1. Tennessee Titans: 3-10 (.495 strength of schedule)
Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss
Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley could push to be the top Tackle taken when its all said and done and his athleticism and upside would match and Marcus Mariota’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket enticing the front office, but for now until Stanley proves the Height-Weight-Speed at the combine etc Tunsil is the guy for the Titans.
Safe is sexy when you're protecting your franchise QB and Tunsil is exactly that as he teams up with fellow first-round picks Taylor Lewan and Chance Warmack to complete a young and exciting unit.
A mauler who plays with tenacity and a passion for the game, Tunsil has the feet and kick slide to swallow even the NFL's best pass rushers and looks smooth and natural when in action. Allowing just four pressures in over 200 attempts screams efficiency and tells you just how impactful Tunsil can be, and how much the Titans offense will grow together with all the right pieces in place.
2. San Diego Chargers: 3-10 (.524 SOS)
Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame
The offensive line play in the NFL right now is more putrid than it's ever been. Blame it on the star power of grooming young elite pass rushers for the past five years or just a lack of overall talent mixed with injuries, but the bottom line is if you have the opportunity to find a franchise left tackle it's almost a no brainer even if it's not sexy.
Philip Rivers has gotten dinged up, battered down, and bruised more than a Ray Rice prom date (still too soon?). Giving a true pocket passer like Rivers the ample time he needs and now deserves for the abuse he's taken this year is only fair and will give him an extra year added to his window of a Super Bowl run now that he can stay upright on his feet.
Who knows, maybe this will even help last year’s first round pick Melvin Gordon look like a real NFL running back . . . but now we're just being greedy.
3. Cleveland Browns: 3-10 (.529 SOS)
Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State
By the time I finish this sentence the card will be up at the podium. Clearly the best player available that fills a giant position of need, Bosa is the nation's top defender and is as close to a J.J. Watt as you’ll get; although that wouldn't be fair to compare the young Bosa to Watt at this point, but Bosa can dominate multiple blockers and cause havoc in the backfield on a consistent basis much like a Jared Allen back in his prime.
The only hiccup here is having Bosa as a true 4-3 defensive end as it's clearly his most natural position. While his talent will still bleed through a variety of schemes, I don't think the Browns will be maximizing his skill set standing him up as an 3-4 outside linebacker or as a five-technique defensive end, and while that's a shame, I think we can all agree it's a very ‘Cleveland Browns’ thing to happen.
Of course all is not lost here, as the Houston Texans showing signs of early success with Jadeveon Clowney making a similar transition should give the fan base hope (sarcastic font).
4. Baltimore Ravens: 4-9 (.514 SOS)
Jalen Ramsey, Safety/Cornerback, Florida State
I don't think there's a more Baltimore Ravens/Ozzie Newsome pick in this entire draft than watching this organization fill a dire need with the best splash defender in the draft.
Ramsey has everything you want from today's NFL safeties, which has grown to be one of the most difficult positions to develop and transition from college to the pros due to the nuances and attributes needed to defend against some of today's NFL passing attacks.
Ramsey won't have it easy, being asked to quiet super stars like AJ Green, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant. However, Ramsey’s football instincts to fly around the field after dissecting the play and more importantly finish when the ball is in the air is a match made in heaven for a secondary begging for a playmaker in the backend since Ed Reed.
5. Detroit Lions: 4-9 (.529 SOS)
Vernon Hargreaves, Cornerback, Florida
Up until this point I didn't think twice about any of the above selections, but with the Lion’s current defensive roster there are a number of plausible scenarios. While Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche is my best player on the board, the Lions might be okay with rolling the dice with their current tandem and trying to take a shot elsewhere after their last top 5 pick of a defensive tackle didn't work out for the long haul (Ndamukong Suh).
This time around the front office could look to build from the back end forward grabbing the best true cover cornerback in the entire draft with Hargraves. Hargraves could be bumped down a pick or two because he doesn't possess the monster size and length teams covet, but make no mistake from a pure coverage standpoint there's no one better as Hargraves has shut down his competition for three years running.
With a new slew of “smaller” yet quicker and shifter wide-outs coming into the league like Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and John Brown; Hargraves is a cornerback who can come in from day-one and give you some great peace of mind with speed and acceleration of his own. It’s been a long time since the Lions have had a true number one cornerback and this addition would allow the team to become much more creative from a schematic standpoint for once.
6. San Francisco 49ers: 4-9 (.534 SOS)
Jared Goff, Quarterback, California
We were all thinking it, but somebody had to say it, when would the first quarterback finally go? While the predraft process tends to take prospects as we know them now and whirlwind scouting notes into a mess of sporadic wall art graffiti, one thing is for sure right now, and that is the lack of a consensus number one quarterback in this year’s draft.
While Goff and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch will likely battle that spot out for the next four months, my early film assessment has Goff slightly ahead for the time being. Call me old fashioned but I like my franchise quarterbacks where I can see them standing upright, tall in the pocket, and are able to deliver accurate passes to every level of the field. You can check those off the list with Goff. Even more impressive for me is his ability to feel his pocket movement and adjust throwing his receivers open in tight spaces by anticipating the development of the play.
These things add up for me to show the potential asked for and needed to hand the keys to the future over to a team that is desperate to hit the reset button at the most critical position on the field, and will be stuck in neutral as a franchise until they do.
7. Dallas Cowboys: 4-9 (.543 SOS)
Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss
Jerry Jones just seems like the kind of guy who watches the world around him through the eyes of a cartoon character. With no sense of the true reality around him it's no wonder he is deep in denial of his current quarterback crisis with Tony Romo who is clawing on his last of nine cat lives. Although grooming the next young signal caller behind Romo will likely be in the plans it probably won't come in the form of a first round pick, but instead waiting until day two in hopes of a Connor Cook type prospect falling.
Luckily for Jerry, where he sits as of now will likely be a prime landing spot for some blue-chip player to fall right into his dirty old lap. Nkemdiche is a dominating interior lineman who shows off a cat-like quickness and burst off the snap of the ball helping him explode into the backfield. With his combination of speed and sheer strength it's hard not to see a dark shade of Ndamukong Suh in his game. Throwing Nkemdiche into the middle of an already stout defensive unit would help put the Cowboys from a top 10 defense into the upper echelons of the league, helping them become one of the most physically dominating teams in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-8 (.466 SOS)
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Notre Dame
While Secondary is a more pressing need for Gus Bradley the value simply isn't there after a drop off from the top two at their respective position. But oh my, what a consolation prize this would be for Bradley scooping up one of the most dominating defensemen in the country in linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith can do it all from blazing across sideline-to-sideline, dropping back in coverage, to blitzing the quarterback. With his outstanding instincts and football IQ, Smith would be a teachers pet for Bradley and one of his star pupils in his new front seven.
While on paper Smith would line up with Telvin Smith and Paul Posluszny, the fact is Bradley could finally run his true hybrid scheme with different fronts and looks, especially with the eventual return of last year's third-overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. to add to the mix. Bradley basically gets two top 10 brand new linebackers to play with, which for the rest of the league doesn't seem fair.
9. Miami Dolphins: 5-8 (.476 SOS)
Desmond King, Cornerback, Iowa
They say you should never reach for a position of need in the top 10 picks, and instead grab the best available talent, but in this case cornerback isn't just a position of need it's a near emergency situation. With Brent Grimes turning 33 years old and virtually no one behind him the Dolphins secondary has been embarrassed on a weekly basis due to the simple lack of pure talent and depth at the position.
King was the Big Ten defensive back of the year and ball hawked his way to eight interceptions while playing with a physical mentality both at the line of scrimmage and in the running game. Of course King hasn't officially declared for the NFL draft as of yet however, he would be hard pressed to get his draft stock much higher after the tremendous season he produced in 2015.
10. New Orleans Saints: 5-8 (.514 SOS)
Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson
This is usually where I poke fun at a team's certain weaknesses but in the case of the New Orleans Saints’ defense it'd be like picking on the special kid, it's just too easy. I have no idea what Rob Ryan was doing this year and I highly doubt after this year's performance he will be back as the defensive coordinator. Whoever comes in has the difficult task of turning around the leagues worst defense in multiple categories, but does have some young solid pieces to work with to build around.
Adding Lawson to the mix would do wonders for the pass defense right out the gate as Lawson has flashed periods of pure dominance during his tenure for the Clemson Tigers, even getting the best of Notre Dame Tackle Ronnie Stanley for a three-sack performance. While he isn’t polished yet, he is explosive off the edge and will help a pass defense tremendously by getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks who continue to try and play never-ending catch up to Drew Brees and their offense.
11. Chicago Bears: 5-8 (.524 SOS)
Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA
Under new head coach John Fox, the Bears showed that they can still be competitive while trying to rebuild in year one. Jay Cutler still has the talent when motivated to do damage on any given Sunday and has a new toy waiting in his stocking when he arrives into training camp next year with last years seventh-overall pick and wide receiver Kevin White who is returning from injury. White was shelved from the get go and didn't see a lick of action, but just like the Jaguars the Bears can now look at it as receiving two early first-round picks this offseason with his return.
The comeback of White allows Fox to focus on his bread-and-butter, the defensive side of the ball, where he will look to add a playmaker into this front seven. There might not be a more prolific name heading into the predraft process than Jack who was one of the most dynamic players in all of college football at UCLA, dominating on both sides of the ball at running back and linebacker. So it goes without saying Jack is a versatile monster and is an athletic ball of clay to mold as you wish.
In Denver Fox had Von Miller dominate on the edge with his athleticism so it shouldn't surprise anyone to see him try and duplicate his success with a playmaking machine like Jack. All eyes will be on Jack’s medical report first and foremost though as he underwent season ending knee surgery last October. His health and progress as he continues his rehabilitation will be crucial to just how high Jack is ultimately drafted but, from his pure potential upside alone Jack is a top-10 pick.
12. St. Louis Rams: 5-8 (.524 SOS - 4-5 in conference)
Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss
No surprise here, a direction we've been waiting the Rams to go for quite some time now as they've been desperate for a true number one option in the passing game for far too long (the last time they had a legitimate wide receiver O.J. Simpson was still a thing). Luckily for them, they get their pick of the litter here even at number twelve and grab Treadwell who offers the biggest playmaking upside of his peers drawing comparisons to guys like Dez Bryant and Julio Jones once the ball in in the air. Treadwell bounced back beautifully from a horrific leg injury in 2014 proving his worth as a top 15 pick helping the Rams woeful passing attack take advantage of eight and nine-men boxes. Teaming him up with running back Todd Gurley for a dangerously young and talented combination for years to come would be a beautiful thing.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-7 (.481 SOS)
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Diving back into the well of offensive lineman is going to be awfully tempting for this front-office after watching just how brutal their play was this year, exposing and scarring rookie quarterback Jameis Winston early into his NFL tenure. However, after using two early round picks at the position last year they will likely be inclined to (foolishly) hold off another round or two and start adding more pieces onto the defensive side of the ball.
Enter Ogbah, a guy you might not know a lot about, but has been a dominating player off the edge with his hand in the dirt for the Cowboys. At 6'4" 275 pounds Ogbah is lightning in a bottle off the snap and has the quick twitch skills to explode into the backfield proven by his 12 sacks and 43 hurries making him one of the most dominating pass rushers in the country.
Adding Ogbah to an already young and promising front-seven with rangy and productive linebackers behind him in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, and all of a sudden Lovie Smith has some real talent to work with.
14. Atlanta Falcons: 6-7 (.490 SOS)
Taylor Decker, Ohio State, Offensive Tackle
The Falcons are having a horrible season by all accounts with a rookie head coach and a mess of average talent all over the board. Really, when you take away a handful of their core players such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant, Jake Matthews, and (maybe) Vic Beasley and Ra'shede Hageman you are left with very little talent to build around.
While they have done an adequate job filling some major cracks through free agency, this team has a lot of work to do through the next few drafts that will be critical as to just how fast they can get back to another championship run.
There hasn't been many things that have confused me more than the regression of Matt Ryan this season (I can’t be the only one) who looks completely lost and more-so uncomfortable in the pocket. While Jake Matthews continues his solid progression, adding more talent upfront is crucial to getting Ryan back to his probowl ways, and helping him regain his confidence.
Decker is a mammoth tackle with a broad frame and long arms to isolate his defender. While he isn't the most nimble and athletic of the bunch and can lose leverage easily to some more elite edge rushers, Decker will be allowed the comfort of playing on the right side with the Falcons where he can best maximize his skill set. Here, the Falcons will have two bookend tackles that will allow them to continue to build their offensive line from the outside in as time goes on, but more importantly will have an immediate impact on both the pass and run game with his NFL size and length.
15. New York Giants: 6-7 (.500 SOS - 4-5 in conference)
Jarran Reed, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
The G-Men could go a variety of different directions early in the draft with some blinding needs which is why Jerry Reese will do what he does best and bring in the best talent available no matter the position. Reed is a dominating interior lineman who has been overshadowed by the surrounding talent he plays with for the Crimson Tide, but in all actuality Reed has been the most impressive on a consistent basis than them all.
An anchor in every sense of the word Reed was voted first-team All-American honors and was arguably the best run stuffing nose tackle in the nation. It's amazing what the Giants defense has been able to do holding up this long on nothing but bandages and gauze. Adding a stout physical presence smack dab in the middle will do wonders in the trenches and for everyone around him, giving Tom Coughlin some character on his depleted defensive line.
16. Oakland Raiders: 6-7 (.500 SOS - 6-4 in conference)
Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State
Not many other players have been more impressive from their first to second year like quarterback Derek Carr, making bold strides and continuing his progression. From the get go Carr has shown the tools is takes to succeed in the NFL such as a laser arm and smart decision making. With weapons like Amari Cooper at his disposal the Raiders are now at a critical juncture in doing whatever it takes at all costs to make sure they don't set Derek up for failure due to an inadequate offensive line like his brother in Houston a decade ago.
I can't sugar coat it, for what is asked from a left tackle in today's NFL and from what i've watched so far, Conklin might not have the quick feet and skill-set to leave out on an island protecting Carr’s blindside. However, he does have tremendous strength and is as sharp as they come when dissecting and understanding the nuances of the game.
While at some point it will be well worth a shot to see if Conklin can handle the ropes on the left side, if he can't, the Raiders are still getting a terrific right tackle and/or interior lineman that can pave holes in the running game. Raiders fans might argue that there are more pressing needs right now, but when you look back three years from now you will agree that it’s all about the continuing development of Carr, and your offensive-line will make or break a young pocket passer.
17. Houston Texans: 6-7 (.510 SOS)
Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis
Teams spend years and even decades searching for the “right guy” and if you don't have one then you keep looking. When it comes to searching for your team's next franchise quarterback the process never stops. Given the impressive skill set and physical tools of Lynch at 6-6 240 pounds, it's safe to say he will likely be long gone by pick 17 once the draft officially rolls around. However, as we sit still months away with numerous bowls, camps, and combines ahead, Lynch still is too raw and unknown for my December mock draft, which is why he falls to the Texans in the middle of round one.
Of course, the Texans are thrilled with this notion as they get to take a stab at a legitimate quarterback prospect hoping to catapult their franchise out of a seemingly never ending loop of quarterback purgatory.
With the ferocious potential of their defense with players like J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, and Jadeveon Clowney, the team has been desperate to find a signal caller that can not just manage the game but take some much needed pressure off them from time to time.
With DeAndre Hopkins at his side and a possible return of Arian Foster, the combination of size and speed Lynch presents to defenses with both his arm and legs would bring a dimension to the Texans offense they literally have never seen before in franchise history.
18. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-7 (.514 SOS)
DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon
Wow, what a tease for Chip Kelly who for the first half of round-one held his best poker face as the thought of Paxton Lynch falling one more spot into his lap would've had him jumping for joy. Alas, this isn't college anymore Chip and your luck just seems to keep running out. Kelly plays it cool though and adds a former recruit and member of his former Ducks to the squad in Buckner who fits the bill as a perfect five-technique in his 3-4 personnel fronts.
Buckner is crazy long and strong and uses his outstanding length and power to drive and isolate offensive lineman where he wants. Teaming Buckner up opposite of Fletcher Cox, who is playing out of his mind right now, would be down-right silly forming a no nonsense persona you wouldn't want to mess with. .
19. Buffalo Bills: 6-7 (.519 SOS)
Su’a Cravens, Linebacker, USC
As mentioned before, quarterback purgatory is no laughing matter and a place I never wish on any franchise. Yet that's where nearly half the league is stuck as front offices sell their souls for a legitimate “franchise” quarterback. Meanwhile they pay their big name head coach millions to make do with what they've got and stretch a solid defense and running game into another 8-8 season.
Relax Bills fans, I'm not here to call you or Tyrod Taylor out as I still feel he has the right skill set to thrive in Buffalo if granted the right amount of patience from his coaches. Still, you can't help but wonder if this organization will take another dip into the icy waters of second tier signal callers this draft like many others has to offer. Remember, it wasn't long ago in the 2013 draft the team selected E.J Manuel with 16th pick overall even though he was considered anything but a sure thing. But, here we are just three years later and the Bills organization could be putting on their speedos once again to go fishing for another shot at a prized franchise quarterback.
Michigan State’s Connor Cook seems likely a likely candidate here if in fact that scenario does play out as he is projected to be the third of his position to be taken as it stands now ahead of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
Let's take a step back however, as it's only December and luckily for you Bills fans Doug Whaley isn’t calling the shots here. I like what I've seen from Taylor and think given the proper time and guidance he can progress himself with enough of a balanced combination of playmaker and game manager to help this team win.
Instead, stocking up Ryan with as many weapons in his arsenal to build his typical dominating defense, we've seen before is going to be the real key to pushing this team past idiocracy and advancing deep into the playoffs in the next upcoming years.
Enter Cravens, a guy you might be starting to hear some buzz about now that the season has winded down. What grabs most people's attention is the quick comparisons to former USC safety Troy Polamalu with his ability to play fast all over the field, and have a knack for big plays using both his football instincts and physical ability. Cravens like Polamalu started at strong safety, but made a switch to linebacker where his production multiplied exponentially and where he looked like much more natural flying to the ball.
Adding Cravens to an already loaded front-seven would be icing on the cake for Rex Ryan who would take advantage of his extremely versatile skill-set as a former safety, maximizing his value all over the field in various schemes and looks as a blitzer, and a linebacker he can drop into multiple zone coverages.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-5 (.510 SOS)
Mackensie Alexander, Cornerback, Clemson
Mixed reviews are somehow floating out in draft land on Alexander who some think has been made a bigger talent by the outskirt media than the film may present. I for one trust my instincts and see one of the better pure cover cornerbacks in the class when I watch his game tape.
Alexander may come up an inch or two short at the measurements but still owns a long reach and natural cover skills while sipping from the fountain of youth at just 22 years old. While the Steelers are destined to get hot at the end and go on their annual playoff run thanks to a Big Ben led and Mike Tomlin ran unit, make no mistake their obvious weak spot is their shotty secondary which makes no one squeem more than their head coach.
Shoring up the offensive line is always an option for the Steelers as well as they love to stay strong in the trenches, but with Roethlisberger running the show and bouncing off would-be sacks, adding talent anywhere and everywhere into the secondary remains the number one priority.
21. Washington: 6-7 (.490 SOS)
Reggie Ragland, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
After being pegged as the bottom of the barrel of the NFC East before the season started the Redskins are the favorites to be crowned division winners as we sprint down the final stretch of the season. Thanks to the over achieving Kirk Cousins leading the offense and an opportunistic defense, the Redskins have been a bit of a surprise in 2015, but have plenty to improve upon in next April's draft.
Adding an offensive lineman to the mix is a real possibility, however after using a top 10 pick on one in Iowa’s Brandon Scherff just last year, the Redskins front office is likely to flip sides and replenish the defensive side of the ball.
On that side of the ball, the Redskins nose tackle Terrance Knighton has been a pleasant surprise in the middle while Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy form an exciting duo standing up on the edge, but yet their run defense continues to struggle ranking 24th in the league.
Coming from Alabama’s 3-4 base defense Ragland already has the experience and comfort level to slide into the middle of the linebacker corps. Ragland is the type of linebacker that can be used on all three downs getting physical in the run game and more importantly in today's pass happy league dropping back in coverage and rushing the passer.
Ragland is the next in line of NFL linebackers to be produced from the Crimson Tide, and while he isn’t on the C.J. Mosley level, for my money he is more than worth a top pick in the draft with the high level of football traits he possesses and brings to the field. Pairing him next to Kerrigan and Murphy would give the Redskins defense a true strength on that side of the ball and even more so a building block to start forming some true consistency for years to come.
22. Indianapolis Colts: 6-7 (.510 SOS)
Kenny Clark, Defensive Tackle, UCLA
Even with Andrew Luck's disappointing 2015 campaign it's clear he has the ability to become one of the best quarterbacks in the league and will make whatever surrounding talent (or lack thereof) always look and play better like all the great signal callers do.
Building a great defense (or even just an adequate one) on the other side of the ball should be the first and only plan from here on out to help alleviate at least a fraction of the pressure placed on Luck to carry the load.
The Colts have gotten great value and production out of Stanford’s rookie Henry Anderson and need to use that momentum continuing to add physicality and toughness in the trenches to help build an identity.
UCLA nose tackle Kenny Clark is a monster in the middle and would be a huge upgrade over what they have now providing an anchor inside and plugging holes in the run game. While he needs refinement in his pass rush Clark is a young, talented, and energetic big body that will make everyone's play around him elevate.
23. New York Jets: 8-5 (.457 SOS)
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State
Heading into the season the Jets claimed my award for best offseason after turning their biggest weakness (secondary) into a strength bringing back Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine, then used a top-5 pick on the best defensive-lineman in the draft in Leonard Williams.
Their best move however, came at the local pub where Geno Smith was punched out of his starting job opening the door for Ryan Fitzpatrick to become the starter. Fitzpatrick should have been the guy all along as the savvy veteran understands his role on a team that stresses great defense and ball control offense. No question he should be back as he is not just managing the game but has been thriving as of late with an outstanding passer rating and making big plays through the air at a position that has been in flux for the Jets organization for far too long.
While the defense will continue to improve under Todd Bowles remaining just a piece or two away from being one of the more dominant units in the league, the front office has the luxury of going for a home run in the first round with very few glaring holes on the roster. Chan Gailey is notorious for getting the most out of his running backs proven once again by an outstanding season by Chris Ivory who isn't known for any one outstanding attribute.
While Ivory has been successful this season he has plenty of wear and tear on his body meaning the Jets would be wise to have a plan B option in their back pocket next year given their importance and value of an effective running game. Having the country's top running back fall in your lap in Ezekiel Elliot would be much more than a “plan b” however, as Gailey would be handed one of the most explosive tailback toys at his arsenal he has ever worked with.
Even in a league that has seen the position smolder due to an increase in the passing game, adding Elliot to Gailey’s offense would have a monster impact on not just the offense, but the defense as well. Adding Elliot’s home run threat on the ground to the fire power of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker through the air would turn this offense into a completely balanced attack (don’t forget, Jace Amaro when returned from injury should add even more talent to the equation) and a nightmare for opposing defenses to plan against.
Elliot would help seal the total team package with his ability to wear down defenses and grind out games outside in December and into the playoffs, making this team one of the most physical and complete teams in the entire NFL (yeah, I said it!).
24. Kansas City Chiefs: 8-5 (.486 SOS)
Jason Springs, Offensive Tackle, Indiana
Heading into this pick before I studied the Chiefs, I foolishly assumed a wide receiver was the clear-cut no brainer here, but much to my dismay the state of this teams offensive line is even worse off. While there isn’t any sure things at left tackle remaining this late in round one, out of them all, Springs has the size and strength to someday move over and protect Alex Smith’s blindside. While the team grooms and polishes him the 6’7 300 pounder will be an immediate upgrade on the right side at the tackle position.
If Andy Reid wanted to pull the trigger on a playmaker here like Ohio State’s Michael Thomas or Baylor’s Corey Coleman there would be a bevy of options in the second round to upgrade the interior line at the guard position. Regardless of the order though, the team is almost guaranteed to go bang-bang with their first two selections at these positions.
25. Minnesota Vikings: 8-5 (.495 SOS - 5-4 in conference)
Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, TCU
You could copy and paste the meat and potatoes of the last pick reasoning for the Chiefs here with the Vikings as they too are in need of both an offensive lineman and playmaking wide receiver, easily their two weakest positions. While adding talent and depth on the offensive line will most certainly happen at some point in the draft for the Vikings, I’m having a hard time envisioning Rick Spielman pulling the trigger on one here with his first selection. It was obvious back in July when I attended training camp that the Vikings offensive line would be the area that was most likely to hold the team back in 2015, while Mike Zimmer took a firm hold of progressing his defense turning it into the heart and identity of the team.
Of course this was the case before their two best linemen went down to season-ending injuries (Phil Loadholt achilles, John Sullivan lower back). Fourth-round pick from Pittsburgh T.J. Clemmings was thrust into action and has looked the part of a struggling, raw, rookie lineman that has limited experience on the offensive line to begin with. Nonetheless, Clemmings has flashed from time-to-time the strength and power that earned him a late first-round grade from a handful of scouts and experts, and has gained valuable playing time and experience that should only help further his progression quicker than anticipated.
With Matt Kalil having a bounce back season on all accounts and Joe Berger and Mike Harris playing admirably considering the circumstances, surprisingly it's been guard Brandon Fusco who has been the biggest disappointment struggling on a week-to-week basis. While the easy response then would be to replace Fusco at left guard with a day-two prospect and relying on Sullivan and Loadholt to return to full form, the problem lies inside the numbers where the Vikings just signed Fusco to a wealthy contract extension just last offseason.
So, as bad as Fusco has been this season, from a contract standpoint cutting him simply isn’t an option, and even more so isn’t a roster move typically seen in the Spielman regime. What’s my point? If you’re using your first-round pick on an offensive-lineman you bring in to start, who’s out? If you’re walking into my shark tank to pitch me a first-round offensive-lineman, for those reasons, I’m out.
Instead, a more common pattern scene by Spielman is using his first selection on a playmaking or game changing type prospect that offers big upside like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Cordarrelle Patterson who are a few examples. While the latter two don’t bode well for arguments sake, it certainly does make for an obvious assumption that Spielman will once again go back to the wishing well for a wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically, a dire need that the team has been desperate for since the days of Sidney Rice.
From a pure talent standpoint, by all accounts Josh Doctson shouldn't be around when the Vikings are on the clock, but due to a season ending injury, Doctson hasn't had a lot of early buzz as the end of the season approaches. Before his injury Doctson was a playmaking machine that used his outstanding leaping ability and body control to make ridiculous downfield catches seemingly look routine regardless of how many defenders were draped all over him.
Depending on who you ask and where you look, Doctson is listed anywhere from 6’2” all the way to 6’4” however, Doctson plays like he is 6’6” down the sideline, in the end zone, and when the ball is in the air. His long and lanky frame will need to be bulked up to not lose physical battles against NFL-sized defensive backs at the line of scrimmage, but such is the case with nearly all prospects coming out of the college program.
Before his injury Doctson had a case as the best receiver in all of college football as his natural ability to track the ball and out-leap his defenders are things you simply can not teach. The addition of Doctson would be valuable to both Teddy Bridgewater who would finally have a down field threat to work with, and Stefon Diggs who would see more soft coverages in space on underneath routes.
26. Seattle Seahawks: 8-5 (.495 SOS - 6-4 in conference)
Germain Ifedi, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
After struggling with a Super Bowl hangover the Seahawks are starting to finally look like the Seahawks again, timing their weekly progression like the crafty seasoned veterans that they are and turning their stove top knob to “boiling hot” at the most ideal time with the season winding down and the playoff hunt cranking up.
With his biggest assets and weapons on offense shelfed for good like Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, and now Thomas Rawls, Russell Wilson continues to single handedly dominate opposing defenses with his rocket arm, pinpoint accuracy, and deadly legs. And yet we still act surprised. Wilson has put up numbers the past four weeks I couldn't even pull off in “Madden” (even if you let me play on “rookie” mode) and looks destined to carry his team deep into the playoffs once again.
No matter how far the Seahawks last into January, once the dust settles, it's clear they have holes that need to be filled with talent and positions that need to be replenished with depth. Offenses have picked apart the cornerback opposite of Richard Sherman for most of the season and will likely be addressed at some point in the offseason whether that's in free agency of the draft itself. Here in the first-round though, Pete Carroll looks to rejuvenate his offensive-line which much like the majority of the NFL is depleted and far from a strength.
We've already seen five offensive linemen get plucked so far and of the remaining available Ifedi is the most likely to have an immediate impact at tackle without having to slide him inside to guard. While Ifedi has some big boy strength with long arms and strong hands to pave holes at the guard position, he has experience at both tackle spots and can help you get better value as a versatile lineman.
While he won't be able to keep up with speed rushers at the next level on the left side, he is the next in line of Auggie offensive tackles (one drafted in first-round past three years in a row) that is growing quite the pedigree for producing NFL talent at the position.
27. Green Bay Packers: 9-4 (.486 SOS)
Jonathan Bullard, Defensive Line, Florida
The Packers are finding ways to win again and even though they're not blowing teams out like we're use to seeing, now that Mike McCarthy has taken over play calling duties things are starting to flow more natural and effortlessly starting with a rejuvenated running game. While the loss of Jordy Nelson proved to be much more of a blow to the offense than some expected proven by the lack of explosive plays, the combination of Eddy Lacy and James Starks has proven to be a difficult task for defenses to stop and have opened things up for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
Meanwhile, the defense has always been up and down flashing periods of dominance followed by inconsistency-filled mediocrityy. With not one but two young raw rookies playing huge roles in the secondary for the Packers (Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall) you have to tip your cap to the job coaches have done preparing and putting them in the best situations to succeed.
The defensive-line continues to be inconsistent and always seems to be in need of an upgrade. The Datone Jones experiment seems to be coming to an end, and Letroy Guion's future has always been cloudy at best.
Enter Bullard who is one of my favorite prospects in the draft. A guy who doesn’t get a ton of TV time and big name recognition because of his lack of a true natural position, flashy persona, and eye-popping attributes. Instead, Bullard is a hard nosed, blue collar, lunch pail kind of player that brings a toughness and tenacity to the football field and trenches that I would pay to ingrain in everyone of my players if building a team.
Bullard has the strength, length, and build to play almost anywhere on the defensive line from a 4-3 end, 3-4 end, and 4-3 tackle. And while he can get after the quarterback and into the backfield Bullard's real strength is in the run game where he received a nation's best +44.4 grade. Add up his production, versatility, and tenacity for the game, and you've got a classic Ted Thompson recruit he's dying to get into the green and gold jersey. But, don't hold your breath Packer fans, once the word gets out on Bullard during the predraft process his stock could rise well past the 20s and into the late teens.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-3 (.466 SOS)
Jeremy Cash, Strong Safety, Duke
After cruising along the regular season and quickly reaching double-digit wins with four games to play, the Bengals suffered the biggest blow a team can have at the worst time losing their starting quarterback just weeks before the playoffs are set to start (is there a more “Bengals” thing to happen than this?) Luckily, because of a stout defense that creates turnovers and a duo of capable runners, this team shouldn't be counted out just yet.
Even after losing their starting quarterback one of the reasons the Bengals will continue to be consistent in their ways is due to a strong and balanced mix of talented players up and down the roster. In fact, the team really doesn't have many holes when you try and pinpoint which direction is most likely when it comes to their first round pick. With their linebackers getting old, and four wide-outs set to hit free agency, both positions seem more than plausible (Michael Thomas and Leonard Floyd were hard to pass up).
Ultimately though, with George Iloka set to hit the market as well my gut feeling is Marvin Lewis waits until day-two for the latter positions and instead grabs another hard-nosed player in his secondary that fits the smash mouth style of defense he loves to employ.
Duke’s Jeremy Cash is a hard hitting safety that's plays like lightning in a bottle screaming all over the field. Cash loves to play up close to the line of scrimmage and storm into the backfield as he registered 18 tackles for loss (ranks in the top 10 in the nation) on top of his 101 total tackles.
The ACC media defensive player of the year, Cash is one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe award (given to the nation's best secondary player) and Nagurski Trophy (given to the nation's best defensive player) thanks to his outstanding instincts both in coverage and in run support. Cash can run himself out of plays by being overly aggressive and can miss tackles all together going for the knockout hit, but you're going to take the good with the bad with him as he lands far more punches than he misses.
Considered a reach now in December, watch Cash’s stock rise as the draft inches closer as teams fall in love with his nonstop motor and energy he brings to the secondary combined with his ability and versatility to help out in man coverage in sub nickel packages (similar to Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward during his draft process).
Adding a strong safety like Cash next to a center fielder like Reggie Nelson is a perfect complement to one another and forms one of the most balanced and talented secondaries in the league with former first-rounders like Darqueze Dennard, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Adam “Pacman” Jones (Cheat Codes!)
29. Denver Broncos: 10-3 (.490 SOS)
Jayron Kearse, Safety, Clemson
The tides have changed in the high altitude of the rocky mountains after the sheriff cashed in on some PTO hours he's been saving up for the past two decades while letting the intern run the show for the time being. Brock Osweiler has shown some solid flashes of what could be and more importantly for me has been a great reminder of what can happen when you let a quarterback sit and learn the nuances of the NFL game behind the clipboard for a season or two.
Of course, it sure would be interesting to see if Osweiler duplicated the same “success” somewhere else without two premium wideouts and the league's number one defense. The biggest question remains to be asked and answered when the playoffs start and Manning is “healthy” enough to see the field once again, which hand does Gary Kubiak and John Elway lean on, new school or old school?
Many have already written in permanent ink when projecting the Broncos next first-round draft pick to be an offensive tackle, specifically after it was rumored the front office was trying to trade for Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas. In the words of my boy Lee Corso “Not-So-Fast-My-Friend!” because here in Luke Inman’s war room we don't reach for third round left tackles because it's a position of need.
After all, people seem to be quick to throw away the premise of both Ryan Clady and Ty Sambrailo returning from injuries and being effective starters once again. While I certainly would entertain the idea of the front office grabbing the first offensive guard off the board like LSU’s Vadal Alexander to add more physical presence in the run game and be the eventual replacement for Evan Mathis, I am not a fan of reaching for a developmental left tackle with their first pick.
Instead, like many teams picking near the end of round one, the Broncos really don't have many glaring holes to be filled allowing them to take the best player available. Exactly why I have them taking what could be the best secondary player of the class (outside of Jalen Ramsey) in three to five years. Kearse is a freak athlete in every sense of the term measuring in at a monster 6’4”, he is tall and long and will only continue to fill out his now 220 pound frame with more strength and muscle in due time.
Kearse caught in quickly in 2013 as a true freshman where he started games and eventually became a full time starter. Kearse has slowly but surely harnessed and developed his natural raw ability into one of the nation's fastest and hardest hitting safeties, but is still nowhere near refined and will need the proper coaching and guidance to make the leap into the NFL. Still, the fact remains that Kearse has some of the most natural god-given talent from a physical standpoint we've seen at the position in a long time, and has the NFL bloodlines to go along with it as the nephew of the original “freak;” former Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse.
I seem to be in the minority thinking Kearse can become a true free safety in the league (most see him as a strong safety) and if so would make an outstanding tandem next to T.J. Ward for the Broncos forming a ridiculous all-around secondary that already has staked themselves as the best in the league.
30. Arizona Cardinals: 11-2 (.462 SOS)
A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
After being the longest running undefeated team in 2014 it should come to no surprise the success they are having this year under a healthy Carson Palmer and offensive wizard like Bruce Arians. As long as Palmer can stay upright and stable, (knocks on wood,) then this team has more than they will be one of two teams along with the Carolina Panthers to be favored to head to the Super Bowl.
After using last year’s first-rounder on tackle D.J. Humphries and getting Jonathan Cooper back, the offensive line seemed to be set, but using another early selection on an interior lineman would provide enough competition and depth to solidify this unit as strength moving forward.
A youthful linebacker to add to the mix of aging veterans like Dwight Freeney seems more than plausible as well as adding pass rushing specialist Leonard Floyd out of Georgia wouldn’t shock anyone. Here though, they can’t pass on the upside of Robinson who was a standout and anchor for the Crimson Tide and a forced to be reckoned with. At 6’4” 315 pounds Robinson is an ideal fit in the Cardinals 3-4 scheme and helps fill a need while adding an influx of youth alongside Calais Campbell.
31. New England Patriots: 11-2 (.471 SOS) - PICK FORFEITED
32. Carolina Panthers: 12-0 (.447 SOS)
Kendall Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
Take a moment out of your day and peruse the Panthers starting roster, try not to laugh (or cry) when you come to the realization that very same roster is an NFL best 13-0 and the number one team in all of football. Guys like free agent pickup Kurt Coleman has six interceptions on the year, while Roman Harper plays across from him even though he's collecting social security checks.
Mike Remmers is a starting right tackle and Peanut Tillman has to be near 40 years old and still has more game than some D-1 athletes. It’s amazing how much production Ron Rivera has gotten out of a lineup that was left for dead just three months ago after Kelvin Benjamin lost his season to an ACL injury and the offensive line was banking on Michael Oher to be the strength of their group.
All of this truly goes to show how much we should step back and appreciate the amazing talent Cam Newton is and the progression he has made steadily season after season since being selected with the number one overall pick four seasons ago. Newton has burst through the brick wall stereotype of a “scrambling” quarterback with an “S” on his chest as teams try and pinpoint his hidden kryptonite.
The Panthers remain at the top of the NFL's best as Ron Rivera has expunged every ounce of talent out of his roster, but come next April the front office will have a lot of tough decisions to make as far as which obvious positions need to upgraded first and foremost. You can't commend the job the offensive line has done enough going above and beyond just overachieving. One can't help but wonder the how much having a big bodied and nimble quarterback like Newton helps in masking some of the lack of talent there.
Like most teams near the bottom, the Panthers are primed to have at least one or two viable top prospects fall into their lap for a variety of reasons like there always is. In all likelihood Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas shouldn't linger around this long and would form a young and explosive set of targets with Benjamin, Ted Ginn, and Devin Funchess. Georgia edge rushing linebacker Leonard Floyd is explosive and productive and would add another weapon into the front-seven.
However, in this mock I have them upgrading their secondary which like the other positions is desperate for replacements all over the board. Tillman has played admirably opposite of Josh Norman but will need to be replaced sooner than later, and Harper retired four years ago but nobody told him.
Fuller was pegged as one of the nation's top cornerbacks heading into the year after some exciting sophomore tape. Fuller quickly was shelved after just a month of play after needing surgery on a torn meniscus and will need to prove to teams and scouts he is on track to return back to his sophomore form in his rehabilitation process. When healthy Fuller is an excellent physical cornerback who stays stride for stride with his man with his excellent acceleration.
With his natural cover instincts and range, some have viewed Fuller as a legitimate free safety prospect as well, and would give the Panthers tremendous versatility when it comes to the direction they want to go in the secondary. With NFL bloodlines already coursing through his veins, Kendall looks to surpass his big bro Kyle who was drafted with pick number 14 to the Chicago Bears and become the best of the Fuller bunch (Vincent Fuller 2005, Corey Fuller 2013).
Shaquille Calhoun, Defensive End, Michigan State
Scooby Wright, Linebacker, Arizona
Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor
Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
Leonard Floyd, Linebacker, Georgia