Draft King Analysis|
December 28, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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With one week to go in the NFL season after tonight's game, the draft order is moving much closer to being locked into place for the 20 teams that miss the playoffs. And, barring a win over the Colts coupled with a Browns loss or tie, the Tennessee Titans will end up selecting first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. But what might they should do with that selection is a matter of considerable debate here in Nashville.
My personal inclination would be to see the Titans shop that top pick around to quarterback-hungry teams. Memphis' Paxton Lynch is the top QB name on many boards, though there are still some who have a higher projection for Cal QB Jared Goff. Either way, with quarterbacks being more important than ever before, there is plenty of evidence to suggest there are teams ready to break the bank to get a top QB prospect.
Absent a trade, for my money the top overall prospect in this draft is Ohio State DL Joey Bosa. He's a special player at another key position, defensive lineman, with elite pass-rushing skill that makes him incredibly valuable. How he might fit into the Titans' 3-4 defense might be a matter of debate, but you could do much worse than adding Bosa at defensive end and flooding a side with him and OLB Brian Orakpo in passing situations.
And, yes, I know the Titans gave DL Jurrell Casey a huge contract in August 2014, but you can't have enough top-tier defensive linemen under the current rules. With pass interference and defensive holding penalties (the latter with an automatic first down stipulation that often is much bigger than the accompanying five-yard penalty) being such a point of emphasis in the modern NFL, in many cases a defense's best shot at stopping the pass is by pressuring the QB.
At the same time, defensive back is a major need for the Titans. It would be intriguing to see them end up with Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey, a local product out of Brentwood Academy (just south of Nashville), a natural cornerback who was pressed into playing safety this year for the Seminoles. At this point it looks a coin flip between him and Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III as to which will be the first defensive back selected in 2016, though Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander might also press them for that distinction.
There is also some conjecture that Tennessee might target a top-level offensive tackle, such as Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil. That could happen, but considering the resources the team has already used on its offensive line, that might be an area better suited to target later in the draft. But protecting star rookie QB Marcus Mariota is very important, and the Titans' offensive line did a rather poor job of that this season.
An ideal situation for the Titans might be trading down a spot or two, perhaps with Cleveland, then pick up one of the top-tier targets. But first things first -- the Titans have to end up with that top pick before anything can be seriously considered. Though, even if they end up with the #2 selection, Cleveland would almost for sure draft a QB, leaving the Titans in theory with the same general options they would have with the top spot.
Keep in mind that strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker for the draft order, with the teams having a lower win percentage getting the nod. The reason is rather logical: teams facing weaker opposition should, in theory, win more than a team with a tougher schedule. It removes the temptation of tanking for a head-to-head advantage. And while tanking could happen by a team looking to secure its draft slot, it almost never does in the NFL since everyone is angling for the next season, both players and coaches.
This write-up on bloggingtheboys.com explains how Dallas has already clinched a draft slot no lower than #8 and what it would take for the Cowboys to end up drafting as high as #2 overall. I'm glad there are others more adept at stat compilation than me, particularly with strength of schedule calculations. It used to frustrate me trying to find accurate SOS info, but anymore there are people much more adept with stats than me who are crunching the numbers.
Looking at the order as of this writing, with opponent strength of schedule up-to-date as of earlier today (e.g. not yet counting tonight's Bengals/Broncos game), here's a look at how the top of the draft list looks at the moment for the five teams assured of drafting no lower than eighth.
1. Tennessee Titans (3-12, .492) -- See the several paragraphs I wrote earlier in this piece about their options.
2. Cleveland Browns (3-12, .536) -- Since the Browns' NFL return in 1999, the team has struggled to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Is this the draft where that finally ends? Also possible is a wide receiver like Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell, but that feels like a long shot, at least as of now.
3. San Diego Chargers (4-11, .523) -- Offensive tackle makes all kinds of sense for the Chargers here, particularly if Tunsil is still on the board. Notre Dame OL Ronnie Stanley is also a possibility.
4. Dallas Cowboys (4-11, .529) -- Targeting a defensive back like Ramsey or Hargreaves would be a logical move for the Cowboys, and they could very well opt to go with a linebacker like Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith or UCLA's Myles Jack.
5. San Francisco 49ers (4-11, .552) -- This is a franchise that has seemingly been in a free-fall since the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl in February 2013. Hard to believe that was less than three years ago looking at how departures have left a once-loaded team looking downright threadbare in its depth. QB could be a direction taken here with Colin Kaepernick almost for sure being shipped out of town, but Paxton Lynch likely will be gone by this spot and Cal QB Jared Goff is a somewhat polarizing prospect as far as his NFL projections go.
When I post my next mock draft on here, hopefully mid-week, it will be a challenge to decide on slotting for Ole Miss DE Robert Nkemdiche. As dominant as he has been at times on the field, off the field issues could cause him to drop. The marijuana possession charge he faces from earlier this month in Atlanta won't help his case, but his bizarre behavior that led to the arrest, including a fall from a hotel room, is a major red flag.
As always in the NFL, talent trumps all, which is why someone like Greg Hardy is on an NFL roster in 2015. But there is a point where the risk/reward becomes too much for some teams, and it will be very interesting to see how things play out for Nkemdiche in the long vetting process that precedes every NFL Draft.