2016 NFL Mock Draft: Mike Tanier's Final Predictions

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 25, 2016

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Mike Tanier's Final Predictions

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    Remember Saturdays last autumn, when we were thrilled by the exploits of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz and wondered which NFL teams would select them first and second overall in the 2016 draft? 

    Wait...that never happened. Goff had a great final season, but the Golden Bears went 8-5, went on a four-game losing streak once their conference schedule heated up and played a Tuesday afternoon bowl game in late December. You had to be a pretty dedicated Pac-12 fan to seek out Cal each week.

    As for Wentz, you may have heard his name for the first time when Mike Mayock began comparing him to a cross between Andrew Luck and Alexander the Great in January. The North Dakota State Bison only played on television during the FCS playoffs and are usually shunted onto the stations that don't even broadcast in high-def yet.

    If your household is like mine, attempts to watch Wentz last autumn were met with "You are watching North Dakota State? Go clean the leaves out of the gutters!" Also, Wentz was hurt for the latter part of the season.

    So how did we get to now? Goff and Wentz lit up the predraft process: great workouts, great interviews, great combine performances, great Senior Bowl practices for Wentz. The Rams and Eagles saw a lot they liked in Goff and Wentz and a lot they didn't like about the rest of the quarterback class. The Titans and Browns saw some motivated buyers for the top two picks.

    Suddenly, two quarterbacks you felt pretty good about (at best) have become a pair of quarterbacks you are supposed to feel great about.

    The following mock draft mixes scouting, scuttlebutt, an intimate knowledge of several front offices, a passing knowledge of several other front offices and lots of hunches into a series of predictions that are guaranteed to start off accurate. (Unless the Rams take Wentz; wouldn't that be a trip?) I try to determine who each team will select until late in the first round, where I make some helpful suggestions. I even throw in a few surprises along the way, because there is no such thing as a third round without surprises.

    Enjoy the mock draft. By Friday, this will all be meaningless. But just think of how meaningless everything we thought we knew last autumn turned out to be.

1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, Quarterback, California

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    The Titans’ effort to trade the first overall pick was taking on a creepy, Glengarry Glen Ross-like desperation by mid-April. “You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this unique opportunity,” they shouted to anyone who was listening, their cheap suits drenched in flop sweat.

    Then along came a little old team from Pasadena, wandering onto the lot with a checkbook in its hand. “We need a quarterback, and we need it last year,” the Rams said. Suddenly, Titans general manager Jon “The Machine” Robinson was on top of the closer’s board.

    Goff has all the makings of a high-quality NFL starter. Whether he looks like a franchise or elite quarterback depends on your definitions of those loaded words. Questions of whether he fits the Rams system assume that the Rams have a system worth fitting. Rams coordinators have been calling plays as if they were ashamed of their quarterbacks for years.

    Sam Bradford spent 2013 throwing shallow drag passes before getting hurt. Nick Foles—a former Pro Bowler the Rams acquired in a major trade—handed off, threw screens to Tavon Austin and absorbed hits. As evidenced by the work of Case Keenum, Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis and a host of others, the Rams don't have an outstanding track record of making the most of their quarterback talent.

    Goff gets Todd Gurley, Austin, a defense that can win games for him, mammoth expectations, a brutal division, the unpredictable stresses of a franchise move and an organization that may be its own worst quarterback-developing enemy. He's a good prospect. He had better be great.

2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State

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    The draftinistas on Twitter, like the Rams, prefer Goff to Wentz. The draftinistas on Twitter also love to blab about footwork and release points to prove how much they know about football. Goff wins the throwing mechanics beauty pageant as well as the short accuracy competition. Wentz is bigger, stronger, faster and can effortlessly throw bombs and deep sideline passes that Goff will never be able to consistently execute.

    Wentz has correctable flaws. Goff has limits. If you are moving to a new stadium and need a name to write on the season-ticket letter that is not "Case Keenum," Goff is the best short-term solution.

    If you just overpaid Sam Bradford to babysit (let's see, we went to see Elvis v. Nixon: Dawn of Rhinestones, then to Chili's, so we were gone three hours. Is $750 enough?) and have the infrastructure to develop a quarterback (an offensive-minded head coach in his first season, not a defensive coach who has been one player away for a presidential term), Wentz is the guy who makes the giant leap forward in 2017.

    If the Rams decide on Wentz and leave the Eagles trying to convince Philly they preferred Goff all along, it's not the end of either world. In Wentz, Fisher gets another Steve McNair, a small-school, high-effort arm talent who could put up amazing-for-a-Fisher-quarterback statistics, like 3,200 yards and 24 touchdowns. Doug Peterson would get a more precise short passer in the Alex Smith mode.

    So there is logic in picking Goff and Wentz in either order. There's also extreme illogic in trading lawn-'n'-leaf bags full of draft picks to get either of these B-plus/A-minus prospects. But what's done is done.

3. San Diego Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss

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    The Chargers are the biggest beneficiaries of the Rams-Titans and Eagles-Browns trades. Except for the Titans and Browns, who are going to have to hold their rookie minicamps in a convention center for the next two years. And Goff and Wentz, who can wipe their brows and relax knowing that neither of them are headed to the Browns.

    And the Rams and Eagles will at least get quarterbacks they like, even though they paid sticker price, plus the extended warranty and extra for the weather-protection paint finish.

    Come to think of it, everyone's a winner!

    Where were we? Oh yeah. The Chargers are among the biggest beneficiaries of the Rams-Titans and Eagles-Browns trade. There's nothing better than sitting near the top of the draft board with a franchise quarterback on the roster. The Chargers can sit back and draft this year's Best Player Available™.

    Tunsil will battle King Dunlap for a starting job as a rookie, but as soon as Dunlap’s cap number balloons to over $8 million next season, Tunsil can take over and anchor left tackle for a decade. The Chargers suffered through 11 games with Chris Hairston starting for the injured Dunlap last season, so Tunsil even makes sense in the short term.

    If you would prefer to see the Chargers select Jalen Ramsey or Joey Bosa here, you will get no arguments. Now that quarterbacks are guaranteed to go 1-2, the next five teams will be picking and grinning.

    Second Round (35): Ryan Kelly, center, Alabama.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State

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    It's about time the Cowboys drafted a real defensive end to fill their need at defensive end instead trying to assemble a Suicide Squad out of undersized projects and troublemakers.

    The Cowboys haven’t drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since Anthony Spencer in 2007. Recent forays into the rummage bin have been unimpressive.

    DeMarcus Lawrence (second round, 2014) has played well but was just slapped with a four-game suspension. Randy Gregory is also suspended and is starting to look like a long shot. Tyrone Crawford (third round, 2012) took a step backward last year after a breakthrough season in 2014, Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton were just rentals in recent years and the less said about that other guy, the better.

    Once Lawrence returns, he and Bosa will join free agent signee Cedric Thornton and Crawford on the inside, giving the Cowboys their best defensive line since the heyday of Spencer, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.

    Actually drafting great prospects at positions of extreme need: a Cowboys tradition on the defensive line since last Wednesday.

    Second Round (34): Derrick Henry, running back, Alabama

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, Defensive Back, Florida State

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    Jalen Ramsey, the best defensive back prospect since Charles Woodson, falling to the Jaguars? There’s no way the Jaguars can have this kind of good luck. There has to be a catch.

    Maybe Ramsey will decide that he doesn't want to stay in Florida because he doesn't like beautiful weather, lively cities and favorable tax rates. Maybe his knees will burst into flames five minutes into the first Jaguars minicamp. Maybe the Titans or Browns will package some of those extra picks they got from the Rams/Eagles, trade up with the Cowboys and nab Ramsey while he is still on the board.

    Oooh, that last scenario is a little too plausible. Let’s finish this slide before anyone gets any ideas.

    The Jaguars ranked 25th in the NFL at defending opponents’ No. 1 receivers last year, according to Football Outsiders. They ranked 24th against No. 2 receivers, 26th against other receivers and 28th against tight ends.

    Even after signing Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamara in free agency, the Jaguars need more cornerbacks and safeties. Ramsey is a cornerback and a safety, so he’s perfect. The Jaguars can draft him and fuss about his precise role once he’s in pads.

    The Amukamara and Gipson signings give the Jaguars flexibility here. If Ramsey is gone, Bosa and DeForest Buckner are solid choices. If Tunsil somehow drops, there is room for him on the offensive line; Luke Joeckel hasn't exactly morphed into Tony Boselli. The Jaguars can’t really lose.

    Wait, did I just type that? This is turning in to one strange mock draft.

    Second Round (38): Jason Spriggs, offensive tackle, Indiana

6. Baltimore Ravens: DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon

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    The Baltimore Ravens have only selected among the top 10 picks in the draft eight times in their history. Here is who they selected:

    • Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle, fourth overall, 1997: Hall of Famer.
    • Peter Boulware, pass-rusher, fourth overall, 1997: four-time Pro Bowler.
    • Duane Starks, cornerback, 10th overall, 1998: five-year starter, six interceptions for a Super Bowl winner.
    • Chris McAlister, cornerback, 10th overall, 1999: three-time Pro Bowler
    • Jamal Lewis, running back, fifth overall, 2000: 10,607 career rushing yards.
    • Travis Taylor, wide receiver, 10th overall, 2000: the bust of the bunch, though he started for a few years.
    • Terrell Suggs, pass-rusher, 10th overall, 203: six-time Pro Bowler with 106.5 career sacks.

    The Ravens also drafted Haloti Ngata 12th overall in 2006 (five-time Pro Bowler). They have the early part of the first round down pat, which is a big reason (along with their ability to sift through supplemental picks for buried treasure) why the Ravens are rarely at the top of the first round in the first place.

    DeForest Buckner is a worthy addition to the list above, a natural 3-4 defensive end who fits the Ravens scheme and can both make plays and cause the kind of blocking disruption that allows others to make plays.

    The Ravens defensive line currently consists of a mix of draft-and-develop types and budget acquisitions: Brandon Williams is excellent, Timmy Jernigan is pretty good and reserves like Carl Davis, Brent Urban and Lawrence Guy are adequate. Plop Buckner next to Williams and Jernigan, rotate the others in to keep everyone fresh and watch the Ravens defense start to look like the Ravens defense again.

    Second Round (36): Taylor Decker, offensive tackle, Ohio State.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Hargreaves, Cornerback, Florida

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    Who knows what Chip Kelly, Trent Baalke and Jed York are capable of when they try to work together? They could draft a quarterback. They could draft for defense. They could build a hovercraft. They could duct-tape some leaf blowers to the bottom of a warehouse palette and claim it’s a hovercraft, then spend weeks trying to make you feel stupid for thinking it isn’t a hovercraft.

    Paxton Lynch is a sexy choice here in many mock drafts. Kelly and Colin Kaepernick are only staying together for the sake of the children at this point, and everyone knows that when quarterbacks are drafted first and second overall, the No. 3 guy automatically rises from developmental mid-round size/arm prospect to consolation prize franchise savior.

    But there is one thing Kelly will never, ever do: follow the throng. If he thinks everyone thinks he is going to draft a quarterback, then the last thing he will do is draft a quarterback. (And if you think he is going to draft a mobile quarterback who fits his system...well, you would like that, wouldn't you?) Never fight a land war in Asia, and never go in against Kelly when quarterbacks are on the line.

    Vernon Hargreaves brings talent, playmaking ability and an intense attitude to the back end of the defense, where talent is scarce and safety Jimmie Ward played out of position at cornerback much of last season. He's a building block for a team that needs building blocks almost everywhere. He is a safe, sensible pick. And yes, Baalke and Kelly sometimes do safe, sensible things.

    Second Round (37): Emmanuel Ogbah, pass-rusher, UCLA

8. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State

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    Here’s what Ezekiel Elliott gives the Browns:

    • A position of strength. Elliott and Duke Johnson would make an excellent thunder/lightning tandem in the backfield, especially because Elliott is fast and can catch and Johnson is solid enough to run between the tackles now and then. Hue Jackson could mix and match the running backs without tipping obvious tendencies. Johnson could even line up in the slot at times! Jackson could plug some old Bengals Gio Bernard/Jeremy Hill concepts right into Browns game plans.
    • An offensive identity. With Elliott and Robert Griffin in the backfield, the Browns instantly become a running-and-rollouts team. Griffin can mix in a few options, the little speedsters in the receiving corps (Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel) add a bubble screen threat and defenses know they must respect the run as well as all of the misdirection options to the outside. Jackson has a signature series of plays to build from if the Browns select Elliott.
    • An RG3 boiling chip. Elliott is a local hero who will attract attention away from Griffin. That will keep Griffin from collapsing into a quantum fame singularity.

    So Elliott makes a lot of sense for the Browns. He also makes a lot of sense for the Dolphins, who may be willing to trade up. Collecting so many draft picks that they can just pitch a pup tent next to the podium (to share with the Titans) could be the latest Browns master plan, so stay tuned.

    Second Round (32): Kevin Dodd, defensive end, Clemson

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Andrew Billings, Defensive Tackle, Baylor

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    I have Andrew Billings rated higher than most draft analysts. Billings is huge, incredibly quick and athletic, has decent technique and isn’t even 21 years old yet. Teach him a few pointers and let him build up some man muscle, and he could be a bigger version of Aaron Donald.

    The Buccaneers currently project an Akeem Spence/Clinton McDonald platoon next to Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle. It’s a solid combination but not a great one. Throw Billings into the rotation, and the Buccaneers will quickly develop one of the best interior defensive lines in the NFL.

    The edge pass rush could still use a boost, but William Gholston and newcomer Robert Ayers will look much better when they never face a double-team.

    Second Round (39): Kendall Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech

10. New York Giants: Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA

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    Upon the selection of one of the nation’s best linebacker prospects of the past decade, Giants fans burst out in spontaneous celebration from Piscataway, New Jersey, to Times Square to New Rochelle.

    Actually, this probably will not happen. Either Myles Jack will get snapped up by a team like the 49ers or Buccaneers, or the Giants will decide to pass on Jack as part of their never-ending quest to prove they can win with ordinary-to-awful linebackers.

    The Giants have not drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. They have drafted just two linebackers in the first three rounds since 1997: Gerris Wilkinson in 2006 and Clint Sintim in 2009. Those two players combined for eight career starts. The only linebacker the Giants have drafted since 2011 was Devon Kennard, a fifth-round pick in 2014 who was a defensive end in college.

    The Giants spent money freely all over their defense this offseason in a rare burst of organizational urgency. Yet their big acquisition at linebacker was Keenan Robinson, signed to a one-year deal after losing his starting job in Washington last season.

    The rest of the linebacker corps is filled out by guys who cannot cover (Kennard, Jasper Brinkley), guys who can’t stay healthy (J.T. Thomas), guys who aren’t that great at anything (Jonathan Casillas) and guys named Uani 'Unga.

    Jack is an exceptional value and immediate upgrade at a need position. He’ll be too good to pass up if he is still on the board. Somehow, the Giants will find a way.

    Second Round (40): Cody Whitehair, guard, Kansas State

11. Chicago Bears: Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame

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    It’s hard to get a sense of the Bears’ long-range plan. Are they aggressively cutting salary and rebuilding? If so, what are guys like Antrel Rolle and Lamarr Houston still doing on the roster? If they are trying to win during the Jay Cutler opportunity window, shouldn’t they be more aggressive? Last year’s draft class looked solid, but are they sold on Kevin White stepping right in as the No. 2 wide receiver?

    The Bears have needs at positions that are better addressed in later rounds in this draft: safety, interior offensive line, tight end. They are not helplessly weak at any one spot, but they lack a position of overwhelming strength. So, Best Available Athlete™ it is!

    Ronnie Stanley can anchor left tackle, allowing Kyle Long to stay on the right side, and free-agent acquisition Bobby Massie can slide to one of the guard positions. Stanley essentially upgrades two positions with one pick. That should help the Bears in the short term, the long term or whatever term they are working toward.

    Second Round (41): Kenny Clark, defensive tackle, UCLA

12. New Orleans Saints: Mackensie Alexander, Cornerback, Clemson

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    The Saints fielded the worst defense in the NFL last year: last in points allowed (29.8), 31st in yards allowed (413.4), last in Football Outsiders DVOA. Yet they made only minor defensive changes in free agency, signing defensive tackle Nick Fairley and letting Brandon Browner grab hold of the nearest wide receiver for a ride back to Seattle.

    Sure, coordinator Rob Ryan was the source of many of the woes; the Saints defense will be much better when everyone isn’t looking to the sidelines and shrugging their shoulders before the snap. And cap constraints keep the Saints from doing much in free agency, because the front office hasn’t quite figured out the contract renegotiation concept.

    The bottom line is that the Saints need bodies on defense, particularly at cornerback, where Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux are the projected starters.

    Mackensie Alexander is famous for having never intercepted a pass in college. That’s because quarterbacks never challenged him. According to Pro Football Focus, opponents threw just 57 passes to his receivers last year, and he allowed just 19 completions. You can’t intercept what never arrives in your general direction.

    Alexander will intercept some passes once he gets to the NFL. And the Saints will enjoy having a cornerback who does more with his hands than commit pass interference.

    Second Round (47): Jonathan Bullard, defensive end, Florida

13. Miami Dolphins: Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State

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    If Elliott is available in this space, he’s a no-brainer for the Dolphins, whose current backfield looks like it was culled from the rosters of the last four Shrine Games.

    If Elliott is still around after the Browns pick, the Dolphins should call the Buccaneers about trading up. They need to be careful about what they offer, though, because the Dolphins have a bad habit of spending a dollar to purchase three shiny new quarters. If they were to trade, say, Cameron Wake to move up and select a running back, it would be one of the most uniquely Dolphins-like let’s-paddle-the-canoe-in-a-circle moves ever.

    All of this is moot in this mock draft, which is a no-trade zone. So let’s help the Dolphins actually get better at a position instead of doing typical Dolphins stuff like letting quality free agents walk so they can acquire similar free agents with more baggage.

    Darron Lee is the coverage linebacker the Dolphins need on the weak side. Team him with Koa Misi (more of a downhill type) and Kiko Alonso (injury-plagued Chip Kelly vaporware), and the Dolphins have an upgraded linebacker corps behind their zillion-dollar defensive line.

    There are no running backs as good as Elliott available in the later rounds. But there are plenty of running backs better than Jay Ajayi and Isaiah Pead available in later rounds.

    Second Round (42): Germain Ifedi, offensive tackle, Texas A&M

14. Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama

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    Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. have everything they need to compete for the AFC West crown except a Jack Del Rio or a Ken Norton Jr.

    Yes, they have Khalil Mack, a marauder off the edge and one of the top five defenders in the NFL. But Mack is too busy sacking quarterbacks to play all three linebacker positions. Del Rio and Norton need someone more like themselves: a tone-setting, signal-calling, all-purpose middle linebacker.

    Ragland is the perfect choice: a gap-plugging, run-stuffing, high-IQ defender. Once Ragland gets acclimated to the NFL, he’ll be able to make the defensive adjustments like an extension of Del Rio and Norton’s minds on the field.

    Ragland does not project as a good coverage linebacker against running backs and tight ends. But guess what? Running backs and tight ends won’t be going out for many passes against the Raiders. They’ll be trying to block Mack, Mario Edwards and sometimes Ragland on the A-gap blitz!

    So don’t worry about the role Ragland will play on 3rd-and-20. Just imagine how often the opponents will be in 3rd-and-20 with Ragland in the middle of the rebuilt Raiders defense.

    Second Round (44): Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Mississippi State

15. Tennessee Titans: Vernon Butler, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Tech

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    The Titans almost have too many picks in the first three rounds. If they are not careful, they could fritter the whole draft away, like someone wasting a week’s vacation on Netflix, then trying to cram both golf and yard work into a rainy Sunday afternoon.

    Depth at defensive tackle? Heck, that will be there in the second round. Upgrades in the secondary? We’ll grab a couple of guys in the third round. Increased competition at wide receiver? Heck, we have extra picks next year, too. What about the first-round pick? Just grab a dude! We’re playing with the house’s money! WE CANNOT POSSIBLY FAIL.

    After watching the new brain trust pluck DeMarco Murray from the Chip Kelly Estate Sale and steal the Rams’ lunch money, I have a feeling the Titans are going to be just fine.

    All of those extra picks give the Titans the luxury of being aggressive. They can incur a little risk on a high-upside player, knowing that they can grab an entire rank-and-file supporting cast on Friday night. Vernon Butler is just one of many great defensive tackles in this year’s class, and while some may be more prepared to start immediately, Butler might have the most potential.

    Butler is also a good system fit. At 323 pounds, he can plug the middle and draw blockers away from Jurrell Casey. He’s quick and effective enough as a pass-rusher to be a load as a two-gap defensive end as well.

    Butler has Mo Wilkerson upside. He and Casey would immediately give the Titans one of the best 3-4 defensive fronts in the league. And once the Titans draft him, they can get to bed early for a good night’s sleep, because their Friday night is going to be cra-zy.

    Second Round (33): Will Fuller, wide receiver, Notre Dame

    Second Round (43): Kamalei Correa, outside linebacker, Boise State

    Second Round (45): Nick Martin, center, Notre Dame

16. Detroit Lions: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville

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    Ndamukong Suh was a heck of a defender. But did it really take eight people to replace him?

    The Lions rotated eight different players at defensive tackle last season. The result: 1,808 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns allowed. Ngata still plays at a high level, but he is 32 years old, and the injuries are getting ready to gang up on him. Everyone else in the Lions’ eight-piece horn section of an interior line is a role player.

    Sheldon Rankins looked like the Tasmanian Devil at the Senior Bowl. Put him next to Ngata and the Lions have a natural penetrating 3-tech tackle and a veteran double-team muncher. Caraun Reid and Tyrunn Walker can slide into situational roles, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin won’t have to reach deep into the bullpen quite as often.

    Second Round (46): Darian Thompson, safety, Boise State

17. Atlanta Falcons: Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss

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    Laquon Treadwell will make a great complementary receiver to Julio Jones. He may lack top-end speed, but the Ole Miss product is a big target with great hands and is an exceptional blocker.

    Wait a minute…Falcons fans are having a flashback…big possession receiver…first-round pick…lacks separation…Great blocking receiver…Great blocking receiver???

    Is Treadwell the second coming of…Michael Jenkins?

    Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no…

    For those of you not breaking out in a cold sweat right now, Jenkins was the Falcons’ first-round pick in 2004. He was a fixture of the offense for six years, usually catching about 50 passes for 650 yards or so on 80 targets. Whenever anyone would point out that Jenkins was a little lacking in the productivity department, Falcons coaches would rave about his blocking, which is exactly like talking up a blind date’s personality.

    Maybe the Falcons should select Josh Doctson instead.

    Fear not, Falcons faithful. Treadwell is more dynamic than Jenkins (who wasn’t that bad, really) and is a great fit as an intermediate target. The Falcons spent a lot of money—a surprising, confusing amount of money—on Mohamed Sanu, but teams need three starting-caliber receivers these days, and the Falcons only had one last year after Roddy White faded.

    Second Round (50): Hunter Henry, tight end, Arkansas

18. Indianapolis Colts: Noah Spence, Pass-Rusher, Eastern Kentucky

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    In reference to this draft, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said the team must “really knock this out of the park.”

    Oh, good, the man who brought you Trent Richardson, Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner is ready to take some wicked uppercuts and swing for the fences. You can almost picture Grigson corkscrewing at the plate like a mediocre slugger chasing a slider, can’t you?

    Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin was the Colts’ original selection in this mock draft: a safe, high-percentage choice who would settle the offensive line and keep Andrew Luck and his poor backups from getting treated like those punk rockers in the Green Room again this year. But now that Grigson is channeling Adam Dunn, Noah Spence is a more likely pick. Spence can learn from Robert Mathis and Trent Cole while finally ridding Indiana from the scourge of Walden.

    Grigson has whiffed a lot over the last three years, but he knows what to do with a high fastball, like the first pick in a draft headlined by Luck. Maybe Spence, who has electrifying talent and competitiveness and appears to have put a troubled past behind him, is just the belt-high fat one Grigson has been waiting for.

    Then again, Grigson said in the same press conference that he doesn't want to incur a lot of risk, causing many mock drafters to take Spence off the Colts board in favor of Conklin or some other tackle. That Grigson is a one-man smokescreen. Let's hope he's not just confusing himself.

    Second Round (48): Sean Davis, cornerback, Maryland

19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson

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    This pick is so obvious and banal that writing the rest of the slide feels like filler. To summarize:

    • Rex Ryan’s son plays for Clemson. Rex Ryan loves Clemson. Rex Ryan would hire Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney in a heartbeat if Swinney needed a job and Rob Ryan didn’t because of some Freaky Friday competence-switcheroo.
    • Shaq Lawson is a Rex Ryan type of player: a huge, super-athletic and aggressive pass-rusher who lacks refinement and polish. After two years with the Ryan twins, Lawson will be just as athletic, even more aggressive and will still lack refinement and polish.
    • The Bills somehow only recorded 21 sacks last year despite fielding a front four with the kind of talent defensive coaches dream about when they drift off in front of a roaring fire. They lost Mario Williams in the offseason in a dispute over whether Williams should try hard if he doesn’t like his exact position on the field. So there’s a need.

    Lawson could be gone by the time the Bills are on the clock, of course. That would leave Rex Ryan without a Rex Ryan-like player to select.

    Oh well, there’s always Robert Nkemdiche.

    Second Round (49): Connor Cook, quarterback, Michigan State.

20. New York Jets: William Jackson III, Cornerback, Houston

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    The Jets are not going to solve their quarterback problem with this pick, even if Paxton Lynch is available. Lynch isn't the answer, and reaching for Christian Hackenberg or Cook would just be silly. Any rookie quarterback will just leech practice reps from second-year quarterback Bryce Petty while Geno Smith slinks around trying not to say or do anything that gets him punched.

    Whether the Jets sign Brian Hoyer or convince Ryan Fitzpatrick to come crawling back, they need a veteran caretaker to keep them competitive while they figure out how they got into this quarterback mess in the first place.

    The Jets could use D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s retirement as a hint that it’s time to start getting younger on the offensive line, as they have only drafted three linemen in the first four rounds since selecting Ferguson and Mangold in 2006. But William Jackson III is a great player at a position of need.

    Think of Jackson as a younger, cheaper, less eccentric Antonio Cromartiea talented ball hawk who will get burned by a big mistake every now and then. Unlike Cromartie, the Houston product should grow out of many of those mistakes. Jackson should be ready to take on No. 1 cornerback responsibilities as soon as Darrelle Revis decides his money mountain needs to be a few feet taller, which should happen any day now.

    A great secondary, but no quarterback? That’s Jets football, baby!

    Second Round (51): Joshua Garnett, guard, Stanford

21. Washington Redskins: A'Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

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    Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher are gone. Newcomer Kendall Reyes is a situational rotation lineman. The Redskins are loaded with journeymen on their defensive front: Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, Ricky Jean-Francois.

    Let’s boost the talent level on the Washington line. A'Shawn Robinson just turned 21 and is so huge and sculpted that he looks like one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s a block of concrete on wheels on the interior defensive line. Coordinator Joe Barry can shuffle him all around, mixing and matching him with Stephen Paea, Reyes and Golston to keep blockers away from his pass-rushing linebackers.

    This isn't a flashy pick. But this franchise is usually at its best when it's at its least flashy. And yes, that's why fans felt that strange dull ache in their bellies while celebrating the Josh Norman signing.

    Second Round (53): Michael Thomas, wide receiver, Ohio State

22. Houston Texans: Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, Texas Christian

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Texans’ goal this offseason is to switch places with the Broncos so they can win the Super Bowl. Brock Osweiler gives them a quarterback good enough to win big games with the help of a great defense. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Co. match up well with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and friends in Denver. Lamar Miller is the new C.J. Anderson. DeAndre Hopkins is Demaryius Thomas, only better.

    Wait a minute…the Texans are missing an Emmanuel Sanders!

    Corey Coleman actually resembles Sanders more than Josh Doctson does. Coleman would also be a fine pick here, especially if Doctson is off the board. But the latter is a better all-purpose threat than the former. He can be a deep jump-ball target for Osweiler when defenses focus on Hopkins. He has the size to work underneath and in traffic.

    Osweiler launching bombs and deep outs to Hopkins and Doctson: What an exciting thought! We’ve come a long way from needing the Cecil Shorts Wildcat to distract defenses from the fact that T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden were taking snaps. Look out, AFC.

    Second Round (52): Braxton Miller, wide receiver, Ohio State.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Su'a Cravens, Linebacker, USC

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Chad Greenway was a great linebacker for many years and has always been a great teammate and leader. His play started to slip about three years ago, however. The Vikings kept him in the lineup despite the fact that he went from one step to two steps too slow in coverage and pursuit.

    Greenway took a pay cut during a contract restructuring and knows that competition is coming. Free-agent arrival Emmanuel Lamur is more of a multiposition reserve than a replacement. The Vikings need a classic weak-side linebacker who can play in space while Eric Kendricks develops in the middle and Anthony Barr concentrates on his downhill game off the edge.

    Su'a Cravens is a linebacker-safety ‘tweener, the kind of defender we used to claim was too slow for one position but too small for the other in scouting reports. That was before offenses starting passing 45 times per game and defenses started leaving the locker room in their nickel package.

    At 225 pounds, Cravens is meaty enough to play weak-side linebacker. He played a hybrid safety role at USC and has lots of coverage experience. And he will have one of the best teachers in the world in the meeting room in Greenway.

    Cravens is a good value here and an excellent missing piece for a team nudging its way into the Super Bowl picture.

    Second Round (54): Artie Burns, cornerback, Miami (FL)

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Leonard Floyd, Linebacker, Georgia

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    Brett Davis/Associated Press

    There are many reasons for Bengals fans to love this pick:

    • The Bengals need an impact pass-rusher off the blitz. Leonard Floyd can be that player.
    • The Bengals need an upgrade at strong-side linebacker and an influx of new defensive talent to replace some free-agent departures. Floyd provides both.
    • The Bengals need a contingency plan for a Vontaze Burfict suspension and someone who can set a tone at linebacker without starting a global military conflict. Floyd can be that guy.

    But there is one big reason for Bengals fans to love this pick.

    The Steelers love to draft linebackers in the first round. Ben Roethlisberger could announce his retirement to start an alpaca farm tomorrow, and the Steelers would still want to draft Leonard Floyd.

    Too bad, Steelers. The Bengals got here first. Because you beat them in the playoffs. But hey, whatever.

    Second Round (55): T.J. Green, safety, Clemson

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarran Reed, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    In the previous slide, the Bengals selected Floyd, robbing Pittsburgh of an opportunity to draft yet another linebacker. The Steelers have responded to critical needs in the secondary and on the offensive line in recent years by drafting a linebacker (Jarvis Jones, 2013), a linebacker (Ryan Shazier, 2014) and a linebacker (Bud Dupree, 2015) in the first round.

    Apparently, the Steelers think all problems can be solved by adding linebackers the way Fast & Furious characters think all problems can be solved by driving faster.

    The Bengals may think they put one over on the Steelers, but they actually saved their archrivals from themselves! With Floyd off the board, Pittsburgh can dip into this year’s deep defensive tackle draft to fill a glaring need.

    Last July, Pittsburgh extended Cameron Heyward’s contract through 2020, which was an exceptional, Steelers-like move. Stephon Tuitt has developed into a surprising pass-rusher at the other defensive end position. Now, who plays between them? Brett Keisel, right? What? He retired last year? Why didn’t the Steelers replace him? Oh yeah, they were too busy drafting more linebackers.

    The Steelers used a rotation of Steve McLendon and some warm bodies at nose tackle last season. They also kept Heyward and Tuitt on the field too long, as 3-4 linemen shouldn’t play 60 to 70 snaps per game week after week. Put Jarran Reed in the rotation and the Steelers get someone who can rotate with the ends for some breathers.

    Don’t worry, Steelers. There are six rounds to go and plenty of linebackers in this draft class!

    Second Round (58): Shilique Calhoun, pass-rusher, Michigan State

26. Seattle Seahawks: Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    The Seahawks need to take the best available offensive lineman in the first round.

    The Seahawks need to take the best available offensive lineman in the second round.

    The Seahawks have nine total picks. If they draft nine offensive linemen, that will not be extreme or excessive.

    The Seahawks must be banned from drafting defensive linemen, tight ends, small forwards or firefighters and trying to convert them into offensive linemen, even if it takes government intervention.

    If the Seahawks plan to draft a non-offensive lineman at any time before Day 3, team owner Paul Allen should seize remote control of general manager John Schneider’s computer and replace the draft board with a blue screen of death that reads: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

    Jack Conklin is the best offensive lineman on the board. The Seahawks should draft him. ‘Nuff said.

    (Paid for by The Committee That Loves Watching Russell Wilson Make Miraculous Plays but Worries That He Will Get Disemboweled by a Defense Someday If He Doesn’t Get Some Protection.)

    Second Round (56): Shon Coleman, offensive lineman, Auburn

27. Green Bay Packers: Kenneth Dixon, Running Back, Louisiana Tech

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    Parker Waters/Associated Press

    This pick may look like a reach, but it’s really a plea.

    Watching the Packers running game is like watching a team of oxen plow an alfalfa field at one of those old-timey “Living History” farms you were forced to visit on your fourth-grade class trip.

    Eddie Lacy might be a different back when he’s not stopping for donuts after three yards, and James Starks is a fine changeup back if your idea of a thrill is medium salsa. But Aaron Rodgers really needs some playmaking sizzle in the backfield, and he shouldn’t have to turn to Randall Cobb to provide it.

    Kenneth Dixon is the best receiver out of the backfield in this year’s draft class. He’s also an effective outside runner with a quick burst and a no-nonsense style. Dixon is a Warrick Dunn type: give him 10 to 15 touches per game, and your whole offense looks quicker and more dynamic.

    Will the Packers select Dixon? Probably not, as it goes against their tortoise-beats-hare management style. But should they? Imagine Rodgers dumping the ball to a running back in space after a play breaks down and getting more than six yards out of it. It’s an element that the Packers have lacked for years, one that could put them over the top with a healthier offense this year.

    Second Round (57): Kentrell Brothers, linebacker, Missouri

28. Kansas City Chiefs: Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Jeremy Maclin in 2015: 87 catches, 1,088 yards, eight touchdowns.

    All other Chiefs receivers combined in 2015: 84 catches, 909 yards, four touchdowns. And that’s counting slot receiver-running back De’Anthony Thomas as a wide receiver.

    Andy Reid’s offense theoretically has a role for a small, speedy receiver who can stretch the field deep and make things happen on short slant-and-go-type plays. That was Maclin’s job in Philly before he reunited with Reid and had to become three receivers rolled into one. It’s a great role for Corey Coleman, a quick and slippery wideout who can do big things with short receptions.

    This selection makes so much sense that it will never happen.

    Second Round (59): Keanu Neal, safety, Florida

29. Arizona Cardinals: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images


    First, go back and watch Carson Palmer in the playoffs. Yuck. Cardinals fans should recognize that meltdown. Jake Delhomme had a similar meltdown against Arizona when he was the Panthers quarterback in 2008.

    Palmer is at the age when little injuries start to linger and a small loss of quickness or throwing velocity snowballs into a big jump in turnovers. The 36-year-old may not be finished yet (and he’s been written off more times than business lunches), but the clock started ticking in late December.

    Now, look at the Cardinals’ quarterback depth chart. Drew Stanton is not a quarterback of the future. Matt Barkley is roster filler. The Cardinals drafted Logan Thomas two years ago but quickly realized that he was a big, smart, likable guy with a fire hose for an arm. Head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim clearly like size-speed specimens at quarterback (no matter what the throws themselves look like), and they know they need to groom someone.

    Not every team in the quarterback market has a flashing neon sign that reads “Mark Sanchez” at the top of its depth chart. As a short-term, start-now selection, Paxton Lynch is a disaster waiting to happen. But after a year or two with Arians and Palmer, he could be another Osweiler.

30. Carolina Panthers: Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Panthers secondary went from a strength to a weakness after Josh Norman's departure. Carolina hasn’t drafted a defensive back in the first three rounds since it selected Sherrod Martin in 2009.

    Norman was a fifth-round small-school steal in 2012. Bene Benwikere (fifth round, 2014, injured during the playoff run last year) now leads a colorful cast of irregulars at cornerback: Brandon Boykin, Teddy Williams and the immortal Ras-I Dowling.

    Eli Apple is tall, tough, experienced and ready to start immediately if you can live with some holding penalties. He’s not a potential playmaker in William Jackson’s class, but he’ll provide good run support, smart underneath zone coverage and enough speed to run with most receivers. Apple is not Norman, but he comes at a fraction of the price, and he fills a major need the Panthers didn’t know they had until last Wednesday.

    Second Round (62): Sterling Shepard, wide receiver, Oklahoma

31. Denver Broncos: Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    This is a popular Broncos selection among mock drafters. Robert Nkemdiche is the kind of high-risk, high-reward player a defending champion must gamble on now and then. In Denver, he will be surrounded by outstanding role models and coaches as well as great talent. The Ole Miss product can slide into Malik Jackson’s old role without the burden of having to become an immediate superstar.

    Don’t expect the Broncos to reach for a quarterback here. In fact, don’t be surprised if they wait until the third day to roll the dice on one. If John Elway were the type of executive who felt compelled to acquire a quarterback he was not 100 percent sold on, the Broncos wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place.

    Second Round (63): Le'Raven Clark, offensive tackle, Texas Tech

New England Patriots (Second Round): Karl Joseph, Safety; Joe Haeg, Tackle

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    The Patriots have two late second-round picks. History tells us that they will turn them into one early second-round pick, or 17 third- and fourth-round picks or a first-round pick in 2033 or something.

    Still, for the sake of being inclusive and giving Patriots fans something to be excited about on Friday night, let's pretend that the Patriots plan to draft in sequence and give them a pair of interesting players.

    Karl Joseph (safety, West Virginia) is a high-character, high-IQ safety coming off an ACL tear in October. He should be a full participant in training camp. Joseph is a playmaker in coverage who had the agility and burst to be an NFL starter before the injury. He's the kind of undervalued player the Patriots can typically afford to wait on.

    Joe Haeg was Wentz's left tackle at North Dakota State for the last two seasons. He's a quick-footed pass protector who, like Joseph, gets high character-effort-intelligence grades. He proved he could handle top-tier competition during Senior Bowl week. Nate Solder is coming off an injury, Sebastian Vollmer's contract expires at the end of the season and Marcus Cannon's repeated tryouts at left tackle are something of a Patriots mystery. Haeg improves the team's succession plan at tackle.

    Not a bad haul for a team without a first-round pick, don't you think?


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