NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the first three rounds

4:57 | NFL
Rising Stars: Scooby Wright
Wednesday April 20th, 2016

Were it not for Roger Goodell and the NFL’s Random Punishment Generator stripping the Patriots (first round) and Chiefs (third round) of early picks, this year's draft would have an even 100 selections over its opening two days. 

Alas, the number of players to be picked in Rounds 1–3 stands at 98. And all we know for sure about how the proceedings will play out is that the Rams will take a quarterback at No. 1. Which quarterback that is remains something of a mystery, as does just about everything from there on down. 

With just over a week to go until the draft begins, here’s a projection of how the first three rounds will go.


Round 1
  • 1
    1Carson Wentz
    QB, North Dakota State
    Will this be Wentz or Jared Goff? The answer depends on whom you ask, with the Rams even going so far as to say they don't know which one they want (*cough* they're lying *cough*). My colleague, Doug Farrar, and I debated the various pros and cons of each guy but at least keep this in mind: Wentz is a better fit for what the Rams' offense has been and is seemingly set up to be with the downhill running style of one Todd Gurley.​

  • 2
    2Jared Goff
    QB, Cal
    Earlier this week, new Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said that Wentz is “everything you want in a quarterback at this level” ... and also called Wentz and Goff “pretty even, in my opinion.” So, did the Eagles move up anticipating Goff would go No. 1, leaving them Wentz? Or would they honestly be satisfied getting either? With Wentz penciled in at the top spot as of this mock, that leaves Goff for Philadelphia at pick two. Maybe that changes next week when we lock in our predictions for the draft, but that’s the current status.

  • 3
    3DeForest Buckner
    DE, Oregon
    Considering there are 98 picks in this mock, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the Chargers’ first-round selection. Laremy Tunsil makes so much sense ... except that the Chargers have two potential starting tackles (King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale), signed a swing tackle (Chris Hairston) and brought back an offensive coordinator (Ken Whisenhunt) whose passing scheme is designed to negate edge pressure. More than all that, GM Tom Telesco finds himself under fire and knows he has to find defensive help if the 2016 Chargers are going to orchestrate a turnaround. Buckner or Jalen Ramsey would be critical to that end.​

  • 4
    4Ezekiel Elliott
    RB, Ohio State
    Two quarterbacks and either Buckner or Tunsil landing at 1-2-3 is the ideal scenario for the Cowboys, who then could choose between Elliott, Ramsey, Myles Jack, Joey Bosa or a trade down. Nabbing Elliott would give their offense a shot to reach another level, with the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite.

    • KING: How Rams' trade for top pick got done

  • 5
    5Jalen Ramsey
    CB/S, Florida State
    There’s no reason to overthink this one. For the Jaguars to show meaningful improvement in 2016, and for Gus Bradley to stay out of the hot seat, the defense absolutely has to be better. Ramsey is the top defender in this draft. Jacksonville could envision him as its No. 1 cornerback or as a partner at safety for newcomer Tashuan Gipson. Either would move Bradley closer to his vision on that side of the ball.​

  • 6
    6Laremy Tunsil
    OT, Mississippi
    There arguably are more problematic spots on Baltimore’s roster than the O-line. But with Tunsil sliding from his previous post at No. 1 to No.6, this is too good to pass up. Tunsil would allow the Ravens to stop worrying about Eugene Monroe’s injury issues and underwhelming play. Here’s your new franchise left tackle.​
  • 7
    7Myles Jack
    LB, UCLA
    Without getting an inside glimpse at all 32 teams’ draft boards, it is going to be impossible to pin down the exact fallout from Jack’s recent, reportedly disappointing medical recheck. While the 49ers can ill afford another injury redshirt or shortened career, they also are shy on defensive playmakers. Assuming Jack’s methodical recovery has him ready for 2016, landing him at No. 7 would be a steal.​

  • 8
    8Ronnie Stanley
    OT, Notre Dame
    If the Browns’ new front office really is committed to tearing this thing down and building it back up, it has to start in the trenches. With Mitchell Schwartz in Kansas City and Joe Thomas planted on the trade block (with a contract that includes no more guaranteed money), the Browns land their 2016 right tackle and ’17 left tackle.​

  • 9
    9Joey Bosa
    DE, Ohio State
    It’s borderline stunning that Bosa could land in Tampa Bay without the Bucs moving up, but here we are. Unless the Bucs’ brass, for whatever reason, has Shaq Lawson as the higher-rated defensive end, this should be one of those race-to-the-podium type picks.​

  • 10
    10Vernon Hargreaves
    CB, Florida
    Flipping Hargreaves out of the No. 8 spot after the Eagles-Browns trade puts the Florida cornerback in the Giants’ wheelhouse here. Hargreaves has the requisite footwork to be a tremendous NFL cornerback, be it outside or in the slot. This pick on top of the Janoris Jenkins signing vastly upgrades the Giants’ secondary.​

  • 11
    11Sheldon Rankins
    DT, Louisville
    Among the main reasons Rankins keeps surfacing as a top-12 option is that teams don’t have to play the "Does he fit the scheme?" game with him. He does, no matter what said scheme happens to be. For the Bears, it would be as a defensive end in their 3–4 with the ability to drop inside on four-man looks.

  • 12
    12Laquon Treadwell
    WR, Ole Miss
    In the process of doing mock after mock, a few matches that are tough to ignore always emerge. This is one. Without question, the Saints must add defensive help in this draft. But they also still could use a true No. 1 receiver and, more importantly, a physical red-zone threat for QB Drew Brees.

  • 13
    13Shaq Lawson
    DE, Clemson
    Even if the Dolphins are 100% convinced they signed the Pro Bowl version of Mario Williams, they are shy on depth at DE. (Williams’s $10.5 million cap hit next season also makes him a likely cut/restructure candidate.) Lawson would slot in behind Cameron Wake and Williams, while providing the run defense to limit Williams’s snaps.

  • 14
    14William Jackson III
    CB, Houston
    In signing Sean Smith and then drafting Jackson, the Raiders would have flipped their cornerback depth chart from an Achilles heel to a strength. Jackson has the size, length and wherewithal to be a shutdown outside defender.​

  • 15
    15Taylor Decker
    OT, Ohio State
    The Titans have too many needs to automatically assume that they will just take an offensive tackle here…and yet, with that said, this pick is a combo of fit and value. They’d be landing Decker at the start of his realistic draft range and could slot his ferocious run-blocking presence in on the right side so Taylor Lewan can take another crack on the left.

  • 16
    16A’Shawn Robinson
    DT, Alabama
    Circling back here on a match made long ago, then deserted. A bevy of possibilities still exist for the Lions here, including Jack Conklin, Noah Spence and Reggie Ragland. Robinson, though, at worst is a help vs. the run and at best develops into a dominant, one-gapping monster in Teryl Austin’s scheme.

  • 17
    17Leonard Floyd
    LB, Georgia
    Courtney Upshaw was a fine addition, but he does nothing to help the Atlanta pass rush and has little to add to its linebacking corps’ athleticism. Floyd would check the latter box, regardless of how Dan Quinn opted to utilize him. How much he can help hassle QBs will dictate just how good he can be. 

  • 18
    18Jack Conklin
    OT, Michigan State
    A fairly quiet off-season means that the Colts could head into training camp with Denzelle Good penciled in at right tackle. They’re high on Good, but this would be a clear upgrade.
  • 19
    19Noah Spence​
    DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky
    Having one prolific edge rusher rarely cuts it in the NFL these days. It takes two for a defense to really wreak havoc. Pairing Spence with Jerry Hughes would give Rex Ryan’s Bills a chance to do just that. 

  • 20
    20Paxton Lynch
    QB, Memphis
    What will the next week bring for the Jets, as it pertains to their QB spot? Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return? Brian Hoyer’s arrival? No matter the outcome, they’re scrambling for 2016 and in limbo for 2017. 

  • 21
    21Reggie Ragland
    LB, Alabama
    Washington has needs at just about every defensive spot save for outside linebacker. Ragland covers the ILB hole, as a heavy hammer vs. the run and an underrated passing-down player. 

  • 22
    22Andrew Billings
    DT, Baylor
    Can the Texans really bypass Josh Doctson for a D-lineman? They can for a player like Billings (or Vernon Butler)—a prospect with good feet, versatility and enough heft to spell Vince Wilfork at nose. 

  • 23
    23Josh Doctson​
    WR, TCU
    Houston’s decision opens a door for Minnesota, which finds a much-needed receiver now in its lap. A Doctson-Stefon Diggs combo would set up Teddy Bridgewater to blow past his previous career bests. ​

  • 24
    24Jarran Reed
    DT, Alabama
    WR would be a natural fit here, too. And yet, this feels like a very Bengals-esque pick. The powerful Reed can play behind Domata Peko for a bit, then take over at nose tackle as the guy who frees up Geno Atkins. 

  • 25
    25Mackensie Alexander​
    CB, Clemson
    Alexander’s draft stock is very much in flux a week or so out. Teams may regret letting him slip too far, and Pittsburgh’s secondary would benefit greatly from Alexander’s skills and swagger.

  • 26
    26Ryan Kelly
    C, Alabama
    Seattle gets its replacement for Max Unger, who was dealt away as part of the Jimmy Graham trade a year ago. Kelly is a high-IQ center with the movement to excel in Seattle's offensive attack.​

  • 27
    27Vernon Butler
    DT, Louisiana Tech
    The Packers do not necessarily have to replace B.J. Raji in a one-for-one way. They do need to find more assistance for Mike Daniels up front. Butler can plug the middle or slide out to three- or five-techs.​

  • 28
    28Eli Apple
    CB, Ohio State
    Apple is less complete as a prospect than Marcus Peters was when the Chiefs took him in 2015. But he’s similar in many very positive ways, including how aggressively physical he plays defense. ​

  • 29
    29Connor Cook
    QB, Michigan State
    Planning for the future when you’re still one of the Super Bowl favorites is a tricky proposition, but this type of move has to be on Bruce Arians’s mind. Cook’s game is ideal for Arians’ downfield, big-play goals, and he could keep Arizona afloat should Carson Palmer falter or fall to injury. ​

  • 30
    30Corey Coleman
    WR, Baylor
    The Panthers should (and will) look for O-line help during draft weekend. One way to combat a pass rush, though, is by getting the ball out quickly into the hands of your playmakers. Coleman can be explosive after the catch and deadly deep.​

  • 31
    31Darron Lee
    LB, Ohio State
    The Broncos will not necessarily head into the draft thinking they must find Danny Trevathan's replacement early, but should the board fall like this—with Lee tumbling a bit—they would jump.

Round 2
  • 32
    32Su’a Cravens
    LB/S, USC

  • 33
    33Chris Jones
    DT, Mississippi State

  • 34
    34Kevin Dodd
    DE, Clemson

  • 35
    35Michael Thomas
    WR, Ohio State

  • 36
    36Shilique Calhoun
    DE, Michigan State

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    The Browns get Round 2 started with a versatile defensive standout. Is Cravens a safety or a linebacker or a safety who drops down to play linebacker? It doesn’t matter, really. He’ll make a defense better, in multiple ways.

    Jones, Dodd and Thomas all are players who are popular Round 1 choices for mock drafts (including earlier versions of this one). Of the three, Dodd has the highest upside, with some speculation that he could push into the top 15, so he’s a score for Dallas in Round 2. Thomas and Keenan Allen together would make life a lot easier on Philip Rivers.

    • BURKE: Team needs | Positional rankings | The Case For ... Dean Lowry

  • 37
    37Cody Whitehair
    G/T, Kansas State

  • 38
    38Kenny Clark
    DT, UCLA

  • 39
    39Karl Joseph
    S, West Virginia

  • 40
    40Sterling Shepard
    WR, Oklahoma

  • 41
    41Derrick Henry
    RB, Alabama

    • VRENTAS: Critical medical rechecks in Indy | Goff: Inside the film room

    Joseph is another player carrying Round 1 hype, as arguably the top safety in this class. His potential at a premium position may shove him into the draft’s first day; I’d argue this is a safer range for him given the knee injury he suffered last year. 

    The steal among this quintet is Shepard, who should be considered as high up as Cincinnati’s first round selection at No. 24. He is a polished, NFL-ready receiver whose height limitations will not hold him back from being highly productive. 

  • 42
    42Artie Burns
    CB, Miami

  • 43
    43Will Fuller
    WR, Notre Dame

  • 44
    44Robert Nkemdiche
    DT, Ole Miss

  • 45
    45Xavien Howard
    CB, Baylor

  • 46
    46Jason Spriggs
    OT, Indiana

    Intrigue abounds in this grouping, starting with Burns, who is raw but has grabbed Round 1 buzz. And speaking of Round 1 buzz, the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah recently speculated that the home run-hitting Fuller could be the first wide receiver off the board. I still have a hard time getting on board with that idea, but with his skill-set, he’d be a strong mid-Round 2 find.

    At No. 44, Nkemdiche is the showstopper. The Raiders scored Mario Edwards in Round 2 last year, after questions about his effort drove him out of the first round. The issues swirling around Nkemdiche are more serious, but the potential payoff is even bigger. 

  • 47
    47Emmanuel Ogbah
    DE, Oklahoma State

  • 48
    48Hunter Henry
    TE, Arkansas

  • 49
    49T.J. Green
    CB/S, Clemson

  • 50
    50Vonn Bell
    S, Ohio State

  • 51
    51Jonathan Bullard
    DT, Florida

    Like Dodd, Ogbah’s name has been floated as one that could be possibly called as high up as Baltimore or Tampa Bay in the top 10. Perhaps a team will fall in love with him early, but the more likely scenario is that he slips to the tail end of Round 1 or into Round 2, because he’s going to need some time to translate his game to the next level. 

    Green has seen his stock skyrocket, if only because his long 6’ 2”, 210 lb. size fits the NFL’s DB prototype. He could be a candidate to move to cornerback, as well, after spending his career at safety. The Ryan brothers are not going to turn down another talented secondary piece. 

  • 52
    52Austin Hooper
    TE, Stanford

  • 53
    53Christian Westerman
    C/G, Arizona State

  • 54
    54Darian Thompson
    S, Boise State

  • 55
    55Kendall Fuller
    CB, Virginia Tech

  • 56
    56Javon Hargrave
    DT, South Carolina State

    Henry’s selection at 48 touched off a mini-TE run (a third player from that position comes off the board early in Round 3). Hooper’s capability as an athletic blocker would work well within Houston’s offensive construct, and he is a mismatch-creating option in the passing attack. 

    The Vikings snag a safety to pair with Harrison Smith, who has emerged as a star. Thompson can play in the box or get after the football deep. 

  • 57
    57Jeremy Cash
    S/LB, Duke

  • 58
    58Kamalei Correa
    DE/OLB, Boise State

  • 59
    59Joshua Garnett
    G, Stanford

  • 60
    60Kenneth Dixon
    RB, Louisiana Tech

  • 61
    61Jihad Ward
    DT, Illinois

    Thinking a little outside the box about the Packers’ issues at inside linebacker, with that Cash pick. He essentially is an extra linebacker but also brings versatility—Green Bay showed it values that element in taking Damarious Randall a year ago. 

    The Patriots finally get off and running with picks 60 and 61. With the first, they find one of the better three-down backs, and a prospect who projects as a darn near perfect fit for their approach. Ward can work across a hybrid front, be it as a 3–4 DE or a multi-faceted option within a 4–3. 

    • VRENTAS: Critical medical rechecks in Indy | Goff: Inside the film room

  • 62
    62keanu neal
    S, Florida

  • 63
    63Dak Prescott
    QB, Mississippi State

Maybe this is the spot where the Panthers nab a tackle, should they look elsewhere in Round 1. As this mock happens to fall, however, Neal—drawing speculation as a Round 1 option—steps in as an enforcer on a Carolina defense that can help cover his flaws.

John Elway remains on the hunt for a 2016 starting quarterback. Prescott does not provide much help there, but should the Broncos wind up with a “bridge” option—Mark Sanchez, Brian Hoyer or Ryan Fitzpatrick—Prescott has a chance to become something special.

Round 3
  • 64
    64Kyler Fackrell
    OLB, Utah State

  • 65
    65Rashard Higgins
    WR, Colorado State

  • 66
    66Germain Ifedi
    OT, Texas A&M

  • 67
    67Braxton Miller
    WR, Ohio State

  • 68
    68Austin Johnson
    DT, Penn State

  • 69
    69Deion Jones
    LB, LSU
  • 70
    70Hassan Ridgeway
    DT, Texas

  • 71
    71Jalen Mills
    CB/S, LSU

  • 72
    72Nick Vannett
    TE, Ohio State

  • 73
    73Paul Perkins
    RB, UCLA


  • 74
    74Leonte Carroo
    WR, Rutgers

  • 75
    75Le'Raven Clark
    OT, Texas Tech

  • 76
    76Connor McGovern
    G/C, Missouri

  • 77
    Christian Hackenberg
    QB, Penn State

  • 78
    78Will Redmond
    CB, Mississippi State

  • 79
    79C.J. Prosise
    RB, Notre Dame

  • 80
    Blake Martinez
    LB, Stanford

  • 81
    81Joe Dahl
    G/T, Washington State

Two Ohio State names of note in the 64­–81 range of this mock: Miller and Vannett. Could Miller be taken much higher than this? No doubt. His electrifying abilities with the ball in his hands—as a receiver, running back, gimmick QB or even return man—could drive him into an earlier round. He won’t be a fit for every offense, though, nor will every front office want to commit a high pick to such a raw prospect. 

Vannett, pure and simple, is going to be a very good pro. He showed throughout his Ohio State career that he can block, but it’s his potential as a receiving threat that should have his next team excited. 

• BANKS: 20 most intriguing games of 2016 season

Expect to see a handful of running backs come off the board in the 75–125 range—the mid-rounds are going to be a sweet spot for this deep group. Perkins can push to be the Miami No. 1 back in 2016; Prosise could contribute for the Eagles as a rookie and then carry the load from ’17 onward. 

Jon Gruden said this week that he expects Hackenberg to be a Round 1 selection. Despite that, even No. 77 feels like it is pushing toward the high end given how he wrapped his college career. But despite pulling themselves out of the Wentz/Goff conversation, the Browns should be on the lookout for a QB to develop behind RGIII (and Josh McCown?). Hackenberg needs a complete reboot. If Hue Jackson cannot pull it off, there may not be a coach who can.

  • 82
    82Jordan jenkins​
    OLB, Georgia

  • 83
    Joe Schobert
    LB, Wisconsin
    • 84
      84Bronson Kaufusi​
      DE, BYU

    • 85
      85Tyler Boyd
      WR, Pittsburgh

    • 86
      86Kentrell brothers​
      LB, Missouri

    • 87
      87Malcolm Mitchell
      WR, Georgia

    • 88
      88Jerell Adams​
      TE, South Carolina

    • 89
      89Cardale Jones
      QB, Ohio State

    • 90
      90Jordan howard
      RB, Indiana

    • 91
      91Cyrus Jones
      CB, Alabama

    • 92
      92Sean davis
      CB/S, Maryland

    • 93
      Ronald Blair
      DE, Appalachian State

    • 94
      94alex collins
      RB, Arkansas
    • 95
      95Nick Martin
      C, Notre Dame

    • 96
      96Joe Thuney
      OL, N.C. State

    • 97
      97DeAndre Houston-Carson
      CB/S, William & Mary

    • 98
      Sheldon Day
      DT, Notre Dame 

    A lot of needs are being met in the back half of Round 3: the Jets find someone to bolster their interior-line depth; the Texans and Bengals each bring in receivers who can pull defensive attention from their superstars; the defending champion Broncos nab a playmaking piece up front plus a sturdy RB to push the C.J. Anderson/Ronnie Hillman duo. 

    Pittsburgh has one of those offenses that would mesh well with Cardale Jones’s strengths and weaknesses. Big Ben’s presence there would buy the Steelers time to let Jones develop.

    On paper, love that Jordan Howard-to-Seattle fit. Howard can find blocking lanes and get upfield, so he would be able to churn out quite a few yards alongside Russell Wilson (and in tandem with Thomas Rawls). A note on the Seahawks’ second Round 3 pick, Houston-Carson: He played safety last year and likely will be viewed as a safety by many teams, but he was an accomplished CB up through his junior season. While the Seahawks are set at safety with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, Houston-Carson could help put more coverage options on the table for them.

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