The 2016 NFL combine is all wrapped up, and the draft is just two months away. After observing time in Indianapolis, SI.com's Chris Burke gives us his current order.
NFL mock drafts are a bit like Starbucks: You may not always want it, but you won’t have to look far if you do.
With that in mind, we dive back in here with a post-combine breakdown of Round 1. Earlier this week, our latest list of the top 100 prospects rolled out. The 31 first-round picks won't necessarily match up with how the Big Board fell—this is an educated guess at where teams' priorities will lie come draft day; the rankings are personal opinion.
The next big blip on the radar is free agency, which begins next week. How that all plays out obviously will affect what happens in the draft. Until then, here's how things stand:
2016 NFL Mock Draft
In light of the last few drafts, there is understandable skittishness to locking in an offensive tackle at No. 1. Those feelings will not go away until Tunsil steps into game action next season. We talk all the time about prospects being pro-ready, and Tunsil is arguably more prepared for the NFL than any other player in this class. His combine, where he moved like a tight end in a 310-pound frame, only reiterated his strengths.
Do the Browns want one of the top two quarterbacks in this draft, or do they want one of the top two players in this draft, period? That’s really what this decision boils down to. Given their current QB situation, with Johnny Manziel done and Josh McCown penciled in as the starter, it’s understandable why option A is the popular call. But this will be the first draft pick made by the new Cleveland front office. Don’t assume it is willing to gamble it on a QB.
Ramsey is a stud. Cornerback? Safety? It doesn’t matter. Draft him and find a way to play him as much as possible.
If the Chargers believe Ronnie Stanley can be a long-term answer at tackle (and I do), he very well could be the pick here. Otherwise, they are almost certain to take a defensive player or a trade down, and it’s on D where things get interesting. Buckner is a walking brick wall, capable of run stuffing and developing into an above-average 3–4 rusher. He is a better fit than Joey Bosa for the Chargers’ current scheme.
Among the reasons why the Bosa–J.J. Watt comparisons are overdone—another being that it’s silly to compare any incoming rookie to the game’s most dominant defender—is that Watt has thrived as a 3–4 end. Bosa is best suited to be outside in a 4–3, although he, like Watt, will warrant a few opportunities to kick down inside on pass-rushing downs. Rod Marinelli would find the optimal usage for the Ohio State star.
Don’t let his three interceptions last year fool you: The Jaguars’ Paul Posluszny is a throwback run defender from the linebacker spot. Despite his limitations in coverage, he still had to play nearly 1,000 snaps last season, right on par with Telvin Smith. (Dan Skuta added another 417.) Posluszny’s early-down defense is important, but the league is trending away from him. Jacksonville needs another rangy linebacker who can cover. Enter Jack.
Even with a run on defensive players occurring in picks 1–5, the Ravens wouldn’t mind this board. They get their pick between Stanley, Vernon Hargreaves, Mackenzie Alexander and every pass rusher not named Bosa. Stanley just happens to hit both the “best player available” and “position of need” bullets. Kelechi Osemele is an impending free agent, and Eugene Monroe can’t stay healthy.
Hand size aside, there were a few positive outcomes for Goff from the combine. For one, he had no major issues throwing the ball. Also, he weighed in at 215 (a good number for him) and ran a 4.84-second 40, about where Cardale Jones wound up and faster than Paxton Lynch. The notion that he’s a statue in the pocket is erroneous. The 49ers could be a two-QB team in the draft: Grab Goff here to be the starter, then add ... oh ... Vernon Adams on Day 3 to develop behind him.
Having a standout slot corner is almost more important than having a second lockdown guy outside. No matter where the Dolphins see fit to use Hargreaves, he would provide an upgrade over what is currently on the roster aside from Brent Grimes. I ranked Mackensie Alexander higher than Hargreaves on our post-combine Big Board, but it’s neck and neck. Hargreaves is further along right this second.
• BURKE: Alexander says he’s the draft's best cornerback
I see Baltimore and San Diego as the Round 1 pivot points for Tampa Bay. If those teams both go for defense, thereby pushing Stanley down the board, then I think he’s the Bucs’ pick at No. 9. Nabbing Lawson is a strong fallback plan. He is put together at 270 pounds, yet he still ran a 4.7 40. Lawson is ready for the NFL.
It wasn’t the plan to have Elliott land in the same slot as Todd Gurley did a year ago. And it’s a little odd to have Elliott bookended here by Lawson and Noah Spence, two players who could boost the Giants’ dormant pass rush. Elliott, though, is a top-five talent in this draft class. Think of him as everything the Giants want Rashad Jennings to be.
It’s hard to know exactly which teams are or aren’t comfortable with Spence’s off-field red flags following the combine meetings. His size (6' 2", 251 pounds) pairs better with a 3–4 front, as Chicago runs, than the Giants’ 4–3. He can be dominant off the edge getting after the quarterback. But does a team trust him enough to justify picking him this high?
It’s still TBD whether the Saints will use a base 3–4 or 4–3 next season under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Robinson works in either, especially as someone who can plug the interior against the run. He’s not a great inside pass rusher yet, by any means, but he did produce 9.0 sacks over three seasons at Alabama. A long, productive career awaits.
Sam Bradford’s re-signing on a two-year deal doesn’t rule out the possibility that Philadelphia takes a QB later in the draft. Honestly, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of one here, either—nab Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch, let him sit for a year or two, then hand over the keys. Barring that scenario, though, the Eagles have work to do elsewhere, like along their O-line, where Conklin could play guard or tackle and would help provide Jason Peters insurance.
The Raiders have a bunch of young corners, including 2013 first-rounder D.J. Hayden and 24-year-old reclamation project David Amerson. Alexander could take over as the top dog in short order, once he adjusts his aggressive game to the NFL’s stricter rule book. His swagger certainly would play well with the Raiders’ faithful.
Both Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead used the combine to spout their confidence in Case Keenum. I’ll call shenanigans on that one. Keenum makes for a fine backup, even a starter in a pinch, but the Rams cannot hang their long-term future on him. Wentz would make for a much sounder investment. The Wentz–Andrew Luck comps are even more unnecessary than those of Bosa-Watt, but from both a mental and physical standpoint there are many reasons to believe Wentz can be a franchise QB.
The Lions infamously passed on Aaron Donald for Eric Ebron. If they take an offensive player here—Laquon Treadwell’s just lurking—with Butler, Andrew Billings and Sheldon Rankins on the board, Detroit’s fan base might lose it. Any of the three would help restock the D-line. The 320-pound Butler plays a rather nimble game inside, with the burst and power to penetrate.
Mirroring what happened up at No. 10, the Falcons hold off on addressing other needs to take the top offensive weapon on the board. A Treadwell–Julio Jones combo would be lethal, far more so than the Jones–shell of Roddy White combo Atlanta utilized last season. Dan Quinn might want more defensive help, but Treadwell is a steal at this spot.
Conklin has been the consensus selection at this spot for a long time, including on our previous mocks. There is no guarantee he makes it to 18 (he didn’t here) and, even if he does, the Colts are not one OT away from a title. They need to improve in the trenches—on both sides. A pass rusher might be more of a priority, but the versatile Billings would create his own set of issues for opposing lines.
Rankins did about all he could during his Louisville days to convince the NFL he is deserving of a Round 1 selection. He notched a combined 26.5 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks over the past two seasons, displaying the ability to disrupt from a variety of alignments. The Bills could experiment up front with him, but dropping his 300-pound frame over the ball and allowing Marcell Dareus to attack more would be ideal.
The Alabama linebacker could be a dominant piece in Todd Bowles’s defense, at least against the run. He is far from a non-factor on passing downs, too, with at least competent coverage skills and the wherewithal to blitz. Without an obvious edge-rusher fit available at 20, bringing in Ragland as the future defensive captain is the play.
Not that anyone needed convincing, but the fact that Washington could consider several D-linemen here—Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed, Robert Nkemdiche—right after a big DT run speaks to that group’s strength and depth in this year’s draft. But the top of the cornerback pool is impressive, too. Jackson is no longer flying under the radar after his strong combine (and he shouldn’t have been anyway). The Redskins ranked 25th against the pass last season and have very few long-term answers there.
Part of me wanted to pull the trigger on a Connor Cook selection here, with Lynch continuing his slide. Cook has his warts, those that we can see on the field and those that everyone keeps asking him about off the field. He also might be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft, and that includes Goff and Wentz. But Lynch has incredible upside, coupled with a 6' 7" frame. While no one should confuse him for a running quarterback, he moves well. Bill O’Brien would take advantage of that athleticism to further open up the Texans’ play-action game.
A 6' 2" receiver who runs a 4.5 40, has a 41-inch vertical and can high point the football at an advanced level. Do we need to keep going? This is precisely the type of weapon Minnesota is missing opposite 2015 rookie star Stefon Diggs. Doctson may start a bit slow as he adjusts, but it won’t take him long to start making huge plays.
Thompson’s underwhelming combine, complete with a 4.7-plus 40, could turn into brilliant news for those teams hoping to nab a starting safety at a relative bargain. But I’d bet the other direction: Thompson made too many plays at Boise State and is too strong of a player to drop very far. He and Mike Mitchell could be interchangeable—both are capable of stepping into the box and hammering folks.
I mentioned Clark up at Washington’s spot (No. 21) and nearly made him the choice there. The Chiefs benefit from Clark still being on the board. Again, the list of pros starts with Clark’s versatility—he can hold up at the point of attack at one-tech or nose but also talked at the combine about his three-tech abilities. Mike DeVito and Jaye Howard are free agents, so the Chiefs will be looking for help up front. A Clark–Dontari Poe duo would solve any problems.
Ogbah’s 26.5 career college sacks may not tell the exact story of his pass-rushing skills—he needs to keep bulking up and refining his moves to maintain that success. He could follow the Markus Golden rookie path with the Cardinals, easing his way into action before picking it up late. Off the edge is a rare spot where Arizona does not have a deep stockpile of talent.
Anyone who says he knows exactly what will happen with Nkemdiche come draft time is lying. His physical gifts are almost unmatched in this class, but the off-field headaches and Nkmediche’s own admission last week that he played lazy at times make him a mystery. For whatever reason, this is the type of prospect that either bad teams take early and wind up disappointed or a good team rehabilitates after taking him late. I’ll chalk this up as the latter for now, but it’s just as likely that Nkemdiche climbs into the top 20 or drops into Day 2.