OVERVIEW: Free agency has had a big impact on our latest incarnation of the mock draft, as some needs have been filled by teams, such as those in need of running backs, while others have been created due to free-agent losses or cap casualty cuts. The result has been a lot of changes throughout the draft, including one that could end up as a potential dream scenario for Minnesota Vikings draft observers.
1. Tennessee – Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi. 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 – Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State. 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 QB (Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel). Wentz solidified his spot at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine and has pushed his way ahead of Goff on many draft lists.
3. San Diego – DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon. 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. There may be the inclination to go with the best athlete of the draft, which, in our view, is defensive back Jalen Ramsey
4. Dallas – Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. This one would appear to be coming down to two players – Bosa or cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The two players expected to be the starting defensive ends – Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincy – haven’t been re-signed, but the hope is that Randy Gregory gets his head on straight. However, facing a four-game suspension doesn’t bode well. That being said, cornerback is a giant need, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Dallas go in the direction of the best pure athlete in the draft, but with so much uncertainty up front, Bosa would look to be the logical choice.
5. Jacksonville – Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State. The Jaguars made some big moves in free agency to address defense, including signing CB Prince Amukamara to help build up the secondary. If Bosa is still on the board, they will snap him up despite signing Malik Jackson, but Ramsey is the best pure athlete in the draft and could give the Jags the luxury of lining him up at corner or potentially making him a free safety with Pro Bowl potential. The Jags have the offense to be a playoff contender. Fixing a struggling defense could go a long way to finishing the job and getting Jacksonville over the hump.
6. Baltimore – Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. 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 of seasons and his replacement last year, Keleche Osemele, left via free agency. 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 – Jared Goff, QB, Cal. 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. Philadelphia (from Miami) – Myles Jack, ILB, UCLA. There may be no prospect in the early portion of the draft more controversial than Jack. There is no questioning his talent, but after suffering a severe knee injury in the third game last year he is still on the mend and didn’t run or do position drills at the combine. With a new regime coming in and an Eagles team that got rid of inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans, there is no questioning that there is a need here. If Jack checks out with the medical personnel, the Eagles will likely jump on him here.
9. Tampa Bay – Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. 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 tacklers and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. If a cornerback falls that they love (Vernon Hargreaves?), 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 – Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida State. Injuries took a huge toll on the Giants secondary last year and, while they effectively traded out Prince Amukamara for Janoris Jenkins, it doesn’t lessen the need for depth and talent to push for a starting job. Running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell could get a lot of consideration here, but the Giants’ struggles last season were based more on defensive deficiencies that need to be fixed now, not later.
11. Chicago – A'Shawn Robinson, DT/DE, Alabama. When John Fox took over the Bears defense, he wasn’t given the proper tools to work within a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 personnel. He held what many thought was a fire sale, but the team started to show defensive improvement late in the year. Robinson is a versatile player who could infuse both youth and talent to a defensive line group in need of help. The Bears addressed linebacker nicely in free agency. They should use the draft to bring in help up front.
12. New Orleans – Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State. The Saints always seem to need help on defense, a process that has been the same for the last five years. What makes this more imperative is that the team cut David Hawthorne and lost Ramon Humber in free agency. Lee is an active player who could push for a starting job immediately and could end up making a significant splash as a rookie.
13. Miami (from Philadelphia) – Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. The Dolphins refused to get into a bidding war and that has made the running back position one of a revolving door in recent years, from Reggie Bush to Knowshon Moreno to LaMar Miller. They have speedy Jay Ajayi, but two weeks into free agency they currently have just two running backs on their roster. Elliott is the best runner in this year’s class and could give the offense an immediate upgrade. As always, Miami makes a splash in March but has done nothing to improve the run game and the best of the Class of 16 is sitting there waiting for them.
14. Oakland – Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State. The Raiders need a lot of defensive back help. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson is retired and former first-round CB D.J. Hayden is nothing short of a bust. The Raiders made a splash by signing Kansas City’s Sean Smith but need more help than just him. 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 – Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama. Figuring what the Rams are going to do is hard to predict. A strong case can be made for Laquon Treadwell because the Rams have a slew of No. 3 and 4 receivers. Quarterback is also a serious consideration. But after cutting James Laurinaitis and losing Daren Bates to free agency the Rams currently have one middle linebacker on the roster (Bryce Hager). When you stack the draft board of talent vs. need, it would appear that Ragland is a logical fit if he’s still on the board.
16. Detroit – Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State. The Lions have struggled on both lines but re-signed a lot of their own defensive free agents. Riley Reiff is ideally suited to be a right tackle, not the left tackle spot he’s currently playing. With no changes made during free agency – for better or worse – it looks like the same crew coming back this year. It’s a group that struggled badly last year and likely will continue to struggle moving forward unless draft help comes in.
17. Atlanta – Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia. The Falcons had one of the worst defenses in the league last year and Dan Quinn is looking to build a team in his own image. That could mean spending the entire draft on defense. Almost all the moves Atlanta has made this offseason in free agency have been on the offensive side of the ball, so if there is a linebacker like Floyd or a defensive end that Quinn likes, that will almost surely be where the first-round pick goes … and the second … and the third.
18. Indianapolis – Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. 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 and helping 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 – Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss. 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. With the team forced to release Mario Williams due to a giant cap number, this becomes even more of a priority
20. New York Jets – Noah Spence, OLB/DE, Eastern Kentucky. When Todd Bowles took over the Jets, he inherited a great defensive line with a solid pass rush, but Damon Harrison is gone and Muhammad Wilkerson broke his leg in the final game of the season, leaving him in doubt for the start of the year. Spence is a head case and has had numerous off-field problems that could drop his stock as deep as the second round like Randy Gregory last year. But if Bowles is convinced Spence can straighten up and fly right, he could be a steal here.
21. Washington – Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson. The Redskins won the NFC East and had one of the worst pass rushes in the league from the front three. Jason Hatcher was cut and all they added in free agency was Kendall Reyes. Dodd will give Washington an immediate upgrade and could push for not just playing time, but a starting spot sooner than later.
22. Houston – Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor. The Texans have spent a lot of money to upgrade the offense looking long term. Now it’s time to do that defensively. Vince Wilfork is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but he is nearing the end of the line. For the Texans defense to work, it’s going to need to keep doing what it’s doing. Billings is a load in the middle, and if given a year to learn from one of the best his learning curve will improve quickly and potentially lock down the position for years to come.
23. Minnesota – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi. This would be a near-dream scenario for the Vikings. They have made signings (mostly re-signings) at every position other than quarterback. The one position they haven’t addressed is wide receiver and Treadwell is the kind of receiver that the Vikings are looking for that can make big plays routinely. It will be a mine field for him to get to the Vikings – he’ll need to make it through the likes of New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Houston to make it to the Vikings, but if he makes it past the Rams at No. 15, the Vikings get the best wide receiver in this year’s draft without have to move up to get him.
24. Cincinnati – Josh Doctson, WR, TCU. Both of the Bengals’ backup receivers to Pro Bowler A.J. Green – Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones – bolted in free agency the first chance they got, leaving a big opening that many in Cincinnati didn’t expect. One of them maybe, but both? This went from a secondary issue to a front-burner issue in the matter of a couple of days. If Doctson is available, he would likely be an ideal candidate along with speedy Corey Coleman of Baylor. The Bengals don’t get crazy in free agency. They build in the draft and this could be a necessary piece to keep Green from getting double-teamed on every play.
25. Pittsburgh – Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson. The Steelers have a roster capable of going to the Super Bowl, but the cornerback position was a hot mess much of 2015. They were awful much of the season and three of their top five cornerbacks – William Gay, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin – were free agents when it started and only Gay has been re-signed and no outside help has been brought in. 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 big playmaker, but he is a strong cover corner who could excel in the Steelers system.
26. Seattle – Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama. 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 – were free agents and Mebane is gone, along with backup Jesse Williams. 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 – Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. The Packers were looking to re-sign nose tackle B.J. Raji, but he inexplicably said he wanted to take a year or so off – a dangerous move for a big, big man. Odds are, unless he relents and comes back for a bigger paycheck than he was offered, the Packers will look in another direction. Rankins is a big man who scouts will likely say is a better scheme fit in a 4-3, but the way the Packers run their defense he could be a solid contributor from the get-go.
28. Kansas City – William Jackson, CB, Houston. The Chiefs struck gold last year with Marcus Peters, and after refusing to get in a bidding war for Sean Smith they have a need at the cornerback position. Jackson is a solid player who has good technique and could be groomed quickly in the Chiefs system. Defense is their calling card, and with no signings coming yet on the defensive side of the ball it would appear the Chiefs are going to give defense primary attention in the draft. Jackson would be a solid place to start, giving them a pair of young bookend corners for the rest of the decade.
29. Arizona – Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. 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 – Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State. With the exception of Jared Allen, the Panthers are pretty much keeping the band together. They haven’t lost anyone of note and have made few outside signings. None of them have addressed defensive end. Not only is Allen gone, they brought back Charles Johnson at a greatly reduced price after cutting him, so it’s clear that a changing of the guard is needed.
31. Denver – Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State. Interior linemen don’t often roll off on the opening night of the draft, but he 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 could want 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.