I’ll let you in on a secret: I think mock drafts, for the most part, are pretty stupid.
Most mock drafts you read are just armchair quarterback opinions from people ranging from so-called analysts to common schmos (like me). Few of those people are relevant enough to where you should listen to them, and even fewer of the projections in their mocks are grounded in any objective facts.
So then, why am I publishing a mock draft?
For starters, i’ve been publishing mock drafts for the better part of 15 years now, so it’s sort of become an annual right of passage. But more importantly, people seem to love them. They’re great click bait (hey, i’m being honest), and they often get people totally excited. I guess it helps cure the football withdrawal, or gives the blind fanatics something to get riled up about.
Thus, here’s my latest mock for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Before we get to the picks, let’s first lay down the ground rules for this mock, and any others moving forward:
1. I like how Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network phrases it: my mock drafts are based on what i’m hearing about what each team might do with their first round pick. These are not projections for who I think they should take, because frankly, nobody should care about my personal opinion of who they should take. I’m not sitting in any of the 32 “war rooms,” nor should I be referred to as a (so-called) “draft expert;” I have exactly 0.0% clout in telling teams what they should or shouldn’t do. Rather, these are my predictions of who each team will take, based off reading whatever I can find about each team’s needs and intentions going into the draft, as well as their general modus operandi.
2. Mock drafts, at this point in time, are largely meaningless. The vast majority of these picks are going to change between now and the end of April, given that teams don’t really start setting their big board until about two weeks before the draft, and really don’t start zeroing in on particular players until a few days (if not a few hours) before the draft. Anything else you might hear about “this team really loves this player!” at this point in April is either speculation, connecting-the-dots, or just plain bad information.
With that in mind, away we go:
1. Tennessee — Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: Yes, it’s not a sexy pick. Yes, his name sounds like an extravagant device than an architect might use. But, the Titans can’t afford to screw up this pick (after years and years with former GM Ruston Webster doing so) and they want to do whatever they can to make sure Marcus Mariota doesn’t get his brain beaten in. Tunsil has the combination of being one of the best + most “can’t miss” prospect in this year’s draft.
2. Cleveland — Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State: have you seen the “talent” (and I use that term very loosely) on Cleveland’s offense? I know they signed Robert Griffin III, but given his injury history and total dearth of offensive weapons, how long do you expect the “RG3 experience” to last there? Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: even after signing Griffin, the Browns are going to take a guy to groom for the long-term.
3. San Diego — Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State: If you’re a Chargers fan, just pray that that Tom Telesco (your GM) doesn’t get cute and overthink this pick. The Chargers should take Ramsey (and that’s what most people think they’ll do). I’ll say it again: he might very well be, pound for pound, the best prospect in this draft. The versatility he provides on the field — as a single high safety in a Cover 3 or Cover 1 look, a slot cornerback, or even a boundary cornerback at times — makes him an incredible piece in the secondary.
4. Dallas — Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: More than anything else, Bosa is a need + scheme fit for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones wants to take a player who can contribute to the Cowboys right away, since he thinks they have a short window for a title run. They need a pass rusher to make that happen, and Bosa has a refinement to his game that would allow him to play right out of the gates.
5. Jacksonville — Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: A lot of NFL personnel people view Myles Jack as a bonafide top three prospect in this draft. With Jack, it’s plain and simple: line him up as a weakside linebacker, and he’s going to run sideline to sideline like his hair is on fire. The way that defenses are now, having to really focus on stopping the pass and having to match up against some of the freak athletes on offense, Jack would be an incredible counter measure.
6. Baltimore — DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon: a very “Ravens” pick. It’s not flashy. It’s going to improve their defense. It’s going to make them better in the trenches. It’s got a very low probability of “busting.” It’s going to look even better three to five years from now, in comparison to how it might look today. Buckner is a classic five-technique defensive end who has the athleticism, quickness, strength, and pass rush skills to be very, very good. Putting him on the front line of the Ravens defense, alongside Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams would make that line even more scary.
7. San Francisco — Jared Goff, QB, California: this projection is becoming more tenuous every day, and might be the one most likely to change among the top 10 picks considering Colin Kaepernick’s $11.9 million base salary for 2016 is now fully guaranteed. As of right now, everyone is thinking that the 49ers will still draft a “quarterback of the future;” but then again, who the hell knows what Chip Kelly is ever really thinking?
8. Philadelphia (from Miami) — Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Look at (new Eagles Head Coach) Doug Pederson’s track record. When he came to Philadelphia as the offensive coordinator in 2009, his running back was LeSean McCoy. When he was the OC in Kansas City, his running back was Jamaal Charles. Those are two dynamic running backs who can run and catch the football. Elliott gives the Eagles offense that two-dimensional element which they don’t really have from either Ryan Mathews or Darren Sproles right now.
9. Tampa Bay — Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: Tampa looks like they’re going to be focusing on upgrading the defense this offseason, given that they already signed a pass rusher (Robert Ayers from the Giants) and a middle linebacker (Daryl Smith from the Ravens). The next area they want to upgrade is the cornerback position. As a pure cover cornerback, Hargreaves is the best prospect in the draft. He was a three time All-SEC selection and a two-time All-American while at Florida.
10. NY Giants — Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: that’s the latest scuttle i’m hearing out of New York (although, again, take that for what it’s worth at this point in the draft process). Even though they spent a buttload of money to upgrade the defense, they Giants ignored the linebacker position (yet again). Floyd has been shooting up draft boards lately, especially after weighing 244lbs (teams were worried he was too undersized) and still running a 4.6 flat in the 40 yard dash.
11. Chicago — Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame: Bears General Manager Ryan Pace is big on the “best player available” strategy, but he’s also shown that he’d like to marry it to a team need (like when the Bears took Kevin White last year). They’ve recently admitted that offensive line remains a pressing need for them; they’d really like to upgrade the left tackle spot, currently manned by incumbent Charles Leno. Stanley, by most accounts, is one of the top 10 or 12 prospects in this draft, and has the size, length, and athleticism to be a very good pass protector.
12. New Orleans — Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: When your team was 31st in total defense, 31st against the pass, and 31st against the run, it’s safe to say that they could probably use help anywhere and everywhere along the defense. Sean Payton recently stated that two of the positions the “must” upgrade are pass rusher and three-technique defensive tackle. Rankins would fit perfectly as a three-technique in the Saints 4-3 defense. His explosion, quickness off the line, and ability to rush the passer right up the middle reminds you a bit of Aaron Donald of the Rams.
13. Miami (from Philadelphia) — Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson: please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any idea of what the heck the Dolphins are doing this offseason, because i’m not 100% sure they themselves have a clearly identified plan besides “make shortsighted moves to continue their run on the treadmill of mediocrity.” Anyway, the prevailing thought here is that they want to add some youth at defensive end, since Mario Williams (who they just signed) is already 31 years old, and Cameron Wake is 34.
14. Oakland — Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: one of the toughest teams to project this year, because they did a nice job of upgrading needs through smart free agent acquisitions, and because there really isn’t a slot cornerback or safety — their two biggest remaining needs — worthy of being taken with this pick. Reggie McKensie is a big “best player available” advocate, so that could point to them taking Reggie Ragland here. Right now, the Raiders starting middle linebacker is Ben Heeney, their fifth round pick in the 2015 draft who played in a reserve role last year.
15. LA Rams — Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: If Jeff Fisher actually understood how football is played in 2016, he’d tell Les Snead to use the four picks the Rams have among the top 100 picks, and make a trade up to go get a quarterback. But then again, this is Jeff Fisher we’re talking about; so, get ready for more Case Keenum. You’d think they’d at least get Keenum a receiver of consequence to throw the ball to, considering the Rams have Kenny Britt (approaching washed up), Tavon Austin (more of a utility guy than a true receiver), and basically nothing else.
16. Detroit — Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State: different player, same need. They still need to upgrade their offensive line, specifically at the tackle positions. Decker could come in and be an effective right tackle from day one, and perhaps be groomed to play left tackle over the long run.
17. Atlanta — Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State: When was the last time the Falcons had a player in the front seven of their defense who other teams actually had to account for? It seems like it’s been forever. This team has fallen short of so many expectations because they’ve lacked guys who can make game-changing plays on defense. Lee ran the 40 yard dash in a blistering 4.47 seconds at the NFL Combine in February (which was faster than many of the running backs and wide receivers in this year’s draft class). His straight line speed, and his rare ability to not lose speed with changing directions makes him a very interesting weakside linebacker prospect that can cover, blitz, and tackle — in other words, make some high impact plays.
18. Indianapolis — Jack Conklin, OL, Michigan State: Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson has already come out and said that all three positions in the interior of the Colts offensive line are being examined for upgrades. They just can’t let Andrew Luck continue to take the pounding that he’s endured since he got to the NFL. Conklin is kind of the Brandon Scherff of this draft: while he played tackle in college, he doesn’t have the footwork or the long arms you need to be a successful tackle in the NFL. But he’s big, nasty, and polished with his technique, leading you to think he could be a very good guard.
19. Buffalo — Noah Spence, DE, Kentucky: Apparently, it’s not just the national media that basically overlooks Buffalo; it’s been really hard to find any real and viable information as to who’s on their shortlist of guys they’re targeting. The only real clues for them are: 1) they really want to upgrade their pass rush (which was inexplicably ranked 31st in the NFL last year), 2) they want someone who has the versatility to play equally well in a 4-3 or a 3-4 look (since Rex Ryan likes to change up his style of defense based on opponents, and 3) they’re not afraid of taking a risk on a player with a “checkered past,” as long as that guy shows he’ll play like a bat out of hell between the white lines. Noah Spence checks all of those boxes. He’s a high motor guy with a good burst off the line, pure pass rushing instincts, and reportedly a high football IQ. The Bills could use his versatility of playing defensive in 4-3 looks and standing up as an outside linebacker in 3-4 looks.
20. NY Jets — Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State: y’know another big story that nobody seems to be talking about? Last season, Darrelle Revis started to look a lot more “mortal.” He’ll turn 31 years old before the season starts, and father time will certainly have no trouble getting on or off Revis Island. That’s not something they can afford, since they’ll likely be relying on their defense even more, considering they don’t even have a starting quarterback for next season. Add in the fact that Antonio Cromartie is also gone, and you see why the Jets have a need to get younger at cornerback.
21. Washington — Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor: Scot McCloughan has said and proven one thing already: he wants to build a team full of big, strong, ornery players in the trenches. Billings is right out of that mold. He has legitimate “freak show” strength, having broken the Texas state powerlifting record by benching over 500lbs and squatting over 800 lbs. And yet, for guy that’s 6’1 and 311lbs, he has surreal chase-and-close speed. He’s one of the rare true “0” technique nose tackle prospects, but he’d also fit well with the more one-gapping-style of 3-4 defense that the Redskins play.
22. Houston — Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor: how do you continue to reinvigorate the horrid Texans offense from 2015? Dumping Brian Hoyer for Brock Osweiler was a nice touch. So was adding Lamar Miller. Next up? They’re rumored to be interested in adding the speedy Coleman to pair with DeAndre Hopkins. Coleman is a pure speed merchant; an explosive big play threat with a ridiculous burst off the line that erases any cushions a cornerback gives him in a heartbeat. Put the ball in his hands, and he turns into a running back or a kick returner. He could do so much for the Texans offense by spreading out the defense opposite Hopkins, and providing a true deep threat to test out Osweiler’s arm.
23. Minnesota — Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: there’s been talk that the Vikings are really hoping that Doctson falls this far to them; although, as more teams start to watch him, there’s an increasingly likely chance that he might not be here for the Vikings to take. Doctson is just a smooth, fluid player that runs polished routes, has natural hands, and is a menace in jump ball situations. He provides quarterbacks with a ridiculous catch radius because he’s got the body control of a contortionist. He’d fit so well next to the Vikings smaller receivers in Stefon Diggs (six-foot-flat) and Jarius Wright (5’10).
24. Cincinnati — Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: Here’s what the Bengals have behind AJ Green: Brandon Lafell (who they recently signed), Brandon Tate, James Wright, and Michael Bennett. That’s probably why they’ve admitted that wide receiver is now a big focus for them moving forward. A lot of people are whispering that Thomas might actually be the best receiver prospect in this draft. He’s a big boy (6’3 and 212lbs) with 4.5 speed and natural hands. He reminds you a good bit of Allen Robinson of the Jaguars.
25. Pittsburgh — Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson: he might very well be the most complicated player in the draft. The people that love him — and i’m admittedly one of them — will point to the fact that in 27 starts over the last two seasons, when he’s playing man coverage on a guy, he’s allowed a grand total of one touchdown. The people who don’t love him will point to the fact that in those 27 starts, he had zero interceptions; no player taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft finished his college career with zero interceptions. Ever. The people who love him will tell you that he ran a sub 4.5 in the 40 yard dash, and put up a ridiculous 41.5 inch vertical. The people who don’t love him will tell you he’s barely 5’10 and only weighs 190lbs, so how the hell is he going to hold up in the NFL? But, the people who love him will tell you that Steelers Mike Tomlin was at Clemson’s Pro Day workouts, and not only did he keep a close eye on Alexander during said workouts, but had dinner with him the night before.
26. Seattle — A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama: if you tried to mold the perfect defensive tackle out of clay, it’d look really similar to A’Shawn Robinson. The dude is a physical specimen at 6’4 and 310lbs. He’s got brute power, and the ability to totally jar offensive linemen. The only reason he’s dropping this far is because people are wondering whether he benefited from all the talent around him at Alabama, and because he hasn’t showed a lot of polish to his game. But Seattle loves those end/tackle tweener type defensive linemen, and Robinson could seamlessly come in and play three technique next to a big boy like Ahtyba Rubin.
27. Green Bay — Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama: this is another purely speculative pick, because Ted Thompson’s poker face is as good as any. So here’s what we know: he’s a no bullshit, “take the best player available”-type. Although, in seven of his last 10 drafts, he’s either taken a lineman or a linebacker with his first pick. On top of that, they’ve been looking to upgrade the interior of their defensive line for a couple of seasons now. Jarran Reed would be a brick wall at the center of the Packers defense. He’d provide them the same “trying to move an oak tree” presence that BJ Raji (who just retired) did, but with much more athleticism. And, he’s definitely the best player available here.
28. Kansas City Chiefs — William Jackson III, CB, Houston: this prediction has stayed steady for while, which in my experience means that it’s almost certainly going to change in the coming weeks. As of right now, the conventional thinking is that the Chiefs need another cornerback opposite Marcus Peters (and depth at the cornerback spot in general) after losing Sean Smith to free agency.
29. Arizona — Ryan Kelly, OL, Alabama: yet another connect-the-dots scenario. The Cardinals biggest move — trading for Chandler Jones — should provide a shot in the arm to their pass rushing needs, and there’s no other pass rusher here that they would possibly take to further shore up that need. On the other side of the ball, they’ve shuffled the entire offensive line, and still aren’t 100% sure that A.Q. Shipley is the guy they want at Center on opening day. Kelly is an absolute stud center and could be one of the game’s very best really, really soon.
30. Carolina — Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson: after making a handful of low-budget, under-the-radar moves, the Panthers appear to be have the mindset of “take the best available guy who plays in the trenches” philosophy here; they are more focused on upgrading the defensive line versus the offensive line, though. That’s why Kevin Dodd is a name that’s being linked with them a lot. He might be more of a developmental guy at this very moment, but people believe his upside might be higher than Shaq Lawson, his teammate at Clemson. Like they did with Kony Ealy, they could use Dodd as a situational pass rusher and depth guy early on, and then eventually replace Charles Johnson (who they re-signed to a one year deal).
31. Denver — Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis: I will couch this prediction with it being completely contingent on whether the Colin Kaepernick-to-Denver deal happens (which, as of this posting, is DOA). Assuming Kaepernick stays in San Francisco — which I think would be a good thing for the Broncos — Denver needs their next quarterback for the long-term; Gary Kubiak has even said as much. Lynch isn’t anywhere near ready to play yet, so like the Broncos did with Osweiler, they could sit Lynch behind Mark Sanchez or whatever retread quarterback they sign for the short term.
* New England does not have a first round pick, after being penalized for the football deflation allegations