Monson: Buckner selected No. 1 in 2016 NFL mock draft
With the 2016 NFL draft less than a month away, I’ve taken up the mock draft reigns here at PFF. Much like previous mocks, this is not an exercise in information gathering, but rather what I would do for each team in the given situation. As such, there can be players drafted much higher or lower than the consensus opinion suggests.
Scheme fit and team needs are factors, but they are not the end-all-be-all of the decision. If a player is too good to pass up, then need be damned. And we’re off:
- Tennessee Titans: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
I believe there is no better fit for Tennessee at No. 1 than DeForest Buckner, and I also believe he is the single safest pick the Titans can make at this position. Buckner has been arguably the most disruptive defender in college football over the past season, and would slot straight in to a Titans defensive line and breathe a new lease of life into a guy like Jurrell Casey, who would no longer be the sole focus of attention. Buckner is a true every-down player, having been on the field for over 100 snaps in a single game twice last season, and has exceptional grades against both the run and pass.
- Cleveland Browns: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Signing RG III does nothing to Cleveland’s long-term QB plan, they still take the best available quarterback at No. 2. Goff has the better body of work than Wentz, and his pro-day workouts went well even when Pep Hamilton brought out the water bottle to simulate wet, AFC North conditions. Goff has two seasons of top-10 grading in PFF’s system including ending this past season as the top quarterback in the nation. Even if he doesn’t start Day 1, he makes too much sense for the Browns to pass on.
- San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, CB, FSU
San Diego’s secondary isn’t in terrible shape, but Jalen Ramsey provides almost limitless potential as a perimeter cornerback or a guy that can match up as a safety or play the slot in zone schemes. Versatility is the key word for Ramsey, who played multiple positions at Florida State and performed well at each one. He would give the Chargers the kind of moveable chess piece they don’t currently have and make their defense far more capable on the back end. Ramsey was PFF’s highest-graded corner in the class overall this season, with an immense ability to play the run or short screen game.
- Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Joey Bosa could easily go No. 1 overall and be entirely deserving of the spot, so for the Cowboys to see him sitting here at No. 4 is a dream come true. Bosa has been PFF’s highest-graded edge rusher in each of the past two seasons of college football and whether he has maxed out his potential or not at this point, he figures to be consistently disruptive in the NFL. Last season he may have been light on sacks, but he had 70 total pressures, and that won’t disappear just because of a step up in competition. A rough combine soured some on his prospects, but he repaired much of that damage with a strong pro day performance.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
The Jags find themselves in an interesting spot if the board falls like this, and while most may go elsewhere, the team could do a lot worse than loading up on that D-line and adding a scheme-diverse player like Sheldon Rankins. He was PFF’s second-highest graded defensive tackle in 2014, and even this season had a series of monstrous performances before a quiet run and bowl game. Rankins is a monster in the run game and can provide more than enough push in the pocket to be a complementary piece to new signing Malik Jackson, revamping Jacksonville’s interior in one offseason.
- Baltimore Ravens: Laremy Tunsil, T, Ole Miss
The rest of the draft world seems to have Tunsil going higher than this, and Steve had him going lower, but I think once the top six guys are off the board it’s the right spot for Baltimore, who could use an upgrade at one of their tackle spots. Tunsil is clearly the best tackle prospect in this draft and would give them a player to plug in right away and improve a line that had flagged since its heyday.
- San Francisco 49ers: Carson Wentz, QB, ND State
The draft day landing spot of Carson Wentz is going to be fascinating. PFF graded his 2015 tape and he came out ninth in the class for the season. Even accounting for missed playing time, he would be some way short of Jared Goff at the sharp end of the class. Only a few seconds of his tape makes you fall in love with his potential though, and he has the kind of arm and range of throws that fit anywhere. His athleticism is a real weapon and Wentz in Chip Kelly’s offense is too potent a combination to pass up.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
When a player’s main criticism is that when he has the ball in his hands he isn’t quite Adrian Peterson, you know he’s pretty good. Elliott might be the most complete running back prospect to come out in years, and could be the best one since Adrian Peterson himself. I broke down his play here, but the bottom line is this is a player who gained more than 1,000 yards last season after contact, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, or the same average that DeMarco Murray managed for the Eagles in total yardage per carry.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Shaq Lawson, ED, Clemson
I can’t see Tampa Bay looking beyond an edge rusher here, even if there are questions surrounding all of the top guys. Lawson is a player that will defend the run as well as rush the passer, finishing behind only Bosa in run grade this past season. Overall Lawson was our third-ranked edge defender and notched 50 total pressures from his pass-rushes, and should immediately upgrade the Bucs defensive line.
- New York Giants: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
The Giants haven’t had a top quality linebacker in years, and have had a certain profile that they like players to fit, but Myles Jack is the kind of special talent they need to break that profile for. Jack is incredibly fluid and natural in coverage, often playing pure defensive back for the Bruins and capable of covering the matchup problem players that the league is full of at TE or RB. As an added bonus he would probably also be the best running back on the roster.
- Chicago Bears: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Hargreaves isn’t the highest corner on the PFF big board (or mine personally), but his fit in Chicago is better than either of the other top corners available here (William Jackson III and Mackensie Alexander). Hargreaves can play man and zone coverage and has the ability to do what the Bears like on defense. In 2014 he posted the highest coverage grade we have seen from a college corner in over two years of grading and while this season was not as strong, he still allowed only 50 percent of passes sent his way to be caught and just a single touchdown.
- New Orleans Saints: Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
The Saints have allowed their defensive front to be eroded down the years and Chris Jones would go a long way towards repairing the damage. Jones had a +36.5 pass rush grade which ranked second in the class among interior defensive linemen, and what is most encouraging is that he was improving as the season wore on. He has the size (6-5 and 310 pounds) to give the Saints a glimpse at the player Kevin Williams was in his prime, not the version they saw in 2015.
- Miami Dolphins: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
With Miami shipping out Grimes, the team needs cornerback help, and William Jackson III may be the best pure corner prospect in the draft. He had the second-highest coverage grade in the draft class this season and allowed only 47.4 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be complete. An excellent combine performance only enhanced his case as a sure first round talent.
- Oakland Raiders: Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
All of a sudden Oakland’s roster is in pretty good shape, and the value if the board fell like this is in the two areas they would be unlikely to target (O-line and WR). With David Amerson still a player they can’t be comfortable relying on, Alexander makes sense as a backup option and somebody to develop long-term either way. Alexander allowed the lowest percentage of passes thrown his way to be caught in the nation (just 33.0 percent), and can mirror receivers in man coverage better than anybody else in this class.
- Los Angeles Rams: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Corey Coleman is the top receiver in this class, and provides them with a lot of what they were presumably hoping for from Tavon Austin. Coleman is a fantastic deep threat but has the quickness and burst in his routes to separate on any route. Baylor’s offense means he was targeted just 12 times last season on routes that weren’t either slants, screens, hitches or go routes, but there is nothing in his game to suggest he won’t pick up a full route tree and succeed running it.
- Detroit Lions: Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame
There would be a choice of tackles here for the Lions, but though PFF prefers Jack Conklin overall, Ronnie Stanley makes more sense here because of his pass protection skills. With no Calvin Johnson the Lions need to run a more conventional passing attack, relying on Matthew Stafford to spread the ball around and take what the defense gives him. Stanley allowed just 14 total pressures this past season and should be a natural fit.
- Atlanta Falcons: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
With the contract Atlanta just handed Mohamad Sanu, I acknowledge that this has very little chance of actually happening, but since this is a mock of what I would do, I would put in place a backup plan for that move. Doctson would very quickly become Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, giving them a legitimate threat opposite Julio Jones and allow Sanu to battle it out for the third receiver role, which is where he belongs.
- Indianapolis Colts: Leonard Floyd, ED, Georgia
Erik Walden and Trent Cole aren’t going to get it done when it comes to pressure, so the Colts need to go back to that well having just released Bjoern Werner – the last first-round edge rusher they selected. While I can’t promise that Floyd will fare any better, I can tell you that he had the second-highest grade of all edge rushers in the class this season with +47.2, trailing only Joey Bosa, and was productive against both the run and pass, notching 42 total pressures even if his sack totals were low.
- Buffalo Bills: Jack Conklin, T, Michigan State
There may be no better scheme fit dream scenario than this one. Steve loves it and has included it in every mock he has done, and the draft board happens to have fallen in such a way as to make it happen here too. Conklin is a run-blocking freight train — perfect for Buffalo’s power scheme — and he may be a little underrated as a pass blocker, surrendering just one sack against an admittedly weak slate of rushers this past season.
- New York Jets: Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State
The Jets line is in need of a rebuild, almost across the board. Though the best left tackles are all gone, Cody Whitehair gives them the ability to make fixes on the right side, whether at guard or tackle. Whitehair was actually our highest-graded tackle in the draft class this season, with a monstrous +31.0 run blocking grade. His pass-protection was far weaker (hence the projected move inside to guard), but it is certainly not out of the question that he remains outside and performs well. He surrendered just 14 total pressures this past season.
- Washington Redskins: Jarran Reed, DI, Alabama
There may be no better run defender in the draft than Alabama’s Jarran Reed, whose stock seems to be suffering as much because people don’t know quite what to do with him. Reed can play in multiple positions across Washington’s defensive line and will upgrade their run defense in all of them, but he can also influence the passing game with five batted passes in 2015 and 20 total pressures. He finds the ball well and reads the game better than most linemen.
- Houston Texans: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
I still have big hopes that Jaelen Strong can be the No. 2 guy in Houston opposite DeAndre Hopkins, but his marijuana bust won’t help that. Whether he does or does not emerge the Texans need more weapons for Brock Osweiler and Sterling Shephard can be that guy either in the slot or outside. Shepard was PFF’s highest-graded receiver this season and caught 72.9 percent of the passes thrown his way. He showed the ability to separate and showed a really good feel for finding holes in zones and working to help his quarterback out.
- Minnesota Vikings: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State
The Vikings will have been hoping that Doctson or Coleman slipped to this pick, but Michael Thomas may have the potential to top them both. He remains a little raw, and was inconsistent at times, but could be the perfect player to install opposite Stephon Diggs. Ohio State quarterbacks didn’t throw a single interception when targeting Thomas this season, and he scored nine touchdowns on just 83 targets.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Many people have Laquon Treadwell rated far higher than we do, with 11 wide outs posting a higher receiving grade this season, but he does have the ability to be the solid No. 2 option that the Bengals no longer have with the loss of two receivers to free agency this year. Treadwell was still undeniably productive, catching 82 passes for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, and may not be all the way back from a bad injury. He isn’t worth a high pick in our eyes, but could be a great move at this spot.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Pittsburgh needs cornerback help in the worst possible way, and that opens the door for a player like Eli Apple, whose stock is on the rise after a strong combine performance. Apple is a man coverage specialist, and can lock down his receiver like few others, with the one caveat that he rarely even attempts to look for the ball, let alone make a play on it. He allowed just 44.6 percent of targets to be caught in 2015 and surrendered only 387 yards all season.
- Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
The Seahawks have the same basic roster makeup this season as every season – a huge problem on the O-line and strength everywhere else. They rarely seem to consider it that big a problem, but to me it is, and the closest player worth taking to fix is it Alabama’s center Ryan Kelly. Kelly didn’t allow a single sack this past season, and gave up just 10 total pressures.
- Green Bay Packers: Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor
With Letroy Guion starting nose tackle and only really Mike Daniels performing well on the line, the Packers could do with a new presence up front, and Andrew Billings has huge potential. Billings plays well on the move and can push the pocket as a pass rusher and collapse plays in the run game. He has the potential to be the player B.J. Raji only ever threatened to be and has two seasons of solid grading under his belt.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Derrick Johnson may have returned to Kansas City, but he isn’t getting any younger and there isn’t much beside him on an otherwise very solid defense. Ragland is an instinctive player with the ability to thump in the run game and make all the plays he needs to make underneath. He may not run the seam with TEs the way some of the other linebackers in this class can, but he can be the player Josh Mauga hasn’t been able to be for Kansas City, and free up Johnson to make more plays.
- Arizona Cardinals: Shilique Calhoun, ED, Michigan State
Arizona’s edge rush is still a little anemic, even with the emergence of Markus Golden as a rookie. Dwight Freeney played only 264 snaps and yet was providing an inordinate amount of their pressure. Shilique Calhoun is a little one-dimensional (barely scraping a positive +1.5 grade against the run this season), but matched Joey Bosa in pass-rush grade this season. In total he had 76 total pressures, and should be an immediate threat for a team happy to deploy players as situational rushers.
- Carolina Panthers: Noah Spence, ED, Eastern Kentucky
His performance at the Senior Bowl got people talking, but in reality he wasn’t faced with much competition there and when you turn on the tape, you cool a little on Spence. He isn’t a bad player by any means, but he doesn’t dazzle in typical first-round fashion. I believe he’s a later first-round guy rather than a top-10 pick, and he would be a perfect pick up for a team like the Panthers, who are still a little light around the edge even if Charles Johnson rediscovers his best form.
- Denver Broncos: Robert Nkemdiche, DI, Ole Miss
Denver lost some players in free agency and they need to patch the holes. Nkemdiche is a very flawed player, but the Broncos have the kind of depth that can allow him to be used as a situational interior rusher early while he learns to play the run and develop his game. In that role he could be very productive, and his potential is massive if he can add to his game.