2016 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Post-Regular Season Projection
It's the most wonderful time of the year...
I know, the holidays are gone and done, but it's draft season, and no matter which NFL team you're a fan of, hopes and dreams are for sale in the form of top college prospects. And with the draft order set for teams No. 1-20, there is no better time to start predicting where the top players will land and what positions the teams will be addressing early in the draft.
Of course, a lot can and will change between now and the late-April draft. Today is "Black Monday" around the NFL, with general managers and coaches being let go, and that will result in many scheme and personnel changes. After that, free agency will change the landscape of team needs before the Senior Bowl and NFL combine results affect the rankings.
A mock draft—especially this time of year—isn't about a final, accurate prediction of what will happen in the NFL draft, but a look at what would happen today, based on available information and what rumors I'm hearing from team and player sources. Keep that in mind while reading, and remember, a lot is going to change still.
1. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Laremy Tunsil, Tackle, Ole Miss
The Tennessee Titans could go many directions here, and whom they hire as the next head coach of the team definitely will help dictate which players are a fit in Nashville. As of today, though, one area is a clear need in Tennessee, and that’s at offensive tackle.
Taylor Lewan enjoys a lot of praise from national media members, but my study of his film this year left me wanting more. His technique is not good and is not developing. Instead, Lewan looks to be trying to win battles like he did in college, but in the NFL, he can’t simply overpower defenders on the edge. Lewan has the talent to become a top-tier left tackle, but he has to commit to learning the technique and leverage needed to succeed at the position.
Even if Lewan realizes his potential, the Titans need two tackles, and Laremy Tunsil is pro-ready. The best thing about watching the Ole Miss left tackle is that he makes everything about the job look easy. He punches with good timing, moves his feet with good balance and knows how to use his body to protect the edge.
Offensive tackle may not be a sexy pick at No. 1 overall for the Titans, but protecting Marcus Mariota is sexy, and a huge need.
2. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State
Big changes came down in Cleveland, and with that there is room for a true 4-3 defensive end like Joey Bosa to become a fit in Cleveland, where they currently run a 3-4 scheme.
Bosa is more than just an in-state product. He’s arguably the best player in this draft class, and over the past two seasons he has shown the kind of production and potential to be worthy of a top overall selection. He’s a mix of Chris Long and Greg Hardy, even if some people want to compare him to J.J. Watt, and has an expert understanding of using his strength, quickness and length to impact the game.
If you want an impact player in Year 1, then you want Bosa. He’ll produce sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries, and he is stout in the run game. Plug him in as a left defensive end and let him make plays for the next decade.
As long as the Browns are willing to pass on a quarterback here—and my feeling today is they would look for a veteran quarterback and not a rookie—then Bosa makes the most sense.
3. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Ronnie Stanley, Tackle, Notre Dame
The San Diego Chargers are the team most affected by Robert Nkemdiche's falling draft stock, as they'd be the team most likely to draft him early on. But with Nkemdiche not an option here, the Chargers must look at improving an offensive line that was a mess in 2015.
Ronnie Stanley would be an instant upgrade over King Dunlap and give the team a younger option on the left side of the line. With top-tier length, balance, agility and footwork, Stanley has all the tools to be a long-term answer on the left side.
With Philip Rivers starting to hit the downside of his career, and with a player in the backfield in Melvin Gordon that they'd like to build around, loading up the offensive line makes the most sense.
4. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis
The Dallas Cowboys may not be in this position again for a while, which makes the decision to draft a young quarterback even easier for Jerry and Stephen Jones in the team's draft room.
The Cowboys, when healthy, have a roster good enough to make a playoff run. This is more like drafting Tim Duncan after an older David Robinson goes down with an injury than anything else. Smart teams use the advantages given to them, and the Cowboys can draft a clear quarterback of the future here and not be rushed into playing him. It's really a no-brainer.
Lynch is not my top-ranked quarterback—that's California's Jared Goff—but his bigger body (6'7", 245 lbs), mobile running style and big arm better fit what I think the Cowboys would want at the position over a smaller guy like Goff. Lynch arguably has better upside, and given that whomever they draft at quarterback will be able to sit and learn behind Tony Romo for a good while, Lynch's physical advantages are a big plus.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback, Florida
The Jacksonville Jaguars are close to competing in the AFC South, but in a division with Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and the schemes of Houston head coach Bill O'Brien, the team really has to focus on improving the defense.
They'll get some help with the return of 2015 first-rounder Dante Fowler when he makes his debut in 2016, but back-end help on defense is a serious need. The Jaguars have some solid talent at cornerback, but no true No. 1 cover man. That's what Florida's Vernon Hargreaves can be.
Some may overthink Hargreaves' height—he's roughly 5'10"—but you can't overlook his play. He's erased almost every wide receiver he's faced in college and has the instincts, ball skills, leaping ability and toughness to be a starter in man or zone coverage from Day 1.
6. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: Mackensie Alexander, Cornerback, Clemson
Mackensie Alexander over Jalen Ramsey? No, I've not gone crazy or started drinking at work.
The Baltimore Ravens need a cover cornerback opposite Jimmy Smith, and Alexander is an ideal fit with his man-coverage skills, length, agility and instincts. Jalen Ramsey is a tremendous player, but his best fit may actually be at free safety. Drafting Alexander, with his proven tools at the outside cornerback position, isn't as risky as selecting Ramsey here.
The Ravens could ultimately go in a number of directions here, and a wide receiver like Laquon Treadwell may be tempting, but with Steve Smith set to return next season and Breshad Perriman expected to make his debut as well, wide receiver isn't such a pressing need that the team would need to reach for Treadwell at No. 6 overall.
7. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Jared Goff, Quarterback, California
It's time to start over in San Francisco. New head coach. New quarterback.
Whether it's Sean Payton, Mike Shanahan or Hue Jackson as the next head coach of the 49ers, they need a plan at quarterback. This is the team of Joe Montana, Steve Young and, heck, even Jeff Garcia. And with Colin Kaepernick not likely to be back with the team in 2016, a young option is needed behind Blaine Gabbert as the stopgap quarterback.
Jared Goff is a Bay Area kid. He grew up loving the 49ers. He's accurate, poised, smart and crafty. He's not Aaron Rodgers, but he's not Blaine Gabbert either. And with the 49ers having a huge need at the position, Goff is not only the best value here, but also the best possible player to build this new offense around.
8. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Jalen Ramsey, Cornerback, Florida State
Cornerback? Free safety? Football player.
Jalen Ramsey may not have a neatly labeled position heading into the 2015 draft class, but he does rank as one of the best pure players in the class. And for some, his experience playing "Star" (nickel linebacker/cornerback), safety and outside cornerback will be viewed as a plus.
The Miami Dolphins have a huge need at cornerback, thanks to some poor decisions and the regression of Brent Grimes over the past two seasons. Adding Ramsey in at cornerback gives this group an immediate boost, and in a worst-case-scenario, he can always move to free safety in a pinch.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: DeForest Buckner, Defensive Lineman, Oregon
With a roster loaded with young building blocks on offense, the focus for general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith will be building a foundation on defense. To do that, using their first-rounder on a star defensive lineman to bolster the pass rush makes sense.
DeForest Buckner is one of the best players in the 2016 draft class, even if his NFL position is fluid. In a 3-4 scheme, he would undoubtedly play as a 5-technique, but in a 4-3 like the one they run in Tampa, he could slide next to Gerald McCoy as a 6-technique defensive end, or even kick inside for some speed at both tackle spots.
Figuring out where to play him is important, but the biggest need on this team is fixing the pass rush, which will in turn help the secondary.
10. New York Giants
The Pick: Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA
The New York Giants haven't traditionally valued the linebacker position in the first round, but there's a chance Tom Coughlin is done as the team's head coach, and even general manager Jerry Reese may be on the hot seat. Depending on who is calling the shots in New York, this could be a very unrealistic pick, but drafting Myles Jack definitely fits from a need and value perspective.
Jack is a tremendous athlete and a very promising linebacker prospect. He's also a great pickup because his athleticism allows him to play any of the three linebacker spots in a 4-3 scheme. He's excellent in coverage, good stuffing the run and has the wheels to run down ball-carriers in space.
Plug Jack in at linebacker with Devon Kennard, and the Giants start to have a strength on defense again.
11. Chicago Bears
The Pick: Leonard Floyd, Edge Defender, Georgia
The Chicago Bears would love to get a left tackle here, but as of today there's not a player of great value on the board. I also considered Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, but with uncertainty over his knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl, he's a little risky for the Bears front office.
A player who isn't a big risk, and fills a need, is Leonard Floyd.
The Georgia edge-rusher is built for Vic Fangio's scheme at 6'4" and 231 pounds (with room to grow), and his ability to play rushing the passer or in coverage against tight ends adds even more value to his impressive resume.
With Bosa off the board, Floyd is the best edge defender available in this class.
12. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Lineman, Ole Miss
Some NFL team is going to roll the dice on the huge risk that Robert Nkemdiche presents in the hopes that a huge reward is behind the door.
Nkemdiche is one of the most athletically gifted players in the 2016 draft class, but he's also one of the most puzzling. He's had run-ins off the field, is surrounded by what NFL scouts tell me are negative influences with his two older brothers and hasn't dominated on the field like you'd expect given the considerable hype surrounding him.
But, like Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said last year, "If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we'd probably diagnose it as an eating disorder." Talent generally trumps character, or rather, enough talent usually trumps some poor character.
So will Nkemdiche be more Shane Ray (speeding ticket with marijuana present, first-round pick), Randy Gregory (failed drug test, second-round pick) or La'el Collins (rumored connection to murder but never a suspect, undrafted)? Time will tell, but if the New Orleans Saints are willing to take a chance on Nkemdiche, he could pay off opposite Cameron Jordan in the team's defense.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson
The Philadelphia Eagles are a big unknown heading into the offseason with head coach/football czar Chip Kelly fired before Week 17. Now the entire structure of the team could change, and with new coaches there's a chance new schemes will come in on offense and defense. That makes projecting the pick much more difficult.
Assessing the roster, the Eagles need help at offensive guard and edge-rusher (4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker). Guard is this team's biggest need, but there's not a great value at pick No. 13, which pushes the edge-rusher pick up the board. And Shaq Lawson is one hell of a consolation prize.
Lawson has amazing size and length at 6'3" and 275 pounds, and he bends well with that bigger frame, too. He's an athletic freak and had the production in 2015 to match it.
14. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Notre Dame
Heading into the Fiesta Bowl, Jaylon Smith was my No. 2-ranked player in the 2016 NFL draft class. That ranking came into question when Smith was lost for the game with what head coach Brian Kelly called a "significant knee injury," per Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises.
What the injury entails isn't known as of this writing, so it's impossible to project rehab time or when Smith will be back on the field. But this much is known—a player ranked No. 2 overall can still be drafted in the first round with an injury. Look at Todd Gurley and Cedric Ogbuehi from the 2015 draft as evidence of this.
Smith would be an excellent addition to a promising Oakland defense, and given his ability to play weak-side, strong-side or middle linebacker, he's a fit no matter which personnel grouping the Raiders roll out.
15. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss
The St. Louis Rams could go in any number of directions here. Quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back all rank as legitimate first-round needs. What it all comes down to is the best player on the board, and that's wide receiver Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss.
The Rams got good production from Tavon Austin in 2015, but the need for a true No. 1 wide receiver still exists. And Treadwell is like a leaner Alshon Jeffery with his physical style of play and ability to outmuscle defensive backs for contested passes.
There are many unsettled positions in St. Louis—and even an uncertain future as to where this team will play—but reaching for a quarterback here isn't the long-term answer.
16. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Jack Conklin, Tackle, Michigan State
Protecting Matthew Stafford was a problem for the Detroit Lions all season, and some of that is due to left tackle Riley Reiff continuing to play out of position. Drafting a left tackle in Round 1 allows the team to move Reiff to his more natural right tackle position, fixing two holes with one draft pick.
The best left tackle prospect on the board is Michigan State's Jack Conklin. He's a big, strong, smart, no-nonsense blocker and one of the few college players to contain Joey Bosa over the past three seasons. His 2015 tape was a mixed bag due to injuries, but Conklin is a pro-ready pass protector with the skills to project as a long-term starter on the left side.
17. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State
Darron Lee is an intriguing linebacker prospect in the 2016 class, and he won't be a great fit for every team given his smaller size (estimated at 6'1", 225 lbs), but in Atlanta with head coach Dan Quinn, he'd be a lot of fun to watch.
Lee's best fit is likely as a sub-package linebacker who can rush the quarterback, cover tight ends and attack in space. He's fast, energetic and a playmaker on defense. In Atlanta, he could fill that K.J. Wright-type role that Quinn used in Seattle. And given the lack of speed in the back seven on defense in Atlanta, Lee could see a very active role early on.
18. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State
The Indianapolis Colts are currently without a head coach—Chuck Pagano's contract expired after the season ended—and may still make a change at general manager. My plea to whoever is calling the shots in Indianapolis this offseason? Draft a cornerback.
The Colts have plenty of needs, but the lack of youth at cornerback is appalling. Vontae Davis is a star, but he's also not able to cover four receivers at once. Getting another capable cover man will change the complexities of this defense and allow an improving front seven more time to get to the quarterback.
There are needs on the offensive line, to be sure, but fixing a big hole in the secondary with a long, speedy, man-coverage specialist in Eli Apple will give the Colts a one-two punch at cornerback that allows them to compete with the best teams in the league.
19. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: Taylor Decker, Tackle, Ohio State
Head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley will both be back in Buffalo next season, and one of the main focuses for the duo has to be addressing the offensive tackle position.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn is talented, but he's also a free agent. Opposite him, Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio have played enough to prove they're not ready to hold down a starting job long term. With huge question marks on the ends of the line, the Bills would be wise to use a first-rounder on a tackle.
Taylor Decker plays left tackle at Ohio State, but he has the tools to line up at either left or right tackle in the pros. He's long, physical, powerful and well coached coming out of the Buckeyes offense. Decker, unlike Henderson or Kouandjio, is ready to step in right away in Greg Roman's offense.
20. New York Jets
The Pick: Jerald Hawkins, Tackle, LSU
The New York Jets have to address a few positions in the offseason—namely quarterback and what to do with free agent Muhammad Wilkerson—but one area to really keep an eye on is at offensive tackle.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been good for a decade, but he's getting older and there's no clear succession plan in place. And at right tackle, Breno Giacomini can't be considered a long-term starting option. That opens the door perfectly for Jerald Hawkins—a two-year starter at right tackle before taking the left tackle job at LSU in 2015.
Hawkins is an athlete on the line, but he also plays with strength and a willingness to get his hands dirty. This is not a finesse tackle. And with his ability in the run game, Hawkins projects as a Day 1 starter at right tackle, but eventually a very good left tackle candidate.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: Jarran Reed, Nose Tackle, Alabama
Jarran Reed is one of my favorite players in this class. The big Alabama nose tackle plays with a mean streak and a great push off the snap. He's strong without being a huge, sloppy body and has enough quickness to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback.
And that's exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers need—among other things.
Sure, a cornerback or left tackle make sense here if you like those values, but Reed is a legitimate top-20 player and the type of nose tackle you can anchor a defense around. Not only does he improve his position, but he also allows Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward to make plays and opens things up for the four linebackers behind him.
22. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Will Fuller, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Will Fuller surprised the draft world when he announced Sunday his intentions to enter the 2016 draft. Fuller was one of the most electric wide receivers in college football this past season, and with his deep-threat ability and game-changing speed, he enters the conversation as a first-round talent.
Fuller would be a great fit for any team that is looking for a stretch-the-field receiver with true straight-line speed and big-play ability. The downside is that Fuller has a habit of dropping passes—about one per game in my charting of his last two seasons. That's a coachable and correctable skill, and some team may be willing to look past one drop a game for one score a game. If so, the Seattle Seahawks are a great fit schematically for what Fuller does.
23. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: Jonathan Allen, Defensive End, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers continue to struggle against the run on defense, and in 2015 we saw them struggle to get simple pressure on the quarterback. To change that, upgrades are needed at many spots across the defense. Tapping into the pipeline at Alabama is a smart way to get an impact, pro-ready defender.
Jonathan Allen is a different kind of 5-technique for Nick Saban, but one that may be changing the position. At 6'3" and 275 pounds, Allen isn't the classic 300-pounder normally used on the edge of a 3-4 defense. Instead, he's stout and strong, but very quick and athletic enough to create pressures in mismatches with right tackles. It works in the SEC, and it'll work in the NFL, too.
Allen and Mike Daniels would give the Packers the bookends up front to start taking advantage of poor offensive line play in the NFC North.
24. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama
Reggie Ragland is one of the best players in college football, but NFL general managers have a way of overlooking linebackers if they don't run a magical time in the 40-yard dash, and Ragland may be lucky to crack 4.8 seconds on the track.
Good thing football isn't played on a track.
If you watch the film, Ragland is more than "just" a thumper. He's instinctive, active and a violent tackler in space. He'll shut down inside and outside run plays and has proved himself to be good in coverage when taking on athletic tight ends in the SEC.
With Derrick Johnson hitting free agency, Ragland is more than just a value pick for the Chiefs—he's a need.
The Pick: Kenny Clark, Defensive Tackle, UCLA
Scot McCloughan's first season as general manager resulted in a playoff berth after coming into the job with a top-five pick in the 2015 NFL draft. For that, he'll get consideration for Executive of the Year awards, but no one should consider the job done in Washington.
There are still needs on this roster, and while McCloughan should be praised for his in-season signings, the long-term picture is what he'll be addressing this offseason. Getting bigger, and better, up front on defense will be part of that focus.
Nose tackle Terrance Knighton had a solid year, but he's an unrestricted free agent and hasn't been the most consistent player in his career. Going younger, cheaper and with more upside at the position makes sense for a team with big fish to re-sign like Kirk Cousins.
Kenny Clark is a monster in the middle of the line, and he's versatile enough to play nose tackle, 1-technique, 3-technique or even in a 4-technique depending on the front used. Clark's push and strength make him a great fit in Washington, and his awesome football IQ will make him a McCloughan favorite.
26. Houston Texans
The Pick: Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State
Will Arian Foster ever carry the football again for the Houston Texans?
The 29-year-old running back counts $9.3 million against the cap next season, making him a candidate to be released. But whether or not Foster is back in Houston, the team has to start thinking about a long-term replacement.
Normally, I wouldn't advocate for drafting a running back in the first round, but Ezekiel Elliott is like a mix of Matt Forte and Priest Holmes. He's a true three-down running back with excellent inside-outside running skills, good hands and the best pass-protecting skills of any running back in this draft class. Not only could he platoon with Foster if he's back in 2016, but it's reasonable to expect he also could take his job.
27. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
The Minnesota Vikings need help on the offensive line and at weak-side linebacker, and they need a safety next to Harrison Smith. All are valid Round 1 needs, but getting Teddy Bridgewater a receiver with some size and fight in his game is as much of a need in this offense.
Stefon Diggs has emerged as a steal for the Vikings and is a very good receiver, but with no threat opposite him, the offense becomes one-handed. Adding a big playmaker at receiver opens things up. And Michael Thomas is exactly the kind of big body (6'3", 210 lbs) that will attack the ball and help his quarterback out—basically the opposite of what Mike Wallace does.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Vonn Bell, Strong Safety, Ohio State
Heading into the offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals are a very promising team for the future, but the current depth chart is full of free agents. Safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson both see their contracts expire after the Super Bowl, and with Marvin Jones and Andre Smith also coming off the books, the front office will have to be very smart about where to spend money.
One solution is to let both safeties walk and get younger (and hopefully faster) at the position through the draft. Vonn Bell is an in-state solution to the safety problem, and given his ability to lock up tight ends and stuff the run, he's a fantastic fit in the Bengals secondary.
29. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Cody Whitehair, Guard, Kansas State
Cody Whitehair is the only interior offensive lineman in this mock draft, and boy, is he a good one.
A left tackle at Kansas State, Whitehair projects best to guard in the mold of a Joel Bitonio or Brandon Scherff. He's excellent in the run game, is as mean as they come in the trenches and has good enough footwork to be a top-tier guard, but he's a bit of a liability in space as a tackle. The Denver Broncos can work with that.
Whitehair can play left or right guard, and in Gary Kubiak's stretch-zone scheme on offense, he'll instantly have an impact thanks to the level of coaching he received at Kansas State.
30. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: A'Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
General manager Steve Keim and his staff have done an excellent job unearthing talent from schools like Pittsburg State, Northern Iowa and Delaware State, but sometimes you need a proven thing—a player who has played against the best of the best and excelled. And there is no better place to look for that type of player than Alabama.
A'Shawn Robinson is one of the most dominant, and talented, defensive linemen the college world has seen in the past two seasons. The junior defensive lineman is athletic, long, powerful and very well coached coming out of the Alabama 3-4 defense. Plug him in opposite Calais Campbell, with Rodney Gunter in the middle, and this defense is wrecking offensive lines week after week.
31. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Shon Coleman, Tackle, Auburn
Michael Oher has done far better than anyone expected at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers, but realistically, he's not the long-term answer. General manager Dave Gettleman has to know this, and while he deserves credit for believing in Oher when few did, he also can't hold on to him longer than needed.
At the end of the first round, the Panthers can make the move to eventually replace Oher with Auburn's Shon Coleman.
Just a junior, Coleman is a cancer survivor and two-year starter at Auburn after taking over for Greg Robinson. But he's also 24 years old as of November 25, and going into the NFL as an almost-25-year-old rookie isn't really practical. Coleman hasn't declared for the draft yet, but with his mean streak and improved play over the course of the 2015 season, it makes sense that he'll enter the draft and find himself selected in the late first round.