2018 NFL Draft

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Broncos pick Paxton Lynch to replace Peyton

2016 NFL Mock Draft: Broncos pick Paxton Lynch to replace Peyton

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

The first tidal wave of free agency hit the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles among the clubs making the biggest splashes Wednesday.

The defending champion Denver Broncos, on the other hand, were dealt a tough blow at quarterback with Peyton Manning announcing his retirement and his anticipated replacement, Brock Osweiler, instead leaving for greener pastures in Houston.

With only last year's seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian currently on the roster, Broncos general manager John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak will undoubtedly make boosting this position the club's top priority. The pickings are slim on the free agent market, which could put a quarterback in play with the Broncos' No. 31 pick.

With free agency sure to crystalize team needs, here is my latest projection of how the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft will shake out.

1. Tennessee Titans

Laremy Tunsil, T, Mississippi: Since 1996, the first selection of every NFL Draft has been spent on a quarterback, edge rusher or offensive tackle. Given the big investments in Marcus Mariota and Brian Orakpo a year ago and the need for improved play at right tackle, Tunsil looks like the early favorite to be the Titans pick at No. 1 overall. Pairing Tunsil -- who scouts call a future Pro Bowler -- with 2014 first round pick Taylor Lewan would give Mariota a chance to become the star this franchise needs to return to relevance in a winnable AFC South.

2. Cleveland Browns

Carson Wentz , QB, North Dakota State: Showing not only all of the physical talent scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback but the leadership and composure as well, Wentz stole the show at the Senior Bowl and followed it up with another impressive performance at the combine. Bigger and possessing a stronger arm than California's Jared Goff, Wentz is a better fit in Hue Jackson's offense and the elements that often come into play at FirstEnergy Stadium. An FCS prospect earning this high of a pick is certainly rare but not unprecedented. The Houston Oilers drafted the late Steve McNair out of Alcorn State No. 3 overall back in 1995.

3. San Diego Chargers

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State: Every indication is the Chargers are looking to move on from longtime standout safety Eric Weddle, a pending free agent. San Diego could see Ramsey as an ideal replacement. An Olympic-caliber athlete with instincts, size and physicality, Ramsey has starred all over the secondary and even at linebacker for the Seminoles, projecting best as a safety in the NFL.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: With the future of Greg Hardy and 2015 second-round pick Randy Gregory in question, the Cowboys may have little choice but to address defensive end early in the draft. Bosa is ideally built for the 4-3 and he has the pro-ready game that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will appreciate, showing awareness and strength to handle run-stuffing duties as well as the burst and refined hand play to attack the quarterback.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: Given that the Jaguars "earned" a top-five pick for the fifth consecutive year, there is certainly plenty of evidence that Jacksonville is stuck among the also-rans in the AFC. An ascending offense led by young stars Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson looks ready to take the next step if the Jaguars can just find more playmakers on defense. Jack could be the perfect addition to Gus Bradley's defense, showing the combination of instincts, athleticism and star power this club currently lacks on that side of the ball.

6. Baltimore Ravens

Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame: The Ravens appear ready to move on from Eugene Monroe, a disappointment at left tackle since being acquired in a trade with Jacksonville. Scouts wish Stanley was a little nastier in the running game but his long arms and light feet make him a quality pass blocker.

7. San Francisco 49ers

Jared Goff, QB, California: Given his preference for athletic quarterbacks at Oregon, it isn't difficult to imagine Chip Kelly falling for Colin Kaepernick's dual-threat possibilities. However, unless Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke are supremely confident that Kaepernick can resurrect his once promising career, adding the popular Bay Area product (who grew up a 49ers fan) seems too easy of a solution at the game's most important position. Most important to Kelly's scheme isn't athleticism but anticipation and accuracy -- two of Goff's best attributes.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: As much as the Eagles might wish it, simply trading away free-agent disappointment Byron Maxwell isn't likely to be a case of addition by subtraction. This remains a leaky secondary, and in a division with Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham, Jr, that won't work. Hargreaves is a three-time All-SEC pick with terrific agility, instincts, ball-skills and physicality as a tackler.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon: The Bucs boast one of the NFL's best in four-time reigning Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Unfortunately, the rest of the defensive line remains a work in progress. At 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, Buckner has the bulk and strength to play both inside at defensive tackle and his customary defensive end role. While speed off the edge is important, in a division facing Cam Newton twice a year, size and strength up front is critical, as well.

10. New York Giants

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Complementing Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. with a bell cow running back might be the fastest way of getting the Giants back into playoff contention. Elliott isn't the second-coming of Todd Gurley but he's clearly the top running back in this class, showing the all-around game to play on all three downs immediately.

11. Chicago Bears

Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: The Bears made strides defensively in the first year under John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio but this remains a largely toothless defense. Ragland won't be viewed by everyone as a great value this early but his instincts, physicality and ability to rush make him an ideal fit in the Bears' 3-4 base defense.

12. New Orleans Saints

Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State: The Saints ranked last or close to it in virtually every defensive statistic in 2015, including points (29.8) and yardage (413.8) allowed per game. Lee's stock is soaring after a terrific effort at the Combine. He possesses the combination of speed and power to compete against the varied offenses of the NFC South.

13. Miami Dolphins

Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State: The Dolphins could be targeting a linebacker with this pick but with three coming off the board in the first 12 picks of this projection, Miami may instead turn back to the secondary. The addition of Maxwell is mitigated by the Dolphins releasing Brent Grimes, who was their best corner last year. Apple has natural coverage skills, including the fluidity and quick hands to make plays on the ball. He was voted the Defensive MVP of the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame.

14. Oakland Raiders

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson: Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie deserves a lot of credit for drafting Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Derek Carr over the past two years but his initial first round pick -- cornerback D.J. Hayden -- hasn't fared as well. Alexander is just a redshirt sophomore but scouts are enamored with his talent and upside.

15. Los Angeles Rams

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi: With rookie Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley and the playmaking Tavon Austin on offense and the NFL's most ferocious defensive line, the Rams are only an improving passing game away from competing in the NFC West. Treadwell may lack the elite speed to warrant a top 10 pick but he possesses the size, aggression and toughness to compete against the star cornerbacks of this division.

16. Detroit Lions

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson: The Lions have a growing star in Ziggy Ansah but have not yet sufficiently replaced former free agent losses Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril over the past few seasons. Lawson isn't the blue chip prospect that his NCAA-leading 25.5 tackles for loss would indicate, but he is powerful, agile and tenacious and, like Ansah, is still just scratching the surface of his potential.

17. Atlanta Falcons

A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama: It is hard to imagine Dan Quinn, a former defensive line coach, not pushing for help for a unit that allowed more rushing touchdowns (20) in 2015 than it had sacks (19), both worst in the NFL. The perceived problem isn't necessarily a lack of talent but consistency up front for the Falcons, which is why the powerful and passionate Robinson could be a fit.

18. Indianapolis Colts

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: Along with the healthy return of Andrew Luck, the Colts need reinforcements throughout a run defense that allowed an average of 122 yards in 2015, 25th in the NFL. Rankins' quick burst and active, powerful hands make him an effective interior pass rusher -- an area the Colts were especially lacking last season.

19. Buffalo Bills

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Mississippi: The Bills probably should be looking for help on offense with this pick but as long as Rex Ryan has a say, the defensive line will get plenty of attention. Powerful and used to double-teams, Nkemdiche has the size and strength to be the defensive end Ryan had hoped Mario Williams would be. He's also quite athletic, boasting perhaps the most exciting raw talent as any defensive lineman in this draft. Ryan has never been one to shy from talent, even if it comes with red flags, as Nkemdiche does.

20. New York Jets

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia: With explosive edge rushers Miller and Demarcus Ware mitigating Tom Brady's quick passes in the AFC Championship Game, the Broncos provided the rest of the NFL a manual on how to beat the New England Patriots. Adding a speed rusher like Floyd to complement an already stout defensive line could be exactly what the Jets need to end the Patriots' supremacy in the AFC East.

21. Washington Redskins

Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama: Washington surrendered 4.8 yards per carry on the ground over the regular season (31st in the NFL) and were even worse in the wild-card loss to the Packers, allowing 5.5 yards per attempt. Reed is one of the draft's better run-stuffers, offering the combination of length and strength to play anywhere along Washington's base three-man front.

22. Houston Texans

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor: Vince Wilfork was a stopgap in 2015 but the Texans will be looking for a replacement in the offseason. Billings has the short, squatty frame and strength to handle playing inside on the nose and plays with the high-revving motor to complement superstar defensive end J.J. Watt.

23. Minnesota Vikings

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State: The Vikings' clear top need over the offseason is re-tooling an offensive line which struggled with injuries and disappointing play in 2015. Most of Decker's experience lies outside but he also possesses the grit and strength to handle sliding inside to guard, giving his future NFL team plenty of options.

24. Cincinnati Bengals

Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame: The Bengals locked up A.J. Green to a huge extension prior to the season but lost Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu in free agency. Fuller has the straight-line speed to complement Green as a traditional deep threat and unlike some of the other explosive receivers of this class, he's used to playing in the sloppy conditions which are inevitable in the AFC North.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers

William Jackson, CB, Houston: Pittsburgh's leaky secondary was a season-long issue, with reinforcements almost surely coming in the offseason, whether via the draft, free agency or both. Scouts have some reservations about the level of competition he faced at Houston after transferring in from a junior college, but Jackson's combination of length, speed and awareness of the ball in coverage stand out on tape.

26. Seattle Seahawks

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State: Seattle's offensive line was a weak spot in 2015 and with the loss of starting right guard J.R. Sweezy in free agency, the cap-challenged Seahawks may be forced to look to the draft for reinforcements. Conklin is a former walk-on turned All-American who plays with the aggression and physicality that the Seahawks lacked up front a year ago.

27. Green Bay Packers

Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA: Veterans Julius Peppers and B.J. Raji remained effective for the Packers in 2015 but they aren't getting any younger. General manager Ted Thompson is always on the lookout for pro-ready tough guys like Clark and he's familiar with Jim Mora's Bruins, having used a first round pick on former UCLA standout Datone Jones three years ago.

28. Kansas City Chiefs

Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana: Eric Fisher has yet to live up to expectations after being selected No. 1 overall three years ago and depth remains an issue all over Kansas City's offensive line. Head coach Andy Reid, a former offensive line coach, himself, could be intrigued by Spriggs, a former tight end whose athleticism stood out at the Combine. Protecting the edges is key with Von Miller and Khalil Mack in the division.

29. Arizona Cardinals

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: While youngsters Markus Golden and Alex Okafor have shown flashes, the Cardinals were led in sacks last season by Dwight Freeney, who is contemplating retirement rather than returning for his 15th NFL season. General manager Steve Keim has shown a willingness to gamble on character concerns before and could see Spence as simply too gifted to pass up.

30. Carolina Panthers

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: The Panthers could be facing big changes on defense soon with cornerback Josh Norman and tackle Kawann Short set for free agency and defensive end Charles Johnson's contract up a year later. Adding depth will be key in this draft. Ogbah lacks elite burst off the snap, but he's long, strong and relentless.

31. Denver Broncos

Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis: The Broncos will almost surely sign a veteran quarterback to compete with Siemian, but there are plenty of reasons why Elway and Kubiak will consider investing this pick into the position again -- not the least of which is the talent possessed by the 6-7, 244-pound Lynch. Surprisingly athletic and boasting a live arm, Lynch has first-round upside but he's viewed by most as a project and therefore may "slip" lower on draft day than some of his hype suggests.

Could Paxton Lynch follow in Peyton Manning's footsteps in Denver? (Getty)
Could Paxton Lynch follow in Peyton Manning's footsteps in Denver? (Getty Images)

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