This column is followed by Vaughn Dalzell’s 2016 NFL mock draft.
The 2016 NFL Draft class might one day be remembered as the first round for years to come.
Last year, NFL scouts had their top-five all figured out: Joey Bosa (Ohio State), Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Jaylon Smith (ND), Cardale Jones (Ohio State) and Christian Hackenberg (PSU). Well, one of those five are a guaranteed first round pick now and the rest are left wondering when they will hear their name called.
The Tennessee Titans had the worst record last season and “earned” the first overall pick but traded it the Los Angeles Rams. Shortly afterward, the Cleveland Browns traded their No. 2 overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles, who moved up from eighth. Most times when teams make significant trades like these, it means they are going after the most important piece: the franchise quarterback.
California quarterback Jared Goff and North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz will be the No. 1 and 2 selections this year, most likely in that order. Goff, a polished passer and three-year starter, threw for more than 12,000 yards (4,719 as senior), 96 touchdowns (43 as a senior), 43 interceptions (13 as senior). Wentz on the other hand, won four national titles at North Dakota State, two as a starter.
After the Eagles select, then the real fun begins. When the San Diego Chargers come on the clock at No. 3, it might get weird. Future NFL stars like Bosa, Jalen Ramsey (Florida State), Myles Jack (UCLA), Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon) and Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) will all be expecting to wait no longer than 10 picks to hear their names called.
The Cowboys, Jaguars, Ravens, 49ers, Browns, Buccaneers and Giants round out the top-10, in that order. Dallas, San Francisco and Cleveland are the most interesting picks because they all will be looking to draft a quarterback at some point in this draft. Will there be a quarterback drafted in the No. 4 to 7 range?
Picks 11 through 20 could potentially be swimming with defensive players. This draft class is talent-heavy in three positions this year: Defensive line, wide receiver and defensive back, in that particular order. The Dolphins own the 13th pick this year and are one of a couple teams that have already discussed trading their pick to move up for the player they want, according to SB Nation.
The Fins want Elliot after losing Lamar Miller to the Texans, but Elliot will most likely be gone by the time their pick comes around, according to Sports Illustrated. The Titans traded back to 15 and will be looking at strictly an offensive lineman to protect their franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota from another season of their league-high 56 sacks allowed last year, according to The Tennesean. The Bills and Jets are teams that could look at a quarterback, but will most likely sure up their defenses before doing so.
Nos. 21-31 could be where gold is struck, as each of the teams were playoff teams last season and will look to repeat that same success. The Houston Texans (22nd), Minnesota Vikings (23rd), Cincinnati Bengals (24th) and Carolina Panthers (30th) could all be looking for a dynamic playmaker out wide to complement each team’s franchise quarterback. All four of the top receivers might go around this time frame, and maybe a little earlier. Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Josh Doctson (TCU) and Corey Coleman (Baylor) are the clear-cut best four. Also available will be Tyler Boyd (University of Pittsburgh), Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma), Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Michael Thomas (Ohio State), who all received All-American or All-Conference honors in power conferences.
The hometown Pittsburgh Steelers hold the 25th overall pick and could take a defensive back after they posted the third-worst pass defense in the league. Vonn Bell (Ohio State), Eli Apple (Ohio State), William Jackson III (Houston) and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) are all possible targets. The Chiefs (28th) and Cardinals (29th) could also be looking at defensive backs after enduring losses in free agency.
Some players that could sneak into the first round and make a difference right away are Heisman Trophy winner running back Derrick Henry (Alabama), quarterback Connor Cook (Michigan State), Hackenberg, defensive back Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech), Nkemdiche, defensive tackle Andrew Billings (Baylor) and Karl Joseph (West Virginia University).
The 81st NFL Draft will take place at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago from April 28 to 30 for the second year in a row.
- Los Angeles: QB Jared Goff, California – The Cal product will likely be one of two quarterback choices for the newly located Rams team. Goff has the numbers (12,195 passing yards, 96 touchdowns and 30 interceptions), arm strength and accuracy to go with his body of work. Arguably the most ready-to-start rookie quarterback, all of Hollywood’s eyes will be on who Todd Gurley will be receiving handoffs from.
- Philadelphia: QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State – The Eagles gave up five total picks, three in 2016, to get the second overall pick from the Cleveland Browns. They have their mind made up on one of two quarterbacks. At the Division-I FCS level, Wentz dominated, winning championship after championship. Now, he has the chance to be the highest non-FBS player to be selected in draft history.
- San Diego: OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss – The Chargers lost wide receiver Keenan Allen for eight games, tight end Antonio Gates for four and every starting offensive lineman at one point or another. Protect Phillip Rivers and solidify the line for him and Melvin Gordon.
- Dallas: DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State– If quarterbacks weren’t overvalued like they have been in recent years, Bosa would be the No. 1 pick. He dominated at Ohio State and will dominate in the NFL for years.
- Jacksonville: CB/S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State– The Jaguars have been a team on the rise and added huge pieces this offseason. A playmaker like Ramsey on defense and a returning Dante Fowler Jr., last-year’s third overall pick, could be the cornerstones of the future.
- Baltimore: DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon – The Ravens watched injuries derail their season, but you can never count them out. Some young talent on the defensive side of the ball will help them out tremendously. The Ravens had a league-low six interceptions last year, so the player with the best ability to get pressure on the quarterback will be their pick.
- San Francisco: LB Myles Jack, UCLA – Patrick Willis is gone, Chris Borland is gone, but Navarro Bowman remains. With the 49ers rebuilding, it would be wise to add some strength to a depleted linebacking core.
- Cleveland: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State – He is the most complete back in this draft and an instant upgrade over Duke Johnson Jr. Elliot can block, catch out of the backfield and run the ball laterally and downhill. He has star potential and all the keys to become what Le’Veon Bell does for the Steelers.
- Tampa Bay: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida – The Bucs had 11 interceptions last year and the seventh-worst points allowed per game, 26.1. In a division with Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, the Bucs would be wise to stack up on their corners.
- New York Giants: WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss – Imagine the pairing of Odell Beckham Jr. and Treadwell. Manning could be even better this year than he was last year with another weapon out wide.
- Chicago: DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson – The Bears finished 22nd in sacks last year and had only eight interceptions, the second lowest in the NFL. Pressure on the quarterback would help and Shaq is the way to go.
- New Orleans: DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama – The defense allowed the most points per game, second-most yards per game and finished 25th in sacks last season. Robinson is a plug-in right away for a line that needs as much help as possible.
- Miami: CB Eli Apple, Ohio State – Brent Grimes is out of town and the Fins want to replace him. With Ramsey/Hargreaves off the board, there is a drop off in corners. It might be wise to reach and take Apple.
- Oakland: DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville – A second-team All-ACC member, Rankins is a defensive lineman who can play inside or out. A 4-3 or 3-4 defensive tackle, he gives any team versatility and a great motor.
- Tennessee: OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State – An athletic lineman that can play various positions gives Marcus Mariota some relief. The Titans allowed the most sacks last year.
- Detroit: LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama – With Haloti Ngata and Ziggy Ansah powering the Lions defensive line and a couple strong defensive backs, the Lions lean on DeAndre Levy arguably as much as any linebacker in the league. They could use a playmaker in the run game and the pass game, as they recorded only nine picks.
- Atlanta: DL Jarran Reed, Alabama – The Crimson Tide keep producing first-round talent, as Reed is my third, but not final, Alabama athlete. Reed gives any team a run-stopper that can move laterally. Pair him with Vic Beasley Jr. and the Falcons may have something.
- Indianapolis: OT Ronnie Stanley Notre Dame – Plain and simple, the name of the game should be to protect Andrew Luck. They were 8-8 because he was injured from Week 1 to Week 17, whether he admits it or not.
- Buffalo: DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss – He’s considered a red-flag player by nearly everyone. Well, everyone except Rex Ryan, right? This is the type of player-coach mix that could and should happen. If Nkemdiche rises to his full potential, this risk will be reward.
- New York Jets: LB Darron Lee, Ohio State – A small but quick linebacker, Lee could help an already dominant Jets defense. Quarterback Paxton Lynch could be an option, but something tells me we will see Ryan Fitzpatrick back in a Jets uniform next year.
- Washington: RB Derrick Henry, Alabama – The Redskins lost Alfred Morris to the Cowboys and Matt Jones is his replacement. Why not add Henry, who could be the most bruising back since Brandon Jacobs? With linebacker size but running back speed (4.54 40-yard dash), the Heisman Trophy winner would be a perfect piece to the NFC East reigning champs.
- Houston: WR Josh Doctson, TCU – The Texans went out and spent money on the offensive weapons they wanted: Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller. Paired with DeAndre Hopkins, Doctson can push the Texans to the next level and an AFC South title repeat.
- Minnesota: WR Corey Coleman, Baylor – Teddy Bridgewater has Adrian Peterson and Stefon Diggs, but he still needs one more playmaker for them to become playoff regulars. Coleman knows how to go get the football and could be their immediate answer for a No. 2 wide receiver.
- Cincinnati: DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson – Dodd finished his college career on a five-game sack streak and can be a missing piece to an already efficient defensive line. The Bengals could use another pass rusher on a team that just cracked the top 10 in the sack department with 42 last season.
- Pittsburgh: CB/S Vonn Bell, Ohio State – The Steelers’ weak link was the secondary last season. The third-worse-ranked pass defense can use a player who can play corner or safety and give the versatility it needs.
- Seattle: OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State – Russell Wilson lost some key blockers and his star running back the past two off-seasons and could use some extra protection. The Seahawks were the sixth-most sacked team last year and Wilson was sacked 46 times, a career high. Decker will provide an instant upgrade for the Wilson and running back Thomas Rawls.
- Green Bay: OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia – The Packers could use another linebacker to compliment the Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and the aging Julius Peppers. Floyd’s size and speed reminds some scouts of Bud Dupree from Kentucky a year ago.
- Kansas City: CB William Jackson III, Houston – Jackson is an underrated prospect that is receiving a lot of attention after his Pro Day. Jackson has average size with a 4.37 40-yard dash, which makes him appealing to teams.
- Arizona: QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis – The most intriguing quarterback in the draft can go anywhere. There are about a dozen teams that could use a quarterback, but only half would use a first-round pick on one. With Goff and Wentz going one and two, this leaves teams with the decision to reach on Lynch or not. Don’t be surprised if Lynch is a top-10 selection come Thursday.
- Carolina: CB/S Mackensie Alexander, Clemson – Alexander has the ability to play multiple positions, making him a versatile athlete who could help fill the shoes Josh Norman left behind when he signed with the Washington Redskins. Alexander has been called cocky by scouts and if the Panthers select him, he’d fit right in.
- Denver: QB Connor Cook, Michigan State – The Broncos have Mark Sanchez penciled in as their starting quarterback right now and may take a quarterback in the first round for only the third time in the decade. Tim Tebow was selected 24th overall in 2010 and Jay Cutler 11th in 2006. Cook is the most complete quarterback in this draft and would excel immediately with Pro Bowl wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.