Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 Mock Draft

I'm headed to Mexico in a few days and creating a mock draft will not be one of my top priorities. I'm just going to assume that all the craziness is over. The draft capital spent by the Rams and Eagles is, in every sense of the word, an all-in move. They are betting the farm on getting their one pick right. It's simply too much to recover from if they don't. Some have theorized that the Rams' glut of young players means all those picks are less valuable, but show me a team that's not constantly looking for a cheaper next man up when good players hit free agency. The Eagles have shipped so many players away and frankly, have to get this right. Let's proceed! The Rams are on the clock.

1. Los Angeles Rams - Jared Goff, QB, Cal.
Debates are swirling about Goff v Wentz here, but I liken them to the "debate" about Luck v Griffin. People are too smart for their own good, and love to delve into contrarian theories. It's particularly easy when their money (or draft haul) isn't at stake. There is no way a QB from outside the BCS goes number 1. So, the Rams will take Goff and then go home for the next day and a half until they get to pick again. In fact, the Rams won't have a meaningful pick until the 2nd round of 2017.

2. Philadelphia Eagles - Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
The Eagles said they're picking a QB. They also said Sam Bradford is their guy. What's for sure is they kept a 2nd rounder, but no longer have a 1st rounder next year, nor a 3rd or 4th this year. And also, they are picking a QB. Wentz is the only other one in the legit top-10 conversation.

3. San Diego Chargers - Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi
This one fell right into the Chargers lap. Poor Philip Rivers has been desperate for an offensive line, and the clear-cut, top-graded player, who happens to be a left tackle, is on his way to San Diego. The Chargers roster is completely depleted so they could go other directions, but there's no reason to get cute here.

4. Dallas Cowboys - Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida St
Another need meets value pick! If this were a few years ago, I'd bet on the Cowboys screwing this up somehow, but they've calmed down recently and have been making good picks. This will be another, and will quiet any talk about them signing Josh Norman. They can then spend the rest of the draft on some secret service to keep Tony Romo from getting injured. They really are that close to being a contender.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars - Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
The Jaguars' offense came to life last year with a 4000-yard passer, promising rookie running back and 2 1000-yard receivers. But, they lost a lot of games because opposing offense also looked great against them. This is a team that can become competitive with a few more good pieces, however, and I think they can take this in a lot of directions. Bortles got sacked a lot, so an offensive line investment could be in play. Is Ronnie Stanley a good value here? Is there a good fit for him on the existing line? They also lacked a dominant pass rusher and gave up lot of yards on the ground. I think in the end Jack's incredible ceiling wins out, but I wouldn't be surprised at Stanley, Bosa or Buckner either.

6. Baltimore Ravens - DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
The Ravens were sunk due to injuries last year and have a rare opportunity to get a blue-chip player. Many have them linked to Bosa, but that would be a mistake. I'm going to project that they're smart enough to figure that out. Going with an outside linebacker makes sense because they lost Upshaw and Dumervil and Suggs are getting older. But, I think they'll remember how their entire defense's identity changed with the right defensive linemen up front. I would pick Darron Lee as the alternative here, not Bosa.

7. San Francisco 49ers - Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
The 49ers scored less than 15 points per game, have no viable quarterback, had no pass rush, got sacked a lot and their top receiver turns 36 this year. Translation: they need good players, at any position. In my view, Lee is the best hope. The 49ers saw what a massive exodus on defense can do. They lost Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland from their front seven and they need to reload. I think Lee fits their 3-4 better than Bosa and they go this route. I wouldn't fault them for going with Ronnie Stanley either; their dominant days were when their line featured 3 1st-round picks.

8. Cleveland Browns - Joey Bosa, OLB, Ohio State
By all indications, Cleveland is an analytics shop under new management. What better treat for such a scenario than the best player on the board still available at 8? Scheme mismatch? Who cares. The Browns weren't horrific for a while last year, but injuries completely sunk their season. Their offense was not good, but their defense really imploded. They gave up 4.5 yards per carry, but also 34 passing touchdowns. They need some teeth back in that thing. I could also see them going with Sheldon Rankins to fortify the interior.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
Tampa had a quietly solid season. Winston got a ton of the press, but the team performed reasonably well. To help their offense get to the next level, Winston needs another weapon across from Mike Evans. Tampa's major issue was giving up 31 passing touchdowns despite decent sack numbers, so a corner would be in order, but it's just too early here. There are a number of solid options who could still be on the board in early round 2. Drafting a good tackle is always a reasonable choice with the 9th pick as well, so Stanley could get the call.

10. New York Giants - Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Another need meets value! The Giants roster is a complete mess, and they need good players. Tackles are some of the safest bets, and it's a position of need for them. Easy pick.

11. Chicago Bears - Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
The Bears are also a mess, but nowhere more so than on the defensive line. They picked up Bobbie Massie in the offseason to be their right tackle and have Kyle Long on the left side, so Conklin doesn't seem like the right pick here. Rankins may not be a sexy pick, but he's the one they need.

12. New Orleans Saints - Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
After years of high-profile offensive linemen, the Saints are reduced to a who's who of players. Conklin should be an immediate upgrade. The Saints biggest need is a better secondary, but they'll have to address that later in the draft because the value just isn't there right now.

13. Miami Dolphins - Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Miami could go a few ways with this one, but they seem hell-bent on throwing capital at their front seven. Despite pretty good pressure, they gave up an unholy 45 passing touchdowns last year which suggests they need help in the secondary. Ryan Tannehill also got sacked 45 times, so their line is suspect. However, they ran the ball well ... so maybe that's more on Tannehill? I could see the Dolphins reaching big-time for Vernon Hargreaves too.

14. Oakland Raiders - Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
The Raiders' rebuild is coming along. They looked considerably better last year. Derek Carr looks promising and Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree seem to be clicking with him. Their defense took strides forward on the backs of Khalil Mack and Charles Woodson. Woodson is done now, and someone will have to fill his shoes. This defense could be quite imposing with another dominant pass rusher on the other side. In our scenario, all the 1st-round talent is off the board, and instead they pick up an heir apparent to the aging Donald Penn.

15. Tennessee Titans - Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
As it sits, the Titans miss out on the top end of offensive linemen, which would really help their cause. Marcus Mariota was sacked 54 times last year and they struggled to run the ball. I wonder if they would try to deal and move up to 13 after Conklin comes off the board (or maybe even to 11 after Stanley comes off). Offensive line seems to be their dire need. They certainly have the draft capital, and I bet the Dolphins would deal. The move would cost them a 4th rounder, which they happen to have a spare one of. As it sits, I think they address inside linebacker. The Titans could also trade down and amass even more picks in the process. I don't get the sense there's a ready-made trade partner here, but the Titans could give a discount and pick up another 3rd or 4th for moving down. There's always the risk that they trade so far back as to miss all the high-impact players, but this is a team that needs more shots at good players than they do a few shots at amazing ones.

16. Detroit Lions - Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
This teams knows all too well what happens when a dominant defensive interior leaves town. For all the talk about whether Stafford is their guy, he sure looked fine to me. Half the NFL would gladly swap their starter for him. The other gaping hole is left by Calvin Johnson's departure. Could they go with Josh Doctson instead? No one in this draft will replace Megatron, but Golden Tate is likely not a true #1. They'll need an explosive group to maximize Stafford's potential, but first things first: they give up too much on the ground.

17. Atlanta Falcons - Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Atlanta's run defense was terrible, pass pressure was non-existent, and pretty much nothing worked besides Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. Atlanta has to address the defensive side of the ball. Lawson fits their 4-3 and figures to help both facets of their defense.

18. Indianapolis Colts - Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
That the Colts are picking this late is a miracle in itself. They couldn't run, couldn't keep a quarterback upright, gave up a ton of points on the ground and through the air. Frank Gore was their one effective player, but he's aging out. I think they get a player to help their offense by adding another dimension, then spend the next few rounds on offensive line and pass rush help.

19. Buffalo Bills - Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
The run on pass rushers continues! Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams tied for the team lead with 5 sacks each, and Williams is now gone. Tyrod Taylor was a find for them and their offense is decent. They need help generating pressure. Ogbah may be a reach here but his upside is tremendous.

20. New York Jets - Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
The Jets have gone to the QB well many times, and pulled out duds. But, while Ryan Fitzpatrick had a very good year for them, he's still in a contract dispute and not a long-term answer. Since the Jets have no other pressing needs, it's time to take a shot at the future. I think wide receiver is in play too here, considering there's not much behind Eric Decker and the aging Brandon Marshall, or Elliott (if he's still on the board) to replace the departed Chris Ivory.

21. Washington Redskins - Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Kirk Cousins was a revelation last year (count me surprised!), and lead a surprisingly potent offense. The Redskins also struggled to run the ball. Alfred Morris didn't look right and Matt Jones mixed explosion with some bad plays and fumbles. But, there's no one on the board worth taking for that. Defensively, they need help in the secondary.

22. Houston Texans - Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
The Texans really are a competent quarterback away from being a deep playoff team. They need some help in the running game, but they also need to keep new hope Brock Osweiler intact. Beefing up their line should help on both accounts.

23. Minnesota Vikings - Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
The Vikings were a really solid team, but need more punch. They hit the late-round jackpot with Stefon Diggs, but they need more. We're into the sweet spot for the wide receiver talent pool here and the Vikings go for it.

24. Cincinnati Bengals - Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida State
The Bengals have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. They can go BPA, or fit a need. With the departure of Marvin Jones, #2 receiver becomes a need to keep defenses from keying on AJ Green. But, the loss of Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall is bigger. They have to shore up their secondary.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers - William Jackson III, CB, Houston
The Steelers biggest weakness was giving up big plays and touchdowns through the air. If any highly-rated pass rushers are left, they could go that route to cycle out Jarvis Jones (who's looking like a bust at this point).

26. Seattle Seahawks - Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
With Russell Wilson's growth, surrounding him with playmakers would make this team almost unstoppable. The Seahawks showed last year their defense is still elite, so they can continue to push the offense here. Thomas Rawls will take over for Lynch (he was the better back already last year), and the Seahawks' continued success is not in doubt.

27. Green Bay Packers - Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
This offense just wasn't the same without Jordy Nelson. Aaron Rodgers did his best, but this team needs weapons to get the most out of the elite quarterback. Hunter Henry could give him a dynamic he hasn't had in a few seasons. But, the Packers are getting Nelson back and need to take a defensive lineman to help their struggling run defense, especially with BJ Raji's sudden leave from the league.

28. Kansas City Chiefs - Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
A curious pick, no doubt, given the presence of the excellent Travis Kelce. But, Kelce is due for a big pay raise this year and it never hurts to have a backup option, especially with a quarterback who works as well with a tight end as Alex Smith does. Also, imagine placing two playmaking tight ends into a lot of run formations in a run-heavy offense. Play-action galore!

29. Arizona Cardinals - Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
The Cards can go a lot of directions here. The Chandler Jones trade and Evan Mathis signing frees them up to pick the best player available with no pressing need. Their defensive line has been primarily manned by elder 1-year-deal guys and Calais Campbell, who's quietly turning 30 this year. Rodney Gunter was a great find, but they need to reload with youth. They also have to start thinking about life after Larry, but the top batch of wideouts is already off the board.

30. Carolina Panthers - Eli Apple, CB, Ohio St
The Panthers were probably the strongest team last year. They lost Jared Allen (though he was no longer elite) and are on the verge of losing Josh Norman. I think they have an appreciation for what a top notch corner can do, and look to replace him.

31. Denver Broncos - Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
The Broncos won the Super Bowl with downright dismal quarterback play. They are in a perfect position to draft a rookie, start him and still be a decent team by supporting him with the run and defense. I think they go for the upside of Cook, despite his personality red flags.

As usual, I'll get most of these wrong. A single trade can upset everything, as can a wrong guess. I'd be surprised if the top 5 were correct, teams simply have too many directions they can go and too much variance in how they evaluate/value players. I'll check back in a week and see how I did.