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NEW COVER STORY...TGS 2016 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW--PART II

                                  by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Following are our forecasts for the final half of the first round, beginning with Detroit's pick in the 16th slot...

16-DETROIT LIONS...
The Lions' fast finish (6-2 SU last eight) gave HC Jim Caldwell, considered a dead man walking in late October, a reprieve from an earlier purge by franchise matriarch Martha Ford, who wielded her axe indiscriminately at midseason when canning GM Martin Mayhew and team prexy Tim Lewand. New GM Bob Quinn (formerly in Patriots front office), hired at the end of last season, and perhaps influenced by Mrs. Ford, gives another chance to Caldwell, whose dismissal of Joe Lombardi and promotion of Jim Bob Cooter to o.c. at midseason triggered a renaissance by QB Matthew Stafford and the late rally. Unfortunately, WR Calvin Johnson has made good on his threat to retire, giving Quinn extra cap space but also removing a key cog from the Lions offense. Quinn thus went shopping for a WR in free agency and landed Marvin Jones from Cincinnati, who should form a capable 1-2 punch with holdover Golden Tate, though neither has the ability of "Megatron" to distort a defense, and Quinn will likely target a deep-threat wideout in Chicago. Among a handful of potential FAs retained were DT Haloti Ngata and LB Tamir Whitehead. Quinn predecessor Mayhew invested heavily in the interior OL in recent drafts, but the tackle positions remain spotty after being largely responsible for the highest sack totals of Stafford's career the past two seasons. Quinn, who is on record as saying he will draft for need, and not the best player available, might also be looking for help at DE to provide an impact bookend opposite All-Pro Ziggy Ansah. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

17-ATLANTA FALCONS...A quick break from the gate last season, when running neck-and-neck with Cam Newton's Carolina into mid-October, proved a false alarm when the Falcons would go into steep descent before finishing the season at .500. Dealing the Panthers their only loss of the regular season in the penultimate week was the only highlight of the last half of the campaign. The defense made modest strides in 2015 under first-year HC Dan Quinn (who arrived after a stint as d.c. on Pete Carroll's Seattle staff), but still seeks upgrades, especially from a pass rush that would generate a league-low 19 sacks. Though GM Thomas Dimitroff spent money on the stop unit in free agency and added DE Derrick Shelby from the Dolphins, the big dollars were spent offensively, luring C Alex Mack from the Browns and WR Mohamed Sanu from the Bengals to help an "O" that had an alarming downturn the second half of the season. Vet Matt Schaub, who began his career in Atlanta back in the Michael Vick era, returns as insurance behind QB Matt Ryan, who in particular faltered noticeably down the stretch. Since the newly-signed Shelby has only nine career sacks, Dimitroff is likely not done shopping for a pass rusher, which should get addressed early in what is likely a defense-oriented draft before the Falcons kick off their last season in the Georgia Dome (the adjacent Mercedes-Benz Stadium is rising quickly and will be ready in 2017). Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

18-INDIANAPOLIS COLTS...When the dust finally settled on a topsy-turvy campaign, and the Colts had fought back to .500, even as they finished the season with Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley at QB, HC Chuck Pagano was rewarded with a new contract from unpredictable owner Jim Irsay. Which appeared unlikely for much of December when rumors surfaced of rifts between Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson, and Irsay's reported failed courtship of Saints HC Sean Payton. Which makes Pagano (who had rejected a series of one-year contracts prior to 2015) seem like an NFL version of LSU's Les Miles heading into 2016. Of course, just getting QB Andrew Luck back from the lacerated kidney that KO'd him at midseason would be a plus, though Luck endured an erratic half-season (partly due to other nagging hurts) before his 2015-ending injury. Ex-Browns HC Rob Chudzinski, promoted to o.c. midway last season after the dismissal of Pep Hamilton and his predictable play-calling, should benefit from a healthy Luck. Considering that Luck, plus backup QBs Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst, were all KO'd last fall, better protection is necessary, so upgrades along the OL (which could also spark a 29th-ranked infantry) are likely at the top of Grigson's list, as well as finding a pass rush, with 35-year old LB Robert Mathis, off of Achilles tendon surgery, the best option to pressure QBs last season. Grigson's main FA activities did not address either area of need, with money spent thus far on ex-Chargers CB Patrick Robinson and ex-Packers QB Scott Tolzien (the new likely backup to Luck after Hasselbeck's retirement) and keeping PK Adam Vinatieri and TE Dwayne Allen (at the expense of Luck's old Stanford buddy Coby Fleener, who signed with the Saints) in the fold. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

19-BUFFALO BILLS...Rex Ryan was not hired to oversee a rebuild in Buffalo, which is why there was some speculation in the Niagara frontier that Rexy could have been a one-and-done when the Bills failed to end their NFL-long postseason drought (since 1999) a year ago. More so after the typical Ryan bluster had forecasted a return to the playoffs. Further, the Buffalo defense regressed, especially a pass rush that dropped from a league-best 54 to a puny 22 sacks, as Ryan's schemes did not translate to the talent on hand. On the plus side, the Bills might have finally solved a decade-long QB dilemma with the emergence of Tyrod Taylor, though he was not given a long-term contract extension, suggesting that doubts still remain within the organization. As expected, one of the disappointments of last season and a vocal Ryan critic, DE Mario Williams, was released, though GM Doug Whaley, without a lot of salary cap flexibility, did not make many significant upgrades in the first wave of free agency. Ryan's hybrid defensive schemes suggest a DE or LB could fill the role of edge pass rusher that Buffalo so desperately needs, while the reluctance to commit longer-term to Taylor indicates Whaley might be looking for QB in the second or third day. Noah Spence, DE/LB, Eastern Kentucky

20-NEW YORK JETS...Though the season ended bitterly with a loss to former HC Rex Ryan and his Bills that would cost the Jets a playoff berth, it was an uplifting 10-6 campaign overall for New York under first-year HC Todd Bowles, who proved a shrewd hire off Bruce Arians' Cardinals staff and kept the Jets in the playoff hunt until the final weekend. Bowles' low-key, no-nonsense approach resonated much better with the roster than predecessor Ryan, whose bombastic act had worn thin. A major surprise was journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who mostly suppressed his career-long Mr. Hyde tendencies at QB by limiting characteristic mistakes to only a handful of games. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick is also out of contract, and while most believe he ends up back with the Jets (who are not likely to turn back to Geno Smith, or the not-yet-ready Bryce Petty), the contract impasse threatens to continue right up to the draft. Perhaps the Jets' recent deal with Denver to acquire former All-Pro OT Ryan Clady will help end the staredown. Stay tuned for further developments. Adding Clady at LT addressed a crucial need after D'Brickashaw Ferguson's retirement, though Clady's recent injury history and RT Breno Giacomini's struggles a year ago suggest the tackle spots might still be positions of need for 2nd-year GM Mike Maccagnan, who proved adept at filling gaps a year ago when named the NFL exec of the year. Though most believe Fitzpatrick eventually re-signs, Maccagnan probably spends a later pick on another developmental prospect at QB. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is campaigning hard for the OL and RB spots to be addressed early, as the Jets want to evolve into a run-first team, but Bowles is also on the lookout for a new ILB after starter Denario Davis departed for Cleveland in free agency. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

21-WASHINGTON REDSKINS...While the rest of the NFC East imploded around them, the Redskins surprisingly emerged to win the division and save the job of HC Jay Gruden. So, for the first time in a while at FedEx Field, there is some stability, with no outflow on the coaching staff and GM Scot McCloughan now firmly entrenched in his role. (Though we warn that impulsive owner Dan Snyder is still lurking not far away.) McCloughan, however, cannot rest on his laurels, as several upgrades can be used, especially on defense for a platoon that ranked rather low both vs. the pass (25th) and run (26th) in 2015. The expected release of QB Robert Griffin III opened some salary cap room, and defense got most of the FA attention, including S David Bruton, signed away from Denver where he was also a special teams ace. Bruton, however, is viewed as a short-term fix, and McCloughan will definitely be looking for more upgrades in the secondary, as well as in the front seven. As for QB Kirk Cousins, he's now entrenched as the starter after a breakout 2015, but McCloughan might need more convincing, as Cousins was only given a franchise tag (though worth almost $20 million) for 2016, asking the former Michigan State man to prove himself again before getting a long-term deal. Washington also might be looking for a new RB after Alfred Morris bolted in free agency for Dallas, though Gruden insists that holdover Matt Jones is ready to assume the featured infantry role. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

22-HOUSTON TEXANS...The Texans made one of the big splashes of free agency when stealing QB Brock Osweiler from the Super Bowl champion Broncos. After a slow start in 2015 and somehow qualifying for the playoffs when using four different QBs, so desperate was Houston GM Rick Smith for an upgrade at the position that he acquiesced to every demand of Osweiler agent Jimmy Sexton, who priced his client out of the range John Elway was willing to pay in Denver. We'll see if Osweiler, with only seven NFL starts under his belt, is worth a 4-year, $72 million deal. The Osweiler signing pushes QB to the back burner in the draft, where the Texans might instead be looking for an upgrade on defense after spending most of their FA dollars on offense. Besides Osweiler, Smith lured ex-Dolphin RB Lamar Miller, ex-Chief G Jeff Allen, and ex-Raider G/C Tony Bergstrom. Allen and Bergstom, however, are effective replacements for C Ben Jones (to the Titans) and G Brandon Brooks (to the Eagles) in free agency. Transitioning away from Gary Kubiak's old zone-based blocking to power schemes under third-year HC Bill O'Brien is an ongoing process, so Smith is probably not done addressing the OL, and might be very tempted to add a new receiving target for Osweiler, where a dangerous slot receiver could come in handy and provide a bit more balance to the aerial game with DeAndre Hopkins and Jaelen Strong around to catch passes outside the numbers. The Texans mighty also pay some attention to the DE spot opposite J.J. Watt after Jared Crick's FA departure to the Broncos. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

23-MINNESOTA VIKINGS...The Vikes will be hitting their brand-new, state-of-the-art U.S. Bank Stadium with plenty of momentum after stealing the NFC North away from the Packers last season and just missing a win over the Seahawks in the wild card round. Even so, the offense has some glaring needs, as the passing game would rank next-to-last with only 183 ypg, while the line is under scrutiny after OL coach Jeff Davidson was fired and vet assistant Tony Sparano was enlisted to forge an upgrade following HC Mike Zimmer's warning to all returning linemen that no job was safe. To no one's surprise in the Twin Cities, the OL has already received attention, as ex-49er G Alex Boone has been the highest-priced FA addition, which means that the Vikings might place a higher draft priority on finding a legit downfield target for QB Teddy Bridgewater after Mike Wallace (who has since bolted to the Ravens) and Cordarrelle Patterson were not able to consistently fill that role a year ago. Minnesota is also one team that can expect to be shuffling draft picks, as GM "Trader Rick" Spielman has made an art form of trading down and has engineered 25 draft day deals since arriving with the Vikes in 2006. Spielman, currently with 8 picks to use, is on record as saying he would like ten picks in every draft, so keep an eye on the trade wire. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

24-CINCINNATI BENGALS...There is apparently no consequence in Cincy for HC Marvin Lewis losing at the first playoff hurdle every season. That's now happened four years running for the Bengals, as well as a postseason victory drought that has endured since 1990. But Lewis has had his contract extended another year thru 2017 despite the gut-wrenching giveaway loss to the Steelers in the latest Queen City wild card-round meltdown. The challenge to get back to the playoffs might be daunting this fall, however, with considerable outflow in free agency as well as the departure of o.c. Hue Jackson (now the HC of the Browns), with QB coach Ken Zampese promoted to Jackson's role. A big part of the Bengals' high-scoring offense had been the development of WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but both have departed in free agency, and only adding ex-Patriot Brandon LaFell is not a great trade-off. So, finding some receiving help for QB Andy Dalton figures to be a draft priority, but director of player personnel Duke Tobin is also probably going to be taking a hard look at the secondary, where S Reggie Nelson has bolted to the Raiders and vet CB Leon Hall is not likely to be asked back. The Bengals might also be considering some fortification at LB, especially with Vontaze Burfict looking at a 3-game suspension out of the chute and a notorious disciplinary risk. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

25-PITTSBURGH STEELERS...The Steelers have stayed relevant in recent campaigns even as they have transitioned plenty of personnel on the defensive side. The resilience of the organization also showed last season when HC Mike Tomlin was able to keep the team afloat, winning games with backup QBs Michael Vick and Landry Jones during Ben Roethlisberger's absences, results that would help the men of Steel make it back to the playoffs as a wild card. With Big Ben now entering his 13th season and with plenty of wear on his tires, expect GM Kevin Colbert to address a longer-term QB answer sometime in the draft, though there are other areas of need demanding earlier attention. Such as the secondary, which allowed a whopping 272 ypg thru the air (ranking 30th) and has not yet been significantly addressed in free agency other than re-signing CB William Gay. This might be the first year since 2003 that the Steelers draft a DB in the first round. Finding a potential shutdown CB is a likely early target, as well as adding more depth at the safety spots that have downgraded since the days of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark patrolling the outfield. The season-long suspension of troubled WR Martavis Bryant suggests that Colbert also looks for another WR in the second or third day. William Jackson III, CB, Houston

26-SEATTLE SEAHAWKS...After a brief salary cap honeymoon when starting QB Russell Wilson was still on a third-round rookie contract, allowing extra dollars to be spent elsewhere on the roster, the Seahawks finally had to start dealing with their salary issues like most teams a year ago, figuring on a larger chunk for their QB. Wilson's new contract counted $7 mill against the cap last season, and will escalate to $11 mill this year and $15 mill in 2017, so Seattle GM John Schneider is now juggling cap space a bit more delicately than the Hawks' Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and '14. With not enough salary room to keep everybody, Seattle has experienced some significant (but expected) personnel outflow the past two offseasons. The most immediate area of need appears to be along the OL, which endured a rough beginning to 2015 and ended up surrendering 46 sacks before finally coagulating down the stretch. There has already been plenty of shuffling up front in free agency (OTs Russell Okung and Alvin Bailey, and G J.R. Sweezy all out; ex-Raider G J'Marcus Webb and ex-Card T Bradley Sowell in), but Schneider and HC Pete Carroll will almost certainly be looking for upgrades in the draft, where a center might also be targeted. The Hawks could also be looking for another CB opposite Richard Sherman after struggling to replace Byron Maxwell a year ago. With Marshawn Lynch apparently making good on his retirement threat, Schneider also could be looking for another RB, though Central Michigan FA Thomas "Lou" Rawls came out of nowhere to become one of the surprise stories of 2015 to prevent a significant non-Lynch dropoff. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama

27-GREEN BAY PACKERS...Though the Pack got back to the playoffs again in 2015, a 4-6 fade down the stretch allowed the Vikings to slip in and steal the NFC North. And now there are rumors that longtime HC Mike McCarthy has become a bit miffed at GM Ted Thompson's draft-and-develop approach, as Green Bay was once again mostly a bystander in the first wave of free agency, adding only DE Jared Cook from the Rams in a mid-tier deal (though Thompson did manage to retain PK Mason Crosby and DT Letroy Guion). The offense struggled significantly down the stretch last season, though injuries, especially to the WR corps (which never really recovered from top wideout Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury in preseason), were partly to blame. McCarthy, however, has been vocal of his criticism of the stop unit in the offseason ("We're not a championship defense, and that has to be the next step next year," said the coach recently), and that would appear to be the focus of Thompson's attention early in the draft. It is expected that the Pack will target an ILB, as d.c. Dom Capers plans to move Clay Matthews back to the outside to take better advantage of his pass-rush capabilities. And even with the re-signing of Guion, Thompson might also want to address the DL after blubbery DT B.J. Raji's announced "hiatus" (as Raji refers to it). How RB Eddie Lacy is proceeding with his weight-control issues in the offseason after falling into McCarthy's doghouse might also dictate whether Thompson looks early at the RB spot, though holdover James Starks was re-signed. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama

28-KANSAS CITY CHIEFS...The Chiefs' late-season surge was one of the top storylines of 2015, and presents a tough act to follow for HC Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey. Draft priorities have perhaps been altered due to key OLB Justin Houston's knee surgery, which threatens to keep him out for the entire season. There was already going to be plenty of attention paid to the CB spot after Sean Smith left in free agency for the Raiders. On offense, the WRs became more productive with last year's addition of ex-Eagle Jeremy Maclin, as the wideouts would catch 12 TD passes after posting the big donut in 2014. Still, expect Reid and Dorsey to target a possession receiver to go over the middle. An upgrade at the RB position might also be in order with Jamaal Charles off another major knee injury and with plenty of miles on his 30-year-old legs; Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were serviceable in relief last year but neither appears to be a long-term option. And after losing G Jeff Allen (to the Texans) and T Robert Stephenson (to the Broncos) in free agency, Dorsey is likely to be shopping for some help along the OL, too. The KC brain trust also might be looking for another QB after Alex Smith's safety blanket, Chase Daniel, left for the Eagles in the offseason. Note that KC forfeits picks in the third and seventh rounds due to tampering penalties related to last year's courtship of Maclin. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

29-ARIZONA CARDINALS...When healthy, the Cardinals have a complete roster, and the Big Red came close to their first Super Bowl visit in seven years in 2015 when making it as far as the NFC title game, another marker in the ascent of the franchise since HC Bruce Arians was hired prior to 2013. The immediate question in the desert is how much gas 36-year-old QB Carson Palmer has left in his tank, especially after a shaky playoff performance that resulted in six picks in 2015's two postseason games. Backup Drew Stanton was signed to a pricey deal to stick around as insurance, but GM Steve Keim might be tempted to identify Palmer's eventual successor early in the draft if he likes the QBs still on the board late in the first round. Keim might also want to add some depth to the secondary and look for a proper CB bookend to go with Patrick Peterson and also as insurance in case FS Tyrann Mathieu, also a hybrid CB, or someone else goes down with injury, as Mathieu did late last season. Keim, also adept at adding veteran pieces to jazz the pass rush, recently traded a second-round pick to the Patriots for DE Chandler Jones, lessening the need to address that element in the draft. Arizona also probably looks to upgrade at C, which has been the weakest link in an otherwise sturdy offensive front wall. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

30-CAROLINA PANTHERS...While there would not seem to be too many positions considered needy following a 15-1 regular season and a trip to Super Bowl 50, the undressing of OTs Michael Oher and Mike Remmers by the Broncos on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara was an early indicator of the area in which GM Dave Gettleman might be looking for some help in the draft, if for nothing else than to find a long-term blindside protector for QB Cam Newton. The offense functioned well with a mostly non-descript group of wideouts a year ago and will get a big boost with the return of WR Kelvin Benjamin, who flashed lots of upside after being a first-round pick in 2014 before missing all of 2015 due to injury. Getting Benjamin back is like adding another first-round wide receiver. The defense should remain robust, but even before the surprise rescinding of the franchise tag on All-Pro Josh Norman, making him a free agent, the Panthers were looking for some help at CB, where they remain razor thin, and where slot man Bene' Benwikere is coming off a broken leg.  Norman's exit leaves Robert McClain and Teddy Williams as the only corners currently under contract with game experience. Gettleman might also be looking for help at SS with aging Roman Harper's status still up in the air. Adding some depth at DE is another possibility after Jared Allen's retirement, and Charles Johnson being brought back on just a one-year deal. The good news is that Gettleman still has plenty of maneuverability beneath the salary cap and can be expected to add some more pieces in the second wave of free agency prior to training camp. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

31-DENVER BRONCOS...The Super Bowl 50 champs figured to take some hits in free agency with not enough room to accommodate all of their expiring contracts. As expected, Super Bowl MVP LB Von Miller received the franchise tag, which hamstrung John Elway in his attempts to keep some other key defenders, resulting in departures of DT Malik Jackson (to the Jags) and LB Danny Trevathan (to the Bears). Elway did manage to hang on to restricted FA RB C.J. Anderson by matching Miami's offer, though most of the talk in Colorado has been about the QB position after Peyton Manning's expected retirement and Brock Osweiler's unexpected bolt for Houston, leaving Elway and HC Gary Kubiak very thin behind center. Elway quickly dealt with the Eagles for Mark Sanchez as insurance and can be expected to make another move (perhaps in the draft), with various names, including Colin Kaepernick and FA Johnny Manziel, being floated. Though AFC sources suggest Elway and Kubiak believe they might have their eventual answer at QB in second-year Trevor Siemian, the ex-Northwestern man who impressed last preseason. Siemian's potential target date is more likely in 2017, though he will be given a chance to win the job this summer. Thus, many don't believe Elway is in a hurry to add a QB in the draft unless he could possibly swing a deal to move up for North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Denver did bolster its OL by adding OTs Robert Stephenson (via the Chiefs) and Russell Okung (via the Seahawks) in free agency, and signed DE Jared Crick from the Texans. But the chance to add another impact player to a championship defense that lost a couple of big-play elements in Jackson and Trevathan will be tempting for Elway. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

Due to penalties resulting from the "Deflate-gate" episode, New England forfeited its first-round pick at the 29th slot. Following is a look at what the Patriots might be looking to do in Chicago later this month.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS...The Pats are without a first-round pick, but added a selection late in the second round by trading DE Chandler Jones to the Cardinals. Thus, New England has back-to-back picks near the end of Round Two at slots 60 and 61, plus two more picks in Round Three (one of those a compensatory selection at the end of the round). Jones' departure leaves a potential void at DE, which recently-signed Chris Long (via the Rams), off of a disappointing 2015, might not be able to fill. Bill Belichick will also probably be looking to add depth at the CB spot opposite Malcolm Butler. The offense figures to get plenty of attention, however, as the depth chart at RB is long but not necessarily distinguished, with top 2015 infantry threat Dion Lewis off a serious ACL injury. The Tom Brady-led attack remains pass-first, but has lacked a serious deep threat for years, and the Pats might target a burner to help better balance an aerial game that relies on lots of intermediate and underneath stuff to WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski.
 
SEE YOU FOR "TGS 60" IN FOOTBALL SEASON!

Like the last day of school before summer vacation, there is always great satisfaction, relief, and excitement when we complete the final issue of our publishing season, which this Hoops Issue 40 marks for the 2015-16 campaign.

The last issue of each publishing year always brings smiles to our faces, too, as we recall where we've been and what we've done over the past season. It is also a time of reflection, as we look back on many sweet memories of past "last days of school" and nearly six decades of involvement in this endeavor, as well as recall the countless people who have been with us through the years and part of this wonderful TGS journey. And we smile some more!

No matter, the upcoming offseason will be fairly busy, as usual, for us at TGS. Daily selections continue in the NBA, MLB, and NHL Stanley Cup and can be accessed at www.goldsheet.com. Check back in later June and throughout the summer when we begin to post our college conference and NFL previews, as well as more of our much-discussed "Retrospective" pieces as we begin a season-long celebration of our upcoming landmark 60th season of publishing! As always, keep posted on these and other TGS developments via our website. And we're only four months away from our first NFL preseason picks in August!

As always, we thank our readers for allowing us to continue fulfilling our passion for sport. As for the past 59 years, we continue to work toward improving our products, and we can't wait for the upcoming football season...TGS 60! We look forward to you joining us again for another exciting ride this fall!


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