By: David Parks
We’re down to a mere 17 days left until the 2016 NFL Draft. By now, most front offices have zeroed in on a handful of players they want to target. Others are still weighing their options, specifically trades.
I don’t bother trying to project trades, but it’s safe to say several will happen. Last year’s first round featured four moves, the most notable being San Diego trading up two spots with San Francisco to nab Melvin Gordon. Last year was odd however, in that it marked the first year since 2010 that no trades took place in the top ten.
It’s safe to say that trend will not be repeating itself this year as there are a number of teams that would like to trade out of their high slots. But that begs the question, who actually wants to trade up?
It’s hard to remember a more polarizing group of quarterbacks coming out. Some (allegedly) love North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
“Big, physical, big arm” – all traits you hear when media members gush over the I-AA signal caller.
But is someone really ready to take a I-AA quarterback in the top ten? We’ve heard all the media members salivate over his potential, but how much of it is truth vs. smoke screens? Jared Goff has been labeled the most “pro-ready” by almost everyone that covers the draft, but there are questions about his small hands and overall arm strength. Both represent legitimate concerns, but it once again shines the light on how difficult it is to separate fact from fiction this time of year.
Before we get to the picks, a couple of notes about guys that didn’t make the first round and why:
A’Shawn Robinson, DE/DT – Alabama
Probably the most surprising of anyone to not make it into the first round based on projections I’ve seen. Just not entirely sure how much teams are going to value a 3-4 defensive end that can’t rush the passer. He’s an excellent defender against the run, but how much does the league value a guy like him? In a draft full of good interior pass rushers, will someone pull the trigger on him in the first? He has immense talent, but as of now it’s tough to see him as anything more than a two-down run stopper upon initially entering the league which would greatly affect his value.
Jarran Reed, NT – Alabama
Essentially the same conundrum with Reed as there is with his teammate Robinson. Elite run defender, but would he even be on the field on obvious passing downs? Again – this is more to do with value and less to do with individual talent.
Eli Apple, CB – Ohio State
Toughest guy for me to leave out. Along with William Jackson, I think he’s got the highest ceiling of any corner in the class. Great size and great ability to lock a guy down, but still very raw and must improve his ball skills. Often times doesn’t even look to make a play on the ball, playing with his back to the quarterback far too often. Will also have to go to a team that plays little to no zone as his skills are tailor-made for man-coverage.
Now, onto the picks…..
|1) Tennessee Titans: Laremy Tunsil, OT – Ole MissTitans have their man at quarterback but given his physical build and playing style they’re going to have to bolster an offensive line that surrendered a league-worst 54 sacks a season ago. Tunsil could immediately slide into the left tackle spot and allow 2014’s first round choice Taylor Lewan to slide over to right tackle. Those two, along with DeMarco Murray, would give the Titans at least a semblance of a running game and take some pressure of Mariota.|
|2) Cleveland Browns: Joey Bosa, DE – Ohio StateNot sure there’s ever been a more absurd “hype train” than that of Carson Wentz. Mocking Wentz to Cleveland has been the “it” thing to do since the Senior Bowl, but I’ve always maintained that taking a Division I-AA quarterback second overall doesn’t seem to fit any sort of analytical approach the Browns are trying to follow.
Contrastly, Bosa was PFF’s second-highest graded player in college football a season ago. Cleveland finished last season with the fifth-worst sack total and third-worst run defense in terms of ypc allowed (4.5) in the league. I’ve never prescribed to the notion that teams need to reach for quarterbacks high “just because,” and I’m hopeful Cleveland’s new regime feels the same.
|3) San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, S – Florida StateThree is too high for Ronnie Stanley, and in reality, San Diego’s offensive line suffered more due to injury rather than quality down the stretch last season. That’s not to say the unit couldn’t be improved, but unless they find a quarterback suitor (SF?) to trade up, it seems likely the pick will come down to one of Jalen Ramsey or Joey Bosa/DeForest Buckner. Eric Weddle is gone and despite signing Dwight Lowery in free agency, that alone doesn’t seem like enough to mask the loss of Weddle. Ramsey is so, so dynamic. He’ll be able to provide run support, line up against the other team’s slot guy and roam the middle of the field for John Pagano’s defense.|
|4) Dallas Cowboys: Myles Jack, LB – UCLAThe popular notion seems to be that Dallas will opt for their quarterback of the future here. And although the rationale does make sense, it’s just hard to fathom Jerry Jones spending this pick on a guy that may or may not play for two or three years.Jack may very well be the best player in the draft, and I just can’t see Jerry passing on him if he’s still available at four. Defensive line is a bigger need, but this draft is so loaded at defensive line. If there was a year to bypass on a lineman early for another position, this would be it.|
|5) Jacksonville Jaguars: Ronnie Stanley, OT – Notre DameJacksonville will undoubtedly be a trendy pick to be an AFC Wildcard team next season but if that’s going to happen there are still areas of the team that need strengthening – specifically an offensive line that allowed 51 sacks last season – good enough for third worst in the league.Jacksonville could opt for Jack if he’s still on the board, but eventually David Caldwell is going to have to find a solution for keeping his franchise quarterback on his feet. Luke Joeckel has struggled mightily since being the second overall pick in 2013. A move to right tackle could signal a fresh start for him while allowing the much more athletic Stanley to slide into his old spot.|
|6) Baltimore Ravens: DeForest Buckner, DE – OregonQuite possibly the coup of the draft is this scenario unfolds for Baltimore. Forget defensive linemen – Buckner might be the best player in the draft. He was No. 1 in our last Big Board.Buckner was the highest graded defensive linemen in college football last year according to PFF. He not only lead the nation in pass rush grade, he also led the nation in QB pressures (41), stops (30) and run-stop percentage. This is a pick Ozzie Newsome makes without hesitation if presented with it.
A quick side note – if both Cleveland and Dallas pass on quarterbacks, expect six to be a spot where teams looking for a QB (LA?) try and move up to.
|7) San Francisco 49ers: William Jackson III, CB – HoustonEasily the toughest team to figure out.New coach
Mess of a quarterback situation
Weak pass rush
Terrible offensive lineHad Jack Conklin here at first, and depending on how the Anthony Davis situation shakes out, the Niners may not have a choice but to take a lineman here. Assuming Davis does return, that leaves edge rusher and corner as the team’s biggest needs. Seven seems high for Leonard Floyd, but Trent Baalke did take Aldon Smith seventh overall in 2011 when many projected him in the 15-20 range.Many are under the assumption one of Vernon Hargreaves or Mackensie Alexander will be the draft’s second corner taken after Jalen Ramsey (if you consider Ramsey a CB). And while that may turn out true, an argument could be made for Jackson as being the best corner out of them all. Against Power 5 competition last year, he allowed no touchdowns and when targeted, allowed a passer rating of only 31.8.
|8) Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott, RB – Ohio StateA slightly better, east coast version of the Niners. Could credibly go in a number of different directions, but trading DeMarco Murray leaves Philly with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles to carry the load on the ground. Doug Pederson comes from Kansas City where the Chiefs used a strong running game to control the tempo and keep the other team’s defense on the field. The Eagles finished dead last every year in time of possession under Kelly. The best way to cure that? Ball control and clock management. Elliott not only fits a need, he’s probably the best player on the board at this point.|
|9) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB – FloridaYet another team that could go a number of ways. They beefed up a secondary that only came away with 11 INTs last season, but a closer look reveals corner might still be a need sooner rather than later. Josh Robinson signed just a one-year deal while Brent Grimes is 34 and has a wife that enjoys tweeting out piping hot takes at rather inopportune times. Hargreaves not only gives Tampa an infusion of youth at the position, but a local kid as well, having played high school ball at nearby Wharton High.|
|10) New York Giants: Laquon Treadwell, WR – Ole MissThe trendy “winner” of free agency. Going in, defensive line – specifically end – was the team’s biggest need. No longer, as the team inked Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon to deals. Reggie Ragland could be in play here to give them a “quarterback” on defense, but with the loss of Rueben Randle and the still uncertain status of Victor Cruz, a compliment to ODB is necessary. Some have concerns over Treadwell’s separation speed which I find laughable. Just turn on the tape, all he does is make plays.
Side note – Firmly believe ten is Ezekiel Elliott’s floor.
|11) Chicago Bears: Jack Conklin, OT – Michigan StatePick comes down to Sheldon Rankins or Conklin and seeing as Chicago strengthened its front seven in free agency, I’m inclined to believe it would be the latter. Chicago’s offensive line wasn’t terrible by statistical measures in 2015, but Kyle Long needs to be moved back inside to maximize the line’s potential. If Conklin can come in and provide stability at the left tackle position, the Bears will quietly have had one of the better offseasons in the league when you consider they’ll also welcome last year’s first round pick Kevin White into the fold.|
|12) New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Rankins, DE/DT – LouisvilleCould pretty much pick any defensive player available and justify the pick. Among many of New Orleans’ dubious defensive stats last season was a league-worst 4.9 ypc/allowed on the ground. In a division with Doug Martin, Devonta Freeman and the power-attack of Carolina, finding a guy that can plug up gaps is a must for the Saints.
Huge fan of Rankins, who generated 25 QB hurries for Louisville last season while also amassing the third-best run-stop percentage among 3-4 defensive ends. Between Rankins, newly acquired Nick Fairley and Cameron Jordan, New Orleans would suddenly have a nice defensive front.
|13) Miami Dolphins: Shaq Lawson, DE – ClemsonBizarre offseason for Miami. They replaced Olivier Vernon with 31-year-old Mario Williams while trading for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. Another corner is a possibility, but the Dolphins generated just 31 sacks a year ago and replaced their best pass-rusher with a guy coming off a less-than-stellar final season in Buffalo. Cameron Wake is 34-years-old and coming off a torn-ACL that ended his 2015 in late October. Not only can Lawson add some much-needed depth off the edge, Williams and Wake make for good guys to learn from.|
|14) Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, LB – AlabamaAlong with Jacksonville, the Raiders will be a trendy pick to make the playoffs in the AFC next season. After signing the likes of Kelechi Osemele, Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin in free agency, the Raiders are suddenly in a “win now” mode with talent at almost every position. One position that could still be upgraded? Middle linebacker. Ragland would be a considerable upgrade from current projected starter Ben Heeney.|
|15) LA Rams: Jared Goff, QB – CalHighly unlikely a quarterback falls to 15, but assuming Cleveland and Dallas both pass on quarterbacks and Kaepernick stays put in San Francisco, it’s not impossible quarterbacks could start falling on draft day. A trade-up is the most likely scenario to unfold, but I don’t bother with trades and as a result, this was the first spot I could find for a quarterback.
Of all the teams that could trade up for a quarterback, LA seems like the most likely candidate. I don’t understand the Wentz hype… at all. And the more I see/hear from those that cover the draft, the more convinced I am the majority of the Wentz hype is nothing but smoke screens from various teams throughout the league. Goff seems like a good fit for a Jeff Fisher offense – not an overly powerful arm, but a quick release and the ability to cycle through reads better than any other quarterback in this class.
|16) Detroit Lions: Taylor Decker, OT – Ohio StateWith the retirement of Megatron, a new era of Lions football is being ushered in. They signed Marvin Jones to a $40 million deal (LOL) to mask the loss of their star receiver, but it’s likely that Megatron’s departure will signal a shift in the team’s offensive philosophy. The Lions finished last in the league in rushing a season ago despite having the likes of Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell to lean on. What’s evident, is the offensive line needs help in both opening up running lanes and protecting Matt Stafford; Detroit gave up 44 sacks a year ago.|
|17) Atlanta Falcons: Chris Jones, DE/DT – Mississippi StateDan Quinn’s first year came to a crashing halt after a fast start in large part due to an anemic pass rush. Atlanta finished last in the league with 19 sacks last season, a number that must improve if Atlanta is to challenge Carolina in the NFC South. Jones might be the best interior pass rusher in the draft. According to PFF, he finished 2015 with the highest interior pass rush grade against Power 5 competition. Jones/Beasley/Hageman is a nice front for Dan Quinn to work with.|
|18) Indianapolis Colts: Cody Whitehair, OT/G – Kansas StateStill not sure how/why Ryan Grigson has a job, but he won’t be able to take any position besides an offensive or defensive lineman this year. Not only have the Colts been unable to protect Andrew Luck, they averaged only 3.5 ypc last year on ground; 31st in the league. Whitehair may wind up at guard, but he’s one of, if not the best run blocking linemen in this year’s class.|
|19) Buffalo Bills: Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT – Ole MissThe free fall finally stops for Nkemdiche. Love this fit for a couple of reasons… Buffalo finished last season 31st in sacks with 21. Mario Williams is out, creating an immediate opening in the front four. This also seems like a good landing spot for Nkemdiche because it seems unlikely his brother, Denzel, would follow him to Buffalo. Nkemdiche needs to go to a place where there are few distractions and he can focus on honing his craft. Buffalo seems like a perfect fit.|
|20) New York Jets: Leonard Floyd, OLB – GeorgiaCame away very impressed by Todd Bowles in his first season with the Jets. New York has three studs on the defensive line in Sheldon Richardson, Mo Wilkerson and Leonard Williams. So while more pass rush might not seem like a pressing need, as Denver just showed, one can never have enough guys that can get to the quarterback. That’s especially true when you play in the same division as Tom Brady. There is perhaps no player on either side of the ball with as much upside as Floyd in the entire draft.|
|21) Washington Redskins: Andrew Billings, NT – BaylorWashington led the league in fool’s gold last season with exactly zero of their nine wins coming against teams that finished 2015 with a winning record. A big contributing factor to that mark was a 4.8 ypc/allowed on the ground last season by the defense. Terrance Knighton, aka “Pot Roast,” bolted for New England leaving the Redskins with a (literally) large hole in the middle of their defensive line.
Enter Billings, the mammoth nose tackle out of Baylor, whom West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen called, “the best nose tackle he’s ever gone against.”
|22) Houston Texans: Sterling Shepard, WR – OklahomaHouston is officially “all-in” after dishing out big money to Brock Osweilier and Lamar Miller. Both guys give Houston instant upgrades at key positions that doomed them down the stretch and in the wildcard last season. The defense is ready to go. An upgrade at safety could be a possibility, but Houston seems content with the defense right now, allowing them to continue to upgrade their offense. Although last year’s third round pick Jaelen Strong showed flashes, he’s still extremely raw… and perhaps still a tad immature.
A lot of people like Baylor’s Corey Coleman or TCU’s Josh Doctson over Shepard but I love this fit for Houston. Shepard can line up in the slot and catch everything. He can be a safety blanket for Oseweiler in absence of a consistent threat at tight end.
|23) Minnesota Vikings: Michael Thomas, WR – Ohio StateHave to believe Minnesota would do unthinkable things for Treadwell to fall here but just don’t see it happening. Corey Coleman would be an option, but he’s too similar to Stefon Diggs. What the Vikings – specifically Teddy Bridgewater need – is a physical possession receiver that can also contribute in the run-game as a blocker.
It’s puzzling why Thomas hasn’t received more buzz leading up to the draft. He has size, great hands (Only five dropped passes in 2014 & 2015 combined) and is an excellent blocker. Oh by the way, he’s not a bad route runner either.
|24) Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Coleman, WR – BaylorThe run on receivers continues. Cincinnati lost both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency and while they did add Brandon LaFell, that’s not nearly enough to take the pressure off of A.J. Green. Tyler Eifert provides Andy Dalton with one of the best security blankets in the league. What’s missing, is a dynamic deep threat that can take the top off the defense and make teams think twice about double-teaming Green outside.Not as high on Coleman as some are, but there’s no question he has big, game-breaking ability.
Something he’ll have to improve on at the next level is his route running. Last season, 76 of his 116 targets were either on “go” routes or “hitch” routes.
|25) Pittsburgh Steelers: Mackensie Alexander, CB – ClemsonSome will tab him as the draft’s best corner due to allowing just 33% of passes into his coverage to be completed in 2015, the best out of any corner in this year’s class. Others will point to his zero interceptions last year. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but for a team like Pittsburgh that finished last season with the third worst pass defense in the league, his talent would be too good to pass on at 25.|
|26) Seattle Seahawks: Jason Spriggs, OT – IndianaPretty amazing just how bad Seattle’s offensive line has gotten seemingly overnight. As someone who has seen too much of J’Marcus Webb playing tackle, his addition plus Bradley Sowell isn’t going to cut it in terms of protecting Russell Wilson. Fortunately for Seattle, both Spriggs and Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi should be on the board when they pick at 26. Spriggs may not be able to start out at left tackle right away, but he has the athleticism to eventually slide over there after getting the speed of the game down.|
|27) Green Bay Packers: Darron Lee, LB/S – Ohio StateEasily one of the hardest guys for me to slot. Super athletic, just not sure where he projects in the pros. Safety? Mark Barron-type hybrid? I’m inclined to believe he’s Deone Buccannon 2.0. For those that don’t remember, Bucannon was Arizona’s first round pick in 2014 as a strong safety out of Washington State. Fast-forward to last season, Bucannon is now firmly entrenched as a starting linebacker for the Cards. I see Lee following a similar path. Clay Matthews is better suited on the outside, and taking Lee and having him transition to a full-time linebacker would improve the unit’s speed dramatically.|
|28) Kansas City Chiefs: Karl Joseph, S – West VirginiaCame very close to putting Jaylon Smith here as it would be an almost perfect scenario for both him and Kansas City. But with the sudden retirement of Hussain Abdullah, the Chiefs need a safety opposite Eric Berry.Joseph tore his ACL after four games last season so a team will have to be convinced he can be at 100 percent come fall. If they are convinced, they’ll get one of the most versatile safeties in this year’s class. His size is definitely a concern (5-10, 205), but his ball skills more than make up for it.
Five interceptions in just four games last season and even more impressive than that? Accounted for zero penalties his last two seasons on campus.
|29) Arizona Cardinals: Carson Wentz, QB – North Dakota StateTough to recall a more baffling rise up draft boards than that of Wentz. He threw 30 passes or more only once last season, his best win in college is over Iowa State and his team averaged five more points per game without him last season.
This may seem like a harsh opinion but it’s the truth. In 1995, Steve McNair was the third overall pick out I-AA Alcorn State – the highest selection for a I-AA quarterback in NFL Draft history.McNair shattered over a dozen records and finished third in the Heisman voting his last year on campus. The assertion that Wentz could/should be drafted higher than McNair seems absurd. A more likely scenario would be a team taking him later in the first to allow for growth. Landing with Bruce Arians and being able to learn under Carson Palmer would be pretty much best case scenario for Wentz.
|30) Carolina Panthers: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE – Oklahoma StateFeels like a “best player available” scenario with Carolina. Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and even Josh Doctson would all work but a premiere pass rusher like Ogbah is too good to pass up at this point. Carolina re-signed Charles Johnson to a one-year deal meaning Ogbah can learn from the veteran and improve his run defense for a year before taking over full-time opposite Kony Ealy in 2017. Ogbah reminds me of Ziggy Ansah.|
|31) Denver Broncos: Connor Cook, QB – Michigan StateAssuming Kaepernick stays put in San Francisco, Denver seems poised to take a quarterback with their first round pick, something no Super Bowl winner has done since the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980.Quite a fascinating scenario in Denver. They proved a Super Bowl could be won with average to below average quarterback play – something nobody had done since Brad Johnson’s Bucs demolished Oakland in 2002. Cook seems like a good fit for Denver. He may not have the ceiling of Christian Hackenberg or Paxton Lynch, but he should be able to come in and compete with Sanchez right away. Cook seems like he can manage a game well which is all Gary Kubiak needs with his defense.|
Follow David on Twitter: @_Parksie