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The thing about mock drafts, no matter how well they’re studied and implemented, is that they’re always second-person. We’re trying to estimate what teams will do, or what we would do if we ran those teams, with limited knowledge of the internal processes involved.
And with that in mind, here’s my first attempt of the 2016 draft season to do just that, using a combination of limited insider knowledge, reckless speculation and a basic understanding of the attributes and liabilities of the top players.
1. Laremy Tunsil
OT, Ole Miss
It’s my opinion that Jalen Ramsey is the best overall player in this draft class, but the Titans need to reinforce their offense around Marcus Mariota, and Tunsil has a combination of pass-blocking agility and run-blocking strength that should be a perfect fit for any offense. This give would give the Titans two first-round tackles (Tunsil and 2014 first-rounder Taylor Lewan) to protect the edges for their franchise quarterback, and Lewan looks to be a better fit at right tackle based on his skill set. This combo would also give free-agent running back DeMarco Murray the edge presence he needs to succeed. There are times when I’d like to see a little more nastiness in Tunsil’s game, but he checks just about every other box.
2. Jared Goff
Goff is better with his overall accuracy and ability under pressure than Carson Wentz, but can be wildly erratic when he’s not consistent with his mechanics. New coach Hue Jackson brings a well-deserved reputation as a quarterback redeemer to a franchise that desperately needs it, and I’m not convinced that the signing of Robert Griffin III really informs the Browns’ long-term plan at quarterback. Griffin might be a placeholder while Goff gets the little things together, or a backup if Goff accelerates that process.
3. Jalen Ramsey
CB/S, Florida State
Yes, the Chargers lost veteran safety Eric Weddle to the Ravens. But Weddle was playing a ton of linebacker-depth snaps at this point in his career, and there was a need for a range safety in San Diego’s defensive backfield, no matter where Weddle played in 2016. Ramsey is a rare player with supreme athleticism, field awareness and toughness—I’ve compared him to the developmental versions of Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the same guy. He can already play both free and strong safety, he can defend the slot, and he could be developed into a legit press boundary corner. Ramsey’s cumulative positional value is on a different level from anyone else in this draft.
4. Joey Bosa
DE, Ohio State
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5. Myles Jack
With Blake Bortles and a growing cadre of top receivers, the Jags are finally getting their offense—especially their vertical passing game—on track. Now, to compete in the AFC South after a long stretch of downtime, it’s time to turn the attention to the defense and give coach Gus Bradley a true difference-maker at the linebacker position. Inserting Jack into Jacksonville’s defense gives Bradley a guy who can fire in to tackle from the middle, play the edge and seam from the outside and cover the slot better than 90% of the linebackers currently in the NFL.
6. Ronnie Stanley
OT, Notre Dame
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7. Paxton Lynch
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8. Carson Wentz
QB, North Dakota State
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9. Vernon Hargreaves III
The Bucs used combination after combination at cornerback last year and signed Brent Grimes this spring to try and firm things up, but this is a team in desperate need of a first-day starter who can take on top receivers with truly elite athletic ability. Hargreaves may come up a couple inches short on the height chart when people think of shutdown cornerbacks, but he trails outside receivers as well as anyone in this class, and he has Pro Bowl potential if he can stop getting beaten so much on deep balls and double moves.
10. Jack Conklin
OT, Michigan State
Conklin is a bit of a reach here, but hey, it’s the same Giants franchise that took Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh in the first round over the last few years. Jerry Reese has proven that he has no compunction when it comes to getting the linemen he wants, and Conklin certainly fits the profile from a strength and intensity standpoint. Some believe that he’s not equipped to handle left tackle in the NFL due to a lack of agility, but I think he can do just that in a power-based offense. Worst case, Conklin projects very well to the right side, and the Giants need all the line help they can get.
11. DeForest Buckner
12. Mackensie Alexander
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13. Ezekiel Elliott
RB, Ohio State
Losing Lamar Miller to the Texans in free agency was a big mistake, but the addition of Elliott would be an enormous upgrade for an offense that needs to get stronger and more consistent in the run game. At his best, Elliot brings to mind Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson with his speed, power and agility, and to top it all off, he’s a dynamic blocker.
14. Will Fuller
WR, Notre Dame
Yeah, we know. A speed receiver to the Raiders is the walking definition of cliché. But these are not Al Davis’s Raiders—they are now in the capable hands of general manager Reggie McKenzie, and the one thing quarterback Derek Carr didn’t have last year was an elite downfield receiver who could split safety coverage and tilt the field. Fuller is still working on elements of his game, but pairing him with Amari Cooper—especially with all the improvements on Oakland’s offensive line in recent years—could propel Carr into the next stratosphere.
15. Josh Doctson
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16. Taylor Decker
OT, Ohio State
The Falcons need help at edge rusher and linebacker, so let’s give head coach Dan Quinn two fixes in one. Ragland is a great inside linebacker who can play some outside in a base defense, but he also hits the edge and rushes the passer very well in sub-packages. At 6' 1", he’s a little short to be a full-time LEO rusher, but Quinn is one of the most creative defensive minds in the league, and he’d have a ball with Ragland’s versatility.
Colts owner Jim Irsay decided to bring coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson back after Indy’s disappointing season. Many thought (and still think) that Grigson may be in over his head, but the Colts are where they are with this, and it’s time for Grigson to make up for some of his previous personnel missteps. Taking pass rusher Bjoern Werner in the first round of the 2013 draft was perhaps his biggest whiff, and now that Werner has been waived, it’s time to give Pagano a real edge rusher who can also stop the run. Lawson, who can play edge and five-tech out of two- and three-point stances, looks to be a perfect fit for Pagano’s flexible fronts.
19. Vernon Butler
DT, Louisiana Tech
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20. Corey Coleman
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21. A’Shawn Robinson
Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan subscribes to the theory that you can never have too many young players with dominant physical traits. McCloughan is also well aware that Washington’s run defense was a real problem up the middle last year. Robinson would help that issue right away—he has experience as a two-gap monster who occupies blocks and slips off to spike run plays. And if you go back to Robinson’s 2013 tape, you’ll see him penetrating and pursuing more as a one-gap attacker. An underrated potential three-down guy, Robinson is the right scheme away from really turning it on.
22. Laquon Treadwell
WR, Ole Miss
The story of the Texans’ passing offense last year was the story of DeAndre Hopkins and Everybody Else. Hopkins amassed 111 catches on 192 targets for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, and the guy in second place was Nate Washington, with 47 catches on 94 targets for 658 yards and four scores. Given Houston’s recurrent quarterback issues (hopefully now solved with the acquisition of Brock Osweiler), it would behoove Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith to give their high-priced signal-caller a bit more help. Treadwell is a big, strong receiver whose speed issues are overcooked—he works well to slip into zones, and he gets open downfield more consistently than people think. Teaming him with Hopkins would create a dangerous one-two punch for enemy defenses.
23. Noah Spence
DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky
24. Sterling Shepard
With Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones departing in free agency, the Bengals are in danger of sending out A.J. Green and the Pips against opposing secondaries in 2016. Selecting Shepard would give Cincinnati two receivers in one—not only is he a very credible outside man, but he has the potential to dominate in the slot. He’s an undersized but very physical receiver who should fit right in.
25. Joshua Garnett
The Steelers struck gold with a Stanford guard in Devid DeCastro in 2012, so why not go back to the same vein? Garnett is unquestionably the most physically dominating guard in this class, and he may be the most intimidating lineman overall. An earth-mover who excels in man-blocking and basic zone concepts, Garnett would be a perfect fit for the Steelers’ power run game, and over time, he looks to be an elite pass blocker as well, once he gets a few technique fixes together.
26. Andrew Billings
Yes, the Seahawks’ offensive line is probably the worst position group in the NFL. But if you think Pete Carroll and John Schneider are going to draft for need, or draft in a conventional fashion at all, you haven’t been paying attention. Billings would bring a rare combination of skills to a defensive line that’s already off the hook. A weightlifting monster built like a very large bowling ball, Billings brings a surprising and enticing level of speed and agility to the table to go along with his strength. Carroll could plug Billings in everywhere from one-tech nose to five-tech mauler, depending on the package.
27. Darron Lee
LB, Ohio State
Mike McCarthy has said that a focus of Green Bay’s defense this season will be to get Clay Matthews back to the edge. Green Bay has had to move Matthews inside due to personnel deficiencies, but the pass rush has suffered, and Lee would bring an entirely new level of versatility to the middle of Dom Capers’s defense. You can line Lee up everywhere from strongside linebacker to the slot, and he’ll perform at a high level. He’s the prototype of the modern linebacker, who must provide more range than pure power, and he’d be a great fit in this scheme.
28. William Jackson III
29. Robert Nkemdiche
DL, Ole Miss
A multi-gap monster who will drop down a lot of boards due to off-field issues and his own admission that he doesn’t always play with complete intensity, Nkemdiche still has more than enough good tape for some team to take a shot on him in the bottom of the first round. Steve Keim and Brice Arians have proven that they’ll take chances on questionable players if they like what they hear, and Nkemdiche could be a defining player in Arizona’s hybrid fronts.
30. Derrick Henry
O.K., enemy defenses—deal with this. You have Cam Newton, you have Jonathan Stewart and now, you have the 6' 3", 247-pound Heisman Trophy winner to deal with. That’s a backfield that will dole out a lot of pain, both mentally and physically. Henry is more agile than the average big back, but his primary attribute is his ability to just trash opposing front sevens with his downhill power. This is as perfect a scheme fit as there is in this class, and Henry could elevate himself to the Panthers’ lead dog sooner than later.
31. Cody Whitehair
T/G, Kansas State
The Broncos have a few decisions to make on offense.o Obviously, problem No. 1 is their need for a franchise quarterback, but there’s also the possibility of the team moving on from veteran Ryan Clady and kicking Ty Sambrailo to left tackle. If Clady sticks around and stays healthy, there are still needs along that line. Whitehair projects well at guard or right tackle, but he’s really an ideal guard at the next level: practiced, tough, and an asset to his NFL team from day one.