For 30 of the 32 NFL teams, draft season is in full swing.
Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., was one of the “marquee” draft events on the NFL calendar, along with next month’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. It’s an opportunity for coaches, general managers and scouts to gather in one place and get a first-hand look at the college prospects who hope to one day play in the NFL.
Because of their lack of salary-cap space – and subsequent inability to be very active in free agency – the draft will be the primary avenue for the Buffalo Bills to improve in 2016. That puts plenty of pressure on General Manager Doug Whaley and his scouting staff to find players who can contribute right away to a team that will be expected to challenge for the playoffs.
The shopping list is long, too. The Bills could use help at right tackle and wide receiver on offense, as well as defensive end, linebacker and safety. They might also be interested in drafting a developmental quarterback at some point.
With draft season in full swing, now is a good time to put together The Buffalo News’ first look at how the first round of the draft may unfold in April.
1. Dallas Cowboys (projected trade with Tennessee). Jared Goff, QB, California. The Cowboys are never shy about making a splash, and they do so by trading up to the top pick to select Tony Romo’s heir apparent.
2. Cleveland Browns. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio St. Quarterback is their top need, but the Browns’ track record of picking them in the first round is abysmal. Bosa might be the best player in the draft, so they go the safe route and take him. Then they can take a swing at a quarterback in the top of the second round.
3. San Diego Chargers. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: The Chargers would be thrilled to see the top two picks unfold this way. Tunsil would go a long way toward rebuilding a shaky offensive line.
4. Tennessee Titans (projected trade with Dallas). Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida St. The Titans pick up Dallas’ second-round pick to move down three spots, and then grab the top-rated cornerback in the draft. Nicely done.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson: Alexander is young, having just completed his redshirt sophomore season for the Tigers. But he’s a beast. For St. Francis graduate and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell, it’ll be liking having two top-five picks when Dante Fowler returns for 2016 after missing all of his rookie season because of a knee injury.
6. Baltimore Ravens. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida: Three straight cornerbacks come off the board. That’s not a shock in the pass-happy NFL.
7. San Francisco 49ers. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: New coach Chip Kelly showed last season with the Eagles he’s not against using a first-round pick on a wide receiver. Treadwell is the best in this year’s class.
8. Miami Dolphins. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: A torn meniscus in his knee ended Jack’s season with the Bruins early, and his decision to leave school was met with some push back from UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., but Jack is a dynamite athlete. It’s unclear what position he’ll play in the NFL, but he has the coverage skills needed for linebackers in today’s game.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. New coach Dirk Koetter, the team’s former offensive coordinator, doesn’t pass up a chance to get more protection for franchise quarterback Jameis Winston.
10. New York Giants. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. The Giants’ pass rush finished 30th in the NFL with just 23 sacks in 2015. Lawson led the NCAA with 24.5 tackles for loss last season.
11. Chicago Bears. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame: This pick is somewhat of a risk since Smith suffered a major knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, but his surgery was reportedly a success and he should be able to make a full recovery. While he may not contribute right away, Smith could end up being one of the most talented players in this year’s class.
12. New Orleans Saints. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon: Buckner has rare pass-rush skills for a player his size (281 pounds) and the Saints need help everywhere on their defense.
13. Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota St. A new coach is a perfect opportunity to bring in a new quarterback, and that’s what the Eagles do, pairing their former quarterbacks coach and new head coach, Doug Pederson, with the highly productive FCS product in Wentz.
14. Oakland Raiders. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss. He’s the perfect prospect for the Raiders – a dynamite athlete who comes with some character red flags.
15. Los Angeles Rams. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. The acquisition of Nick Foles didn’t work out, so a move to a new city is a good time to hit the reset button at quarterback. Lynch reminds some of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
16. Detroit Lions. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. Ragland is viewed as a “safe” pick who should be a dependable starter early in his professional career.
17. Atlanta Falcons. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia. It’s an April tradition unlike any other – the Falcons needing pass-rush help. They can stay in-state to get that with Floyd.
18. Indianapolis Colts. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio St. Decker might have been chosen in the first round if he entered the 2015 draft. He has plenty of experience playing at the highest level of college football and should make an immediate impact.
19. Buffalo Bills. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama. It’s only a matter of time before the Bills release Mario Williams. Reed, a 6-foot-3, 313-pounder, can slide right into that spot in Buffalo’s starting lineup. He’s an excellent run-stuffer and can be used both inside at defensive tackle and as a five-technique defensive end – exactly what the Bills need.
20. New York Jets. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson. He only started for one season with the Tigers but Dodd has the physical tools teams look for. He was a beast in the national championship game.
21. Washington Redskins. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. Rankins has the flexibility to play multiple positions along the defensive line.
22. Houston Texans. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio St. Releasing Arian Foster would save the Texans $6.5 million against the salary cap – a likely scenario for a player who can’t stay healthy. Elliott would be a good replacement.
23. Minnesota Vikings. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor. At some point, the Vikings have to start preparing for life after Adrian Peterson. Getting better weapons around quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is one way to do that.
24. Cincinnati Bengals. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama. Robinson started for two seasons with the Crimson Tide. He might need a little seasoning in the NFL but the Bengals have a deep roster and can afford to wait.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio St. The Steelers seem to like drafting Buckeyes and Apple has the physical tools to develop into the No. 1 defensive back the team needs.
26. Seattle Seahawks. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan St. Even with his fantastic mobility, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 45 times in 2015. The Seahawks need to get him more protection.
27. Green Bay Packers. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio St. Green Bay could use another linebacker to give Clay Matthews some help.
28. Kansas City Chiefs. Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida. Like some of the other defensive linemen taken ahead of him, Bullard has the ability to play at end or tackle.
29. Arizona Cardinals. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan St. Anyone who watched Carson Palmer melt down in the NFC Championship Game knows Arizona will have to consider a future without him. That might not be next season, though, so Cook could sit for a year and learn on the bench.
30. Denver Broncos. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor. Ryan Clady hasn’t been able to stay healthy at left tackle, so adding to the depth up front will be a priority for the Broncos.
31. Carolina Panthers. Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana. Michael Oher has played pretty well this season, but probably isn’t a long-term answer along the offensive line. Spriggs could be.
Note: The New England Patriots’ first-round draft pick, which would have been No. 29 overall, is forfeited as part of their punishment for the “deflategate” investigation.