Is it a little early to be doing a mock draft? Undoubtedly. We don’t even know the draft order yet; it’s just speculation. Speculation that’s sure to be ruined by a wild second half run like the Lions had last year. And yet, as a Bears fan, looking towards “next year” is the only enjoyment my team can provide anymore. So for all those football fans who have one or both eyes turned towards the upcoming draft, here’s some kids you can get excited about.
This isn’t a list of who I think are the best prospects, it’s a list of what I think each team will do on draft day. And NFL teams occasionally act irrationally, especially when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. As we saw around this time last year, Jared Goff was a good – but not top five – prospect, while Carson Wentz was just jumping on people’s radar. They ended up being selected first and second, respectively, because teams always overvalue QBs.
So let us examine how the first round of next year’s draft could play out. (And also take time to acknowledge how good Alabama’s team is this year, because there’s a lot of Roll Tide on this list.)
No rebuild can truly begin without a quarterback, and the new Browns regime has yet to find its guy. (Cody Kessler has shown flashes, but the team hasn’t had the luxury of taking a long look at him.) With no guarantees they’ll be at the top of the draft next year, Cleveland should capitalize on its chance to take the pick of the QB litter.
If Sashi Brown and co. truly love all the quarterback options at the top of the draft, they could roll the dice and wait around for their Eagles pick to come up. But with a middling team like Arizona also poised to be looking for a signal caller too, I think the Browns will follow in the vein of previous drafts and reach slightly at number one.
Trubisky has less experience than his contemporaries, just becoming the Tar Heels’ starter this season. Yet he looks to have all those intangibles that will make scouts fall in love with him at the combine, as they put less emphasis on his college career and more on his potential.
A restructured deal with Colin Kaepernick means the beleaguered quarterback has a player-option to return next year at little cost to the organization, but why either party would want that is beyond me. It’s time for the Niners to move forward, and in Watson, they’d get a quarterback who can make plays for a stagnant offense and not just with his legs.
While his accuracy has declined slightly this year, last year’s Heisman runner-up still has a knack for making big throws, particularly late in games. Bringing a winning attitude to San Fran would be a welcome change for a team that barely has any holdovers from its 2012 Super Bowl run.
The Bears put themselves in an awfully desperate spot, after GM Ryan Pace opted to pass on taking a QB – even a late-round project – in his past two drafts. Chicago’s abysmal secondary could absolutely use a playmaker like Jabrill Peppers, but barring a big offseason trade for a Jimmy Garoppolo type, the Bears will have to smile and take whomever the teams above them don’t want. For me, it looks like it’ll be Notre Dame’s Kizer making the short trip to the Windy City.
The Jags’ overhauled defense is slowly improving as the season wears on, but they still lack a strong push up front. Malik Jackson is drawing double teams, but the rest of the line isn’t taking advantage. Allen, the wrecking ball from Bama, looks even better than his former teammates A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, and should give the Jags a ruthless interior presence.
Much like the 2015 draft with Leonard Williams, the Jets may see one of the best defensive prospects fall into their laps thanks to other teams opting to address areas of need. Besides, with Sheldon Richardson likely on the trade block and Muhammad Wilkerson having a down year, the Jets’ defensive line isn’t looking as flush with talent as it once did. Garrett is the best edge-rusher in a very deep class and has been taking it to opponents for three years, with 31 sacks in his collegiate career.
It’s hard to argue with Peppers as a pick for any team; his versatility allows him to fill so many holes. The Michigan every-man could play straight safety to aid a Bengal pass D that has regressed without Reggie Nelson, or play the hybrid linebacker role like Deone Bucannon. He’d also bring a burst to a Cincy return game that hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2012!
The Titans are another young team trying to make strides on defense, but it’s difficult when every opponent they play continues to pick on Perrish Cox on the outside. Tennessee needs an upgrade at corner and the gambling Tabor can make plays on the ball better than most in this draft.
Unsurprisingly, the Panthers strategy of starting a bunch of rookies at cornerback started out as a disaster. While Carolina’s secondary finally looks to be getting the hang of things in the pros, they could still use some more talent at the back end. When Tre Boston isn’t blitzing, he’s not doing much for this defense. Adams can cover all over the back end and drop into the box and snuff out runs.
Help along the line is the next step in the Bolts’ defensive renaissance, and McDowell’s ability to contribute anywhere along the line will be valuable as Joey Bosa continues to move between end and a stand-up rusher.
The Saints have managed to improve from historically awful to just bad on defense, but there’s still a long ways to go. A lot of their “free agent fixes” like Paul Kruger and Darryl Tapp aren’t under contract for next year, and the team desperately needs some young pass rushing talent. Barnett has been nipping at Garrett’s heels this year in the conversation for best edge rusher, and his ability to also play the run will make him a welcome addition to Nawlins.
Even if Nick Perry and Julius Peppers weren’t free agents this year, pass rush would be a big need for Green Bay. That added nugget all but guarantees they’ll grab a quarterback-rattling rusher for their D in the first round and Williams fits that description.
Another team that needs to look at a starting quarterback of the future, Arizona won’t be able to pass up the best tackle in this draft to aid its miserable offensive line.
Marcus Mariota is showing this year that he has what it takes to be a great passer in this league for years to come. But all the best quarterbacks have a great receiver, and Tennessee doesn’t appear to have one; the best you can say about the receiving corps is that is has a few solid options. Williams is an excellent outside receiver, making plays downfield as well as great adjustments to back shoulder throws. He could be Mariota’s favorite target for a decade.
Remember how many Bills are on injured reserve before you go suggesting this roster has a ton of holes to fill. The truth is, if Fournette is still available to Buffalo, they’re going to leap all over him. This team loves to run the ball, and as good as Shady has been, he’s beginning to break down. Having let go of their 1B in Karlos Williams before the year, the Bills need a new workhorse back of the future, and a smash to counter McCoy’s dash.
The Colts need to keep Andrew Luck out of harms way, and while continuing to upgrade along the line would help that, so would giving him a reason to not drop back and throw 50 times a game. Frank Gore is 1,000 years old and the Colts need some young blood in the backfield. Enter Cook, the versatile Seminoles back who has amassed over 5,000 yards from scrimmage in less than three college seasons.
Will next year finally be the season the Steelers stop looking at the remains of James Harrison as the key to their pass rush? Even with young talent like Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo, the Steelers obviously need more help. Harris has an arsenal of pass rushing moves, including a spin that will draw comparisons to Dwight Freeney.
Let’s give both quarterbacks from the 2015 class an upgrade at receiver, shall we? Vincent Jackson’s Bucs career is all but done, and a true number two to Mike Evans is needed going forward. The speedy Ross will provide a nice complementary option for Jameis Winston, who is targeting Evans on nearly a third of all dropbacks this year.
Having virtually every position listed as a need, this won’t be an easy draft on Cleveland’s scouts. They’ll have to decide who they like more here, a rusher like Carl Lawson, or a sure-tackling corner like King. He’s been a playmaker for three years at Iowa, but mostly does his damage in zone coverage.
A young, healthy backer who can get runners to the ground is the logical next addition to a Dolphins D that is performing well despite a linebacking corps made up of castoffs. Cunningham has been a force in his three years, actually helping Vanderbilt become a respectable defense. He can fight through blocks, and while he doesn’t make a ton of plays on the ball, he does have the range to cover sideline to sideline.
It’s time to take two on a Trojan wide receiver, as so far, Nelson Agholor has been a bum at the pro level. Smith-Schuster has a big-play ability that this Eagle offense lacks. Philly fans won’t like to hear that drops were an issue in 2015, but most of those were a result of playing with a fractured hand. He’s been a more reliable option this year.
So much is still unknown about Breshad Perriman, and whether he can carry the load of a true number one. Though Steve Smith is immortal, he’s probably not coming back next year, meaning it’s time for Baltimore to invest more capital into its receiving corps. He may not play for the most recognizable program, but Davis is perhaps the sharpest route runner in the draft.
The Falcons need to get more from their defensive line. Jonathan Babineaux is likely on his way out, meaning Atlanta will have a need for a 3-technique DT for the first time in a while. Vanderdoes has been battling back from a knee injury this season, but the powerful run-stuffing tackle has made strides as a pass rusher and has plenty of upside to offer.
With DeAndre Levy out, the Lions are down to just one capable linebacker in Tahir Whitehead. Their defense could use a talented youth-infusion in a few areas, but the sure-tackling backer from Bama will be hard to resist.
With last year’s first-round pick Su’a Cravens occupying a linebacker role in the Washington D, the team could still use playmakers at the back end. Hooker has shown excellent ball-hawking skills, with five interceptions on the year, including two that have gone back to the house.
Houston’s back end could use some support of its own, and the home state hero Evans would fit right in with the Texans’ culture. Not only is he great in coverage and has great on-ball skills, but he once popped his own leg back into place during a game, a gritty move J.J. Watt would surely approve of.
Eli’s quick release helps hide how over-matched the Giants’ offensive line has been this season, but it shows in the unproductivity of the run game. A transfer to Wisconsin from Division-III, Ramczyk has quickly adjusted to Big Ten football, and the powerful tackle should be able to handle the NFL learning curve quickly too.
Chiefs fans spent most of the year waiting for Justin Houston to return so they could have a real pass rush, which can’t happen again. The wheels are falling off Tamba Hali, and K.C. needs some fresh legs in the form of Lawson. He projects better as a 4-3 rusher, but his talent on the edge can’t be ignored.
The absence of Malik Jackson has been felt against the run, and the 6’5″ tackle from Notre Dame could help plug some of the holes that have been left.
Anyone who watched this team for the first eight weeks knows offensive line might be the only position Seattle drafts this year. Though it isn’t the strongest class for O-line, McGlinchey is touted for his upside and ability to block for the run, something Seattle used to love to do.
This rebuilt defense still looks weak in the middle, and with decisions to come this offseason about Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley, now might be a good time to add some more depth with the great run stuffing Buckeye.
Pass rushers: New England’s aren’t performing, which means Bill Belichick won’t be tempted to bring back the Jabaal Sheards and Chris Longs of the world looking for new deals. The junior pass rush specialist is in the midst of a breakout year with ten sacks and three forced fumbles.
In this pass-heavy league, the teams without a solid rush up front stand out like a sore thumb. Even though probably half of these teams have taken a pass rusher, there’s still enough depth in this draft for the teams picking late to get talent. Anderson makes plays in all facets of the game, with 14.5 tackles for a loss, but he could thrive for the Cowboys D on third downs.
Feature Photo Credit: MGoBlog (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/]
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