In a quarterback-driven league, the story line of this year’s draft is as much who doesn’t take a quarterback as who does. Cleveland doesn’t look like it will pull the trigger with the top pick, and San Francisco and Chicago don’t seem too eager with the next two picks, either. In their defense, the 2017 class of signal-callers is one to tap the brakes on. While the potential is there, this group comes with more questions than answers.
The Jets seem like a good bet to make things interesting with the No. 6 pick, and it’s hard to imagine Cleveland not jumping in on a signal-caller in the 12th spot. Who that might be remains to be seen. Houston and Arizona might be in the market for a quarterback, as well, if their guy is there.
But three years from now, there’s a good chance that this could be known as the “Great Cornerback Draft of 2017,” with that being arguably the deepest position through seven rounds. Green Bay will be hoping that’s true, especially when it passes on a back-end defender in the first round to get a player that will be following in his big brother’s footsteps of terrorizing quarterbacks…
No. 1 Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Size, speed, explosiveness ... done. Cleveland takes the consensus No. 1 pick and waits to see which quarterback falls to them at the No. 12 spot.
No. 2 San Francisco: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
New head coach Kyle Shanahan would love to find the next “Matty Ice,” but the Niners opt for a dynamic pass rusher with an arsenal of moves who can play multiple spots on the line.
No. 3 Chicago Bears: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
With their pick of safeties Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker, the Bears go with the draft’s stickiest cornerback to upgrade a unit that gave up nearly 25 points per game in 2016 and faces Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford four times a year.
No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Stylistically, Fournette draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson with his blend of power and long-stride speed. We’ll see soon enough if that translates to the pro level. But it takes pressure off Black Bortles and the passing game immediately.
No. 5 Tennessee Titans: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
A receiver in this spot is tempting, but the Titans bolster arguably their biggest area of need with the speedy Adams, who might prove to be the best defensive back in the draft.
No. 6 New York Jets: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
McCown, Petty and Hackenberg doesn’t sound like a great law firm, let alone a quarterback depth chart. Enter Trubisky, a late riser who completed 68 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns and just six picks over 13 starts. It’s a limited body of work and came almost exclusively out of the shotgun, but the Jets are willing to make him their latest quarterback of the future.
No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
A year after striking gold with defensive end Joey Bosa, the Chargers tap The Ohio State again with Hooker, a rangy defender who grabbed seven interceptions for the Buckeyes in 2016.
No. 8 Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffery, RB, Stanford
Veteran back Jonathan Stewart is heading into his 10th season and had just one 100-yard game last season. McCaffery is a perfect complement who adds a dynamic presence to a struggling run game, along with the return game.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
Cincinnati goes with a Top 5 talent who faltered a bit in workouts but, at 6-foot-3 and 286 pounds, has the burst and versatility teams covet.
No. 10 Buffalo Bills: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
The Bills get their complement to Sammy Watkins with a receiver who set an FBS record with 5,212 yards and 51 touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and with an on-campus time of 4.48 from last summer, he’s the most polished receiver in the draft.
No. 11 New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett isn’t the athlete Garrett is, but his 33 sacks over the past three years led the nation, and he passed none other than the late, great Reggie White to become the Vols’ career sacks leader.
No. 12 Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson’s 30 picks over the past two seasons is cause for concern, but his arm, legs, poise and ability to play big when it matters most could finally give fans a young signal-caller to be excited about … assuming they’re not terribly excited about Brock Osweiler and have forgotten about Johnny what’s-his-name.
No. 13 Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
If this ends up being Carson Palmer’s last hurrah, the Cards may have found his replacement in the gunslinger from Texas Tech. This would be a perfect landing spot for Mahomes, who could use a year to acclimate to a pro-style offense and might ultimately be the crème of this year’s quarterback crop.
No. 14 Philadelphia Eagles: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
With last year’s starting corners gone via free agency, the Eagles lock in Humphrey, a player with size, speed and plenty of upside at just 20 years old.
No. 15 Indianapolis Colts: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
Reddick is an athletic 237-pound linebacker who put up 22.5 tackles for losses and 10.5 sacks for the Owls in 2016. He can line up and attack from anywhere in the scheme, and blitz or drop with equal aplomb.
No. 16 Baltimore Ravens: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
If Joe Flacco gets a vote, he’ll cast it for the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder who can post up defensive backs and use his monster catch radius to haul in passes. After losing Steve Smith Sr. and Kamar Aiken, this pick is a no-brainer.
No. 17 Washington Redskins: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
The versatile McKinley notched 10 sacks and 18 tackles for losses in just 11 games last season. His forte is rushing the passer, but he’s shown an ability to drop into coverage when needed. Shoulder surgery could cost him his rookie training camp, but he’ll be worth the wait.
No. 18 Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR, Washington
Quarterback Marcus Mariota gets a race car of a receiver in Ross and his NFL Combine-record 4.22-second 40-yard dash. At 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds, Ross has had his share of injuries but, when healthy, he’s a legit game-breaker.
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook could argue his case as the best three-down back ahead of Fournette. He racked up 1,788 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2016 and bested Warrick Dunn’s career FSU rushing mark with 4,464 yards. He’s got patience, burst and balance, along with soft hands catching out of the backfield. But off-field issues, including a misdemeanor for allegedly punching a woman outside a bar in 2015 and a 2014 animal care violation involving three pitbull puppies, could see him slide to this spot or beyond.
No. 20 Denver Broncos: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Christian McCaffery would’ve made for a nice story here, but the consolation is a power forward of a tight end with possibly the best hands in the draft. Howard wasn’t a featured weapon in the Crimson Tide’s attack, but at 6-foot-6, 251 pounds with 4.51 speed, he’ll make up for it at the next level.
No. 21 Detroit Lions: Rueben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Foster is a top-10 talent and quite possibly the hardest hitter in the draft. Off-field issues — an altercation with a hospital worker that got him sent home from the Combine, a diluted urine sample, questions about his friends and recovery from a shoulder injury — all contributed to his drop. But the film shows a tone-setting inside linebacker with All-Pro potential.
No. 22 Miami Dolphins: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Big, strong and long-levered, as the scouts like to say, at 6-foot-6 and 277 pounds, Vidauntae “Taco” Charlton is still growing into his body and may have only scratched the surface of how good he can be – which means even better than his 9.5 sacks while earning first-team all-Big Ten in 2016.
No. 23 New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
With right tackle Marshall Newhouse off to the Raiders, the Giants upgrade their line with the nation’s top pass protector and the pride of Stevens Point, Wis. Ramczyk started his career at Division II Winona State, moved back home to Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point and ultimately found stardom at Division I Wisconsin. He will become the only NFL player to have played college football at all three divisions.
No. 24 Oakland Raiders: Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida
With Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin manning the outside linebacker spots, the Raiders shore up the middle of their defense with a player who draws as much praise for his character and leadership as he does for his instinctive play.
No. 25 Houston Texans: Davis Webb, QB, California
Webb lost his starting job to Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech, then transferred to Cal, where he replaced the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff. Despite losing his top six receivers at Cal from the 2015 season, Webb finished second nationally (to Mahomes) with 4,295 yards and threw 43 touchdowns. Possessing an NFL arm and body, Davis will make Texans fans forget all about those months they spent wishing for Tony Romo to come town H-town.
No. 26 Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King, CB, Washington
It’s a little too perfect … King played his college ball in Seattle, he’s a 6-foot-3 physical defender that’s played cornerback, safety and slot, and he led all corners at the Combine in the three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. As offseason rumors about Richard Sherman swirled, the Seahawks may have found his eventual replacement, sans the dreadlocks.
No. 27 Kansas City Chiefs: Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt
With veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson rehabbing an Achilles injury, Cunningham — the SEC’s leading tackler in 2016 and a two-time first team all-conference selection — can step in and instantly lend his instinctiveness and athleticism to an area of need.
No. 28 Dallas Cowboys: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
With needs at cornerback and pass rusher, the Cowboys tab the latest Mizzou quarterback-sacking standout. Harris’ film makes up for less-than-stellar testing numbers. “Black Ice,” as his teammates call him, slides into an ideal landing spot as an edge rusher in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme.
No. 29 Green Bay Packers: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
With a plug-and-play option at guard available in Western Kentucky’s Forest Lamp and options at cornerback like Ohio State’s Gareon Conley — not to mention Michigan safety-linebacker hybrid Jabrill Peppers — the Packers address possibly their biggest area of need with a homegrown pass rushing prospect that isn’t even close to finding the ceiling on how good he can be. A tight end until 2015, Watt put up 15.5 tackles for losses and 11.5 sacks in his only year starting for the Badgers as a stand-up outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He also returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown. He has the film, testing numbers (his 11.20 60-yard shuttle led all linebackers at the Combine, while his 10-foot-8 broad jump and 4.13 20-yard shuttle tied for the best mark) and genetics (younger brother of the NFL’s only three-time defensive MVP) to be an immediate contributor and impact player for years to come. Watt would team up with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry to give Green Bay a fearsome pass rush that will pay dividends not just in sack totals but on the back end of the defense, where it struggled a year ago. If he’s on the board, this is as close to a can’t-miss pick as there is.
No. 30 Pittsburgh Steelers: Jabrill Peppers, S/OLB, Michigan
Like Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Peppers’ urine sample from the Combine came back as diluted, meaning the amount of water was determined to be the result of masking a banned substance. That verdict counts the same as a positive result, but there’s no discipline involved in Stage One of the program. Peppers says he was suffering from food poisoning and simply trying to properly hydrate himself. Either way, the Steelers get good value on a player who lined up at 15 different spots on offense, defense and special teams for the Wolverines and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.
No. 31 Atlanta Falcons: Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
A four-year starter at left tackle for the Hilltoppers who put up strong showings against LSU and Alabama, Lamp projects to guard to at the pro level with the cliché “short arms.” After embracing the move inside during the Senior Bowl, he added to his resume by snapping at his pro day, showing the versatility to play up and down the line that teams love.
No. 32 New Orleans Saints: Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
The Saints aren’t ready to look for the next Drew Brees yet — at least not in this spot — but if some team wanted to come up from Round 2 for Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, they’re likely listening. So barring a trade down or a trade for New England’s Malcolm Butler, New Orleans gets an athletically gifted corner that’s made plays on offense, defense and special teams during his time with the Trojans. He might be a bit undersized to play on the outside, but he’ll contribute in the slot and the return game right away.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.