Since free agency is right around the corner and there has now been time to digest the outcome of the combine, it’s the perfect time for the first mock draft of the year. Obviously this mock draft will be different from future mock drafts, since FA hasn’t happened yet, and needs will change, but it still gives an idea of where teams could go. As with all other mock drafts, this one is not an attempt to predict the actual order of picks come draft day, and trades will not be predicted. (Mainly because I, and many other people, have no clue what kind of value draft picks hold in a trade, and NFL teams can get crazy sometimes, so there’s no use in predicting them) With that in mind this will, as always, be about what each time should do if the draft were to take place today.
#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston is widely regarded as the most talented player in this draft, and he is at the very least very close, and with the tiebreaker of him playing the quarterback position, he’s an easy choice for #1 overall prospect. That, mixed with the fact that the Bucs need a QB who is better than Mike Glennon desperately, makes Winston essentially a no brainer at 1st overall. The Bucs could always trade out of this pick however, and we could see a team, like Philadelphia, enamored with Marcus Mariota jump up, or a non-QB needy team jump up and take someone else here. However, if the Bucs stay put, I have a hard time seeing them going in any other direction with this pick.
#2 Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC
The Titans need help on almost every position on defense, and have enough young pieces on offense that they need to give a chance to develop before replacing, so they can afford to go best player available on defense here. In this case, that’s USC D-Lineman Leonard Williams. Williams is a force in the passing game and isn’t too shabby against the run. He isn’t the right size to play 3-4 NT so he would be a bookend defensive end with Jurrell Casey, and honestly when you have two DEs of that talent level, a halfway decent NT is all you need to have a formidable defensive line. Williams would immediately solidify the front seven and give the Titans a much better defense.
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida
The most well-rounded of the edge rushers in this draft, Fowler’s top skill is definitely rushing the passer, but he’s solid enough in the run game to add value there as well. With DE Tyson Alualu, DT Sen’Derrick Marks, and DT Roy Miller, the Jags are a LEO (quick, pass rusher specific to Pete Carroll’s/Gus Bradley’s defenses) end away from having an insanely good and young defensive line. Fowler can step into that role and be a force immediately, creating a defensive line that is a great foundation for the rest of the young Jags defense to build off of.
#4 Oakland Raiders: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The Raiders have a lot of needs, but when you have a young QB like Derek Carr you need to give him more than James Jones, Andre Holmes, and a bunch of warm bodies to throw to. White is the most talented receiver in this class that actually played football last year and could instantly become an outside threat opposite Jones and add some depth to the Raiders offense. The Raiders have quite a few holes on defense as well and would love if Williams fell to them, but White is quite the consolation prize.
#5 Washington Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson
The Redskins are probably in a prime place to trade down, with holes all over the roster and a draft slot in front of one of the most QB needy teams in the draft, they are a very enticing team to trade with if you’re a team targeting Marcus Mariota. However, if they stay put, the position they are in the best position to address is pass rusher. With Brian Orakpo set to become a free agent and Ryan Kerrigan entering the last year of his deal, Washington could use another 3-4 OLB. Beasley fits that role, and after impressively bulking up for the combine without sacrificing speed, could fit very well opposite of Kerrigan.
#6 New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Without trades, the Jets are the first truly QB needy team to pick after the Bucs. Geno Smith is clearly not the answer in New York, and the other QBs on the roster are not any better. The Jets have other needs so they could trade down in an effort to cover more needs if they don’t like Mariota. However, in a draft where Mariota and Winston are the only very high upside QBs, I believe you have to take Mariota here and have confidence that the team you have in place is talented enough. If their young players continue to develop, the only really big holes on the roster are at CB and OG, so taking Mariota makes sense.
#7 Chicago Bears: Jordan Phillips, NT/DT, Oklahoma
Chicago is switching to a 3-4 defense this year under Vic Fangio, so they need to pick up some 3-4 personnel. This draft represents a good chance to pick up pass rushers, but they already have potential solutions there in Jared Allen and Shea McClellin (who finally gets to play his natural position of 3-4 OLB), and not a lot of options at NT. Top tier nose tackles are much harder to come across then pass rushers, so they also need to jump on the opportunity when they get it, so they go with Phillips here. Phillips along with the defensive linemen (Jay Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, etc.) that they have picked up recently would solidify a good 3-4 line and ease the transition for what was a horrid defense last year.
#8 Atlanta Falcons: Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
Last year the Falcons attempted to address their pass blocking woes by taking Jake Matthews in the first, and now they need to give him time to develop. So instead Atlanta will try to address their pass rushing woes in the first, and they go with Missouri edge rusher Shane Ray. Ray would fit much better as a DE than an OLB at the outset, so he fits the Falcons well, as he can play as a DE in Dan Quinn’s defense, which will likely be similar to the defense he ran in Seattle last year.
#9 New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT/OG, Iowa
The Giants are likely to move Weston Richburg to his natural position of center this year, which would likely leave them with a hole at guard. Alternatively they could move Justin Pugh to left guard, which would leave them with at hole at right tackle. In either case, taking Scherff could help because he can take over for Pugh at RT or he can slide inside to guard himself, and solidify what has been an improving but still below average line lately.
#10 St. Louis Rams: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The Rams need a quarterback more than anything, due to not being able to rely on Sam Bradford being healthy, but at this point, they have to hope that Brett Hundley is available in the latter rounds when they feel comfortable taking him, because 10th is way too early to take a non-Winston/Mariota quarterback. Instead the Rams attempt to finally get the number one receiver they’ve been desperately searching for in recent years. They have plenty of wide receiver depth now, but Cooper can give them the true number one they’ve been missing.
#11 Minnesota Vikings: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Peters would far and away be considered the best corner in this draft if he wasn’t dismissed from the Washington team this year. However, based on reports from the Washington coaches, it seems like that dismissal is not a big deal, so Peters does not necessarily represent a huge risk. The Vikings could really use a lineman who can play guard but could play tackle if Matt Kalil continues his downward slide into terribleness. However, Scherff is already off the board and this might be a little early to take La’el Collins. So instead they take their defense from good to elite by finding a corner to play across from Xavier Rhodes and one who pushes Captain Munnerlyn into the slot corner role he can excel in.
#12 Cleveland Browns: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
The Browns have a potential need at quarterback, a lot of draft picks, and a GM who admittedly loves Marcus Mariota, and are thus a prime candidate to trade up. However, in the case that they don’t, they have 3 somewhat important needs they could address: wide receiver, interior defensive line, and inside linebacker. They go wide receiver here, and continue the run on outside players by taking DeVante Parker. Parker excelled at Louisville, and could even be snatched up by Minnesota a pick before due to his relationship with Teddy Bridgewater. However in this case, Parker can give the Browns the receiver they were hoping Josh Gordon would be.
#13 New Orleans Saints: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Saints need help all over their defense as they dropped from a top tier unit to, at best, mediocre under Rob Ryan last year. Trae Waynes is the second best (healthy) corner in this draft class, and would bring some talent to a New Orleans secondary that could really use it. They could also use a few different positions in the front seven, but with the names available here, Waynes is the best bet.
#14 Miami Dolphins: Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
With the recent cut of Cortland Finnegan, the Dolphins could really use a talented corner opposite Brent Grimes to make their pass defense even better. Collins would likely excel as a number one corner, and getting to play as a number two opposite Grimes would likely give him great room to shine. A corner tandem like Grimes and Collins combined with the scary Cameron Wake-led pass rush the Dolphins already have would be an intimidating pass defense to face.
#15 San Francisco 49ers: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
Green-Beckham is my top receiver prospect and one of my top 5 prospects, but off the field troubles that have led him to not playing at all for the past year have caused his stock to drop. He’s a big, freakish receiver who has the raw talents to succeed and is probably this year’s biggest boom or bust prospect. The Niners desperately need a number one target, and DGB could finally be that target. Jim Tomsula seems like a coach who doesn’t take any nonsense either, so he could help make sure that DGB stays in line.
#16 Houston Texans: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (FL)
The Texans are solid at almost every position, but like a couple teams before them, need a QB and don’t pick high enough to get an elite QB prospect. So with RT Derek Newton likely departing, the Texans go with Flowers to replace him. Flowers can play opposite Duane Brown and allow the Texans to have a talented tackle tandem to protect whatever QB they have back there, which could help Ryan Mallett in his development greatly, and perhaps the Texans will be able to have a reliable quarterback after all.
#17 San Diego Chargers: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
D.J. Fluker has been a good lineman and an asset in the run game since the Chargers drafted him two years ago. However, it’s time to move him inside to guard. The Chargers have a hole there and Fluker fits better as a guard than a tackle at this point. Peat would give them the luxury to move Fluker inside while still retaining talent at the right tackle position. Peat also could eventually develop into a talented enough player to slide over to left tackle whenever King Dunlap’s run with the Chargers comes to an end.
#18 Kansas City Chiefs: La’el Collins, OT/OG, LSU
The Chiefs had a very solid line a few years back, but they have since let some of the key lineman from that group walk (Brandon Albert, Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz) and the play has suffered because of it. Eric Fisher is still young and could still be a solution for the Chiefs and Rodney Hudson is a solid center, but outside of that they need some help. Collins is versatile and can fit in at tackle or guard depending on where he’s needed and could be the next building block for bringing the Kansas City offensive line back to its former talent level.
#19 Cleveland Browns (from Buffalo): Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
The Browns already addressed their wide receiver need from earlier, which leaves them with two bigger needs: interior defensive line and inside linebacker. This still feels too early for them to try and nab an inside linebacker, so they go with defensive line instead and grab their next nose tackle in Danny Shelton. Shelton can come right into the middle of a 3-4 line and start plugging up holes. Shelton, along with the talent the Browns already have at defensive end, could help solidify the front seven of an already solid defense.
#20 Philadelphia Eagles: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
The Eagles need defensive backs, badly. They may address it in free agency, but it’s unlikely they sign two starting caliber cornerbacks, especially with how many needs they have and what happened the last time they splurged on corners. So instead, they take a cornerback in the draft and go with P.J. Williams out of Florida State. Williams probably isn’t going to be an elite talent, but he looks to be a solid starter at the next level, which is a huge upgrade over Bradley Fletcher and the rest of their alleged cornerbacks from this past year.
#21 Cincinnati Bengals: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
The Bengals are another team that is solid everywhere and don’t have a lot of holes. However, with Geno Atkins returning from injury, they could probably use a pass rusher just in case Atkins isn’t up to his former form. Odighizuwa is a great fit in a 4-3 and rushers the passer extremely well. He, combined with Atkins’ return, would vastly improve the Bengals defensive line and could help rejuvenate what used to be a top tier defense.
#22 Pittsburgh Steelers: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
The Steelers need some help defensively, especially now with Dick LeBeau gone. Last year they attempted to find a solution at LB with Ryan Shazier, so this year they attempt to solve the hole they’ve had on their defensive line since Casey Hampton retired. Goldman could potentially play nose tackle at the next level and fill that hole, but there is a chance he just doesn’t have the size or skillset to do it. In that case he could still slide over to 3-4 end, and would still be a huge boost to the Steelers defense with Brett Keisel getting up there in age.
#23 Detroit Lions: Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas
If you looked at the Lions roster right now and I told you the Lions needed a defensive tackle you’d probably think I was crazy. However, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, and Andre Fluellen are all free agents, and the likelihood that Detroit brings any more than two of those names back is very slim, and if they do bring two back, it is nearly a lock for those two not to be Suh and Fairley. So, no matter how it shakes out, the Lions could likely use a starting caliber defensive tackle, and that’s where Brown comes in. Brown isn’t going to start doing a Suh impression, but he can be a solid starter, which can be enough to take the pressure off of whoever the other defensive tackle is, and allow them to wreak the havoc that we’re used to.
#24 Arizona Cardinals: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
The Cardinals had a top tier defense last year, mostly due to the star players and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. However, Bowles had to get creative and use a lot of Cover 0 blitzes in order to get pressure, and with his creative mind off to the Jets, that likely is not a sustainable strategy anymore, so the Cardinals need pass rushers. I’m not as high as Gregory as most, and am not sure that he’s a first round talent, but he can get after the passer and the Cardinals need someone who can do that more than just once in a while.
#25 Carolina Panthers: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
The Panthers had a choice between addressing their depleted offensive line or their abysmal receiving corps in the first round next year and chose receiving corps. Well, their offensive line was as bad as advertised and likely would have kept them out of the playoffs if the NFC South actually played like an actual division of professional football teams last year. So this year, Carolina has to address their offensive line in a more meaningful way than one mid-round pick (although I am personally a huge fan of Trai Turner). Following his injury, Ogbuehi may no longer be a first round value to many teams, but to a team desperate for someone to keep people away from Cam Newton, Ogbuehi represents a heck of a solution.
#26 Baltimore Ravens: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Ravens have a few needs, but their biggest one (wide receiver) isn’t really a good one to target here. Instead, with Justin Forsett a free agent, they decide to try and get a new long term solution at running back. Gurley is the most talented runner in this draft class and is a top 5 talent, but his ACL injury has dropped his stock a bit. Assuming he can get back to form and the Ravens are ok with him potentially missing some time rehabbing, this is a perfect fit.
#27 Dallas Cowboys: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
The Cowboys defense stepped up a bit last year, with the addition of young players in the draft, and unsung heroes like Rolando McClain (never thought that phrase would ever be written), but they still were below average. They still need help at safety down in Dallas, and a player like Collins being available this late in the first is a surprise and a boon. I wouldn’t be surprised if come April 30th, someone sees Collins sliding and trades up and nabs him, but with a fixed draft order, I don’t see a lot of places where he could go before Dallas, despite his talent level.
#28 Denver Broncos: Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
The Broncos are strong at a lot of positions, but the one position they have struggled with the last few years consistently has been linebacker (with the exception of Von Miller of course). McKinney is a tackling machine and a solid all around linebacker and could post up next to Miller and really solidify the run defense in Denver. And maybe even help them stop people on third down more often.
#29 Indianapolis Colts: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
The Colts could still use help on defense despite attempting to address it through the draft and free agency the last couple of years. Robert Mathis and Bjeorn Werner are solid choices for the outside linebacker spots, and D’Qwell Jackson is a solid choice at one inside linebacker spot, but they could still use more front seven help. Thompson could become that fourth linebacker to really help out their defensive front, and his versatility could even have him sub in at safety or at other positions from time to time, and could really help out the defense as a whole. Also, when a talent like Thompson drops this far, you kind of have to take him and find a spot for him.
#30 Green Bay Packers: Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA
The Packers seem to be a very good team at every facet of offense and defense except for one glaring hole: run defense. After trotting out A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones in the middle for most of the season, Green Bay decided to cut both of them recently, and the state of their inside linebackers really can’t be called anything better than “sorry”. Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington can be solid pieces at inside linebacker, but the Packers need someone they can rely on to be a good inside linebacker. Someone who isn’t Clay Matthews playing out of position. That someone could be Eric Kendricks from UCLA. The brother of Mychal Kendricks, Eric is a very good ILB prospect and is one of three linebackers (with McKinney and Denzel Perryman) who you could argue are the best inside linebackers in the draft.
#31 Seattle Seahawks: Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
The Seahawks don’t have a whole lot of holes, as evidenced by the fact that they were one play away from winning the Super Bowl. However, despite their success, they continue to have a fairly mediocre receiving corps. All of the top talent is off of the board, but Agholor has enough talent to be a solid starter for most teams in the league, and is definitely good enough to be Seattle’s first 1,000 yard receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007.
#32 New England Patriots: Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State
Like the Seahawks, the Patriots don’t have a lot of holes. And like the Seahawks, wide receiver is one of them, and has always seemed to be one of them. However, I feel that there aren’t a lot of receivers left that fit the Pats well, and while Devin Funchess is tempting, I think they stay away from him. Instead they go for some versatile line help in Cameron Erving. Erving can play any spot of the line and seems to do so well, and between him and former Florida State teammate Bryan Stork, the Pats can feel safe in knowing they have center locked down for sure. Stork will likely stay at center, but Erving can plug in at guard next to him, or could ever be plugged in at tackle opposite Nate Solder. In the case of an injury, Erving could be slid around, so this pick gives the Pats something they love having: a well protected Tom Brady.