Seven Bold Draft Predictions
With the 2016 NFL draft just around the corner, analysts like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have likely had a significant influence on how people see the first-round shaking out come April 28. Everyone has their own NFL Draft predictions, and while I don’t take mine too seriously, I thought I’d share my take on this year’s first round and more.
Yes, former Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil is almost a lock to go in the top-five and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot will be drafted in the first-round, but we can’t rely on analysts’ mock drafts and big boards to accurately predict every move in the NFL draft. Though a lot of the guys who cover the draft are former scouts and have worked with NFL teams, the scouts and general managers that are currently working in the league are who ultimately write the name on the card.
With that being said, here are seven bold NFL draft predictions that most analysts are betting against in the first-round.
1. Connor Cook goes to Denver at No. 31[the_ad id=”58837″]Coming off a Super Bowl win, the Denver Broncos are heading into the 2016 season with limited quarterback talent, as their top-two quarterbacks in 2015 both chose to leave Denver out of their future plans this offseason.
Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Famer at the position, has announced his retirement from the NFL after 17 productive seasons in the NFL. Then, unrestricted free agent and 2012 second-round pick Brock Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Houston Texans just two days after Manning had made his decision to retire.
Though Sanchez is expected to start in Denver come Week 1, Broncos general manager John Elway understands that this is just one of the initial steps in upgrading their quarterback group.
Acquired QB Mark Sanchez for a conditional '17 pick. He brings veteran leadership & will compete. This is the 1st step in our process.
— John Elway (@johnelway) March 11, 2016
Denver will have an opportunity to take a chance on a project like Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg or former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in the second or third round of the draft, but it’s hard to believe they are going to pass on a much more experienced prospect like Michigan State’s Connor Cook at No. 31.
Cook, a four-year starter at Michigan State, completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,131 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. Also, Cook surpassed now Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins for the most wins by a Spartan quarterback in school history.
Cook is a fiery, confident gunslinger that can throw through a wall, but can struggle to fit it through a window. He still is a developmental prospect in the sense that there are some concerns surrounding his short throw accuracy and locker room presence, but if Elway likes him in the slightest he’ll be suiting up in Denver in 2016.
Cook just so happens to be our 31st pick in our NFL Mock Draft (2.0)
2. William Jackson III goes ahead of Mackenzie Alexander
With the consensus that Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and former University of Florida product Vernon Hargreaves will be the first two cornerbacks off the board, Mackenzie Alexander is expected to be the No. 3 cornerback selected in this class. University of Houston cornerback William Jackson III could throw a monkey wrench in that prediction.
Alexander, a two-year starter at Clemson, is a quick, athletic corner that can turn and run with some of the faster receivers in the NFL, but he lacks the ideal size and production to push him ahead of Jackson in the draft. At 5’10”, 190 pounds, he doesn’t have the necessary size to easily make the transition as an outside corner at the next level, and with zero interceptions in 27 career games with the Tigers, his lack of production is a concern.
Jackson, on the other hand, brought in seven interceptions during his three years with the Cougars, and at 6’0”, 189 pounds, he has above-average size for the position. Given his natural ball skills and instincts, Jackson regularly puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball in both man and zone coverage. Though he isn’t the best against the run on the outside, Jackson still projects as one of the best pure coverage corners in the 2016 NFL draft.
Though he could still be on the board in the second-half of the first-round, don’t be surprised if Alexander is still available after Jackson’s name is called.
3. San Francisco passes on a quarterback at No. 7
After finishing last in the NFC West with a 5-11 record, the San Francisco 49ers have cleaned house and are beginning a new era with newly acquired head coach Chip Kelly and serious question marks at the quarterback position.
If Blaine Gabbert starting the final eight games doesn’t tell you enough, the 49ers ranked 29th in both passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2015, via NFL.com.
With that being said Kelly will look to upgrade the quarterback position in the draft, but the combination of his reported faith in Colin Kaepernick and the surplus of San Francisco’s other needs could force Kelly to overlook his need at quarterback at No. 7 overall.
In 2015, the 49ers put together the 27th ranked passing defense in terms of passing yards allowed per game (261.2) and finished 29th in sacks (13), which in turn, could have Kelly mulling over Hargreaves or Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa if either of the two are still available.
Also, if the Cleveland Browns select either Goff or Wentz, Kelly won’t simply select whichever quarterback of the two falls to them, for he is only going to bring in his guy. If Kelly is in love with one of the two top quarterbacks and he is available at No. 7, he will pull the trigger on a signal caller, but San Francisco’s other needs will likely push him into going another direction.
4. Darron Lee falls out of the first-round
With the NFL continuing to develop into a passing league, hybrid, coverage linebackers have become a staple piece to almost every successful team, which in turn, has unquestionably boosted Darron Lee’s draft stock.
Lee, a two-year starter at Ohio State, is an athletic linebacker that is highly regarded for his ability to effectively cover tight ends and even some receivers both in man and zone coverage, but he fails to mirror that success as an in-the-box linebacker and run defender.
At 6’2”, 232 pounds, Lee lacks the ideal muscles mass necessary to effectively get off blocks, as he often opted to avoid oncoming offensive linemen rather than fighting through the blocks. Also, he is a somewhat reliable tackler in space, but he regularly catches opposing ball carriers rather than delivering the blow, which in turn, could lead to him getting mowed over by some of the bigger running backs in the NFL.
Frankly, Lee is a project at the linebacker position with the potential to become something special, as he will likely need a few years in the league before he can be successful. With the “win now” mentality a lot of teams have in this league, it’s hard to believe that someone is willing to take a chance on Lee in the first round.
5. Laquon Treadwell isn’t the first receiver off the board
Though Laquon Treadwell is a very talented wide receiver draft prospect with the potential to have a strong career in the NFL, the former Ole Miss prospect’s unique skill set could have a negative impact on his draft stock, and in turn, he could fall in the first round.
Similarly to Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree, Treadwell is a big, physical receiver that is capable of getting off the press and using his body to box out defensive backs in jump-ball situations. On the other hand, Treadwell doesn’t have the ideal speed and athleticism to consistently take the top off defenses and create separation out of his cuts, therefore, teams that value quicker, explosive receivers could pass on Treadwell in favor of a guy like Corey Coleman or Will Fuller.
Treadwell made the decision to not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a lack of preparation and ran a 4.65 at his pro day, unfortunately questions surrounding his speed will continue.
Crabtree also didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and though he was believed to be the top receiver prior to the 2009 NFL draft, Maryland’s speedy wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey went ahead of him at No. 7 while Crabtree fell to the 49ers at No. 10. Jeremy Maclin then fell to the Eagles at 19. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar result with Treadwell come April 28.
6. Jarran Reed is selected ahead of A’Shawn Robinson[the_ad id=”58882″]Though both Alabama defensive linemen are coming from the same program, Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson are two very different players that are highly regarded for excelling in two different areas of the game.
Robinson, a two-year starter at Alabama, is a tall, athletic defensive tackle that is a dominant interior pass-rusher that can become a living nightmare for opposing pocket passers (i.e. Connor Cook). With an ability to attack offensive linemen with both an explosive first step and a strong bull-rush, Robinson could put up top-tier sack numbers at the next level among interior defensive linemen.
Robinson’s height (6’4”) can put him at a disadvantage in the run game, as he often gets caught with high pad level. Also, he is capable of taking on double teams and holding his man at the line of scrimmage, but he has yet to effectively shed blocks when running backs are just entering the hole.
Reed, on the other hand, is a dominant run defender that can play as an interior defensive lineman in a 4-3 or any position along the defensive line in a 3-4. On top of being an immoveable force against double teams, Reed is an expert block shedder that always finds a way to make an impact on the play.[the_ad id=”61518″]In the passing game, Reed doesn’t necessarily have the same skill set as Robinson, but his relentless effort can sometimes make up for his lack of talent as an interior pass-rusher. Also, Reed still has the tools to develop his technique in order to become a talented pass-rusher at the next level, for he did have some success attacking the quarterback at Alabama.
Though Reed best translates to a two-down run stuffer at the next level, there is still a present need in the NFL for guys like him to dictate the line of scrimmage and make an immediate impact in the run game.
7. Braxton Miller is selected in the back-end of the first round
After spending a majority of his career as a quarterback at Ohio State, Braxton Miller made the switch to wide receiver in his final year with the Tigers, and he has surprisingly soared up draft boards.
At the Senior Bowl, scouts raved about Miller’s quick, explosive route-running ability, as he put some of the top cornerbacks in the country on skates all week.
“He’s a top-40 pick, and that showed this week,” an AFC scout said, via Dan Kadar of SBNation.com. “If he was ever under the radar, he isn’t anymore.”
Though he still needs time to continue to develop as a receiver, he has all of the tools to develop into an impactful player when the ball is in his hands regardless of how he is getting involved. His versatility gives him an upside incomparable to the other receivers at the top of this class.
What are your NFL Draft Predictions?
Austin Gayle is currently pursuing both his Liberal Studies and Journalism degree at San Diego State University. He began his writing career as the lead editor/writer for the website he created thedraftpulse.com. He is an Oakland, California native who has a strong passion for football at both the collegiate and professional level. He has been studying the NFL draft for over four years now and has started publishing his analysis of college level prospects since the year 2014.
He is now a featured writer for theunitedgrind.com, an NFL draft columnist for football.com, a featured writer for justblogbaby.com, and a featured columnist for Gridiron Experts. He is also a member of the Football Writers of America Association.
Due to his Bay Area roots, Austin is an avid fan of the Oakland Raiders.