We’re just hours away from the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, which means it is time for one last mock draft from yours truly. The year’s talent pool has its fair share of stars, but the overall depth in most position groups is relatively lacking compared to seasons past. Other than the borderline disastrous 2013 crop, 2016 might be the class most bereft of talent to come out of college in the last six years.
The top two quarterbacks this year are worse than the top two quarterbacks last year. There are fewer starting-caliber running backs. The defensive backs (other than Jalen Ramsey) are markedly worse, particularly when it comes to comparing this year’s best corners to Kevin Johnson and Marcus Peters a season ago. This year’s receivers are slower, the offensive line is thinner, and franchise pass rushers are almost nonexistent. Hell, even the two best inside linebackers – one of the few positions this class could truly hang its hat on – are both recovering from career-threatening injuries and might not even go in the first round. Honestly, outside of tight end, defensive tackle, and place kicker, every single other position group in the 2016 class is weaker and/or thinner than its 2015 counterpart. That’s a bad thing, folks.
All of that being said, however, a thinner overall draft class does not mean that teams cannot still put together a damn good draft. Finding multiple above-average starters within this talent pool is still possible; it just might be harder to do this year than in 2011, 2012, or 2014. Finding those perfect fits and potential Pro Bowlers for every team was my end goal for this mock, so as usual I assigned players based on what I would do as each general manager, not necessarily what I think will actually happen later tonight. Invariably some of my choices will be much, much different than reality, but I have found in recent years that going with my gut and tossing the "consensus" out of the window generally helps with my accuracy more than hurting it. With that, here we go:
1) Rams (via Titans): Jared Goff, QB, California
I personally would not have given up the farm for Goff, but that looks to be just what Los Angeles is planning to do. I will slot this pick in just for the sake of keeping this scenario as realistic as possible, even though I am personally against it.
Again, making this gigantic trade up for Carson Wentz is not the move I would have made as the head of the Eagles. This pick is more of a reluctant acceptance of what has already happened rather than an endorsement of the move itself.
3) Chargers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
San Diego really can’t go wrong with this pick. Laremy Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey, or Buckner – whoever they decide to take is going to be a Pro Bowl caliber player anyway, so Chargers fans should just smile enjoy the ride on this one. For my purposes, I look at DeForest Buckner and see a mirror image of Calais Campbell. We’re talking about a defensive end here that can walk in on day one and instantly be the alpha dog in that locker room. He’s the biggest, baddest mother f***er in this draft class, and the perfect lineman to build this defense around.
4) Cowboys: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
Sure, the Cowboys could take Laremy Tunsil just for the sake of constructing the greatest offensive line in the history of the sport, but Jalen Ramsey is still the better pick here. Dallas is going to have to contend with receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, and Kelvin Benjamin every single season for the next several years, so they might as well get one of the few corner prospects that has a remote chance of shutting them all down. Ramsey is on par with my top two corners last year (Kevin Johnson and Marcus Peters) and is easily deserving of all of his praise. He is not as technically developed yet as Johnson and Peters were coming out of college, but he is the best athlete of the bunch by a considerable margin.
5) Jaguars: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
With Myles Jack’s murky medical situation and the lack of any legitimate need for Laremy Tunsil or Ezekiel Elliott, the Jags are in an awful spot here. They still need a true LEO end to complete their defense, but this draft class is much thinner in this area than usual. Joey Bosa is more of a base end in a 4-3 to me rather than a traditional 7-tech speed rusher, so honestly my only real option here is to reach a little bit for Leonard Floyd. I can’t take Jack, I can’t take an OT, I can’t take Elliott, and I can’t take Bosa, so this move is literally all I’ve got.
That’s not to say that Floyd is a bad player – he’s actually pretty darn good and very much worthy of a top 15 pick – but he’s not "top 5" good. I only wish there was some other options here that actually met the value of this pick, but oh well; I’ll take what I can get in this nightmare scenario. Floyd will step in and be my day one starter at LEO end while last year’s first round pick, Dante Fowler, slides over to his more natural position at OTTO linebacker. Floyd has the explosiveness to find success as a double-digit sack artist coming off the edge while the rest of Jacksonville’s formidable front seven does their damage inside. As long as he can fill that role consistently, this slight reach will be forgotten about fairly quickly.
6) Ravens: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Baltimore needs a franchise left tackle, and there happens to be one sitting there at sixth overall. This was the quickest pick of the whole mock for me.
Detroit is a really under the radar candidate to trade up for a new franchise left tackle. They currently sit at the 16th overall pick, which in my opinion will be out of range for all four of the top tackles. If they want to find someone who can match up with Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews, and Pernell McPhee six times a year, spending some extra draft capital to acquire Ronnie Stanley is a worthwhile move.
8) Browns (via Eagles): Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
I would like to just say right now that I do not believe that Elliott is as good of a prospect as Todd Gurley was last year (knee injury or not), but he is still one of the ten best players in this draft class. Hue Jackson has built his reputation on running the football, so who better to carry on that tradition than a true workhorse back that can pound defenses into submission? His presence in the backfield should go a long way towards keeping Robert Griffin III in manageable down and distance.
9) Buccaneers: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa might not be quite the athlete that Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack were coming out of college, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a really, really damn good player. With uncanny fluidity for his size, exceptional strength, and some of the best hand usage you will ever see from a college player, Bosa can come in and immediately start as a base end in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 scheme. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are going to love playing with guy that is this good at setting a hard edge and letting his linebackers hunt from the backside.
10) Giants: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Myles Jack is tempting, but it is really hard for me to spend a top 10 pick on a player that might need to have microfracture surgery on his knee sometime in the near future. That is just too big of a risk for me right now, and Doctson is a much safer bet to help this team get back to the playoffs immediately. His combination of size, speed, and effortless ball skills make him a very similar prospect to A.J. Green, though he will start his career two years older than Green did back in 2011. If and when Victor Cruz returns to the lineup healthy, Cruz can man the slot while Doctson and Odell Beckham Jr. eat defenses alive on the outside. New York already rebuilt most of their defense in free agency with a massive spending spree, so I am comfortable using the first round of the draft to make sure that Eli Manning has every weapon he needs to make another championship run.
11) Bears: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Spriggs is a really underrated left tackle prospect. He’s got the feet and length to survive on his own against NFL-caliber edge rushers, which makes him an immediate (and obvious) target for me as the Bears' GM. Chicago needs a starting left tackle right the hell now, and I honestly do not think that they can get one from this class after the first round. It’s either take Spriggs now, or deal with Jay Cutler getting shelled for 16 straight games next season. I’ll turn this card in and sleep like a baby knowing that I did the right thing for my quarterback.
12) Saints: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
This pick has not changed since last time. New Orleans still needs a 3-technique that can get after the passer, and Rankins fits that description perfectly.
13) Dolphins: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
Hargreaves is an undersized but solid corner prospect that can carve out a role in Miami from the minute he enters the building. He has the feet and short area quickness to play in the slot, but also the temperament and aggressiveness to survive outside on an island if he needs to. He is not on the level of Jalen Ramsey, Marcus Peters, or Kevin Johnson as far as grades go, but VH3 will still start in this league for a long, long time.
14) Raiders: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
I do not think that Conklin can be an NFL left tackle, but luckily for him the Raiders only need him to man the right side. Conklin can instantly compete for (and likely win) the starting right tackle job next to Kelechi Osemele, which would make Oakland’s offensive line that much more dominant than it already was. If Conklin joins the Raiders, they might legitimately have the best line in the entire league in 2016. With all the weapons Derek Carr has to work with, giving him even better protection is a pretty scary thought for the rest of the AFC West.
15) Titans (via Rams): Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
I can basically just copy and paste the Raiders' write-up, change a few names, and it would still work here. Decker is not an NFL left tackle, but in Tennessee he would only be asked to play the right side anyway. Protecting Marcus Mariota is this franchise’s top priority.
16) 49ers (via trade with Lions): Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Corey Coleman is a better player than Treadwell at this point in their careers, but San Francisco already has their deep threat in Torrey Smith. What they need most is a big-bodied possession receiver to replace Anquan Boldin, so I’ll just go ahead and draft the guy who is practically a reincarnation of Boldin anyway. Oh, and Treadwell loves to block – you would be surprised how important that is to Chip Kelly.
17) Falcons: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
This is about the range where I start to feel better about rolling the dice on Jack. He might not play for 10 years, but at some point you just have to trust the talent and damn everything else. There is no way that Atlanta would ever have a shot to draft Jack under any other circumstances, so we might as well just take advantage of this while we still can.
18) Colts: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
"Please. Help. Andrew. Luck." – Chuck Pagano…probably.
19) Bills: Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT, Ole Miss
The Bills could use another DE/DT hybrid to help out Rex Ryan’s multiple front defense. This draft class is really short on defensive tackles that can consistently disrupt the pocket, so Nkemdiche’s physical talents are at a premium here. The only reason he is even available is because of his off the field issues, but we all know that Rex doesn’t seem to care about those anyway.
20) Jets: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
You all know my stance on Hack by now, but just in case you don’t know my stance, take a look at this video scouting report that I put together just for this very moment.
21) Washington: Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State
Big, strong, long, and extremely disruptive when unleashed to attack the backfield - this is the kind of defensive end that Washington has been waiting to fall to them for years. Jones has some leverage issues to work out, and he definitely needs to improve his conditioning, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look like a future Pro Bowl defensive end when he really turns it on. If Jones unlocks even 80% of his potential, this pick will be more than worth it.
22) Texans: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Houston really needs speed on the outside, quickness in the slot, yards-after-catch ability in space, and an electric return man that can revive their abysmal special teams unit. Gee, if only there was one player who could fill all four of those needs…oh wait, there is, and his name is Corey Coleman. If Coleman is still on the board when the Texans go on the clock, this is a no-brainer pick.
23) Vikings: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
Minnesota needs a big-bodied wide receiver that can run a good route and make a contested catch in traffic. That describes Michael Thomas to a tee.
Arizona really needs another defensive end that can pass rush to pair with Calais Campbell, but there is no way in hell that Butler makes it all the way to pick 29. As a result, I have the Cardinals trading up five spots to jump Kansas City and ensure that they can get their (or rather "my") guy.
25) Steelers: Williams Jackson III, CB, Houston
Pittsburgh has literally one cornerback on the entire roster that I feel comfortable with, so rectifying that is one of my top priorities. Jackson has the height and length to match up with bigger receivers, but also the feet, fluidity, and speed to shadow smaller threats. Honestly, if you told me that Jackson would go in front of Vernon Hargreaves, I would be not be shocked at all. I am lucky to have him available here at 25.
26) Seahawks: Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech
Clark has the highest upside of any tackle in this draft. Yes, even higher than Tunsil and Stanley. He could be an All-Pro in the NFL once he learns what the hell he is doing, but that could take a while. Luckily my coaching staff in Seattle is one of the best in the league, and they happen to prefer taking raw prospects that are still completely blank slates. Clark certainly qualifies as a "blank slate" offensive lineman if I’ve ever seen one.
27) Packers: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Oh, look, a team that needs a fast, fluid, weakside linebacker happens to have a fast, fluid, weakside linebacker available to them in the first round. Sometimes everything seems to accidentally work out better than I could have ever hoped for.
28) Chiefs: Sean Davis, CB/S, Maryland
With Vernon Butler off the board, I am looking to upgrade the safety position. The Chiefs play in three-safety sets more than just about anyone else in the league, so having another rangy safety in the stable is an absolute must for this team. Davis is one of the most athletic free safety prospects in this draft, and he can even play slot corner in a pinch if you really need him to. He is a darn good special teams player as well, which Andy Reid weighs heavily when hunting for value in the draft. If you can be a dangerous gunner in the NFL just as Davis was in college, then you have a lifetime spot on this Chiefs roster.
29) Bengals (via trade with Cardinals): Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
I don’t care what anyone says – Sterling Shepard is a first round wide receiver. He has immaculate hands, incredible route running acumen, and an insatiable work ethic that every coach will love. Put him in the slot in Cincy and watch him convert a never-ending stream of first downs with Andy Dalton for the next decade. I can’t wait to watch him work in the pros.
30) Panthers: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Kony Ealy, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short are all great pieces to build a defensive line around, but Carolina could still use another good pass rusher or two to fill out their rotations. Calhoun has a better frame, better arm length, and a better first step than both Noah Spence and Shaq Lawson, so I project him to have a much more productive career at the next level despite all of the first round hype that Spence and Lawson have been accumulating for the last two months. Calhoun’s always been my guy, and I’m sticking with him to the end.
31) Broncos: Cody Whitehair, OG/C, Kansas State
I don’t know what position Whitehair will play in the NFL just yet. With Denver having a need at literally all three interior offensive line slots, I think he could end up basically anywhere. Need him at center? Sure, he has the feet to reach block on a nose tackle in a zone scheme. Need him to down block on a 1-technique and slide up to the second level to seal off a linebacker? Yep, he knows how to do that, too. Center, guard, whatever. He can play anything on the interior, so for a team that needs everything on the interior this is a perfect fit.
So there you have it, BRB. The Texans grab Corey Coleman, Myles Jack takes a tumble all the way down to Atlanta, and I don’t have to write another mock draft for 10 whole months. Life is instantly great again.
What picks did you like? What picks did you hate? Feel free to spit your venom and sound off in the comments below.