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

1:09 | NFL
NFL draft: Why Carson Wentz would be better fit for Browns than Jared Goff
Wednesday April 6th, 2016

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:

  • 1
    1Laremy 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.

  • 2
    2Carson Wentz
    QB, North Dakota State
    Caving a bit here. Up until this point, I’ve fought the urge to give Cleveland a QB at 2. Perhaps making the change after the Browns added Robert Griffin III seems a bit counter-intuitive, but that move emphasized how desperate the situation is. RG3 is about as far from being a sure thing as it gets. And while Wentz isn’t one either, he showed again at his pro day that there is plenty to work with, even if it will take some time.

  • 3
    3Jalen 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.

  • 4
    4Myles 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.

  • 5
    5Joey 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.

  • 6
    6DeForest 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.

  • 7
    7Jared Goff
    QB, Cal
    The Colin Kaepernick Watch continues, which means it is still possible he stays in San Francisco and the front office turns its attention elsewhere. In the event of a Blaine Gabbert-Thaddeus Lewis depth chart, though, Goff would be mighty attractive. He could excel in Chip Kelly’s attack.

  • 8
    8Ezekiel 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.

  • 9
    9Vernon 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.

  • 10
    10Shaq Lawson
    DE, Clemson
    The Giants just spent approximately the GDP of a small island nation on their D-line in free agency. What’s another major investment? Lawson could contribute as a rookie, while refining his technique behind the likes of Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. The payoff may come in 2018 or ’19 instead of 2016, but it should happen.

  • 11
    11Ronnie 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.

  • 12
    12Laquon 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.

  • 13
    13William Jackson III
    CB, Houston
    The NFL tends to be more stubborn about its ideal prototypes at some positions than others. Cornerback is one, so don’t expect Jackson (6' 0", 4.37-second 40) to hang around long come Round 1. He can challenge receivers in man or zone and, frankly, would be a bigger help to the Dolphins’ secondary than new arrival Byron Maxwell.

  • 14
    14Sheldon 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.

  • 15
    15Paxton 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.

  • 16
    16Taylor 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.

  • 17
    17Leonard Floyd
    OLB, Georgia
    Floyd is equally as likely to surprise in the top 10 as he is to drop to the middle of Round 2. Why? The lanky 6' 6" linebacker could be an instant-impact player, but it’s going to take the right staff to figure out what to do with him. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn is a candidate to do just that. Floyd can bring a rush outside. Could he also handle some reps inside?

  • 18
    18Jack 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.

  • 19
    19Andrew 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.

  • 20
    20Noah 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.

  • 21
    21A’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.

  • 22
    22Josh 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

  • 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.

  • 24
    24Michael 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.

  • 25
    25Jarran 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.

  • 26
    26Mackensie Alexander
    CB, Clemson
    A slide for Alexander caused mainly by Jackson’s upward move. Both Alexander and Ohio State’s Eli Apple would fit what Seattle wants in a cornerback, namely, a physical player who can hold his own one-on-one and doesn’t mind stepping up on running backs. Alexander could pattern his game after Richard Sherman, first-hand.

  • 27
    27Reggie 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.

  • 28
    28Eli 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.

  • 29
    29Ryan 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.

  • 30
    30Kevin 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.

  • 31
    31Vernon 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

           Round 2
    • 32
      32Emmanuel Ogbah
      DE/OLB, Oklahoma State

    • 33
      33Jalen Mills
      S/CB, LSU

    • 34
      34Connor Cook
      QB, Michigan State

    • 35
      35Corey Coleman
      WR, Baylor

    • 36
      36Hunter Henry
      TE, Arkansas

      Notes on the above picks: The Titans and Browns opened Round 1 with offense so, in reverse order, they get Round 2 rolling by nabbing defensive standouts. Mills is something of a poor man’s Jalen Ramsey—he will be good whether playing safety or cornerback.

      The intrigue in this quintet, of course, comes from Cook to Dallas. Waiting on a QB allows the Cowboys to nab a player (Jack) who can help push them back to NFC East contention immediately, while also drafting an experienced quarterback with starter qualities.

      • SI 50: Chris Jones, Cody Whitehair, Eli Apple

    • 37
      37Cody Whitehair
      G/T, Kansas State

    • 38
      38Joshua Garnett
      G, Stanford

    • 39
      39Karl Joseph
      S, West Virginia

    • 40
      40Jason Spriggs
      OT, Indiana

    • 41
      41Derrick Henry
      RB, Alabama

      Notes on the above picks: Further proof here that the gap between the back half of Round 1 and top half of Round 2 is negligible. Whitehair is a better fit for Chip Kelly’s offense than Garnett, more of a man-blocking presence, but both should be Day One starters.

      The Buccaneers again skip over their DE needs in this scenario. How much better is their secondary with an infusion of Hargreaves and Joseph, though?

      And as for the Bears taking a RB ... well, their attempts at adding a back via free agency indicates they would prefer Jeremy Langford be part of a tandem (or a backup). Henry can be the bell cow if Chicago prefers.

      • SI 50: Jason Spriggs and Robert Nkemdiche 

    • 42
      42Darian Thompson
      S, Boise State

    • 43
      43Sterling Shepard
      WR, Oklahoma

    • 44
      44Kendall Fuller
      CB, Virginia Tech

    • 45
      45Shilique Calhoun
      DE, Michigan State

    • 46
      46Jonathan Bullard
      DT, Florida

      Notes on the above picks: While a decent add to Miami’s secondary, Isa Abdul-Quddus may be better off as a role player than a starter, hence the Thompson selection.

      Los Angeles checks off a couple of needs: a reliable wide receiver and DE depth. Shepard at 43 is robbery—he deserves to be in Round 1 and likely only would drop due to his sub-6-foot size. Calhoun is stuck between being a 4-3 end and a 3-4 OLB, but as the former he has shown he can get the to quarterback.

      • SI 50: Le’Raven Clark, Jonathan Bullard, Emmanuel Ogbah

    • 47
      47Kyler Fackrell
      OLB, Utah State

    • 48
      48Kamalei Correa
      OLB, Boise State

    • 49
      49Su’a Cravens
      LB, USC

    • 50
      50Braxton Miller
      WR, Ohio State

    • 51
      51Germain Ifedi
      OT, Texas A&M

      Notes on the above picks: Fackrell comes with a couple of warts—he will turn 25 during his rookie season and he’s not strong enough to fend off blockers on a consistent basis. I still rank him as a borderline top-50 prospect in this draft. He can work in a 3-4 or 4-3, too, so New Orleans can vary how it uses him. Correa, meanwhile, has a chance to be what the Colts thought they had in Bjoern Werner.

      Miller overlaps with new Atlanta addition Mohamed Sanu in some ways, like that he can move around but is most dangerous from the slot. An important distinction: Miller can be much better, and it may not take him that long. He is as downright explosive with the ball in his hands.

      • Match the NFL player to his pre-draft scouting report

    • 52
      52Kenny Clark
      DT, UCLA

    • 53
      53Vonn Bell
      S, Ohio State

    • 54
      54Will Fuller
      WR, Notre Dame

    • 55
      55DeAdre Houston-Carson
      CB/S, William & Mary

    • 56
      56Robert Nkemdiche
      DT, Ole Miss

      Notes on the above picks: What to do with Nkemdiche? He’s a top-20 talent (maybe top 10) in this class, but his off-field mistake—and the timing of it, coming just before Ole Miss's bowl game—puts him very much in limbo. Remember, Randy Gregory was considered one of the 2015 draft’s better players and slipped all the way to 60. Somewhere, a team definitely is going to give Nkemdiche a shot because his potential ceiling is far too high. Seattle showed last year with Frank Clark that it's willing to overlook past transgressions, and Clark's error (domestic violence) was more egregious than Nkemdiche’s bad decisions.

      The Vikings could not get Mike Wallace to be their deep threat, so they could try again with Fuller—he is a bit one-note as a prospect but it’s a dazzling note.

      The Houston-Carson selection feels right of the Bengals’s draft playbook. They have their potential starting safeties in place (George Iloka and Shawn Williams), so they could groom Houston-Carson for a year or two—Williams is set to hit free agency in 2017. The William & Mary product also could slide back to the cornerback he played up until 2015 and help out there.

    • 57
      57Jihad Ward
      DT, Illinois

    • 58
      58Jeremy Cash
      S, Duke

    • 59
      59Deion Jones
      LB, LSU

    • 60
      60Jordan Jenkins (from Cardinals)
      OLB, Georgia

    • 61
      61Kenneth Dixon
      RB, Louisiana Tech

      Notes on the above picks: I think I have been consistently higher on Cash overall than most others, so this is phenomenal value for the Steelers by my count. Cash could play mostly in the box with Mike Mitchell handling deep responsibilities, although those roles could flip-flop at times or Pittsburgh could roll both into Cover-2 or Cover-3.

      Let’s spend a minute on the Patriots’s picks, since they were nowhere to be found in Round 1. Jenkins is a player they could get a lot of mileage out of, be it rushing on occasion as an end or providing a sturdy presence as a strongside linebacker. Dixon would be a terrific fit in the offense. And pay no mind to the depth New England already has at RB—Dixon is a three-down option but not necessarily a 250-touch NFL back, so slot him in as just the latest versatile backfield weapon for the Patriots.

    • 62
      62Le’Raven Clark
      OT, Texas Tech

    • 63
      63Jaylon 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.

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