The reason we love mock drafts is the same reason so many football fans get swept up in the speculation of this stretch of the NFL calendar. Seeing a player tied to a favorite team, even for a fleeting second in Internet form, is a way to feel the hope that comes with this time of year.
Each mock comes with an understood set of guidelines, and briefly, here are ours: Every team out there says they’re taking the best player available, but with this exercise, there’s no way to know who they consider that player to be. That’s why these picks are almost all rooted in team needs. The goal here isn’t to get these all right. It’s to provide a glimpse into what type of player could help the most as each team is currently constructed.
1. Tennessee: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Marcus Mariota had the second-highest sack rate in the league last year, and adding Tunsil would be a way to change that in a hurry. The Titans have holes all over their roster, but by all accounts, Tunsil has the makings of a longtime fixture at left tackle.
2. Cleveland: Jared Goff, QB, California
Carson Wentz has built a lot of momentum, but no quarterback in this draft can sling it like Jared Goff. He’s capable of throws that look like actual wizardry. Hue Jackson’s new offense is a blank slate, and Goff wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
3. San Diego: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
It’s been a long time since the Chargers had a true difference maker in their front seven, and that’s exactly what Buckner can be. At 6-foot-7, 281 pounds, Buckner can be play all over the line for San Diego, and along with adding to the pass rush, would help improve a run defense that finished dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
4. Dallas: Myles Jack, OLB, Cowboys
Wentz has to be a consideration, if only because it’s unlikely Dallas will pick this high again as long as Tony Romo is still playing. But even the Cowboys’ prudent picks in recent years—players like Travis Frederick and Zack Martin—were win-now moves. If teams are comfortable with the status of his injured knee, Jack can be penciled in next to Sean Lee to create a duo capable of causing ground-covering mayhem.
5. Jacksonville: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Just as some predicted, Ramsey made the coaches in charge of the drills in Indianapolis wonder if their tape measures were faulty. He’s a 6-foot-1, 210-pound do-it-all defensive back who also has a 41-inch vertical leap and broad jumped 11 feet, 3 inches. Jacksonville needs to see strides from a pass defense that finished 31st in DVOA last season. Getting arguably the best overall defender in the draft would be a start.
6. Baltimore: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Terrell Suggs is 33 years old and coming off his second torn Achilles in three seasons, and 2012 first-round pick Courtney Upshaw is set to be a free agent. Bosa is the considered the best edge player in the draft and would give Baltimore a player on the outside equally adept against the run and pass, just like Suggs was at his best.
7. San Francisco: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Trent Baalke’s comments at the combine about San Francisco’s intention to have Colin Kaepernick on its 2016 roster won’t preclude the Niners from taking a player who might the long-term answer at quarterback. They also need an upgrade at right tackle, but that could come in the form of recently retired Anthony Davis, who reportedly is applying for reinstatement with the league.
• CARSON WENTZ, PRIDE OF NORTH DAKOTA: The boy from Bismarck, took the NFL combine by storm and has a governor and senator in his corner as he tries to become the first quarterback taken in the 2016 draft.
8. Miami: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
Miami may be in the market for a pass rusher if they can’t bring back Olivier Vernon, but the cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes has been a problem for a while now. Hargreaves, a natural cover man who can play just about any style, has a chance to be the answer.
9. Tampa Bay: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
A front-seven piece—either the edge rusher they’ve lacked for years or a player that could help the transition to a more multiple-front defensewould make sense, but Tampa Bay desperately needs better play from its secondary. Alexander is a smart, brash corner who would instantly bring some energy to new defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s group.
10. N.Y. Giants: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
The days of the Giants controlling games with their pass rush are over. Big Blue had the third-worst sack rate in the league last season, and their top two players on the edge—Robert Ayers and Jason Pierre-Paul—are set to be free agents. Spence’s showing in Indianapolis was somewhat disappointing, but his status as the most impressive player at the Senior Bowl may actually hold more weight.
11. Chicago: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
Chicago could use some help along both lines, but the bleakest spot on the roster is still inside linebacker. Shea McClellin is a free agent, and the only other inside linebackers are on the roster are three undrafted players and one recently cut by the Broncos. At nearly 260 pounds, Ragland isn’t built like most linebackers in today’s age, but his physicality and added value as a pass rusher make him an intriguing combination.
12. New Orleans: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
The Saints need to shore up a pass defense that finished dead last in DVOA, but they’ve also long lacked a presence in their middle of their defensive line. Robinson is a 6-foot-4, 312-pound beast with NFL power and the ability to create havoc against the run.
13. Philadelphia: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
Jason Peters’ age (34) and concerns about his ability to stay healthy mean considering a tackle here isn’t crazy. Conklin moved around well at the combine, and even if he sits in 2016, he and Lane Johnson would give Doug Pederson’s offense a pair of young, athletic tackles.
14. Oakland: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Taking a running back this high is always a dicey proposition, but ask the Rams how they feel about the returns from Todd Gurley’s rookie year. If Oakland feels like Elliot is on that level, he could be give the upstart Raiders’ offense an entirely new dimension.
15. Los Angeles: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Last year, the Rams finally got what they were hoping for from Tavon Austin, but they’re still searching for the big-body, outside-the-numbers threat they’ve lacked for years. Treadwell may not be a burner, but he has great hands and knows how to win at the catch point.
16. Detroit: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
A slew of free agents among their interior defensive line makes that an area Detroit has to address, but it would be tough to imagine the Lions willingly starting another season with their current offensive tackle tandem. Stanley would be an instant improvement on the right side and, with Riley Reiff set to be a free agent after his year, could move to the left in 2017.
17. Atlanta: Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Dan Quinn already has Vic Beasley on one side of his defense, but at 275 pounds, Dodd has the frame to hold down the left side opposite his former college teammate. Dodd would help a defense that finished dead last in sack rate last season, and his bulk would also allow him to slide inside on passing downs.
18. Indianapolis: Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
Whitehair has experience at tackle, but his stature will likely force him inside in the NFL. That’s exactly where the Colts need the most help. Whitehair is an excellent pass protector, and with all the defensive-tackle talent around the league, that type of guard has never been more valuable.
19. Buffalo: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Rex Ryan has been willing to take chances on talented players with checkered pasts, and Nkemdiche certainly fits that billing. He reportedly didn’t gain much ground with his interviews at the combine, but there’s no denying he’s a supremely talented player that could give Buffalo some insurance for 32-year-old Kyle Williams.
20. N.Y. Jets: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
At 228 pounds, Lee is on the smaller side, but Todd Bowles hasn’t shied away from undersize linebackers in the past. Lee tore off a 4.47 in the 40 and posted a collection of other mind-boggling combine numbers, and behind that Jets’ defensive line (provided all the players along that line are retained) he’d able to provide Bowles’s defense with a jolt of athleticism.
21. Washington: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Washington has plenty of questions along the defensive line, but Jay Gruden’s offense also finished dead last in rushing DVOA last season. Kelly is both nasty and a technician, and along with Derrick Henry was at the center (ha!) of a devastating Alabama running game.
22. Houston: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
All the conversation about Bill O’Brien and Christian Hackenburg at the combine made me want to reach for the bearded Ryan Gosling gifs, but at least part of the motivation behind that link is the knowledge that the Texans really need a quarterback. Preference will ultimately dictate which direction Houston goes, but Lynch is a big, athletic quarterback that uses his mobility more as a way to extend plays than as a runner.
23. Minnesota: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Phil Loadholt will be back for Minnesota this season, but he’s also 30 and set to be a free agent after 2016. With Matt Kalil’s future also in question, Decker would give the Vikings some flexibility with their plans and could also take over for Kalil at some point this season if Minnesota feels the need to make a change.
24. Cincinnati: Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame
Cincinnati has a history of taking players that don’t see the field as rookies, so knowing that Smith wouldn’t be able to play this season because of lingering issues with his knee might not be the deterrent it is for other teams. The Bengals also have plenty of uncertainty at linebacker moving forward. A.J. Hawk is 32, Vincent Rey is a free agent, and Rey Mauluga has no guaranteed money remaining on his current deal.
25. Pittsburgh: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Cornerback is a glaring need, but with Heath Miller’s retirement the Steelers are also short a tight end. Henry is an excellent blocker and capable middle-of-the-field target that should be able to step in and play right away.
26. Seattle: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Seattle’s offensive line needs a ton of help, but with most of the ready-to-play options already gone taking Rankins would give them a chance to make an area of strength even better.
27. Green Bay: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Finding an inside linebacker that would allow Clay Matthews to move back outside is a priority, but the Packers could also use a movable piece in an edge rusher rotation that includes free agent Nick Perry and 2017 free agent Julius Peppers. Lawson can play both inside and outside and would give Green Bay the flexibility they like with their players on the defensive front.
28. Kansas City: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
Both Mike DeVito and Jaye Howard are set to be free agents, and Butler is the type of player who can accomplish a lot of different tasks for an odd-front defense like the Chiefs have. He’s a stellar run defender that should be able to keep Derrick Johnson clean.
29. Arizona: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
There’s no graceful way to put this: Ogbah is a beast. At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he ran a 4.63 in the 40 and finished with a 35.5-inch vertical. For a player who piled up 13 sacks as a junior in the Big 12, that’s big time. Those numbers don’t always translate to his tape, but with that sort of size and explosion, he could play all over the place in a defense that still needs more pass rushers than can consistently win.
30. Carolina: Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Even if the Panthers bring back Josh Norman, they still need help on the other side. Charles Tillman is 35 and isn’t likely to be back, and Robert McClain isn’t the long-term answer. Enter Fuller, who has the traits Carolina looks for in their zone corners.
31. Denver: Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech
The transition to the NFL may be a long one for Clark, who played in the Platonic ideal of a spread offense at Texas Tech. But he may have that luxury with the Broncos if Denver chooses to bring back Ryan Clady. Even if Clady accepts the paycut the Broncos have reportedly asked him to take, he’s going to be 30 and has a history of dealing with injuries.