The 2016 NFL draft begins April 28 in Chicago. While NFL teams hit the free agent market this week, the draft is where teams really can build long-term success.
With a little less than two months to go before Roger Goodell takes the podium in the Windy City, here’s a look at how the draft would unfold if it were held today. There will be only 31 picks in the first round because the Patriots forfeited their pick as part of their Deflategate punishment.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi
Assuming the Titans complete the deal for DeMarco Murray, they continue to build around Marcus Mariota by drafting Laremy Tunsil. Unlike Michael Oher, perhaps this Ole Miss product will actually be a franchise left tackle for a decade or so.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
It became apparent early in the draft process that size matters to the Browns. Hand size, that is. The Browns choose Carson Wentz over Jared Goff because Wentz’s hands are 10 inches and Goff’s are nine inches. Wentz comes from the pinnacle of the FCS level, leading the Bison to the last two of their five straight national championships.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
The Chargers were 24th in the NFL with 32 sacks last season. The 6’7″, 291-pound DeForest Buckner was the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 with 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Joey Bosa made 51 tackles for loss, had 26 sacks and forced five fumbles in three seasons with the Buckeyes. He’ll bring his Texas-size ego to Dallas, where the Cowboys are one of only two teams who forced 11 turnovers or less in a 16-game season.
Todd McShay said he thought long and hard about going with Ezekiel Elliott to Cowboys at 4, but went Bosa b/c he thinks they’ll go defense
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 2, 2016
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
The Jaguars had nine interceptions in 2015. Only two teams had less. So they stay in-state and snag the top cornerback in the draft.
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
No team had fewer interceptions than the Ravens, who managed just six in 2015. So they draft a player who could play cornerback or safety.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
Whoever ends up as the 49ers quarterback in 2016 will be throwing to the top receiver in the 2016 draft class.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his four-year career. Branden Albert was solid at left tackle for the Dolphins in 2015, but Stanley can win a job on this offensive line.
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
New defensive coordinator Mike Smith is a 4-3 guy, so the Bucs will need some pass-rushing push on the defensive line. Ogbah had 24 sacks over the last two seasons and among defensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine he was second in the 40-yard dash (4.63), second in the vertical leap (35.5) and third in the broad jump (21.1).
Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
Myles Jack falls a little bit because of medical red flags stemming from a knee injury. But the Giants need help everywhere on defense and take the best player remaining on the board on either side of the ball.
“Not out of the woods yet. The re-checks will determine whether or not he’s on our board.” – NFL source on #UCLA LB Myles Jack and his knee.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 4, 2016
Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
The Bears allowed a 99.3 passer rating in 2015, seventh-worst in the league. An improved pass rush can lower that number. Darron Lee has spent just two years as a linebacker and has a pedestrian 11 sacks in those two seasons, but he made 27 tackles for negative yardage and led all linebackers with a 4.47 40 at the combine.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
The Saints allowed an NFL-record 45 touchdown passes last season and yielded the second-most rushing and passing yards per game. Shaq Lawson led the nation with 24.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and also had 12.5 sacks. He also was fourth among defensive linemen at the combine with a 4.7 40 and tied for second in the 20-yard shuttle with a 4.21.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Trading away DeMarco Murray looks like a stroke of genius when Ezekiel Elliott slides to No. 13. The 6’0″, 225-pounder ran for a Big Ten-leading 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015.
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
This is a reach, but Hunter Henry is the only tight end in the class that is first-round material. The Raiders ditch their committee approach at tight end and give Derek Carr a new toy. Henry caught 51 passes without a drop in 2015 according to CBSSports.com. The Raiders were the last team to draft an Arkansas player in the first round when they took Darren McFadden in 2008.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Jared Goff’s green-room wait won’t be as infamously long as that of Aaron Rodgers, the last Cal quarterback to be drafted. Goff was third in the NCAA in passing touchdowns (43) and passing yards (4,714) in 2015. If Nick Foles isn’t already gone before the draft, his days in LA will be numbered.
Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
Reggie Ragland follows C.J. Mosley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins as interior Alabama defenders who have been drafted in the early rounds in recent years. Ragland had 17.5 tackles for losses at Alabama and was the 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
The Falcons were last in the league with 19 sacks. Kevin Dodd had 12.5 sacks in 2015. He benefited from playing opposite Shaq Lawson, and the Falcons hope Vic Beasley (team-leading four sacks) continues to develop and Dodd can team up with him to form a competent pass-rushing tandem.
Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
Jack Conklin went from walk-on to All-Big Ten and All-American at Michigan State. An NFC North scout, according to NFL.com, said that Conklin is “tougher than old beef jerky.” Conklin goes to the AFC South in this mock draft. Andrew Luck missed nine games last season and the Colts can’t let that happen again.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Mississippi
The Bills need to fill the void left by Mario Williams with someone who can be molded to fit Rex Ryan’s defense. Nkemdiche’s statistics don’t jump off the page. But his physical tools give him the potential to be an impact player. Nkemdiche is a character risk, but considering the Bills signed Richie Incognito that probably won’t faze them.
Amid reports some teams have taken Robert Nkemdiche off their boards I can report he does have 15 individual visits already set up.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) February 28, 2016
Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets offensive line 26th in the NFL, down from 13th in 2014. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, both 2006 first-rounders, are on the wrong side of 30. Taylor Decker is the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, starting 42 consecutive games.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
The Redskins seem lukewarm about keeping Terrance Knighton, and A’Shawn Robinson falls into their lap. The 6’4″, 307-pound Robinson is scheme versatile and earned First Team All-SEC recognition in 2015 with 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
The celebration begins at Texans’ draft headquarters when Lynch gets past the Bills at 19. If the Jets somehow aren’t able to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Texans have to sit on their hands until the Jets pick at 20. But they don’t have to worry about Lynch going at 21 with the Redskins paying Kirk Cousins nearly $20 million in 2016. Brian Hoyer is more valuable to a team when he’s wearing a ballcap and holding a clipboard. The Texans need a quarterback.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Stefon Diggs, a fifth-rounder last season, led the Vikings with 52 receptions. Almost half of them (25) came in the first four games that he played. He caught only 27 in his last nine games. The Vikings need another receiver to take attention away from Diggs. Corey Coleman can do just that. He caught 74 passes for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015.
Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Baylor players get drafted back-to-back as the Bengals, who could have made a deep playoff run if they had a little more discipline, opt for the best defensive player remaining on the board. Billings led the team with 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2015, sharing the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award with Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, taken ninth in this mock draft.
William Jackson III, CB, Houston
The Steelers were 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Cornerbacks William Gay and Antwon Blake are free agents. They might try to keep Gay for his leadership, but with a promising front seven on defense they need to work on the secondary. William Jackson III, tied for fifth at the combine with a 4.37-second 40, led the nation with 23 pass breakups and returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Jeremy Lane is a free agent. That leaves six combined NFL starts by Seahawks cornerbacks under contract not named Richard Sherman. A red-shirt sophomore, Eli Apple intercepted four passes, broke up 17 passes and made 7.5 tackles for losses in two years at Ohio State. He didn’t have the ball thrown his way as much in 2015, but still earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Julius Peppers doesn’t plan on retiring, but the Packers need to find an eventual replacement for the 36-year-old who led the team with 10.5 sacks last season. Leonard Floyd finished in the top five at his position in the 40, vertical leap and broad jump at the combine. His 6’6″ height and 33 1/8″ arms can be an asset, but he needs to beef up his 244-pound frame.
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Mackensie Alexander says he’s the best cornerback in the draft class even though he didn’t intercept a pass in college. That ego might be a concern, but it’s nothing compared to the red flags Marcus Peters came with last year, and that pick worked out pretty well for the Chiefs. They go corner in the first round for a second straight year because it looks like free agent Sean Smith will be gone.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
The Cardinals are on an upward trajectory as a franchise, going from 10-6 to 11-5 to 13-3 and an appearance in the conference championship game last season. A pass rush might be the missing piece. They had just 36 sacks last season. Along with his 13 tackles for loss and six sacks last season, Sheldon Rankings also had four quarterback hits according to CBSSports.com. He’ll turn 22, and remain a Cardinal, on Day 1 of the draft.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Wide receiver might seem like the Panthers’ most obvious need, but Kelvin Benjamin’s return should strengthen that group. The offensive line, meanwhile, was exposed in Super Bowl 50. Jason Spriggs, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, should provide immediate competition for Michael Oher and Mike Remmers at the tackle spots.
Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
Intentional or not, the Panthers get a little revenge on the Broncos for taking the guy they wanted. The Broncos also need help on the offensive line, but they also might not be able to keep Malik Jackson and could use reinforcements on the defensive line. Jonathan Bullard’s 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks earned him first-team All-SEC honors.