It’s finally that time of year. A time when winter begins turning to spring, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and when up to 335 of the best college athletes in the world fly to Indianapolis, IN to run around in their underwear.
If by chance an alien race were to visit our planet and the NFL Combine, which takes place this week, they would unquestionably consider us among the most absurd species in the known universe.
The combine is an exercise in futility. While the athletes taking part in it certainly come prepared to impress, too often scouts and general managers treat it exactly the wrong way.
The measurables that these kids will be recording this week in events like the 40-yard dash, the long jump, and the shuttle drill, are all important things that should be considered to validate what a prospect shows on tape.
However, too often teams use measurables as a launching point to find the players they want to evaluate. The Oakland Raiders of the mid-2000s were famous for this.
Whoever ran the fastest 40 was going to be at or near the top of Al Davis’ draft board, no matter what the tape showed about him. That’s the wrong way to approach the combine.
With that in mind, I decided to do my first mock draft of this season prior to the combine to see whether I fall victim to flashy 40-times and clean shuttle drills, like so many NFL general managers do.
This will be my first of five mock drafts to be released before the big show kicks off in Chicago on April 28. Now, it should be noted that I am not, nor do I consider myself to be a draft expert.
Mile High Huddle already employs that guy, the great Erick Trickel. Erick spends the vast majority of his year evaluating college prospects. I’ve been working on them for the past two weeks.
However, I do have contacts around the league to get some teams’ temperatures on different prospects, and a pair of eyes to watch the tape for myself. So, here’s how I see the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft playing out.
This class is a solid, but elite group of players. It reminds me most of the 2008 NFL Draft class, especially at the quarterback position.
It’s important to know a rule about my mock drafts. There are no trades. They’re too difficult to predict and can change too much on a board. I’ll mention if I believe a team will want to trade out of a pick, but the draft order on this mock is the draft order currently slated for April 28.
Make no mistake, the Titans desperately want out of this pick. If they can find a team who’s willing to trade up and jump ahead of the Browns to grab one of the top two quarterbacks, they’ll do so. However, there are no trades in this mock, and I have serious doubt about whether a team will be willing to jump up and leverage their future for either of the top two passers in this class, when neither of them are sure bets.
Tunsil is a dominant talent at tackle. While I would prefer to see them grab a pass-rusher or a top cornerback, Tunsil will instantly upgrade an offensive line that gave up a league-leading 54 sacks. If they’re going to continue developing Marcus Mariota, investing in protecting him will be key.
For the fourth time since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns will be selecting a quarterback with a first round pick. They almost don’t have a choice. The only question is whether they’ll select Cal’s Jared Goff, or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
I would take Goff. He’s smaller than Wentz, his ceiling is lower than Wentz’s, and he’s less mobile. However, Wentz has played lesser competition his entire career. Admittedly, he’s dominated at the division 1AA level, but I believe Wentz would be best suited with a year to sit and learn about the speed and intricacies of the NFL game.
The Browns will disagree. According to sources around the league, the Browns prefer Wentz’s size in the tough AFC North and are attracted to his ceiling. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said he could be the next Andrew Luck. I strongly disagree. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wentz becomes an NFL quarterback similar to the last division 1AA signal caller to be taken in the first round of the draft: Joe Flacco.
It’s extremely tempting to put Ohio State’s Joey Bosa here. However, I keep talking with people around the NFL who tell me there are serious concerns about Bosa’s character and some view him as an overrated prospect. I expet to slip out of the top-three.
The Chargers desperately need offensive line help, but unless by some miracle of nature Tunsil falls to them, or they’re willing to really reach for a player like Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, I think they have two options: either Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, or Ramsey. If they’re going to go D-line, I see Bosa as the better prospect. Thus, I think San Diego goes with Ramsey.
He’s a great press corner with good length and reminds me of a smaller Richard Sherman. His combine performance will only bump up his stock, but adding him would instantly upgrade the Chargers defensive backfield and he could play both cornerback or safety to replace the departing Eric Weddle.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State Buckeyes
This pick is one of the most important in the draft. Numerous draftnicks and scouts I trust keep insisting that the Cowboys will take a quarterback here. I think that would be a terrible mistake. Why would you use a top five-pick on a quarterback who, barring injury, won’t start for you this season when you can have an impact player step on the field instantly? If Jerry Jones takes Goff or Wentz here, it changes the dynamic of the draft. I don’t believe they will.
Prior to the season, I had figured Bosa would be the undisputed number one overall pick in this draft. He has an NFL-ready build, is a powerful pass rusher, and possesses solid ability to stack defenders with his arm extension. Some scouts have compared him to J.J. Watt. He is not J.J. Watt.
Bosa lacks the speed necessary to get around the edge consistently and is a tad too focused on using contact in his rush for my taste. He’s also got some character issues that raise red flags with me, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s the best pure defensive lineman in this class. Taking him at No. 4 would provide just enough sizzle to provide Jerry with the headlines he craves.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: DeForest Buckner, DE/DT, Oregon Ducks
If Buckner falls to Jacksonville, Gus Bradley will be as giddy as a schoolgirl. I continue to view the Jaguars as a team on the rise, and while 5-11 isn’t exactly the record you’re looking for, quarterback Blake Bortles turned a corner last season. I believe he will continue to trend upwards over the next several years on his way to being an elite passer in this league.
Now, the Jags will look to upgrade their defense. Dante Fowler, their top pick from last year’s draft, will return from the ACL tear he suffered during the first day of rookie mini-camps and should provide the edge rusher Jacksonville needs. Getting Buckner will allow them to grab an interior rusher who could easily wind up being the best defensive player to come out of this class.
While the tape tells me Bosa is still the top D-line prospect in this class, scouts and team sources I’ve spoken with say Buckner will be a dominant defensive force in the NFL and would instantly make the Jacksonville defensive front seven one of the most talented in football.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Noah Spence is the most boom-or-bust prospect in this draft. Between the lines, he’s an absolute force of nature. He’s not Von Miller, but he’s awful close. He’s a quick edge rusher with great bend and the fastest first step in this class. However, there’s a reason he’s not in the top-five of this mock.
There are serious questions about Spence off the field. He was kicked out of Ohio State for drug addiction and found his way back to the field with Eastern Kentucky in division 1AA. According to sources, he absolutely bombed the interviews at the Senior Bowl and the conversations he has with teams in Indianapolis will be absolutely critical to where he lands at the end of the April.
I believe a stable organization with good defensive leaders like Baltimore is the best place Spence can wind up. There’s no doubt he’s a risk, but if John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome, and the rest of the Ravens organization can nurture him a bit, his talent could make him a Hall of Famer.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA Bruins
It was reported late Thursady afternoon that Colin Kaepernick's agent was requesting for the former Super Bowl starter to be traded. However, I believe Chip Kelly was hired partly as a reclamation project for Kaepernick. I think it’s a project that will ultimately fail and the 49ers will be picking in the top-three next season.
However, it means I don’t believe they’ll take a quarterback in the first round, or let Kaepernick get away via a trade, unless they're able to get enormous capital in return. Their general manager said as much during his combine media session this week.
If Jack falls to them at No. 7, they have to grab him. He’s an uber-athletic linebacker with some experience as a ball carrier who can immediately impact their defense, which is still reeling from the slew of losses they suffered last offseason.
The Dolphins have two big needs. They need help along the interior of their offensive line, and they need help in the secondary.
Their defensive backfield is an absolute mess. Scout.com ranks Hargreaves as the top cornerback in this class for a reason. He’s quick, competitive, and has the tools to become a Pro Bowl caliber corner. Some scouts worry about his frame, but that same issue hasn’t stopped corners like Joe Haden from succeeding in the NFL.
If Noah Spence doesn't go to Baltimore, this spot could make sense for him. The Bucs need help in their front seven badly, and I see Rankins as the best front seven selection at this point in the draft.
Rankins is a powerfully built pass rusher with great ability to go between power and finesse moves. I believe he's right there with Buckner as the best interior pass rusher in this class.The only concern is his size. At 6-foot-1, he's shorter than you'd like the anchor along your defensive line to be, which could cause him to drop a bit. However, the Bucs need help to supplement Gerald McCoy along the interior of their defensive line. Taking Rankins would instantly add that for them.
10. NY Giants: A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban has a knack for producing defensive lineman and Robinson may be one of the best of the bunch. His frame is NFL-ready and he’s going to put up great numbers at the combine. His tape is good, but not great and he’s not as refined of a pass rusher as I’d like to see, but I wholeheartedly believe he’s set to be one of the best defensive lineman to come out of this class.
While there’s no question the Bears need defensive line help, they also have a glaring hole at offensive tackle. They already released Jermon Bushrod and could make more offensive line moves in the near future.
Stanley has top-five talent, and if he were to fall to the Bears, John Fox and company would almost not have a choice. While he isn’t as strong in run blocking as he is in pass protection, he could add a talented piece to an offensive line sorely needing help at the tackle position..
12. New Orleans Saints: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia Bulldogs
Last season, the New Orleans Saints’ defense wasn’t just bad. It was atrocious. Rob Ryan was rightfully fired because of it. The Saints need to start over defensively and will do so by selecting the best defender on the board. In this case, that man is Leonard Floyd.
Floyd is an underrated pass rusher with great range for the position. However, at 6-foot-4 and just 231 pounds, his frame is a bit of a concern. He’s extremely thin and will have to add weight to it if he’s going to matchup well with NFL offensive talents. I expect that Sean Payton and company will help him do just that.
I expect the Eagles to re-sign Sam Bradford. If they don’t, Jared Goff will be the pick here. If they do, it opens them up to a number of alternatives. They need help on the interior of their offensive line and at corner, but in this situation they wouldn’t be able to get that without reaching more than anyone should be comfortable with.
So, they’ll turn to the receiver position. They released Riley Cooper and desperately need a weapon for Bradford in the passing game. Treadwell is the best receiver in this class, and could add a playmaking weapon for him on the outside. The only thing he really lacks is elite speed. He’s not going to run the 40-yard dash at the combine because of that, but he checks every other box I look for when evaluating tape. So long as the Eagles don’t get caught up in the measurables and trust the tape, he should be the pick here.
14. Oakland Raiders: Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jaylon Smith tore both his ACL and MCL in Notre Dame’s game against Ohio State this season. Had that not happened, he would have been a top-five pick. Some NFL personnel people don’t think he’ll go until the 20s. However, I believe that once he clears a medical evaluation, teams are going to jump on the opportunity to take a player who could become an elite NFL talent.
While he likely won’t be able to play until late in the season, once he gets on the field Jack Del Rio's defense will add one of the most exciting prospects in this class who is capable of defending the run, matching up with just about anyone in one-on-one coverage, and has the tools to be an elite pass rusher, if that’s how a team decides to use him.
If things fall as I’m predicting here and Dallas, San Francisco, and Philadelphia all pass on Goff, Jeff Fisher will be the happiest man in the football. Peyton Manning is going to retire and Case Keenum and Nick Foles certainly aren’t the answer. Imagine the PR impact being able to draft a local kid as your franchise quarterback will have on the Rams in their first year back in Los Angeles. Not only that, but they’d be getting one hell of a player as well.
Goff has an NFL arm and make every throw you look for in a college prospect. He’s a little thinner than scouts like, but so was Matt Ryan when he came into the league, and Peyton Manning for that matter. While not as mobile as Wentz, Goff possess quality pocket presence and good, often great, mobility inside the pocket. There will be a learning curve adjusting to an NFL offense, but with time he could be exactly the leader that the Rams have been looking for so desperately.
16. Detroit Lions: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor Bears
With Treadwell off the board and the best available offensive tackle being a bit of a reach here, the Lions will have little choice but to grab one of this draft’s many quality defensive lineman to help properly replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
Jarran Reed would be another option for them, but I’m high on Billings’ upside. He’s a short, heavy, and ultra-powerful nose tackle with ridiculous burst off the line of scrimmage. He has the potential to be a top-notch playmaking nose tackle. However, he doesn’t turn 21 until March and his performance during the interview process will be extremely important when evaluating whether Billings has the maturity to play in the NFL at such a young age.
To say the Falcons pass rush was bad last season would be an understatement. It was putrid. They have to take a pass rusher in the first two rounds. Unfortunately, all of the elite rushers are gone at this point.
I wouldn’t take Ogbah or any other rusher until the mid-20s, but the Falcons needs are so glaring that they will have to reach. With that in mind, Ogbah is their best option. He’s not a dynamic athlete and won’t ever pop on tape the way a Bosa or Spence can, but he’s a solid rusher with a good frame and a skill-set that should translate to the NFL.
Ryan Grigson is not a competent general manager. Beyond making the biggest no-brainer of a number one overall pick in NFL history, selecting Andrew Luck in 2012, the Colts front office is led by someone who has shown time and again he isn’t quite sure what he’s doing. Andrew Luck's protection has needed an upgrade for his entire career and the Colts have yet to make a genuine effort to give it to him. I see them finally doing that here.
I love Conklin’s game. Coming out of high school, he wasn’t offered a scholarship to an FBS school, and he’s carried a chip on his shoulder throughout his entire college career. He shows great effort every single play. This kid loves football. He’s got great size and strength, solid technique, and is an outstanding character prospect. He could step in at right tackle for the Colts on day one and provide a huge upgrade.
19. Buffalo Bills: Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Mississippi Rebels
Mario Williams is on his way out and the Bills need to find a way to improve their defense. Adding a defensive end makes sense for them.
Nkemdiche looks like an NFL defensive end, but never produced like one during his time at Ole Miss. In three years, he produced just 6.5 sacks. He’s been on an upward trend as his college career has gone on. He doubled his quarterback pressures this season. Yet, he has serious character questions. However, Rex Ryan has never cared much about character. He’ll be infatuated with Nkemdiche’s build and the obvious talent he’s exhibited on tape.
20. NY Jets: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Oh, the Jets; the poor, unfortunate Jets. Had Ryan Fitzpatrick not vomited all over himself in Week 17, they would have beaten the Buffalo Bills and advanced to the postseason. Instead, the Jets find themselves as one of 19 other franchises who were on the outside looking in.
Despite his performance in that last game, Fitzpatrick should be the Jets quarterback until they find themselves in a position to draft a legitimate franchise quarterback. Of course, Fitzpatrick is a free agent. If they can’t find a way to keep him in green, this could be a spot for Paxton Lynch.
However, if Fitz stays in the big apple, as I expect him to, the Jets will look to upgrade their defense. Ragland is a thumper. He’s a vintage middle linebacker from a bygone era. In the modern NFL, he’ll need to get a little bit of weight off and improve his coverage ability, but I think this makes a mountain of sense for the Jets.
Washington will be tempted to take Zeke Elliot here. They shouldn’t. They need help at inside linebacker, but most of their best options are off the board at this point. Bashaud Breeland was a revelation for them last season, but adding one of this draft’s best cornerbacks to play across from him could do Washington wonders.
Fuller is a ball-hawk with a passion for making quarterbacks pay for their mistakes. He logged eight interceptions in 2013 and 2014, along with 34 passes defensed. He doesn’t have great size, and sometimes trusts his skills more than he should and his aggressiveness could get him into trouble with the Zebras, but selecting him would give Washington one of the top secondaries in the division.
Here’s what’s about to happen. Christian Hackenberg is going to impress people at the combine with his interviews and measurables enough to make people go back and watch the tape. When they do that, they’re going to see exactly what I did and they’ll learn once again that the box score is one of the least important things to consider when evaluating NFL prospects.
Hackenberg is an NFL-ready quarterback. He reads defenses extremely well and plays under center better than he does in the gun. He is ready to play in an NFL offense. Once scouts recognize that, they’ll understand that at Penn State he was saddled with awful talent around him, a system that didn’t fit him, and a coach who didn’t want him. Thankfully, there is a coach that does.
Bill O'Brien knows Christian Hackenberg as well as anyone on this planet. He recruited him to Penn State and coached him through an outstanding 2013 season. Once O’Brien went to Houston, Hackenberg struggled.
I expect Hack’s stock to rise as this process goes on to the point where O’Brien isn’t confident he can get him with their second round pick. Had they had even halfway decent quarterback play this year they could have been one of the elite teams in football. I really believe that Christian Hackenberg surrounded by NFL talent in a system that suits him will get them that and more.
The Vikings have to protect their young quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater has the potential to be great, but if he’s ever going to get there, he needs to have time to complete his throws. I was tremendously high on T.J. Clemmings coming out of Pitt last year and he was largely what I thought he would be, an improving right tackle with tremendous upside. Still, an upgrade on the offensive line is in order.
Whitehair is the best guard in this class, he’s also one of this draft’s surest bets. He was a four-year captain at Kansas State and can come in and play at any of the three interior offensive line positions on day one. He’ll be one of the top rookies in this class and would add another exciting young piece to the Vikings’ offensive line.
The Bengals need to bolster the interior of their defensive line with injuries to Geno Atkins and the decline of Domata Peko. OSU’s Adolphus Washington or UCLA’s Kenny Clark are both options for them here, but Clark is a bit of a reach and Washington’s character concerns could turn off the Bengals staff after their playoff debacle against the Steelers.
If Jarran Reed falls to them, they’ll be perfectly happy to snatch him up. While he’s certainly never going to blow you away as a pass rusher, he has the innate run defense skills that are rare in draft prospects.
Some will put tight end Hunter Henry here because of the retirement of Heath Miller. Let’s not forget about the Steeler’s biggest issues, though. None of them have to do with the offense. The Steelers need to improve their secondary to hold up in a division with playmaking wide receivers like A.J. Green.
Alexander’s biggest drawback is size. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, it’ll be difficult for him to match up with the types of big receivers he’s likely to see in the NFL, but he’s a fiery competitor with a high ceiling who checks almost every other box scouts look for when evaluating corners.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Vadal Alexander, OT/G, LSU Tigers
Vadal Alexander is not a first round pick. He’s a very good, versatile prospect, but he’s not a first round pick. However, if Seattle doesn’t draft offensive line help in the first round, there will be a revolt underneath the space needle.
It’s a reach, but the Seahawks have to take it. Alexander is an enormous man at 6-foot-5, 336 pounds, and he’s got the size and power to match up with just about anyone in the NFL because of it. That size is a double-edged sword, though. He’s slow and plods along. It’s tough for him to sustain blocks and at guard, his natural position, he could become a liability when asked to pull towards defenders.
27. Green Bay Packers: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State Buckeyes
I’m extremely tempted to put a receiver here. When Jordy Nelson went down, it became clear that Randall Cobb and other Packers receivers are not enough capable of gaining consistent separation from top cornerbacks. However, they couldn’t get to the quarterback either and this is a much better draft for defensive help than it is for receivers.
Lee is a talented inside linebacker who very well could see his stock skyrocket ahead of this pick after the combine. He’s not as strong as I would like, but he’s shows confidence and tenacity on every play I’ve watched. He would be a starter on day one for the Packers and if adds more muscle to his frame he has the potential to be one of football’s best linebackers.
Much of what happens for the Chiefs in the draft depends on what happens to them in free agency. Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah, Tyvon Branch, and Derrick Johnson are all free agents. If they lose those pieces, you could see them reach to the first round for a replacement. If not, they could go offensive tackle. In this case, everyone worth even considering with a first round pick is off the board.
Jeremy Maclin was solid in his first year with the Chiefs, but adding another outside weapon for Alex Smith could open up Andy Reid's offense even more. Thomas has every natural ability that you want in a top wide receiver. He’s 6-foot-3, with great speed and a mountain of potential. However, he was limited by Ohio State’s offense and will come into the NFL as a developmental prospect.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis Tigers
Carson Palmer is not a championship quarterback. He proved that during the Cardinals’ playoff run. In this scenario, they would be foolish not to take a quarterback who very well could wind up being a top-15 selection.
Lynch is built similarly to Denver’s Brock Osweiler, but he’s far more athletic. He’s a “move” quarterback with a great arm and the ability to read defenses. However, I don’t know if he’s day-one starter material yet. Getting a year or so to sit behind Palmer and learn from quarterback guru turned ultra-stylish head coach like Bruce Arians could turn Lynch into an elite weapon at the quarterback position. If Lynch somehow falls to them, Arians would be salivating over the prospect of selecting this talented young gunslinger.
30. Carolina Panthers: Keanu Neal, S, Florida Gators
The Panthers are in a tough spot. The Super Bowl showed they need offense line help, especially at tackle. Unless they’re willing to reach for someone like Jason Spriggs out of Indiana, I think they have needs in the secondary that are pressing enough that they either trade back, or reach for a player like Neal.
Make no mistake, I like this kid. As a fan, I’d be thrilled if my team selected him with a second round pick. He’s a reach here. Neal is good player who looks like an NFL safety. He’s not a great tackler, but could develop into a nice player for the Panthers down the road.
31. Denver Broncos: Adolphus Washington, DE/DT, Ohio State Buckeyes
Unlike many others who cover or write about the Broncos, I don’t think they have to take an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. If Ryan Clady is willing to restructure, Max Garcia and Matt Paradis continue to develop, Louis Vasquez can get his back healthy, and Ty Sambrailo can get back from his shoulder injury, I think the Broncos could put those five guys on the field when the NFL season kicks off in September and have a much improved offensive line.
With that said, in this draft they’ll likely have to find a replacement for Malik Jackson, who will almost certainly leave in free agency. Adolphus Washington fits that bill nicely.
Like so many of the Broncos first round picks in recent years, Washington is a talented player whose stock fell because of a minor character issue. Washington was arrested in December for solicitation. People I talk to are mixed on Washington on the field. I’m not.
I love his tape. He’s extremely athletic and has the ability to stack offensive lineman to create space as a pass rusher. He does take plays off from time to time and he’s thinner than I’d like to see below the waist. His Senior Bowl performance was solid, especially in the early going and I expect him to put up good numbers at the combine this week.
If the Broncos select him at No. 31, I’m confident they’re getting a player who can step into their defensive line rotation on day one and compete for starter’s reps, especially when you consider he’ll be under the tutelage of great players like DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe, and Von Miller and he’ll work with great defensive coaches like Bill Kollar and Wade Phillips.
***NOTE: The New England Patriots do not have a first round pick in this year's daft due to the NFL's punishment against the organization for "DeflateGate"***
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