2016 NFL Mock Draft: Projections for Top Prospects as Free Agency Continues

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2016

Free agency has the power to change the complexion of the NFL draft. 

Teams generally like to make their draft decisions in secrecy, but money talks. Where teams spend their money and just how willing they are to spend money can be pretty good indicators of what a team's draft will look like. 

For instance, before free agency began, it was easy to pencil the New York Giants in as a team that would spend the No. 10 pick on a defensive lineman. After watching them sign Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon to big-money deals, it feels a lot less likely they will be looking to spend more resources on improving the front. 

Here's the first-round order and projections followed by a look at some of the teams whose free-agency moves have added intrigue to their first-round picks. 

2016 NFL Mock Draft
1Tennessee TitansLaremy TunsilOTOle Miss
2Cleveland BrownsCarson WentzQBNorth Dakota State
3San Diego ChargersJalen RamseyCB/SFlorida State
4Dallas CowboysJoey BosaDLOhio State
5Jacksonville JaguarsMyles JackLBUCLA
6Baltimore RavensDeForest BucknerDLOregon
7San Francisco 49ersJared GoffQBCal
8Philadelphia EaglesVernon HargreavesCBFlorida
9Tampa Bay BuccaneersShaq LawsonEDGEClemson
10New York GiantsLaquon TreadwellWROle Miss
11Chicago BearsRonnie StanleyOTNotre Dame
12New Orleans SaintsA'Shawn RobinsonDTAlabama
13Miami DolphinsEzekiel ElliottRBOhio State
14Oakland RaidersJack ConklinOTMichigan State
15Los Angeles RamsPaxton LynchQBMemphis
16Detroit LionsSheldon RankinsDLLouisville
17Atlanta FalconsDarron LeeLBOhio State
18Indianapolis ColtsEmmanuel OgbahEDGEOklahoma State
19Buffalo BillsKevin DoddDLClemson
20New York JetsNoah SpenceEDGEEastern Kentucky
21WashingtonJarran ReedDLAlabama
22Houston TexansKenny ClarkDLUCLA
23Minnesota VikingsTaylor DeckerOTOhio State
24Cincinnati BengalsMichael ThomasWROhio State
25Pittsburgh SteelersEli AppleCBOhio State
26Seattle SeahawksGermain IfediOTTexas A&M
27Green Bay PackersReggie RaglandILBAlabama
28Kansas City ChiefsAndrew BillingsDLBaylor
29Arizona CardinalsJonathan BullardDLFlorida
30Carolina PanthersJayron KearseSClemson
31Denver BroncosCody WhitehairOGKansas State
Author's Projections


San Francisco 49ers: Potential Kaepernick Departure Opens Door for Jared Goff

Right now, the argument against the 49ers taking a quarterback is that they love Blaine Gabbert. 

Yes, the same Blaine Gabbert who was exiled as a former first-round pick from Jacksonville. Granted, the former Missouri Tiger had some positives in his time as a starter for San Francisco last season. He finished the season with 2,031 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight games. 

For what it's worth, new head coach Chip Kelly said he's still evaluating the players on his roster, which includes Gabbert, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I really believe in a clean slate,” Kelly said. “What we can garner from the tape is ‘What they can do physically? What’s their skill set? Can they throw an intermediate out route? Can they throw a deep ball? Can they escape a rush?’ Those things when you’re looking at a quarterback."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Meanwhile, the Colin Kaepernick situation only appears to be getting worse. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported there's mutual interest between Browns head coach Hue Jackson and the Niners quarterback.

She also reported the Browns would be willing to part with a third-round selection to acquire him.  

Even if Kaepernick doesn't get traded to Cleveland, it would appear his days in San Francisco are over. In this scenario, that would put the organization at a crossroads at No. 7. Take Jared Goff, who may be the best quarterback in the draft, or stick with Gabbert?

Gabbert may have flashed some potential last season, but Goff's ceiling is even higher.

The Niners weren't a player for Brock Osweiler and don't appear to be in the running for any other free-agent options at the position. That's as clear a sign as any that they could be targeting quarterback with their first pick.  


New York Giants: Free-Agency Spending Spree Opens Up Best-Player-Available Approach

The New York Giants were among the most aggressive teams in the opening days of free agency. According to Spotrac, the G-Men were the NFL's biggest spenders, bringing in a class that included Janoris Jenkins on top of Harrison and Vernon:

The Giants might not be done spending, either. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, New York has also hosted left tackle Russell Okung for a visit. 

With that in mind, it's clear the Giants are willing to splurge in free agency to fill holes and leave few glaring weaknesses that they would have to address in the draft. 

However, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller still sees one spot that could be addressed with the Giants' No. 10 pick:

Miller also considers Laquon Treadwell to be the most NFL-ready receiver in this year's class. With a ton of money invested in an immediate turnaround, it seems like that would be important to the Giants. 

Quarterback Eli Manning isn't getting any younger. If the Giants offense is going to take the next step, it must find someone else who can get open and threaten opposing defenses opposite of Odell Beckham Jr. 

Treadwell would do just that and should be the pick now that the team has adequately addressed the defensive front seven by other means. 


Miami Dolphins: Lamar Miller Replacement May Be Found Early

As noted in the above video, the Dolphins have been among the most active and interesting teams in the offseason. They've made moves since the beginning of free agency, and not all of them have been home runs. 

They watched Vernon walk to New York, but they softened that blow by inking defensive end Mario Williams to a two-year deal

They also pulled the first major trade of the draft when they swapped the eighth pick for the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 13 pick in a deal that also netted them Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. 

Vernon wasn't the only big-name free agent who left South Beach, though. Running back Lamar Miller wanted to be a feature back and went off to Houston on a four-year deal

Replacing Miller isn't going to be done via free agency, though. That's something Miami needs to address in the draft. With the Dolphins' new draft slot, Ezekiel Elliott might be just what the Dolphins need to make some of their offseason moves make a little more sense. 

Pro Football Focus noted the Dolphins would be getting a rare talent in terms of being an all-around back:

If there wasn't so much hesitation for teams to take a running back in the top 10, the Dolphins may have been a threat to take Elliott at No. 8. If they can get him at No. 13 while adding veterans in Maxwell and Alonso, they could be one of the draft's biggest winners. 


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