2016 NFL Mock Draft: The free agency effect
Change is in the air as the NFL officially opens free agency on Wednesday. What happens over the coming weeks will dictate much of how the draft unfolds come late April.
As such, this week’s updated mock draft both offers up possible Round 1 picks and team-by-team hypotheticals, just in case the free-agent period quickly alters a franchise’s prior draft plans.
Here’s how it all looks:
Trading for DeMarco Murray does not make it more likely the Titans take Tunsil here—they should be thinking best player available and/or O-line regardless—but it certainly doesn’t make it less likely. Tunsil has the potential to be a phenomenal pro.
If Tennessee signs an offensive tackle ... the focus shifts to trading down (which the Titans might prefer anyway) or defense. All the usual suspects like Jalen Ramsey and Joey Bosa would rise to the top of the list, without question.
The need for a quarterback is obvious, but I’ll continue to pitch the idea that Cleveland takes a defensive star here—in this case, Ramsey—and then trades back into Round 1 for, say, Connor Cook. That would give them arguably the top player in this class plus a QB who could be ready for Week 1.
If Cleveland signs a defensive back ... how much impact it has on the pick could depend on whether the Browns view Ramsey as a cornerback or safety. Either way, he should stay on their board.
There are some kinks to work out in Buckner’s game, but the overall package is too much to ignore in this draft class. He would be the focal point of San Diego’s D-line immediately.
If San Diego signs a defensive end ... it likely would be one of their own impending free agents at the position (Kendall Reyes and Ricardo Mathews). They’d still be looking for depth, and Buckner can slide down inside in a four-man front.
Flip-flopped Jack and Bosa from last week’s mock, if only because I’d expect Dallas to pluck a free agent or two for their defensive line. Jack is a do-everything linebacker, so much so that his arrival would help the secondary because of how he can cover the slot.
If Dallas signs a linebacker ... Bosa or even Ezekiel Elliott could be in the cards regardless. I still don’t believe the Cowboys take a QB at No. 4.
Don’t rule out Bosa just because the Jaguars reportedly will sign Malik Jackson once free agency opens. Jackson’s arrival merely means the defensive line should improve with or without Bosa. How well Jackson can penetrate from multiple spots is a big draw, and putting him, Bosa and Dante Fowler together would keep offensive lines guessing.
If the Jaguars sign a defensive end ... he would have to be a true outside pass rusher to box out Bosa. Otherwise, this pick is further bolstering a strength.
Is wide receiver the Ravens’ most pressing need? No. But a lineup of Treadwell-Kamar Aiken-Steve Smith (assuming he gets back to 100%), with Breshad Perriman inching his way along, is far more dangerous than the alternative. Plus, after 2016 Smith will be done and Aiken could test free agency. From a best-player-available perspective, Treadwell should be in the conversation.
If the Ravens sign a wide receiver ... as in, another wide receiver on top of retaining Aiken, you probably can forget about this. Ronnie Stanley, Vernon Hargreaves and Shaq Lawson were the other players under consideration.
The odds may be slightly against no quarterback coming off the board in the first six picks, but that scenario is possible nonetheless. That, or a team from San Francisco’s spot down trading up to nab Goff, Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch. Chip Kelly gets the most complete, NFL-ready option here.
If the 49ers sign a quarterback ... they probably won’t be getting themselves a starter. Other than Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick, no one really fits that bill.
When this mock first went live, a few hours before the Eagles-Dolphins trade was confirmed, I had Elliott slotted in at 13 but said it was too low for his talent level. This is better, in terms of the 2016 draft class. The Ohio State star is a legit three-down stud.
If the Eagles sign a running back ... there are three other options to be addressed: quarterback, offensive line and the secondary. Any would make sense, especially if Wentz slips a bit.
The Eagles could call Hargreaves’s name, as Miami did at No. 8 in our mock before the trade. Tampa Bay would not complain if it had the choice of Hargreaves, Ronnie Stanley and every pass rusher aside from Joey Bosa. Hargreaves gives up some home runs, but he also can make things happen outside or in the slot.
If the Buccaneers sign a cornerback ... and if the board stays the way it is right now, pencil in Stanley’s name. The Buccaneers have $0 in guaranteed money committed to Gosder Cherilus and Demar Dotson for 2016. Neither is a long-term answer at tackle anyway. Stanley would be, especially when paired with rookie revelation Donovan Smith.
Re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul helps, but let’s not forget that he had one sack last season. Even if he is better in 2016, the Giants are shy on pass rushers—team leader Robert Ayers (9.0) is a free agent; no one else had more than three. I had Elliott in this spot last week, but the aggressive and athletic Lawson better fits the Giants’ established draft M.O.
If the Giants sign (another) defensive end ... They could consider a cornerback here (Mackensie Alexander is on the board) or a defensive tackle, of which there are many. Also, keep Elliott on the back burner.
The Bears’ D-line was a clear weak point headed into last season. By pairing Robinson, who can line up just about anywhere across a three-man front, with 2015 pick Eddie Goldman, that position group would become a strength.
If the Giants sign a defensive tackle/end ... they still could use help at linebacker (both inside and outside) and in the secondary. Oh, and Laquon Treadwell or Josh Doctson would look awfully nice teamed up with Alshon Jeffery.
Dodd makes the biggest jump of any player in this week’s mock—I’ve had him pegged as an early Day 2 pick, but the lack of Round 1 pass rushers could drive up his value. That, plus the fact that he could be extremely good. Dodd and Cam Jordan on the edges would allow New Orleans to keep Hau’oli Kikaha set as a pass-rushing linebacker.
If the Saints sign a defensive end ... hold up. Stop there. The free-agent DE market is thin, so New Orleans would be hard pressed to find a true starter. This pick should be the top defensive player on the Saints’ board.
The Dolphins apparently tired of Brent Grimes (or at least of dealing with his wife), but swapping out Grimes for Byron Maxwell is subtraction from an on-field perspective. Alexander might not be able to step in as a No. 1 cornerback but he has the mentality and physical game to handle the gig in short order.
If the Dolphins sign a cornerback ... they could go offensive line, especially if they have any inclination to move Ja’Wuan James inside to guard. There are a bunch of tackles available. One more pass rusher is a must, but with Lawson and Dodd already gone, they might be down to Noah Spence or waiting.
The Raiders just paid Kelechi Osemele as if he is going to be their starting left tackle, but this move would make the line better overall. Osemele is a dominant, All-Pro-caliber guard, and Stanley can be a franchise left tackle. Breaking the bank at guard is a lot easier when you’re rolling on the cheap at tackle.
If the Raiders sign a tackle ... or, more specifically, if they are adamant about playing Osemele outside, they could grab the next cornerback on the board (Houston’s William Jackson) here or consider a linebacker like thumper Reggie Ragland or the rangy Darron Lee.
When we get into the super terrific world of mock drafts with trades, the quarterback slots will look different. For now, the Rams can stay put and get their guy. Case Keenum cannot be the answer at QB.
If the Rams sign a quarterback ... they would be making a huge mistake if it’s not Osweiler. They need a young quarterback, one not named Nick Foles or Sean Mannion, to build around in L.A.
The Lions could use a little nasty on their offensive line, even more so now that Calvin Johnson isn’t around to bail out the passing attack. And Decker plays nasty. He is a snap-to-whistle force with the quickness to handle whatever job is thrown his way.
If the Lions sign an offensive tackle ... they presumably would be set at the position, between the hypothetical mystery addition and Riley Reiff. Wide receiver is a glaring need. The guy about to come off the board at 17 also fits ...
The Falcons tendered Paul Worrilow at a second-round level and reportedly are still looking for LB help. Ragland would solve a ton of problems. He can dominate against the run and is better than advertised on passing downs.
If the Falcons sign an inside linebacker ... they are another wild-card team in the pursuit of a wide receiver because of Roddy White’s drop-off. They also could use an outside linebacker or two, or help along the offensive line.
Dropped Andrew Billings in at No. 18 last mock, and given the DT talent still available, the Colts very well could go that direction. If not, Conklin would be a clear improvement at guard or tackle. I’d give him a shot at tackle.
If the Colts sign an offensive lineman ... it would come as little surprise. In that case, pin the D-line as a priority and work back through the levels of the defense until a fit emerges.
Marcell Dareus played a bunch of nose tackle last season under Rex Ryan, but adding a player like Butler would give the Bills more options. Butler saw time at nose, three-tech and five-tech in college, and he produced everywhere.
If the Bills sign a defensive lineman ... well, you never can have too many, as Buffalo was reminded when Jarius Wynn tore his ACL last season. But count linebacker and safety among the other needs. Buffalo also could be a surprise landing spot for a QB—Paxton Lynch sitting behind Tyrod Taylor for a year, anyone?
This is a popular match because a) the Jets badly need a pass-rushing presence and b) figuring out Spence’s exact stock is tough in light of his past off-field transgressions and his recent underwhelming combine. Todd Bowles would get the most of Spence’s abilities.
If the Jets sign an outside linebacker ... they could take Spence anyway. The Jets probably will kick the tires on several free-agent OLBs, but they don’t have a ton of spending cash. The O-line could use some bodies, too.
Someone will have to convince me to drop Jackson from Round 1 at this point—he might be higher on a few team boards than Hargreaves or Alexander, because of his size (6' 0") and speed (4.37 40). Like this fit, too, because of Chris Culliver’s November knee injury.
If the Redskins sign a cornerback ... they still should look to draft another one. Beyond that, put D-line and linebacker in the mix. Andrew Billings or Jarran Reed would be a welcome addition.
Parroting my own commentary from last the mock, but if the Texans are hunting a QB to start next season (and don’t land Brock Osweiler), Connor Cook might be the answer. Lynch is the prospect with a higher ceiling, though.
If the Texans sign a quarterback ... it should be Osweiler or bust. If they do land him, this is another team where a versatile defensive lineman makes sense. So would some interior O-line help.
This is the skill-position piece that Minnesota is missing: a big-play, downfield threat who could pull attention away from Stefon Diggs. A growing group of draft minds believe that Doctson, not Treadwell, is this class’s top receiver.
If the Vikings sign a wide receiver ... they also could add Doctson, because there aren’t any free agents who match his skill set. An offensive lineman (Jason Spriggs?) or a versatile safety to pair with rising star Harrison Smith are possible paths, as well.
This may hinge on what Cincinnati does with its internal free agents (Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey), but one could argue that the linebacking corps needs another rangy playmaker regardless. Lee is about as rangy as it comes in this draft, perhaps second only to Jack.
If the Bengals sign a linebacker ... it would be against the run of play, at least if we’re talking about a 2016 starter. A cornerback like Eli Apple or even Jalen Mills—with experience at cornerback and safety—could be Plan B. Ditto for a wide receiver complement to A.J. Green.
“First-round nose tackle” may not move the needle quite like other positions, but the impact of a force like Billings on Pittsburgh’s defense could be immeasurable. Drop his quick, powerful presence between Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward, and the Steelers would be in business.
If the Steelers sign a nose tackle ... they should swing their attention to the secondary. Any of top safeties (Darian Thompson, for one) would be possible at 25. They also might need O-line help if Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster walk.
Garnett and Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair are the top two guard options in this class, and either would work here. Seattle also will be looking for tackles, but the guard combo hardly inspires confidence. Garnett can flat out maul in the run game.
If the Seahawks sign a guard ... they might just take a tackle here instead. Circling back to a point made earlier, though, this stands out as a spot where Cleveland could jump up to nab a QB if it takes a defender early. The Seahawks get pick No. 32 (plus another one later), and the Browns get their potential 2016 starter under center.
Reed is an absolute menace in the run game, showing more than enough power to hold up in a two-gap setting if his new team so chooses. The Packers have ample pass rushers. They need to be more stout up the middle, which is where Reed would do the dirty work.
If the Packers sign a defensive tackle ... they could attempt to settle their linebacker situation by nabbing an inside option here. Long and lean OLB Leonard Floyd would take them in a different direction, one that keeps Clay Matthews floating a bit.
Could the Chiefs double down on first-round cornerbacks, after landing Marcus Peters last year? Why not? They likely are about to lose Sean Smith, whose early-season absence caused substantial issues. Apple (6' 1", 200) is cut from the same cloth: aggressive, almost to a fault.
If the Chiefs sign a cornerback ... or if they decide they can wait in the draft thanks to Peters’s presence, this is another team where the defensive line and linebacker spots are short on long-term talent. A wide receiver—Tyler Boyd, Sterling Shepard, Corey Coleman, Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller are all sitting there—would open up the offense.
The Cardinals’ ability to keep Tyrann Mathieu on track does not necessarily mean they could do the same with Nkemdiche. But it doesn’t hurt. Arizona has a strong coaching staff and locker room, which have proven they can overlook red flags for talent. And from a talent perspective, Nkemdiche at 29 is a ridiculous value.
If the Cardinals sign a defensive lineman ... it would be piling on at an already well-stocked spot, just as the Nkemidche pick would. The greater needs are on the right side of the O-line and at pass-rushing OLB.
Spriggs deserves to be a first-rounder, and the Panthers—with or without RFA Mike Remmers (second-round tender)—must bolster their offensive line. The Indiana product is an outstanding athlete, as the combine proved, and he can play on either side.
If the Panthers sign an offensive tackle ... another one in Round 1 might be overkill, depending on which free agent it is. You’ll hear wide receiver mentioned as a possibility. Defensive line is more likely, especially if Kenny Clark, Chris Jones and others last this long.
By my book, this is 100% a best-player-available call (USC’s Su’a Cravens also is in the mix under that consideration). Count it as a bonus that Clark would help replace the departing Malik Jackson. Like Jackson, Clark can step outside and impact an offense, but he really thrives from the three-tech and in.
If the Broncos sign a defensive lineman ... they would be committing a lot of money to an area where they just re-upped with Derek Wolfe and soon face a fifth-year option on Sylvester Williams. But the Broncos’ entire draft focus really rests on what Osweiler opts to do. If he bolts (and possibly even if he comes back), John Elway would have to find a quarterback.