OVERVIEW: With the Combine over and free agency around the corner, there have been some significant changes to our mock draft. The biggest change has been the result of significant concerns about the injured knee of Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. Viewed by most scouts as the best linebacker in the draft and a top-10 pick, he takes a dive completely off our first-round board because, as things currently stand, it appears as though he won’t be playing in 2016 and may have nerve damage that could threaten his career.
1. Tennessee Titans – Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi Rebels. The Titans allowed a league-worst 54 sacks and the only player worth his salt was left tackle Taylor Lewan, who ideally should be a right tackle. Tunsil may begin at right tackle, but, depending on how quickly he adjusts in protecting Marcus Mariota, we could see a flip-flop of players sooner than later.
2. Cleveland Browns – Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State Bison. The Browns need a quarterback and there isn’t a huge difference in the eyes of many scouts between Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff, who could also get serious consideration here. The Browns have tried and failed trying to land a first-round quarterback (Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel). Wentz solidified his spot at the Senior Bowl and the Combine and has pushed his way ahead of Goff on many draft lists.
3. San Diego Chargers – DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon Ducks. If Tunsil makes it past Tennessee, he would likely be the pick here, but with him gone the Chargers need to address one of the worst defenses in the league. They struggled to generate a pass rush and couldn’t stop the run. Buckner is a big edge-setter in a 3-4 scheme and, while Joey Bosa will get some consideration here, Buckner appears to be a better scheme fit for what San Diego is looking for.
4. Dallas Cowboys – Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State Buckeyes. Greg Hardy isn’t coming back and Jeremy Mincey may be following him in free agency. The Cowboys have big needs at cornerback, but they may be able to hold off if they’re convinced Orlando Scandrick can return from a torn ACL. A wild card here could be QB Jared Goff, who would be groomed behind Tony Romo. Bosa is an athletic player who never lets his motor idle, which will likely get Jerry Jones’ attention.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State Seminoles. The Jaguars had one of the worst pass defenses in the league and are lacking a true shutdown corner. Offensive line is a potential here, but if the Jaguars are going to become a legitimate playoff contender they need big improvements on the defensive side of the ball or they will continue to pick early.
6. Baltimore Ravens – Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Offensive tackles are always at a premium and the Ravens are an organization that drafts for need and maintains continuity. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has been breaking down over the last couple seasons and his replacement last year, Keleche Osemele, is a free agent. The Ravens don’t dip heavily into free agency; they build through the draft. Stanley has the potential to be a starter for a decade and those are the types of players that GM Ozzie Newsome is attracted to.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Jared Goff, QB, California Golden Bears. Chip Kelly is getting a second chance and there is a growing sentiment that he and Colin Kaepernick aren’t a perfect fit, with Kaepernick already requesting a trade. If they can kiss and make up, look for linebacker Myles Jack to be in strong consideration. If Goff makes it past the 49ers, he could stay on the board for a while barring a trade.
8. Miami Dolphins – Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida Gators. The Dolphins secondary is a mess at both corner and safety and their top CB, Brent Grimes, is coming off a dismal season and turns 33 this year. The Dolphins could look for a defensive end if they don’t spend big to keep Oliver Vernon alongside Ndamukong Suh, but when you’ve been burned as often over the top as Miami was las season, fixing the most pressing weakness is the main priority.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson Tigers. No player had more tackles for loss (25.5) than Lawson last season. The Bucs invested heavily in recent years on offense and with new defensive coordinator Mike Smith looking to change things up, he needs a player that can shed blocks and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. If a cornerback falls, that could be a serious consideration, but a lot of problems in the secondary can be attributed to a defensive front not getting the job done and the Bucs need a lot of help up front.
10. New York Giants – Myles Jack, ILB, UCLA Bruins. There are some scouts who believe that Jack is the biggest potential difference-maker in the draft. The biggest question here is that the Giants don’t draft linebackers in the first round, but, with a new coaching staff and a struggling run defense, help is needed at all three levels of the defense and Jack could make an immediate impact to helping New York regain some of its linebacker swagger.
11. Chicago Bears – Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama Crimson Tide. When John Fox took over the Bears, he was putting a round peg in a square hole trying to transform a 4-3 scheme that had been run forever into a 3-4. Almost all of the top needs are on defense in free agency and the draft this year. One of the first needs that must be filled is the ability to stop the run and Ragland operated out of a very similar defense at Alabama, which should let him hit the ground running and bring some pride back to a linebacker corps that hit bottom last season.
12. New Orleans Saints – A'Shawn Robinson, DT/DE, Alabama Crimson Tide. The Saints have needs throughout the defense and need players that can make plays and stop drives. Robinson is big and strong and can provide an immediate upgrade in the run game and has the strength and functional speed to break down the pocket in the passing game. The Saints have struggled on defense for years and have burned through coaches and schemes. When Kevin Williams is their most consistent inside lineman, that can’t be good.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State Spartans. The Eagles struggled badly along the offensive line. Jason Peters is at the end of the line and the Eagles would have young bookends in Lane Johnson and Conklin that could give Philadelphia a foundation piece of their offense moving forward.
14. Oakland Raiders – Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State Buckeyes. The Raiders need a lot of defensive back help. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson is retiring and former first-round CB D.J. Hayden is nothing short of a bust. Apple will need to make some adjustments because he isn’t the best technical player in the draft, but he has blazing speed and exceptional athleticism, something the Raiders as an organization have always coveted.
15. Los Angeles Rams – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi Rebels. Figuring out their quarterback situation is a pressing need, but that could be solved in free agency. No rookie quarterback would thrive with a receiver corps that consists of Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Steadman Bailey and Bradley Marquez leading the way. Treadwell is a big-play receiver and will finally give the Rams a legitimate No. 1 that has been missing since Torry Holt got old.
16. Detroit Lions – Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor Bears. The Lions did an adequate job of replacing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley last year, but starters Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker are both unrestricted free agents. Ziggy Ansah is the rock of the new-look D-line, but there aren’t enough big bodies in the middle and Billings may be the best pure defensive tackle in the draft. They may look O-line if they re-sign Ngata and Walker, but, if they don’t, this becomes an emergency priority.
17. Atlanta Falcons – Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State Buckeyes. The Falcons had one of the worst defenses in the league last year and head coach Dan Quinn is looking to mold a new defense in his own image. Lee has sideline-to-sideline range, 4.47 speed to close quickly, and is a rising prospect as the draft gets closer. The Falcons could look for defensive line help, but at this point Lee may be too hard to pass up, especially given the D-line depth in this year’s draft.
18. Indianapolis Colts – Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State Buckeyes. The Colts have attempted to fix their O-line problems in free agency and the draft and, more times than not, GM Ryan Grigson has failed. Decker is yet another Buckeye coming off the board to help bolster NFL lineups. If Andrew Luck is going to reach his full potential, he will need to be protected, and Decker is about as safe a bet to accomplish that as any tackle left on the board.
19. Buffalo Bills – Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi Rebels. The Bills franchised Cordy Glenn, which put offensive tackle off the front burner. The Ryan brothers love active defenders and, unlike other coaches, aren’t afraid to take a chance on players with off-field baggage, of which Nkemdiche has plenty. He’s a top-10 talent and the Ryan brothers hope they can develop him into a star.
20. New York Jets – Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia Bulldogs. When Todd Bowles took over the Jets, he knew he had one of best defensive lines in the game and Pro Bowl veterans in the secondary. What was missing were playmakers at the linebacker position. Last year, the group managed just nine sacks. With explosive speed and tremendous balance, he can make plays from anywhere and will get Bowles the immediate upgrade he needs as the Jets look to become a playoff team. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a possibility since their top three backs in 2015 are all free agents.
21. Washington Redskins – Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky. The Redskins are the defending division champs but have struggled badly on defense at times and could use help at both tackle and end. Spence has some off-field issues that will hurt his stock – without them, he would be long gone by now. He didn’t help his cause at the Combine, but game tape doesn’t lie and if the Redskins don’t take a chance on him, somebody will.
22. Houston Texans – Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State Buckeyes. For years, taking a running back in the first round seemed almost against the law for NFL teams. But with Todd Gurley breaking the cycle last year, teams in need may be more willing to take the plunge. With the revolving door the Texans had at quarterback last year, change is coming, but, for now, we’re more convinced it will come in free agency with a veteran, not the 22nd pick of the draft. Elliott will likely step in immediately after the release of Arian Foster. If Wentz could fall this far, however, they wouldn’t hesitate to jump on him.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Josh Doctson, WR, TCU Horned Frogs. For the time being, this pick remains the same as in the first mock. There is plenty of consideration to be given at different positions. Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair could be an intriguing prospect in that he played tackle in college, is projected to be a mauling guard with Pro Bowl potential and took reps at center at the Combine for teams envisioning him inside. Safety and linebacker will get a long look and, if a pass rusher they like falls, that could be the direction they go. But Doctson did nothing at the Combine to hurt his stock and the biggest missing piece on the Vikings roster is a playmaking deep threat that can give Teddy Bridgewater the firepower that has been lacking in the Vikings offense. Free agency will impact what the Vikings are looking for here, but Doctson is a difference-maker and the Vikings need him.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State Buckeyes. Both of the Bengals starting safeties – George Iloka and Reggie Nelson – are free agents and both will draw interest if they reach the open market. The Bengals may not be willing to pay real-market contracts to both. Bell is athletic and, given the run on Buckeyes, most of the Bengals players already know who he is given their Ohio proximity. It appears to be a marriage of need, talent and familiarity.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson Tigers. The Steelers have a roster capable of going to the Super Bowl, but the cornerback position was a hot mess for much of 2015. They were awful much of the season and three of their top five cornerbacks – William Gay, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin – are free agents. The Steelers rarely break the bank on outside free agents, so if they’re going to improve this dismal unit, in all likelihood it’s coming through the draft. Alexander isn’t a playmaker, but he is a strong cover corner who could excel in the Steelers system.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama Crimson Tide. The Seahawks have started paying off their young studs to keep them in the fold. They have reached a point of critical mass where they can’t hand out contracts to everyone. That has become important at the defensive tackle position since both starters – Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin – are free agents. They may be able to sign one of them, but likely not both. It’s the byproduct of success and it’s coming back to bite them now.
27. Green Bay Packers – Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Packers re-signed Letroy Guion, but he isn’t a long-term answer and can easily be replaced. Like the Steelers and Ravens, the Packers don’t spend a lot of money on outside free agents. Ogbah is a physical specimen who makes plays on a regular basis and can start off as a change-of-pace guy and quickly transform into high-end playmaker.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville Cardinals. Dontari Poe has done a nice job playing the middle of the Chiefs defensive front, but he is entering the final year of his contract. Rankins isn’t a pure nose tackle type, but his athleticism is impressive and he brings full effort on every play. Offensive line and the secondary are options, but Rankins is an athlete that Andy Reid may find hard to pass up here.
29. Arizona Cardinals – Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis Tigers. An edge rusher will get obvious consideration, but the Cardinals are an organization looking big picture when it comes to stringing together successful seasons. They didn’t have a long-term backup plan when Kurt Warner was forced out of the game. They have the chance to let Lynch learn for as long as Carson Palmer can hold up. It would be a bold move, but it’s a value pick.
30. Carolina Panthers – Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson Tigers. If there hasn’t been a safety taken, that would be an option with Roman Harper being a liability on more plays than not, but depth is needed at defensive end. Jared Allen rode off into the overcast sunset and Charles Johnson was released due to his $10.75 million salary. The Panthers have a good thing going and defensive end may need to be addressed both in free agency and the draft to keep it that way.
31. Denver Broncos – Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State Wildcats. Interior linemen don’t often roll off on the opening night of the draft, but Whitehair may be the exception. A college left tackle, he is projected to be a dominating guard, and in the six weeks prior to the Combine he worked on snapping the ball because he heard there may be an interest in developing him into a center. He’s a player that any GM or coach would want, despite his poor bench-press showing, and this looks like a good landing spot for a champ with a new QB needing protection help.
NOTE: The Patriots forfeited their pick in the first round due to sanctions levied by the NFL for the Deflategate scandal, leading to 31 picks in the first round.