2016 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Early 1st-Round Predictions
It's never too early for a mock draft. Even if we just closed the book on the 2015 NFL draft, every team in the league has already assigned scouts to start work on the upcoming draft class, and at Bleacher Report, it's the same.
A wildly early mock draft isn't meant to be an accurate picture of how the draft will go, but more of a watchlist for which players are currently considered the most promising and a look at areas where teams could use help. With that said, I'm using the 2015 draft order as a guide, and many juniors listed here may not enter the draft.
Who comes off the board first in 2016? Find out inside.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: Tackle Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
General manager Jason Licht filled many of the Buccaneers' biggest needs in the 2015 draft, but the hole at offensive tackle is still a big one. Left tackle Demar Dotson is solid, but not great, and right tackle Kevin Pamphile was a 2014 fifth-rounder.
Drafting the very special Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame would allow Dotson to move to right tackle and give new franchise quarterback Jameis Winston a young, athletic, super-talented blindside protector.
2. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Defensive Lineman Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
At one point, it seemed likely that the Tennessee Titans would draft defensive lineman Leonard Williams with the No. 2 pick in the draft before they decided on quarterback Marcus Mariota. But that need for another five-technique on defense is still there, and Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche is a perfect fit for Ray Horton's versatile, attacking defensive fronts.
Nkemdiche is big enough to play head-up on the tackle, but athletic enough to be moved around in different defensive fronts. He's also able to play as a pass-rushing three-technique or even outside on the edge as a true defensive end.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: Edge-Defender Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Grabbing Dante Fowler Jr. from Florida with the No. 3 overall pick was a great add for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but if the team is indeed drafting in the top five again next year, it will mean more parts are needed on defense.
Joey Bosa's size and strength make him the ideal player opposite Fowler in the Jaguars' defense. He's 6'6", 276 pounds and is only 20 years old—meaning he could hit J.J. Watt size early in his pro career. Fowler and Bosa would be an edge duo few teams could stop.
4. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
The first running back off the board in the 2015 NFL draft was at pick No. 10, but if Todd Gurley had been completely healthy, he could have been an option for the Oakland Raiders at No. 4. Ezekiel Elliott should be on their radar for 2015.
The big, powerful runner looks like Eddie George in his prime but with a little more speed. With another big year and continued growth as a player at Ohio State, it's not crazy to think that Elliott could be a better prospect than Gurley was in 2015. The Raiders' desire to build around Derek Carr led them to add Amari Cooper in this year's draft. Adding Elliott would give them the star running back they lack.
The Pick: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
If Washington is drafting in the top five, Robert Griffin III obviously didn't take the next step in his development under Jay Gruden. If that's the case, general manager Scot McCloughan would be justified in cutting bait and looking for a new quarterback.
Christian Hackenberg wasn't impressive statistically in 2014, but he's got the talent to be special. If Penn State's coaching staff can put a plan around him like Bill O'Brien did in 2013, he could work his way into the top five of next year's draft. As of now, this is about potential, not production, from Hackenberg.
6. New York Jets
The Pick: Tackle Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
D'Brickashaw Ferguson's tenure in New York may be coming to an end soon as he eyes his 10th season with the Jets. If so, or even if he does play into his mid-30s with the team, addressing the offensive tackle position is a huge need.
Laremy Tunsil is a stud on the left side, showing the footwork and length to beat defenders off the snap and the agility to recover if he's beat off the line. Tunsil is a special player with exceptional upside and the tools to be a Day 1 starter at left tackle.
7. Chicago Bears
The Pick: Linebacker Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
The incredibly talented Jaylon Smith wouldn't have to travel far if the Chicago Bears drafted him. He's played inside and outside linebacker in Notre Dame's defense but projects best as an edge-defender in the NFL.
At 6'2 ½" and 235 pounds, he's a ball of fury attacking the offense and has some Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr to his game. With the versatility to play in coverage, take on blockers and go after the quarterback, he's definitely someone John Fox and Vic Fangio can use.
8. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: Defensive Lineman DeForest Buckner, Oregon
As the Atlanta Falcons transition to Dan Quinn's defense, the need for an interior pass rush will become crucial. Players like Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai seem to be a better fit for the old 3-4 defense Mike Smith and Co. ran, making the need for a versatile inside pass-rusher big.
DeForest Buckner was the best defensive player for Oregon last year—even better than first-rounder Arik Armstead. He's athletic enough to have a Michael Bennett-like impact on the Falcons' defense and would be a versatile chess piece to attack offenses alongside Vic Beasley.
9. New York Giants
The Pick: Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
The New York Giants are fine at cornerback right now, but depth will become an issue moving forward, and the team may want a long-term option to replace Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Vernon Hargreaves III is the nation's best cornerback heading into the season, and he has the size (5'11", 192 lbs.) and speed of a true No. 1 cornerback. Plug him in opposite Prince Amukamara with Landon Collins and Mykkele Thompson at safety and the Giants' secondary of the future looks pretty great.
10. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Before Laquon Treadwell broke his tibia and dislocated his ankle in the 2014 season, you could argue he was the second-best receiver in college football behind Amari Cooper. If he's back healthy in 2015, look for Treadwell to make his way to the top of the draft class.
He's big (6'2", 229 lbs.), aggressive and a triple-threat as an on-the-ground runner after the catch. He's also athletic enough to make plays off the turf when the ball is in the air. With the Rams still running a small receiving corps, outside of Kenny Britt, Treadwell's Dez Bryant-like build would come in handy.
11. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: Defensive Lineman A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Mike Zimmer is building one heck of a defense in Minnesota, and by adding cornerback Trae Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks, each level of the unit is getting better after the 2015 draft. In this scenario for 2016, the interior of the defensive line gets the upgrade with the massive A'Shawn Robinson from Alabama.
Robinson and Sharrif Floyd side by side on the defensive line would cause massive problems for offensive lines, and with youngsters Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter on the edges, the Vikings could have one of the best defensive lines in football if everyone lives up to their potential.
12. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Quarterback Cardale Jones, Ohio State
The second quarterback comes off the board, and Ohio State's Cardale Jones won't have to move far to take residence as the Cleveland Browns' new star.
If the Browns are drafting at No. 12, it's likely Johnny Manziel didn't progress in his second season and the Browns are still in need of a quality quarterback. Jones' size, arm strength and athleticism would have made him my No. 3 quarterback in the 2015 draft, so the potential is there for him to be a legitimate first-rounder in 2016.
Some of this projection is based on Jones continuing to show the promise he flashed in three starts for Ohio State last season, but the tools are all there for him to become a first-round prospect.
13. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Cornerback Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
The New Orleans Saints went all-in on defense early in the 2015 draft, and they'd be smart to do so again in 2016.
Kendall Fuller is the type of young, fast, aggressive cornerback the defense needs. Keenan Lewis is a very good starter, but Brandon Browner isn't a long-term option. Fuller's upside is huge, and it wouldn't be a shock if he became the No. 1 cornerback in the class by the time next year's draft rolls around.
With so many needs filled in the 2015 draft, the Saints are in great shape to get a young lockdown cornerback in the 2016 draft's first round.
14. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: Safety Su'a Cravens, USC
The Miami Dolphins are running with Reshad Jones at strong safety and Louis Delmas at free safety this season, giving them room for an upgrade in the first round of the 2016 draft.
Su'a Cravens is an absolute stud on the field. He's part linebacker and part safety in the Kam Chancellor mold, and while Jones has been a good strong safety, Cravens is a younger, more aggressive player. It's also worth considering how many NFL teams are running three safeties on the field in nickel packages and seeing the value of putting Cravens and Jones together to stop their AFC East opponents.
15. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Defensive Lineman Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
Another draft, another defensive lineman in the first round. This time it's nose tackle Sheldon Day, a high-upside player with a non-stop motor and the athleticism to make splash plays behind the line of scrimmage.
He's only 6'2" and 291 pounds, which is small for a nose tackle, but he is an exceptional fit for the athletic defensive line the 49ers like to run. Day in the middle of Arik Armstead and Tank Carradine gives San Francisco an awesome trio for the future.
Day is ready to be a starter in the NFL right now, and if he matches his 2014 impact in the middle of the Notre Dame defense, he could be off the board by pick No. 15.
16. Houston Texans
The Pick: Quarterback Connor Cook, Michigan State
Brian Hoyer. Ryan Mallett. Tom Savage. See a legitimate starter there? It's unlikely. If the quarterback situation hasn't changed by April 2016, the Houston Texans should be looking for a new starter. Connor Cook seems to be a fit for what head coach Bill O'Brien wants.
Cook has a big arm and the athleticism to be a legitimate star in the NFL. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Cook has the size to play strong in the pocket, the experience to start right away in the pros and the talent to make every throw in the book. He's also a good deep-ball thrower with impressive touch over the top.
Cook has more potential than the three current Texans quarterbacks combined.
17. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Tackle Jack Conklin, Michigan State
One pick after his quarterback is drafted, offensive tackle Jack Conklin comes off the board. He's a stout, athletic pass protector and a big run-blocker with the tools and production to warrant a high first-round pick.
The San Diego Chargers continue to run with subpar talent at offensive tackle, and Conklin would fix that, giving head coach Mike McCoy the impact he wants in a power run game while giving Philip Rivers better protection as he nears the end of his brilliant career. Conklin opening holes for Melvin Gordon and keeping Rivers off his back would make the Chargers offense one of the most threatening in the NFL.
18. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Safety Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey is a stud. The kind of stud who probably wouldn't really last until pick No. 18 in a real draft. But on this draft board with its projected team needs, he's still here for the Kansas City Chiefs. They shouldn't think twice about drafting him.
Ramsey is an attacking presence at 6'1" and 201 pounds. He has exceptional closing speed and locks down offenses in the run game and when dropping into coverage. And while the Chiefs have solid talent at safety right now, they lack youth and players with this kind of upside. Ramsey and Ron Parker could make a good tandem, too, in the event Eric Berry isn't able to come back from his cancer diagnosis.
19. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: Quarterback Jared Goff, California
Without a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, and with poor talent at the position, the Buffalo Bills weren't able to add a new quarterback this year. They'll want to fix that in 2016, barring some kind of miracle turnaround for EJ Manuel.
Jared Goff is a tall, big-armed quarterback with impressive accuracy and the awareness needed to start in the NFL. Goff is also ready for the pros and still has a year to improve before he leaves Cal. If Goff enters the draft as a junior, his production and arm talent will have teams ready to jump all over him. He will need to bulk up from 210 pounds, but that's doable over the course of a year.
20. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Defensive Lineman Shawn Oakman, Baylor
The hype of Shawn Oakman became oversized thanks to an Internet meme, but the actual player is pretty good too. Oakman isn't the J.J. Watt of college football, but he's huge (6'9", 280 lbs.) and surprisingly athletic and versatile for his size. Oakman's potential is through the roof, and he's a fit for what head coach/general manager Chip Kelly likes in his linemen.
Looking at the Eagles' roster, Cedric Thornton is set to become a free agent after this season, making the selection of Oakman both about his talent and potential and about addressing a need for the team.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Linebacker Leonard Floyd, Georgia
The selection of Paul Dawson from TCU in the late third round helps fill out the Cincinnati Bengals' depth chart at linebacker, but they still lack an athletic outside linebacker. Dawson's best role is as a weak-side or middle linebacker, with Vontaze Burfict playing in the other spot. Put Floyd at strong-side linebacker and this linebacking corps looks amazing.
Floyd has worked often as a pass-rusher at Georgia, but he has shown the tools to be more than just an edge-rusher. With another year of development, he could be way off the board by pick No. 21.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
The Pittsburgh Steelers added key weapons to their defense in the 2015 draft, but one position still appears to need help: outside cornerback.
The team grabbed slot cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, but both look more like inside cornerbacks than starters on the edge. Even if Golson becomes a starter on the outside, which is totally possible, the Steelers could stand to add another starter on the other side.
KeiVarae Russell is a superstar talent, but he didn't play in 2014 after being suspended over an academic scandal at Notre Dame. But he'll be on the field in 2015 and has all the goods to become a first-rounder playing behind a loaded Notre Dame front seven.
23. Detroit Lions
The Pick: Defensive Lineman Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
The Detroit Lions have Haloti Ngata, and they added Gabe Wright late in the draft, but their need for a young impact player at defensive tackle is still real. So is Adolphus Washington's talent.
The Ohio State defensive tackle was a star for the team during their national championship run, often outshining Michael Bennett and even Joey Bosa as an interior pass-rusher. Washington has the size (6'4", 290 lbs.) and agility to be a great fit in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's versatile defense, too. Lining up alongside Ngata or in relief of him, Washington can make an impact in Detroit on Day 1.
24. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: Edge-Defender Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
The Arizona Cardinals added Markus Golden in the 2015 draft, but the need for another pass-rusher is still there. Shilique Calhoun is the type of long athlete to fill the void.
Calhoun could have entered the 2015 draft and been a top-50 pick, but he opted to return to Michigan State and work on becoming a first-rounder. That should be doable if he continues to play up to his potential and develops further as a run-stopper and pass-rusher. With his agility, flexibility and length, Calhoun will be a hot commodity.
25. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Tackle Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The Carolina Panthers filled many needs in the 2015 draft, but their lack of talent at offensive tackle is still a concern. Daryl Williams, a fourth-rounder, has upside as a right tackle, but betting on Michael Oher at left tackle isn't something that has worked for the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans.
Taylor Decker can be a long-term fixture at left tackle for the Panthers. He's dominant in the run game, long and patient in the passing game. He also has the tools to become an even better performer in 2015. Decker, like the other tackles in this draft, has the ability to shoot way up draft boards.
26. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: Wide Receiver D'haquille Williams, Auburn
The next Alshon Jeffery—or at least he looks like he will be—D'haquille Williams overshadowed Sammie Coates at Auburn and has the size (6'2", 224 lbs.) and hands to be a superstar. Williams' ability to beat cornerbacks over the top and his top-end speed make him a threat as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
With speedster Breshad Perriman added as the team's deep threat, Williams will be the big body the team needs to replace Anquan Boldin and help ease the eventual loss of Steve Smith. And in the meantime, the Ravens will have one of the NFL's most dangerous young duos in the league.
27. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Running Back Derrick Henry, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys made the curious decision to not draft a running back, putting pressure on Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden to carry the load behind the NFL's best offensive line. An upgrade in 2016 will be needed.
Derrick Henry is a beast with the ball in his hands, and at times, he looked like a better prospect than second-rounder T.J. Yeldon. At 6'3" and 242 pounds, he has the size, power and speed to be the next big thing in the NFL. Henry also has the benefit of coming into the league with limited wear and tear after playing second fiddle to Yeldon for the last two years.
28. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Free Safety Jalen Mills, LSU
The Denver Broncos are relying on Darian Stewart at free safety, which might be fine for 2015, but it doesn't look like a long-term plan. Adding a young free safety in 2016 should be a priority for John Elway.
Jalen Mills is the best free safety in college football, and a player considered a possibility for even the 2015 draft. He's a rangy cover man with the speed to play over the top of the defense and the instincts to make plays from center field.
Mills has had some off-field issues—according to USA Today, he was suspended after being arrested for battery (charges that were later dropped)—but has enough talent that teams must take a long look at his ability and how he handles himself on and off the field in 2015.
29. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Running Back Devontae Booker, Utah
Devontae Booker jumps off the film as an explosive, powerful runner with the vision and burst to pick up huge yards and take over a game. He's also a legitimate Heisman candidate and a first-round talent. At 5'11" and 212 pounds, Booker has the build of an every-down back in the NFL.
The Colts have Frank Gore, but he can't be an option forever. The lack of talent behind him in the Colts' backfield makes the addition of a true starting running back in the 2016 draft a priority. Unless Josh Robinson, a sixth-rounder from Mississippi State, breaks out, adding Booker in Round 1 is a real option.
30. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: Linebacker Reggie Ragland, Alabama
One of my favorite players in the 2016 class, linebacker Reggie Ragland hits everything that moves. He's a shark playing middle linebacker at Alabama, and his experience in the 3-4 defense makes him all the more valuable to the Green Bay Packers.
Carl Bradford is an exciting young linebacker, and fourth-round pick Jake Ryan has some potential, but Ragland is a talent unlike anything the Packers have on their roster at inside linebacker (unless you count Clay Matthews among them). Plug Ragland into this group and you can move Matthews around and terrorize offenses—plus you get a young star to build the defense around for the next decade.
31. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Wide Receiver Corey Robinson, Notre Dame
You may know Corey Robinson's dad. He went by The Admiral and dominated the NBA as the center for the San Antonio Spurs. But David Robinson's son is making his own name as a huge threat at wide receiver for Notre Dame.
At 6'4 ½" and 215 pounds, the younger Robinson has some of his dad's length, and his agility shows up on the field. He's a big threat and is able to work the sidelines as well as get down the field to threaten defenses over the top. Considering the Seahawks love big receivers that can get downfield, Robinson is a match made in heaven.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd, Pitt
The New England Patriots don't generally draft receivers in Round 1, but they should make an exception for Tyler Boyd.
The best receiver out of Pittsburgh since some Fitzgerald guy was catching touchdowns, Boyd has the size (6'2", 190 lbs.) to be an outside receiver and the precise route-running skills to be a fit in the New England offense.
Boyd is electric and has the hands and speed to be a threat for the Patriots offense that few other receiver prospects can match. In fact, Boyd is so good that finding him on the board at No. 32 would be a shock for the Patriots. It would be such a good shock that they might consider breaking their rule about not drafting receivers in Round 1.