Mock draft season is officially open when ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., releases his first projection of the NFL Draft each year. That happened on Thursday morning in, as Kiper explains, "this (very) early stage in the game." Of course, everything will change between now and April's 2016 NFL Draft, especially once the NFL Combine takes place, and free agency changes team draft needs, but it does not mean it is not fun to look at that projections for the first round.
In the first Mel Kiper 2016 NFL Mock Draft, the Tennessee Titans open the process with the selection of Ohio State defensive Joey Bosa, followed by the Cleveland Browns selecting California quarterback Jared Goff. Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil comes off Kiper's board with the third pick to the San Diego Chargers, then the Dallas Cowboys landed Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner with the fourth selection. The Jacksonville Jaguars round out the top five picks with the selection of Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey.
Jumping to the Miami Dolphins' selection, the eighth overall pick, the team has a lot of options with how the board has fallen. Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, and the injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith (though hopefully Miami could trade back if they want to pick Smith, who may not be able to play in 2016, but has the talent to still warrant a first day selection) are all still available. The Dolphins look to go another direction, however, as Kiper projects it.
With the eighth pick, the Miami Dolphins select Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson.
I was a little surprised with the pick, and you are probably having to think twice about it as well. On the surface, it seems like Miami missed on some surefire talent at needed position by taking a defensive end, but, if you consider Miami going into this Draft looking for the best player available, regardless of position, in an effort to bolster talent and depth, Lawson is a great pick. Then, when you add in Kiper's explanation for the pick, it really could be exactly the pick Miami needs to make (at least, in a mock draft in January):
Lawson led college football in tackles for loss with 25.5, and Miami should add another edge rusher because Olivier Vernon is about to become extremely expensive if he can even be kept around as an unrestricted free agent. Lawson is just extremely consistent in his ability to beat tackles and makes plays.
Kiper is dead right on the situation with Vernon. He is going to become expensive for a team that may not be able to fit him under the salary cap this year. Even if Vernon comes back, Cameron Wake is coming off a major injury (torn Achilles) and is getting closer to retirement than to the early portion of his career. Adding a young, extremely talented pass rusher to add to the defensive line with Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Jordan Phillips (or rotating with Wake and Vernon if Miami can bring OV back), would be a great move. It may not be the first thought looking at the needs for Miami, but it may be a great selection if the board falls like it does.