2016 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting first two rounds
Seventy-seven days. That's what we have left between the time this mock goes live and the 2016 draft.
Sounds like a long wait. After all, if we backtrack 77 days the other direction, Week 11 of the regular season would have just concluded, with the Colts, Giants and Falcons all in playoff position and the Buccaneers among the league’s hottest teams.
A lot can happen in 77 days. There is free agency to come, for one. Players officially can sign with new teams beginning on March 9—just 27 days away.
We promise not to drop a mock draft on you every morning, but there will be a few between now and April 28. Here is the latest, covering Rounds 1 and 2.
The remaining list of realistic options I see here (aside from trading down) includes Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, LaQuon Treadwell and, if they like him better as a franchise left tackle, Ronnie Stanley. Are any of those players a better fit? Tunsil is a standout player at a position of obvious need.
So, our first curveball comes early. To be clear, Jared Goff remains the top-ranked QB on the SI board and very well may be the most NFL-ready. But he definitely is not the unanimous No. 1 at QB across all 32 teams, with the view that Lynch and even Carson Wentz could hold higher upside. Lynch has all the physical traits but needs seasoning. Cleveland’s new guard can give it to him by allowing him to learn behind Josh McCown. This isn’t a one-year rebuild.
This mock has Ramsey–Myles Jack–Joey Bosa as the next three off the board. It is feasible to mix and match that trifecta in any combo among the Chargers, Cowboys and Jaguars. The choice at No. 3 is Ramsey because of how desperate San Diego should be for a boost in the secondary, especially with Eric Weddle exiting.
I’m still having a hard time believing the Cowboys will use this pick on a QB. Doing so almost would close the Tony Romo window—a backup quarterback isn’t getting them over the top. Jack won’t on his own, either, but his rangy, athletic game would make the Dallas defense much more formidable.
Strange things happen every year at the draft, but this is about as low as I can envision Bosa falling. Any of the current top four could fit him in as a defensive starter, which says something for his talent. Bosa doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of an NFL pass-rushing DE nor of a dominant interior lineman, but he bridges the gap to create a potential All-Pro.
A post on the Ravens’ website last week speculated that Spence could fall into Round 2. Forget it. But Baltimore could grab the edge-rushing dynamo here. Spence starred during Senior Bowl week, consistently beating tackles around the bend. Teams will have to dig into his character, but the talent is there to justify a top-10 spot.
Everyone’s locked into the Colin Kaepernick–Chip Kelly match for the moment. But let’s expand those horizons. Goff isn’t cut from the Kaepernick mode as a “dual-threat” QB, but he’s also not a statue—his footwork in the pocket and desire to keep his eyes downfield are both pluses. Marcus Mariota isn’t walking through that door, and Kaepernick might be walking out of it. It is Goff’s talent as a passer that really would appeal to Kelly.
Hargreaves or Mackensie Alexander would be fine selections by Miami, which must find some help in the secondary. The Florida product can thrive in any coverage set and has the quickness to close on the ball—he intercepted 10 passes and broke up 27 over three seasons.
The Buccaneers need help at several key spots on defense. So then why a tackle here? Well, for two reasons: 1. The gap between Tunsil and Stanley is small, meaning this could look like a bargain. 2. There is more depth at the pass-rushing spots and even at DB than at tackle. If Tampa Bay wants help along its O-line, this is the spot to pounce.
Super Bowl 50 offered the latest reminder that a potent pass rush can undermine just about any team in the league. The Giants are lacking there, and Lawson is a force. He’s coming off a 12.5-sack, 22.5-tackle for loss season for Clemson.
There’s often hesitancy to take an inside linebacker early in Round 1 (and Ragland proved at the Senior Bowl with his lethargic performance that he is an ILB, not an OLB). But this is a terrific spot for Ragland, who instantly should be a standout NFL run defender.
Others are higher on Buckner than I am (he was 18th on our last Big Board). However, the Saints could get on board because Buckner projects as a 3–4 run-stuffing end, yet also can slide inside on a 4–3. For a multiple-front defense like New Orleans has, that’s promising.
Honestly, it’s tough to get a read on the receiver class right now. Do teams wait on the position because of the depth, or do a bunch of prospects fly off the board early because of the talent? For now, lean the former. Treadwell remains the top option—a physically dominant receiver with plus blocking traits.
His height notwithstanding, the 5' 11" Alexander has the look of an eventual No. 1 NFL cornerback. I say “eventual” because college quarterbacks’ reluctance to test him combined with his limited experience (he was a redshirt sophomore in 2015) presents limited tape. When the ball was thrown his direction, Alexander clamped down on receivers, erasing space with a physical demeanor.
Of all the 31 teams currently in Round 1 (sorry, New England), I might argue that the Rams are most likely to take a quarterback at their current slot. The Browns might not fall in love with a QB enough to justify taking one with the No. 2 pick, the Texans could be too low to nab their future starter and there are few other obvious landing spots. But Los Angeles can open its new era by taking the high-upside Wentz, then seeing what he can do in camp.
The knock on Robinson is that he is limited as an interior pass rusher. Well, the Lions have multiple DTs who can help there (Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright, Tyrunn Walker if he re-signs), but they’re shy on early-down bulk. Haloti Ngata walks, and Robinson replaces him as a starter.
What to do with Smith? Is he top-10 because of his obvious talent? Day 2 because of the knee injury he suffered in Notre Dame’s bowl game? The answer will depend on which team has enough patience to wait on Smith’s health, even if it takes a season or two. Should he get all the way back, he’s exactly the type of player that Atlanta’s defense is missing.
Something about this fit has made it an easy one to make in our recent mocks. Perhaps it’s that the Colts have no choice but to upgrade their offensive line after a miserable 2015 season. Or, perhaps it’s that Conklin has the wherewithal to start as a rookie at either guard or tackle.
Consider this a strong depth addition to Buffalo’s 2015 D-line as well as a plan for the future—starting DT Kyle Williams will be 33 in June, and 82% of his $8.3 million cap hit can come off the books after the 2016 season. Reed (6' 3", 311 pounds) is a load up front.
Lee is not the prototypical edge rusher that the Jets need to find. What he is, though, is a gifted athlete who can play inside when New York runs a three-man front or step outside in a 4–3 base. Oh, and he did notch 11.0 sacks between 2014 and ’15, showing a nice burst when Ohio State turned him loose as a blitzer.
Which team is going to take the shot? Nkemdiche is a top-five talent with major off-field concerns—in December, he climbed out a hotel window and then fell 15 feet, reportedly while under the influence of synthetic marijuana. But, man, his raw football talent might be unmatched in this class. He can line up just about anywhere and is a remarkable athlete. Tap into his full potential, and Washington could have a perennial All-Pro.
Do the Colts pounce on Elliott? How about the Jets? Or maybe a wild card like the Dolphins, at No. 8? If not, and assuming the top three QBs are gone, Houston has to take a long look. Elliott can have a Todd Gurley-like impact on an offense as a rookie. He is a three-down back with great vision and an innate desire to initiate contact.
Tough call here between nabbing Decker for the line or handing Teddy Bridgewater a standout receiver. But Bridgewater can’t use his receivers without more protection. And a huge bonus when it comes to Decker: He’s outstanding in the run game, which Adrian Peterson would appreciate.
We talked about “draft crushes” on last week’s On the Clock podcast, and Thompson was on that list for me even before he excelled at the Senior Bowl. The Boise State product was all over the field in Mobile, breaking up countless passes in drills. Adding Thompson would allow the Steelers to use hard hitter Mike Mitchell more often as an in-the-box defender.
Apple is a big (6' 1", 200), physical coverage corner who occasionally uses his hands too much. If that doesn’t sound like a Seahawks CB, I don’t know what does. Both Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead are set to be free agents, and Seattle would prefer not to repeat the Cary Williams nightmare via free agency.
Rankins grabs a “DL” assignment instead of being specified as an end or tackle because he offers that versatility—likely end in a 3–4, tackle in a 4–3. Either way, he’s going to get to the quarterback. Jaye Howard and Mike DeVito are impending free agents, so the Chiefs could use another playmaker up front.
For all their recent success, the Cardinals have not had a ton of luck drafting pass-rushing help (though Markus Golden did show signs of life late in the 2015 season.) Enter Ogbah, a 275-pounder who could be a missing piece. His repertoire is a work in progress, yet he still totaled 22.5 sacks over his past two seasons. The Cardinals could move him around, too.
If you watched even a few minutes of Super Bowl 50, you’ll understand why this pick is an offensive tackle. The Panthers boasted the league’s top-scoring offense despite starting Michael Oher and Mike Remmers; the latter was lit up by Denver when it counted most. Spriggs could slot in on either side of the line, and his quick feet would pair well with Carolina’s creative rushing scheme.
The Broncos have their own issues at offensive tackle (and, you know, quarterback). They bypass the line here for the draft’s best tight end, a 6' 5" mismatch-creator. He is nowhere near the blocker Vernon Davis once was, but Henry could provide the type of passing-game target Denver thought it was getting from the veteran TE.
If Kony Ealy continues to play as he did in the Super Bowl, Carolina’s need at end is less severe. But it’s a need regardless. Nassib would produce as part of a rotation, with room to grow into more.
As for Cook, I’m of the belief that Denver will take a quarterback somewhere even if it keeps Peyton Manning or (more likely) Brock Osweiler. Gary Kubiak should see in Cook moldable qualities, including that he can thread the needle while on the move. Cook’s current situation is a tricky one. There is too much negative chatter about his personality to ignore, but how much of it is being pushed by teams hoping to see him drop? In this class, I still peg him as a Round 1 candidate, right in step with Wentz from a talent perspective.
Another one I still haven’t quite figured out: Shawn Oakman. The Senior Bowl MVP thanks to two sacks and a forced fumble, he probably gets a call somewhere on Day 2 (if not Day 1, should some front office roll the dice). The problem, as always, is that it’s so hit or miss with him. He showed up on game day in Mobile but was a non-factor during the all-important practices.