NFL Mock Draft 2016: Predictions for Top Prospects Affected by Free-Agent Frenzy

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2016

Jaylon Smith's projection continues to move as free agency alters the market.
Jaylon Smith's projection continues to move as free agency alters the market.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

The free-agent frenzy has left the 2016 NFL draft outlook something akin to as if Chip Kelly stormed through, shook things up and left for somewhere else.

Maybe that hit too close to home for some, but the fact is simple—free agency alters much of what most thought they knew about the upcoming draft and how teams might act.

Instead of grabbing a prospect to plant as a starter, teams have gone out and found proven veterans at a much higher cost in the hopes of competing sooner, if not using the draft to plug a different hole.

It's one of the wildest time of year when it comes to draft buildup. Below, let's take a look at a revised mock draft and outline some of the biggest changes thanks to free agency.

 

2016 NFL Mock Draft

PickTeamPlayerPositionSchool
1Tennessee TitansLaremy TunsilOTOle Miss
2Cleveland BrownsJared GoffQBCalifornia
3San Diego ChargersRonnie StanleyOTNotre Dame
4Dallas CowboysJoey BosaDLOhio State
5Jacksonville JaguarsJalen RamseyCB/SFlorida State
6Baltimore RavensMackensie AlexanderCBClemson
7San Francisco 49ersMyles JackLBUCLA
8Philadelphia EaglesTaylor DeckerOTOhio State
9Tampa Bay BuccaneersJaylon SmithLBNotre Dame
10New York GiantsDeForest BucknerDEOregon
11Chicago BearsNoah SpenceDE/LBEastern Kentucky
12New Orleans SaintsDarron LeeLBOhio State
13Miami DolphinsReggie RaglandLBAlabama
14Oakland RaidersVernon Hargreaves IIICBFlorida
15Los Angeles RamsCarson WentzQBNorth Dakota State
16Detroit LionsJack ConklinOTMichigan State
17Atlanta FalconsLeonard FloydLBGeorgia
18Indianapolis ColtsA'Shawn RobinsonDTAlabama
19Buffalo BillsJarran ReedDLAlabama
20New York JetsJonathan BullardDEFlorida
21WashingtonMichael ThomasWROhio State
22Houston TexansRobert NkemdicheDLOle Miss
23Minnesota VikingsJosh DoctsonWRTCU
24Cincinnati BengalsLaquon TreadwellWROle Miss
25Pittsburgh SteelersEli AppleCBOhio State
26Seattle SeahawksEzekiel ElliottRBOhio State
27Green Bay PackersSheldon RankinsDTLouisville
28Kansas City ChiefsCorey ColemanWRBaylor
29Arizona CardinalsEmmanuel OgbahDEOklahoma St.
30Carolina PanthersShaq LawsonLBClemson
31Denver BroncosJason SpriggsOTIndiana
Author's projections

 

Prospects Impacted by Free Agency

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

Were it not for a few signings, Jaylon Smith might not make the cut in the first round at all.

Folks likely know the deal with Smith now. The Notre Dame product suffered a serious injury in the team's bowl game, and the chatter around it has been all over the place since, from his falling out of the first round completely to still coming off the board in the top 10.

In this scenario, it's all about the latter, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having hit on a major need in free agency and making room for a future-minded pick.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Buccaneers went out and signed defensive end Robert Ayers, taking care of one of the roster's biggest issues. No longer does the team have to go out and grab help at the area such as Oregon's DeForest Buckner.

Smith wouldn't be a terrible pick by the Buccaneers, who should have the future in mind. He'd be an incredible fit in the same unit as Lavonte David once healthy, and the team could afford to wait. A conclusion by NFL.com's Lance Zierlein puts the rarity of Smith's skills into context:

In this day and age of "tweeners" being labeled "hybrid" players, Smith is the rare commodity who is truly hybrid in the sense that he has the athleticism, speed and physical makeup to play any linebacker spot in either the 3­-4 or the 4-­3. Smith was productive but slightly miscast in the middle of the Notre Dame defense and is better suited to play in space as a 4­-3 outside linebacker. However, his length and upfield burst could draw the attention of a 3-­4 team looking to transition him into a rush linebacker while utilizing his rare cover skills.

Tampa Bay has more immediate needs the front office could hit, sure, but free agency has helped check most major points off the list.

As the Buccaneers continue to develop with Jameis Winston leading the way, waiting about a year for a guy who could have been the top pick makes sense. Free agency helped put both parties in this situation.

 

16. Detroit Lions: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

Jack Conklin can start as a rookie and teams will draft as such.
Jack Conklin can start as a rookie and teams will draft as such.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

So much for the Detroit Lions needing to go out and get a wide receiver with Calvin Johnson gone.

Instead of grabbing one of the draft's top players at the position, the Lions decided to get Matthew Stafford a proven target in the form of Marvin Jones, according to ESPN's Dianna Marie Russini.

While a bit more expensive, the Lions will want the offense to keep moving instead of waiting on a weapon to develop, and freeing up the first-round selection doesn't hurt.

All that remains is helping the proven offense move up and down the field. In that regard, the Lions need help in the trenches after Stafford took 44 sacks last season, so adding a top prospect such as Michigan State's Jack Conklin makes sense.

Coming in at 6'6" and 308 pounds, Conklin is a bruiser who can play either side of the line based on the situation. The Spartans captured the thoughts of Fox Sports' Charles Davis, who points out how well Conklin can move as a pass-blocker despite his reputation:

Great news for the Lions, who could use some flexibility on the line, even if it means trotting out Conklin as a guard during his rookie campaign to stabilize the line.

No matter where Conklin plays, his addition is what happens when a franchise has a goal in mind and completes it with aggression on the open market.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Sometimes leaking talent in the worst way, as opposed to adding it and increasing options as the teams above did, alters a team's draft plans. 

Such is the case here with the Cincinnati Bengals, who not only lost Jones to Detroit but Mohamed Sanu to the Atlanta Falcons, according to the team itself.

Translation—Cincinnati just watched 1,210 receiving yards and four touchdowns from last season walk out the door. Jones was a capable starter when healthy, and Sanu stepped in nicely in 2014 as a starter with Jones out for the year, but Cincinnati wasn't willing to pay top dollar to keep around third and fourth options on the offense.

Drafting one, though, makes too much sense. Laquon Treadwell is also a product of all the above, with most teams in need going out and getting free agents so they don't have to spend an early pick on what many agree is a weak wideout class.

Treadwell is the headline act, though, and quite a good one. He's 6'2" and 221 pounds with elite ball skills reminiscent of, say, Dez Bryant. He had a scary injury a few years ago and gets emotional, but on the field, his impact isn't hard to see.

Cincinnati doesn't have a ton of needs and has a habit of grabbing the best player available. Getting the draft's top wideout at No. 24 is too good to pass up. Treadwell would start right away across from A.J. Green and in the same base sets as Tyler Eifert, quite the scary concoction for opposing defenses.

The Bengals have put themselves in a position to draft Treadwell through smart drafting and smooth free-agent adds here and there. Such a marriage might wind up as the perfect fit for both sides.

 

Stats courtesy of NFL.com and are accurate as of Saturday. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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