NFL Mock Draft: Round 1 picks teams should make but (likely) won’t

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Tuesday April 26th, 2016

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I get it, mock drafts are fun. We all get to play general manager for a few hours and put together the puzzle that is the NFL draft. Matching prospects with teams, getting inside the heads of some decision makers … they’re good, harmless fun.

They are also futile.

There’s all the misinformation even our most trusted sources whisper into our ears just to keep their plans as secret as possible. Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, rookie contracts no longer turn into albatrosses even if a top-10 pick busts out, so the trades come fast and furious, screwing up the order as teams reach for one of their favorite players.

An oral history of the star-studded 2011 NFL draft, five years later

And then there are the most important areas: “hearts and smarts,” as Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert put it the other day. More than game film and measurables, whether a prospect truly becomes a player comes down to soft factors such as how much he will love the game with the potential distractions of more money and more free time and how quickly a player can process the pros after coming from the increasingly simplistic college game.

In that area, those of us without scouting staffs and the ability to sit with each prospect for hours (let alone full medical reports) are missing the biggest pieces of the puzzle when it comes to evaluation. You can certainly make educated guesses based on film, and there are indicators there, but NFL teams have way more pertinent information at their fingertips. And even they make mistakes—lots of them—year after year.

“I’m not going to be right all the time,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson remembers telling Bill Belichick in an early conversation, according to Peter King. “But my role will be to get everything organized for you so at the end of the season you can start the process of learning about these guys. I’ll strive for perfection, but I might make some mistakes.”

Robinson recalls that Belichick replied, “Are you kidding me? You know how many times I’ve been wrong?”

The best personnel man in the business makes multiple mistakes in his draft evaluations despite his experience and the staff around him. So I just don’t even bother predicting what the general managers are going to do.

Instead, I try to strip away teams’ compulsion to overvalue their own players, their need to hang onto their previous picks or free-agent signings, the pressure applied by their owners, their failure to see developing trends in the game—all to match the best prospect with the team’s scheme and long-term needs.

This is not a mock draft; it’s an anti-mock draft. So to review, don’t send tweets that read: “That moron Bedard says the Chargers will draft DeForest Buckner when they’ll obviously take a tackle.” I’m not projecting the pick, I’m making it myself. Correct troll form (feel free to copy and paste): “Bedard, you’re an idiot for thinking Buckner would be a good pick for the Chargers. #loser” Then, after these players have three full seasons, you can make fun of me all you want.

GALLERY: The best ever first-round picks by draft slot

Until then, here is my third annual anti-mock draft with a bonus: no quarterbacks picked in the first round after Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. If the Rams and Eagles didn’t trade a haul of picks to move up, I’d have both quarterbacks in the middle of the round. The others need too much development or have too many flaws to go in the first round.

Round 1
  • 1
    1Jared Goff
    QB, Cal
    They used all that draft capital to move up to the first spot, so I’m not going to give them a long snapper. (Joey Bosa is my top overall player, for the record.) No, I’m not a huge fan of any of the quarterbacks in this draft (unlike Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year), especially if they have to play right away, but I can understand the Rams going with Goff. He is the most pro-ready of the top prospects given his smarts and ability to throw under pressure, but it won’t be an entirely smooth transition because he’s coming out of Cal’s Bear Raid offense. It’s night and day going from that to a pro offense.

  • 2
    2Carson Wentz
    QB, North Dakota State
    I’m a firm believer that quarterback prospects now need to sit for at least a year to successfully make the transition from college unless they were in a pro offense and had extensive experience like Andrew Luck. If they keep veterans Sam Bradford and/or Chase Daniel, the Eagles have created what I hope will be the new norm. Wentz needs the time. He’s got all the physical skills and intangibles to be a star, but he lacks experience, and you can see it in the way he processes information in the pocket.

  • 3
    3DeForest Buckner
    DE, Oregon
    This isn’t complicated. San Diego was terrible against the run last year, allowing 4.8 yards per carry (30th in the league) and 17 rushing touchdowns (29th in the league). The Chargers have to get a bonafide defensive lineman, and Buckner fits their 3–4 scheme better than Joey Bosa. If the Chargers think otherwise—and I’m not opposed to it because I think Bosa can play in any scheme—then take Bosa.​

  • 4
    4Jalen Ramsey
    DB, Florida State
    Joey Bosa is really tempting here because the Cowboys really need pass-rush help, but with Orlando Scandrick coming back from knee surgery and Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne free agents after this season, the multidimensional Ramsey is the smarter pick for the long-term interests of the Cowboys. In the short term, he’s one of the rare plug-and-play picks in this draft.

  • 5
    5Myles Jack
    LB, UCLA
    Yeah, there are a lot of concerns about Jack’s knee, but a lot of teams also took Rob Gronkowski off their draft boards due to his back issues, and we all know how that worked out—especially me, who listened to said chatter. If his medicals are at least halfway decent for the first five years of his career, the Jaguars have to take Jack. They could make him a strong safety on the first two downs, and pair him with Telvin Smith at linebacker in sub packages. That would be a huge boost and give the Jaguars a very fast defense.​

  • 6
    6Joey Bosa
    DE, Ohio State
    The Ravens could flip a coin between Bosa and LT Jeremy Tunsil and be in great shape with either at a spot of need. The Ravens were a disaster at left tackle with Eugene Monroe missing so much time, so grabbing a franchise left tackle would make a lot of sense. But the Ravens also didn’t have any pass rush after Terrell Suggs went down with an injury, and he’ll be 34 this season. Bosa could easily fill Suggs’s OLB role because it’s really an end spot in this defense. You need to be a great edge setter and then be disruptive against the pass. That’s Bosa.
  • 7
    7Laremy Tunsil (from 49ers)
    OT, Ole Miss
    Normally I don’t make trades in this mock draft, but this was just too tempting. Yes, I could see the 49ers taking Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley to start at right tackle and eventually replace the aging (but still solid) Joe Staley in a few years, but there’s nothing in this range that is pressing for the 49ers (too early for other cornerbacks and pass rushers). This way, the Titans get their guy in Tunsil, still have a ton of picks from the Rams trade, and the 49ers pick up some extra picks.

  • 8
    8Ronnie Stanley
    OT, Notre Dame
    Can’t see the Moneyball Browns doing anything but getting the most bang for their buck in the top 10. They’ll wisely be looking to deal, and someone may want to come up for Stanley or Ezekiel Elliott (Dolphins?). But barring that, the Browns hit at least a solid double with Stanley ready to step in as the right tackle starting on day one, and a possible replacement for Joe Thomas now (trade?) or down the line.​

  • 9
    9Vernon Hargreaves
    CB, Florida
    The Bucs are in desperate need of some young talent at the cornerback position, and Hargreaves is the best of a limited group. Really considered OLB/DE Leonard Floyd here, and someone might be tempted to move up for the pass rusher with the most burst, but the Bucs need to hit on this pick and Hargreaves helps at an immediate need spot.​

  • 10
    10Jack Conklin
    OT, Michigan State
    The Giants can’t in good conscience enter another season with Marshall Newhouse starting at right tackle. Take Conklin and either plug him in there for 10 years, or let him fight it out with Erick Flowers for the left tackle job and send the loser to RT. Enough of the disastrous offensive lines.​

  • 11
    11A’Shawn Robinson
    DL, Alabama
    The Bears have to get better defensively, and while the secondary is more of a pressing need, the value just isn’t there. In Robinson, the Bears would get a five-technique end they are really lacking, a huge boost to a terrible run defense. This would have been a perfect spot for Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins, but he’s just not a scheme fit for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

  • 12
    12Sheldon Rankins
    DT, Lousiville
    Saints desperately need to rebuild their defensive line and Rankins is the type of undersized and versatile three-technique (in the mold of Aaron Donald) that is plug-and-play.

  • 13
    13Ezekiel Elliott
    RB, Ohio State
    I expect the Dolphins to find a way to get Elliott, and they just might trade up to do it. He’d be a perfect fit with Miami, which doesn’t have a running back. Elliott may end up being the best player in this draft—He can do it all.

  • 14
    14Reggie Ragland
    LB, Alabama
    The Raiders have some nice pieces in the front seven but what they’re really lacking is a true thumper at inside linebacker. GM Reggie McKenzie was part of a Green Bay front office that was just fine with A.J. Hawk for most of his career. Ragland can at least be Hawk, if not better.

  • 15
    15Corey Coleman
    WR, Baylor
    The 49ers have straight-line speedster Torrey Smith at receiver . . . and that’s it. Coleman is the best receiving playmaker in the draft, and he’d be a perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s offense.

  • 16
    16Kevin Dodd
    DE, Clemson
    His teammate Shaq Lawson gets more press, but Dodd is the better player because he’s a more sudden and explosive athlete. The Lions need reinforcements on the line, and he could fill multiple roles.

  • 17
    17Darron Lee
    LB, Ohio State
    The Falcons need to keep increasing the speed of their defense and find a linebacker who can cover. Lee may be a little undersized, but he checks both boxes.

  • 18
    18Leonard Floyd
    OLB, Georgia
    Yeah, I’ve been banging on the Colts forever to bulk up on the offensive line, and they could do it here, but their pass rush might need even more help with the duo of Trent Cole and Robert Mathis aging quickly and Erik Walden being no more than a standout run defender. Floyd is one of the few truly explosive prospects.

  • 19
    19Shaq Lawson​
    DE, Clemson
    With Mario Williams gone and Manny Lawson (who turns 32 this season) the only viable option opposite Jerry Hughes, the Bills need to get younger and more impactful at the edge positions. I’m not the biggest Shaq Lawson guy, but he’s the only option in this spot and Rex Ryan loves him some Clemson Tigers.

  • 20
    20Taylor Decker
    OT, Ohio State
    The Jets traded for Ryan Clady after D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired, but they can’t be sure what they’re going to get out of Clady given his injury history. And RT Breno Giacomini is no lock to make the team. Drafting Decker could clear up cap room and improve the line.

  • 21
    21Jarran Reed
    NT, Alabama
    Veteran Kedric Golston re-signed for another season, but he’ll be 33 next month. Washington could really use a promising young nose tackle, and that’s exactly what Reed is.

  • 22
    22Vernon Butler
    DT, Louisiana Tech
    Very tempted to pluck Josh Doctson here to pair with DeAndre Hopkins, but the Texans need to start surrounding J.J. Watt with some good, young talent. Butler can play anywhere on a 3–4 line, and that versatility will help. Baylor NT Andrew Billings is a worthy candidate as well.

  • 23
    23Laquon Treadwell
    WR, Ole Miss
    Minnesota has not had a good record with speedy outside receivers (Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Wallace), who don’t really fit the strengths of QB Teddy Bridgewater. Treadwell is the perfect big-bodied and physical receiver the Vikings are lacking.​

  • 24
    24Josh Doctson
    WR, TCU
    They signed Brandon LaFell in free agency after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but the Bengals are still very thin at receiver. Doctson would be the ideal Z receiver to pair with A.J. Green at the X.

  • 25
    25Karl Joseph​
    S, West Virginia
    The Steelers have been a mess at safety, specifically strong safety, ever since Troy Polamalu slowed down before retirement. The misery ends with this instinctive and hard-hitting safety who was a great leader for the Mountaineers.

  • 26
    26Ryan Kelly
    C, Alabama
    Speaking of disasters, the interior of the Seahawks’ line has been a mess, and trading center Max Unger last year only made things worse. The Seahawks should take Kelly, pencil him in the lineup for 10 years and never look back.​

  • 27
    27Andrew Billings
    DT, Baylor
    In another tradition unlike any other, I call for the Packers to take a plugger in the middle to help their woeful run defense, they don’t do it, and then they get pushed around by somebody at some point. The Packers allowed 4.5 yards per rush last season (29th in the league) and allowed 13 rushing touchdowns (23rd). Get the beef.​

  • 28
    28Eli Apple
    CB, Ohio State
    The Chiefs let Sean Smith walk in free agency and need help at the position opposite Marcus Peters. There’s a trio of good cornerbacks available here with Mackensie Alexander and William Jackson III, but Apple has the type of size and aggressiveness to fill Smith’s role.​

  • 29
    29T.J. Green
    DB, Clemson
    A former receiver, Green moved to safety at Clemson, and in the NFL he could wind up being a big cornerback, according to scouts. The Cardinals want to get taller at cornerback, and if he doesn’t pan out on an island, Green becomes another moveable chess piece that plays multiple positions.

  • 30
    30William Jackson III
    CB, Houston
    Panthers GM Dave Gettleman probably won’t go cornerback in the first round to distance himself from the Josh Norman chatter, but he should. Yes, the front seven helps out the back end, but if you can’t cover, you can’t cover. Jackson can cover and has the ideal size Gettleman looks for.

  • 31
    31Chris Jones
    DT, Mississippi State
    The Broncos need to start replenishing their defensive line in the face of the past two seasons’ departures. Denver signed Jared Crick, but he’s better in a reserve role. At 6' 6", Jones is enormous and automatically starts opposite Derek Wolfe.

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