With the 2016 NFL Draft just 24 hours away, Matthew Sherry runs through his mock draft…
1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
The days of giving up a king’s ransom to trade up for anything other than a quarterback are resigned to the annals of NFL history (see Williams, Ricky in 1999). As such, the question quickly became Goff or Carson Wentz when Los Angeles brokered their deal with the Tennessee Titans. The answer? Goff. Plenty of noises are being made about continued indecision but, at this stage, it would be a major surprise if the former Cal Bear wasn’t the choice here – even if Wentz probably fits their scheme better.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
That the Rams have already made their decision was confirmed when Philadelphia gave up a sizeable haul of their own to snaffle the second selection. Gridiron deems it unlikely that Howie Roseman made that move without a little inside knowledge of Los Angeles’ plans (if this wasn’t the case then, erm, wow). Given what we said above about king’s ransoms, it seems clear the Eagles have fallen in love with a signal-caller who they know will be available. That guy is small-school standout Wentz, our highest-rated passer in this class.
3. San Diego Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
The departure of Eric Weddle further depleting an already-poor secondary means Jalen Ramsey is absolutely in play here. However, Philip Rivers’ closing window means that keeping him upright is really the only chance the Chargers have of returning to the post-season and potentially saving Mike McCoy’s job. The recent history of high-rated offensive linemen becoming draft busts gives cause for pause but, ultimately, Tunsil has traits that could make him an exception to a worrying rule.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
The early rush on quarterbacks means teams like Dallas, Jacksonville and Baltimore are going to be spoilt for choice. Both Ramsey and Joey Bosa make lots of sense, especially the latter. But like Rivers, Romo’s window is closing – a factor that means they’re the one team we’d advocate taking a running back in the top five. Elliott – who mixes excellent running and catching ability with being the best pass-blocking back to come out in years – will make the Cowboys a top-three team in the NFC. Plus, going back to the ball-control offense that proved so effective two years ago means defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can return to what he does best: making a talent-deficient unit into a dangerous, turnover-hungry nightmare.
The Jacksonville Jaguars trade picks in the 2016 first (fifth overall), fourth (103rd overall) and sixth rounds (181st overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for picks in the 2016 first (ninth overall) and second rounds (39th overall).
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
What’s the best way to aid a secondary that allowed opposing passers to complete 70 per cent of passes in 2015? How about drafting a guy who could be Earl Thomas, Chris Harris and Patrick Peterson rolled into one? Ramsey is someone who immediately projects as a fine safety and slot cornerback, while also boasting some very good tape on the perimeter. The perfect defensive back in a league that increasingly craves versatility – Ramsey is Tyrann Mathieu minus the playmaking, but with the ability to shift outside – his slide will mean Jacksonville’s phone is ringing off the hook. In the end, though, Dave Caldwell opts to remain in the top 10 to get a top-tier guy and also take this very good deal from the Bucs
6. Baltimore Ravens: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon
An offensive tackle would be shrewd given Air Flacco is returning from a torn ACL to shepherd a passing attack built around needing time to throw deep balls. However, Baltimore actually need to return to their roots by fielding a competent defense again. The best way to do that is by snaffling Buckner, a player whose quality is best underlined by the fact he is the outstanding defensive lineman in a class full of studs. The Oregon Duck could play almost anywhere on the line and is the kind of cornerstone player Ozzie Newsome will find impossible to reject.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
It’s hard to split Ramsey, Buckner and Jack when trying to determine the best player in the draft, so the UCLA linebacker/running back represents incredible value at seven. We can’t see the 20-year-old getting past Jacksonville if they don’t broker a trade but, in this scenario, San Francisco get their future replacement for Navorro Bowman. A Pro Bowl berth hid the fact Bowman didn’t reach his usual level after returning from a horrific knee injury last term, plus the Niners’ linebacking corps still hasn’t been properly replenished following Chris Borland and Patrick Willis’ retirements. Jack’s elite coverage skills fit the modern game perfectly; he’ll be an outstanding player provided concerns surrounding his knee prove misguided.
The Cleveland Browns trade a 2016 first-round pick (eighth overall) to the Indianapolis Colts for picks in the 2016 first (18th overall), second (48th overall), fourth (116th overall) and fifth (155th overall) rounds.
8. Indianapolis Colts: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
A sensible general manager, knowing the Colts’ many needs, wouldn’t dream of giving up valuable picks for a splashy trade up. But Ryan Grigson isn’t a sensible GM; he is a gambler who knows delivering this year is the only thing that will keep his job. That starts with shoring up an offensive line that has been dreadful throughout Grigson’s tenure and finally caught up him last year as the star quarterback missed considerable time through injury. Everything we know about Grigson tells that he will aggressively look to patch up that area; Stanley’s slide combined with a willing trade partner will, therefore, prove irresistible.
The Jacksonville Jaguars trade a 2016 first-round pick (ninth overall) to the Tennessee Titans for picks in the 2016 first (15th overall), third (64th overall) and fifth (140th overall) rounds.
9. Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The top two tackles being off the board and spectre of the New York Giants sitting at 10 persuades the Titans to move back up for their long-term protector of Marcus Mariota. They find a willing ally in the Jaguars, whose smart GM Dave Caldwell decides to further load up with picks in the middle rounds, the strength of this class, now that Jack’s off the board. Many are projecting Conklin as a right tackle, but Gridiron disagrees that he lacks the athleticism to eventually play on the other side; for a comparison, see Andrew Whitworth. This choice allows the Titans to flick Byron Bell inside to guard, and ultimately take their time deciding whether Conklin or Taylor Lewan becomes the long-term blindside protector.
10. New York Giants: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
You can never have too many pass-rushers, right? The Giants gave Jason Pierre-Paul a one-year, prove-it new deal before investing megabucks to snag Olivier Vernon in free-agency. However, they’re often committed to taking the best player available and Bosa represents unbelievable value at 10. Big Blue’s recent Super Bowl triumphs were built around a dominant pass rush and Steve Spagnuolo will relish partying like it’s 2007 with Bosa, Pierre-Paul and Vernon. Bosa would also represent a nice succession plan for the event that Pierre-Paul can’t be as effective with one hand, or plays so well he prices Big Blue out of the market next year.
11. Chicago Bears: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Gridiron’s understanding is that the Bears love themselves some Floyd; oh, and look he’s still available. The Georgia man is probably ascending faster than any player as we approach draft day and it wouldn’t be overly surprising if he nips into the top 10. However, we think Chicago is his landing spot given he fills an obvious need spot and looks an ideal fit for Vic Fangio’s predominantly 3-4 set-up.
12. New Orleans Saints: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The Saints need any help they can get on defense and there’s certainly an argument for one of the many outstanding tackles here. However, while it will be possible to get a fine player at that position later on, the absence of quality edge rushers means New Orleans act early. There are some question marks surrounding the Clemson Tiger, but Floyd shone at an elite level in college – his National Championship game display was outstanding given he was playing hurt – and would immediately help new coordinator Dennis Allen.
13. Miami Dolphins: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
The noise Gridiron’s hearing is that Miami love Jack and Elliott, with many suggesting they have looked into trading up for the latter. However, neither is available at this stage and, truthfully, the Dolphins have too many holes to think about moving up. One of those gaps is at cornerback and, in particular, on the outside. Hargreaves falling into their laps, then, is a huge win for Mike Tannenbaum. He fits the size profile of an outside corner and will immediately updgrade a secondary that looks threadbare to say the least.
The Oakland Raiders trade picks in the first (14th overall) and fourth (114th overall) rounds to the New York Jets for a pick in the first round (20th overall) and DL Muhammad Wilkerson.
14. New York Jets: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
It’s well-known that the Jets only franchise tagged Wilkerson in the hopes of using him as a trade chip, probably to go up and get the player they believe can be their quarterback of the future. With Wentz and Goff off the board immediately, all eyes turn to Lynch – who could go as high as the top 10 or as low as the early part of the second round. Whether or not he can become a star remains to be seen, yet the Jets’ game of chicken with Ryan Fitzpatrick suggests they don’t view him as the long-term answer. Similarly, their interest in this class of passers indicates that they aren’t viewing last year’s fourth-round choice Bryce Petty as a viable starter.
The Jacksonville Jaguars trade a 2016 first-round pick (15th overall) for picks in the 2016 first (26th overall) and fourth (124th overall) rounds and a pick in the 2017 second round.
15. Seattle Seahawks, Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Jacksonville fans begin to wonder if they’ll ever see their team make a draft pick again as Caldwell executes his third draft-day trade. This time, with Detroit lingering at 16, Seattle make the move to get a much-needed offensive lineman. The Seahawks’ experiment of attempting to protect Russell Wilson with converted defensive players hasn’t worked so it’s time to select somebody viable high in the draft. The 6ft 7ins, 310lbs Decker would immediately be the best lineman on the Seakawks’ roster, which indicates how great the need is.
16. Detroit Lions: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
The Lions still need to replace the stud combination of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, who headed for pastures new just over a year ago. Thankfully, this draft will offer an opportunity to potentially bring in two guys. Their starting point should be acquiring Rankins, who’s great value at 16. Primarily seen as dominant against the run, the Louisville man also tallied 14 sacks across his final two seasons – a figure that speaks to his growth as a pass-rusher. Put simply, Rankins’ quickness and lower-body explosiveness will be too good to pass up for new general manager Bob Quinn.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
The Falcons desperately need an athletic linebacker and Jack is out of range. Thankfully, there is another option available in the form of rising Buckeye Lee – whose 4.47sec 40-yard dash headlined an outstanding performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. His efforts in Indianapolis opened the eyes of scouts and, given the buzz around Lee, this might well be considered a steal come draft day. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he was taken a little higher – especially if Jack’s medical red flags put teams off.
The Cleveland Browns trade a 2016 first-round pick (18th overall) to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2016 first-round pick (29th overall) and 2017 second-round pick.
18. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Carson Palmer is 36 going on 40 given his history of knee problems, meaning the Arizona Cardinals are in win-now mode. As such, they will be looking for immediate impact players at positions of need in this draft. They go up and draft arguably the best plug-in-and-play option in this class in Kelly, who will start for 10 years in the NFL. Over-analysis may tell you he isn’t athletic enough, but the Crimson Tide star is a rare sure-thing who would solve a major problem position for Arizona. Current starter Lyle Sendlein is declining rapidly and, at 32, probably doesn’t have too much time left in his career. The Cleveland Browns have shown a willingness to deal for future picks already, and are happy to do so again here given the long rebuild that lies ahead.
19. Buffalo Bills: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Despite people focusing on pass-rushers, the absolute key to Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme is a good set of defensive backs. He already has two fine options in second-year stud Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, but that won’t stop Rexy banging the table for Alexander. Ryan has an affinity for Clemson, where his son played, so we don’t think it’s a stretch to say he fell in love with Alexander’s moxie a long time ago. Rex’s is already the loudest voice in the room and he’ll fight hard for a versatile cornerback whose potential inside will appeal given the AFC East’s dominant team, New England, looks to win in the middle of the field.
The Raiders are in the weird spot of being everybody’s favourite darkhorses right now, a tag that brings with it a certain pressure. Suddenly the focus is on reaching the playoffs and, given the quality of this roster, that may well be Mark Davis’ minimum expectation. As such, leaving the draft with some capable starters to continue retooling their defense is a must. Ragland’s coverage deficiencies are a worry, and Alabama’s sporadic use of him as a third-down pass rusher won’t translate to the NFL; however, he is a safe pick who can contribute immediately against the run and as a blitzer.
21. Washington: Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
Scot McCloughan’s very un-Washington-like rebuild in the nation’s capital continues on its steady path, with Josh Norman fitting the scheme exceptionally. The price tag is high, but Norman immediately becomes the team’s best player and fills a major need in the secondary. Now the back end has been reinforced, it’s time to address the line. Reed is the best run-stuffer in the class and, based on last season, that is an area which needs immediate reinforcement – especially after the loss of ‘Pot Roast’ Terrance Knighton.
22. Houston Texans: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
We don’t care about 40 times here at Gridiron. Treadwell is the best wide-out in the draft for our money, an outstanding pass-catcher with great size who plays faster than the 4.6 he produced on a track. In fact, we would have slotted him earlier in the order were it not for the belief some of the league’s decision-makers might overreact to the above issue. That paves the way for the Texans to get an absolute steal; Treadwell and DeAndre Hopkins will be a pairing to be reckoned with.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Stefon Diggs’ excellent rookie campaign provided Teddy Bridgewater with an unexpected weapon in 2015, but the Minnesota receiving corps still requires significant help. With Treadwell off the board, Minnesota should look to the next-best option – and that man’s Doctson. Some might give Corey Coleman, Sterling Shepard or Will Fuller consideration, but the TCU product gets the nod. He could do with adding some bulk, yet Doctson already has the most important trait in the wide-out armoury by being an outstanding route-runner.
You wait all draft for a wide receiver and then three come along at once! In reality, this section could make for some real draft-day fun as the Texans, Vikings and Bengals jostle for position to take the guy they crave most. In this instance, Shepard gets selected as one of the most NFL-ready prospects available. He may not be mentioned too often in the first-round mix by analysts, but NFL scouts could easily disagree. The Bengals are usually happy to take projects yet, with Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones leaving in free-agency, they snap the trend for a plug-and-play option.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Pittsburgh should basically take the best defensive back left, and they’ll be delighted to see Jackson still around. He boasts size, speed and ball skills, and immediately upgrades a patchwork secondary. Keith Butler put together a serviceable unit despite talent deficiencies in his first year replacing Dick LeBeau; now it’s time for the personnel man to give this emerging defensive coordinator some exciting pieces to play with.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
The Jaguars are in the same position as Oakland, having gone from yearly laughing stock to fancied post-season contender. Gus Bradley has been given plenty of rope during his tenure and it’s time to start delivering results, especially on defense given that’s his speciality. Caldwell gives his man a chance to do just that by drafting the best option available on that side of the ball in Robinson, who protects Jacksonville if Sen’Derrick Marks’ injury issues continue and provides big-money recruit Malik Jackson with an immediate partner in crime. Given the additional selections acquired by three trade-downs, this steal makes the Jags the big winner of day one!
27. Green Bay Packers: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
If 2015 taught us anything it’s that, for all the talent he possesses, Aaron Rodgers cannot do everything on his own. The biggest improvement in his supporting cast comes organically with Jordy Nelson returning, but the work doesn’t stop there. Jared Cook was a nice pick-up who should play better with Rodgers; however, it’s hard to imagine Ted Thompson relies on just him. As such, he takes his tight end of the future in Henry, who is the consensus best player at his position.
Cornerback almost makes too much sense, but we think John Dorsey would spring a surprise if the board fell this way. Nobody expects Coleman to be available at this stage so his presence alters the thinking significantly for the Chiefs’ decision-makers. Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce need some assistance in the pass-catching department, and Coleman provides just that. Plus, he offers valuable security if Maclin’s chequered injury history bites Kansas City on the buttocks once again.
29. Cleveland Browns: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
Much as we like Robert Griffin III and dream that he somehow returns to the astonishing form that he displayed as a rookie, I’d be surprised if Cleveland didn’t ultimately come away from the draft with a first-round signal-caller. Cook is perhaps a slight reach, and we wouldn’t criticise Cleveland for just choosing the best player on the board before picking up a developmental QB later, but we like his potential. He has big-game experience, plenty of talent and could be a nice fit in Hue Jackson’s system.
30. Carolina Panthers: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Plenty of people are drafting cornerbacks in this spot, which seems bizarre given GM Dave Gettleman has illustrated his belief he can pick up serviceable players at the position anywhere by not paying Josh Norman. The highly-successful executive believes in building his teams in the trenches, and a look through the harrowing Super Bowl 50 tape will show that his team is deficient in this area. They need offensive-line help and Spriggs is the best option at this point.
31. Denver Broncos: Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State
There is an argument that this could be Robert Nkemdiche’s best landing spot, boosted by the belief being in a Super Bowl-winning locker room can put to rest the character concerns. But John Elway doesn’t operate like that; one point he always emphasises is drafting players that love football. That’s in question with Nkemdiche, who flashes top-five talent sometimes and looks like he isn’t interested in other games. One man whose passion isn’t in question is 50-game starter Whitehair. He projects as a guard in the NFL, which fills a huge need for the Super Bowl champions.