An NFL team's needs in February are often unrecognizable from its draft-day wish list.
While high-profile cuts have ushered in the offseason, teams can't replace them with free-agent signings until March 9. If weak spots seem obvious now, there's a solid chance organizations with cap space will address those voids before the draft begins on April 28.
For this reason, early mock drafts focused on team needs may look foolish by April. Then again, using the approach hours before the draft also backfires. Some clubs will take a value-based approach, snagging the top available talent wherever he happens to line up. Not every perceived strength remains one throughout a grueling NFL season.
As of late February, these Round 1 pairings make practical sense on paper. A signing or trade could incinerate those plans, or a front office could simply see the situation differently. But when has a lack of clarity ever stopped draftniks from seeking answers?
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff, QB, California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Jalen Ramsey, S/CB, Florida State|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss|
|8||Miami Dolphins||Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State|
|10||New York Giants||Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville|
|11||Chicago Bears||Myles Jack, LB, UCLA|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State|
|14||Oakland Raiders||Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame|
|15||Los Angeles Rams||Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State|
|16||Detroit Lions||Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||A'Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, Alabama|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss|
|20||New York Jets||Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama|
|21||Washington||Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama|
|22||Houston Texans||Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Josh Doctson, WR, TCU|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech|
|29||Arizona Cardinals||Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia|
|30||Carolina Panthers||Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson|
|31||Denver Broncos||Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas|
Best Team Fits
San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
In a perfect scenario for the San Diego Chargers, the Tennessee Titans pass on Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Along with protecting star quarterback Philip Rivers, they need to open up some running lanes after averaging an NFL-low 3.5 yards per carry last season.
If the Titans take Tunsil—and assuming the Cleveland Browns then grab a quarterback—the Chargers are left with a difficult position. They should be tempted to select pass-rushing menace Joey Bosa. They could also deem fellow defensive end DeForest Buckner a better fit.
Yet Eric Weddle's almost-certain departure leaves a gaping hole in the secondary, and San Diego can immediately fill it by snagging Florida State's Jalen Ramsey. While opinions are split over his landing position, he has the speed, size and ball-hawking acumen to stand out at cornerback or safety.
No matter which position he plays, B/R's Matt Miller labeled him this draft's grand prize:
Regardless of if he's a CB or a FS, Jalen Ramsey is the best player in this class. https://t.co/I5Nr4mDiFW— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 18, 2016
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks identified Ramsey as one of five legitimate No. 1-pick candidates who stands out despite not playing one of the most desirable positions:
It's uncommon for a defensive back to rank as the best football player in the draft, but Ramsey is a legitimate difference maker with the skills to fill a variety of roles in the secondary. The 6-foot-1, 194-pounder is a rare talent as a cover corner with a high football IQ and nasty demeanor that makes him ideally suited to play inside as a box defender or slot playmaker at the next level. While most teams value quarterbacks and pass rushers as the premium players on their rosters, the potential to nab a Charles Woodson-like defender could prompt scouts and coaches to make a play for Ramsey with the top pick.
San Diego has an array of choices, all on the defensive side unless Tunsil remains on the board. Although there's no such thing as having too many pass-rushers, an elite defensive back would prove immensely valuable to a franchise losing its secondary's heart and soul.
San Francisco 49ers: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
New head coach Chip Kelly will inherit the San Francisco 49ers' No. 29-ranked passing offense, and leading receiver Anquan Boldin might not remain in the picture. Losing the veteran wideout would create major problems for an already-dismal passing attack, as his 69 receptions more than doubled anyone else on the team last season.
Laquon Treadwell isn't a can't-miss star. Nobody will eagerly move up for him a la Julio Jones or Sammy Watkins. While he's commonly perceived as this class' top receiver, Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson doesn't deem the Mississippi prospect worthy of a premium pick:
His issue though is that he won’t separate regularly, and doesn’t actually take advantage of his ability to win contested catches as much as he should do. Treadwell reminds some of Dez Bryant or Michael Irvin, but to me he looks far more like Kenny Britt. Britt has had success at times in the NFL and was a first-round pick himself, so that’s not necessarily a disaster. He was taken with the 30th selection of the draft, in part because of exactly the same concerns over being able to separate. In my opinion, Treadwell is far closer to that area of the draft than a top-five pick.
Similar concerns shoved Boldin into the second round 13 years ago, but production won out. Treadwell doesn't boast blazing speed, but he makes up for quickness concerns by running crisp routes and catching balls in traffic. During his junior year, the 6'2", 210-pound prospect, as listed on NFL.com, recorded 82 catches for 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Philadelphia Eagles spent prominent picks on wideouts during Kelly's brief tenure, and Treadwell is the only one worth considering at pick No. 7. Unless San Francisco decides to replace Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback deserves a decent receiver to help salvage his starting spot.
Even if Treadwell isn't a prized burner or gifted leaper, he's an all-around talent who gets the job done. That matters more than his 40 time.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The Pittsburgh Steelers put up points like a Madden expert overstaying his or her welcome on rookie mode. The defense also locked down the run, finishing No. 5 in rushing defense. As a result, its No. 30 passing defense sticks out as an obvious area for improvement.
Although many 2015 mock drafts had the Steelers taking a defensive back with their first pick, they instead chose a linebacker (Bud Dupree) for the third straight year. Don't put it past them to instead take the top talent on the board, but the smart money has them finally investing in secondary help.
Kendall Fuller, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September, may not find his way into Round 1. Before undergoing surgery, the cornerback played hurt, and his performance paid the price. Yet WalterFootball.com's Walter Cherepinsky reported that teams feel "extremely excited" after watching game tape from his sophomore season.
"They feel that Fuller was a true lockdown corner that season, and some teams have given him a first-round grade based on his sophomore-year tape," Cherepinsky wrote. "Some teams feel that Fuller is the best cover corner in the 2016 NFL draft."
Pittsburgh hasn't shied away from risk before, and it won't have a chance at Ramsey or Florida's Vernon Hargreaves at pick No. 25. Had he enjoyed a full season at optimal health, Fuller probably isn't a realistic target, either. By capitalizing on a buy-low opportunity, the Steelers can locate a much-needed physical cornerback to push them closer to title contention.