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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.
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.
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.
1. Jared Goff
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. Carson Wentz
QB, North Dakota State
• The great draft QB debate: Wentz or Goff?
3. DeForest Buckner
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. Jalen 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. Myles Jack
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. Joey 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. Laremy Tunsil (from 49ers)
OT, Ole Miss
• SI 50: Counting down the 50 best prospects in draft
8. Ronnie 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. Vernon Hargreaves
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. Jack 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. A’Shawn Robinson
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. Sheldon Rankins
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. Ezekiel 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. Reggie Ragland
15. Corey Coleman
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. Kevin Dodd
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. Darron 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. Leonard Floyd
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. Shaq Lawson
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. Taylor 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. Jarran Reed
• KING: Browns’ brass under pressure to deliver in draft
22. Vernon 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. Laquon 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. Josh Doctson
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. Karl 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. Ryan Kelly
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. Andrew Billings
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. Eli Apple
CB, Ohio State
• Notorious bust JaMarcus Russell finds peace
29. T.J. Green
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. William Jackson III
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. Chris 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.