2016 NFL Mock Draft: Updated Projections After 1st Week of Free Agency
While we’re still in the heart of 2016 NFL free agency, we’ve seen enough players moved to have a stronger idea of how teams value the 2016 draft class as well as their own needs.
Between the Philadelphia Eagles solving their quarterback issues, the Denver Broncos emerging as the most quarterback-needy team, the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders spending big in free agency and the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens characteristically sitting back and watching, free agency in 2016 has created one of the most fun and unexpectedly intriguing offseasons in recent history.
What does that mean for the draft? Much still has to be gleaned during the process, but here’s a look at how the free-agent moves of early March may have altered the 2016 NFL draft.
1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
The decision between Laremy Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey has become a real choice for the Tennessee Titans rather than a mere thought-provoking question. With Tunsil’s ties to Robert Nkemdiche and Ramsey’s elite athletic testing at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Titans are left with deciding between the franchise left tackle or the game-changing defensive back.
Despite Ramsey being higher on draft boards (including mine), it’s simply too hard to pass on Tunsil, who has the potential to be one of the best left tackles of the next decade. Ramsey’s impact as a safety can be great, but even if he’s the league’s best safety, his value may plateau someplace below where Tunsil’s value rests.
2. Cleveland Browns: Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
The Cleveland Browns inquiring about Colin Kaepernick may be an indictment that at least some in the organization would prefer not to take a quarterback with the second overall pick. While the Browns need a starter for 2016, they surely don’t need a traded-for quarterback and a top-five pick at the position, and who the Browns end up with in free agency may determine if they go quarterback at No. 2 or not.
If they pass on a QB, Ramsey has emerged as the most logical fit. With Tashaun Gipson departing in free agency and the Browns secondary being a huge issue much of last year, adding the versatile and high-upside Ramsey can give this underappreciated Browns defense a fighting chance in 2016.
3. San Diego Chargers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
With Tunsil and Ramsey likely the two best fits for the San Diego Chargers' needs, having neither available at third overall would be frustrating. However, the Chargers have needs across the roster, especially on the defensive line.
While Buckner didn’t dominate at the college level with his awesome size (6'7", 291 lbs) or upper-half burst, he set up others on the Oregon defense for open-field success and should be able to do the same at the NFL level. His experience, one-on-one ability and willingness to embrace double-teams should make him an ideal NFL 5-technique.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Despite Dallas’ rumored interest in a quarterback and potentially considering a top athlete like Ramsey, Joey Bosa is the best fit for the Cowboys defense and would provide the most immediate impact to get Dallas back to the playoffs.
Adding a safety like Ramsey or even a linebacker like Myles Jack looks great on paper, but the Cowboys don’t need to change all that much from their 2015 defense. Bosa gives this team an ideal strong-side defensive end presence to help keep linebackers clean, the run defense stout and Demarcus Lawrence free for more one-on-one opportunities.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
The Jacksonville Jaguars started free agency on a spending spree, adding a top running back (Chris Ivory) and two pieces to their defense: safety Tashaun Gipson and defensive tackle Malik Jackson. With a safety and defensive lineman in the fold, it seems less likely the Jaguars add either Ramsey or Buckner with their fifth overall selection.
Linebacker isn’t a huge need for the Jaguars, but adding Myles Jack can give Jacksonville a strong rotation, ample versatility and an impact playmaker to take head coach Gus Bradley’s defense to the next level. Jack can slide in at strong-side linebacker, push Telvin Smith to the inside and allow the Jaguars to utilize Paul Posluszny in more of a rotational role.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
The Ravens are a unique team picking in the top 10. Without glaring needs, they could go a handful of different directions and not worry too much about their draft position. On the other hand, the Ravens are known for coveting top talent, and unless a quarterback goes in the top five, they’ll miss out on five of the six elite talents the 2016 class has to offer.
The Ravens could consider Ezekiel Elliott, the draft’s sixth “elite talent,” but they’ve invested in mid-round running backs in the recent past, and the position isn’t a need at all. More likely, the Ravens look for a plug-and-play starter to help vault this team back to the playoffs. Vernon Hargreaves is remarkably polished, and though his upside may not be worth a top-six pick, he can start right away for the Ravens defense.
7. San Francisco 49ers: A'Shawn Robinson, DT/DE, Alabama
After losing so many defenders a year ago, the San Francisco 49ers are still playing catch-up in restocking their front seven. General manager Trent Baalke has shown a knack for coveting top talent and not worrying too much about character issues, which could put a prospect like Noah Spence in play.
But more likely, the 49ers consider one of three prospects. Ezekiel Elliott would certainly appease new head coach Chip Kelly, and Carlos Hyde’s foot injury lingered all of 2015. Laquon Treadwell could finally give this offense a feature receiver, but the positional value and his lack of clear top-10 talent may push Baalke away.
Finally, A’Shawn Robinson offers unique bend and explosiveness for a 6'4" defensive tackle, and the versatility he adds should make him a top-12 value in the 2016 class.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Packaging Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to move up five spots in the draft seems like an awfully big player dump with minimal return. That said, the Eagles getting into the top eight gives them a chance at one of the really special players this draft has to offer.
After trading away DeMarco Murray and with Ryan Mathews potentially on the way out, running back hasn’t become a clear need but has emerged as an in-play option for the Eagles. Elliott gives this offense more than just another running back; he’s as refined of a pass-catcher and pass-blocker as any running back prospect in recent draft history.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Entering the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense needed to add an impact defensive end and cornerback to maximize the awesome youth the unit already boasts. After adding the underappreciated Robert Ayers, the Bucs can now use the draft to shore up their secondary needs.
While Hargreaves would be ideal, as he has Florida ties and is an NFL-ready defender, Eli Apple may have the most upside of any cornerback in this class. With plus length, athletic bend and flashes of elite upside, Apple could quickly grow into a better pro prospect than he was a college player on a loaded Ohio State defense.
10. New York Giants: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
After spending big on defense in free agency, one would expect the Giants to attack the offensive side of the ball in the draft. With needs at receiver, offensive line and maybe running back, the Giants can really take the best offensive player available. Elliott may be tempting if he’s available, but it’s more likely the Giants replace Rueben Randle with the 10th pick.
Treadwell can fit perfectly opposite Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants offense. He can be the mid-range and red-zone threat that Beckham no longer has to be all the time. He can play on the perimeter and allow Beckham to get added work in the slot. And he can provide an ideal one-on-one jump-ball receiver for Eli Manning to target when he’s under pressure and Beckham isn’t open.
11. Chicago Bears: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
While a handful of top-10 teams could be interested in Carson Wentz or any of the top passers, having the 2016 draft’s first quarterback picked at No. 11 isn’t unreasonable. The Chicago Bears can release Jay Cutler next offseason with minimal cap impacts, and the 2016 draft may be the time to find his heir apparent.
Wentz could really value the opportunity to sit for a year and develop in an NFL setting. Hailing from an FCS offense that was run-heavy and didn’t ask him to adjust post-snap or utilize NFL-level timing often, Wentz needs as much time as possible before he can be a reliable NFL starter. He’ll get that in Chicago.
12. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The New Orleans Saints need defensive talent across the board, almost irrelevant of the position group or the scheme. They haven’t added anyone in free agency yet, but they’re in desperate need of reinforcements, especially in their front seven.
A fringe top-10 talent, Shaq Lawson’s college dominance has gone underappreciated this draft season. While he’s not a perfect fit for what New Orleans needs, he’s the best player available and can slide into the pass-rushing role opposite Cameron Jordan to give his team top-end bookend edge players.
13. Miami Dolphins: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
Even after trading down five spots, the Miami Dolphins likely won’t be missing out on a top prospect they were targeting. Miami added last year’s feature free-agent cornerback and the 2013 PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year, filling two of its most important needs. Now at pick 13, the Dolphins miss out on the chance to get one of the draft’s elite talents but may not have to sacrifice much on their big board.
Regardless of their draft position, the Dolphins are likely targeting a top defender for their first-round pick, and Darron Lee of Ohio State has always made the most sense. Even after adding Alonso, the Dolphins would be wise to still add one of the draft’s most athletic defenders, and Lee plus Alonso can turn linebacker from a need to a substantial strength.
14. Oakland Raiders: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
Pairing free-agent signing Bruce Irvin with All-Pro edge player Khalil Mack should make for exciting pass-rushing opportunities on a Raiders defense that’s beginning to look like one of the AFC’s best for the future. But the Raiders need to make sure they stay stout against the run, and that’s where adding an interior defender makes sense.
The Raiders don’t have a clear need at the position, as Justin Ellis and Dan Williams are capable interior presences. But without a top cornerback or linebacker available and the offense offering ample talent at every spot, keeping the defensive line strong with Jarran Reed is a wise decision.
15. Los Angeles Rams: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
While the dominoes of the quarterback free-agency market still need to fall, it’s clear that the Los Angeles Rams shouldn’t be content with their current quarterback situation. Nick Foles was a major bust last year, and Case Keenum can’t be counted on as the long-term answer.
Adding a rookie may be a bold move for a general manager-head coaching combination that may be looking for a more short-term fix for a roster that needs to start showing promise, but Paxton Lynch is worth the risk. The top quarterback in the 2016 draft on my board, Lynch offers efficiency, reliability and the size (6'7", 244 lbs) and arm-talent upside to grow into one of the league’s best passers.
16. Detroit Lions: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
With a new decision-maker in charge (GM Bob Quinn) and a roster influx, the Detroit Lions could go any number of directions at No. 16 overall. However, the Lions have had a lingering offensive line problem for most of Matt Stafford’s career, and giving him a capable left tackle to push Riley Reiff to the right side may be the best-case scenario.
Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley has more support among mock drafters, and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker appears to be more highly valued, but Jason Spriggs has the most upside of the three, especially after an awesome NFL Scouting Combine. Don’t be surprised if he gets top-20 consideration.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
The Atlanta Falcons offense collapsed a season ago, relying on flashes of Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones’ All-Pro talent to make up for a dreadful offense around them. Even after adding Mohamed Sanu in free agency, the Falcons offense needs help before the team can become playoff-viable.
Adding Corey Coleman after Sanu may seem unnecessary, but it’s clear this Falcons team is in far worse shape than anyone could have predicted entering the 2015 season. Coleman gives this team added versatility in three-receiver sets, gives Matt Ryan an awesome run-after-catch receiver and gives Jones a break from having to provide all the big plays in the Falcons offense.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
In desperate need of offensive line support and stability, the Indianapolis Colts will be looking for the offensive lineman who can best fit their offense and culture mold with the 18th overall pick. While defensive back and pass-rusher may get some consideration, they’ll be able to address both spots later in the draft.
Jack Conklin doesn’t always look the part of a sexy offensive tackle, but he was the Big Ten’s best offensive tackle the last two seasons, and his efficient steps, strong base, arm extension and reliability as a pass-blocker should be enough to entrust him long term as Andrew Luck’s blindside protector.
19. Buffalo Bills: Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
Rex Ryan is always in the market for elite front-seven talents, and after a strong first season at the helm of a changing Buffalo Bills roster, don't be surprised if he has strong input on the Bills' first-round pick.
Chris Jones is that elite talent, testing as one of the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine’s best overall defensive line talents, finishing among the top defensive linemen in multiple categories and showcasing the upside that secures him as a first-round pick. While he’ll need ample NFL development, there may not be a coach in the league I trust more with maximizing 3-4 defensive talent than Ryan.
20. New York Jets: Jared Goff, QB, California
Based on the New York Jets' negotiations with Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s clear they don’t believe he’s the long-term answer for the team. And why should he be: He’s 33 years old and has only strung together a handful of decent seasons in his career. While he’ll probably be brought back, the Jets need to make sure they can trust his backup/future replacement.
Despite the drafting of Bryce Petty last year, the Jets should still be in the quarterback market in 2016. Only the Jets know if Petty has shown real starter-level promise, but if the mentally prepared, highly respected Jared Goff slips to them at 20, he may be too hard to pass on.
21. Washington Redskins: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
After drafting well last year, the Washington Redskins don’t have glaring long-term needs that they need to address in the 2016 NFL draft. They’ve stayed put thus far in free agency, and it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be big spenders at any point this offseason.
Adding a safe, somewhat versatile defensive lineman seems like the move general manger Scot McCloughan would make, as he covets safeness in his first-round draft picks. Rankins can fill an immediate need for this defense. Receiver and cornerback might be options as well, but Rankins is a strong value with immediate-impact talent.
22. Houston Texans: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
In last year’s draft, the Houston Texans were linked to multiple vertical receivers, including Nelson Agholor and Phillip Dorsett. They opted to fill their cornerback void, but they may look to find a speedy counterpart to DeAndre Hopkins in this year’s draft.
Will Fuller should remind evaluators of DeSean Jackson thanks to his vertical acceleration and awesome finishing ability on downfield throws with defenders nearby. While Fuller may not be a great value at No. 22, the Texans don’t have any glaring needs to address here, and they may decide to take the offensive player who can best support new quarterback Brock Osweiler this season.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Adrian Peterson hasn’t left the Minnesota Vikings franchise, but Peterson can be released in 2017 without any cap hit on the books. The Vikings need to adjust Peterson’s salary at some point, and finding a potential replacement in 2016 could make that transition much easier.
Derrick Henry tested better than expected at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his potential comparison to Peterson may not be all that far-fetched anymore. While the Vikings may be better off adding a receiver for Teddy Bridgewater or more offensive line support, don't rule out Henry as a viable option for an offense that needs to move on from Peterson at some point.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
As expected, the Cincinnati Bengals have lost both Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency, leaving at least one major void in the Bengals' passing game to fill either later in free agency or, more likely, in the draft.
Josh Doctson offers some of the best ball skills of any receiver in the 2016 draft, plucking in traffic at an elite level and offering immediate value as a 50-50 ball receiver. Pairing him with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert gives Andy Dalton multiple options on third downs and threatens defenses across the field.
If available, Corey Coleman may be a better fit for the Bengals offense thanks to his versatility to play inside and more vertical-stretching ability.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been active in their pursuit of Russell Okung, and they’ve made it a priority to address their offensive line this offseason. Both left tackle and left guard could be options for the Steelers' first-round pick, and Taylor Decker could fill both.
The three-year starter left tackle for the Buckeyes can slide inside easily based on his strong base and quick lateral movements in the short area, and his skill-set versatility should make him appealing to a Steelers team that may have offensive line changes over the next few offseasons.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
If/when Okung officially leaves the Seattle Seahawks, they’ll have a substantial and immediate need at left tackle that won’t be easy to fill with a rookie. Luckily, the 2016 class offers ample left tackle prospects, with Ronnie Stanley being the dream scenario for the Seahawks.
While he’s not without question marks as a prospect, including intangible and physicality concerns, Stanley has displayed NFL-level foot quickness, lateral movement and refined technique for the last two years. He can quickly emerge as a capable NFL left tackle with elite upside once he gets to work with Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable.
27. Green Bay Packers: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
The Green Bay Packers have always put a premium on their defensive line, investing draft picks and even free-agent signings to keep it a strength. But with inconsistency outside of Mike Daniels and current and long-term free-agent issues to deal with, adding a premier 5-technique may be wise.
Vernon Butler has risen through the draft process, helped especially by a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl and comparisons to Pro Bowl talents like Muhammad Wilkerson.
While he’ll need some developmental time in the NFL, he fits Green Bay's defense and its mold of first-round prospects. He could slide into a situational 5-technique role during his rookie season before becoming one of the Packers' feature defenders in 2017.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
The Kansas City Chiefs hit the jackpot with Marcus Peters in the 2016 NFL draft, as he emerged as one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks by midway through his rookie season. The secondary had become a strength for the Chiefs, but after losing Sean Smith in free agency, they need to address the position once again.
Alexander’s 2016 NFL draft hype needs to be calmed a bit, as he’s not a top-20 value thanks to ineffective footwork, poor hand use and an overall lack of refinement. However, he can offer immediate slot cornerback value for the Chiefs, and he has the upside to eventually grow into a high-level NFL starter opposite Peters.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky
Boasting one of the NFL’s best defenses a season ago, the Arizona Cardinals became a feared unit despite struggling to consistently rush the pass on the edge. With every other aspect of their defense strong, finding a high-level pass-rusher should be the most important mission for the Cardinals front office this offseason.
Noah Spence may fall in the draft due to prior drug use at Ohio State and lackluster NFL Scouting Combine interviews, but his talent level and growth as a young man could allow him to develop into a model NFL player similar to Tyrann Mathieu’s transformation in Arizona. Spence-to-Arizona is a perfect fit, and it won't be a surprise if Arizona looks to trade up if/when Spence begins to slide on draft day.
30. Carolina Panthers: Le'Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech
Michael Oher and Mike Remmers were surprisingly efficient during the 2015 season for the Carolina Panthers' playoff run, but they are both in need of upgrading moving forward. With a handful of offensive tackle prospects likely to be available late in Round 1, the Panthers should have the option to draft a top offensive tackle at pick No. 30.
Le’Raven Clark isn’t a favorite prospect of mine, as his delayed reaction in pass protection and his inability to dominate despite awesome length is frustrating. But with elite length, flashes and high football IQ, Clark is the ideal developmental left tackle prospect and may land in the top 40 picks despite not having a glowing college scouting report.
31. Denver Broncos: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
With Osweiler and Peyton Manning gone from the Broncos' Super Bowl offense, Denver’s in desperate search for a franchise passer. With no sure-bet replacement to be the long-term answer via trade (Kaepernick) or free agency (Robert Griffin III), the Broncos should be expected to draft a quarterback.
In need of a pro-ready option, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Michigan State’s Connor Cook both fit the Gary Kubiak offense and are mentally prepared to handle an NFL offense. Hackenberg offers more upside, and despite his struggles, his mechanical and footwork issues may not be as worrisome as Cook’s off-field issues.