At long last, we have at least some semblance of a 2016 NFL draft order. The top 20 spots have been claimed by the non-playoff teams, while the final 11 (New England lost its Round 1 pick) will be divvied up amongst the clubs still alive.
The order used for this mock was distributed by the NFL earlier in the week, with Nos. 21–31 based on team records and strength-of-schedule tiebreakers.
OT, Ole Miss
Tunsil was not the top-ranked prospect on our last Big Board but he was close, and he will be there for many before all is said and done. It’s rather easy to see the match here, too—Tunsil can be Marcus Mariota’s blindside protector, while Taylor Lewan slides to RT. Tunsil’s agility would only help him mesh with the mobile Mariota.
So much for my theory that Johnny Manziel would straighten up and earn a shot at the ’16 starting gig. The thought of taking another QB this high probably makes Browns fans nauseous, but if Manziel is out, the revamped front office has to accept it. Goff is the draft's best QB prospect and could compete early.
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DE, Ohio State
Ronnie Stanley would be awfully appealing in this scenario for a San Diego team crushed again by injuries up front—the gap between Tunsil and Stanley is tiny, if there is one. But Bosa falling into the Chargers' lap at No. 3 would be a pleasant surprise. He's a scheme-versatile force who dominates opponents with his power along the line.
The 2015 season was miserable for the Cowboys, but picking within the top five is a decent consolation prize for a team that can be in playoff contention again soon. Even with Bosa off the board, Dallas has its choice of dynamic defensive playmakers here. Assuming Jack's health checks out, he might provide the most bang for the buck. The UCLA star is a rangy and athletic option at linebacker.
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S/CB, Florida State
It was painfully obvious again this year that Jacksonville needs to add talent—any talent—to its underachieving defense. The Jaguars did just fire defensive coordinator Bob Babich, but coach Gus Bradley could get max value from a player like Ramsey, who can float from corner to safety or be a permanent fixture in either spot.
Don’t let his shaky bowl performance fool you: Hargreaves is a legit NFL shut-down corner ready to happen. He more than held his own in some difficult matchups this season, showing a willingness to be physical coupled with the awareness to find the football.
OT, Notre Dame
Getting Anthony Davis back from “retirement” would help (and possibly change the Round 1 plan), but Stanley is a top-10 option with experience on both the left and right sides. The 6'5" tackle uses his long arms and quick footwork to get defenders moving. With Joe Staley turning 32 this summer, planning for the future at left tackle is a smart play.
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I had Lawson at No. 16 on the December Big Board and that might have been underselling him. This dude's a beast. He comes at blockers with a variety of moves and rarely, if ever, takes a play off. The Dolphins will need help off the edge next season, and Lawson can bring it.
This is another team that must get better up front, particularly at the end spot, and another player with dominant traits, just sitting there for the taking. Buckner is a monster, at 6'7", 300 pounds. He might be a more natural fit in a 3–4, but his run-stuffing talent would allow him to make an immediate impact in a 4–3, with room to grow as a pass-rusher.
WR, Ole Miss
Eli Manning will need more help along the line at some point, but ... man, Treadwell and Odell Beckham Jr. together? Much like the Beckham pick a couple years back, this would be a best-player-available choice of a prospect who just might be a superstar. Bonus: He's a tenacious blocker downfield in the run game.
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We're well within the range—perhaps even a bit below it—where Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith should land if his knee injury turns out to be minor. (More on him after pick 31.) Ragland, the AP Defensive Player of the Year, won't linger very long either. He can cover but excels downhill vs. the run. A great fit for Vic Fangio's linebacker-needy defense.
OLB, Ohio State
Absolutely one of my favorite prospects to watch in this class, Lee covers a ton of ground in the blink of an eye. More importantly, he covers the right ground—in other words, he's not just aimlessly sprinting but diagnoses the action to find his target. The redshirt sophomore also notched 11 sacks in just two seasons.
OT, Ohio State
Back-to-back Buckeyes. The race to be the third tackle off the board could come down to Decker and fellow Big Ten standout Jack Conklin, who appears just a few lines later here. Decker needs a big Senior Bowl week, but if he gets it his athleticism helps set him apart. He could be a long-time NFL left tackle, and the Eagles need to start planning for life after Jason Peters.
The Raiders’ best corner this season? Improbably, it was Washington cast-off David Amerson. D.J. Hayden (Round 1, 2013) hasn’t panned out at all the way Oakland hoped and T.J. Carrie (Round 7, 2014) is a work in progress. Enter Alexander, a touch undersized at 5'11" but a prospect with true No. 1 cornerback potential, especially in man-to-man assignments.
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St. Louis (or wherever this team will be playing next season) absolutely has to find an answer at quarterback. Jeff Fisher’s uninspiring tenure has been derailed by constant issues there. The benefit the Rams have in the presence of Case Keenum and Nick Foles is that they could ease the high-upside, low-polish Lynch along, perhaps with 2017 in mind.
Robinson looks like a 10-year NFL vet. The 320-pounder plays above his experience at times, too, thriving with purposeful power. What I mean by that is Robinson can use his frame and hands to get into gaps, but he isn't a robot about it. He'll sniff out where the O-line is moving and make sure to stay active.
DT/DE, Ole Miss
Hopefully, the Nkemdiche picture becomes a lot clearer as the draft process unfolds. Right now, it's almost impossible to guess where he might land. Talent-wise, he's a top-10 prospect with insane levels of athleticism for a 300-pounder. But there are significant red flags, highlighted by last month's fall from a hotel window, out of a room where police discovered marijuana.
OT, Michigan State
And here's the aforementioned Michigan State lineman. Personally, I see Decker as someone who projects out to be a left tackle. Conklin can play left tackle, right tackle or possibly even guard, but it's hard to say that LT is his sure home—hence his spot a notch below Decker. The Colts should be happy to take him, though. When healthy, Conklin is an intelligent, hard-nosed force. He has yet to declare for the draft.
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DE, Oklahoma State
Ogbah also remains undecided about his NFL future, although the expectation is that he'll turn pro. He is coming off a 12.5-sack, 16.5-tackles for loss year—his burst on the corner is about what you'd expect from someone with those numbers. Especially if Mario Williams is gone, the Bills will be looking for more pass-rushing pop.
The Jets' potent D-line is just begging for a force to pair with it at outside linebacker. Lorenzo Mauldin showed glimpses, but Floyd is a better prospect. The redshirt junior also showed this season that he can do a little bit of everything at linebacker, meaning he doesn't have to be stuck in a rush-only role.
Washington can take its pick between Doctson and Ohio State's Michael Thomas for the “big” receiver it needs—Doctson stands 6’3”, 195. His height, hands, leaping ability and body control combine in a highlight-reel package. While the nuances of playing receiver at the NFL position will take time, the Redskins' stable of reliable pass-catchers could leave Doctson to do his thing.
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RB, Ohio State
There are other fits for Elliott higher in Round 1, and I won't quibble if he pushes near the top 10. The Buckeyes' back is an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate waiting to happen, thanks to his three-down abilities as a runner, pass-catcher and blocker. This is a special offensive player.
Outside of having to swap in Alejandro Villanueva for an injured Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers have enjoyed continuity along their line all year—the other four starters all played nearly 1,100 snaps each. But with Beachum and Ramon Foster both impending free agents, will that be the case in 2016? Drafting Alexander would ease any concerns. He thrived for LSU at guard, then started at tackle this year.
CB, Virginia Tech
A knee meniscus tear limited Fuller to just three games this season, but he is expected to be 100% in the near future. The younger brother of Chicago’s Kyle Fuller, Kendall could be just what Seattle is missing opposite Richard Sherman. Clean up his technique a bit and the Seahawks will have another confident, aggressive corner that loves to play up on receivers.
The Packers’ noted draft-and-develop approach means that a starting tackle likely will not be top priority headed into the off-season. However, as we’ve seen of late, they're desperate for depth at OT and Spriggs could develop into a special player. The developing prospect was downright brilliant at times for Indiana, finding the second level and burying defenders.
Eric Berry (a potential free agent) and Ron Parker handled the majority of Kansas City’s safety snaps in 2015, but Husain Abdullah also saw nearly 500 of his own. The Chiefs don’t hesitate to take advantage of what three-safety looks can give them. Cash is competent in coverage, so long as he is not asked to play deep much in Cover-1, and he’s a wrecking ball in the box.
WR, Ohio State
Another receiver who can go up and get it. Like Doctson-to-Washington a bit earlier, adding Thomas to Minnesota would provide a complementary piece to what’s already there and a target Teddy Bridgewater could trust to win balls in tough spots. Long way to go, but Thomas sure looks destined to be a Round 1 choice.
If the Bengals want a straight one-for-one replacement for nose tackle Domata Peko, they can wait. Or they can nab someone like Clark, an upgrade on the veteran Peko in a lot of ways. The UCLA product can play with strength and anchor; he also could wander to various spots up front, from at least zero- to three-tech.
Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe both are approaching free agency, so the Broncos could be in search for reinforcements soon. Allen deserves Round 1 consideration regardless. He could fit in either a 4–3 or 3–4, but for Denver’s purposes Allen’s knack for pushing the pocket from inside fits. The 280-pounder notched 12 sacks this season.
No surprise Alabama is headed to the title game when you see the incredible talent on its defense. Reed is another key figure, a 313-pound load inside—the duo of he and A’Shawn Robinson together, with Reed helping collapse things between the tackles, is borderline unfair. Rodney Gunter has been fine for Arizona, but he shouldn't keep the Cardinals from adding interior competition.
DE, Michigan State
Continue to believe Calhoun belongs in Round 1, even though his size (6'5", 250) runs him a little light for a traditional 4–3 NFL end. Calhoun finished his final Michigan State season with 10.5 sacks, a career high. The Spartans rarely took him off the field, which is a testament to his skill set.
A few more quick thoughts here before we wrap up:
• Connor Cook would have been my third Round 1 quarterback, had I not gone with Elliott to Houston. (Denver also could be a QB spot late, depending on what happens with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler.) I’m more convinced at the moment that QB3 comes off the board via a team trading back into Round 1—San Francisco? Philadelphia?
• New England’s erased first-round pick is significant for that reason, too. Losing a Round 1 selection is a significant punishment on its own, but Bill Belichick loves to wheel and deal come draft time. The Patriots’ slot would have been an obvious one to toss out in a trade-down scenario.
• The player I most wanted to fit in Round 1 but didn't: USC’s Su’a Cravens. He’s a top-20 prospect, in my mind, but also a bit of a tough match in this type of exercise. The hybrid linebacker/safety could wind up playing strictly the former in the NFL. Odds are, though, there will be fewer direct fits for him because his best usage might come on a team willing to let him wander a bit.
• Look for a bunch of running backs drafted on Day 2. Alabama’s Derrick Henry has a very real chance to be gone by then, but close behind him are the likes of Devontae Booker, Kenneth Dixon, Kareem Hunt, Paul Perkins, Alex Collins and others. It's a really deep class.
• The news on Jaylon Smith’s knee injury is devastating—multiple outlets revealed that he tore his ACL and MCL in Notre Dame's bowl game. ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported earlier that Smith had a $5 million loss-of-value insurance policy in case he fell out of Round 1. Smith is probably going to cash that. Prior to the injury, he had a top-10 shot.