After long hours of debating and going back-and-forth on my predictions, I finally settled in on my first-round mock draft for 2016. And while my mock does NOT include any projected trades, as I still believe the San Francisco 49ers will try and trade up for DB Jalen Ramsey, I decided to leave that out for now, as this mock is simply based on where each team’s draft position currently stands today.
To be honest, this is my favorite part of covering the NFL simply because it challenges me to know not just the 49ers, but the other 31 NFL teams around the league. From teams using pre-draft visits and private workouts as simple smoke-screens to certain GMs drafting for need rather than BPA (best player available), to certain scouting departments favoring one school within a conference over another, I breakdown each selection using my own analytics while providing my in-depth analysis as to why the pick was made.
This is the first installment of a six part article as I breakdown picks 1 to 5.
Please keep in mind, that my mock is based on what I ‘predict’ each NFL team will actually do, rather than who I ‘believe’ they should select. So who will be on the board when the 49ers are on the clock? Check it out below. Enjoy.
1.) Los Angeles Rams via Tennessee Titans
Just like in the movie Draft Day, GM Les Snead found himself on the hot seat needing to make a ‘splash,’ as the team transitions back to their old stomping grounds in lovely So-Cal. They needed a nice ‘shining’ new quarterback for the future and all signs indicate that it will be either QB Jared Goff (Cal) or QB Carson Wentz (North Dakota St.)
Snead has done an exceptional great job since taking over GM duties back in 2012. He added a fountain of youth on both sides of the ball while building a tough, disciplined, and physical football team. Snead values players from big time conferences as four of six of his first-round picks came from the coveted SEC. The other two were drafted from the Big 12 and ACC – WR Tavon Austin and DT Aaron Donald respectively.
This is a big reason why I have Snead going with the safer pick and taking Goff slightly over Wentz. The smaller school prospect may have higher upside but Goff is more NFL ready.
Both Goff and Wentz have performed private workouts for the Rams and Snead does this to help formulate his big board. He did it with other first-round picks DE Michael Brockers, Austin, and T Greg Robinson while five of his six first-round picks have came in for pre-draft visits. The only one to not come in for a reported top 30 visit was last year’s first-round pick (No. 10) RB Todd Gurley.
Since the Rams hold the first overall pick, there are no smoke-screens needed as to which quarterback they will take, making me believe Goff is their man.
Selection: QB Jared Goff (Cal)
2.) Philadelphia Eagles via Cleveland Browns
The Eagles hit the panic button by trading up with the Cleveland Browns in a two-for-five deal. Just like the Rams before them, the Eagles gave up a king’s ransom in order to secure one of the top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft. “You have to be very comfortable with both of those quarterbacks and believe they have a shot to be great, Pro Bowl-caliber,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. “It’s hard to be great if you don’t take some risks.”
Current Eagles QB Sam Bradford said he was taken back by the blockbuster trade after signing a two-year contract extension worth $36 million ($22 million guaranteed) and has now requested a trade. A source told ESPN Adam Schefter that Bradford “is mad and wants to show everyone who’s best,” a source told Schefter last week.
Let’s get one thing straight. No matter how upset Bradford may be at the Eagles front office, the fact remains that the team will in fact take a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection.
All signs indicate that player is QB Carson Wentz. “These guys are pretty even. From all the physical tools, both of them are extremely gifted. Good arm strength, good mobility. Obviously, Carson is a little bigger, maybe a little better athlete right now. There’s not much separating those two,” Eagles HC Doug Pederson said.
In years past under then HC Andy Reid, the Eagles would hide their interest in a coveted player by excluding them from pre-draft visits while drafting for need rather than BPA. In addition, Reid would put more emphasis into combine numbers and the Senior Bowl more than game-film.
That philosophy changed under HC Chip Kelly, as each of his two first-round picks came in for pre-draft visits under Roseman while drafting the highest rated players on their board regardless of need.
The Eagles sit at No. 2 so there’s little guesswork with this selection. You don’t trade the farm unless you’re set on taking a franchise quarterback making Wentz the obvious choice.
Selection: QB Carson Wentz (North Dakota St.)
3.) San Diego Chargers
On the surface this seems like another no-brainer selection as the Chargers should select LT Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss) with the No. 3 overall pick. But I don’t see that happening for a number of reasons.
For one, the Chargers just inked RT Joe Barksdale to a long-term extension as the two sides agreed on a four-year deal worth $23.5 million ($10.5 million guaranteed) while LT King Dunlap is fully guaranteed $3.3 million for the upcoming season. You don’t shell out that type of guaranteed money for players to ride the pine (sit on the bench). Not to mention, the Chargers already have depth with backup swing tackle T Chris Hairston, you can see where adding Tunsil doesn’t make much sense.
But Chargers GM Tom Telesco has been here before.
In his first season as the team’s GM back in 2013, Telesco gambled on an SEC tackle in the first-round (No. 11) by the name of T D.J. Fluker. Let’s just say that experiment failed, as Fluker has been kicked inside to guard while Pro Football Focus singled him out as being one of the worst players on the NFL’s worst offensive line.
Telesco doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice and will go with the best player on their board outside of offensive tackle.
In addition, Telesco comes from the Bill Polian/GM Ryan Grigson tree, which means Telesco is risk-averse when it comes to gambling on players with troubled backgrounds.
For those who think that #Chargers will draft T Laremy Tunsil at No. 3 think again. Many indications make me think otherwise.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) April 26, 2016
Tunsil was suspended seven games in 2015 for receiving impermissible extra benefits which including the use of three separate loaner vehicles over a sixth-month period without payment, a four-month interest-free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment for purchasing a used vehicle, two nights of lodging at a local home, an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate, and one day use of a rental vehicle.
That’s all the more reason for me to believe the Chargers will take DB Jalen Ramsey instead. Chargers DBC Ron Milus worked out Ramsey at his pro day while Ramsey continued to check off all the team’s boxes. Versatility? Check. Instinctive? Check. Passion for the game? Check. Mental and physical toughness? Check. Work ethic? Check. Team player? Check. Production? Check. Explosive? Check. Measurables? Check. Played against elite competition? Check.
For one, #Chargers GM Tom Telesco has $23.5 million in guaranteed money tied up in his starting tackles.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) April 26, 2016
Aside from checking all the boxes, Telesco rarely holds pre-draft visits on his first-round targets. In fact, only one of his first-round picks have ever came in for a pre-draft visit and that was last year’s first-round pick (No. 15) RB Melvin Gordon whom the team traded up for with the San Francisco 49ers.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) April 26, 2016
Fast forward to this year and Ramsey was not scheduled for a top 30 pre-draft visit, which is yet another reason why I believe he is the Chargers target.
Selection: DB Jalen Ramsey (Florida)
4.) Dallas Cowboys
I keep hearing three names linked to the Cowboys; DE Joey Bosa, RB Ezekial Elliott, and Ramsey. Cowboys owner GM Jerry Jones loves to take defensive backs in the first-round as three of his last eight first-round picks have come from the secondary. Unfortunately, all of them have not panned out as CB Mike Jenkins (No. 25), CB Morris Claiborne (No. 5), and CB Byron Jones (No. 27) have all had their fair share of struggles although the verdict is still out on Jones, as he enters year two.
And while I do believe that Ramsey is their targeted player, the Cowboys will have to go with the next highest rated player on their board which happens to be a defensive player. The last time the Cowboys selected a defensive front seven player in the first-round was back in 2007 when they selected DE/OLB Anthony Spencer.
The Cowboys have plenty of glaring needs along the defensive line, making the selection of Bosa the obvious choice. Bosa is tailor-made for a 4-3 defense. A savvy football player with the violent hands to match coming off the edge, you can bet Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be happy with this pick when it’s all said and done.
To think the Cowboys can pass up on a talent like Bosa in favor of RB Ezekial Elliott is questionable, considering the team signed two-time Pro Bowl RB Alfred Morris. And with their top pass-rusher DE DeMarcus Lawrence being suspended for the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, the need for Bosa becomes more clear.
In a seldom scenario where best player available (BPA) meets need, the Cowboys satisfy both categories as Bosa goes to Dallas.
Selection: DE Joey Bosa (Ohio St.)
5.) Jacksonville Jaguars
I’m not buying into the rumors that LB Myles Jack is sliding down NFL team’s draft boards. The Jaguars need an outside linebacker to pair with OLB Telvin Smith and Jack is the best available player. He can run sideline-to-sideline, cover tight-ends and rush the passer.
Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell took over those duties back in 2013 and has taken some notes during his time with the Atlanta Falcons. When it comes to drafting first-round picks take kids from the SEC, Pac-12, or ACC. So far Caldwell has done that as two of three first-round picks came from the SEC. Those players were T Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and DE Dante Fowler (Florida).
Now, it appears that Caldwell will stick to that ideology and draft this year’s LB Shaq Thompson in Jack. Jack’s last name is fitting because he is the jack-of-all trades. He’s simply not a one trick pony who can excel in all three phases; offense, defense, and special-teams. Need an emergency running back? Jack is the answer. Need a gunner on special-teams? Call on Jack. The versatility is off the charts which likely has elevated his draft value among NFL teams who use the ‘positional based’ drafting philosophy.
Now the question remains, will the Jaguars select Jack or Oregon Ducks DE DeForest Buckner? Well considering the team passed up on selecting DE Leonard Williams last year, I have to think they will do the same again while addressing their aging linebacker situation.
Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny, 31, is not getting any younger while the team needs more depth on the outside as former 49ers OLB Dan Skuta is projected to be the other starter opposite of Smith.
All three of Caldwell’s first-round picks have came in for pre-draft visits while Joeckel also had a private workout. The Jaguars hosted Jack on a pre-draft visit while both Caldwell and HC Gus Bradley flew out to Los Angeles to meet with the UCLA product likely for a medical re-check.
While Buckner would be an instant upgrade at defensive tackle as he would instantly leap-frog ahead of DT Sen’Derrick Marks and DT Tyson Alualu, and DT Roy Miller, I don’t see that happening, as Jack’s versatility is too good to pass up.
Selection: LB Myles Jack (UCLA)