dame, Smith possesses the explosive speed to convert to an outside linebacker in the Bills’ blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme, while his outstanding pass coverage skills make him an even bigger threat as a linebacker.
20) New York Jets: Robert Nkemdiche, DT from Ole Miss
In the 2015 NFL Draft, Leonard Williams, arguably the best player in the draft, fell into the lap of the Jets at the sixth overall pick and Gang Green did not hesitate to accept the gift that fate had given them. I see a similar situation happening this year. Robert Nkemdiche is one of the most talented players in this year’s draft, by far, but after a strange incident in which he fell out of a hotel window and was later charged with marijuana possession, leading to his suspension for the Sugar Bowl, Nkemdiche’s stock looks to be low. But the Jets have two of their most gifted defenders entering free agency this year: DT Damon Harrison and DE Muhammad Wilkerson. They likely won’t be able to bring them both back, so they’ll have to make a decision. It’ll be tough, but that’s business. The harsh reality of it all will be softened with the addition of Nkemdiche, who could realistically play any position on the defensive line.
21) Washington Redskins: Kendall Fuller, CB from Virginia Tech
The Redskins found their franchise QB in Kirk Cousins and made it to the playoffs last year. I never expected to be typing any of that, but here we are. When looking at the Redskins’ roster, I surprisingly don’t see that many glaring holes. But the position with the most room for improvement is cornerback. Bashaud Breeland overcame a rough rookie year to establish himself as a good defender for Washington in 2015, but when signing Cary Williams is considered an upgrade to the number 2 corner position, that’s a red flag. Kendall Fuller, brother of talented Bears CB Kyle Fuller, has loads of talent as a coverage specialist, and the Redskins would be smart to try and create a young CB tandem of Breeland and Fuller going forward.
22) Houston Texans: Andrew Billings, DT from Baylor
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien may just actually shed a tear when he sees Connor Cook get drafted. His chances of finding a quarterback in this draft are exceedingly low, and unless he wants to gamble on Dak Prescott this high in the draft, he’ll have no choice but to go with Andrew Billings. Billings did something unexpected last year: stole the show from Shawn Oakman. Billings has incredible power as a pass rusher but is even more impressive as a run defender. In this aspect, he would be a perfect fit to play defensive end for Houston, giving the Texans a front seven that features JJ Watt, Vince Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Andrew Billings. With a defense like that, it almost makes it easy to forget that Brandon Weeden is your best quarterback. Almost.
23) Minnesota Vikings: Taylor Decker, OT from Ohio State
The Vikings are in a very good place now, with a franchise QB in Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson returning to the ranks of the top tier NFL running backs, and a very stingy defense. But the offense had far too many drives that fizzled this season, largely due to the immense pressure that Bridgewater faced. Left tackle Matt Kalil had a better year than he did in 2014, but he still showed a lot of problems. At right tackle, Phil Loadholt was once again a consistently average presence. Ohio State’s Taylor Decker would give the Vikings options, whether he plays left or right tackle, or perhaps Kalil switches to right tackle, or maybe Decker doesn’t start but pushes both Kalil and Loadholt to be better. Either way, the Vikings’ biggest room to improve is their offensive line.
24) Cincinnati Bengals: Noah Spence, DE from Eastern Kentucky
Noah Spence just had himself a phenomenal Senior Bowl, leaving almost every scout proclaiming that Spence was the best pass rusher present. Now, the Bengals certainly aren’t hurting for a pass rushing presence, with the likes of Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, and Margus Hunt, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther likes to have a deep rotation along the defensive line and adding Noah would only amplify the list of talented pass rushers on this team.
25) Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarran Reed, DT from Alabama
The Steelers may have made the playoffs, but their defense is still getting renovated. They have pieces in place, like Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, but now it’s time to solidify the defensive line. Jarran Reed is a big body that can come in and play either the nose tackle position or go to either defensive end spot. Combining the high-ceiling Reed with the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Hayward would significantly boost this defense’s overall quality as the Steelers look to build off an impressive 2015 campaign.
26) Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Boyd, WR from Pittsburgh
The Seahawks have two main areas of need: offensive line and wide receivers. Rookie WR Tyler Lockett and veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse are both expected to be solid starters in 2016, but adding a talented and highly-touted prospect in Tyler Boyd would give Russell Wilson a legitimate number one receiver.
27) Green Bay Packers: Reggie Ragland, MLB from Alabama
The Packers have quietly been building a very talented defense over the past two seasons. Drafting defensive backs like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, and the addition of OLB Julius Peppers while switching Clay Matthews to inside linebacker have paid off in a big way. But in 2015, the inside linebacker spot next to Matthews was filled by rookie Jake Ryan, who did an admirable enough job. However, Ryan cannot be considered the longterm starter at the position. Reggie Ragland would be able to come in right away and give defensive coordinator Dom Capers an immensely talented defender who can take on the run and free up Matthews to rush the passer more often. The selection of Ragland would take a huge step toward building a Packers defense that can finally rival its potent offense.
28) Kansas City Chiefs: Darron Lee, LB from Ohio State
The Chiefs have a pretty good team, so this draft pick is essentially just a matter of taking the best player available. Darron Lee possesses all the physical tools to be successful in multiple spots in this defense, but will likely end up being mostly a reserve and special teams player for a few years.
29) Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Kelly, C from Alabama
The Arizona Cardinals are stacked at almost every position, it seems. And while they still need to find a talented QB to develop behind Carson Palmer, there are no prospects here that fit the system. However, the Cardinals should look to bolster their offensive line even more by upgrading at the center position, where impending free agent Lyle Sendlein has done a good job for several years but leaves room for improvement. Ryan Kelly was part of the talented Crimson Tide offensive line that helped RB Derrick Henry experience a Heisman winning season, and his tough presence would elevate an already-talented line.
30) New England Patriots: This pick has been forfeited due to the Patriots’ involvement in the Deflategate scandal
31) Carolina Panthers: Corey Coleman, WR from Baylor
The Carolina Panthers got pretty darn close to winning a Super Bowl despite Greg Olsen being their best pass-catcher. Kelvin Benjamin will return next year after missing 2015 with injury, and rookie Devin Funchess showed promise as a third receiving option, but the Panthers’ offense would see an exponential uptick in the passing game with the speedy and athletic wide receiver from Baylor, Biletnikoff winner Corey Coleman.
32) Denver Broncos: Leonard Floyd, OLB from Georgia
OLB DeMarcus Ware may or may not retire this offseason, but even if he doesn’t, the Broncos should have a replacement for him. Leonard Floyd may not be as talented as the future Hall of Fame pass rusher, but he has spent his entire collegiate career in the same position that Ware currently plays and has produced at a consistent rate. Given time to develop, and the added bonus of playing across from Von Miller, Floyd will become a dominant pass rushing linebacker in Wade Phillips’ defense in Denver.