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2016 Pre-Combine First Round Mock Draft – February 19, 2016
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State LB Darron Lee
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 19, 2016
This is my third mock draft of the offseason and just in time to be posted before the annual Scouting Combine commences next week in Indianapolis. Rather than doing a more team-focused breakdown by discussing how each player fits a need, I’ll focus this time on the individual player and how each’s stock might rise and fall within the next few days, weeks and months as the offseason gets under way.
I’ve never been particularly good at predicting which players will “blow up” the Combine with strong workouts, so any opinions expressed hereafter on that is partially my own and also what I’ve heard from other more well-versed minds.
The draft really doesn’t begin to take shape until after the Combine where stocks can significantly rise and fall. NFL teams always insist that player grades don’t change all that much due to the “Underwear Olympics,” which is probably true to a certain extent and instead it’s the media’s perception of players that changes wildly. But I do think it certainly can help a player flip from a late to an early first-round pick and vice versa depending on how he tests and measures.
I just can’t help but notice how fluid players’ stocks are before the Combine year after year to truly buy into the notion that it’s mostly inconsequential. So let’s discuss some of those consequences!
1. Tennessee Titans – OT Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
I’ve had the Titans taking Tunsil in all three mocks so far this year. It’s just a move that makes too much sense for them, as they did give up more sacks in 2015 than any other NFL team. But you hear whispers about Tunsil having off-field question marks that might prevent him from being your traditionally “clean” No. 1 overall pick. So it’s certainly possible that as we get closer to the draft, that I start looking at someone else for this top spot. But everything I’ve seen and heard thus far isn’t “stock-killing,” so we’ll have to see if any scarier skeletons emerge from his closet.
2. Cleveland Browns – QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Once again another pick from my last mock draft that goes unchanged. But this one is much more malleable than the Tunsil pick. I think it’ll likely boil down to Wentz or Goff for the Browns, with the former’s size and arm strength making him a better fit for Hue Jackson and in the city of Cleveland. But all the top quarterbacks are expected to throw at the Combine, meaning that a week from now, I may be singing a different tune.
3. San Diego Chargers – DE DeForest Buckner, Oregon
This is a change from the previous mock where I had the Chargers taking Joey Bosa. My suspicion is that we’ll exit the Combine seeing Bosa as more a fit for a 4-3 team than a 3-4 one like San Diego. Buckner isn’t an “elite” 3-4 end prospect but I believe will be in the conversation for the first defensive player taken.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State DE Joey Bosa
4. Dallas Cowboys – DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Once upon a time, Bosa was oft-compared to the likes of J.J. Watt. I don’t think that’s going to be quite the case after the Combine, but I do think he’s still going to be very highly thought of. The player I think he’s more akin to is Chris Long, who people seem to forget was the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft. Long isn’t on Watt’s level, but he’s mostly been a very good NFL player when healthy over the past eight years.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – DB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
He’s one of those players that I could see moving up on boards after the Combine if he performs to the level that many suspect he will. It’s worth noting that the Titans and Chargers could both use help in their secondary at either corner or safety, so this could be a very big week for Ramsey, propelling him into becoming the first defender off the board come April 28.
6. Baltimore Ravens – LB Myles Jack, UCLA
While he’s not going to work out at the Combine like initially expected, I do think by the end of the process, concerns over him coming off that knee injury will dissipate and he’ll be talked about among the “elite” defensive prospects in this draft class. But there is a stigma against non-pass-rushing linebackers in a “post-Aaron Curry world” that will likely keep him out of the conversation for top defensive player selected.
7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Jared Goff, California
If being honest, I’ve not been wowed by Goff when I’ve watched him. His size and what I deem to be relatively average arm strength makes me question whether he is what is classically considered “No. 1 quarterback material.” But he could definitely change that perception if he has a good showing in Indianapolis next week.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Eastern Kentucky DE Noah Spence
8. Miami Dolphins – DE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
Spence is a player that probably got the biggest boost from the Senior Bowl. If he can continue that with another impressive performance at the Combine, I think he’ll probably be a top 10 pick when it’s all said and done. But even if he doesn’t, Spence gets a boost from the belief that this isn’t a draft class that has a Vic Beasley, Dante Fowler or Khalil Mack-type to really steal his shine. I also don’t think his past off-field transgressions are going to hurt his stock as much as many in the media are suggesting either.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
If any edge-rusher can steal some of Spence’s thunder, I’d probably put money on it being Dodd. As a junior he is much more of an unknown commodity as things stand today. Also his showing in the National Championship Game coupled with a good Combine workout could pole vault him into the top part of the draft.
10. New York Giants – CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
Apple arguably has the tools teams look for in a corner with the size and speed that I think people are starting to doubt that Vernon Hargreaves and Mackensie Alexander have. That’s why this could be a big week for Apple since whomever is the top cornerback taken after Ramsey will have an opportunity to be a Top 10 selection given how many teams at the top of the draft were plagued by terrible secondary play.
11. Chicago Bears – LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
His knee injury is going to probably keep him from working out this offseason, but I don’t necessarily think it will prevent him from going very high. The key for him in the next week will be how the medical checks go and whether teams become a bit more optimistic that he’ll be able to play in September versus November.
12. New Orleans Saints – DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
Lawson is a player that I don’t expect to have a great workout but I’ll put him this high because he still has an opportunity to solidify his status as a top 15 selection given that this isn’t a great draft class for edge-rushers. The premium on pass-rushers is such that even if people don’t love Lawson, he could still go fairly high when all is said and done.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
Like Spence, Rankins got a big boost from the Senior Bowl. He probably won’t go as high as Aaron Donald did two years ago since Donald had a disgustingly good Combine performance. But I also think that because of the strength of this defensive tackle class, some teams will be a bit quicker to get the guy they want in the middle of the first round since they know the pickings could be slimmer when they get to the second round. Especially a team like Philadelphia, who lack a second-round pick might be even quicker on the trigger.
14. Oakland Raiders – OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Stanley is one of those players that I think could slide down the board in the coming months or weeks. For most of the past several months he’s been mentioned in the same breath as Tunsil. But I think in the coming weeks, concerns over his work ethic will cause him to be seen more as interchangeable with the next tier of offensive tackles.
15. Los Angeles Rams – QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch has his proponents and his size and arm strength are what traditionally are the things that get NFL teams enamored. Thus why in my first mock, I pegged him as the first quarterback taken. It’ll be a big week for him to try and steal back some of the spotlight from Wentz and Goff and really make this a three-man race for the Browns’ preferred target.
16. Detroit Lions – OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
Speaking of that next tier of offensive tackles, here’s one now in Conklin. He probably isn’t going to test well since he doesn’t scream superb athlete, but he’s one of those guys that I think people will like his tape more than his workout numbers. He has the toughness that some teams love much more than athleticism when it comes down to evaluating blockers.
17. Atlanta Falcons – LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
He is reportedly up to around 235 pounds and if he clocks a fast 40 time at that weight, his stock could blossom. I tend to see Lee more as a developmental prospect but given the injury question marks surrounding Jack and Smith, Lee could definitely appeal to people looking for an immediate impact guy. A strong Combine workout might change the perception from the reality of how quickly he can be good in the NFL.
18. Indianapolis Colts – CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
Hargreaves might be the Conklin of the cornerback group, which is that he has good tape but probably won’t test particularly well. Helping Hargreaves is that there is another Florida alum that didn’t show ideal size or speed at the Combine, but was still drafted highly and turned into a very good NFL player before injuries started to take their toll.
19. Buffalo Bills – LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
He’s going to have a very interesting week in Indianapolis because there’s the potential he pulls a Brandon Spikes and sees his stock plummet. Ragland bulked up to nearly 260 for the Senior Bowl, which is a questionable decision. My guess is that he’s getting bad advice and trying to be considered as a 3-4 outside linebacker rather than an inside linebacker and it might wind up costing him money.
20. New York Jets – RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
If Elliott winds up going higher than this, it’ll probably be due more to Todd Gurley than anything he does at the Combine. Gurley seemingly single-handedly bucked the trend that first-round running backs are bad this past season. Although to be fair, Trent Richardson also looked relatively good his first year in the NFL. But where Elliott goes in the draft will be driven more by need than his ability.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson
21. Washington Redskins – DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Robinson is a player that many people really like, although I’m not sure he’s the type of guy that is going to knock off anybody’s socks when it comes to Combine testing. And that could hurt his stock given the depth of this defensive tackle class. But he could shoot right back up the board if he does manage to impress.
22. Houston Texans – DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
Billings is a bit of a polarizing player, with some rating him very highly while others proclaiming him as a huge disappointment. He’s probably not going to have a Dontari Poe-esque workout, so the Combine probably won’t boost his stock too much. His problem is going to be if he gets pigeonholed into being just a “3-4 guy” which typically leads more often to guys falling on draft day than rising.
23. Minnesota Vikings – WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
There’s been numerous reports that Treadwell won’t time well at the Combine, which will no doubt hurt his stock. His proponents will no doubt throw out names like Jerry Rice, Keenan Allen and Anquan Boldin as examples of slow receivers that turned into really good NFL players. But experience tells us that a slow 40 time will make it much easier for “lesser” receivers to leapfrog him on draft boards.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
He should be a guy that blazes the 40 time, which he’ll need to do in order to silence doubters that look at his lack of size and the offense he played in at Baylor as things that will limit his ability to transition quickly to the next level. I don’t know how fast he’ll run, but something in the low 4.3-range would not shock me. And if that happens, it could cause his stock to rise tremendously.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Once projecting him as the top cornerback (after Ramsey) in the class, I’m now starting to question that a little. Questions about his height and the total lack of production, coupled with my own initial forays into his tape that were a little underwhelming make me think his draft stock could tumble in the coming weeks/months.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas State OG Cody Whitehair
26. Seattle Seahawks – OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
The success of Zack Martin is going to help Whitehair in this draft process. Whitehair isn’t on Martin’s level as a prospect but there’s not nearly as much stigma about using a high pick on a guard as there once was thanks in large part to Martin. I doubt Whitehair climbs up the board to be a Top 16 pick like Martin was, but he should be entrenched in the back half of the first round.
27. Green Bay Packers – OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
This could be a big week for him since he failed to light the world on fire at the Senior Bowl. He’s an impressive athletic and will need to show it in Combine workouts. The good thing is that even if he doesn’t have a great week in Indianapolis, he still should find himself in the mix for a late first-round selection given how many playoff teams really had poor offensive tackle play in 2015.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Like Coleman, a fast 40 could do wonders for Thomas’ draft stock. He doesn’t scream to me to be a “vertical” guy on tape, but if he clocks a good 40 time he could easily have one of the better combinations of size and speed at the top of the draft especially if Treadwell runs slow. The one red flag that might hurt his draft stock the most is concerns over his football acumen.
29. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
He’s another player that I’ll be interesting to see where his stock is a week from now. Floyd’s lack of bulk might hurt him in the process as he might remind some people a bit too much like Barkevious Mingo. Mingo tested well but it hasn’t translated into NFL success as a pass-rusher. Again, there’s going to be a premium on any edge-rusher but if he weighs in lighter than 245, it might be a red flag to many. A 246-pound Vic Beasley not taking the NFL by storm this past year also won’t help Floyd’s case.
30. Carolina Panthers – OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
He’s a player that probably needs to have a strong Combine workout to solidify his stock. Once talked about as the third best tackle after Tunsil and Stanley, there’s a chance he might slide out of the top five if he doesn’t have a good week in Indianapolis. He could wind up being a late first-round guy rather than the potential top 15 pick he might have been considered a few months ago.
31. Denver Broncos – DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
Reed is another one of those players that probably won’t blow anybody away with his testing, but the teams that like him will do so because of his highly productive tape. If he does test well, then he could get back into the conversation for a Top 20 selection. Without a good Combine session, he might begin to get lost a bit in the shuffle with all the other good defensive tackles in this class.
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