Unlike the NBA, the NFL doesn’t have a draft lottery, per se, but once the regular season ends, the positioning for the 20 teams on the outside, looking in at the Super Bowl contenders is locked in so the have-nots get a little jump on their more polished rivals in terms of both location and due diligence.
With that in mind, it’s time to dive in to the 2016 draft for the first time and see what makes the most sense for the teams trying to climb back into the playoffs:
1. – Tennessee Titans – Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss – A year after getting their perceived franchise quarterback at No. 2 overall in Marcus Mariota, the Titans are right back at the top of the draft and need to get their prized signal-caller a bodyguard to keep him healthy. Tunsil is the most complete tackle in this year’s process and would kick former first-round pick Taylor Lewan over to the right side, giving Tennessee one of the most talented pair of bookends in the NFL.
2. – Cleveland Browns – Jared Goff, QB, California – New Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta may have a baseball background and the guy now running the football operations, Sashi Brown, may be a lawyer by trade but anyone from any walk of life can kind of figure out that the thought of Johnny Manziel earning redemption in Cleveland is unlikely. It’s time to end that charade at the game’s most important position and Goff is the best of this year’s lot.
3. – San Diego (for now) Chargers – Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame – Philip Rivers is now 34 and it’s time to maximize the rest of his football shelf life as an upper-echelon quarterback. That means keeping him clean on a more consistent basis. Stanley is a terrific athlete who projects as an outstanding pass protector on the left side.
4. – Dallas Cowboys – Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State – The future of Greg Hardy in Dallas is cloudy and if Bosa drops to No. 4 the Cowboys would be wise to leap. Bosa projects best in a 4-3 scheme and is a versatile player who can move up and down the line to take advantage of potential mismatches.
5. – Jacksonville Jaguars – Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State – Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded head coach with 12 wins over his first three years in Northeast Florida. If he doesn’t want the fourth year to be his last, the defense needs to make major strides in 2016. The first move was to use coordinator Bob Babich as the scapegoat but the major one should be looking defense in the draft with Ramsey, a versatile ball hawk with experience at both safety and corner at the college level.
6. – Baltimore Ravens – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss – You hate to go receiver back-to-back in the first round, but Ozzie Newsome needs to replenish the talent outside the numbers for Joe Flacco, who loves to go vertical. You can hope Breshad Perriman’s lost rookie season was just a hiccup, but counting on it would be dangerous. Treadwell is a big receiver who can high point the football and be a real weapon on 50-50 balls down the field.
7. – San Francisco 49ers – Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida – So much depends on who the next coach will be and whether he wants to undertake the reclamation project that is Colin Kaepernick. My guess is that answer will be yes and Trent Baalke will look to replenish other spots on the roster rather than rolling the dice on Paxton Lynch. The team needs an upgrade outside on defense and Hargreaves is an instinctive player who should hit the ground running.
8. – Miami Dolphins – Myles Jack, LB, UCLA – The Dolphins need an impact defender at linebacker and Jack could be Anthony Barr-light, a three-down ‘backer who contributes in all three phases.
9. – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson – The Bucs need a consistent pass-rushing presence off the edge and Lawson has the biggest upside of a very solid group.
10. – New York Giants – DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon – The Giants need a major talent infusion on defense and it might as well start upfront with Buckner, another solid edge option, who could move inside in the nickel.
11. – Chicago Bears – Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame – A top-five talent, Smith tore up his knee in the Fiesta Bowl that will require reconstructive surgery. He’s a junior and could go back to school to prove he’s completely healthy because he’s going to fall. But, Smith is such a transcendent talent, someone will take a chance earlier than people think and Chicago makes a lot of sense.
12. – New Orleans Saints – A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama – It’s the chicken and the egg with the awful New Orleans D. The secondary is terrible but the team gets little push up front outside of Cameron Jordan. Thus, it’s best available option right here and that shapes up as the versatile Alabama defensive lineman.
13. – Philadelphia Eagles – Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis – Do you pay Sam Bradford $18 to $20 million or do you hit ctrl-atl-del and try to find the guy who solves the problem for a decade? If Lynch falls this far, the Eagles should jump and reboot the franchise.
14. – Oakland Raiders – Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama – Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio need to continue to add talent to the defense and Ragland projects as the heir apparent to the aging Curtis Lofton in the middle.
15. – St. Louis Rams – Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State – The Rams are not moving forward with Case Keenum and they’re not going back to Nick Foles. It’s always a bad idea to reach for need but when that need is at the most important position it becomes a little easier. Wentz isn’t as polished as a Connor Cook of Michigan State but the ceiling is significantly higher.
16. – Detroit Lions – Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State – With no GM yet, the Lions are another wild card but a competent personnel man will arrive and quickly realize the offensive line needs bolstering. Decker is polished enough to step in and handle right tackle from Day 1.
17. – Atlanta Falcons – Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama – Dan Quinn wants to keep building up his front seven to duplicate what he once had in Seattle. Allen is a terrific prospect who is scheme versatile.
18. – Indianapolis Colts – Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State – It’s time for Ryan Grigson to put the Trent Richardson fiasco in the rear-view mirror and finally get Andrew Luck a bell-cow back. “Feeding” Elliott in Indy will make things a lot easier on Luck.
19. – Buffalo Bills – Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss – The off-the-field issues are a real concern but the Bills will be moving on from Mario Williams and need to bolster things up front. Nkemdiche is a top-10 talent and Rex Ryan is willing to take risks.
20. – New York Jets – Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State – An athletic linebacker who excels in space, Lee is a great fit for what Todd Bowles wants on defense and would further upgrade an already strong unit.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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