By HOGAN LEPORE
The path to the NFL Draft has begun. The NFL Scouting Combine is coming up, along with college Pro Days where players can have private workouts in front of NFL Scouts. Mel Kiper Jr. takes the cake in these mock drafts, but here’s a close second.
1. Tennessee Titans – Laremy Tunsil (OT) – It is clear the Titans already have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. A big reason why Tennessee is back in the top two of the draft order is because they could not protect their future quarterback. Laremy Tunsil is the undisputed top tackle is this year’s draft and has the potential to be a cornerstone of the Titans’ offensive line for a long time.
1. Cleveland Browns – Jared Goff (QB) – The Johnny Manziel saga was as bad as advertised, but that is what comes with the territory when drafting a quarterback with multiple off-field issues. Jared Goff is neck-and-neck with Carson Wentz for the “best QB in the draft” title. Goff has many fantastic attributes along with being one of the nation’s best quarterbacks last season.
1. San Diego Chargers – Carson Wentz (QB) – Phillip Rivers is on his last legs of a historic career in San Diego and he could help to groom a successor. Carson Wentz is a redshirt senior who has won an FCS National Championship every year in his collegiate career. Wentz is 6-foot-5-inch, comparable to Cam Newton, and has the potential to be a similar quarterback to Newton.
1. Dallas Cowboys – Joey Bosa (DE) – The Cowboys pass rushers are in question this time in the offseason. Greg Hardy’s employment is in great concern, whether or not he will be released. Second year prospect Randy Gregory recently got suspended four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Joey Bosa is a bit of a risk as well. Although Bosa’s ceiling is tremendous, his floor is also significant.
Nevertheless, Bosa is one gracious pass rusher, one Dallas needs.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jalen Ramsey (CB) – Although Jacksonville’s defense has great potential, their backfield did not seem to perform well enough. The acquisition of Davon House last offseason did seem to help and Aaron Colvin proved to be a viable option. However, in the NFL you can never have enough quality defensive backs. Jalen Ramsey is more than just quality, this Nole can play both cornerback and safety. Even top scout Matt Miller considers Ramsey as the best overall player in this year’s class.
1. Baltimore Ravens – Myles Jack (OLB) – It is scary to think a team like the Baltimore Ravens has the number six pick in the draft. The Ravens do have a couple holes at the pass rusher position and in the secondary. Myles Jack has tremendous burst and can bring speed and physicality to a defense who seems to have lost that same trait which once defined their entire organization.
1. San Francisco 49ers – Paxton Lynch (QB) – There has been some speculation that new head coach Chip Kelly and the 49ers may keep Colin Kaepernick. At his salary, that just doesn’t seem smart. It is time for a change. Chip Kelly should be intrigued by Paxton Lynch of Memphis. The 6-foot-6-inch quarterback is mobile, like Kaepernick, and has a live arm. San Francisco would be crazy to pass up on a guy like Lynch if he’s on the board.
1. Miami Dolphins – Vernon Hargraves (CB) – The Dolphins looked promising before the season after spending stupid money in free agency, however it did not pan out. The secondary was getting picked apart. Now with Brice McCain out the door, Miami needs to fill a hole that was in need of repair even before it was punctured. Vernon Hargraves III is an all around great talent, he is a playmaker like Jalen Ramsey. Hargraves has great ball skills which can help an old and thin Miami secondary.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DeForest Buckner (DE) – Jameis Winston and Doug Martin led the Bucs to a 6-10 record. The defense played at an adequate level, however the front could use another playmaker. DeForest Buckner is right beside A’Shawn Robinson as the best defensive linemen in the draft. Put Buckner next to Gerald McCoy and you have something good going on that defensive line.
1. New York Giants – Jaylon Smith (OLB) – It is clear the Giants need a playmaker on that defensive front. It seems as if Jason Pierre-Paul will not be back for the 2016 season, so New York needs to draft a difference maker to that front. Jaylon Smith was one time a top-three pick until he tore up his knee. Although Smith will most likely miss some early games in the season, he is still worth a top-10 selection.
1. Chicago Bears – Noah Spence (DE) – It is always smart to invest in pass rushers during a rebuilding stage, just ask the Raiders and Khalil Mack. Noah Spence comes with baggage as he was once a pass rusher for Ohio State. Once he was kicked off the team, Spence attended Eastern Kentucky. Spence is one of, maybe the best pass rusher in this year’s draft.
1. New Orleans Saints – A’Shawn Robinson (DT) – It is clearly time for a rebuilding process in New Orleans, which is unfortunate for the great Drew Brees. The Saints dearth of a defensive line was prevalent in 2015. A’Shawn Robinson is a big boy. The former Alabama defensive tackle can plug up two gaps alone. The Saints need an inside presence and Robinson can provide that.
1. Philadelphia Eagles – Ronnie Stanley (OT) – Although the Eagles are looking for a quarterback, they may be too high in this year’s draft to snag one. With the selection of Ronnie Stanley, the Eagles could kick Lane Johnson into a guard spot and have an upgraded offensive line. Stanley was a three-year starter at Notre Dame. He has outstanding foot quickness and is very talented when protecting the quarterback.
1. Oakland Raiders – Mackensie Alexander (CB) –Last season the secondary was a big need for Oakland and Reggie McKenzie seemed to ignore it. Although they claimed David Amerson off waivers, T.J. Carrie is only a viable option and D.J. Hayden is not living up to his 12 overall hype. Mackensie Alexander is a beast. In the last 24 games of Alexander’s Clemson career, he allowed no touchdowns. Enough said.
1. Los Angeles Rams – Laquon Treadwell (WR) – The Los Angeles Rams are another team that needs a quarterback, but are too high in the draft to grab one early. With very thin depth at the wide receiver position, why not draft a prospect who can help the new passer out? Laquon Treadwell is a special player. Treadwell did everything from catching touchdown passes to blocking field goal attempts at Mississippi. He is a big, gifted receiver in a wide out draft class that is relatively disappointing. Treadwell is a big name receiver the Rams have not had since Torry Holt.
1. Detroit Lions – Josh Doctson (WR) – With the retirement of Calvin Johnson Jr., Detroit needs another deep threat. Although Josh Doctson is a one-speed receiver, he uses his size to his advantage. Doctson, before his injury, was the top receiver in the nation who stretched the field for Texas Christian. He can compliment Golden Tate well and hopefully the Lions offense does not skip a beat. Then again, no one can replace Megatron-like production.
1. Atlanta Falcons – Darron Lee (OLB) –We can equate Atlanta’s lack of success to the lack of defense and lack of pass rush. Atlanta needs to add speed to their defensive front and that is Darron Lee’s expertise. Lee uses his speed to be a very violent/effective pass rusher, plus he would line up opposite Vic Beasley Jr. That sounds like a great duo of pass rushers.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Jack Conklin (OT) – The Colts offensive line is a mess that every general manager fears. If Jim Irsay wishes to give Andrew Luck a long career, he better provide a line where he can stand protected behind. Jack Conklin is the best lineman available.
1. Buffalo Bills – Leonard Floyd (OLB) – With the inevitable cut of Mario Williams, who basically cut himself, Buffalo needs a new pass rusher and as you can tell, pass rushers are flying off the board at this point. Leonard Floyd uses his speed to explode through opposing tackles, on his way to the quarterback. Floyd is a polarizing prospect, however this would be a great selection.
1. New York Jets – Reggie Ragland (ILB) – The Jets were one Pittsburgh loss away from making the Playoffs, however their future is bright as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick can keep playing well. The Jets defensive front is vicious. They have one small hole in that front; inside linebacker. Reggie Ragland is the best inside linebacker in this draft and could help the Jets right away. Ragland fits the hard-hitting persona the Jets have.
1. Washington Redskins – Eli Apple (CB) – Scot McCloughan has this organization trending upward. McCloughan knows the Redskins are lacking depth in the secondary and Eli Apple is a Damarious Randall-esque prospect. He can play corner well. He can also slide back and be a viable option at safety. It would be a great pick for Washington.
1. Houston Texans – Ezekiel Elliott (RB) – Houston, like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, needs a quarterback, however their draft position is simply too high to draft a quarterback first round. With rumors surrounding Arian Foster, the Texans face seeing their best offensive player walk. Ezekiel Elliot is a beast who really splashed onto the scene in the 2014 season. Elliot would definitely be an improvement from Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes.
1. Minnesota Vikings – Corey Coleman (WR) – The Vikings need a deep threat. Rick Spielman thought he was getting that in the Mike Wallace signing, however that simply has not been the case. Corey Coleman is a big wide receiver prospect who is a deep threat. Coleman would make a great duo with Stefon Diggs to make a great, explosive group to help the Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson-heavy Vikings offense.
1. Cincinnati Bengals – Vonn Bell (S) – Bengals have a strong roster and were one high-and-tight Jeremy Hill carry away from the AFC Divisional round. The Bengals need another safety and Vonn Bell is a good one. Bell lacks size, however he has a nose for the football and seems to always be around it.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers – Sheldon Rankins (DT) – Although Pittsburgh has great ends in Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, they’re still lacking a true nose tackle who can pressure the A gap. Sheldon Rankins is a little undersized but his presence is felt. Do not underestimate him because of his size.
1. Seattle Seahawks – Vernon Butler (DT) – Seattle is set up to get crushed by free agency when it comes to the defensive tackle position. The Seahawks also need a big man in the middle and Butler is extremely fast for his size. Butler had an exciting Senior Bowl week and could help Seattle right away.
1. Green Bay Packers – Robert Nkemdiche (DT) – The Packers do not have many holes on their roster, however with B.J. Raji being a pending free agent, the Packers could use a freak of nature in the trenches. Robert Nkemdiche is perhaps the most athletic defensive tackle in the draft. His draft stock could fall due to his off-field issues with marijuana, however he could be a potential steal at pick No. 27.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – Jarran Reed (DT) – The Chiefs could use more depth on the defensive line as Mike Devito and Jaye Howard are both set to hit free agency. Jarran Reed might be the safest option at the defensive tackle spot in this draft. At his floor, Reed will be a good run stopper in the NFL. At his ceiling, he will be Muhammad Wilkerson-esque. Reed is great against the run with good pass rushing ability.
1. * New England Patriots – 1st round selection revoked by NFL for their part in Deflategate.*
1. Arizona Cardinals – Kevin Dodd (DE) – It might seem crazy but the Cardinals could use some help off the edge. Kevin Dodd, the Clemson standout, showed why he is worthy of a first round selection. When his school needed him the most, during the College Football Playoffs, Dodd presented himself. Dodd is one of the prospects with the greatest potential in this year’s draft.
1. Carolina Panthers – Demarcus Robinson (WR) – The Panthers lack of depth at the receiver position revealed itself on Super Sunday. Demarcus Robinson has enough talent to be the best receiver in this draft class, however off-field issues, like marijuana, have plagued his draft stock. He is a speedy wide out with great football IQ. He is a plug- and-play guy.
1. Denver Broncos – Adolphus Washington (DT) – The Broncos defense was very stout last season, as they won the Lombardi Trophy. However, their defense might be taking multiple hits come free agency, especially the defensive line. Adolphus Washington is solid prospect, one of the better defensive tackles in the draft. He could boost their defensive line in the absence of Malik Jackson.