Inside the Pylon’s 2016 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Senior Bowl Edition

Inside The Pylon is excited to welcome Shane Alexander to our growing team. As part of our NFL Draft coverage, Shane will be revising his 2016 NFL mock draft and big boards until the first round starts on April 28.

The Who and Why:

I’m a mid-20s guy from Alabama with aspirations to work in the front office of an NFL team or serve as head NFL Draft Scout for a third party outlet someday. Until then, it is extremely exciting to be under the ITP umbrella. The goal here is to provide content that cannot be found elsewhere; a new way of looking at the mock draft and the player evaluation process.

College football and NFL Draft scouting are my fortes; I’ve been watching, scouting, and pontificating about the game for the majority of my life, and writing about it since launching my own site, A1GSports, in 2013.

This spring, we hope to provide Draft analysis that is unlike what you see elsewhere. By looking at the philosophy behind the process, we hope to provide a more accountable, rational mock draft, based on team needs and scheme fits.

Positional Philosophy

Eventually I will describe my process for each position, but, as an introductory look, here’s a behind-the-curtain peek at the quarterback and edge positions – or, at least, how I view them. These are the key positions on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback

A great majority of the time, if a team doesn’t have a “franchise” quarterback, they don’t have much of a chance at competing for a Super Bowl. First-round QBs aren’t a sure thing: for every Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, there’s a Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch. But teams have to reach and try to find “their guy.” Teams will talk themselves into a QB, even at the expense of other positions, and you can’t really blame them; it’s just that important.

Social media has made quarterback scouting very black-and-white: Everyone is either a savior or they are a bum. Good evaluators try extremely hard to avoid such thinking and take a more vertical and horizontal, “geographical” approach to scouting the position. Vertical thinking is looking at something from 10,000 feet in the short term – seeing what lies in the depth of a prospect and not just on the surface. Too often quarterbacks are dismissed because of narrow minded thinking about the position. Horizontal thinking, to me, is seeing down the line and not being boxed into the short-term; it is the ability to see what a player is and is not right now, but to retain the foresight to see what they could be in the next 12-18-24 months, and beyond.

When scouting quarterbacks, first gather as much empirical evidence as possible (the Bill Parcells Rule and the 26-27-60 Rule). Consider what your gut is telling you. Does a QB have “IT?” There is no catch-all quality for successful quarterbacking. Some guys won’t make it in certain situations, and others players have the fortitude or grit to make it in most any situation.

Organizations need to wrap their proverbial arms around a quarterback and say, “This is our guy, we are going to win with him.” We’ve seen this recently in cases like Washington and Kirk Cousins. Belief is an important and powerful thing. If an organization doesn’t believe in their quarterback ‒ as with Robert Griffin III ‒ the entire process is set up for failure.

Edge

The term “edge” has evolved because of the square peg-round hole nature of body types for the traditional defensive end and outside linebacker positions. The physical requirements for this position are generally the same, but the roles and responsibilities vary tremendously from scheme-to-scheme.

An “edge rusher” is a player who plays 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. At times, there can even be versatile interior defensive linemen playing 5 technique who could be considered an “edge.”

Historically, quality edge rushers need to be drafted in the first round if that is among the team’s two or three biggest needs. There is a threshold that clearly separates elite players at this position from average players, and being the most important “creator” position on the defense, there’s little room for error when drafting this position.

An edge rusher is either a “creator” or a “complementary” player at his position. One thing to remember when trying to peg a “creator” type edge rusher as a first rounder: Speed-to-power conversion is paramount. If a player can’t convert speed to power in college, there’s a good chance that trait will not develop at the next level against world class offensive lineman. If a player is a “complementer edge,” he can still be a useful NFL player, and potentially can even still be a first round pick, but you want to draft this player in the latter half of round one at best and, more preferably still, on day two. Moreover, do not draft a “complementer” when you need a “creator”.

Mock Draft Methods

NFL mock drafts often fit into two molds: What the scout would do with each pick if he/she were sovereign over each NFL team; or it can be what the scout realistically thinks will happen. But whichever path is chosen, the mock draft needs to be explicit about its approach because the reader needs to understand within what context to interpret properly the mock draft.

This mock will blend the two in unique fashion, looking at current regime tendencies, each team’s current depth chart and team needs, as well as positional value and positional depth in the draft.

On some picks, the public will have more information about than others, so we can realistically and, sometimes, confidently mock a certain player to a certain pick. In those instances, it’s just plug the player, explain the pick, and move on. In other instances, we know little about a team’s priorities, and there is a plethora of potential positional needs and player fits. In such cases, the scout, can become more sovereign over development of their mock draft picks.

Nuance and context is extremely important when you’re mocking because the goal is accuracy ‒ but only to a certain extent. Mostly you’re going for realism – that’s how I look at it anyway. If your mock pick happened: 1) Would it be realistic?; and 2) Would it be beneficial? Scouts shouldn’t worry about getting inside the right home but, rather, worry about getting into the right neighborhood. You may not like your team’s pick, and that’s fine, because there’s a chance I don’t love it either. I approach this exercise as a way to inform, to challenge, and to offer a different perspective.

The last thing about mock drafting is that there should be little or no emotion behind the pick; there has to be compartmentalization. Let me give you an example: As of today, the Los Angeles Rams look set to head into the 2016 season with Nick Foles, Case Keenum, and Sean Mannion as their quarterbacks, and they will likely hold a competition between the three to determine the starter. Outside of the Rams organization, it is probably a safe bet that 99% of scouts and fans believe that they need to upgrade the QB position, so the 15th pick in this draft is frequently becoming a spot to mock Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, or another QB. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion, it strikes me as a “bad mock” to give them a QB because I don’t think we’ve been shown anything that leads us to believe they’ll actually look to upgrade that position in the first round. Certainly, by the time I revisit my mock post-Senior Bowl or post-Combine, QB may very well be their priority position, but, for now, I’m compartmentalizing my own opinion in that regard and slotting them into another position that would instantly upgrade their roster.

Context is everything: in scouting, in mocking, in pretty much everything about the NFL Draft process, really.

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Senior Bowl Edition

  1. Tennessee Titans (3-13) – Joey Bosa, Edge, Ohio State – The Titans need to built a complete team with cornerstone players, and Bosa is the best player available.
  2. Cleveland Browns (3-13) – Jared Goff, Quarterback, Cal – New head coach Hue Jackson says that Cleveland needs to find a QB at pick #2 or #32, and while I personally wouldn’t take any QB in this spot, quarterback-desperate teams do strange things.
  3. San Diego Chargers (4-12) – Jalen Ramsey, Safety, Florida State – Far and away the best defensive back in this class.
  4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12) – Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss – Laquon is easily the top-ranked receiver on the board.
  5. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – A’Shawn Robinson, Interior Defensive Line, Alabama – A’Shawn is game-changing interior defensive lineman who adds some strength to the Jaguars defense.
  6. Baltimore Ravens (5-11) – Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss – There isn’t a better offensive line prospect than Tunsil, who has the potential to start at left tackle for the next decade.
  7. San Francisco 49ers (5-11) – DeForest Buckner, Interior Defensive Line, Oregon – Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly selects the best 5 technique end in this class and pairs him with last year’s first-round pick from Oregon, Arik Armstead.
  8. Miami Dolphins (6-10) – Reggie Ragland, Inside Linebacker, Alabama – Pound for pound the best “football player” in this class and a potential field general in the middle of the defense.
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) – Mackensie Alexander, Cornerback, Clemson – Alexander allowed zero touchdowns in his final 24 college games, and has never made a bad play ‒ or at least that’s what he believes ‒ which is required for an island cornerback.
  10. New York Giants (6-10) – Shaq Lawson, Edge, Clemson – Lawson can play on the edge or on the interior and is a complete football player, who can help immediately.
  11. Chicago Bears (6-10) – Noah Spence, Edge, Eastern Kentucky – Noah Spence is a natural pass rusher and he upgrades the Bears defense from day one.
  12. New Orleans Saints (7-9) – Myles Jack, Off Ball Linebacker, UCLA – Jack is “space linebacker” who’s just as comfortable coming downhill as he is dropping back in coverage.
  13. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) – Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State – You want your OL to be nasty, and Decker is nasty, with the physical tools to eventually develop into Jason Peters’s replacement.
  14. Oakland Raiders (7-9) – Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback, Florida Hargreaves is not afraid to gamble, and make, plays on the ball ‒ whether in coverage or coming up to stop the run ‒ as well as contributing instantly on special teams.
  15. St. Louis Rams (7-9) – Darron Lee, Off Ball Linebacker, Ohio State – Lee is another space linebacker, who is adept in coverage and in run support.
  16. Detroit Lions (7-9) – Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame Stanley is really good value, having high floor, and improves the Lions in the trenches.
  17. Atlanta Falcons (8-8) – Robert Nkemdiche, Interior Defensive Line, Ole Miss – Nkemdiche is an enigma, but would fit in well with the Atlanta philosophy. If the Falcons can tap into Robert’s potential, his ceiling is elite. Off field concerns will need to be addressed.
  18. Indianapolis Colts (8-8) – Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State – Elliott is the most talented running back in this class but the value of RBs has declined in recent years. If Andrew Luck is the new-era Peyton Manning, then Zeke can be his new-era Edgerrin James.
  19. Buffalo Bills (8-8) – Jarran Reed, Interior Defensive Line, Alabama –Head coach Rex Ryan will love Reed, who is nasty in the trenches and versatile enough to move around the front.
  20. New York Jets (10-6) – Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis – Lynch’s ceiling is sky-high, but he’s likely not someone you want to start Week 1. Learning behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for most or all of 2016 would be an ideal path.
  21. Washington (9-7) – Andrew Billings, Interior Defensive Line, Baylor – Billings is one of the strongest and youngest NFL prospects in this class and adds size to the middle of the Washington defense.
  22. Houston Texans (9-7) – Connor Cook, Quarterback, Michigan State – Cook is divisive among scouts, but I think he’s a big-time Sunday player in the right situation.
  23. Minnesota Vikings (11-5) – Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver, Ohio State – Thomas and Stefon Diggs could be really solid complements to one another, giving Teddy Bridgewater more weapons to use.
  24. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) – Kenny Clark, Interior Defensive Line, UCLA – If Clark grows into his potential, he could be a special interior defender in the NFL, and a disruptive partner for Geno Atkins.
  25. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) – Cody Whitehair, Offensive Line, Kansas State – Whitehair is a versatile player who could be drafted as a tackle or a guard.
  26. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) – Jason Spriggs, Offensive Line, Indiana – Seattle loves athletic players and Spriggs is going to test phenomenally at the Combine. He might be a better fit at guard, and whether there or at tackle, Seattle could use help at both spots.
  27. Green Bay Packers (10-6) – Sheldon Rankins, Interior Defensive Line, Louisville – Rankins fills a need for the Packers, who are expecting turnover on the defensive line. He’ll fit right into the rotation.
  28. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) – Jaylon Smith, Off Ball Linebacker, Notre Dame – Smith was a Top 8 lock before his awful leg injury on New Year’s Day. KC can essentially redshirt Jaylon in 2016, and hopefully he’ll return better than ever in 2017.
  29. Denver Broncos (12-4) – Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State – Wentz would work well under head coach Gary Kubiak, and he’d be set up for success with a solid offense and stellar defense surrounding him.
  30. Arizona Cardinals (13-3) – Shilique Calhoun, Edge, Michigan State – Calhoun is one of the more under-appreciated players in this class. He’s a savvy pass rusher who is willing to step up in the run game.
  31. Carolina Panthers (15-1) – Kevin Dodd, Edge, Clemson – Dodd really broke out in 2015, finishing the season ranked 2nd in tackles for a loss.

Post-Mock Thoughts and What is to Come

I kept trying to find spots for Christian Hackenberg, Sterling Shepard, Corey Coleman, and Su’a Cravens, just to name a few, but I couldn’t make a selection work this go around. Know this: There’s a good chance that post-Senior Bowl and after free agency, my next mock will look different. Once organizational preferences are revealed, players will slide up and down and even out of the first round. I suspect that the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl will reveal a good bit about many of these players.

It’s hard to fully explain each selection in a format like this, so check back frequently for the context behind each pick If you’re wondering why I picked a certain player or certain position for your team, I’m going to be diving into that more over the coming weeks.

Follow Shane on Twitter @Alexander1Great.

Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking downmatchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

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