The 2016 season is over. The New England Patriots are champions.
NFL teams now have about three weeks to regroup before they descend on Indianapolis for the all-important scouting combine, beginning on Feb. 28. Free agency opens shortly thereafter, with the negotiation period kicking off on March 7 and the new league year hitting on March 9. Shy of a surprise trade in the coming days, that’s really when the draft picture will start to come into focus in earnest.
Between potential team needs and current guesses at prospect values, we’re still able to piece together the puzzle a bit now. Three rounds of mock-draft action await.
(Note: The complete order of the first two days of the draft isn’t quite set yet. The Colts and Vikings will flip a coin to determine which team earns the rights to the 14th and 15th slots in the order, and compensatory picks will be tacked on to the end of the third round based on free agency losses around the league.)
The two that stand out: Kupp and Peterman. The former is so, so smooth in everything he does but will turn 24 this summer and likely won’t run below 4.5; the latter is a rising QB prospect who has the baseline traits to project at least as a long-term backup.
Samuel is so electrifying in the open field that a team in need of a unique weapon could pull the trigger on him as early as Round 1. Continuing the cornerback theme, another high-quality prospect in this group of five, with one following just below. When he’s healthy, Sutton is a dependable cover corner with an advanced understanding of where the ball is headed.
Let’s spend a moment on Mixon, shall we? He has a despicable off-field moment in his background, but he also might be the closest RB in talent to Fournette and Cook. So, what wins out? Which team decides he’s worth the trouble? It’s almost certainly going to happen somewhere in the draft, even though Mixon did not receive a combine invite.
Why the Colts? Well, purely from a football standpoint, this a team that has to find a running back somewhere—even the unbreakable Frank Gore has to wind down his career. Beyond that, though, the Colts just hired as their new GM Chris Ballard, who previously had been the Chiefs’ director of player personnel. And he held that title when Kansas City signed off on Tyreek Hill, a player who entered the NFL with his own vile incident tailing him. Hill was a breakthrough, if controversial, star for the Chiefs this season.
There once was a time that Kaaya was mentioned as a potential top-10 pick. That’s no longer the case, but he also is far from devoid of talent. The footwork and ability to read defenses is there, and he might remind Washington fans of Kirk Cousins in time. Oh, and that mention of Tampa Bay needing a speed receiver? Westbrook is a player defenses have to find before every single snap.
There is a lot to like in Kamara’s game. He posted 6.2 yards per carry and caught 74 passes over two seasons with Tennessee. Flip side: He averaged just 105 carries over his two seasons as a Vol, so it’s fair to wonder if he can be more than a committee guy in the NFL. Butt is the new poster child for skipping bowl games. He might have been a Round 1 pick before his ACL in Michigan's bowl game against Florida State, and some will argue he still should be.
The Packers just cut James Starks and Eddie Lacy can be a free agent, so they need help at RB—Ty Montgomery hasn’t shown the durability to be a 20-carry-per-game player. Gallman’s downhill style would mesh well with what Montgomery brings. Switzer may be overkill for a team that has an emerging Eli Rogers, but in the best way possible. Just ask Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola how it works to have two stellar slot options.
Morgan was a small-school tackle, but if you dream of his ideal fit it’s as a guard in a scheme like the Falcons run (or at least, like they ran under Kyle Shanahan): wide-zone with the occasional power pull—something that gets the nimble Morgan on the move. Biegel projects as a chip for a defense rather than a star edge presence. He is an intelligent football player, though, with a nice range of skills.