The Bills generally did not have quality play from their linebacking corps this past season. Manny Lawson was just OK, while Nigel Bradham struggled in Rex Ryan's scheme. Bradham went on to sign with the Eagles this offseason, so a replacement is needed. Reggie Ragland, one of the top players available, projects well to Ryan's scheme.
*** OTHER 2016 NFL DRAFT POSSIBILITIES: ***
1. Darron Lee, LB - Darron Lee is probably Buffalo's top realistic target, but the Falcons are likely to take him.
2. Jarran Reed, DT - The Lions have shown interest in Reed, but if they don't take him, Buffalo very well could.
I think this pick will come down to Ragland, Darron Lee and Jarran Reed. In this mock, Lee is off the board, and this draft is deeper on the defensive line. Thus, the Bills can take Ragland here and add to the defensive line on Day 2. They could use help at inside linebacker, and Ragland would be able to play immediately. If all three of those players are off the board, I believe Taylor Decker would be in play for Buffalo.
Ragland totaled 102 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, seven pass breakups, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2015. His man coverage on tight ends like Arkansas' Hunter Henry and Ole Miss' Evan Engram was particularly impressive. That, in combination with Ragland's pass rush as a defensive end, illustrates his three-down starting potential for the NFL. In 2014, Ragland notched 95 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, three passes broken up, one interception, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks. The 6-foot-1, 247-pounder is a big, physical in-the-box defender.
Rd. 3, Pk. 7
Beniquez Brown, OLB/ILB, Mississippi State
The Jaguars grab an understudy for Paul Posluszny.
Brown (6-1, 229) had an impressive season for the Bulldogs and was a tough defender in the middle of their defense. In 2015, he totaled 99 tackles with 11 for a loss, four sacks, two passes broken up and an interception. Brown had 62 and 39 tackles as a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
The Packers have the roster strength to let Smith redshirt for a year and then reap the rewards of a top-five talent to lead their defense.
Smith suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the Fiesta Bowl, which is projected to cause him to miss the 2016 season. In surveying teams, some have flunked him medically. Others have Smith as a sixth- or seventh-rounder, and a few teams are thinking of him in the mid-rounds. Teams really love Smith's tape and his off-the-field character, so on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft, he could get consideration.
There is no doubt that Smith is a special player. Sources have said if he was healthy he would be a top-four target on their draft boards. He has the skills to cover in the passing game and is tremendous against the run with fabulous instincts. Smith has sideline-to-sideline speed and athleticism in the middle of the field with the ability to start on the inside or the outside. He also match up one-on-one with tight ends or be a dangerous blitzed. He's a tremendous player.
In 2015, the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder totaled 115 tackles, nine for a loss, one sack, four passes broken up and one forced fumble - he was robbed of one by the official scorer. Smith was all over the field for the Fighting Irish in 2014 with 112 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, 3.5 sacks and two passes defended.
Rd. 3, Pk. 31
Scooby Wright III, ILB/3-4OLB/OLB, Arizona
The Broncos lost Danny Trevathan in free agency, but here's a replacement.
Wright missed most of 2015, finishing the year with 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. In the season opener, he suffered a knee injury - a lateral meniscus tear - that he underwent surgery for. Wright came back after missing only two games, but he clearly rushed back and wasn't the same. Wright sprained his foot in his first game back - a loss to UCLA - and didn't played the rest of the regular season. In the bowl game against New Mexico, Wright collected 15 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and two sacks.
Wright took college football by storm in 2014. The 6-foot, 239-pounder was a pass-rushing force for the Wildcats and one of the top defenders in the Pac-12. He had 14 sacks with 163 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles for the year. Wright is an instinctive linebacker and was all over the field for Arizona. In 2013, he notched 83 tackles with 9.5 for a loss and an interception.
Rd. 4, Pk. 34
Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB/ILB, West Virginia
The Ravens cut Daryl Smith while Arthur Brown hasn't panned out yet. Here's some inside linebacker depth.
In 2015, Kwiatkoski (6-1, 241) recorded 86 tackles with 10 for a loss, three sacks, seven passes batted, three interceptions and a forced fumble. It was an intriguing year from the Mountaineer standout that earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He had a solid week in Mobile and showed some pass-coverage skills. As a junior, Kwiatkoski totaled 103 tackles with 11.5 for a loss and four passes broken up.
Rd. 4, Pk. 38
B.J. Goodson, ILB, Clemson
The Broncos could use some inside linebacker depth after losing Danny Trevathan.
Goodson didn't see the field much until his senior year, but in 2015, he made the most of his opportunity with 108 tackles, 14 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three passes batted, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Goodson (6-1, 242) has a nice mix of size and speed. He could easily go on Day 2 of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Atlanta Falcons were a team that had many thinking they could make a run for the Super Bowl in late September and early October after a red-hot 5-0 start. However, first-year coach Dan Quinn received a brutal wake up call, as his team would finish 3-8 down the stretch to barely meet the .500 mark. The Falcons have always been legends of September football, but Dan Quinn was hired by the Atlanta front office to help get the Falcons out of this rut, and he hasn't exactly had a lot of help. While nobody is going to point the finger to the offense that consists of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, the blame falls squarely on the defensive side of the ball, which happens to be Quinn's speciality. The team does not feature a legitimate superstar on defense. If Quinn has any hopes of staying in the ATL, addressing the front-seven should be his top priority come draft day. At 6"3 and over 260 pounds, Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence certainly has all the traits of a top-five pick, but due to circumstances the Pennsylvania native will drop to Atlanta at seventeen overall. A five-star recruit out of high school, Spence committed to Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but multiple failed drug tests lead to Spence's dismissal from the program, and he eventually found himself at Eastern Kentucky University. Despite these issues and a so-so combine showing, Spence is an outstanding pass rusher who is versatile enough to line up at both defensive end or outside linebacker, both positions of need for the Falcons. Spence is an outstanding pass rusher that has all the tools to be a perennial All-Pro defender in the NFL, which is good news for Falcons fans who won't have to watch Tyson Jackson play meaningful snaps anymore. Pairing Spence with former first-rounder Vic Beasley will make an exciting tandem for years to watch.
Before anyone freaks out, let me explain the thinking behind this pick. First of all, Jadeveon Clowney hasn't been anywhere near as good as Houston hoped when they drafted him first overall two years ago. To make matters worse, Khalil Mack just was named first team All-Pro at TWO different positions, and he was picked 4 picks after Clowney was. The idea of having Mack AND J.J. Watt on the same defensive line would be insane, and Texans fans must be sick to their stomach that they let that opportunity pass. Last season, the Texans made it to the playoffs despite having a C+ at best quarterback in Brian Hoyer at the helm and no Arian Foster. With Houston filling their QB need with Brock Osweiler and their running back need with Lamar Miller, look for Houston to take the best player available at #22. Jaylon Smith would be a top-10 pick if it wasn't for a nasty injury he sustained at the Fiesta Bowl, where he tore both his ACL and LCL. While Smith won't be able to play during the 2016 season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly deemed him "the best player he had ever coached" for a reason. The Texans are a playoff team who can afford to let Smith get healthy this year and add him to their defense next season after a year of rehab and studying the playbook.
It's clear that the new-look Rams are in rebuilding mode, and just about nobody is safe as the team moves west. In a surprising move, the Rams parted ways with veterans Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, who combined for nearly 800 tackles and 70 sacks with the team. While Jeff Fisher is one of the best defensive minded coaches in the league, the Rams have yet to field a top-ten defense since Fisher's arrival in 2012. If the Rams organization thinks cutting ties with their top two defenders will somehow improve their already woeful defense, then maybe more changes are needed in the front office rather than on the field. Outside of Alec Ogletree and converted safety Mark Barron, the Rams lack little depth at linebacker. At 6"1 and over 230 pounds, Missouri's Kentrell Brothers is the top inside linebacker prospect available. A throwback to the old school smash mouth linebackers of yesteryear, Brothers is as tough as nails, not to mention versatile. While primarily lining up inside, Brothers can line up outside as well. A true tackling machine, Los Angeles has exactly the type of run-stuffer they need manning the middle of their defense.
Scouting report: Possesses elite instincts. Appears to head in direction of the play like he knows the play call. Extremely active and always on the balls of his feet and ready to hunt. Plays with an insane amount of competitive fire. Flows quickly to point with downhill action and looking to disrupt. Is often able to force cutbacks or alter the running back?s track. Can time snaps and shoot gaps making him a dangerous blitzer. His 2014 season, which included 163 tackles, 29 tackles for losses, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles, is widely considered the most productive for a linebacker in college football history. Explodes with hips into tackles and finishes with his feet. Play speed is faster than timed speed thanks to combination of instincts and burst to the ball. Shows plus lateral agility with ability to engage in, shed, or beat the block.
Other possibilities: Noah Spence LB, Taylor Decker OT
Doug Pederson may be the new man in charge, but all eyes will be on newly-appointed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and if he is able to fix what has constantly been an abysmal defense the past several seasons. After shipping away Kiko Alonso to the Dolphins and cutting ties with the high-priced DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles are suddenly thin at the middle linebacker position behind Mychal Kendricks. At 6"0 and slightly under 240 pounds, Temple's Tyler Matakevich is the top inside linebacker prospect available. A small-school stud, Matakevich played an integral role in the Owls best season in decades. A four-year starter at Temple, Matakevich lead all active FBS players in career tackles before declaring for the NFL Draft. A highly productive player, Matakevich delivers hard hits without hesitation, and is instinctive, knowing where the ball is at all times. Though his size is average compared to modern day middle linebackers in the NFL, Matakevich not only has the heart and desire, but the skill to become a successful defender at the next level.
Wow. WOW. I can't believe this. Some teams had Jaylon Smith as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect because they believed there was a good chance that he would never be able to play in the NFL. There were some rumblings that he'd go at the end of the third round, but this is unreal. Maybe the Dallas doctors know something the rest of the league doesn't, but this pick could obviously really pan out. Smith could be a perennial Pro Bowler if he ever gets back to 100 percent. I'm giving the Cowboys a solid grade, but I can't go into the A range because of the enormous risk. I'd like this a lot better if Dallas took him in the third round.
Rd. 2, Pk. 10
Reggie Ragland, ILB,
I had the Bills picking Reggie Ragland in the first round of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft, and had Shaq Lawson not dropped to them, it sounds like they may have taken him as high as No. 19. Thus, this is an incredible value for a very underrated player who can play all three downs. The Bills had to move up for Ragland, but rightfully so, since there were so many teams that could've taken him prior to No. 49.