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2016 Four-Round Mock Draft – January 29, 2016
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Clemson DE Shaq Lawson
POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN JANUARY 29, 2016
With the 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl underway in Mobile, Alabama this week, there will be quite a bit of movement up and down various draft boards as NFL teams get a closer inspection of some of the top draft prospects they’ve been eyeing for the past year.
For this mock, I initially came up with a list of about 125 prospects that I thought stood a very good chance of landing within the first 100 picks and wound up going off that listing to make these picks. Eventually I decided to expand it to four rounds because I’ve gone completely mock crazy.
Another thing I tried to do with this mock was to factor in some free-agent moves. Mocks are fairly worthless before free agency because you aren’t able to take into account which teams’ needs get filled on the open market. I tried to incorporate a few guesses for a couple of teams adding and losing some guys to try and have a bit more of a “realistic” feel to this mock draft. But as with any mock, it’s just a total guess.
Just for fun, I also added compensatory picks at the end of third and fourth rounds. These are based off the projections done by Over the Cap.
Scroll to the end of the post to get more in-depth analysis on the Falcons’ specific picks.
* Indicates underclassman.
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North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz
1. Tennessee Titans – OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss*
The Titans gave up a league-high 54 sacks in 2015, making it a priority to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota better. Tunsil gives them a rock solid left tackle prospect that will push Taylor Lewan to the right side.
2. Cleveland Browns – QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
New Browns head coach Hue Jackson is all ready to move on from Johnny Manziel and will bring in a new quarterback that fits that Joe Flacco/Carson Palmer mold that he prefers. Wentz is rocketing up boards despite his status as a “small school guy.”
3. San Diego Chargers – DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State*
Bosa’s ability to upgrade both the Chargers’ pass rush (24th in sacks) and run defense (27th in yards allowed) makes him a perfect fit for them as they look to bulk him up into a 3-4 defensive end.
4. Dallas Cowboys – ILB Myles Jack, UCLA*
Jack looks on pace to return from a knee injury by the time February’s Combine rolls around and if so, he could be one of the first defenders off the board. The Cowboys can plug Jack into the middle linebacker spot beside Sean Lee and have one of the league’s top units.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – FS Jalen Ramsey, Florida State*
The Jaguars are looking for a ball-hawking free safety to upgrade a porous pass defense. Ramsey also offers the versatility that can potentially kick out to cornerback in a pinch as well, giving them a ton of value.
6. Baltimore Ravens – DE DeForest Buckner, Oregon
The Ravens have more pressing needs than a 3-4 defensive end but Buckner’s potential to be a dominant player in this role makes him too good to pass up.
7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Jared Goff, California*
There’s certainly speculation that a big reason that drew the 49ers to new head coach Chip Kelly was due to the belief that his offense could salvage Colin Kaepernick. But it may also be that the 49ers organization is still looking to move on and reset with Goff under center.
8. Miami Dolphins – CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson*
The Dolphins need help at cornerback and Alexander is widely considered to be the top cover corner in this year’s draft, so this pick makes perfect sense. Almost too much sense.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson DE Kevin Dodd
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson*
Dodd has been rumored to be shooting up draft boards, and given the struggles that new Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith had Atlanta due to lacking a pass rush, it makes sense to start his next tenure elsewhere by quickly filling that hole.
10. New York Giants – DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama*
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins is a free agent and Johnathan Hankins’ contract expires at the end of 2016, so adding a player like Robinson will not only be an upgrade to a weak pass rush, but also give them great insurance in case Hankins isn’t kept.
11. Chicago Bears – OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame*
The Bears were stuck trying to play with Charles Leno at left tackle for much of 2015. Adding a player like Stanley, despite concerns about his toughness (or lack thereof), is a huge upgrade that they cannot afford to pass up on.
12. New Orleans Saints – OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia*
Floyd can potentially play SAM in their base package and also team with Cameron Jordan and Hau’oli Kikaha to bring heat off the edge in sub-packages.
13. Philadelphia Eagles – QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis*
Struggles down the stretch may have cost Lynch the chance to be the top quarterback taken in this draft. But the Eagles won’t complain as they’ll start fresh after trying to gut it out with veterans at this spot in recent years.
14. Oakland Raiders – CB Eli Apple, Ohio State*
The Raiders whiffed when they drafted D.J. Hayden a few years back and adding a young, physical corner like Apple will be their attempt at redemption.
15. Los Angeles Rams – WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss*
The Rams lack a true No. 1 target for whomever plays quarterback in 2016 and Treadwell has the size, speed and ability to fill that void.
16. Detroit Lions – OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State*
The Lions offensive line was pretty offensive last season. While Conklin may not look like your prototypical left tackle, his production on the field is mostly beyond reproach.
17. Atlanta Falcons – DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson*
If the Falcons are successful in snagging a middle linebacker in free agency, it frees them up to add a playmaker like Lawson to upgrade the league’s weakest pass rush.
18. Indianapolis Colts – CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida*
There is talk that Hargreaves, given his lack of elite size or speed, won’t go as high as previously projected. If that is the case, then the Colts will be happy to scoop him up and plug him in immediately opposite Vontae Davis.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland
19. Buffalo Bills – ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
None of the linebackers currently in Buffalo are Rex Ryan’s type of guys. Ragland is tough, physical and smart, which will likely give Rex flashbacks to his days in New York with David Harris.
20. New York Jets – RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State*
Despite earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, Chris Ivory’s play down the stretch was less than spectacular. Also with the soon-to-be 28-year old running back set to hit free agency, the Jets might look towards the future of their run game by snagging Elliott.
21. Washington Redskins – DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
Despite investing significant free-agent resources into their defensive front last offseason, many additions didn’t quite live up to expectations. Coupled with the possible retirement of Jason Hatcher, adding a versatile player like Reed solidifies this unit.
22. Houston Texans – DT Andrew Billings, Baylor*
Even if Vince Wilfork decides to give it one more go with Houston, they need to start looking towards the future. Billings will only turn 20 in March, giving them a young protégé to inherit Wilfork’s nose tackle spot very soon.
23. Minnesota Vikings – WR Corey Coleman, Baylor*
The Vikings hoped Mike Wallace would give them the vertical threat they desperately want on offense. That hasn’t quite worked out, so they’ll turn to Coleman instead.
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Ohio State LB Darron Lee
24. Cincinnati Bengals – OLB Darron Lee, Ohio State*
The Bengals could certainly use an athletic, rangy outside linebacker rather than having to rely vets like Rey Maualuga and A.J. Hawk there.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – ILB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame*
It might be nice of the Steelers to stash Smith on the depth chart in lieu of giving the aging Lawrence Timmons a contract extension. Recent reports that Smith might be ready to go at the start of 2016 despite torn ligaments in his knee might prevent him from sliding to the second round as many might expect.
26. Seattle Seahawks – OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
The Seahawks offensive line was a massive liability throughout the 2015 season and adding a blocker like Whitehair, whose past at tackle makes him adept at both run and pass blocking, is an upgrade for them.
27. Green Bay Packers – OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
The struggles of both David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga to stay healthy this past year revealed that the Packers need more help at offensive tackle. Spriggs’ size and athleticism should make for a smooth transition in Green Bay.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh*
Boyd is a huge upgrade over the likes of Albert Wilson as the Chiefs look for a reliable set of hands to be their No. 2 option.
29. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
The Cardinals inability to get pressure on Cam Newton in the NFC Championship was one of many reasons for their downfall. Adding a player like Spence would be a huge upgrade.
30. Denver Broncos – OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The Broncos offensive line got exposed once in a Super Bowl and there’s a chance it could again next week. Michael Schofield has been serviceable at best as a right tackle, so plugging in Decker is a significant upgrade there.
31. Carolina Panthers – DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State*
The Panthers believe in adding the best player available, which in this case happens to be a pass-rusher that is much younger and better than Jared Allen.
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Alabama RB Derrick Henry
32. Cleveland Browns – TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas*
Hue Jackson hopes Henry gives him comparable value as to what Tyler Eifert gave in Cincinnati.
33. Tennessee Titans – RB Derrick Henry, Alabama*
Henry can be the Michael Turner-esque workhorse that new Titans head coach Mike Mularkey is looking for.
34. Dallas Cowboys – DT Austin Johnson, Penn State
Nick Hayden has been a serviceable starter at nose tackle, but Johnson is light years better.
35. San Diego Chargers – OT Shon Coleman, Auburn
The Chargers need help up front and have consistently preferred the bigger, more physical blockers like Coleman.
36. Baltimore Ravens – CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech*
The Ravens need to find a capable starting corner opposite Jimmy Smith.
37. San Francisco 49ers – WR Josh Doctson, TCU
With Anquan Boldin set to leave town, adding a secondary target opposite Torrey Smith will be a priority.
38. Miami Dolphins – DE Jonathan Bullard, Florida
The Dolphins will hope that Bullard can provide comparable value to what ex-Dolphin Jared Odrick did at defensive end.
39. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
The Jaguars should walk away from the Senior Bowl really impressed with Rankins’ potential to upgrade their pass rush.
40. New York Giants – SS Vonn Bell, Ohio State*
The Giants need a cover safety to deploy opposite run-thumper Landon Collins and Bell fits the bill.
41. Chicago Bears – ILB Su’a Cravens, USC*
Cravens ability to be a sort of hybrid safety-inside linebacker should give the Bears an intriguing option.
42. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Finding a steady possession wideout like Thomas to potentially replace Vincent Jackson is a smart move.
43. Los Angeles Rams (from Philadelphia) – QB Connor Cook, Michigan State
Cook’s leadership and character have been questioned, but the Rams need anybody worthwhile under center.
44. Oakland Raiders – OT Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The athletic Clark should fit in nicely as either a replacement for or the heir apparent behind left tackle Donald Penn.
45. Los Angeles Rams – OC Nick Martin, Notre Dame
Zack Martin’s little brother offers a significant upgrade over the likes of Tim Barnes at center.
46. Detroit Lions – DT Kenny Clark, UCLA*
The Lions hope that Clark will be their long-term disruptor inside that they lost in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley last year.
47. New Orleans Saints – FS Darian Thompson, Boise State
Thompson is not only capable playmaker, but also won’t be as prone to missing tackles as Jairus Byrd has been.
48. Indianapolis Colts – OT Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
The Colts finally invest in a blocker to protect Andrew Luck up front. Ifedi has the versatility to play inside or outside.
49. Buffalo Bills – OG Joshua Garnett, Stanford
The Bills might not be able to bring back Richie Incognito, and Garnett offers that road-grading presence to potentially replace him.
50. Atlanta Falcons – SS Keanu Neal, Florida*
Dan Quinn lands a player he helped recruit to Florida back in 2013. Neal is a rangy, hard-hitting safety that is a perfect fit in Atlanta’s defensive scheme.
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Florida SS Keanu Neal
51. New York Jets – WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker doing work outside, finding a capable slot receiver like Shepard could benefit the Jets offense.
52. Houston Texans – QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State*
Bill O’Brien brought Hackenberg to college, now he’ll try and bring him along into the NFL.
53. Washington Redskins – SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph has durability concerns, but when healthy is a massive upgrade over DeAngelo Hall and DaShon Goldson here.
54. Minnesota Vikings – OT Jerald Hawkins, LSU*
Phil Loadholt may not fully recover from his Achilles tear, meaning the Vikings need to prepare for the future at right tackle.
55. Cincinnati Bengals – CB William Jackson, Houston
Jackson offers the size that the Bengals prefer at the cornerback position as they continue to try and get younger there.
56. Seattle Seahawks – DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss*
Nkemdiche’s off-field concerns could facilitate his free fall down boards similar to Randy Gregory last year.
57. Green Bay Packers – WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame*
The injury to Jordy Nelson exposed a dearth of playmakers on the outside for the Packers in 2015.
58. Pittsburgh Steelers – TE Austin Hooper, Stanford*
Heath Miller is age 33 and entering the final year of his contract, so the Steelers need to find an heir apparent.
59. Kansas City Chiefs – ILB Josh Perry, Ohio State
Perry’s size and toughness should make him a good fit to potentially replace Derrick Johnson inside.
60. New England Patriots – WR Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Miller’s athleticism and versatility should have Bill Belichick up at 4 a.m. thinking of ways of maximizing his potential in their offense.
61. Arizona Cardinals – OC Ryan Kelly, Alabama
The Cardinals brought back center Lyle Sendlein in 2015 solely as a stopgap. Kelly is too good to pass up here.
62. Denver Broncos – DE Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
With the expected loss of Malik Jackson in free agency, the Broncos need to find another body up front.
63. Carolina Panthers – RB Alex Collins, Arkansas*
Durability is always a concern with Jonathan Stewart, so the Panthers will be smart to shore up their depth.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Duke SS Jeremy Cash
64. Tennessee Titans – CB Artie Burns, Miami (FL)*
The Titans need more bodies in the secondary where Perrish Cox is better suited as a nickel than a starter.
65. Cleveland Browns – DE Jihad Ward, Illinois
Ward’s size and athleticism has stood out all week at the Senior Bowl.
66. San Diego Chargers – FS Justin Simmons, Boston College
They hope the oversized Simmons can be a replacement for Weddle on the back end.
67. Dallas Cowboys – WR Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Terrance Williams was a disappointment in Dez Bryant’s absence, making the explosive Carroo a potential upgrade here.
68. San Francisco 49ers – OLB Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
A defense that finished 29th in league in sack production can always use another pass-rusher.
69. Jacksonville Jaguars – RB Devontae Booker, Utah
A late-season injury to T.J. Yeldon exposed the Jaguars’ lack of depth at running back.
70. Baltimore Ravens – WR Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina*
Adding more playmaking ability at the wide receiver is a must with Steve Smith set to retire after 2016.
71. New York Giants – CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana
If the Giants should lose Prince Amukamara in free agency, they could use a physical corner like Miller to replace him.
72. Chicago Bears – CB Jalen Mills, LSU
After playing a lot safety at LSU, the Bears will groom Mills as their slot corner.
73. Miami Dolphins – OG Vadal Alexander, LSU
The Dolphins seemingly whiff on a guard in the middle rounds every year. They hope Alexander reverses that trend.
74. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – SS Jeremy Cash, Duke
Cash should draw easy comparisons to William Moore, giving Mike Smith a much-needed defensive enforcer.
75. Oakland Raiders – RB Paul Perkins, UCLA*
Perkins adds much-needed abilities to an uninspiring 28th-ranked Raiders rushing attack.
76. Los Angeles Rams – CB Tavon Young, Temple
The Rams are likely going to be replacing one of their starters, with Janoris Jenkins the likeliest bet.
77. Philadelphia Eagles (from Detroit) – OG Spencer Drango, Baylor
The Eagles’ guard play was atrocious throughout 2015 and they hope Drango will correct that flaw.
78. New Orleans Saints – TE Nick Vannett, Ohio State
The Saints will hope Vannett can bring back whatever was missed following Jimmy Graham’s departure.
79. Philadelphia Eagles – FS Jayron Kearse, Clemson*
The Eagles will need safety help if they lose Walter Thurmond to free agency.
80. Buffalo Bills – OLB Kamalei Correa, Boise State*
Correa gives the Bills a high-motor edge-rusher to help replace Mario Williams.
81. Atlanta Falcons – WR De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State*
Wilson is raw, but his background as a basketball player could make him a valuable asset in the red zone.
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Mississippi State WR De’Runnya Wilson
82. Indianapolis Colts – RB Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Frank Gore was far from successful in 2015 and getting younger here will be a priority.
83. New York Jets – OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford
They need immediate help at right tackle and eventual help at left tackle. Murphy could provide both.
84. Washington Redskins – WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State*
Higgins has the ability to stretch the field, giving them a nice replacement for DeSean Jackson come 2017.
85. Houston Texans – K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
The Texans were able to plug and play with Nick Novak last year, but Aguayo should solidify this spot for a decade.
86. Minnesota Vikings – OLB Deion Jones, LSU
Jones gives them an athletic, randy replacement for Gerald Hodges on the outside.
87. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
Jenkins will be utilized primarily as a situational pass-rusher for the Bengals.
88. Green Bay Packers – OLB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
The Packers will hope to develop Fackrell to eventually replace Julius Peppers outside in 2017.
89. Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Will Redmond, Mississippi State
Redmond’s injury might force him to have a redshirt year, but the Steelers need all the corner help they can get.
90. Seattle Seahawks – RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame*
Prosise could make an excellent No. 2 back to Thomas Rawls next season.
91. Kansas City Chiefs – OG Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
Tretola helps add some size and toughness on the Chiefs interior line.
92. New England Patriots – OG Christian Westerman, Arizona State
Westerman has the toughness that the Patriots like and should help upgrade a porous offensive line.
93. Arizona Cardinals – DE Matt Ioannidis, Temple
He’s been kicking butt at the Senior Bowl and should be an upgrade over Frostee Rucker.
94. Denver Broncos – TE Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
Higbee isn’t on Julius Thomas’ level, but he’s certainly closer than any of their current options.
95. Carolina Panthers – CB Eric Murray, Minnesota
The Panthers have had a revolving door opposite Josh Norman. Adding Murray could close it shut.
96. Detroit Lions (compensatory) – ILB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
Brothers could slide in to replace an aging Stephen Tulloch at middle linebacker.
97. New England Patriots (compensatory) – CB Cyrus Jones, Alabama
Jones gives the Patriots a return threat as well as potential slot corner to supplant Patrick Chung.
98. Seattle Seahawks (compensatory) – DT Hassan Ridgeway, Texas*
Ridgeway offers the potential to be a disruptive replacement for Brandon Mebane at nose tackle.
99. Denver Broncos (compensatory) – OG Rees Odhiambo, Boise State
The Broncos hit on one Boise State blocker (Ryan Clady) years ago. Why not another?
100. Cleveland Browns – CB Xavien Howard, Baylor*
They could dump Justin Gilbert and with Joe Haden’s inability to stay healthy, cornerback becomes a need.
101. Tennessee Titans – FS Sean Davis, Maryland
How the Titans managed to eke out the better part of a decade with Michael Griffin at free safety is beyond me.
102. Dallas Cowboys – QB Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Jerry Jones won’t get Manziel, but he’ll get this tough quarterback from his alma mater instead to back up Romo.
103. San Diego Chargers – S Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
The oversized Killebrew could play some safety and inside linebacker for the Chargers.
104. Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Caleb Benenoch, UCLA*
The athletic Benenoch will be stashed away as an insurance policy in case Luke Joeckel regresses.
105. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland*
He’ll be eventually developed as a replacement for Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
106. San Francisco 49ers – CB Deiondre’ Hall, Northern Iowa
His length is what Chip Kelly prefers on defense.
107. Chicago Bears – DE Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
Off-field transgressions could prompt this second-round talent to fall.
108. Miami Dolphins – ILB Jared Norris, Utah
Kelvin Sheppard just doesn’t cut it as a starting middle linebacker.
109. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma*
His lack of size and ball skills could be reminiscent of Brent Grimes.
110. New York Giants – ILB Beniquez Brown, Mississippi State*
Jasper Brinkley proved a serviceable stopgap in the middle, but they need a long-term solution.
111. Los Angeles Rams – DE Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
Day’s short stature won’t scare off the Rams, who’ve found success with Aaron Donald.
112. Detroit Lions – SS Tyvis Powell, Ohio State
The Lions need to look to groom a younger replacement for starter James Ihedigbo.
113. New Orleans Saints – OG Landon Turner, North Carolina
Turner is a physical mauler that gives them a good heir apparent to Jahri Evans.
114. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia*
The Eagles will need to be looking to add other options in case Byron Maxwell doesn’t improve in 2016.
115. Oakland Raiders – DE Carl Nassib, Penn State
The Raiders need more bodies up front and a productive player like Nassib is hard to come by.
116. Atlanta Falcons – OC Austin Blythe, Iowa
Looking to solidify their interior, Blythe is a perfect in the team’s zone-blocking scheme.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa OC Austin Blythe
117. Indianapolis Colts – OLB Victor Ochi, Stony Brook
The Colts like the small school product in hopes he adds youth and ability as a pass-rusher.
118. Buffalo Bills – SS Deon Bush, Miami (FL)
Bush’s hard-hitting presence will be an asset to Rex Ryan’s remade defense.
119. New York Jets – DT D.J. Reader, Clemson
The 340-pounder is a good bet to replace Damon Harrison inside at nose tackle.
120. Houston Texans – WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
They hope Mitchell can develop into a reliable complement to De’Andre Hopkins.
121. Washington Redskins – OC Evan Boehm, Missouri
Boehm should be a nice upgrade over Kory Lichtensteiger in the middle.
122. Minnesota Vikings – OG Joe Haeg, North Dakota State
Haeg could be plugged inside or outside as the Vikings continue to improve their line.
123. Cincinnati Bengals – WR Kenny Lawler, California*
The capable possession receiver could replace Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu, should they lose either in free agency.
124. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Jordan Howard, Indiana*
Injuries to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams exposed a bit of lacking depth.
125. Seattle Seahawks – OLB James Cowser, Southern Utah
Should the Seahawks lose starter Bruce Irvin, Cowser is a good candidate to replace him.
126. Green Bay Packers – TE David Morgan, Texas-San Antonio
Morgan is an oversized wide receiver that should add some dynamism to the position.
127. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Chris Jones, Mississippi State
The physical Jones could replace Mike DeVito or Jaye Howard, who are both free agents.
128. New England Patriots – ILB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma*
He might be undersized, but his speed and range will be a welcome addition in New England.
129. Arizona Cardinals – ILB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
The Cardinals could use him in a similar capacity as Deone Bucannon inside.
130. Baltimore Ravens (from Denver) – RB Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Williams gives them another developmental option in the backfield.
131. Carolina Panthers – WR Roger Lewis, Bowling Green*
He’s got off-field issues, but adds a big play element on offense.
132. Green Bay Packers (compensatory) – ILB Blake Martinez, Stanford
He’ll be thrown into the mix with Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan for a starting spot inside.
133. San Francisco 49ers (compensatory) – OC Jack Allen, Michigan State
Allen offers a significant upgrade over Marcus Martin at center.
134. Baltimore Ravens (compensatory) – OG Denver Kirkland, Arkansas*
The impending loss of Kelechi Osemele or his move to left tackle opens up a void at left guard.
135. Baltimore Ravens (compensatory) – WR Jalin Marshall, Ohio State*
Marshall’s speed and special-teams prowess is a replacement for Jacoby Jones.
136. Denver Broncos (compensatory) – RB Kenyan Drake, Alabama
Drake should be a nice change-of-pace back to C.J. Anderson.
137. Dallas Cowboys (compensatory) – FB Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
Gronk’s little brother would be a nice upgrade over Tyler Clutts.
138. Green Bay Packers (compensatory) – DE Maliek Collins, Nebraska*
The athletic junior defensive tackle will help strength their rotation up front.
139. Cleveland Browns (compensatory) – OLB Jason Fanaika, Utah
Since Barkevious Mingo hasn’t quite developed as a pass-rusher, they’ll look to add another guy to the mix.
A Further Look at the Falcons Picks
The first thing you might’ve noticed with those first three Falcons picks is that they are all underclassmen. Also only one (Neal) was dubbed a captain by his teammates. Seniors and captains were a hallmark of the drafts under former Falcons head coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff. While I did not purposefully attempt to avoid drafting seniors and captains for the Falcons when I was working on this mock, afterwards I did note the coincidence. But despite being a happy accident, I do think it might illustrate the changes that are occurring under head coach Dan Quinn as he continues to flex his muscle and influence on the front office moving forward.
First Round Pick: DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson*
Now the second thing you might’ve noticed is that there is no linebacker selected, when everybody and their momma seems to think that middle linebacker is one of the team’s top priorities heading into the offseason. As I noted above, I’m projecting the Falcons to go out and sign Denver Broncos middle linebacker Danny Trevathan in free agency.
A big reason for that is what I explained in Monday’s takeaways column, which was that I think the Falcons have their heart set on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack for the job at middle linebacker. But with the likelihood of Jack being off the board long before the Falcons are on the clock, the team would be smart to look at some veteran options like Trevathan when March rolls around. Even if it’s not Trevathan and other free-agent options like Jerrell Freeman (Indianapolis Colts) or Tahir Whitehead (Detroit Lions), this draft may not have as “clean” a fit for the Falcons at middle linebacker in Round One as many might hope.
Jaylon Smith is likely to miss at least half of 2016, Reggie Ragland is arguably more of a strong-side linebacker in Quinn’s scheme and Darron Lee may also be a better option on the weak side.
The Falcons need to upgrade their pass rush and adding a player like Lawson makes a ton of sense. Vic Beasley has found a home at left defensive end in the team’s nickel sub-package, and Lawson spent the majority playing on the right side at Clemson. Lawson was in fact Beasley’s backup the past two years in that role. Given Beasley and Grady Jarrett’s potential, I don’t think adding a third ex-Tigers pass-rusher should be considered a problem.
Lawson has added size and offers at least the potential to be utilized as an interior pass-rusher, although he lacks the experience and polish right now to think he’s an exact match for Michael Bennett’s role in Atlanta. But that can develop down the road. For the time being, he’ll give the Falcons a good LEO in their base package and rotate with Adrian Clayborn on the edge in the sub-packages. That would likely prompt Clayborn to get some looks inside, which we know he can play when the team isn’t utilizing Jarrett or Jonathan Babineaux there.
Second Round Pick: SS Keanu Neal, Florida*
In the second round, the Falcons tap a future starter at strong safety in Neal. Quinn helped recruit Neal to Florida, although Quinn departed back for the NFL before Neal enrolled in 2013. But Neal is a physical hitter that has the size you’re looking for in a “box” safety. He is more than willing to throw his weight around and if you check out his performance against Alabama, he was one of the few college defenders I saw all year unafraid to go heads up with running back Derrick Henry.
Neal’s flying around the ball kept popping when I was watching film of other Florida defenders over at Draft Breakdown. And upon realizing that he had declared for this year’s draft, it made him a no-brainer in my eyes to be a target for the Falcons in the second round. I’m not sure this pick needs much more explanation.
The only issue is that Neal’s name as of today hasn’t quite received a ton of buzz. But I believe in the coming weeks and months things will start to change, and you’ll hear his name mentioned among the top safeties in this class.
Third Round Pick: WR De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State*
In the third round, I projected the Falcons to take a wide receiver. While I think the Falcons will likely sign a free-agent wide out this spring, I’m not completely convinced it will be enough. The Falcons are likely to cut ties with veteran Roddy White, with Devin Hester, Eric Weems and Nick Williams also probably not long for the roster. Even if the latter three don’t get released at the outset of the offseason, none can be counted on to be on the Falcons roster in 2017. The Falcons are going to have to revamp their entire wide receiver corps by then, with Julio Jones and Justin Hardy being the only current Falcons that are likely to still be around.
Because of that, coupled with the fact that the Falcons have essentially been allergic to drafting wide receivers over the past seven years, there’s no time like the present to start collecting the necessary bodies. While the Falcons could choose to sign multiple veteran wide receivers in free agency, more than likely they will lean heavily on the draft to bolster this position.
Wilson is an interesting prospect because he’s got raw ability, but is not a very polished receiver. His route-running and hands need quite a bit of work, but given his size (listed at 6’5″ 215 pounds), he’s a worthwhile project. With Hardy likely manning the inside slot position and any veteran addition playing on the outside, the Falcons can develop Wilson as the fourth or fifth option on the depth chart. Eventually, Wilson can slide into the starting lineup on the outside.
Kyle Shanahan, like his father, tends to target big, physical specimens to play outside in his version of the West Coast Offense. Wilson certainly fits that bill.
His size and background as a former high school basketball star also offer potential in the red zone, where the Falcons struggled throughout 2015. Wilson has drawn some comparisons between him and Kelvin Benjamin. Based off comparable size, it’s a fair one, but it shouldn’t put any expectations that Wilson is likely to come in right away and produce like Benjamin did as a rookie in Carolina in 2014. Wilson may take a couple of years to develop, but he gives the team a “high-upside” receiver, which is something this team has= avoided drafting for the better part of a decade outside the obvious exception of Jones.
As we saw in last year’s draft with selections like Beasley, Jalen Collins and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons aren’t afraid to draft players that are a bit raw, but also have the upside and potential to be some of the better players at their respective positions should they develop. Wilson has that potential, able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he’ll face with Jones drawing coverages on the opposite side of the field.
Fourth Round Pick: OC Austin Blythe, Iowa
In the fourth round, I had the Falcons address their interior offensive line by taking Iowa’s Blythe. Blythe is probably the best fit as the type of zone-blocking center that Shanahan’s scheme prefers. He’s not very big, but is good at leaking out to the second level and locating those linebackers, able to spring runners for good gains. That’s exactly what the Falcons are looking for at the position.
My expectation is that the Falcons might decide to stick with Chris Chester as a free agent, and try to kick Mike Person out to one of the guard spots to compete with Chester or Andy Levitre. At this point, it’s probably Levitre that might be facing the most heat from Person. Person wasn’t terrible during the early part of the season, but it became abundantly clear by year’s end that he was not cut out to be a center.
The Falcons may very well target someone like Alex Mack or Stefen Wisniewski in free agency to immediately plug into the starting lineup. But they simply won’t be able to snap their fingers and sign either player. Mack is likely to command a high price tag and Wisniewski could easily decide to re-sign with the Jaguars instead of testing the market. Should the Falcons be unable to snag either one, there is no obvious third option. Houston’s Ben Jones is versed in the zone-blocking scheme and has been an adequate starter over the years, but he’s not quite as good making those second-level blocks as Shanahan and others might prefer. So with that in mind, I could easily see the Falcons looking towards the draft to secure their long-term center.
This might be considered a bit of a reach for Blythe as the third center drafted, but he’s a good player. And without the Falcons having fifth and sixth-round picks to stockpile more talent, they would feel compelled to grab their center of the future sooner rather than hoping that Blythe sticks around to the seventh round.
Now obviously, as I explained on Monday, there is a high probability that the Falcons trade back at some point in the first two days of the draft to try and secure more picks in the middle rounds to make up for that void. But this is a mock draft without trades. I’m sure I’ll probably work on a mock in a month or two that includes trades once free agency gets going, but that’s a ways off.
This is a mock draft that is at best a shot in the dark but I think should certain chips fall a certain way in free agency, it’s not that unrealistic that the first few picks of the Falcons’ 2016 draft class look a lot like the one I’ve outlined above.
NFL Draft and college football-related topics can be posted here. Includes past draft scouting reports as well.
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