NFL: Middlestadt’s 2016 Mock Draft

Tunsil.jpg
Credit: Derick E. Hingle (USA TODAY Sports)

ByRobbie Middlestadt

Before free agency begins on March 9th, the main event this NFL offseason is the Scouting Combine. Top college prospects are invited to show off their skills, measurables, and have the opportunity to be interviewed by NFL teams to prove why they should be drafted as high as possible. The combine is the fuel that drives interest in the draft, and helps teams have a greater understanding of their future players.

Today, I will be bringing you my post-scouting combine mock draft. The mock draft will be based on team needs. Many potential selections will likely not occur, because free agency signings tend to address specific team needs in many instances, so many teams ultimately take the best player available, rather than draft a player based on team needs.

Let’s officially begin the draft process. Tennessee, you are now on the clock.

  1. Tennessee Titans select Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss:

Last season, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered multiple injuries due to lackluster offensive line play, as the line could not block long enough, or open any running lanes for their running back committee. By drafting Tunsil, he will be an immediate starter, and will give the line a much needed boost. Plus, now that DeMarco Murray is the lead runner for Tennesee after a trade reported by Adam Schefter, Murray needs all the help he can get to reboot his career after a disaster in Philly.

  1. Cleveland Browns select Jared Goff, QB, Cal:

While much of the hype the last couple months has been surrounding division I-AA player Carson Wentz, I think after all is said and done, Goff will assert himself as the best quarterback in this year’s draft. His footwork in the pocket is a thing of beauty. As for Cleveland, they are a complete mess at the quarterback position. Johnny Manziel’s career might be over, and he certainly appears to be done in Cleveland as he will likely be released when the new league year begins shortly because his off-the-field antics. Hue Jackson, the new Browns head coach, needs a competent quarterback, and that is what he will get if he selects Goff.

  1. San Diego Chargers select Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State:

San Diego’s pass rush was non-existent in 2015, finishing in the bottom-ten in the sacks category, and 20th in overall defense. That must change, starting up front. Bosa has the ability to play both in a 4-3 defense, and in a 3-4, which is what San Diego plays.

  1. Dallas Cowboys select Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State:

Although Dallas needs help up front due to the expected departure of knucklehead Greg Hardy, the potential departure of Jeremy Mincey, and the 4-game suspension handed out to 2nd year defensive end Randy Gregory, I think Ramsey is the better fit. For several years, the Cowboys have lacked a true playmaker in the secondary. In fact, in 2015, Dallas’ top two cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne combined for 0 interceptions. Progress was made by drafting Byron Jones last season, and he should settle in at free safety, while the potential selection of Ramsey can make him either the team’s nickelback, outside cornerback, or might even get a look as the strong safety. This pick would go a long way in helping the Cowboys create a secondary that can create turnovers.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars select DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon:

Yes, Jacksonville was without their 1st round pick from a year ago, Dante Fowler, but the Jacksonville pass rush has not been nearly as dominant as head coach Gas Bradley had hoped. The team has looked to free agency over the years to rebuild the pass rush, but is not quite there yet. If the Jags draft Buckner, this could enable Fowler to play DE, but might open up the opportunity for Buckner to slide inside to DT during passing situations, and create the fresh defensive line rotation that Gus Bradley has craved since his defensive coordinating days in Seattle.

  1. Baltimore Ravens select Vernon Hargreaves, DB, Florida:

With the transition from cornerback to safety for Lardarius Webb, and not much depth after him and Jimmy Smith at corner last season, Hargreaves can fit in nicely in a Baltimore secondary that is hungry for the identity that the team had during their dominant years with Ed Reed.

  1. San Francisco 49ers select Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State:

As soon as the 49ers thought they had the Kaepernick situation handled, his agents went and requested the Niners explore a trade to get Colin out of San Francisco. With the only other viable option being Blaine Gabbert, Chip Kelly must find his quarterback for the foreseeable future. Here comes Carson Wentz to Santa Clara.

  1. Miami Dolphins select Ronnie Stanley, OL, Notre Dame:

Since 2012, no one in the NFL has been sacked more times than Ryan Tannehill. In order for Miami to give their young quarterback time in the pocket in Adam Gase’s new offense, there must be an upgrade on the offensive line. Staley would be a great addition to the tackle spot to play opposite Branden Albert.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky:

Over the last few seasons, the Bucs have not been able to find a way to rush the passer at a consistent pace. The last time the Bucs had a double-digit sacker was ten years ago. This must change if Tampa wants to compete in a division with Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan.

  1. New York Giants select Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson:

Another pass rush-needy team means another pass rusher off the board. With DE’s Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers headed to free agency, the Giants need to replace them with younger, and fresher ends to get to the quarterback. New York finished 30th in the league in sacks, and that contributed to New York having the worst passing defense in the league.

  1. Chicago Bears select Myles Jack, LB, UCLA:

Chicago lacks a true presence on the inside of Chicago’s 3-4 Defense, but with the addition of Jack, this can change quickly. Jack can help in the middle of the defense, and re-create a defense that was much better a few years ago, when Brian Urlacher was patrolling the middle of the field. It’s possible teams shy away from Jack due to his knee injury, but he will most definitely be a top-15 pick.

  1. New Orleans Saints select Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville:

With New Orleans slated to switch to more of a 4-3 type defense, Rankins will have the opportunity to line up as the nose tackle, or the under tackle spot depending on coordinator Dennis Allen’s scheme. Rankins can contribute heavily to defending the run, and could command double teams.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles select Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State:

With a ton of uncertainty involving tackle Jason Peters, Philly could be in the running for a new tackle, most likely right tackle, as it appears former first-round pick Lane Johnson will most likely move to the left side. Philly can get back to pounding the rock just like in the Andy Reid era, with whatever running back they opt to bring in. Since DeMarco Murray is headed to the Titans, and Ryan Mathews is on the trade block as well, Philly will be in the market for a new workhorse.

  1. Oakland Raiders select Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State:

Although Latavius Murray ran for just over 1000 yards, the Raiders have been adamant that minimizing Murray’s workload is a priority. And in fact, a year ago, they offered a different Murray, DeMarco that is, 9 million dollars a year to be their lead back. Now, Oakland has a chance to select a true 3-down back, and make Murray a very dependable change of pace back.

  1. Louis Rams select Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss:

The Rams finally have their workhorse back in Todd Gurley. They have their dynamic player in the slot in Tavon Austin, but the last few seasons they have really missed a true deep threat. If the Rams can draft Treadwell, this gives the Rams offense a lot more firepower. If I was making the Rams selection, I would probably pick Paxton Lynch, the former Memphis QB, but fans must keep their eye on free agent quarterbacks Brock Osweiler or Ryan Fitzpatrick, as the Rams may be forced to give one of them a pricey contract. If the Rams choose to address their quarterback situation in the draft, there are a few potential later round targets for them, such as Connor Cook or Dak Prescott.

  1. Detroit Lions select Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State:

The Lions spent their first round pick a year ago on an offensive lineman as well, but the line as a whole did not play as expected. With the addition of Decker, the Lions can put together a great tackle duo along with Riley Reiff.

  1. Atlanta Falcons select Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State:

Although Atlanta did improve overall as a defense in 2015 thanks to Dan Quinn, the Falcons still need playmakers on each level of the defense. Lee can help solidify the second level of the defense with his speed.

  1. Indianapolis Colts select Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia:

Indy is set to release OLBs Trent Cole and Bjoern Werner, leaving them very thin in depth at that position. Floyd will become a starter, and provide much needed depth for a Colts D hungry to improve.

  1. Buffalo Bills select Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss:

Since Mario Williams is gone, Kyle Williams is coming off knee surgery, and the Ryan Brothers are looking to simplify their defensive scheme, Buffalo can use another big body on the defensive line. Nkemdiche is a great talent, and would most likely have been a top-15 pick if not for his off-field behavior.

  1. New York Jets select Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama:

With only one linebacker under contract in David Harris, the Jets need linebacking depth. Ragland can be paired with David Harris in the middle to provide stability to the second level of the defense.

  1. Washington Redskins select A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama:

With impending free agent NT Terrance Knighton set to leave Washington, the Skins will need a man to play the nose, and occupy space. Robinson can hold his own in a 3-4, and might have a better overall skill-set than Knighton, and of course, would be a much younger option.

  1. Houston Texans select Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis:

If you watched the Texans Wild Card game in which Brian Hoyer tossed 4 crucial interceptions, you would understand the pick. O’Brien would love to have a talented quarterback to work with. The big-bodied Lynch might be a good fit in Head Coach Bill O’Brien’s quarterback-friendly offense.

  1. Minnesota Vikings select Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State:

There is a possibility Minnesota releases three starting offensive linemen (Phil Loadholt, Matt Kalil, John Sullivan) this offseason, meaning an almost total rebuild of the Vikings offensive line. This would start in free agency, and continue into the draft, with Whitehair.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals select Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia:

Both of the Bengals’ starting safeties last season are set to hit the open market, and there is no way both of them return to Cincinnati. The Bengals can immediately find a starter from this draft, and Mike Mayock’s top safety in this draft, Karl Joseph is ready.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers select Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson:

The Steelers’ suspect secondary must improve if they want to become a real Super Bowl contender. Over the course of the season, we witnessed Pittsburgh get eaten alive in the passing game, finishing 30th in passing defense. At the combine, Alexander told all who would listen that he is the best corner in the draft, and he can prove this based on his play, as he could become an instant starter with the Steelers.

  1. Seattle Seahawks select Josh Doctson, WR, TCU:

With Jermaine Kearse set to be a free agent, and Jimmy Graham uncertain for Week 1, Seattle could have just one proven wide receiver in Doug Baldwin going into training camp. Doctson is a big target, and would fit in well in Seattle’s offense.

  1. Green Bay Packers select Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State:

Julius Peppers is approaching his final years as a NFL player, and Clay Matthews has been shuffling between ILB, and OLB. If the Pack can draft Ogbah, he can succeed Peppers when his time is up.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs select Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech:

The Chiefs struck gold with defensive rookie of the year Marcus Peters at cornerback last season. If Sean Smith departs via Free Agency, The Chiefs can replace him, and hope to get similar production from a rookie corner, in this case Kendall Fuller.

  1. Arizona Cardinals select Kamalei Correa, DE, Boise State:

The Cards’ defense employs multiple blitzes from the second level of the defense, and also the secondary. When they don’t blitz, Arizona has troubles getting to the quarterback. Correa can certainly help the Arizona pass rush and likely allow them to dial back the blitz, which they did more often than any team in the league.

  1. Carolina Panthers select Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State:

If a person were frozen for years, and was told that Carolina made it all the way to the Super Bowl with their leading receiver being Ted Ginn, they would probably think the person was on some type of narcotic. If Carolina wants to repeat as NFC champions, they need Kelvin Benjamin’s knee to hold up, and for Carolina to upgrade their second receiver spot. Braxton Miller is an explosive player and still has a lot to learn, having only played receiver for one full season, but provides a ton of upside, and play-making ability for Cam Newton.

  1. Denver Broncos select Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor:

With Malik Jackson set for free agency, and asking for $14 million a year, Denver will most likely be saying goodbye. Jackson was a big part of the defensive line in Denver, and they will need another big body to keep the Von Miller-led pass rush fresh and dominant. Billings can be the player to keep the defensive line ferocious in Wade Phillips’ defense.

The New England Patriots forfeited their 1st round draft pick in this year’s draft.

Hope you all enjoyed my Mock Draft! Many picks will be sure to change since free agency has a huge impact on each team’s draft board.

On an unrelated note, we congratulate Peyton Manning on a Hall of Fame career. Manning owns most of the all-time passing records. Throughout his storied career, has been known as a player with the highest level of class. His preparation day in and day out was unmatched and is a thing of legend, and he made his team a Super Bowl contender every year because of it. 2015 may have been the most unique season for Manning, as he overcame injuries, benching, and poor play to rise all the way to the top, and finally receive the 2nd Super Bowl he had been craving for 9 seasons. After Manning’s retirement announcement on Sunday, all NFL fans, analysts, players, coaches, and former players directed respect towards the man, and this shows how important Manning really was for the league. Year in and year out, he gave his all to the Colts and Broncos organizations, hell even at the Pro Bowl! He is a true professional, and as a teenager, I continue to look up to him as a role model. The NFL will never be the same without the Sheriff. Thank you Peyton Manning!

Oh, and HAPPY FREE AGENCY!

Feel free to follow me on twitter: @robbiemiddle

Do you agree with the projected picks? Disagree? Comment Below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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