2016 NFL Mock Draft: Top Prospects and 1st-Round Predictions

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2016

California quarterback Jared Goff (16)  throws against Air Force during the Armed Forces Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

For 20 teams, the mock draft season begins after this weekend, as fans turn toward the future of their franchise and frantically research the players they hope their team will draft and cultivate into superstars.

But hey, why not get started a little early? Let's take a look at my first mock draft of the year and break down one position in particular that I think could really shape the first round, the quarterback position. 

First, to the mock.

NFL Mock Draft
1Tennessee TitansLaremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
2Cleveland BrownsJoey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
3San Diego ChargersVernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
4Dallas CowboysPaxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
5San Francisco 49ersJared Goff, QB, California
6Miami DolphinsMyles Jack, LB, UCLA
7Jacksonville JaguarsJalen Ramsey, S/CB, Florida State
8Baltimore RavensA'Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, Alabama
9Tampa Bay BuccaneersDeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
10New York GiantsJaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
11New Orleans SaintsRobert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
12Philadelphia EaglesRonnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
13Detroit LionsEmmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
14Chicago BearsJack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
15Buffalo BillsAndrew Billings, DT, Baylor
16Oakland RaidersLeonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia
17Indianapolis ColtsTre'Davious White, CB, LSU
18St. Louis RamsConnor Cook, QB, Michigan State
19Atlanta FalconsLaquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
20Pittsburgh SteelersSu'a Cravens, S/LB, USC
21Seattle SeahawksEzekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
22New York JetsReggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
23Kansas City ChiefsJarran Reed, DT, Alabama
24Minnesota VikingsMichael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
25WashingtonScooby Wright, LB, Arizona
26Houston TexansChristian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
27Green Bay Packers Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
28Cincinnati BengalsAdolphus Washington, DE/DT, Ohio State
29Denver BroncosVadal Alexander, G, LSU
30Arizona CardinalsJonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
31Carolina PanthersKendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Selection order based on current standings and playoff seeds

A lot of teams are in the running to select a quarterback. The Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals (Carson Palmer is getting up there in age) could consider a quarterback. 

The Browns really are the pivot point of this draft. At the moment, I don't see them selecting another quarterback and giving Johnny Manziel—who took steps and improved this season—one more year to prove he can be a franchise quarterback. But it'd hardly be surprised if they went after a quarterback, either.

That leaves the Cowboys as the next team up. Paxton Lynch is more of a project than Jared Goff, but he also has huge upside. He's big, has a powerful arm and he's pretty athletic for a man of his size. The Cowboys could draft him, let him learn under Tony Romo for a few seasons and easily transition from Romo into another starting quarterback.

Given the talent the Cowboys have on the roster, they may not have another chance to draft a franchise quarterback with this much upside. They may not pass up the opportunity.

Goff—who is a more polished passer than Lynch now—likely wouldn't get past San Francisco at No. 5. And he's probably the safer choice, though he isn't without question marks, as Rob Rang of CBS Sports (via Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle) noted:

“I don’t see an elite arm, but I do see the accuracy, anticipation and pocket movement to move past pressure and keep his eyes downfield,” Rang said. “Those three traits translate very well to the NFL.”

Rang acknowledged Goff must fight through skepticism about the spread offense Cal uses. That system relies on shotgun snaps and quick throws, but Rang noted how often Goff shifted safeties with his eyes and then threw to the other side of the field—a treasured skill in the NFL.

If Goff drops down to No. 12, the Philadelphia Eagles almost assuredly would select him if Sam Bradford isn't re-signed or the team doesn't make a trade for a quarterback. If Goff or Lynch don't drop to No. 12, however, the team could go the best player route over picking a quarterback, as the team has plenty of other needs.

Still, Connor Cook could shoot up draft boards. Of course, right now he's coming off a tough 38-0 loss to Alabama in his final college game.

While Cook struggled on a national stage Thursday night, his coach offered high praise of the fifth-year QB, per ESPN.com's Dan Murphy:

“I’ve seen him do amazing things as a quarterback,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Not a guy who’s thrown a lot of interceptions, doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s creative, and he’s played very, very well in huge games. So what’s he mean to our football program? He’s our quarterback that we’ve hung our hat on here for the last three years.”

Cook will certainly be playing on Sundays. He has the mentality to do so. No one will ever accuse Cook of playing scared, and I highly doubt he would slip past the St. Louis Rams, who have to feel the Nick Foles experiment was a failure.

That leaves one more name on my first-round board: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. Honestly, I'm not sure Hackenberg is a first-round pick if his former coach, Bill O'Brien, doesn't make a push to bring him to Houston. He could sit behind Brian Hoyer initially, but Hackenberg has the skill-set to play in the NFL. Reuniting with O'Brien—who got the best out of him during their time together at Penn State—could be a very fruitful relationship for both of them.


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