Mock drafts are an exercise in "What if." They are not an accurate tool for prediction or a yardstick for understanding the draft. They unfold in one of two ways; either they're based on insider knowledge from team sources on who their team may be targeting, or they're based on an analyst's view of what a team's roster has and what it needs. Sometimes, it's a little of both. The most important thing to remember is; they're never totally right.
I have never seen one fully accurate mock draft. Have you? I'm pretty sure we would know that person's name and speak of it the way, characters from 'The Matrix' talk of "The One." The idea that any attempt is going to be a faithful representation of what unfolds on draft night is crazy. So, what I've done here is scrap the idea of realism, and instead, I've generated a mock draft based on whatever the most out-of-the-box pick would be for each team. I have included trades, and reaches, and a general lack of conventional wisdom. I bet some of these come true, but please don't think that's what I'm going for. This is about the joy of the oddity. If I've raised your eyebrow, or made you call me an idiot, I've done my job.
1. Tennessee Titans - Ronnie Stanley (OT, Notre Dame)
What if the Titans do want to take a tackle with the first overall pick, but Ronnie Stanley is actually rated higher on their board than Laremy Tunsil? We see these moves every year, and they're always a surprise because the media perception of players is often what dictates how we project the draft. Last year, the Titans held true and selected Marcus Mariota despite overwhelming pressure to trade the pick and gain draft capital. We know they can go get their guy when they want and not care about outside noise. This would be another fine example.
2. Dallas Cowboys - Carson Wentz (QB, Cal)
[Browns trade Pick No.2 for Cowboys' Pick No.4, Pick No. 34, Pick No. 216, Pick No. 217]
Wary of Cleveland potentially selecting their man, the Cowboys phone the Browns and offer their first- and second-rounders, and throw in two compensatory sixth-round picks for good measure on the trade value chart. The Browns agree, and trade back, making Jerry Jones a happy man because he loves the spotlight, and nothing says "Story of the Draft" more than a landmark trade for the No.1 quarterback. Leaving aside the ridiculous Johnny Manziel to Dallas rumors for a second, the Cowboys do actually need a young QB to develop for the future. Tony Romo has missed 24 games over the last six seasons, and the likelihood of injury only grows with age. Wentz would get time to learn behind one of the Cowboys' greats, but is capable enough of stepping in immediately should he be required.
3. San Diego Chargers - Laremy Tunsil (OT, Ole Miss)
The Chargers need a lot of help on that offensive line. There is a temptation to pick Joey Bosa here and mount their 2016 campaign on defensive pursuit, but Tunsil, the much speculated No.1 overall pick, is too big an opportunity to pass up. The Chargers get the top guy at the position, and perhaps the top guy in the draft, without giving up any additional picks. Tunsil would slot in at left tackle opposite Joe Barksdale and suddenly this team has two bookend players to rebuild around. Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback -- when he has the time to throw. Let him be that guy.
4. San Francisco 49ers - Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
[Browns trade Pick. No.4 for 49ers' Pick No.7, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick]
Chip Kelly is not an NFL general manager anymore, but the 49ers' Trent Baalke goes all in and gets a tailor-made player for Kelly's scheme anyway. Elliott is the prototypical Kelly running back. This guy can do everything, and transforms the San Francisco offense into a fearsome unit once again in 2016. The Chipper can make do with sub-par wide receivers and even potentially mediocre quarterback play because he uses a lot of guys in dynamic roles. It takes losing a QB, but Elliott could be that guy and he could be very much worth it.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars - Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Last year's first-round pick, Dante Fowler Jr., didn't play a single snap due to injury. If the Jaguars could add Bosa here to combine with marquee signing Malik Jackson, their defensive front could be one of the best in the league. They have already rebuilt the secondary with Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson, so this one piece could push them into a high-pressure/high-turnover scheme like what Gus Bradley operated with in Seattle, and finally fulfill his promise to Jacksonville fans by giving them a winner.
6. Baltimore Ravens - Jalen Ramsey (DB, Florida State)
How about a one-year restock of the defensive secondary? Eric Weddle is the Ravens' best safety since Ed Reed's good years, and Jalen Ramsey could be used either as his running mate or as a cornerback opposite Will Davis. They don't even have to decide right away. Play him at both in training camp and see what happens. See where he sticks. The Ravens weren't bad last year because they didn't have a quarterback. They were bad because they didn't have a lot of things. In one year, with Ramsey and Weddle, and maybe a couple of other guys stepping up, it's not difficult to imagine them back in the playoffs with a legit shot at the Super Bowl.
7. Cleveland Browns - Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
To sum up, the Browns haven't picked yet. They started with the No. 2 overall pick and turned that into Pick No. 7, No. 34, No. 216, No .217 and their new starting QB, Colin Kaepernick. Given how the team has approached free agency thus far, it's fair to assume that Sashi Brown is valuing players differently to the rest of the league. And that's fine. Cleveland has been losing for too long. I have no problem with doing a complete overhaul, and I mean complete because the Browns previous rebuilds have been full of carryovers from previous regimes. This is new, and fresh, and Myles Jack can be the face of it all.
8. Philadelphia Eagles - Jared Goff (QB, Cal)
New head coach Doug Pederson has been adamant that Sam Bradford can be the team's starter next year. I'm not buying it. Aside from being as hot-and-cold as a flaming Baked Alaska, Bradford just hasn't been healthy. You can twist it any way you like, but Bradford is an injury-prone player that cannot be relied upon. Enter Jared Goff. Pederson was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City and did wondrous things with Alex Smith. Goff is of the same mold, and I have zero doubt about this being the correct choice for the future of the franchise under Pederson.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vernon Hargreaves III (CB, Florida)
I have Hargreaves as the No. 2 player on my board, just behind Bosa. I think the Buccaneers need a lot more help in the secondary than even Hargreaves can provide, but he's a home-run pick here. He's going to cause a lot more targets to go towards Brent Grimes, and that may cause problems in itself, but if he can do that as a rookie, he's succeeded. The only issue is that the defense may let up so many passing yards that his work could go unheralded. Though, it's important to remember this is just the first round of the draft. Spend a couple extra picks in this area on Day 2 or later and you can really make a difference. Hargreaves is good enough that he could be the catalyst for a unit reborn.
10. New York Giants - William Jackson III (CB, Houston)
A reach? A bad pick? Just plain dumb? Go ahead, have at it, but remember this mock is supposed to be a game of curveballs. William Jackson III is a rock-solid corner. The Giants still need another corner to go with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins. If you have a rookie on the field, what happens? The offense targets them. So give the rookie minimal opportunity for mistake, and maximal chance to learn. Jackson would play the slot for his first year and potentially develop into a full-time starter alongside whoever is worthy of keeping on in 2017 and beyond. Much like the Ereck Flowers pick last year, this is one for the future. Key building blocks. Free agency was a reactionary free-for-all. The draft could be an understated affair for balance.
11. Chicago Bears - Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
The Bears only have one year of cap hell left on the Jay Cutler contract, but they can cut him after this season and only incur a $2 million penalty as opposed to the $17 million dead cap that would have been added if they let him go this year. I don't expect the Bears to hold on to Cutler unless he has an All-Pro season, and picking a QB one season early would be beneficial to the overall development of Paxton Lynch, who has all the raw tools to be an NFL starter, but still needs a lot of polish to be a good one.
12. Los Angeles Rams - Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
[Saints trade Pick No. 12 for Rams' Pick No.15, Pick No. 110, and DT Ethan Westbrooks]
The Rams need to round out their offense. To call it flat would be an understatement. Corey Coleman, the speedy receiver out of Baylor, would complement Tavon Austin in the slot and Kenny Britt as the possession guy to give Los Angeles a lot of different options in the passing game. With Todd Gurley in the backfield, Coleman can take advantage of any safeties sneaking up to stuff the run, and make them pay. Pay hard.
13. Miami Dolphins - Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama)
Is this a reach? You're right it is, but that's how bad things have gotten for the Dolphins and the running back position. After failing to land any major player in free agency, Miami wastes no time in getting their clear-cut starter in the first round. They would take a huge amount of heat for this, but the Dolphins simply cannot enter the season without someone to take pressure off the passing game. Henry is a punisher who can be this team's version of Brandon Jacobs.
14. Oakland Raiders - Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
Oakland has made huge strides the past two seasons on both sides of the ball. They're at a place now where they can realistically compete for the playoffs, and that's important, because they're not simply a boom or bust team. The roster is built well with reasonable contracts for productive players. By picking Jaylon Smith here, they're acknowledging that their talent is sticking around for a while. They're good enough now to not have to rely on their first-rounder being an immediate impact player, and if they can wait out Smith's recovery process, they'll come out the other end much stronger than before.
15. New Orleans Saints - Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemon)
The Saints get a top pass-rusher while gaining a starter at defensive tackle and an extra third-round pick. The defense needs so much work that it almost looked terminal last season. Rob Ryan wasn't perhaps the best coordinator, but if you look at the talent provided, he didn't have much to begin with. For 2016, the defense may not be a strength, but it won't be an Achilles heel either. With Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan in their division, the Saints need every bit of pressure they can get.
16. Detroit Lions - Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
Calvin Johnson is gone, and the combination of Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley is not enough to make up for that. To be honest, I'm not sure Laquon Treadwell is either, but the trio of new additions at the position gives them one of the deepest receiver groups in the league. What was a glaring weakness a few weeks ago becomes an overwhelming strength. Matt Stafford is a gunslinger, so let him live and die with the pass so that if the Lions go down, they go out blazing.
17. Atlanta Falcons - Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
In the draft process, the Falcons asked Eli Apple about his sexual preference. That's not cool, but I think those bridges would be easily mended by selecting him here. At 6-foot-1, he's in the mold of a Seattle cornerback, and would play opposite Desmond Trufant to potentially form the best corner tandem in the NFC. Dan Quinn can work with that. He won a Super Bowl with that.
18. Indianapolis Colts - Ryan Kelly (C, Alabama)
Ryan Kelly could be the Jeff Saturday to Andrew Luck's Peyton Manning. The Colts need to cement this position clean for the next few years, and Kelly who was a three-year starter for the top team in the nation, is a strong candidate. Positions like center are ones that you need to lock down and then forget about. Don't worry about if this is a reach or not, because in three years time, nobody will remember. Look at post-draft grades for when the Cowboys took Travis Frederick and then look at his All-Pro and Pro-Bowl selections since then.
19. Buffalo Bills - Jack Conklin (OT, Michigan State)
Rex Ryan made it to the AFC Championship twice in a row with a strong ground game and a stout defense. He could do it again in Buffalo if all the pieces fell the right way. The thing about a rushing-based attack is that it not only requires a good offensive line, it needs an elite one. The left side is definitely of that caliber, but the right is a mess. Slot in Jack Conklin and suddenly, I'm having visions of another Super Bowl prediction from Ryan at the post-draft press conference.
20. Cleveland Browns - Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
[Jets trade Pick No.20 and Pick No.83 for the Browns' Pick No.32, and Pick No.34]
The Browns make another move and package a pair of high second rounders to go get Darron Lee. Cleveland fans will be thrilled with an Ohio State selection, especially after skipping out on Elliott and Bosa, and the Browns management get a pair of first-round linebackers. If you think of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and what they did for the Panthers last year, this could be the very same thing. The Browns are being selective about who they want to keep around, and only targeting specific players is the way to do that. With these two linebackers, they get quality and quantity.
21. Washington - Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Washington has had a few decent offenses in recent years, but it's been quite a while since they had a formidable defense. Mackensie Alexander would be take a lot of pressure off a secondary that was better than people thought last year. Opposite Beshaud Breeland, he could be a very strong player. Of the corners in this draft, Alexander appears to be the one most ready to be a team's No.1 guy from the start.
22. Houston Texans - DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
This is a player I expect to slide on draft night, but even this is ridiculous. If the Texans take a 3-4 defensive end, they have the best front in the league. Hands down. No competition. J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and DeForest Buckner on the line, with Whitney Mercilus and Jadaveon Clowney flying off the edge. I want to see it happen so badly. I want to see a truly terrifying defense. There have been good ones, but this would be one that every fan would groan when they see it in the schedule. I want that.
23. Minnesota Vikings - Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma)
The Vikings need a complementary weapon for Stefon Diggs. Shepard is this year's Tyler Lockett and we all saw what Lockett did for the Seahawks last year. He brings big play ability, but also, intelligence. He's a tricky dude with a lot of little quirks that can get the defender to bite. He might be a little too similar to Diggs, but it won't matter as long as they both can keep making plays. Give Teddy some toys. Let's make this fun.
24. New England Patriots - Noah Spence (DE, Eastern Kentucky)
[Bengals trade No. 24 pick for Patriots' Pick No. 60 and Pick No. 61]
What would the draft be if the Patriots weren't involved in some dastardly way? The Patriots send two second-round picks -- one of which was acquired from the Arizona Cardinals in the Chandler Jones trade -- to land Jones' replacement. New England was never going to pay Jones the contract that he would command in free agency so this way they get a cap-friendly alternative player by trading Jones a year early, and packaging picks to get a top guy. Such a Bill Belichick move.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers - Josh Doctson (WR, TCU)
The Steelers have one of the best receivers in the game, Antonio Brown, and then a bunch of other guys. Give them a certified No. 2 guy and it might be all the offense needs to be the deepest high-grade roster in the league. Gone are the days of ground-and-pound football. This is a pass-heavy attack and you just have to lean into that. Start an AFC arms race.
26. Seattle Seahawks - Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
I don't know how to jazz this one up. This is supposed be about making the interesting choice for each team, but I don't know how to do it here because the Seahawks' offensive line is hilariously bad. At tackle, they're starting Garry Gilliam and J'Marcus Webb, with Justin Britt and Mark Glowinski at guard, and Patrick Lewis as their center. There isn't a capable first-string guy in the bunch. I guess the only way to make this interesting is try rebuilding from the middle out. Most teams try and find a left tackle first, but Nick Martin is a better center than the next best tackle, so he's the pick.
27. Green Bay Packers - Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
There were points last season where the Packers' offense appeared to be broken. Defenses seemed to render Aaron Rodgers as a mere mortal. With Jordy Nelson coming back, and the addition of Braxton Miller here, that's suddenly a lot more difficult. No defense has the versatility to cover the different types of weaponry on hand here, and with Rodgers calling the shots, they're poised to make another deep playoff run.
28. Kansas City Chiefs - Taylor Decker (OT, Ohio State)
What's interesting about this pick is that, by selecting Taylor Decker in the first round, the Chiefs would be all but announcing to the world that Eric Fisher, their former No.1 overall pick, is not an NFL caliber tackle, and that they were wrong to use such valuable draft capital on him. The subtext here is; They have a bust, and they're trying to fix it. I don't necessarily agree that Fisher is a bust per sé, but he's closer to that than he is an All-Pro.
29. Arizona Cardinals - Kevin Dodd (DE, Clemson)
The Cardinals trade for Chandler Jones, and then take Kevin Dodd. This is an actual realistic scenario that could happen on draft day. If your team were one game away from the Super Bowl last year, and then added two lethal pass-rushers this year, what do you think the outcome should be? Naturally, it doesn't unfold like that, but it's a smart thought process to use when assessing a roster for an upcoming season. Look at what happened to Denver in their Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks, and then look at how their team changed in order to correct that.
30. Carolina Panthers - Pharoh Cooper (WR, South Carolina)
The Panthers have Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin - two massive outside receivers. They have Ted Ginn Jr. -- a burner deep threat. What they don't have is a guy like Pharoh Cooper, who gets separation on those underneath and slot routes. Cam Newton needs more help, and Benjamin's return from injury will aid that, but Cooper would push that over the top. Don't expect top QBs to still be top QBs without any assistance. Give them the best chance to be their best self. That's what this pick does.
31. Denver Broncos - Vernon Adams (QB, Oregon)
Hear me out. This would be a bad pick. But, if you were betting on one general manager to fall in love with a single quarterback and then do whatever it takes to make sure that they got him, even if he didn't play up to the required standard at times and cost a lot of the team's assets, wouldn't you pick John Elway? As of writing, the Broncos' quarterbacks are Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez. They may roll with these two for next season, who knows, and I genuinely did like Siemian coming out of Northwestern, but something tells me they're not done in this area. It's Elway. He's going to want "his guy" under center.