2016 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Updated Projections
NFL mock drafts in early December serve a few purposes, and one of them isn't to predict what will happen in late April. If I had that kind of power, I'd be playing the lottery, not predicting draft picks.
It's important to read mock drafts this time of year with the knowledge that this is purely what I think would happen if the draft were today. The purposes of the mock draft: to entertain, to inform about player value and team needs and to start setting the table for which holes franchises could fill.
A lot will change between now and April, but this is the best guess at what today's draft would look like.
The first three-round mock draft of the 2016 draft season is here, and it's sure to be full of surprises and decisions you won't agree with. But before you fire off a hot take in the comments section, consider that this very early mock draft is based on 1) the current draft order and not a prediction, and 2) what I think teams will do, not what I would do.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Quarterback Paxton Lynch, Memphis
What should the Cleveland Browns do? Draft quarterback Jared Goff from California. What will they do? I see Lynch better fitting what they're looking for in a quarterback.
Lynch is bigger, has a slightly stronger arm and offers the running ability to make things happen when the pocket breaks down. In a cold-weather division, the warm-weather Goff may not be what the Browns are looking for in a new franchise quarterback. Lynch, on the other hand, has the body and arm to hold up in windy Cleveland.
Neither quarterback is a lock to start day one in the NFL, but Lynch's playmaking ability makes him more of what Cleveland is looking for at the position.
2. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Tackle Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
The Tennessee Titans may be the team most likely to trade out of their first-round pick if they can get a buyer who wants to trade up for a quarterback. In a mock draft without swaps, though, drafting an offensive tackle to protect Marcus Mariota makes the most sense for Tennessee.
Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa isn't a great fit in this defense, and Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche is a good player but not as much of a need as another offensive tackle is. And Tunsil and Nkemdiche have the same draft grade at this time, which means you go with the need.
Tunsil and Taylor Lewan at tackle would give Mariota the protection he needs to get this offense rolling.
3. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Tackle Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
The San Diego Chargers have plenty of needs, but the left tackle position stands out as an area where an immediate upgrade is in order.
I know; I know: The offensive line has been injured all year, and we can't fully evaluate the offense because of this. But if I have the option of King Dunlap or Stanley at left tackle next year, give me Stanley. Philip Rivers would agree.
What the Chargers should do in this situation meshes with what I think they would do: Go young at left tackle and build on the upside of this long, athletic blocker with the potential to be a long-term Pro Bowler.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche has the talent to be the best player from this draft class. Hands down. He's big, physical, aggressive and has the athleticism to wreck offensive lines. Why is he still on the board here, then? Teams are going more for need than value at the top of the draft.
In Jacksonville, Nkemdiche can play 3-technique and rush the passer from inside the defensive line, but he's also athletic enough to become the Jaguars' version of Michael Bennett. He can rush from the edge, can anchor on the inside and can thoroughly frustrate offensive linemen on every down.
Nkemdiche and Dante Fowler leading the defensive line in 2016? That's scary-good.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Giving the Baltimore Ravens a top-10 pick almost doesn't seem fair. This is a franchise that has sustained its success with late first-round picks. Give front office duo Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta a chance to get a blue-chip player and watch out.
Hargreaves has a chance to be elite. He's not the biggest guy—probably around 5'10"—but he can jump, play physically at the line of scrimmage and has the instincts to make plays on the football down the field. And in Baltimore, he becomes an immediate starter and key defender to build around.
6. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Linebacker Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Smith is exactly what the New Orleans Saints need at weak-side linebacker, assuming their defensive mindset stays the same heading into 2016.
Smith is arguably the best player in this class. He impacts the game as a tackler in the run game, as a coverage linebacker in passing situations and even as a pass-rusher at times. He's athletic, rangy, smart and takes excellent angles to the ball no matter where it is on the field. To say he's a young Patrick Willis wouldn't be crazy in terms of style and upside.
Smith shouldn't be on the board still, but linebackers aren't a hot commodity in the draft, and he falls right into the Saints' hands.
7. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Quarterback Jared Goff, California
It's time to start over in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick is not the guy at quarterback to get this storied franchise back on top. Realizing that now and moving on not only saves time and money, but it might save jobs as ownership sees a change at quarterback as reason to keep the current front office in place for the rebuild.
Goff currently sits atop my Big Board as the best player in this class. He's accurate, poised in the pocket, a three-year starter and has the arm to execute the middle-range and downfield throws to make an offense pop. He may not be Week 1-ready as a starter, but the 49ers can afford to let him sit for the beginning of 2016 if he does indeed need time to acclimate to the NFL.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Defensive End Joey Bosa, Ohio State
In a "what will happen" mock draft, the Dallas Cowboys tab Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa with the No. 8 pick. There are bigger needs, but with Greg Hardy being a free agent, this pick makes a ton of sense for the Cowboys.
Some will want a young quarterback here, but with Jared Goff off the board, Dallas will try to load up for a Super Bowl run while it still has Tony Romo, instead of drafting his successor early in the class. The Cowboys could take a quarterback in Round 2, but in Round 1, an impact player is more likely.
Seeing Bosa fall to pick No. 8 may shock people, but with his Week 1 suspension a bit of a red flag combined with his lack of ability to play in a 3-4 scheme, he could see a small slide down the board. That's good news for the Cowboys, though, as Bosa and Randy Gregory would give the Dallas defense the firepower it needs to win the NFC East and compete for a title with a healthy offense.
9. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
The loss of Ndamukong Suh has been huge for the interior of the Detroit Lions defense this year, and trading for Haloti Ngata hasn't had a positive impact at all. Now would be a good time to use a draft pick to secure the future at 3-technique, but whomever is calling the shots in Detroit must look at this draft from a best-player-available perspective.
Ramsey might be a cornerback or might be a safety, but there's no mistaking that he's a stud football player. At FSU he's played cornerback, safety and the "Star" position (a coverage outside linebacker, basically) with high success.
He's also a fantastic athlete with elite track potential. Sounds like a match made in heaven for a secondary that needs length and speed. And with cornerback a continual sore spot in Detroit, this pick matches need and value.
10. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
The St. Louis Rams need a quarterback, but picking at No. 10 overall in the draft, they're not going to find a franchise passer in this class. I wouldn't rule out the Rams as a team willing to trade down, but the need to grab a marquee wide receiver with size is big. Treadwell is the ideal player for them in this scenario.
Treadwell is like a leaner Alshon Jeffery. He attacks the ball when it's thrown to him and has the strength to beat press coverage and separate from defenders with box-out ability. With a huge question mark at quarterback, one thing head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead can do is add a playmaking wide receiver, and that's exactly what Treadwell is.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
The Miami Dolphins have a lot of needs—defensive end, offensive guard, cornerback—but they also have a lot of bright young talent to build around. Depending on who the new head coach is, the needs and fits for the team will change. But as of now the cornerback position is a huge hole on the roster.
Brent Grimes is a good cornerback, but not an elite player, and he can't compete with Alexander's youth, speed or length. And with a need opposite Grimes, Alexander can be groomed by the veteran and learn the ropes while not taking on No. 1-cornerback pressure in his first season.
Alexander is also the best player available, and that's something vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum and crew need to focus on.
12. New York Giants
The Pick: Defensive End Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
The New York Giants have bolstered the offense in years past with early picks like Ereck Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr., but the one area they've shied away from in recent drafts is the defensive line. Johnathan Hankins was a fantastic selection, but with Jason Pierre-Paul a free agent after this season, the defensive end position is a major question mark.
Ogbah makes sense for the Giants in Round 1, and he's a Steve Spagnuolo type of player with outside speed and good power to counter offensive tackles. Ogbah can play immediately, too, making him an impact pick in the middle of the first round—something the Giants will need if JPP leaves.
13. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Linebacker Myles Jack, UCLA
Rarely does a team picking in the middle of the first round get exactly what it needs and the player who perfectly fits what it'd like to do. That happens here with Jack going to the Oakland Raiders.
The need at linebacker is big, and the Raiders once again nail their first-round draft choice by getting a top-10 player who happens to slip slightly.
Jack is the ideal weak-side linebacker, and he's scheme-versatile enough to plug-and-play no matter if the Raiders are in their four-man front with Aldon Smith and Khalil Mack at defensive end or a heavy front with Mack at linebacker. He's flexible, athletic, smart and makes the type of plays you can't ignore at linebacker.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Linebacker Leonard Floyd, Georgia
This pick is a chance to get an impact player on defense for Philadelphia. A lot of fans think it's quarterback or bust here, but there isn't a passer worth taking at this place of the draft with Lynch and Goff off the board. So Chip Kelly, or whomever is calling the shots in late April, will look to grab a defender who can shake up a stale back seven behind a fantastic defensive line.
Floyd may make fans think of Marcus Smith, but they couldn't be more different. Floyd has length, burst at the line of scrimmage and the physical upside to play with his hand in the dirt or as an off-the-ball linebacker. He's a defensive chess piece, which is what Smith was supposed to be but hasn't become.
15. Chicago Bears
The Pick: Linebacker Reggie Ragland, Alabama
A do-it-all linebacker with the size to play inside of a 3-4 scheme at "Mike" linebacker? Yep, that's exactly what the Chicago Bears need.
Ragland comes to the NFL game-ready, and with his experience in Alabama's 3-4 scheme, he's a natural fit in what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes to do. Ragland can line up in that middle linebacker spot, and his college film shows a player who can rush the passer and lock up athletic tight ends.
Ragland may not test exceptionally well, but he's a true three-down linebacker with the run-stuffing chops to change this defense.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Defensive End Shaq Lawson, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are an impressive young team, and one that's ahead of where most expected it to be in 2015. But after spending early picks on offense in 2015's draft, it's time for Tampa to focus on building up the defense.
Lawson is the ideal right-side defensive end in this 4-3 scheme. He's long, powerful at around 275 pounds and has the first-step quickness to make an impact against NFL left tackles. He's not always a consistent pressure player, but Lawson's positional value and the impact he's had in big games (see him against North Carolina) make him worthy of the No. 16 overall pick.
17. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Wide Receiver Josh Doctson, TCU
If you've watched the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, you've noticed the passing game is basically Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. And that's about it. Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson and the rest of the wide receiver crew have been disappointing. It's time for White to be moved and for a young target to come in and energize this offense.
Doctson isn't a speedy outside receiver, but he's a physical presence who dominates the catch point and runs precise routes with a veteran-like ability to find space with his size and timing. Opposite a speedy Jones, Doctson can become a huge threat with his sure hands and route-running skills.
18. Houston Texans
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Kenny Clark, UCLA
The Houston Texans would love to see a quarterback here, but there is not a passer worth drafting at pick No. 18.
The staff in Houston thought it had fixed the hole in the middle of the defense in each of the last two offseasons, but neither drafting Louis Nix from Notre Dame or signing Vince Wilfork in free agency worked. Now, maybe their third try will be the charm.
Clark is a very good nose tackle prospect, and he has the movement skills to play well in Houston's evolving front. In a three-man look he's stout and can get good push or anchor from the nose, but he's agile enough to slide into a 1-technique and play next to J.J. Watt in the Texans' 4-3 looks in passing situations.
19. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: Defensive Lineman DeForest Buckner, Oregon
The needs on the Buffalo roster aren't many, and the biggest area of focus for general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan is to keep building depth with the roster getting a bit older in spots. With a best-player-available approach being the smartest one, Oregon's Buckner becomes a great value.
Buckner is a tremendous defensive lineman, and he's tailor-made for the 5-technique position in a 3-4 defense. He's long, plays with the strength to lock out blockers (see the Stanford game) and the agility to chase down the ball. He's a better pro prospect than former teammate Arik Armstead—who went at pick No. 17 last year—and would make the future questions of what to do with Kyle and Mario Williams easier answers in Buffalo.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: Cornerback Eli Apple, Ohio State
How long has the need at cornerback existed for the Pittsburgh Steelers? This is my fifth year at Bleacher Report, and every year I'm writing about how they need to get younger and faster at the position. And yet, they still haven't addressed the need and continue to survive with substandard play in the secondary.
Given that the offense in Pittsburgh is exceptional, perhaps this will be the year general manager Kevin Colbert invests in the secondary. If so, Apple, a redshirt sophomore, is an incredible fit for the defense. He's long, very fast, instinctive and has the toughness to hang with the big wide receivers of the AFC North from the get-go.
The Pick: Defensive Lineman A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
General manager Scot McCloughan looks to have hit a home run with his first draft in Washington producing impact players Matt Jones, Brandon Scherff, Jamison Crowder and Preston Smith. To keep Washington competitive in the NFC East—a division it's currently leading to the surprise of everyone—McCloughan and his scouting staff need another big draft.
Given McCloughan's history of prioritizing interior players, and preferring big, long athletes at those positions, Alabama's Robinson will be a dream fit for Washington at 5-technique. Robinson, at 6'4" and 320 pounds, has the size McCloughan craves and the production to match it. He's been incredibly productive at Alabama and has all the tools to make an early impact.
22. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Andrew Billings, Baylor
There are many areas the Indianapolis Colts could go with for their first-round pick in 2016, and as of now there could still be a change at general manager and/or head coach. Given the team's needs on paper, the draft class can be full of best-player-available picks, and Baylor's Billings is the top-rated player on the board who fills a need for the Colts.
Billings would be an instant upgrade over starting nose tackle David Parry and would give the Colts the toughness they've lacked in the run game for years. With improved play around the middle of the defense, adding a big anchor in the middle will affect the entire play on defense in a positive way for Indianapolis.
Billings' ability to drive back the center and make plays as a pass-rusher will make him a fan favorite in no time.
23. New York Jets
The Pick: Tackle Shon Coleman, Auburn
In the first year of the Mike Maccagnan regime, the New York Jets have seen amazing return on investments in both free agency and the NFL draft. As such, they won't be forced into drafting for need.
We saw that mentality pay off last year with the selection of Leonard Williams in Round 1 despite already having Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson on the roster. In the first round of the 2016 draft, the Jets can go for the best player available and still fill a need in getting their left tackle of the future.
Coleman beat leukemia on his way to becoming one of the best left tackles in college football this year. He's just a junior, so he could return to Auburn for another season, but at 24 years old, it's more likely he'll bet on his upside and enter this draft class. If so, Coleman's athleticism and mean streak are a perfect fit for what the Jets are building.
24. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Wide Receiver Michael Thomas, Ohio State
One of the most exciting offensive players in college football falls right into the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Thomas is an ideal fit for the downfield passing attack the Seahawks have used in years past, but he has the speed and agility to be the kind of route-runner they've never had at the position. No disrespect to Doug Baldwin or Jermaine Kearse, but Thomas has a second gear they don't, and his ability to track the ball deep or make a play to shake a defender on breaking routes screams No. 1 wide receiver.
25. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Tackle Jerald Hawkins, LSU
The Kansas City Chiefs have won six straight games, and they're getting quietly good production from the offensive line. But don't let that fool you into thinking this offensive line is one Kansas City should keep long term. Major changes are needed here, aside from a solid anchor the team can build around in center Mitch Morse. If an offensive tackle slips to the Chiefs in Round 1, they can't afford to pass.
Hawkins is a junior at LSU but has the tools of an NFL starter. With the athleticism, length and patience to be an instant impact for the Chiefs offensive line, Hawkins could be another steal in the mold of Morse from last year's class.
26. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Linebacker Su'a Cravens, USC
The linebacking corps in Minnesota has seen a very athletic remake in the last two seasons with the additions of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, but the rebuild isn't done yet. A weak-side linebacker with range, coverage skills and the ability to pressure the quarterback could still work here. And USC's Cravens has made that kind of impact since moving from strong safety this season.
Cravens is a defensive weapon whom head coach Mike Zimmer could unleash on NFC North offenses. His experience at strong safety shows he can cover tight ends at the line and down the field, and in his 2015 season he showed promise as an edge defender and pass-rusher, especially against Notre Dame and Stanford.
Cravens may not fill the biggest need in Minnesota, but without an offensive tackle worth drafting here, he is the best mix of value and need.
27. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed, Alabama
The line on the Green Bay Packers has been that they're weak up the middle on defense, and that's holding true again in 2015.
What the team needs is a major upgrade at both nose tackle and at inside linebacker. After moving Clay Matthews inside and drafting Jake Ryan last year, the Packers' inside linebacker position could improve organically; at nose tackle, an infusion of talent is a must.
Reed has been the most impressive Alabama defensive lineman on film this year. He's stout, tough, mean at the snap and has the mix of agility and strength to get push in the middle of the line. He'll stuff the run or shed blocks to get to the quarterback and create pressures and hurries. And at 6'3" and 315 pounds, he gives this front seven much-needed size and strength in the middle.
28. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: Defensive Lineman Austin Johnson, Penn State
Big departures in free agency over the last few seasons have made a huge impact on the Arizona Cardinals defense, and even though general manager Steve Keim has found diamonds in the rough like Rodney Gunter, there is still a need to keep adding talent to the line. In Round 1, getting a potential starter at nose tackle to replace Dan Williams would be a huge boost for the Cardinals.
Johnson looks like an NFL nose tackle, but he's athletic enough to play as a 1-technique in a 4-3 scheme. He's also incredibly agile and is one of the most active defenders on the Penn State line at getting outside the tackle box to take on screens and tosses. That athleticism, strength and attitude are exactly what the Cardinals need.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Free Safety Jayron Kearse, Clemson
The Cincinnati Bengals have two good safeties in Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, but both are scheduled to be free agents after this season. With money needed to lock up wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, we could be looking at a year in which there is major turnover in the Bengals secondary.
At the end of the first round, Kearse is a great fit for Cincinnati at safety. He's huge (6'5", 210 pounds) but has the range of a center fielder in the middle of the defense. He's also a dangerous hitter who can take away tight ends over the middle and up the seam. And in the Bengals defense, which blurs the line between free and strong safety, Kearse is the type of player to step in and have a starter's impact as a rookie.
30. New England Patriots
The NFL stripped the Patriots of their first-round-pick as part of the team's punishment for Deflategate.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
General manager John Elway has to be feeling pretty good right now. With Brock Osweiler set to become a free agent after this season, the Broncos are getting an extended look at their quarterback of the future (and thus far he's 3-0 as a starter). With the team expected to lock up Osweiler, and with few needs elsewhere, the Broncos can focus on the best player available.
Elliott ranks high on my big board, but that comes with the knowledge that teams may not be willing to invest in a Round 1 running back in 2016. If so, the value is there, as he's a true three-down running back, and he's a great fit in Denver given his ability to make plays in a zone-blocking scheme and the added bonus of being a capable receiver and great pass-blocker.
32. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Tackle Taylor Decker, Ohio State
At the end of Round 1, the Carolina Panthers look to extend their awesome streak of grabbing impact players late in the first round. What general manager Dave Gettleman has done is impressive with players like Kawann Short, Kony Ealy, Kelvin Benjamin, Shaq Thompson and now Devin Funchess becoming impact players drafted either in the late first or second round.
But the Panthers are playing on borrowed time at offensive tackle, and getting a young player they can groom for the left side would be huge. Decker is an ideal player for them. He's tough, well-versed in protecting a mobile quarterback and has the length and feet scouts fall in love with.
The only reason he's still on the board at No. 32 is some may see him as a right tackle only, but his tape shows a player ready to eventually start at left tackle.
|3||San Diego||Tyler Boyd||WR||Pitt|
|5||Baltimore||Joshua Perry||LB||Ohio State|
|6||New Orleans||Maliek Collins||DL||Nebraska|
|7||Dallas||Connor Cook||QB||Michigan State|
|8||San Francisco||Vince Biegel||EDGE||Wisconsin|
|10||St. Louis||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota St.|
|12||New York Giants||Paul Perkins||RB||UCLA|
|13||Oakland||Darian Thompson||FS||Boise State|
|14||St. Louis (from Eagles)||Jonathan Bullard||EDGE||Florida|
|15||Chicago||Noah Spence||EDGE||Eastern Kentucky|
|16||Tampa Bay||Jeremy Cash||SS||Duke|
|17||Atlanta||Tyvis Powell||FS||Ohio State|
|18||Houston||Vonn Bell||SS||Ohio State|
|20||Pittsburgh||Adolphus Washington||DL||Ohio State|
|23||New York Jets||Christian Hackenberg||QB||Penn State|
|25||Kansas City||Cayleb Jones||WR||Arizona|
|26||Minnesota||Germain Ifedi||T||Texas A&M|
|27||Green Bay||Shilique Calhoun||EDGE||Michigan St.|
|28||Arizona||Kamalei Correa||EDGE||Boise State|
|29||Cincinnati||Vernon Butler||DL||La. Tech|
|30||New England||Braxton Miller||WR||Ohio State|
|1||Cleveland||Chris Jones||DL||Miss. State|
|3||San Diego||Tony Conner||SS||Ole Miss|
|5||Baltimore||Pharoh Cooper||WR||South Carolina|
|6||New Orleans||Jake Butt||TE||Michigan|
|8||San Francisco||O.J. Howard||TE||Alabama|
|9||Philadelphia (from Lions)||Vadal Alexander||G||LSU|
|10||St. Louis||Kentrell Brothers||LB||Missouri|
|11||Miami||C.J. Prosise||RB||Notre Dame|
|12||New York Giants||Sheldon Day||DL||Notre Dame|
|13||Oakland||Keivarae Russell||CB||Notre Dame|
|15||Chicago||Landon Turner||G||North Carolina|
|16||Tampa Bay||Marcus Maye||FS||Florida|
|20||Pittsburgh||Miles Killebrew||SS||Southern Utah|
|23||New York Jets||Jerell Adams||TE||South Carolina|
|25||Kansas City||Kendell Beckwith||LB||LSU|
|26||Minnesota||Rashard Higgins||WR||Colorado St.|
|27||Green Bay||Cody Whitehair||G||Kansas St.|
|30||New England||Sheldon Rankins||DL||Louisville|
|32||Carolina||Kendall Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech|