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1. Los Angeles: Jared Goff, QB, Cal. So, are the Rams projecting Goff or Carson Wentz to be better than he really is, because they so badly need a long-term quarterback? “No,” GM Les Snead said. “We had great workouts with both of them, and we have a great feeling about both of them. We think both are going to have very successful careers.” Not tipping his hand there, but nothing has changed in the 11 days since the trade. Goff has the edge, and it’d be a big upset if he were not the first pick Thursday night.
2. Philadelphia: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State. Remember one little factoid (wrote this a couple weeks ago) about the “why are they investing so much in quarterbacks” quandary: The Eagles have $34 million guaranteed for two passers, Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but $25 million of that comes this year when, barring a wildcat strike by a peeved Bradford, both will surely be on the team. If they deal Bradford after the season, that’s a waste of $4 million guaranteed on his contract for 2017. Wentz would be projected to be the opening day 2017 starter.
3. San Diego: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State. Chargers are men of mystery. They’ll get the number one player on GM Tom Telesco’s board, but who is it? Telesco learned well from his mentor, Bill Polian, to keep the circle of trust with his board very small. There are two excellent tackles atop this draft, and Telesco could go that way to buttress a big need area. But there’s one premier corner, and the Chargers have to be tempted to help a defense that surrendered 44 touchdowns last year. Could also see them trade down for the Notre Dame tackle, Ronnie Stanley.
4. Dallas:Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. I think it comes down to Joey Bosa and Elliott here, with strong sentiment around the organization for both. Question is, can Jerry Jones avoid the temptation of picking the best pass-rusher available, Bosa, with all the MIA guys on the Dallas front seven early in the season? The offensive coaches love Elliott and think he’d take major pressure off Tony Romo—and he’s an NFL-ready blocker and receiver out of the backfield right now. I think it could go either way, and I’m picking Elliott simply because he has a chance to be a rushing champion, while Bosa is probably an eight-to-10-sack guy.
Mock Trade: Jacksonville trades the fifth pick in the first round to Tennessee for picks in the first (15th overall) and second (33rd overall) rounds, and a mid-round pick in 2017.
5. Tennessee: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi. The winner for GM of the 2016 draft, if this happens, would be Jon Robinson. He ended up getting one of the two players he’d have taken at number one (Tunsil) here at number 5, and in so doing, picked up two extra second-round picks this year, and first-round and third-round picks next year … not to mention a pick that would give the Titans two long-term tackles for Marcus Mariota. Now if he can only pull this off the way I see it happening.
6. Baltimore: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. The Ravens could be a pivot point for this draft. It’s no secret the Titans would love to come up for a top tackle, and if it’s not Jacksonville, it could be Baltimore. But I think if Tunsil or even Bosa is here, the Ravens will not trade but rather stay and pick one of the two. Bosa would give Baltimore a day-one starter at a major need position.
7. San Francisco: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon. The Niners would strike gold with this pick, because Buckner, at 6-7 and 291, might be the best overall player in the draft. I can also see GM Trent Baalke doing the same thing and take Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley, who might be in the process of passing Tunsil on a few draft boards around the league.
8. Cleveland: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. Browns would love to trade for even more value for this pick. Lots of buzz that coach Hue Jackson likes Paxton Lynch and is advocating for the Memphis quarterback, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a trade down (maybe for a team to move up for Myles Jack or Eli Apple), with Cleveland ending up with an extra second-round pick in a draft packed with second-round and third-round value. But Stanley looks like very good value here as the eventual heir to Joe Thomas. Who knows? If the Browns get a great offer for Thomas, maybe that heir thing will happen this year.
9. Tampa Bay:Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida. The Bucs could go offensive line here too, but for a secondary that allowed a pathetic 70-percent completion rate last season, corner is a bigger need area. When NFL teams talk about Hargreaves, one of the things they say is he’ll be able to play significant time from week one of his rookie year.
10. New York Giants:Myles Jack, LB, UCLA. Let the debate begin over Jack’s health. Or continue. Some NFL teams think Jack eventually will need microfracture surgery on the wounded knee that was surgically repaired last fall. Microfracture surgery is risky, and not every player responds the same to it. But I hear the Giants think Jack’s knee is OK. If it is, New York has the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the draft, and that’s been a huge position of need on the Giants defense.
11. Chicago:Shaq Lawson, DE/OLB, Clemson. Keep hearing the Bears will go defense here, and if this scenario holds, I guarantee either GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, or both, will say post-first-round: “We never thought he’d be sitting there at our pick.” So many people I spoke with love Lawson’s effort, and think his first-step quickness and 4.68 speed is going to translate very well to the NFL. The Bears need a quarterback-disruptor. One X factor: Lawson could need a shoulder procedure, not serious, before the season.
12. New Orleans:Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. Best guess. Truly is. I’ve heard Paxton Lynch suggested here, with Drew Brees playing this year at 37 and having an onerous future contract, and the fact that Lynch might be best with two years learning from a great one and being indoctrinated by a very smart offensive mind in Sean Payton. But the Saints almost historically are needy on defense, and it’s hard to imagine not addressing defense early and often. They allowed 4.9 yards per rushing attempt and an opposing passer rating of 116.1 last year. (Costanza voice: Is that wrong? Is that bad?) Rankins could be the kind of three-down tackle—OK against the run, very good as a three-technique rusher—the Saints have been seeking.
13. Miami:Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State. The guy Miami would love is Ezekiel Elliott, but moving up for him would be extremely hard if he’s coveted by Dallas. Still, Apple’s an opportunistic pick, a pro-ready cornerback on a defense desperate for one, after starting for two years on an Ohio State defense that prepares its players so well for the NFL. Remember one thing, though, about the Dolphins: Mike Tannenbaum always is ready to move on draft day, so I don’t think it’s impossible that he could find a way to move up for Elliott, if Dallas passes on him.
14. Oakland: William Jackson III, CB, Houston. With the retirement of Charles Woodson and a subpar corner group, GM Reggie McKenzie would be smart to go corner here. But don’t be surprised to see McKenzie pick another very good value player on the board, at a position of need for the Raiders: OT Jack Conklin of Michigan State.
Mock Trade: Jacksonville acquired this pick by moving from 5 to 15 in the first round with Tennessee.
15. Jacksonville: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia. If the Jags sit at five and take Floyd or Bosa or Buckner, or move down and luck out if Floyd’s still on the board, think of the difference along the front seven of the 2016 Jags from last season, when Jacksonville was arguably the worst third-down defense in football. What would be new: last year’s first-round pick, Dante Fowler Jr., returning from summer 2015 knee surgery; free-agent defensive end Malik Jackson, late of Denver; and a third potential major force. Floyd, the versatile pass-rusher/cover man, is gaining traction late in the draft process. He could be the kind of all-around linebacker Jamie Collins is for New England.
16. Detroit:A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama. New GM Bob Quinn replenishes the middle of the line a year after the Lions lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. What’s really interesting here is the potential availability of Conklin, a value pick right about now that some line-needy team (Seattle? Arizona?) could want to jump up and take. Quinn, I believe, having been tutored by the risk-taking New England drafters, would be happy to move down for value.
17. Atlanta:Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State. This would fill a crying need for the Falcons, finding a linebacker with the kind of speed (4.47) to run down plays and get to the quarterback. They’d have been prime candidates for Myles Jack were they picking higher and were Jack a clean prospect. Lee runs the field exceedingly well too.
18. Indianapolis:Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. GM Ryan Grigson knows he has significant roster holes, and none more gaping than the offensive line. Colts quarterbacks got hit way too much last year in addition to being sacked 37 times; the running game, at 3.6 yards per rush, was putrid. Decker’s not quick, but he’s NFL-strong at 6-7 and 310, and you’re not going to bull-rush him.
19. Buffalo:Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Mississippi. This pick is one I spent a lot of time on over the weekend, and it’s easily the most interesting pick of the second half of the round. Some in the NFL are convinced the Bills will consider Christian Hackenberg here, not so much because of the Penn State roots of the owner (Terry Pegula) but because some in the organization are convinced that Hackenberg, with the proper training, can be a good NFL player. But I can’t see it. Rex Ryan’s a Tyrod Taylor guy, and he won’t want that messed with. Ryan wants a tough disruptor in the front seven from this draft, and it’s got to be someone who can get to the quarterback because the Bills were so bad at that last year. Nkemdiche comes with his share of baggage, and it’s heavy. In fact, if the Bills don’t pick him, I could easily see him sliding out of the first round.
20. New York Jets:Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State. Versatile player (tackle/guard) who would fit at four of the five line positions. NFL teams love his personality, after he walked on at Michigan State and worked his way up to a top-three ranking among 47 offensive linemen in terms of athleticism at the combine. I toyed with putting Connor Cook here, but I think the Jets still think Ryan Fitzpatrick’s their quarterback for at least one more year, and they have bigger needs to fill, including the void left by the retirement of D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
21. Washington: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech. A developmental prospect, and a very big man (6-3½, 323) with the ability not just to stuff the run but to power his way into the backfield, and more athletic than he first appears—he runs a 5.15 time in the 40. Some will say GM Scot McCloughan is reaching here. McCloughan would say: I don’t care what you think.
22. Houston:Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame. The good news: He’s the fast wideout, a sub-4.4 guy, the Texans crave to put opposite DeAndre Hopkins. The bad news: He drops the ball too much. But the Texans love everything else about him. One personnel man said the drops are about Fuller not being a totally confident and fluid catcher of the ball, which could come with time. Or not.
23. Minnesota:Josh Doctson, WR, TCU. The Vikings have no idea why the best receiver in the draft—according to several teams—fell to number 23, but they’ll take the gift. One of the things GM Rick Spielman wants to get for Teddy Bridgewater is an outside receiver with game-breaking speed and sure hands. Doctson has both.
24. Cincinnati:Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor. The Bengals lost 88 catches from Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu—both gone in free agency—and they are eyeing this speedster who played both outside and in the slot and won the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver. Coleman may take some managing off the field, but that has never stopped Mike Brown from drafting or adding a player who might be a bit of a handful. He just puts that on Marvin Lewis’s shoulders.
25. Pittsburgh:Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson. Very interesting slot, because the Steelers, it would seem, have to address cornerback, and the traditional Steeler way is to take the best guy here, almost regardless of position, and there could be some value picks at cornerback here. But I will not be surprised if hard-hitting safety Karl Joseph of West Virginia is the pick here. He’s probably a better value pick than the corners, and Pittsburgh can use a long-term answer at safety, where there is age and inexperience now.
Mock Trade: Seattle trades the 26th pick in the first round to Cleveland for the 32nd and 100th picks in the draft (second-round and fourth-round picks).
26. Cleveland: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. If Seattle stays, I’d forecast Alabama center Ryan Kelly or Texas A&M tackle Germain Ifedi. But trading up assures the Browns of getting the quarterback who fascinates coach Hue Jackson. Lynch will need at least a year of seasoning, which is fine with Cleveland because they want to get it right and will wait if need be. The Browns may consider a bigger trade somewhere in the round if they think Lynch is garnering significant interest and may be picked sooner.
27. Green Bay: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. The Packers could play the versatile Ragland inside and let free Clay Matthews to do what he does best—chase the quarterback off the edge. Ragland’s pedigree is tremendous, as the defensive captain of Nick Saban’s demanding defense, the SEC defensive player of the year, First Team All-America, two-year starter at a high level and a tough and physical tackler with good instincts. He’ll go somewhere in the first round, and Dom Capers would quickly learn to love him.
28. Kansas City: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi. He could fall this far because of his 40 time (4.65 seconds), and because other positions are stocked so well. He’s the best big receiver in this draft, not quite physical and tall (at 6-2 and 221) on the level of Calvin Johnson, but he made a lot of plays at Ole Miss using his body and physicality to his benefit. He’d be a very good complement to Jeremy Maclin.
29. Arizona: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama. There are not many more highly respected or well-liked players, overall, in this draft than Kelly. He seems like as much of a lock to be good for several years as anyone in this draft, and that’s not an exaggeration. With Arizona scotch-taping this position together in recent times (A.Q. Shipley is currently the starting center, and he is a placeholder for the next center), GM Steve Keim would be filling a need spot with a steady-eddie player who should play in the Pro Bowl one day. Or many days. (Dark-horse possibility here: Illinois defensive end Jihad Ward.)
30. Carolina: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State. Now you think I’m really off my rocker. No cornerback here in the first round? After losing Josh Norman in the franchise-tag debacle last week? I just don’t think GM Dave Gettleman operates that way. He views the pass-rushers and defensive-line disruptors as vital pieces, because he and GM Marty Hurney before him have been able to fill in on the back end with fifth-rounders, which Josh Norman (2012, by Hurney) and Bene Benwikere (2014, by Gettleman) were. Ogbah’s a fast edge guy, which the Panthers need.
31. Denver:Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama. More of a run-stuffer than pass-rusher, but a high-production player in a demanding defense coached by the demanding Nick Saban. Had a big Senior Bowl week, proving to coaches and scouts he’ll be, minimum, a rotation player from day one on a good defensive front. “I could see him going anywhere from 11 on,” said one personnel man over the weekend. If Reed is there, I say John Elway goes for the value and solves more pressing needs later.
Best players not in first round: West Virginia S Karl Joseph, Kansas State G Cody Whitehair, Michigan State QB Connor Cook.