NFL Mock Draft 2016: Updated Predictions with Less Than a Month to Go
As resolution of the NFL draft process nears, we still only have a few certainties about the 2016 class. We know that the top of the draft offers ample talent, with seven or eight special prospects up for grabs early in the first round.
We know that quarterbacks may be in high demand, though it’s anyone’s guess where their destinations lie. We know that defensive tackle and offensive tackle are the biggest strengths of the class, though the order of their selections is difficult to project.
Just a month out, this first-round draft projection offers a scenario where Jared Goff slips, Paxton Lynch lands in the top half of Round 1, and defensive and offensive tackles dominate Round 1.
Note: The New England Patriots forfeited their 2016 first-round pick due to a Deflategate ruling by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
1. Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
The Tennessee Titans appear to have three options in their decision of what to do with the first overall pick. They can draft Laremy Tunsil, a remarkable left tackle prospect but a duplicate of what they already have with Taylor Lewan. They can draft Jalen Ramsey, an elite athlete who plays a defensive back position rarely drafted in the top three. Or they can try to move the pick for a quarterback-needy team.
Tunsil offers the safest value for the Titans, who can’t afford to miss on their first-round pick as a rebuilding team in need of high-quality talent. Pairing Tunsil with Lewan gives the Titans bookend tackles to guide quarterback Marcus Mariota’s development moving forward.
2. Cleveland Browns: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Even after signing Robert Griffin III, expect the Cleveland Browns to continue to throw darts at the quarterback board with the hopes of finally finding a franchise quarterback. Barring a team trading up to the first overall pick, the Browns should have their pick of the quarterback class.
Carson Wentz is the perceived top quarterback in the class. He offers top-flight arm talent, hails from a pro-style offense in college and thrived during the NFL draft process at the Senior Bowl and his pro day. While I prefer Paxton Lynch as a prospect, the Browns may opt for Wentz instead.
3. San Diego Chargers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Without needs at offensive tackle or quarterback, the San Diego Chargers could be picking at third overall without a coveted prospect off their board. Despite having question marks about his ability to rush the passer at the NFL level, DeForest Buckner is worthy of a top-five draft pick.
The Chargers need more defensive line support, and Buckner can offer ideal setup ability for his linebacker teammates, as well as consistently finish in one-on-one opportunities. He could grow into one of the NFL’s best 5-techniques and a catalyst for the Chargers' defensive success.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
If the top three falls like this, the Dallas Cowboys may have an excitedly difficult decision at the fourth overall pick. They could opt for feature running back Ezekiel Elliott, pair last year’s first-rounder Byron Jones with Jalen Ramsey in the secondary, add the draft’s best edge run defender in Joey Bosa or secure a top linebacker talent.
Myles Jack could give this defensive unit the best coverage linebacker to come out of the college level in the last decade, and he could allow this team to rely on the health of Sean Lee to thrive at the linebacker position. An elite athlete, Jack is worth this high pick despite playing a generally devalued top-five position.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
Still looking to further their defensive unit building, the Jacksonville Jaguars should be open to adding whichever top talent slips to their pick at fifth overall. While Myles Jack may be the best fit in terms of need, they’ll happily accept Jalen Ramsey as the team’s feature defensive back.
Ramsey could play cornerback or strong safety for the Jaguars, potentially pushing Davon House to the slot or Johnathan Cyprien to the bench in the starting lineup. Either way, in Jacksonville's quest to add top talents to its roster, Ramsey is a welcomed addition, and the Jags can solve the depth chart issue later.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Joey Bosa, DE/OLB, Ohio State
A team known for coveting top talents with first-round picks, the Baltimore Ravens should be fine with letting whoever of the elite prospects slip to them at sixth overall. While Myles Jack or DeForest Buckner may be ideal, Baltimore is in dire need of outside linebacker youth.
By season’s end, Terrell Suggs will be 34, and Elvis Dumervil will be 33, and Baltimore can't count on either of them for the long haul. Bosa can man the strong-side outside linebacker spot long term as the Ravens look to retool their defense.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Carlos Hyde simply couldn’t get healthy last year after suffering through a foot injury throughout the 2015 season. With head coach Chip Kelly’s offense heavily reliant on the running game and the San Francisco 49ers without a dependable option, Ezekiel Elliott is certainly in play.
Add that to the fact he’s arguably the top player on the board and one of the six truly special talents in this draft class, and the 49ers may be wise to add support to their Colin Kaepernick-led offense rather than start over by drafting a quarterback.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
When the Philadelphia Eagles gave up two starting-player assets to move up from No. 13 to No. 8, it had to be with at least one or two players in mind. In terms of scheme fits and elite upside coupled with what’s expected to happen before them, it seems likely that Ronnie Stanley, Ezekiel Elliott or Vernon Hargreaves was their target.
With Elliott already off the board, Stanley gets the nod over Hargreaves because of his positional upside, Hargreaves' lack of elite upside and the fact that Stanley has shown the college flashes to be one of the NFL’s best pass-blockers in time.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers front seven offers some of the most promising upside of any group in the NFC. Once Kwon Alexander returns and assuming Robert Ayers can slide in nicely as a starter, the Bucs should continue to build off strong play a season ago.
That said, their secondary is in need of substantial help. Tampa Bay is relying on Jude Adjei-Barimah and soon-to-be 33-year-old Brent Grimes to lead its cornerback unit. Vernon Hargreaves offers a plug-and-play starter for a defense that could sorely use the upgrade.
10. New York Giants: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
After spending $240 million on their defense in free agency, the New York Giants should be targeting the offensive side of the ball early in the 2016 NFL draft. Offensive line and receiver are their two biggest needs, and they’ll thankfully have plenty of options to remedy those needs at No. 10.
Taylor Decker of Ohio State and Jason Spriggs of Indiana are both options, as well as Ronnie Stanley if he’s available, but Laquon Treadwell might provide the most benefit for the Giants offense. With Rueben Randle gone and Odell Beckham Jr. suffering from many double-teams in 2015, adding Treadwell can give QB Eli Manning the support he needs in the passing game.
11. Chicago Bears: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
With quarterback Jay Cutler only due $2 million guaranteed after the 2016 season, the Chicago Bears could be looking for his replacement in the first round of the 2016 draft should Carson Wentz or (more likely) Jared Goff slip outside the top 10. If they don’t draft a passer, they should look to finally shore up their offensive line.
With Bobby Massie and Charles Leno set to be battling for their starting left tackle spot, the Bears have a clear need at the position. After thoroughly impressing at the NFL Scouting Combine among offensive linemen, Jason Spriggs has emerged as a viable top-20 prospect. It may be high, but his four-year starting experience could allow him to slide in as an NFL starter immediately.
12. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The New Orleans Saints are desperate for any type of defensive support they can find in the 2016 draft, and their best bet is to draft the best talent they can at No. 12—position irrelevant. Thankfully, the Saints' pick at 12 should net a top defensive talent with Shaq Lawson being one of the best possible outcomes.
Lawson should have suitors in the top 10, most notably the Ravens and Bucs, but if he slips to 12, he’d be an awesome complement to Cam Jordan as bookend defensive ends. With great edge-setting ability, one-on-one pass-rushing ability and a devastating spin move, Lawson is a fringe top-five prospect with the type of upside the Saints need in their defensive rebuild.
13. Miami Dolphins: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
After sliding back from No. 8 to No. 13, the Miami Dolphins secured two starters with only a few draft spots as a sacrifice. Ideally, the Dolphins would see at least one of Ezekiel Elliott, Darron Lee or Eli Apple fall to them here at 13, as all three possess awesome athletic upside and fill a major need.
While cornerback has emerged as the most pressing need for the Dolphins, finding a healthy, dynamic linebacker could finally bring stability to this linebacking corps. Lee possesses more upside than Ryan Shazier, the former Buckeye-turned-top-15-pick, and he could go as high as the top 10 on draft day.
14. Oakland Raiders: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Drafting remarkably well under general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Oakland Raiders have quickly gone from NFL cellar-dweller to one of the most promising teams in the NFL and poised for a playoff run.
However, they still have needs across their defense. Linebacker could use depth, their secondary needs at least two starters and the defensive line could use interior pressure players. Sheldon Rankins is a bit of a reach here in my opinion, but he fits the Raiders' desire to stay versatile on defense, and he can provide a strong, sturdy interior rusher who can take advantage of single blocks when teams over-focus on Khalil Mack’s presence.
15. Los Angeles Rams: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
In desperate need of a quarterback in both the short and long terms, the Los Angeles Rams can’t afford to leave the 2016 draft without a quarterback in place to at least compete with Case Keenum and Nick Foles—and, at best, assume command of the offense.
Enter Paxton Lynch, who’s my top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 class. With the Rams personnel suited well for the yards-after-catch-based offense Lynch ran in college, Lynch could make the most of Tavon Austin as a receiver and allow running back Todd Gurley to remain the focal point of the offense as he slowly develops.
16. Detroit Lions: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
The Detroit Lions' most pressing need is to find someway to replace Calvin Johnson on offense, but that won’t be a task easily done unless Laquon Treadwell falls to the 16th overall pick or Detroit wants to move up.
Instead of reaching for a receiver, the Lions would be wise to address their other pressing need: cornerback. Eli Apple offers awesome length and fluidity upside and could grow into the class' best cornerback in time. Apple could start early in his career opposite Darius Slay and finally give this unit two capable starters.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Despite their free-agent spending the last few years on the defensive line—most recently in Derrick Shelby at defensive end—the Atlanta Falcons still have a need. If they can add a top defensive line talent with their first pick in one of the best front-four classes in recent history, the Falcons should pass on their other major needs to do so.
Emmanuel Ogbah has produced at a high level during his time as Oklahoma State’s feature defender, finishing with great closing speed and awesome length as a tackler. It’s unique to find a productive college rusher who still has plenty to learn and develop, and Ogbah can continue to grow as an edge-rusher while contributing at a starter level immediately.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The Indianapolis Colts can’t afford to not bolster their offensive line and support quarterback Andrew Luck early and often in the 2016 draft class, and that should start with Round 1. With a remarkably strong offensive tackle class, the Colts should have at least one of the class' top offensive tackles slip to them at 18 who can be an immediate contributor.
Jack Conklin fits the Colts mold of an immediate starter and relatively safe pick, especially when it comes to the offensive line. While not a sexy pick, Conklin has been a three-year starter at Michigan State and has shown consistency and core power to finish as a pass-blocker throughout his college career.
19. Buffalo Bills: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Head coach Rex Ryan has been known for developing front-seven talent throughout his NFL career as a defensive-minded coach. And with the offense offering depth at every position and promise at quarterback with Tyrod Taylor, it’s time to give Ryan a pet project to develop.
Leonard Floyd doesn’t offer great edge-rushing ability, and he has scouting report concerns about his ability to get off blocks effectively enough and where exactly he fits in an NFL defense. But his awesome flashes of length, bend, coverage ability and athleticism should make him a top-25 pick on draft day.
20. New York Jets: Jared Goff, QB, California
Could Jared Goff really fall this far on draft day? Based on the general thought, no, but it’s far more realistic than some may be led to believe. Similar to Teddy Bridgewater, who also saw a draft-day fall, Goff offers a slight frame and limited perimeter arm strength.
Additionally, he hails from an offense that isn’t conducive to an easy NFL transition, and he hasn’t won all that much at the college level. That said, he’d be a worthwhile developmental player in Chan Gailey’s New York Jets offense, and he could be the long-term answer at quarterback to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s likely short-term contract.
21. Washington Redskins: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
The Washington Redskins drafted well last year under general manager Scot McCloughan, sticking with a safe approach and addressing offensive line and pass-rusher a year ago. After not making a big splash in free agency this year, the Redskins look poised to play it safe this year as well.
Rising up draft boards after a strong Senior Bowl, Vernon Butler offers a skill set similar to Muhammad Wilkerson and will take some time in the NFL before he’s an every-down starter. He fits perfectly in the Redskins defense and, in time, can offer versatility across the defensive line.
22. Houston Texans: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
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.
While Will Fuller may be an option as arguably the draft’s best pure vertical threat, it’ll be hard for Houston to pass on Corey Coleman, whose college production and vertical speed push him into the top overall receiver discussion in the 2016 class. Pairing him with Hopkins to aid QB Brock Osweiler seems appealing.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
The Minnesota Vikings could be in the market for running back, receiver or defensive tackle support with their first-round pick, and they should have options at all three positions when pick No. 23 arrives. While Derrick Henry may be tempting with Adrian Peterson’s contract becoming a reasonable cut option in 2017, adding a receiver to help Teddy Bridgewater is much more pressing.
Michael Thomas offers great acceleration in his routes and after the catch, and he can be an immediate run-after-catch threat for the mid-range passing offense that Bridgewater should thrive in. Thomas' upside and physical build put him in the discussion of top overall receiver.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
The Cincinnati Bengals could use a receiver to fill the Marvin Jones-Mohammad Sanu void left after free agency. And with at least one of Corey Coleman, Michael Thomas or Josh Doctson likely to be available, the Bengals should have options at No. 24.
But the Bengals have been known to stick to their best-player-available model and have had great success in developing pass-rushers. While it’s not a major need, the Bengals have had defensive success by stockpiling defensive linemen and cornerbacks and always being prepared for defensive injuries. Dodd is a top-25 talent, and the Bengals can address the receiver position numerous times after this.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Left tackle and cornerback remain issues for the Pittsburgh Steelers' long term after free agency, and they’d be wise to add a top offensive tackle prospect should one fall to pick No. 25. Taylor Decker is on the same level of Ronnie Stanley, Jason Spriggs and Jack Conklin, and he would be a great value and a potential plug-and-play starter.
If Decker is gone, the Steelers should be in the market for a top cornerback, and Mackensie Alexander of Clemson and William Jackson III of Houston would be great fits. Offensive tackle and cornerback are their two most glaring needs, and the Steelers should address both in the first three rounds.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
After losing Russell Okung to the Denver Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks would love to add a top left tackle prospect, and don't be surprised if they moved up to secure one if Ronnie Stanley, Jason Spriggs or Taylor Decker slips. If none do and the Seahawks would rather not reach on Le’Raven Clark of Texas Tech or Germain Ifedi of Texas A&M, they’d be better off keeping their defensive line a strength.
Chris Jones is a high-upside defensive tackle with awesome length, bend and lateral quickness, and he's raw enough to be groomed as a defensive end or tackle. And after testing well at the combine, he should fit the Seahawks' preference for high-level athletes.
27. Green Bay Packers: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
After B.J. Raji’s retirement and the team's lackluster drafting at the position in recent years, the Green Bay Packers are in desperate need of defensive linemen—both starters and depth options. While they’ll likely target more than one front-three player in the 2016 draft, adding a top talent in Round 1 would be wise.
A’Shawn Robinson played every defensive line spot in 2015 for the Crimson Tide, and his outstanding knee bend for a 6'4" defensive tackle displays his pass-rushing promise in time. Set to be just a 21-year-old rookie, Robinson would be a steal at 27th overall and offers some of the highest upside of any defensive player in the 2016 class.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
The Kansas City Chiefs made it out like bandits when they stole Marcus Peters in the middle of Round 1 a year ago and secured one of the NFL’s best young cornerbacks for the long haul. But after suffering through poor play opposite Peters and letting Sean Smith walk in free agency, the Chiefs have a gaping need opposite him.
Mackensie Alexander is a raw cornerback with lackluster footwork and overly aggressive hand usage, but he offers elite hip fluidity and turn-and-run speed to match up with any type of receiver. He’ll need time to develop, but he should be able to offer top-flight slot-coverage skills and outside starter capability in time.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Noah Spence, OLB, Eastern Kentucky
After trading for Chandler Jones, the Arizona Cardinals don’t have as glaring of a need at pass-rusher that they’d need to reach or trade up in Round 1. That said, the Cardinals still need pass-rushing support, as they struggled mightily in this department a year ago.
Noah Spence is a top-10 talent in the 2016 class who will likely drop due to his drug-using past and not fitting every defense as exclusively a pass-rusher. The Cardinals shouldn’t be averse to character-concerning prospects, and Spence offers the type of near-elite talent that Tyrann Mathieu gave to this team as a third-rounder three years ago.
30. Carolina Panthers: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
The Carolina Panthers secondary was an area of strength in 2015 led by Josh Norman and worked well as a unit, particularly in the team's playoff run. But the unit doesn’t boast great depth or long-term stability, and the team would be wise to invest in running mates for Norman for the future.
William Jackson III is a long, lean, press-coverage cornerback who’s built the part of an NFL starter and just needs a little refinement before he can take the field opposite Norman. If not cornerback, defensive end or running back may be options for the Panthers.
31. Denver Broncos: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
As of now, the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback is Mark Sanchez without any developmental option behind him. While Denver’s supporting cast is enough to get Sanchez back to the playoffs, it’s difficult to believe the Broncos don’t covet a young quarterback option behind him.
While Christian Hackenberg is often discouraged as a first-round option, his physical build and mental development as a freshman under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien should make him tough to pass on as a first-round option. Plus, thanks to his mobility and vertical arm talent, he should be a great fit for head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense.