NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the first three rounds
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.