2016 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Midseason Predictions
Welcome to November. By this time of year, you either love or hate your favorite NFL team's roster. So you might be reading this mock draft wondering how the Carolina Panthers or Cincinnati Bengals can add a piece or two and continue their reign in their respective divisions...or you might be a Detroit Lions fan looking at which top-five pick can turn this team around (and no, you can't draft a new head coach, guys).
Evaluating team needs and player values before coaches are fired and before free agency is an inexact science, but at this point in the season it's becoming pretty clear which teams have needs at which positions. And with draft history a factor, we also know which teams (Baltimore) will go for a "best player available" approach to the draft.
Looking at the 2016 class six months before the NFL draft is tough. This is a class dominated by underclassmen at every position, and it's unfortunately too early to know which of those juniors and redshirt sophomores will head to the NFL. I've done my best to include the ones I've heard will enter the draft, or those who I think would benefit from leaving for the NFL now. But players like Darron Lee at Ohio State or Eddie Jackson at Alabama aren't mentioned here, because it looks like they'll stay in college for another season. Of course, that can change between now and the mid-January deadline to enter the draft.
The draft order is current up to the Week 8 games and not adjusted for playoffs.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Joey Bosa is without a doubt one of the best draft prospects in the 2016 class. He's powerful, explosive, athletic and can line up all over the defense at the next level. The Baltimore Ravens should welcome that to the clubhouse.
With Terrell Suggs out, this defense has been a mess, and even with Suggs back in 2016, general manager Ozzie Newsome must start preparing for life after T-Sizzle. Using an unexpected first overall pick in the draft to add a true blue-chip player will help with that.
2. Detroit Lions
The Pick: T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Watch the Detroit Lions play, and it's obvious how badly they need a true left tackle. Riley Reiff ain't that guy—but he may be a really nice right tackle. The selection of Ronnie Stanley thus would make the entire Lions offensive line better, because he'd slide into left tackle from day one and allow Reiff to move to his more natural right tackle position. Win-win, right?
The other pick that may make sense here is defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The Lions really miss Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley right now, and the idea of pairing Nkemdiche and Ezekiel Ansah may be too good to pass on.
3. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
The Tennessee Titans have few needs on paper. This is a relatively young team at quarterback (Marcus Mariota), left tackle (Taylor Lewan) and wide receiver (Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham), and the team has a stud in Jurrell Casey on defense. That makes their choice at No. 3 overall about adding the most talented player on the board. With no need at quarterback, that becomes Robert Nkemdiche.
The great thing about Nkemdiche is his athletic versatility. He's big enough to play as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or inside at defensive tackle in a 4-3, but he's athletic and agile enough to play as an edge-rusher, too. At 6'4" and close to 300 lbs, Nkemdiche is the kind of freak the Titans need on the defensive line.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
The Jacksonville Jaguars continue to make strides on the field despite the progress not showing up in the win column. One area that could help get the team the wins they so badly need is one where the team has rolled the dice on mid-round picks and small-money free agents: cornerback.
Vernon Hargreaves is a silky-smooth technician at corner and has the speed and leaping ability to make up for the fact that he's just over 5'10". With his burst out of a backpedal and vision to locate the ball, Hargreaves would be penciled in as the No. 1 cornerback in Jacksonville from his first day on the roster.
5. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: QB Jared Goff, California
No more messing around, Cleveland. It's time to draft a franchise quarterback.
Jared Goff isn't perfect. He's not the Andrew Luck- or Peyton Manning-level prospect some want him to be. But he has rare poise and footwork in the pocket and very good accuracy all over the field. His arm strength won't wow you and he won't rush for big gains, but the Browns have too often passed over the smart quarterback for the exciting one (Johnny Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr?).
It's time to make the smart move, draft a rock-solid quarterback they can truly build around and start thinking long-term for a change.
6. Houston Texans
The Pick: QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
The Paxton Lynch hype train is rolling at top speed as the college football season gets close to completion. And full disclosure here, I've not studied Lynch's game film and have only seen a few TV games of his. But when I talk to scouts around the NFL, they're falling in love with the 6'7", 245-pound rocket-armed passer from Memphis.
The Texans need a quarterback like California needs a good rain. Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith made poor decisions with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett as their options this fall, and that's biting them in the rear right now. Lynch may not have all the tools coming out of Memphis, but he has the arm strength and athleticism to be very good in O'Brien's offense.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
When the Kansas City Chiefs had the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, they needed a quarterback, but it wasn't a year with a strong crop of passers in college, so they traded for Alex Smith and drafted left tackle Eric Fisher. Now it's three years later, and the Chiefs are once again inside the top 10 with needs at quarterback and left tackle.
Laremy Tunsil can't play quarterback, but he'll protect whomever is back there for Kansas City. He's a blue-chip tackle prospect with the power in his game that Fisher lacks so obviously and better athleticism to handle the speed rushers in the AFC West.
8. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU
Eric Weddle isn't likely to be a San Diego Charger for long, and while Jason Verrett is a really nice young cornerback to build this secondary around, the Chargers simply need talent back there. Jalen Ramsey has talent. A lot of it. In fact, he may be the best pure football player in the 2016 draft class.
Line Ramsey up in the slot, at free safety or at outside cornerback and he's going to make plays. He's long, super fast, a great vertical jumper and a very smart, very aware player in space. I like him best at cornerback to start his career, but in a worst-case scenario he moves to free safety and becomes a star with ridiculous range and ball skills.
9. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of needs, and one draft class isn't going to fix all that is wrong with this team. But a good start is getting back to what made them great in the first place—smart quarterbacks and athletic, rangy linebackers. They can solve one of those problems with Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame.
There isn't a quarterback worth drafting at pick No. 9, and while moving Colin Kaepernick sounds like a great plan, drafting his successor in the top 10 means getting in front of Houston and Cleveland. With the draft playing out like this, the athletic linebacker Smith is the best pick for a team that so badly misses Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
10. Chicago Bears
The Pick: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
A running back at pick No. 10 might not make fans in Chicago happy, but let's talk about this first.
Matt Forte is 29 years old and a free agent. Jeremy Langford was a fourth-round pick for a reason. The answer isn't on the roster right now, and with Jay Cutler playing much better and building blocks at wide receiver with Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery, spending a first-rounder on a running back makes sense if the running back is worth it.
Ezekiel Elliott is worth it. He's powerful, fast, instinctive and catches the ball like a young LaDainian Tomlinson. Get him in Adam Gase's offense, and he's giving you 1,500 total yards as a rookie.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: LB Myles Jack, UCLA
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can build around Jameis Winston and Mike Evans on offense and a great defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy on the other side of the ball. The cornerback and defensive end positions are questionable, but there isn't a great value here at pick No. 11 for either spot. The best value, and need, is at linebacker with Myles Jack.
Jack may seem like a luxury pick with the play of Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, but Jack is some kind of special, and he has the elite athletic traits to play strong-side linebacker opposite David to give the Buccaneers three of the fastest linebackers in the NFL.
12. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: WR Josh Doctson, TCU
Look at the Dallas Cowboys' depth chart, and you don't see many obvious needs. The offensive line is set. Tony Romo isn't going anywhere for a while at quarterback. Even on defense, there are strong areas like defensive end and linebacker to build around. So, where do the Cowboys go in Round 1?
We saw what this offense became without Dez Bryant on the field, and we also saw that Terrence Williams really isn't much on his own. An upgrade is needed in that WR2/WR3 spot, and Josh Doctson has the hand strength, route running and separation speed to open this offense up in a big way.
13. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: DL Kenny Clark, UCLA
The New Orleans Saints have a Super Bowl window as long as Drew Brees is their quarterback, but a big rebuild is needed on defense. That process started last season with Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha coming over, but they need more.
Kenny Clark is the best nose tackle in college football, and placing him next to Cameron Jordan would give the Saints the talent on the defensive line to compete with the rest of the NFC South. With good talent at cornerback and safety already, adding Clark and letting the 2015 rookies develop is how the Saints can remain competitive even without Brees.
14. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: T Jack Conklin, Michigan State
Andrew Luck has played through a shoulder injury and rib injuries this season. You can thank the status of his offensive line for that. Sure, Luck has to get rid of the ball faster, but the beating he's taking isn't sustainable. Something has to be done, no matter who the head coach or general manager is next season.
The Colts invested top tackle money in Anthony Castonzo (whether they should have or not is another story) but have a huge need at right tackle after swinging and missing on free agent Gosder Cherilus. Michigan State's Jack Conklin doesn't project as a top left tackle, but he has the meanness to be an eight-year starter at right tackle in a scheme like Indianapolis'.
15. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Russell Wilson is doing his best carrying the Seattle Seahawks' passing game behind an amazing rushing attack. They need more talent here, though. For Wilson to be unleashed as a passer, the Seahawks need wide receivers who can separate and win at the catch point. Laquon Treadwell does both very well.
When you see Treadwell play, it's very easy to think Alshon Jeffery with a little better speed. He's super aggressive attacking the ball in the air and dominates on 50/50 passes on the sideline or up the field. He's perfect for what Wilson likes (slants, back-shoulder fades) and is a steal at pick No. 15.
16. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon
If you believe in Tyrod Taylor, the Buffalo Bills' list of needs this offseason gets pretty small. That makes the pick at No. 16 overall more about value and less about immediate need. But those two things can work together—value plus future need—to justify DeForest Buckner from Oregon.
Buckner is an athletic freak and an ideal 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme. With the Bills running a hybrid scheme, Buckner becomes a candidate to spell Mario Williams in running situations and could even eventually replace Kyle Williams as an interior starter on the defensive line.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
The decision to pay Byron Maxwell like a top-tier cornerback is questionable as we head into the second half of the season, but no matter how you view that decision, you can't ignore that the Philadelphia Eagles need help in the secondary.
Eric Rowe was drafted in Round 2 last year to be a player here, but his best position long-term is at safety. Maxwell has one cornerback spot locked down, but opposite him a player with speed and ball skills like Mackensie Alexander are needed. Alexander has been a star for Clemson, showing he can shadow and shut down any receiver he faces.
The Pick: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
General manager Scot McCloughan did a great job with his first draft in Washington, but the pressure is on now that his scouts and personnel men are running the draft room. The needs are obvious, and while quarterback may sit atop that board, there isn't a player here worthy of the selection. As McCloughan showed last year, playing to his rankings is how the draft will go. And a player of value who also fits a need? LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White.
McCloughan went through bad cornerback years in San Francisco and great ones in Seattle, so it remains to be seen how he'll look at the position for his own team, but White's size, speed and instincts are all top-tier for an underclassman cornerback prospect.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
Cameron Wake's season is over with an Achilles injury, and it may signal the end of his career in Miami too if he's a salary-cap cut this offseason. With Dion Jordan officially a draft bust, defensive end becomes a top priority in Miami.
Emmanuel Ogbah doesn't have Wake's burst off the line (few players do), but he has great countermoves with power and hand use that allow him to be a very complete edge player against the run or pass. With a stout interior line and a potential 10-sack guy in Olivier Vernon on the other side, Ogbah could see a ton of one-on-ones as he learns to handle the speed of the NFL.
20. St. Louis Rams
The Pick: WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Tavon Austin seems to have found his place in the St. Louis Rams offense, and Kenny Britt is a very physical receiver on the edge, but the Rams need to continue building the offense through the draft. Michael Thomas is that mixture of speed and size on the outside that can propel this Todd Gurley-led offense over the top for years to come.
Thomas has embarrassed cornerbacks when given the chance this season, and while he doesn't have great numbers due to scheme and poor quarterback play, his traits scream No. 1 receiver.
21. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
The Oakland Raiders are a year or two ahead of where they were expected to be by this time. Now a team with a strong young quarterback-wide receiver combo and a deadly pass rush looks to complete a roster that can challenge the AFC West.
Cornerback is the biggest need, but there isn't a value here after a run on the position earlier. The one other spot that stands out as a need and value is at middle linebacker, where Reggie Ragland can have a Dont'a Hightower-like career and become the three-down threat the Raiders need in the middle of the defense.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
Kendall Fuller saw his 2015 season cut short with a knee injury in late September, and even before then he was thought of as a fringe first-rounder. But the more I watch his 2014 film, the more I like Fuller as a physical, press-coverage cornerback. And that's what the Pittsburgh Steelers need, which makes it OK that they're reaching a little to secure a cornerback at pick No. 22.
Fuller would be a day-one starter if healthy—and that late September injury date does make that possible.
23. New York Giants
The Pick: LB Joshua Perry, Ohio State
The defense in New York is full of question marks moving forward, and outside of Devon Kennard and Johnathan Hankins in the front seven, there's not much certainty. One thing is certain, though: The Giants once again need help at middle linebacker. And really that's been the case for the five years I've been covering the draft for Bleacher Report.
General manager Jerry Reese can end the run of has-been linebackers with one draft pick. Ohio State's Joshua Perry is a perfect middle 'backer for the G-Men with his athleticism, toughness in the trenches and ability to impact the game as a pass-rusher and run defender.
24. New York Jets
The Pick: T Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The New York Jets brought in a new front office and a new head coach this past offseason, and so far, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles are doing an amazing job turning this team around. Big moves in free agency and smart draft picks are paying off. Now it's time to do it again.
Taylor Decker would be a smart pick for now and for the future as the team starts to plan for life without D'Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle. Sure, a quarterback would be the sexy pick here, but reaching on a passer isn't something this front office will do.
25. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: T Jerald Hawkins, LSU
Matt Kalil hasn't been as bad in 2015 as he was in 2013 and 2014, but he's still not playing like the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Vikings will have a big decision to make soon on his contract, which makes the pick of Jerald Hawkins even better for them.
Kalil's inconsistency could prevent the Vikings from wanting to lock him up long term, and he's likely to want top tackle money in free agency. The smarter team-building move is to save the money and draft Jerald Hawkins from LSU to be the left tackle. He's younger, cheaper and more athletic, and he has upside that Kalil has lost in the last four seasons.
26. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: EDGE Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
The Arizona Cardinals have the talent on offense and defense to remain the top dog in the NFC West for as long as Carson Palmer is playing quarterback. The pieces that will separate them from the rest of the NFC are there, too, but a better pass rush is needed to truly take over the conference. Enter Jordan Jenkins.
The Georgia defensive end is perfect for Arizona's hybrid defense, where he can line up with his hand in the dirt or stand up off the edge and rush in space. Jenkins would give Arizona the stand-up rusher the team has lacked since John Abraham left the desert.
27. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: LB Su'a Cravens, USC
The change from a 3-4 to Dan Quinn's version of a 4-3 defense takes time, and so far the Atlanta Falcons have found key pieces in guys like Vic Beasley as the rush end. But the work will continue for Thomas Dimitroff and his front office this draft season.
Su'a Cravens is a great fit in the Seattle-style defense. He's athletic, being a former safety, but he has the edge skills to stop the run or rush the quarterback. Cravens has the skill set to play weak-side linebacker on first and second down and then slide inside to play nickel 'backer in sub packages like Deone Bucannon or Jaquiski Tartt.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: FS Jayron Kearse, Clemson
There aren't many existing needs on the Cincinnati Bengals roster thanks to good drafting and good player development. But free agency will hit hard this offseason, with Andre Smith (right tackle) and both safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson seeing their contracts expire. Losing Smith was expected, and 2015 first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi is likely to take over there, but losing both safeties could be big.
Smart teams in this day and age know when to let players leave and when to open up the checkbook to keep them. And signing both safeties to new deals isn't the best move from a fiscal perspective. Signing one and drafting another—like Jayron Kearse—is the best move. And Kearse is a good value at pick No. 28 given his rare size and athleticism. He's also great for a scheme like the Bengals', where both safeties are expected to be able to stop the run and play deep coverage.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: DL Jarran Reed, Alabama
You can pick many places in the defensive front seven where the Green Bay Packers need to get better, or younger, or cheaper. Nose tackle happens to be the one that matches up best here with value and need. And Jarran Reed is an absolute best to be on the board with pick No. 30.
Reed has been the most impressive defender for Alabama this season. He's powerful and quick, and he has been giving interior blockers fits all season long in the SEC. With his athletic skill set and the coaching he's received at Alabama, Reed is ready to start from day one.
30. Denver Broncos
The Pick: DL Maliek Collins, Nebraska
Maliek Collins ranks as a top-20 player, but his status as a 3-technique defensive tackle makes him less of a fit for teams like Green Bay or Arizona, who might consider a defensive tackle in Round 1. By falling to Denver, though, Collins is in an ideal situation to excel early on in the NFL.
With outside speed rushers like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett, the Broncos can throw a lot at offenses. And with an elite secondary behind them, they can play fast and loose. Now put Collins and Malik Jackson in the mix and you're looking at a defense that can carry a team to a Super Bowl.
31. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Give Cam Newton some help, Dave Gettleman. Please.
The Panthers continue to defy odds and expectations, thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Cam Newton. With his best receiver (Kelvin Benjamin) sidelined and a thrown-together offensive line in front of him, Newton is playing at an MVP level. And he has been the catalyst to the Panthers' back-to-back playoff runs. But to win a Super Bowl with Cam Newton, the Panthers need more talent at receiver.
Will Fuller will drop a pass or two each game, but he's an electric playmaker down the field and has the rare second-gear to shake up defenses. Put him with the size of Benjamin and Devin Funchess and let Cam work.
32. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots' first-round draft choice was stripped by the NFL as part of Deflategate punishment.
|3||Tennessee||Austin Johnson||DL||Penn State|
|6||Houston||Adolphus Washington||DL||Ohio State|
|7||Kansas City||Christian Hackenberg||QB||Penn State|
|8||San Diego||Vince Biegel||EDGE||Wisconsin|
|9||San Francisco||Cameron Sutton||CB||Tennessee|
|11||Tampa Bay||Shilique Calhoun||EDGE||Michigan State|
|13||New Orleans||Kemoko Turay||EDGE||Rutgers|
|15||Seattle||Germain Ifedi||T||Texas A&M|
|16||Buffalo||Kamalei Correa||EDGE||Boise State|
|17||St. Louis (f/PHI)||William Jackson||CB||Houston|
|18||Washington||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota State|
|20||St. Louis||Hunter Henry||TE||Arkansas|
|21||Oakland||Darian Thompson||FS||Boise State|
|23||New York Giants||Noah Spence||EDGE||Eastern Kentucky|
|24||New York Jets||Connor Cook||QB||Michigan State|
|25||Minnesota||Vonn Bell||SS||Ohio State|
|29||Green Bay||Kendall Beckwith||LB||LSU|
|32||New England||Braxton Miller||WR||Ohio State|
|1||Baltimore||Tyvis Powell||FS||Ohio State|
|2||Philadelphia (f/DET)||Vadal Alexander||G||LSU|
|3||Tennessee||Steven Daniels||LB||Boston College|
|6||Houston||Chris Jones||DL||Miss. State|
|7||Kansas City||Kenny Lawler||WR||California|
|8||San Diego||Sheldon Rankins||DL||Louisville|
|9||San Francisco||O.J. Howard||TE||Alabama|
|10||Chicago||Sheldon Day||DL||Notre Dame|
|11||Tampa Bay||Jason Spriggs||T||Indiana|
|13||New Orleans||Cayleb Jones||WR||Arizona|
|15||Seattle||C.J. Prosise||RB||Notre Dame|
|19||Miami||K.J. Dillon||FS||West Virginia|
|20||St. Louis||Cody Whitehair||G||Kansas State|
|21||Oakland||Keivarae Russell||CB||Notre Dame|
|22||Pittsburgh||Tony Conner||SS||Ole Miss|
|23||New York Giants||Evan Engram||TE||Auburn|
|24||New York Jets||Kyler Frackrell||EDGE||Virginia Tech|
|25||Minnesota||Rashard Higgins||WR||Colorado State|
|27||Atlanta||Terence Waugh||EDGE||Kent State|
|28||Cincinnati||Christian Westerman||G||Arizona State|
|29||Green Bay||Alex Collins||RB||Arkansas|
|32||New England||Zach Sanchez||CB||Oklahoma|