OVERVIEW: The landscape of the mock draft has taken a big turn thanks to the Combine and the opening of free agency. Some teams with glaring needs have filled them by paying heavily for them, while other vacancies have been created thanks to unanticipated free-agent losses. Some draft stocks have risen and fallen from the Combine – nobody more than the drop of Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, who was seen as a top-15 pick before tearing an Achilles at his pro day. With six weeks remaining until the draft, here’s how we see the first round shaking out.
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 five picks in the first 65, they have options. The Browns clearly need a quarterback, but the “trade” for Brock Osweiler likely isn’t the answer. You don’t gamble on the first pick. 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 – Solomon Thomas, DT, Stanford. G.M. John Lynch has made a slew of midlevel signings but filled short-term needs at quarterback (Brian Hoyer), wide receiver (Pierre Garcon) and linebacker (Malcolm Smith). One area left untouched in free agency has been defensive line because, whether it was Thomas or Garrett, it’s hard to go wrong here. Thomas has drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald. If he comes close to that, he’s a perfect pick for a new regime looking to build the foundation of a franchise.
3. Chicago – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama. John Fox has spent two years dismantling the defense that he inherited and Allen has the quickness to play end in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. With Chicago opening Al Capone’s vault to pay unproven Mike Glennon and ridding themselves of Jay Cutler, Allen may be too difficult to pass on given the immediate impact he could bring to Chicago’s morphing defensive front.
4. Jacksonville – Jamal Adams, S, LSU. Although the 2016 numbers didn’t show it, the Jaguars are virtually set on offense with the personnel they already have. The Jags have invested heavily in free agency to land Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Branden Albert. They replaced Johnathan Cyprien with Barry Church, but Adams would allow the Jaguars to have a secondary of Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Adams and Church – potentially one of the most dominant in the NFL.
5. Tennessee (from L.A. Rams) – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State. Wide receiver is a possibility here if they love Mike Williams or Corey Davis, but Tennessee’s downfall last year was one of the worst secondaries in the league. They added CB Logan Ryan and S Johnathan Cyprien in free agency, but adding an aggressive young rookie talent like Hooker would potentially turn a weakness into a strength. The Titans have good options here, but the combination of talent and need come together with this pick.
6. N.Y. Jets – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. The question here would seem to come down to Watson or Mitchell Trubisky. The Jets are clearly going to do their work on both of them. There is a chance they will sign Jay Cutler or another available veteran QB as a short-term solution while the Jets try to rebuild from replacing their offensive line, wide receivers and running back positions. Given a year to learn and adjust to the NFL, Watson wouldn’t be as big a reach as this pick would indicate. He’s a winner and the Jets could use some of those these days.
7. L.A. Chargers – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State. The Chargers answered their issue at left tackle by paying dearly for Russell Okung, but have some pretty glaring needs. Cornerback has become an issue because Jason Verrett can’t seem to stay healthy and they cut starter Brandon Flowers. Lattimore is the best cornerback in the draft and his availability trumps needs elsewhere because there isn’t a tackle in the draft worthy of taking here.
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 – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. The Bengals lost Karlos Dansby in free agency and Rey Maualuga is on the wrong side of 30. Help is needed here to keep one of the team’s previous strengths remaining, especially given the competition in this division. Despite a dust-up with medical personnel at the Combine, Foster is a highly talented player who is impossible to miss on game tape. He makes plays and that’s what everyone looks for in defensive talent, especially with a blue-chip pick in the top 10.
10. Buffalo – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. The Bills re-signed Tyrod Taylor and added a pair of power fullbacks to assert themselves as a run-first offense. But, after losing Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in free agency and talented Sammy Watkins suffering multiple foot injuries, the Bills need to give the passing game a weapon. Williams is a playmaker on the highest order, who, like Mike Evans a couple of years earlier, built a reputation on making plays on poor throws. He and Watkins could give Buffalo’s offense the big-play dimension it needs to succeed
11. New Orleans – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee. The Saints will almost surely look to defense here because they have needs on all three levels, so it may come down to making the pick that can provide the most long-term depth. Paul Kruger is 31 and, while there is gas still in the tank, the foursome of Barnett, Cameron Jordan, Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins could give the Saints the best front four they’ve had in a decade.
12. Cleveland (from Philadelphia) – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. As things currently stand, the Browns don’t have a starting quarterback. They traded for Brock Osweiler, but the press release from the organization talked up the second-round pick Houston threw into the mix more than Osweiler, lending itself to speculation that he will simply be dumped. But, considering his contract is guaranteed, why not let him compete for the starting job and, in a best case scenario, he holds it down in 2017 and Trubisky can expect to be the starter in 2018?
13. Arizona – Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama. Few teams have been hit harder by free agency than the Cardinals, especially in the secondary, where Marcus Cooper, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger all left for more money elsewhere. Defensive end is an option here, because Calais Campbell will be hard to replace, but the immediate need at both corner and safety to go along with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu is the best fit to replace at this pick.
14. Philadelphia (from Minnesota) – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. The Eagles have been very aggressive in free agency, addressing the offensive side of the ball, but have ignored defense to date, cutting DE Connor Barwin and CB Leodis McKelvin and losing DT Bennie Logan and CB Nolan Carroll to free agency. The biggest question here at the moment is whether the biggest need for top-end talent is at defensive end or cornerback. We have Charlton rated higher than many analysts, but just watch him play. His game translates to the NFL and, in the right system, he could be a defensive mainstay for years to come.
15. Indianapolis – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Frank Gore has put together a Hall of Fame resume – if he rushes for 1,040 more yards, he will finish fourth on the all-time rushing list – but the end is getting closer all the time. Cook is a rare talent that some scouts think is a more complete NFL back than Leonard Fournette. The Colts have a history of sticking with one running back for long periods of time when they get a good one and Cook could be to their offense what Ezekiel Elliott appears to be with the Cowboys.
16. Baltimore – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan. If not for an ankle injury that required offseason surgery, he would likely be gone by this time. While the Ravens don’t tend to spend a lot of money on outside free agents, they are very good evaluators of talent. An offensive tackle is a distinct possibility here, but Ozzie Newsome has always been a G.M. that has been known for making value picks. Davis has the potential to be a star in the NFL, but won’t be working out for teams as he rehabs his injury and could be the guy who replaces the retired Steve Smith.
17. Washington – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan. Scouts differ on their views on Peppers, but we really like his ability to excel in the right system. He could be the next in a growing list of safety/linebacker hybrids that are becoming specialists. He didn’t show a lot of playmaking skills in terms of interceptions, but you can’t miss him when he’s on the field because he makes plays from sideline to sideline and delivers heavy hits. He could learn from aging DeAngelo Hall and become a force sooner than later.
18. Tennessee – John Ross, WR, Washington. The Titans make their second pick of the first round and take a jump at the guy who wowed people at the Combine by breaking former Titan Chris Johnson’s record in the 40-yard dash. He has elite speed and looks a like Brandin Cooks, who electrified fans in New Orleans and is taking his show to New England. Ross’ stock is on the rise and his showing at the Combine just solidified his position as a first-round draft pick.
19. Tampa Bay – Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State. The Bucs have the ability to be impressive up front. They have a dominant tackle in Gerald McCoy, but have never been able to line someone up next to him that can be a force as well. At 6-6, 290, McDowell is a raw talent, but has all the intangibles to become an elite player. He produced 11 sacks last year and he has the ability in the right system to approach those numbers in the NFL if used properly. This isn’t a deep defensive tackle draft, so getting one here is critical. Until they settle the Doug Martin question, running back is also an option.
20. Denver – Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple. The retirement of DeMarcus Ware has created an opening for an edge rushing linebacker who can also play in coverage. He is a bit undersized, but has the speed and athleticism to make plays and will find his way on the field early and will make it difficult for the Broncos to keep him off the field.
21. Detroit – Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE, UCLA. The Lions made the playoffs last year, but it wasn’t due to their defense. McKinley played defensive end with UCLA, 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. With DeAndre Levy no longer in the picture, this need becomes even more pronounced.
22. Miami – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin. It’s hard to imagine the first offensive tackle coming off the board this late, but there isn’t a dominant left tackle in this year’s draft and many teams that had a need prior to this addressed it in free agency. Miami released Branden Albert, creating a vacuum that needs to be filled, especially given the investments the Dolphins have made at other positions. Ramczyk can step right in and be an immediate starter, making him a great value pick at this spot.
23. N.Y. Giants – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. Offensive tackle is a clear need. Ereck Flowers has been abused at left tackle and Bobby Hart needs to be replaced on the right side. This isn’t an overpowering draft class, so if the Giants don’t address this need in the first round, they may be lost in the shuffle. While Robinson isn’t a reach at this point, he is a risk/reward pick. Ideally, they plug him in at left tackle and move Flowers to the right side where he doesn’t face as much in the way of speed rushers. Protecting an aging Eli Manning is the top priority and Robinson can serve the dual purpose of also helping to open holes for the run game.
24. Oakland – Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU. A playmaking cornerback was already a need prior to free agency that got even more pronounced when David Amerson was signed by Detroit. White isn’t the most physical player, but he has good natural cover skills and can develop his game to become a more consistent threat as a man cover corner.
25. Houston – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame. This will be a wild card pick of this year’s draft. Not everyone views Kizer as a first-round prospect and the belief is that the trade of Brock Osweiler basically for nothing was to set in motion bringing in Tony Romo. Even if that happens, it’s only a matter of time before Romo hits the end of the line – that’s why Dallas drafted Dak Prescott last year and it’s why Romo is heading out the door – one way or another – in Dallas. Giving Kizer a year or two to mature and learn from a guy like Romo would be ideal given his experience and skill set. He’ll need time and Houston can give him that.
26. Seattle – Garrett 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 draft picks they’ve tried to develop. Bolles has good athleticism and technique, which has got him rising draft boards 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 – Charles Harris, OLB/DE, Missouri. Harris is a classic ‘tweener type who played defensive end at Mizzou, but projects as an outside linebacker in the pros. He would be landing in an ideal spot with the Chiefs, where he can learn from Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, both of whom are immensely talented but have troubling injury histories. If given a little time to learn from the vets, when and if one of them goes down or becomes a salary cap casualty, the Chiefs won’t skip a beat.
28. Dallas – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama. The Cowboys aren’t shy about making bold picks on talented players. They did so by taking guys like Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott to give them a dominant player at their respective positions. With Jason Witten in the 15th season of his Hall of Fame career, the Cowboys will eye his perfect replacement – a big, powerful downfield threat that can make the Cowboys offense even more potent. The Cowboys have used the draft to give themselves a very strong offense and Howard would fit like a glove.
29. Green Bay – Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR, Stanford. The Packers were using a wide receiver at running back last year and, while McCaffrey played some wide receiver at Stanford, he is a three-down back that could give Aaron Rodgers an explosive weapon in the backfield. Green Bay has tolerated weight issues with Eddie Lacy, but he signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks. McCaffrey could add an element that has been missing with the Packers offense since the heyday of Ahman Green as a rushing/receiving dual threat.
30. Pittsburgh – Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama. James Harrison is older than dust and can’t be relied upon as he has in recent years. 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 was 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. DT and LB 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 Orleans (from New England) – Teez Tabor, CB, Florida. If you went strictly by game tape, he would be long since gone. But he was one of the biggest busts at the Combine, running a slow 40 time and not looking explosive during drills. He has the skill to be a very good NFL player and the Saints will be happy if he falls all the way to them – a player who, prior to going to Indy, was viewed as a mid first-round pick, not the last pick of Opening Night.