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It is never too early: 2016 NFL mock draft

The 2015 NFL Draft may be in the books, but that isn’t stopping MHR writer and resident draft analyst Christopher Hart from getting an early start on the possibilities that exist in next year. Check out his initial first round mock for 2016 and be sure to sound off in the comments.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Order of 2016 Mock Draft is based off tentative record projections for the forthcoming season.

It is never too early to start doing mock drafts for 2016.  The NFL Draft is my favorite event of the entire year and I spend countless hours watching college football and keeping notes on the best prospects that will be making their way into the NFL.  Listed below is my first mock draft of 2016 and I hope you enjoy it.

1.  Washington Redskins — Christian Hackenberg, QB — Penn State

Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins are the top three quarterbacks on the Redskins roster, but neither of them are long-term solutions at the NFL’s most important position.  Hackenberg, if he declares early, has the potential to be an immediate starter in the NFL and has all the skills necessary to be a franchise signal caller.

2.  Jacksonville Jaguars — Ronnie Stanley, OT — Notre Dame

A versatile offensive lineman, Stanley has manned both the right and left tackle positions for the Fighting Irish and is clearly the top available tackle in this draft class.  He profiles as a top-flight blindside protector, whose selection would allow the Jaguars to move Luke Joeckel to right tackle and bolster their offensive line unit.

3.  Oakland Raiders — Vernon Hargreaves, CB — Florida

The Raiders have improved their team over the past few seasons and put together an impressive list of young players such as Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Derek Carr and Clive Walford who all have big time ability.  One of the areas on the team that could use some help is defensive back.  Hargreaves is one of the best eligible prospects at the position and boasts All-American and All-SEC honors and flashes rare coverage ability that coaches dream of.

4.  Chicago Bears — Connor Cook, QB — Michigan State

Due to an enormous contract it appears will be forced to play Jay "Frown Cannon" Cutler for one more year as their starting quarterback.  If the Bears implode, which is highly likely, it would be in the best interest of John "Not Too Shabby" Fox and friends to invest a quarterback of the future.  Cook has quality production and a great tool set, but needs refinement in his intermediate game accuracy.  However, his experience in a pro-style offense with the Spartans make him a legitimate rookie starter at the position from Day 1.

5.  Tennessee Titans — Cameron Sutton, CB — Tennessee

Even after an impressive 2015 NFL Draft, the Titans roster brings to mind a quote from the infamous movie regarding the Cleveland Indians "Major League" — "Who the Hell are these guys?"   If there is one spot on the roster that needs significant improvement it would be cornerback.  Sutton is a gifted defender whose physicality and demeanor would fit nicely into a Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau led defense.

6.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Joey Bosa, DE — Ohio State

After selecting crab leg eating extraordinaire Jameis Winston with their first round selection in last years draft, they Buccaneers shift their focus in 2016 to the defensive side of the ball where they need some outside edge rushing help.  The selection of Buckeye Bosa would give the Buccaneers a formidable pass rusher to work along with Gerald McCoy.  Bosa’s size, production and intangibles make him one of the best defensive end prospects to come out in recent memory and will easily make him a Top 10 selection in next years draft.

7.  San Francisco 49ers — Tyler Boyd, WR — Pittsburgh

Anquan Boldin has been an ageless wonder, but eventually old man time catches up with every NFL player.  Despite signing Torrey Smith this off-season, the 49ers could use another offensive weapon to help stretch defenses and improve their passing game.  Boyd is a productive player who has notched consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and has already begun to break some of Larry Fitzgerald’s school records.  If he continues his success this season, don’t be surprised to hear his name be called very early next April.

8.  New York Jets — Laremy Tunsil, OT — Ole Miss

The Jets were by far one of the biggest victors by virtue of snagging USC’s Leonard Williams in the first round of 2015, but could use some help on their offensive line.  Tunsil is a big-framed offensive tackle with plus protection skills and gets quality push in the run game.  He could start off on the right side as a rookie and eventually take over for D’Brickashaw Ferguson when the time is right.

9.  Cleveland Browns — Robert Nkemdiche, DL — Ole Miss

After years of deplorable front office decisions and drafting, I ended up loving what the Browns did in 2015 by addressing their offensive line and defensive front seven early with quality prospects who have Pro-Bowl potential.
  They could still use help at the 5-technique defensive end position, which would really open up things for the young core of edge rushers in their pass rushing arsenal.   Nkemdiche is one of the most talented defensive lineman in the country and has experience starting at defensive end and defensive tackle, which make him a quality fit for the Browns in the Top 10.

10.  Kansas City Chiefs — 
Reggie Ragland, ILB — Alabama

The Chiefs did use a few day two selections adding Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander to their linebacking corps, btu they are in desperate need of a long-term inside linebacker at the position who has high-profile starting experience due to the age and injury history of Derrick Johnson.  Ragland is a stout defender who excelled for the Crimson Tide and helped replace C.J. Mosley's production when he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

11.   Buffalo Bills — 

Jalen Ramsey, S  — Florida State

The Bills have Aaron Williams and Duke Williams penciled in as starters at safety so an upgrade is necessary.   Safeties usually don't go this high, but Ramsey is one of the best ball-hawking prospects to come out at the position in recent memory.  A weak safety class in 2015 made it easy for the Bills to pass over addressing the position, but it is one they will target early in 2016 for certain.

12.  New Orleans Saints — 

Shilique Calhoun, OLB/DE — Michigan State

The Saints did draft several prospects at outside linebacker, but they could definitely use more help one one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL.  Calhoun is a versatile player and has the athleticism to be a big time player at outside linebacker in the NFL and provides good value this early in the draft at a position of need for New Orleans.

13.  Houston Texans — 

Derrick Henry, RB — Alabama

You don't see many 6'3, 241 running backs in the NFL Draft who have the ability Henry does, but he would make a great compliment to Arian Foster, who will become a free agent in two seasons.  It is always nice to have a fall back option in store and Henry would provide that who showed flashes of brilliance playing alongside T.J. Yeldon, who was a high selection this past season.

14.  Philadelphia Eagles — 
Cardale Jones, QB — Ohio State

Chip Kelly wasn't able to secure a trade to move up to obtain Marcus Mariota in the last draft, but Cardale Jones is an interesting prospect with big time athleticism that could flourish with the Eagles.   I think it is safe to say Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow aren't going to be the guys to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

15.  Arizona Cardinals — 

A'Shawn Robinson, NT — Alabama

The Cardinals have an impressive team, but what they lack is a difference maker on the interior of their defensive line.  Corey Peters isn't a difference maker at the position, but Robinson is.   Despite a talented filled defense, Robinson saw a lot of playing action as a Freshman and that translated into a starting role with the squad as a Sophomore.   If he declares for the draft, he will easily be the best nose tackle prospect available and perhaps the best lineman the school has put out since Marcel Dareus.

16.  Detroit Lions — 
Josh Augusta, DT — Missouri

To replace the loss of Ndamukong Suh the Lions were able to acquire Haloti Ngata.  Outside of him, there is absolutely "ngata" at defensive tackle for the Lions, so the selection of Augusta would provide the Lions with a quality interior option with long-term upside for the franchise.  Missouri has been a defensive lineman factory the past few seasons, and Augusta is another quality prospect the Tigers will be sending to the NFL.

17.  San Diego Chargers — 

DeForest Buckner, DL — Oregon

San Diego has added a plethora of talent to their defensive side of the ball, but they are in need of a defensive end for the future.  Buckner has freakish size and good athletic ability and would be an anchor for their 3-4 defense for years to come.

18.  Minnesota Vikings — Laquon Treadwell, WR — Ole Miss

The Vikings opted to pass on Teddy Bridgewater’s former teammate Davante Adams in the past draft for Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.  The team his high on Charlie Johnson and traded for Mike Wallace, but if former first-round pick Cordarelle Patterson does not step his game up, they will definitely need to draft a receiver early in order to surround their franchise quarterback with the best talent possible.   At 6’3, 218 pounds, Treadwell is an impressive receiver with size and speed.   He is coming off a leg injury, but has all the tools necessary to be a #1 receiver at the NFL and the type of playmaker that could make the Vikings playoff contenders in the near future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE/OLB — Oklahoma State

Terrell Suggs has been one of the greatest players to play the outside linebacker position in the NFL, but the end of his career is near.  Ogbah recorded 11 sacks last year for the Cowboys and would give the Ravens another pass rushing threat to help keep Baltimore's aggressive defense in tune.

20.  St. Louis Rams
— D'haquille Williams, WR — Auburn

Injury concerns and character issues will likely drop Williams in the draft, but if there is one coach who has proven he will take a risk on such players it's Rams coach Jeff Fisher.  Williams has one of the best triangle combinations out of any draft eligible receiver and would be an instant starter and upgrade for the Rams who are in dire need of a large play-making option at receiver.

21.  Cincinnati BengalsCorey Robinson, WR — Notre Dame

A.J. Green is scheduled to be a free agent this off-season.  It is likely he will be franchised, but adding another receiver to the mix will be in store for the Bengals.   Robinson, son of former NBA player David Robinson, is a large target receiver who showed up big as the season rolled on for the Fighting Irish.  If his play continues to ascend this next season, he could declare early and be a first round pick in 2016.

22.  New York Giants — Sheldon Day, DL — Notre Dame

The New York "Football" Giants have a pretty well-rounded roster, but they could use some help on the defensive line.  Day would be one of the best available at this point in time and give the Giants flexibility on the interior that has very few quality players.

23.  New England PatriotsSelection forfeited due to Deflategate

24. Carolina Panthers — Jack Conklin, OT — Michigan State

Conklin is an impressive physical specimen standing 6’6 and weighing 303 pounds.   A redshirt sophomore, he did a good job protecting Connor Cook last season.  His upside is tremendous, but he needs to add more weight to his frame and improve his functional strength.   Cam Newton took a beating last year and it would be wise for the Panthers to invest in a quality offensive lineman early in 2016.

25.  Dallas Cowboys — Ezekiel Elliot, RB — Ohio State

Surprisingly, the Cowboys did not opt to select a running back int he 2015 NFL Draft, which was regarded as one of the deepest and talent filled at the position in the past decade.  They will be relying on former first-round pick Darren McFadden to carry the load for them this year.  Elliot is a rare talent who flourishes against top competition (see performances against Wisconsin, Oregon and Alabama) and has the size and ability to be a premier back at the NFL level.  The prospect of Elliot running wild behind one of, if not the best offensive lines in football would be too much of an opportunity to pass up.

26.  Pittsburgh Steelers Kendall Fuller, CB — Virginia Tech

The Steelers have one glaring need on their roster and it is definitely the cornerback position.  They may be starting two rookies this coming season, which could cause a wealth of problems matching up against NFL teams that are employing spread sets more than ever.  They were high on his brother Kyle Fuller in the 2014 NFL Draft and Kendall fits the mold for the type of defensive back Pittsburgh enjoys on defense making him a logical selection for the Steel Curtain this late in the first round.

27.  Atlanta Falcons O.J Howard,  TE — Alabama

One glaring hole on the offensive side of the ball for the Falcons is the tight end position.   Howard was not utilized well last season for the Crimson Tide, but has great size and speed and would give their offense an added dimension.  The junior will likely declare early and end up being a first round selection for a team in desperate need of a tight end.  Atlanta is one of those teams, so he finds a home here late in round one.

28.  Miami Dolphins — 

James Conner, RB — Pittsburgh

I expect the Dolphins to make a push into the playoffs this season with all the talent they have acquired this past off-season.  They did draft Jay Ajayi out of Boise State, but Lamar Miller is a free agent at the end of the year so running back could be a position of need for them.  Conner ran for almost 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, so you cannot ignore the production and style of play he brings to the field. 

29.  Seattle Seahawks — 

Leonard Floyd, OLB — Georgia

Bruce Irvin is frustrated that the Seahawks refused to exercise their fifth year option on the pass rushing outside linebacker and has made it clear he would like to reunite with Dan Quinn in Atlanta, so drafting an outside linebacker with pass rushing qualities will be high on the list for the Seahawks in next years draft.  Floyd is an impressive player and would give Seattle help in that regard.

30. Indianapolis Colts — 

Taylor Decker, OT — Ohio State

Indianapolis is loaded on the offensive side of the ball, but they have some issues on their offensive line.  Decker is a likely first round prospect who would give the Colts much needed help in order to protect their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.

31.  Green Bay Packers — Su'a Cravens,  S/LB — USC

The bane of the Green Bay Packers defense for the past several years is the inability to cover receivers and tight ends in the middle of the field.  Selecting Su'a Cravens out of USC would help fix that problem.  Cravens is a versatile defender who has experience at safety and linebacker and would provide the Packers with a quality player who can play multiple positions and be a core piece of their defense immediately.

32.  Denver Broncos — 

Jaylon Smith, LB — Notre Dame

I was quite surprised when the Broncos opted not to select an inside linebacker in 2015, but I doubt they ignore the position in 2016 with Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall scheduled to be free agents.  Smith had an enormous season last year for the Fighting Irish and would give the Broncos a three down defender at inside linebacker who would start immediately for them as a rookie.

Once again, thanks for reading!   I would love to hear your input in regard to the Broncos selection.   Do you like Jaylon Smith?   Do you have another prospect in mind?   Feel free to sound off in the comments.