NFL Mock Draft: Predicting a QB-heavy first two rounds

In Chris Burke’s latest mock draft, the Browns draft a quarterback yet again. Is it Carson Wentz or Jared Goff with the chance to turn the tide in Cleveland?  
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Somehow, it always comes down to the quarterbacks.

The plan to go best player available in the draft is a noble one, but what if your franchise needs a quarterback ... and a quarterback is never the best player available? The resulting anguish threatens to shake up the draft board every year, and 2016 is no different.

Teams from No. 2 to No. 31 in the first-round order currently sit with significant questions under center. As a result, for the first time in a long while in these weekly mocks, the QBs start flying off the board early. It’s possible to win without excellence at the quarterback spot, as Denver proved last season, but that approach only works when paired with a totally dominant defense. The Browns don’t have that. Neither do the 49ers or the Rams (though the latter is closer).

Turning Cleveland’s focus off Jalen Ramsey to their potential franchise quarterback sets us off down a different path. What’s in store now? Let’s find out in this latest, two-round mock:

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1. Laremy Tunsil

OT, Ole Miss

Peter King mentioned this week that the Titans might a) trade down or b) take Jalen Ramsey here. Either would be perfectly acceptable options, provided the trade brings back an extra top-50 pick or two. But it’s still going to be very difficult to pass on Tunsil, who has the baseline goods to develop into a dominant All-Pro tackle.

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2. Carson Wentz

QB, North Dakota State

• KAPLAN: Wentz visits Gruden’s QB Camp

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3. Jalen Ramsey

CB/S, Florida State

The beauty of Ramsey’s game is that he legitimately could line up as a starter at cornerback or safety, or play a hybrid of the two. So the Chargers’ seemingly well-stocked CB spot (Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers, Casey Heyward) should not chase them away from what may be the draft’s best player.

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4. Myles Jack

LB, UCLA

What happens late next week at Jack’s combine medical recheck will determine where he falls on April 28. Bad news likely would portend a tumble down Round 1; an OK from the doctors would all but lock him into the top six. Dallas still has roster spots in need of a touch-up, but should feel positive enough about its RBs and DEs to nab Jack over Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa.

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5. Joey Bosa

DE, Ohio State

The Jaguars will have to figure out how to employ the rest of their pieces, but a pass-rushing front with Bosa and Dante Fowler outside and Malik Jackson sliding inside to tackle would be formidable. Bosa actually offers some of the same elements as Jackson in quickness off the edge with power to test guards and centers.

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6. DeForest Buckner

DE, Oregon

When it comes to finding a perfect prospect-team fit in this draft, there are not a lot of better choices than this one. Buckner’s game is tailor-made for the Ravens’s 3–4 attack—a 3–4 attack, by the way, that could use more of a presence at DE.

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7. Jared Goff

QB, Cal

• NFL draft Big Board: Top 100 prospects

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8. Ezekiel Elliott

RB, Ohio State

Elliott is the best player on the board at this point, and that really can be the end of the discussion should Philadelphia add him to its Ryan Mathews/Darren Sproles backfield. Any of the next three selections about to come off the board would work for the Eagles, too, meaning this is a juicy spot for them.

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9. Vernon Hargreaves

CB, Florida

There is disagreement over Hargreaves’s stock (and over this cornerback class in general), at least as it stands relative to a high-Round 1 selection. Is he big enough to excel in the NFL? Fast enough? What if he has to play the slot? Weed out the talking points and there is enough to suggest Hargreaves can become a dynamic pro.

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10. Shaq Lawson

DE, Clemson

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11. Ronnie Stanley

OT, Notre Dame

Even amid negative chatter about Stanley’s work ethic, it’s still tough to envision him staying up on the board for long. His natural athleticism for the position is outstanding and, unlike Jack Conklin or Taylor Decker, he definitely projects as a left tackle. The Bears still have a hole at that spot.

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12. Laquon Treadwell

WR, Ole Miss

In Sean Payton’s tenure (not counting the 2012 season, during which he was suspended) the Saints have ranked in the top 10 in offense six times; it has happened on defense twice. The defense has to improve in ’16, but Payton’s proven path to success is through lighting up the scoreboard. Hence Treadwell, who would be a high-volume option for Drew Brees.

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13. William Jackson III

CB, Houston

• Podcast: Cowboys plans; Braverman, Westerman talk draft

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14. Sheldon Rankins

DT, Louisville

In Justin Ellis and Dan Williams, the Raiders have a pair of tackles who can hold the point of attack vs. the run. What they are lacking, especially with a neck injury lingering for Mario Edwards, is an inside defender who can penetrate on a consistent basis vs. the pass. Rankins is capable of that and so much more.

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15. Paxton Lynch

QB, Memphis

The Rams want to use Case Keenum as their quarterback in 2016? Fine. Go nuts. But if that truly is the plan, they should spend the season grooming a more talented option for the future. Sure, it may be hard to use a top-15 pick on a QB who will have to sit for awhile. It also would be worth it should Lynch round out his game and become a legitimate starter for a decade.

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16. Taylor Decker

OT, Ohio State

New Lions GM Bob Quinn has taken a very measured approach to the off-season thus far, stockpiling depth and taking that one big swing on WR Marvin Jones. There has been no chance to get a real read on how he will be as a drafter. In lieu of that, let’s play the odds. The Lions need a right tackle; they seem to want low-risk players for 2016; they’re building an offense built on functionality. Decker is a match.

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17. Leonard Floyd

OLB, Georgia

• FARRAR: SI 50: Top NFL prospects of 2016 

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18. Jack Conklin

G/T, Michigan State

The Colts either need a new starter at guard, if they decide they need Jack Mewhort at tackle, or they need a new starter at RT if they use him inside. Regardless of where they settle on Mewhort, Conklin could be penciled in at the other spot. He might even shape up as a long-term left tackle once Anthony Castonzo’s contract becomes bulkier next season.

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19. Andrew Billings​

DT, Baylor

For a team coached by Rex Ryan and coming off a season of disappointing production up front, there simply appears to be too many versatile defensive tackles to look elsewhere in Round 1. Billings would round out the Bills’ interior, plus could free up Marcell Dareus to attack away from the ball.

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20. Noah Spence

DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky

The New York linebacking corps looms as a significant issue. Sheldon Richardson is expected to shift back to DE after spending time last year as an OLB, further weakening a shorthanded unit. They need help inside at some point. They get help outside right here, taking a shot on Spence and his ability to get after the quarterback.

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21. A’Shawn Robinson​

DT, Alabama

Robinson does not tip the scales at 350 pounds like ex-Washington nose tackle Terrance Knighton did. However, he does bring some of the same space-eating potential up front, with a hint of promise that he could develop into a usable pass rusher. The Redskins coughed up 4.8 yards per carry last season. They have to be better up the middle.

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22. Josh Doctson

WR, TCU

What’s great about this fit from Doctson’s perspective is that he does not have to step in as a No. 1 receiver, as he might on a worse roster. DeAndre Hopkins can handle the heavy lifting, allowing Doctson to pick up the slack that no one really could last year for the AFC South champs.• NIESEN: Doctson goes from walk-on to top-flight prospect

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23. Darron Lee​

LB, Ohio State

If you are wondering how the Vikings would utilize Lee, Anthony Barr and Erik Kendricks in the same LB group, I’d suggest leaving that “problem” to Mike Zimmer. He will not say no to another athletic, three-down option, even with his team needing a receiver. Lee’s arrival could expedite Chad Greenway’s departure from the weakside.

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24. Michael Thomas

WR, Ohio State

The Bengals may need to double (or triple) down on receivers in this draft—signing Brandon LaFell to a one-year deal hardly solves all that ails the depth chart. Thomas could be special in a few years, but he enough in his repertoire to be a steady option as a rookie.

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25. Jarran Reed​

DT, Alabama

The lack of a pass rush (2.0 sacks total in 2014–15) will turn some teams off of Reed, because there is a diminishing need for a run-stuffer when so many offenses spread the field. However, Pittsburgh is severely lacking a power body to anchor its 3–4, putting Reed very much in the mix here.

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26. Mackensie Alexander

CB, Clemson

• The All-22: Watching tape with Mackensie Alexander 

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27. Reggie Ragland

LB, Alabama

Considering Ragland is a player I’d argue the Giants should keep in mind at 10, he is a clear value at 27. The Packers still could use another presence in the middle, with Clay Matthews Jr. returning to his edge role. They also should not sleep on Ragland’s steady-if-unspectacular coverage talent.

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28. Eli Apple

CB, Ohio State

Mentioned some of Apple’s selling points at No. 26, and the same arguments hold true at 28. The Chiefs value big, physical defenders on the edge and Apple is that, at times to a fault (he will be flagged quite a bit next year). Sean Smith’s departure will sting unless the Chiefs can replace him with a player like this.

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29. Ryan Kelly

C, Alabama

When a franchise believes it is on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl, it can afford to stray from a best-player-available model to fill a need. The upside on Kelly: He covers both bases—a legit Round 1-caliber prospect who would start from the get-go on a contender.

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30. Kevin Dodd

DE, Clemson

Was Dodd a one-year wonder or did he just need more of a chance to shine? His closing stretch last season definitely points toward the latter. The Panthers have a system and depth chart in place that would allow him to play in favorable spots early next season as he develops toward a permanent starting job.

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31. Vernon Butler

DT, Louisiana Tech

The assumption as of writing this mock is that the Broncos somehow, some way, wind up with Colin Kaepernick. Landing Butler would deserve high marks either way. He’s a big boy (323 lbs.) capable of handling a variety of roles. With Malik Jackson now in Jacksonville, Butler would get an inside track on playing time.• Get SI’s special Denver Broncos SB50 Commemorative Issue here

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32. Emmanuel Ogbah

DE/OLB, Oklahoma State

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33. Jalen Mills

S/CB, LSU

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34. Connor Cook

QB, Michigan State

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35. Corey Coleman

WR, Baylor

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36. Hunter Henry

TE, Arkansas

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37. Cody Whitehair

G/T, Kansas State

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38. Joshua Garnett

G, Stanford

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39. Karl Joseph

S, West Virginia

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40. Jason Spriggs

OT, Indiana

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41. Derrick Henry

RB, Alabama

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42. Darian Thompson

S, Boise State

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43. Sterling Shepard

WR, Oklahoma

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44. Kendall Fuller

CB, Virginia Tech

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45. Shilique Calhoun

DE, Michigan State

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46. Jonathan Bullard

DT, Florida

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47. Kyler Fackrell

OLB, Utah State

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48. Kamalei Correa

OLB, Boise State

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49. Su’a Cravens

LB, USC

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50. Braxton Miller

WR, Ohio State

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51. Germain Ifedi

OT, Texas A&M

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52. Kenny Clark

DT, UCLA

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53. Vonn Bell

S, Ohio State

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54. Will Fuller

WR, Notre Dame

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55. DeAdre Houston-Carson

CB/S, William & Mary

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56. Robert Nkemdiche

DT, Ole Miss

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57. Jihad Ward

DT, Illinois

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58. Jeremy Cash

S, Duke

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59. Deion Jones

LB, LSU

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60. Jordan Jenkins (from Cardinals)

OLB, Georgia

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61. Kenneth Dixon

RB, Louisiana Tech

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62. Le’Raven Clark

OT, Texas Tech

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63. Jaylon Smith

LB, Notre Dame

Notes on the above picks: Closing with the Super Bowl 50 combatants. Carolina waited a long time in this mock for a boost at OT. It could have done a lot worse than Clark, who has the look of an NFL starter on either side of the line. He just needs a little fine tuning.

Any thought of Smith in an early round banks on at least decent news from his combine medical recheck. If there is reason for optimism, expect to see him somewhere on Day 2, and the Broncos have enough in place to be patient with his rehab.