We’re less than 24 hours from the start of the 2016 NFL Draft and already had a number of fireworks have gone off. In the span of a week, the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles spent kings’ ransoms in order to move up to the #1 and #2 spots respectively. The expectation of going for one of the two top QB prospects — Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz — is the only one that makes sense. After all, in this crazy NFL, you either have a QB or you’re not going much of anywhere. Even the Super Bowl Champions Broncos, who bore the weight of their title campaign, required Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler to get over the line.
But what about the other 29 picks — remember, New England is out their first round pick this year due to the Deflategate punishments — that the other teams must make? Here’s a silly exercise in futility then AKA a mock draft. Silly because the moment the first trade is made, it’s all out the window. Futile because until teams are on the clock and know who is available will the subterfuge and smoke screens end. In any case, a few questions to ponder ahead of the mock draft.
Who will San Diego choose?
It’s cliche to say “here’s where the Draft truly begins” but it applies in this case. With the first two picks going on QBs, the Chargers have their pick of the litter: Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, Laremy Tunsil, DeForest Buckner, Myles Jack. And they have a spot for just about any one of them. Ramsey is the highest-rated defensive player and they’ve a major hole at either CB or S. Tunsil was projected at the #1 overall pick and the Chargers could upgrade their offensive line. Adding Buckner or Bosa would improve their defensive line. The choice they make will impact not just them, but the teams immediately after them. Dallas would be thrilled to get either Bosa or Ramsey as would Jacksonville. Baltimore would be happy if Tunsil slid to them as would San Francisco and Cleveland. The Super Chargers take their pick and immediately teams behind them will start shuffling their boards to see who they can take.
Which team really wants Paxton Lynch?
There’s been a lot of talk recently over the University of Memphis QB and with good reason. With Wentz and Goff both gone, Lynch becomes the best QB available for the bulk of the first round. There’s a case to be made for him to go as high as #7 to the Niners or #8 to the Browns all the way down to the Broncos at #31. And that doesn’t include teams like the Jets, Cardinals, Bills or even Saints who could be looking at a long-term heir. After Lynch, you’re looking at Connor Cook or Cardale Jones as the next best available QB. So you have to expect some team will see him available to them and pull the trigger. You might even see a team trade up to take him.
Will all the good pass rushers go early?
Everyone’s talking about how deep this year’s Draft is at DT. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate to the outside of the line. Pass-rushing DEs and OLBs are in short supply this time out and that means, if you want one, you gotta take him early. This is good news for players like Clemson’s Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Ohio State’s Darron Lee. They should all expect to hear their name called sometime between Thursday’s Round 1 and Friday’s Rounds 2 and 3. However, it’s bad news if you’re a team desperate to improve your pass rush as it means either letting a better player at another position go or praying you can find a pass rusher sliding down the draft.
Who will slide down and out of Round 1?
Before the end of the college football season, you’d have expected players like Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche, Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley and Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson to go amongst the first 10-15 picks. And they still might. Let me not act like some genius with a crystal ball. But with the depth of talent at their positions (Robinson) along with a number of questions in regards to motivation (for Stanley) or off-the-field issues (Nkemdiche), they might all end up having to wait till Friday night to hear their names called. And speaking of falls…
Will anyone take a gamble on Jaylon Smith?
Before he suffered his horrific injury, the Notre Dame OLB was on pace to be one of the first names called on Thursday night. Then he suffered major knee damage during the Fiesta Bowl – tearing the MCL and LCL. Now reports are that he will be out for certain this next season and, depending on who you read, might not recover at all from the nerve damage to his knee. This has led to expectations of him tumbling out of Round 1 and, for some, going undrafted. It’s likely that a team with loads of picks – San Francisco and Cleveland each have 12 picks(!) – could see some value in taking Smith in the middle of the Draft and stashing him for a year in the hopes he returns to his imperious best in 2017.
OK, with all that said, here is your mock. Apparently, it’s already busted as there’s rumors that the Chargers are taking Ronnie Stanley with the #3 overall pick. Could be more smokescreens or could be true.
1.LA: Jared Goff, QB California (f/TEN)
– You don’t mortgage the future without knowing for certain who is your guy. Rams have had 2 weeks now.
2.PHI: Carson Wentz, QB North Dakota State (f/CLE)
– Well, unless you’re the Eagles and hoping the Rams don’t take YOUR guy. New coach, new QB to start a new era in Philly.
3.SD: Jalen Ramsey, DB Florida State
– Chargers could go with Buckner, Bosa, Tunsil or Ramsey here. But Ramsey remains the best overall prospect and fills needs.
4.DAL: Joey Bosa, DE Ohio State
– Greg Hardy is gone and Randy Gregory is suspended. And with dearth of pass rushers, Bosa will go high.
5.JAC: Laremy Tunsil, OT Mississippi
– Best OT in the Draft slides to the Jaguars thanks to QBs going high. Gotta protect Blake Bortles.
6.BAL: DeForest Buckner, DT Oregon
– Some really good player will slide to the Ravens here. Buckner can fill in anywhere along the D-line.
7.SF: Laquon Treadwell, WR Mississippi
– Surprise! Chip Kelly follows his own beat and, without a QB to build around, he goes with best offensive weapon.
8.CLE: Myles Jack, OLB UCLA (f/PHI via MIA)
– Do they opt for Lynch after passing on Goff/Wentz? Or do they take a leader for their defense?
9.TB: Shaq Lawson, DE Clemson
– Robert Ayers is entering his 9th season and they could use more talent in pass rush.
10.NYG: Jack Conklin, OL Michigan State
– Though there’s needs in defense, the ability of Conklin to fit either T or G makes him a commodity.
11.CHI: Ezekiel Elliot, RB Ohio State
– Zeke is such an old-school RB that putting him in a Bears jersey feels too obvious.
12.NO: Sheldon Rankins, DT Louisville
– The needs on the Saints defense are so many that one pick won’t fix them all. But start here.
13.MIA: Vernon Hargraeves III, CB Florida (f/PHI)
– If the best-rated pure CB in the Draft slides to Miami, they’ll be happy to take him.
14.OAK: Eli Apple, CB Ohio State
– The Raiders continue building a monster defense with the high-rising Apple.
15.TEN: Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame (f/LA)
– The Titans drop to middle of Round 1, get a boatload of picks and still land a top OT prospect? Nice.
16.DET: Jarran Reed, DT Alabama
– Suh and Fairley are both gone and their defense has declined. They hope Reed can be like Suh.
17.ATL: Leonard Floyd, OLB Georgia
– It’s no secret the Falcons want to improve their LB Corps. If they can land their in-state prospect, they’d be happy.
18.IND: Taylor Decker, OT Ohio State
– The franchise is Andrew Luck and whatever depth they can build in that o-line is a good thing.
19.BUF: Kevin Dodd, DE Clemson
– Improving the pass rush appears to be one of the big tasks the Ryan brothers are looking for in this Draft.
20.NYJ: Paxton Lynch, QB Memphis
– Ryan Fitzpatrick is close to retirement and Geno Smith hasn’t shown that he’s the long-term answer.
21.WAS: Reggie Ragland, ILB Alabama
– After bringing back Kirk Cousins and signing Josh Norman, the Skins add the brains of Bama’s D.
22.HOU: Josh Doctson, WR TCU
– After spending to bring Brock Osweiler as their QB, they go and get him a local prospect to throw to.
23.MIN: Will Fuller, WR Notre Dame
– The Vikings are in desperate need to add to their WR corps. They might even move up if someone is available.
24.CIN: Corey Coleman, WR Clemson
– Ditto for the Bengals, who are just as WR needy after A.J. Green.
25.PIT: Darron Lee, OLB Ohio State
– Whoever the best player on the board is, that’s who the Steelers will take.
26.SEA: Cody Whitehair, OG Kansas State
– The Seahawks have needs at every position of their o-line and could take the best interior lineman.
27.GB: Andrew Billings, DT Baylor
– The Pack have yet to replace B.J. Raji in the heart of their defense.
28.KC: Mackensie Alexander, CB Clemson
– The Chiefs face off against tough QBs every year. Adding more at the secondary level is key.
29.ARI: William Jackson III, CB Houston
– The Cards’ D has become one of the best units in the NFL but could use more depth when injuries happen.
30.CAR: Artie Burns, CB Miami
– The CB run continues as the Panthers look for someone who can take over Josh Norman’s vacated spot.
31.DEN: Connor Cook, QB Michigan State
– We start with a QB and end with a QB. Peyton retired and Osweiler left. Broncos need depth there badly.
OK, now let’s see what teams actually do.