Now that the Senior Bowl is in the books, the next event on the 2016 NFL Draft calendar is February’s Scouting Combine. It will be the first time that the juniors and redshirt sophomores join this year’s draft party, and the event’s results will have long-reaching effects on the draft’s first round and beyond.
The Senior Bowl proved that this year’s draft is a strong one along the defensive line. Teams in need of a beefy run stuffer or quick-twitch pass rusher should find what they’re looking for in the first round. The Senior Bowl also strengthened the claim that North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz is a franchise quarterback who is worthy of early first-round consideration.
Despite the narratives that were advanced in Mobile, Alabama, the No. 1 pick is still likely to be an underclassman with Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil and Ohio State EDGE Joey Bosa leading the pack. A lot will change between now and draft weekend, but let’s take a look at what the top-31 picks might end up being. Note: This mock draft is not necessarily a reflection of what my grade is for a player. Rather, it’s my best guess as to what would happen if the NFL Draft was held today.
1. Tennessee Titans – Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
I had a hard time with this one, as I believe that Joey Bosa is the best overall player in the class. Bosa could end up with a draft day experience similar to Leonard Williams (Jets) last year; Williams was the top player on my board in 2015 but slid to the sixth pick in round one. The Titans will likely take Tunsil here because he, paired with Taylor Lewan, will do wonders in an effort to keep franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota upright. Tunsil is long, athletic and strong enough to be a franchise left tackle for a decade.
2. Cleveland Browns – Jared Goff, QB, Cal
I was close to pulling the trigger on Wentz here, but I’ve had Goff as my top quarterback in the class since October and that won’t change because of Wentz’s impressive three days in Mobile. It’s getting close, though. The Browns decide that Goff will lead them into their post-Manziel era, despite the fact that a Manziel era never really got started. Goff needs to grow into his frame a bit, but he has an NFL arm and is much closer to being game-ready than some of his critics suggest. Goff isn’t an elite quarterback prospect, but he has enough tools to project as an above-average starter in the pros. That equals a lot of wins.
3. San Diego Chargers – Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Whether it’s Stanley or some other soon-to-be fast rising lineman, this pick simply has to be an offensive lineman. The Chargers offense had no chance last year with the turnstile that was their offensive line. Philip Rivers is getting long in the tooth and last year’s first rounder Melvin Gordon will never reach his maximum potential without some assistance from the first line of protection. I’m a little cooler on Stanley than the general consensus seems to be; I’m not sold on his functional strength. That said, he’ll be a welcome upgrade to one of 2015’s most banged up units in the League.
4. Dallas Cowboys – Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Even I’m shocked by how high I have Wentz going, but this pick just seems perfect from every angle. First, the Cowboys have to actively assemble their post-Romo plan. We saw just how much Dallas relies on him — and is not prepared for life without him — after his collarbone injury kept him out for an extended period of time last year. Second, Carson Wentz looks the part on tape and answered questions at the Senior Bowl about his ability to perform against better competition. Finally, he was coached by the Cowboys in Mobile. Assuming he impressed them as much as he did the masses, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t take him here. He won’t make it to the second round and it will probably cost Dallas way too much to try and trade back into the first round for him. Wentz will be able to sit behind Romo for a couple of seasons, sharpen his tools, and lead the Cowboys for a long, long time.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – Joey Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
The Jaguars need help getting to the quarterback and if this scenario plays out, Gus Bradley and company will be doing cartwheels. With 2015 first-round pick (No. 3 overall) Dante Fowler due back after a torn ACL ended his rookie year before it even began, the selection of Joey Bosa will give the Jaguars one of the biggest pass-rushing talent upgrades in the entire NFL. Bosa is the best player in the class. He’ll fit any system. Pick him and enjoy.
6. Baltimore Ravens – Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State
The Ravens secondary is in transition and the position group’s lowly 2015 season has made cornerback a top priority. Much like the Jaguars at No. 5, the Ravens will sprint to the podium to turn in their card. Ramsey is one of the best all-around prospect values in the draft because he projects well at corner and safety; he blends extremely high upside with very low bust risk. He’ll start his career as a money-making corner and I doubt he’ll fail.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
While this would be a reach on my board, I wouldn’t fault the 49ers for going with the Crimson Tide’s defensive leader. With Chip Kelly in place as head coach, it’s unlikely that San Francisco will draft a quarterback in the first round; Colin Kaepernick is tailor-made to run Kelly’s system. Ragland will assume a leadership role on a defense that is still searching for a Patrick Willis replacement
8. Miami Dolphins – Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
The Dolphins need playmakers on defense, especially at the linebacker position. There may not be a better playmaking linebacker in the draft than UCLA’s Jack, who despite an early season knee injury, is poised to make an immediate impact for his future NFL employer. Jack is as explosive and violent as they come. He can run sideline to sideline, cover like a defender in the secondary, and even put points on the board for the offense; he could probably have an NFL career at running back, too. If this is how the draft plays out, we could look back a few years from now and wonder how the Fins stole Jack at No. 8.
9. Tampa Bay Bucaneers – Noah Spence, EDGE, Eastern Kentucky
Spence made me a believer at the Senior Bowl. He has top-tier quickness off the snap and was virtually unblockable during the week of practices. The only thing that could potentially keep him out of the top ten is himself; his background and character concerns will be thoroughly investigated. Assuming everything checks out, Spence would be a perfect fit for a Tampa team that is searching for help in the pass rush department. I think he’ll start his career as a situational pass rusher, but he has all the tools needed to be an every-down contributor in the NFL.
10. New York Giants – Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame
The Giants defense is looking for an identity in their linebacker unit, and with Jaylon Smith on the board at No. 10 overall, they’ll have to think long and hard about picking him. Recent reports suggest that Smith will be ready to play at some point in 2016. Assuming the reports are true, Smith is a no-brainer pick. The NFC East is an evolving division; it’s likely that the division title won’t be decided until late in the 2016 season, just in time for the Giants to welcome Smith to the fold. Looking beyond ’16, Smith has the kind of talent to be one of the NFL’s best and most athletic linebackers. If he was healthy, he’d probably be a top-3 pick. The Giants will welcome him with open arms at No. 10.
11. Chicago Bears – Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The Bears defense is entering its second season under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and should be much improved after an off-season is used to acquire talent to fit his scheme. Lawson could be a major piece of that puzzle. The Bears need to add players who can pressure the quarterback, and Lawson fits that mold. He has very good size, length and burst off the edge to project as a consistent penetrator and potentially double-digit sack artist. He was the key defensive cog in Clemson’s remarkable 2015 season and can be the kind of talent that the Bears begin to build their defense around.
12. New Orleans Saints – DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
The Saints will continue the trend of picking a player on the defensive side of the ball with the selection of the supremely talented DeForest Buckner. At 6’7″, 290 lbs (EST), Buckner is the kind of player who transcends scheme. He has the kind of physical makeup that Julius Peppers (Packers) had when he was coming out; Peppers has proven throughout his career that he can play in both a 43 and 34 scheme. Buckner can slide up and down the defensive line for the Saints and will wreak havoc in the backfield. The Saints need help on all three levels of the defense, but they simply will not be able to pass on Buckner here.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
The Eagles will address the offensive line in round one, largely because of the aging Jason Peters and the lack of any real backup plan should Peters go down in 2016. Decker can play right away at offensive guard with the long-term plan of kicking outside to tackle, much like the Bears have done with Kyle Long. You can never have enough talent along the offensive line, and while Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson) will be tempting here, the best way to improve the play of your quarterback and running game is by adding more beef up front.
14. Oakland Raiders – Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
The Raiders will be holding their breath while the Eagles are on the clock, and they’ll let out a sigh of relief after Decker’s name is announced. Charles Woodson is no longer manning the backend of the secondary, leaving the unit more vulnerable than it has ever been. Mackensie won’t replace Woodson at safety, but he’ll certainly upgrade the cornerback group which has several questions of its own. D.J. Hayden has yet to perform like the high pick that he was, but you often get the most out of a player by bringing in competition. The selection of Alexander should bring the best out of Hayden and potentially provide the Raiders with a talented up-and-coming secondary.
15. Los Angeles Rams – Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
There’s no better way to create buzz for the newly relocated Rams than by adding a young franchise quarterback to the mix. And while I’m not exactly sure that Lynch is a “franchise quarterback,” he certainly is talented enough to warrant a mid-first round selection. Nick Foles was a disaster last year and there’s absolutely no-one on the roster who appears ready to challenge him for the starting job in 2016. While I don’t think that Lynch is ready to play anytime before 2018, the Rams will have to strongly consider making him their guy sooner than later. He has the kind of athletic ability to buy time in the pocket for Tavon Austin and company to get open downfield, and he’s certainly more than capable of handing the ball to Todd Gurley 30 times a game.
16. Detroit Lions – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The news that Calvin Johnson is planning on retiring from the NFL leaves the Lions in a difficult spot. While I’d prefer they take Jason Spriggs (OT, Indiana), they could very well be forced into taking the best wide receiver in this year’s class in Ole Miss’s Laquon Treadwell. The only way this changes is if the Lions make a big splash in free agency. Assuming they don’t, Treadwell will be a day-one starter with gigantic shoes to fill. He won’t be the kind of downfield threat that Johnson was early in his career, but he is certainly capable of replacing Johnson’s mid-range production as a big, physical, chain-moving target. He’ll also be an asset in the run game, as he is one of the better downfield blockers at his position.
(Next Page: Picks 17-31)