OVERVIEW: For the time being – nothing is certain when Rick Spielman is on the phone and stacking a draft board – the Minnesota Vikings don’t have a first-round pick. But, it doesn’t keep Viking Update from providing mock drafts to our readers. This will be the first of two mock drafts prior to the NFL Scouting Combine and, at this point, we’re focusing on a combination of the most talented players available as well as specific needs for teams. As the Combine and free agency change the landscape of the draft, these are the players to keep an eye on at Indianapolis to see if their stock rises or falls. This mock is based on the marriage of on-field talent and team need.
The asterisk on Picks 14-15 are as-of-yet not finalized. A coin flip at the Combine will determine who picks first between Philadelphia and Indianapolis.
1. Cleveland – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. The automatic assumption is that the Browns are going to take a quarterback here, but, with two picks in the first round and the underlying sentiment that they will bring in Tyrod Taylor when his giant contract is voided by Buffalo, the goal for Cleveland is to land the best athlete available. The best pass rusher in the draft (32½ sacks in three years as a starter), Garrett is the biggest impact player at the top of the draft and makes logical sense for the Browns to snap up.
2. San Francisco – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. With a new regime in San Fran, they likely are going to want to start the new program with their own quarterback. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is the sexy choice to go here because his big-game experience and collegiate success, but Trubisky looks like a better fit in a Kyle Shanahan system. He reads progressions extremely well and had a 68.2 completion percentage last season. His 13 starts may be an issue, but if the Niners want him, they will work him out and know what they’re getting. If they opt to bring back Colin Kaepernick, they likely trade this pick.
3. Chicago – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama. John Fox has spent two years dismantling the defense that was in place and Allen has the quickness to play end in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. Quarterback is going to be awfully tempting here because it looks like the Bears are moving on from Jay Cutler, but Allen may be too tempting to pass on, given the immediate impact he could bring to Chicago’s defensive front.
4. Jacksonville – Jamal Adams, S, LSU. Although the numbers didn’t show it, the Jaguars are virtually set on offense with the personnel they already have (a better guard wouldn’t hurt). If free agent safety Johnathan Cyprien leaves, this is a no-brainer. If he doesn’t, the Jags could have a devastating safety tandem that could be a force for years to come.
5. Tennessee (from L.A. Rams) – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. Thank you, Jeff Fisher and Jared Goff! If Marcus Mariota is going to succeed, he needs better weapons in the pass game. Tennessee already has a dominant rush offense and Williams proved he could be a difference-maker all over the field as Deshaun Watson’s go-to target. If Adams if still available, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come off with this pick, but Williams may be the missing ingredient for a Titans team poised to make a run at the AFC South title.
6. New York Jets – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Dabo Swinney, Watson’s coach at Clemson, has warned teams that pass on him that they’re missing out on a Michael Jordan-style athlete. While clearly hyperbole, in two college seasons Watson got to the championship game in both and led the Tigers to a win over Alabama in January. With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith both disappointments and free agents coming off a dismal season, the Big Apple may be in store for one of the most-hyped players to come to their sideline in a long, long time.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State. The Chargers have glaring needs at offensive tackle, but there isn’t a tackle worth taking with this pick. Of all the players the Chargers missed last year, Eric Weddle was at the top of that list. Throw in that Jahleel Addae is a pending free agent, an impact centerfielder in the Chargers defense can cure a big ill. He was a dominant player last year, including three Pick-6s, and would give the Chargers a much-needed upgrade in the secondary.
8. Carolina – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Every year there is a player who is selected in a spot in the first round that never changes, despite numerous incarnations of our mock draft and numerous players who rise and fall in the rankings. Fournette may well be that player this year. Jonathan Stewart has run his course in Carolina and anyone who saw Fournette as a freshman knew he was ready for the NFL. Despite injuries last season, his dominance against top competition in the SEC proved his worthiness for the NFL. Running backs have been devalued in recent years on draft day, but the success of Ezekiel Elliott could create a revival for the top 10.
9. Cincinnati – Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford. The Bengals had just 33 sacks last year and the once-feared Mike Zimmer defense is a shell of its former self. Michael Johnson was a disappointing re-signing and Thomas has the size (6-foot-3, 273) to play on the edge or move inside to tackle. His versatility is his calling card and the Bengals could use that kind of help because, by the time they draft again, there could several more top defensive linemen off the board, making Thomas hard to pass up.
10. Buffalo – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State. If Watson or Trubisky remains on the board, they likely won’t be after this pick. The Bills struggled at corner, especially the decline in play from Stephon Gilmore, who is a free agent. Buffalo is going to have a much different look in 2017, starting with QB Tyrod Taylor likely being released, so the first priority will be to add playmakers and Lattimore fits that description.
11. New Orleans – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. We’ve projected the Saints to take a defensive player in the first round every year since about 2010 because, since that point, their defense has stunk to the extent that defense is always an area of prime need. You could make a case for a defensive end, defensive tackle or cornerback here, but Foster may be the exception to the malaise the Saints have on defense. It wouldn’t be a shock to see someone trade in front of the Saints to take Foster because he was as dominant an inside linebacker as college football had in 2016. Watch his tape and shake your head in awe.
12. Cleveland (from Philadelphia) – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. If one of the top two QBs is available and the Browns haven’t signed a free agent quarterback, that would likely be the pick. But, if they’re open to matching up need with talent, Cook is an ideal player to add to the offense, where a strong running game can mask the lack of maturity of a young quarterback – see Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. In three years, Cook averaged 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns. Anything remotely close to that makes this a value pick.
13. Arizona – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan. Davis is arguably the biggest wild card of the 2017 draft. If he was 100 percent and could fully showcase himself at the Combine, he could easily vault himself into the top wide receiver spot in the draft. But an ankle injury will limit a lot of what he can do and he will need to depend on being healthy enough to have an impressive pro day performance. With the Cardinals having cut Michael Floyd, and Larry Fitzgerald and QB Carson Palmer almost surely entering their final seasons as Cardinals, having a stud receiver to carry the mantle will help set the foundation of an offense that will center on David Johnson and will need new playmakers to join him.
*14. Indianapolis – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. This isn’t a great year for offensive tackles, which typically see two or three go in the top 10. To have the first one come off the board here speaks volumes to the lack of blue-chip stars. Protecting Andrew Luck is a top priority and, even though this year’s class doesn’t have great offensive tackles at the top, Robinson is an impressive prospect who can fill an immediate need.
*15. Philadelphia (from Minnesota) – Teez Tabor, CB, Florida. The Eagles have a strong defense that could carry them to the playoffs, but cornerback is a weakness that has been exploited by Dak Prescott, Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins. Wide receiver is a possibility if one of the top two drops to this spot, but the Eagles have enough individual talent in the front seven to become a dominating unit if they can add shutdown ability on the back end.
16. Baltimore – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. The Ravens didn’t have a pass rush to speak of down the stretch and it cost them dearly. From our view, this pick could be what inside dope John Harbaugh’s brother Jim gives him on his two best defenders – whether that’s Charlton or Jabrill Peppers, both of whom could become immediate starters. Timmy Jernigan is locked in at one end spot, but Charlton could give them the rush they need to avoid losses like the Ravens suffered to Pittsburgh late in the season.
17. Washington – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan. Scouts differ on their views on Peppers, but we really like his ability in the right system. He could be the next in a growing list of hybrid safety/linebacker types that are becoming specialists. He didn’t show a lot of playmaking skills, but you can’t miss him when he’s on the field because he makes tackles from sideline to sideline and delivers heavy hits. He could learn from aging DeAngelo Hall and become a force sooner than later.
18. Tennessee – Sidney Jones, CB, Washington. The Titans aren’t far away from being a legitimate contender in the AFC and, having already addressed wide receiver with the pick obtained from the Rams, they address their biggest defensive need at cornerback. Devin McCourty is a solid corner, but isn’t a shutdown type and needs to have someone on the other side to take the heat off. If the Titans can shore up just a couple of positions, which they’re doing in the first round, they could be the favorite to win the AFC South.
19. Tampa Bay – Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State. The Bucs have the ability to be dominant up front. They have a dominant tackle in Gerald McCoy but have never been able to line up someone next to him that can be just as dominant. At 6-6, 290, McDowell is still a raw talent but has all the intangibles to become a dominating player. His dominance produced 11 sacks last year and he has the ability in the right system to approach those numbers in the NFL is used properly.
20. Denver – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin. The primary reason for Denver’s drop from Super Bowl champ to missing the playoffs was due in large part to the offensive tackle struggles of imports Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson. Okung is due $11.7 million this season and the Broncos aren’t likely to pay that kind of money for the lack of production they got last year. Wisconsin consistently produces strong offensive linemen and Ramczyk is just the latest in that legacy and fills a clear need.
21. Detroit – Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE, UCLA. The Lions made the playoffs, but it wasn’t due to their defense. McKinley played defensive end, but, at 6-2, 240, he is undersized for a defensive end at the next level. However, he has explosion off the line that can’t be taught and could be a disruptive playmaker who could add speed and big-play ability to a defense in more need of those types of players.
22. Miami – Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida. The Dolphins and their fans are very familiar with Davis from his time with the Gators. Given the injuries to Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins last year – and the fact both are free agents – there may be a complete overhaul of the linebacker corps through the draft and free agency. Davis has the versatility to play inside or outside, which gives him extra value given Miami’s linebacker situation right now.
23. New York Giants – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama. Offensive tackle is a clear possibility here, but the G-Men likely will look to the free-agent market for a veteran in front of an aging Eli Manning. With the weapons Manning has on the outside, the one missing ingredient is a field-stretching tight end. Howard was dominant at times for the Crimson Tide and few tight ends have his skill set coming into the NFL. He could be a difference-maker that makes Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard even more dangerous by forcing safeties to respect the deep seam.
24. Oakland – Charles Harris, OLB/DE, Missouri. A playmaker in the SEC who was used as an undersized defensive end, at 6-3, 255, he has the size, strength and speed to play defensive end if needed, but can also be an edge rusher and coverage man from the linebacker spot. The Raiders’ linebackers were a weakness of the defense and need to be upgraded, even more so if Perry Riley isn’t re-signed.
25. Houston – Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida. If the Texans can’t re-sign A.J. Bouye, they may have to franchise him in order not to lose him. That is never a positive scenario. Even if Bouye is re-signed, the Texans could use Wilson to compete immediately with Kareem Jackson, who is solid but not outstanding. Wilson is big (6-1, 213) and has excellent ball skills, which will be needed in a division that has young quarterbacks and front offices looking to add big receivers to give them more weapons moving forward.
26. Seattle – Garett Bolles, OT, Utah. The Seahawks have a horrible offensive line due in large part to filling most of the spots with mid- to late-round picks they’ve tried to develop. He hasn’t consistently faced elite competition, but he has good athleticism and technique, which will likely allow him to shine at the Combine in a relatively weak offensive line class. Even if Seattle makes a move or two in free agency to address O-line deficiencies, they need to infuse young talent for the long-term.
27. Kansas City – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame. This isn’t an indictment on Alex Smith, but his conservative style will only take the team so far and he isn’t getting any younger. With a year or two to learn the NFL and Andy Reid’s offense, Kizer has the athleticism to become a solid QB in the tradition of those that have played in Reid’s system. He is far from a lock to land here, but he is an intriguing prospect with upside for a QB taken by a team that made the playoffs in 2016 with a defensive-based dominance.
28. Dallas – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee. The Cowboys have swung and missed at defensive end over the years, taking players with high talent and low character like Randy Gregory and picking up guys like Greg Hardy. Barnett is an athletic specimen who, at 6-3, 265, can play DE in a 4-3 or OLB in 3-4 and consistently make plays. The Cowboys are clearly very close to being a Super Bowl team and getting a bookend for DeMarcus Lawrence could be the missing piece of the puzzle.
29. Green Bay – Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU. The Packers were dismal at cornerback all season and the release of Sam Shields makes a bad situation worse. A veteran of the SEC wars with 47 career starts, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen at the upper echelon of college football. The Packers need players with experience and, barring dipping into free agency (which goes against their historical model), the Packers will land an NFL-ready corner with skill to hold up to the passing games of the NFC North and give the Packers defense a fighting chance.
30. Pittsburgh – Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama. James Harrison is older than dust and can’t be relied upon as he has in recent years. He’s at the end of the line and the Steelers need a young stud to line up opposite Bud Dupree to bring the heat. The Steelers have enough talent on offense to focus on the defensive side of the ball in the draft. He has some character issues (handgun possession is a big red flag for many organizations), but he had 19½ sacks over the last two seasons and brings explosiveness to a defense predicated on firing off the ball.
31. Atlanta – Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn. The Falcons got to the Super Bowl but struggled defensively most of the season. Dwight Freeney is little more than a 10- to 15-snap guy and Dan Quinn needs an upside guy to line up opposite Vic Beasley to create edge pressure. Defensive tackle and linebacker are also options, but it seems clear that the focus of the draft and free agency will be to build a defense that can keep up with Atlanta’s high-powered offense. If they add two or three difference-makers along the way, the Falcons could be dominant.
32. New England – David Njoku, TE, Miami. He was a huge playmaker at The U, averaging more than 16 yards per reception. The Patriots have always tried to incorporate two playmaking tight ends that create mismatches. Martellus Bennett is a free agent who has made it clear he wants to be paid top dollar and Rob Gronkowski is dominant, but has trouble staying healthy for 16 games. Njoku could create big mismatches with his athleticism and could continue the trend of giving Brady strong tight end weapons.