2016 NFL Mock Draft: Players Who Would Fill Each Team's Biggest Need

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2016

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Players Who Would Fill Each Team's Biggest Need

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    The 2016 NFL draft class is almost finalized. 

    Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings and Colorado State receiver Rashad Higgins are among the most recent big names to enter the draft prior to the January 18 underclassmen deadline. 

    Obviously, a lot can change in the coming months—and even in the next week, as underclassmen make last-minute decisions—but here's an early stab at a first-round mock draft. 

    The order for non-playoff teams is up to date as of the Wild Card Round, while the teams that are still alive will have their positions finalized as they exit the playoffs. 

1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

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    Protecting Marcus Mariota is priority No. 1 in Tennessee, and it didn't go so well in 2015. 

    The Titans allowed an NFL-worst 54 sacks during Mariota's rookie year. 

    That stat makes it sound as if Laremy Tunsil is the obvious choice, but it's actually not so clear-cut. 

    2014 first-round selection Taylor Lewan fared well at left tackle, grading out as Pro Football Focus' 12th-ranked offensive tackle. On the right side, Byron Bell also had a solid season with a pass-block grade of 61.2. However, Bell is a free agent.

    If the Titans re-sign Bell, they may choose to go a different route and address the interior line later in the draft. Until that happens, however, Tunsil is a safe assumption as the favorite to go No. 1 overall.

2. Cleveland Browns: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

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    The Browns' recent hires of executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta indicate a clear shift in philosophy in the front office. 

    With an approach based in analytics, the Browns are less likely to swing for the fences and draft the first quarterback who crosses their path. So, in a draft without a slam dunk choice at the top of the board, expect the Browns to play it safe. 

    And it doesn't get much safer than Joey Bosa. 

    Regardless of what defensive scheme the Browns' new coaching regime decides on, Bosa is a fit. His combination of strength and quickness makes him a supreme talent on the edge. 

    Bosa has even shown the versatility to line up at tackle at times for Ohio State, further demonstrating his strength as a disruptive presence on the interior defensive line. 

3. San Diego Chargers: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

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    Thirty-year-old King Dunlap has spent the past three seasons at left tackle for the Chargers, but the results have been average at best. 

    Pro Football Focus awarded Dunlap a pass-block grade of just 45.5, below the average mark of 50.

    Dunlap remains under contract through the 2018 season, which would give the Chargers the ability to bring in a young lineman like Ronnie Stanley and ease him into things on the right side before shifting him over to replace Dunlap. 

    Joe Barksdale is coming off a strong season at right tackle for the Chargers but is set to become a free agent, which could open up a starting spot on the line for Stanley. 

4. Dallas Cowboys: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

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    Wide receiver obviously isn't a glaring need in Dallas, but the Cowboys have a unique opportunity to add an immediate-impact player to a team that expects to compete for the playoffs in 2016. 

    With Tony Romo aging, the 2016 draft will likely be about the immediate future in Dallas rather than the beginning of a rebuilding process.

    Laquon Treadwell is a similar talent to Dez Bryant and would potentially give the Cowboys two elite weapons on the outside. 

    Like Bryant, Treadwell lacks the elite speed to take the top off the defense, but he has the size (6'2", 210 lbs) to consistently win the battle for jump balls. 

    The addition of Treadwell would allow the Cowboys to scale back the use of Terrance Williams, who led all Cowboys wide receivers with 93 targets in 2015. 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State

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    Despite spending a slew of draft picks on the secondary in recent years, the Jaguars have struggled to put a decent product on the field. 

    They ranked 29th in the league in passing yards allowed in 2015, giving up more than 4,000 yards through the air.

    Jalen Ramsey has established himself as the top defensive back on the board, partially due to his versatility. He has excelled as both a safety and cornerback at Florida State, which makes him a relatively safe draft pick. 

    The Jaguars could use upgrades at both positions, so selecting him would grant them some flexibility in how they design their secondary in 2016. 

6. Baltimore Ravens: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

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    The Ravens thought they addressed their offensive line issues by trading for Eugene Monroe during the 2013 season. However, he has missed 15 games over the past two seasons with a variety of maladies, most recently a season-ending shoulder injury. 

    Taylor Decker hasn't received as much hype as the two elite tackles in this class, but a dominant junior year has elevated his draft stock considerably. 

    Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski has even stated his belief that Decker is a better left tackle prospect than Ronnie Stanley. 

    Monroe is under contract for three more years, so the Ravens certainly aren't forced into this decision. However, they may be wise to take advantage of their draft position and snag a potential star at left tackle. 

7. San Francisco 49ers: Jared Goff, QB, California

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    Despite Blaine Gabbert's surprising resurgence in San Francisco this season, the 49ers' new head coach is likely to want to handpick his quarterback of the future. 

    There are a few contenders to be the top quarterback off the board, but Jared Goff appears to be the most NFL-ready prospect. 

    None of the quarterbacks is a sure thing this year, but Goff's accuracy bodes well for a smooth transition to the NFL. 

    Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton charted all the top quarterbacks in this year's class and concluded that Goff was "easily the most accurate passer."

8. Miami Dolphins: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

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    The Dolphins need to generate a new identity on defense, and adding a new leader at inside linebacker can often have that effect on a unit. 

    Miami was one of five teams to allow more than 2,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing in 2015, which indicates there are issues at every level. 

    Reggie Ragland was the leader of arguably the best defense in college football in 2015 and would help bring a new attitude to Miami. 

    Playing behind Ndamukong Suh would allow Ragland plenty of space to make plays for the Dolphins. 

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

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    According to Pro Football Focus, the Buccaneers' top cornerbacks this season were Sterling Moore and Jude Adjei-Barimah—and neither ranked among the top 60 cornerbacks overall. 

    The secondary is a glaring issue in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs would be wise to snag one of the three consensus first-round cornerbacks: Jalen Ramsey, Mackensie Alexander or Vernon Hargreaves III. 

    Hargreaves is coming off a disappointing performance against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, so he'll be under more scrutiny than the other cornerbacks in this class. However, his athleticism is apparent on the field, and he's likely to be one of the stars of the combine. 

    Hargreaves should be able to regain any momentum may have lost against the Wolverines with a strong showing at the combine. 

10. New York Giants: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

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    Even if the Giants re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul, they need to address their defensive line this offseason. 

    In eight games in 2015, Pierre-Paul had just one sack, and the Giants totaled just 27 as a team. 

    This isn't a great draft class for pass-rushers, but the Giants should have some options with the 10th selection. 

    DeForest Buckner is likely to be the next pass-rusher off the board after Joey Bosa. 

    ESPN's Todd McShay ranked Buckner at No. 10 on his most recent draft board. McShay praised Buckner for his ability to use "his explosive upper-body power to jar blockers and push the pocket."

    Buckner's production at Oregon this past season was particularly impressive given the lack of talent around him. Like Bosa, Buckner consistently drew double-teams but still forced his way into the backfield with regularity. 

11. Chicago Bears: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

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    More teams are shifting toward playing smaller, more athletic linebackers in order to keep up with offenses that run more three- and four-wide receiver sets and feature pass-catching tight ends. 

    Meanwhile, the Bears are starting a former defensive end, Shea McClellin, at inside linebacker. Predictably, McClellin struggled this season, ranking 86th out of 95 qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus

    Myles Jack is a special athlete and a perfect example of the new breed of linebackers in the NFL. 

    As a two-way star at UCLA, Jack shined at both linebacker and running back. That type of elite athleticism is hard to find and would offer the Bears a dramatic upgrade at a key position. 

12. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

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    Nothing went right for the Saints defensively in 2015, and major changes are coming. After ranking 31st in the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed, the Saints need help at all levels on the defense. 

    Taking the best available defensive prospect is probably the safe route to go for Saints, and Shaq Lawson is a strong candidate in this mock draft scenario. 

    Lawson lacks the explosiveness of an elite pass-rusher, but he makes up for it with his strength, which makes him a strong well-rounded defensive end. 

    ESPN's Todd McShay compared Lawson to Redskins pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, praising his "great combination of quickness and power."

13. Philadelphia Eagles: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor

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    Much of the focus in Philadelphia this year centered on Chip Kelly's inability to generate a consistent offensive attack, but the more pressing issue is the defense. 

    The Eagles ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed, giving up more than 2,100 yards on the ground. 

    That's not an issue that one player can fix, but adding a dominant nose tackle like Baylor's Andrew Billings would be a good start. 

    Billings is an intriguing player due to his combination of size and athleticism. He's big enough to play nose tackle (Baylor lists him at 6'2", 310 pounds), but he consistently works his way into the backfield, generating an impressive pass rush for a man his size. 

    Billings has many supporters, including Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski, who ranks Billings as his No. 1 overall prospect

14. Oakland Raiders: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

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    The Raiders gambled on D.J. Hayden in the first round in 2013, and it simply hasn't worked out. 

    After missing 14 games through his first two seasons, Hayden finally stayed on the field in 2015. However, he struggled, ranking 112th out of 119 qualifying cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus

    Mackensie Alexander is only a redshirt sophomore, but he was among the most dominant cornerbacks in college football this past season. Despite playing across from a quality cornerback in Cordrea Tankersley, opposing quarterbacks frequently avoided Alexander's side of the field and took their chances with his teammate. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is among Alexander's fans, saying he proved during the College Football Playoff that he "can turn and run with NFL speed."

15. Los Angeles Rams: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

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    The Rams will be moving to Los Angeles and may have a new quarterback joining them. 

    Carson Wentz is one of the hottest names in this draft class after returning from a wrist injury to lead North Dakota State to the FCS championship. 

    NFL Network's Mike Mayock is among Wentz's supporters, suggesting that he should be in the conversation to be the first quarterback off the board. Per Dan Parr of NFL.com, Mayock stated he believes Wentz is "totally legit...arm talent, accuracy, size and athletic."

    Some skeptics will wonder about his level of competition, but from a physical standpoint there's little doubt that Wentz checks all the boxes. 

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

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    Over the past two seasons, Matthew Stafford has been sacked 89 times. 

    Left tackle Riley Reiff is under contract for 2016 (for a whopping $8.07 million, according to Spotrac), but Jack Conklin would be an upgrade at right tackle before potentially shifting to the left side in 2016. 

    In addition to improving the Lions' pass protection, Conklin would help the team generate a more consistent rushing attack. The Lions ranked dead last in the NFL with just 1,335 yards on the ground in 2015. 

17. Atlanta Falcons: Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama

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    The Falcons front seven fared well against the run in 2015, ranking 14th in rushing yards allowed. But the unit failed to consistently get into the backfield, ranking 32nd with just 19 sacks. 

    Reed, who fits best as a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3 defense, wouldn't give an enormous boost to the Falcons pass rush. But based on the talent on the board in this class, an interior pass-rusher may be the best Atlanta can hope for with this selection. 

    Alabama moved Reed around on the defensive line, which makes him one of the most versatile defensive linemen in this draft class. 

18. Indianapolis Colts: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

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    The Colts have a shocking number of holes to fill for a team that narrowly missed the playoffs. Aside from quarterback and receiver, it's tough to pinpoint an area that would be unreasonable to address early in the 2016 draft. 

    The smart strategy for the Colts may simply be to target the best available player at one of their areas of weakness. 

    Ezekiel Elliott is the top running back in this class, with a steep drop-off in talent once he comes off the board. Aside from his obvious skills in the running game, Elliott also offers Andrew Luck another weapon in the passing game. 

    In his last full season as the starter in 2014, Luck targeted the Colts trio of running backs (Trent Richardson, Dan Herron, Ahmad Bradshaw) 107 times

19. Buffalo Bills: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss

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    Rex Ryan has always favored versatile defensive players, which could draw him to Robert Nkemdiche. 

    At Ole Miss, Nkemdiche often lined up as a defensive tackle but also has the athleticism to shift to the edge in Ryan's hybrid defensive scheme.

    The issue with Nkemdiche's draft stock is determining how teams will view his off-field issues following his arrest for marijuana possession prior to the Sugar Bowl. 

    In his most recent big board, ESPN's Mel Kiper dropped Nkemdiche a few spots, acknowledging that "many around the league ask about where he's at with off-field questions."

20. New York Jets: Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

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    The Jets have been in search of a pass-rusher for years but still haven't found that one guy who can fly into the backfield off the edge. 

    Head coach Todd Bowles' defense managed 39 sacks in 2015, but 12 came from defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. Soon-to-be 32-year-old David Harris led the linebackers with 4.5 sacks. 

    Leonard Floyd seems like an ideal fit for the Jets, especially since he already has experience in a 3-4 scheme from his time at Georgia.

21. Washington Redskins: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State

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    DeSean Jackson's future in Washington is uncertain. He counts for $9.25 million against the cap in 2016, according to Spotrac, which makes him a candidate to be cut this offseason. 

    Even if Jackson returns, 2016 will likely be his final year in Washington, and the Redskins lack a young playmaker to fill his role in the future. 

    Michael Thomas wouldn't perfectly fill Jackson's role in the offense—he's more of a possession receiver than a pure deep threat—but his skills should allow for a smooth transition to the NFL. 

    In 2016, Thomas should be able to contribute as a second or third option in the offense, before eventually taking on a greater role when Jackson departs. 

22. Houston Texans: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

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    Opinions on Paxton Lynch vary greatly, which makes him a difficult player to place in a mock draft. 

    Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton recently summarized Lynch's draft stock, highlighting his upside as well as the many areas in which he needs further development. Wharton believes Lynch has "franchise quarterback potential" but cautions against throwing him to the wolves as a rookie. 

    In Houston, Bill O'Brien may be one of the few coaches who can afford to gamble on a developmental quarterback in the first round. 

    O'Brien has proved he can squeeze just enough out of players such as Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick and T.J. Yates to remain competitive, which would allow the Texans to bide their time with a veteran while grooming Lynch for the future. 

23. Minnesota Vikings: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

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    Mike Wallace was one of the Vikings' primary deep threats in 2015, but his future in Minnesota is questionable. 

    According to Spotrac, Wallace has played out the guaranteed portion of his contract, which would the Vikings to save $11.5 million by cutting him. That would appear to be an easy decision to make on a receiver who turns 30 in August and is coming off a career-low 473 receiving yards. 

    The decision would be even easier if the Vikings could add a young replacement for Wallace, which is where Corey Coleman steps in. 

    Coleman has the speed to stretch the field, much like Wallace, but he has also shown an ability to compete for contested catches. That gives him an edge on Wallace in terms of overall playmaking ability. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

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    Jaylon Smith was destined to be a top-10 selection prior to tearing his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, the injury, which puts his 2016 playing status in jeopardy, will likely result in a fall down draft boards. 

    ESPN's Mel Kiper ranked Smith at No. 2 on his most recent big board (prior to the injury), calling him a "rare player at his position."

    The issue that Smith faces, however, is that his athleticism is arguably his greatest asset, and it remains to be seen how his knee injury will affect his range. 

    Taking Smith in the first round will be a gamble, but if he slides into the lower half of the round, the more stable organizations may be willing to take that risk. 

    The Bengals have shown a willingness to effectively redshirt draft picks in recent years. Their 2015 first- and second-round selections, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, combined to play just 203 snaps this past season, according to Football Outsiders

    That mindset puts the Bengals on the list of teams that are potentially willing to gamble on Smith and allow him to spend the 2016 season in recovery. 

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: William Jackson III, CB, Houston

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    The Steelers relied on William Gay and Antwon Blake as their starting cornerbacks this year with mixed results. 

    Even if the Steelers want to move forward with both corners—which is not a guarantee—both players are free agents. 

    Under general manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have not placed a premium on selecting defensive backs early in the draft, but they may be forced to go that direction this year. 

    Since Colbert took over as Director of Football Operations in 2000, the Steelers have drafted just one defensive back in the first round (Troy Polamalu). 

    Jackson is among the taller cornerbacks in this class, listed at 6'1". CBS Sports' Dane Brugler describes him as "a good-sized athlete for the position with an aggressive attitude."

26. Seattle Seahawks: Noah Spence, LB, Eastern Kentucky

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    Noah Spence is arguably the next best pass-rusher in this class behind Joey Bosa, but off-field concerns could cause him to slip down draft boards. 

    After being dismissed from Ohio State following a suspension for testing positive for Ecstasy, Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky, where he excelled during the 2015 season. 

    In Seattle, Pete Carroll has not shied away from gambling on players with off-field issues, which makes the Seahawks a candidate to consider Spence. 

    Spence is a comparable talent to Bruce Irvin, who is set to become a free agent this offseason. 

    Adding Spence could give the Seahawks a cheap replacement for Irvin, allowing them to spend money to lock up other, more valuable pieces. 

27. Green Bay Packers: A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama

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    Packers veteran B.J. Raji is a free agent this offseason, which could potentially open up a glaring hole on Green Bay's defensive line. 

    While Raji was out during the entire 2014 season, the Packers defense noticeably suffered. 

    If the Packers choose not to re-sign Raji, who turns 30 in July, they could draft A'Shawn Robinson as a younger version to fill the veteran's role in the defense. 

    Like Raji, who has played nose tackle and defensive end during his days in Green Bay, Robinson (6'3", 312 lbs) has the size and quickness to play both positions. 

28. Kansas City Chiefs: Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn

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    Are the Chiefs ready to throw in the towel on Eric Fisher?

    That's one of the most pressing issues for Kansas City to address this offseason, as Fisher enters the final season of his rookie contract after being selected No. 1 overall in 2013. 

    Coleman is a unique prospect who spent three years away from football while fighting cancer

    He's been back on the field for just two full seasons as a starter at Auburn, so his development is slightly behind other prospects. His raw talent, however, is obvious. 

    CBS Sports' Dane Brugler describes Coleman as a " balanced big man with long arms and strong hands" but expects that he'll need time to develop. 

    Kansas City may be in the perfect position to bring Coleman along slowly while riding out Fisher's final season. 

29. Denver Broncos: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

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    O.J. Howard made a name for himself  Monday night with a legendary performance in the national championship game. But he was already on the NFL's radar screen long before his breakout performance against Clemson. 

    Howard's overall numbers are less than impressive but only because of his role in Alabama's offense. 

    When given the chance to performance, as he did Monday, Howard has consistently shown playmaking ability. 

    The Broncos struggled to replace Julius Thomas this past season and will likely be in the market for a young tight end in this year's draft. If he declares for the draft, Howard has the size (6'6", 242 lbs) to immediately be a weapon as a possession receiver for either Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler. 

30. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

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    The defensive line isn't a glaring issue for the Cardinals, but it may be a position worth addressing given the wealth of talent in this draft class. 

    The Cardinals use a rotation on the defensive line, heavily featuring veterans Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker. 

    While the duo of Campbell and Rucker has been crucial to the Cardinals' success, adding a younger lineman such as Jonathan Allen would improve the depth and give them a young prospect to groom into a future starting role. 

    If an elite pass-rusher were on the board, that might be the better option for the Cardinals, but unfortunately that just isn't the strength of this class. Arizona may be forced to take the best-available-player approach in this draft. 

31. Carolina Panthers: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson

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    Kevin Dodd is one of the latest early entries to the NFL draft, announcing his decision Wednesday, per TigerNet.com. 

    After a dominant run through the College Football Playoff, Dodd's decision makes sense, especially considering he turns 24 in July. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, it was Dodd, not Shaq Lawson, who actually led the Tigers in quarterback pressures this past season. 

    As strong as the Panthers defense has been this season, they still lack a serious pass-rush threat on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Kawann Short led the team with 11 sacks, followed by journeyman and situational pass-rusher Mario Addison (six). 

    Dodd would give the Panthers a true three-down lineman capable of helping against the run and as a pass-rusher. 

2nd Round. New England Patriots: Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

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    As a result of Deflategate, the Patriots do not own a first-round pick this year. As a result, their first selection will come near the end of the second round. 

    Running back Dion Lewis flashes the potential he showed during his college days at Pittsburgh, but his career has been marred by injuries. He missed the entire 2013 season due to a broken leg and missed the majority of this past season with the Patriots with a torn ACL. 

    So despite Lewis' brief successful stint as the Patriots starter, it would be wise for them to consider other options heading into the next season. 

    Bill Belichick likes to have two types of backs on his roster. He likes big downhill runners, such as LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley. But he also likes smaller backs with good hands as receivers, such as Lewis and Shane Vereen. 

    UCLA's Paul Perkins fits the mold of the latter type and would offer excellent insurance behind Lewis. In his three years at UCLA, Perkins ran for more than 3,000 yards and also hauled in 80 receptions. 


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