This is the first of four first-round NFL Draft projections from The Star, which also will have a post-free-agency mock draft on April 3, a pre-draft mock on April 24 and a day-of mock draft on April 28.
A quick disclaimer: Each mock draft is based on individual film work, research and recent transactions. This specific one, because it is being done before free-agency, is simply an exercise to begin the process of identifying each team’s needs and the value of individual prospects.
1. Tennessee Titans
OT Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
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Tunsil is widely considered to be the best player on the board, and the Titans could use some additional protection for young quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is the future of their organization. The Titans have invested first-round picks in offensive linemen two of the previous three years, so if this selection doesn’t happen, that’s a reason why. A trade down could be in order.
2. Cleveland Browns
QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Wentz’s stock has exploded over the past year, but he’s been killing it since the season ended. He’s a school-school guy, but he’s impressed league personnel with his combination of arm strength, athleticism and intangibles.
3. San Diego Chargers
DE/DT DeForest Buckner, Oregon
The Chargers’ interior pass rush has been lacking for some time, and this is a golden opportunity for them to address that. Buckner looks the part of a classic 3-4 defensive lineman, and he was more productive in college than 2015 first-round pick and former Ducks teammate Arik Armstead. His presence might give the Chargers some juice inside next to Corey Liuget.
4. Dallas Cowboys
CB/S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
There was a school of thought that the Cowboys might be wise to pull the trigger on a quarterback here — hello Jared Goff — and allow him to learn under Tony Romo, but owner Jerry Jones essentially shot down that possibility recently. Provided Jones is telling the truth, he’d have a hard time passing on Ramsey, a do-it-all defensive back who might be the draft’s best player.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Jags coach Gus Bradley has an opportunity to continue building his defense by selecting Bosa, a super-productive pass rusher from Ohio State. Bosa is solid vs. the run and pass, and is a complete player who can add some punch to the Jaguars’ pass rush by essentially replacing Andre Branch and teaming up with 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler, another edge rusher, to terrorize quarterbacks.
6. Baltimore Ravens
LT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Stanley is probably the best player on the board at this point, and the Ravens are fortunate enough to have him drop in their lap. Baltimore has had issues with their current starter at left tackle, and the addition of Stanley — who possesses great feet and an excellent feel for pass protection — would allow for a clean break.
7. San Francisco 49ers
LB Myles Jack, UCLA
Jack is coming off a junior season shortened by a knee injury, but he’s an immensely-gifted three-down linebacker who could form a nice tandem inside with NaVorro Bowman, further strengthening the interior of a 49ers defense weakened by the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
8. Miami Dolphins
DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
Lawson had a monster year in 2015, his first as a starter, racking up 25 1/2 tackles for loss and 12 1/2 sacks. His impressive Combine 40 time (4.70) will make it easier for a team like the Dolphins, who still need defensive line help, even after signing Ndamukong Suh to a monster deal last March, to pull the trigger on him in the top 10.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
The Bucs could use a little help with their edge rush, and fortunately for them, this draft features plenty of pass rushers. Ogbah, a physical freak who blew up the Combine and recorded 17 1/2 tackles for loss and 13 sacks as a junior in 2015, might be the best option on the board at this point.
10. New York Giants
DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
The Giants have traditionally won with a strong pass rush, but the well is looking a bit dry at this point when it comes to edge rushers. Enter Dodd, who blew up in 2015 by recording 23 1/2 tackles for loss and 12 sacks for the No. 2 team in the country but he might still go behind Lawson and Ogbah, who both have the athletic edge.
11. Chicago Bears
DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
The Bears found an intriguing young defensive lineman in last year’s draft with Eddie Goldman, and they now have an opportunity to pair him up with another promising lineman in Robinson, a powerful defender who can line up anywhere along the interior and be disruptive.
12. New Orleans Saints
DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
The Saints, like most teams, could certainly use some pass-rush help up the middle, and Rankins — who lit it up during the Senior Bowl — fits the bill, as he racked up 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2015.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
QB Jared Goff, California
Yes the Eagles just signed Sam Bradford to a two-year deal worth $26 million guaranteed. But here’s the thing — Bradford hasn’t always played well, and he hasn’t always played healthy. Drafting a player like Goff, who has all the tools to be a good quarterback in the West Coast offense but will need time to learn how to play under center, makes sense. He not only provides protection in case Bradford struggles or gets hurt, he also buys the new regime more time down the road.
14. Oakland Raiders
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Oakland is pretty close to being a very good team, and they get a huge break with a player of Hargreaves’ caliber still being on the board. Hargreaves is an excellent cover corner whose lack of elite size and recovery speed could keep him out of the top 10, but there’s no doubt he could form a nice tandem with David Amerson and is the best value on the board at this point.
15. Los Angeles Rams
QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
The Rams could be players in the free-agent quarterback market, but if they don’t make a splash there, this is the perfect opportunity to draft a physically-gifted and moldable quarterback with upside. Lynch has the size, arm strength and athleticism to be a good one, even though he rarely worked from under center and will need time to hone his craft.
16. Detroit Lions
WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
It’s hard to imagine a better scenario for the Lions, who needed to add some juice to the passing game even before Calvin Johnson’s rumored retirement. Regardless, Treadwell is an excellent replacement. He boasts outstanding size and physicality and has a natural feel for the position.
17. Atlanta Falcons
LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
The Falcons could use an infusion of long talent at the second level of their defense, and Lee — a very good athlete with sideline-to-sideline speed and three-down ability — will add some much-needed athleticism there.
18. Indianapolis Colts
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
The Colts really need to improve their offensive-line play, but Elliott — a downhill back who can do a little bit of everything — is the best player on the board. He can help take some of the load from quarterback Andrew Luck, who was beat up last season, by improving one of the league’s worst rushing offenses.
19. Buffalo Bills
WR Josh Doctson, Texas Christian
The Bills have a chance to form potentially one of the league’s best receiving duos. Doctson, a possession receiver with outstanding hands, complements speedster Sammy Watkins perfectly and gives quarterback Tyrod Taylor another good option in the passing game.
20. New York Jets
ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ragland, a bit of a throwback-type of inside linebacker, could provide a big boost to the Jets’ linebacker corps with his plus athleticism and excellent intangibles.
DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
With Terrance Knighton set to become a free agent, Washington — which has a dearth of young interior line talent — could use a solid, young run stuffer like Reed, who is stout against the run and has a little pass-rush upside.
22. Houston Texans
QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
The Texans could probably trade down and get Hackenberg, but it would make sense for them to address this position in the first round after Brian Hoyer’s playoff implosion. Coach Bill O’Brien has a history with Hackenberg, who has plenty of physical tools but struggled after O’Brien bolted Penn State for Houston a few years ago.
23. Minnesota Vikings
OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
The Vikings may release disappointing first-round pick Matt Kalil soon, so a replacement will be in order. There are plenty of intriguing left-tackle prospects, but the best of the bunch is probably Conklin, a nasty Big 10 lineman with the size and athleticism to stick at left tackle in the NFL.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu — the Bengals’ No. 2 and 3 receivers — are set to be unrestricted free agents, which puts a receiver like Coleman in play. He boasts outstanding athleticism and has the ability to take the top off the defense, and could form a dangerous combo with A.J. Green.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers
TE Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Heath Miller is retiring, and the Steelers can continue the lineage of good tight-end play by selecting Henry, who boasts natural hands as a receiver and works hard as a run blocker.
26. Seattle Seahawks
OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Spriggs had a great Combine, and he has the athleticism and feet to stay at left tackle. The Seahawks’ starting left tackle, Russell Okung, is set to hit free-agency, but even if he returns, the Seahawks could still use help at right tackle.
27. Green Bay Packers
OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Two of the Packers’ outside linebackers — Mike Neal and Nick Perry — are set to hit free-agency, and with Julius Peppers getting up there in age, an athletic, developmental talent like Floyd (who had a strong Combine) might be a nice fit for a team that wants to maintain its pass rush.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Butler boasts a big frame (6-4, 323) with long arms (35 1/8 inches) and big hands (10 3/4 ) that make him an interesting option as a five-technique end. He can also reduce down inside when necessary, and although he had marginal pass-rush production in 2015 (only three sacks), his impressive physical traits, which include solid quickness of the ball, closing speed and powerful hands, hint at a player who could break out with NFL coaching, especially as he gets stronger. There’s a need here for the Chiefs, too, with Jaye Howard and Mike DeVito set to hit free-agency, and Dontari Poe set to be a free agent in 2017.
However, the Chiefs can go any number of places here, including cornerback (Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander or Baylor’s Xavien Howard), offensive tackle (Ohio State’s Taylor Decker) and outside linebacker (Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence). All would fill needs, and all would protect against potential free-agent defections in the future.
29. Arizona Cardinals
C Ryan Kelly, Alabama
There’s been some talk about moving 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper to center, but Kelly would be an excellent plug-and-play option that would allow the Cardinals to let Cooper inherit right guard. Kelly is smart and tough with solid athleticism — he shined enough at the combine to prove he might just be worth a first-round pick, despite the position he plays — and is clearly the best center in the draft.
30. Carolina Panthers
OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
The Panthers might be tempted to upgrade at right tackle after Mike Remmers struggled mightily against Denver star Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. Carolina could use more young, developmental talent here, and Decker — a college left tackle — probably projects best on the right side, where he can use his toughness and length to win consistently.
31. Denver Broncos
RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner could be a nice fit for a Broncos team that will surely look to add some juice to its running game this offseason, regardless of how their quarterback situations pans out. Henry is a massive (6-2, 247) workhorse who could function well in a zone scheme, considering most of his best runs came outside the tackles.
NOTE: The New England Patriots do not have a first-round pick