OVERVIEW: With a little more than a week until the 2017 draft, teams are finalizing their draft boards and making the critical personnel decisions about where to invest their draft currency. For some teams, it will entail looking into the possibility trading up or trading down, depending on how much a team covets a particular player.
1. Cleveland – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. The Browns need a quarterback badly, but there simply isn’t one that warrants selection at this spot. Garrett is a freakishly good athlete who can create a difference on the field from Day 1. He put the exclamation point on his spot at No. 1 by taking part in a full pro day when he didn’t have to. He wowed the scouts and became the consensus No. 1 overall pick.
2. San Francisco – Solomon Thomas, DT, Stanford. 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 – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State. John Fox has been overhauling the Bears defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with mixed results to date. This pick should come down to three players – Hooker, safety Jamal Adams or defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. The Bears have struggled at safety for years – the last true difference-maker was Mike Brown and he’s a distant memory. Hooker has an ideal combination of power, strength and speed and would provide an instant upgrade for a Chicago secondary that needs to deal with guys like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford if they want to climb out of the cellar of the NFC North.
4. Jacksonville – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama. The Jaguars have addressed a lot of needs in free agency, beefing up their secondary, offensive line and linebacker corps, but they’ve been replacing starters Jared Odrick and Roy Miller after cutting both. Allen didn’t test overly well at the Scouting Combine – both in drills or the medical testing that showed some shoulder concerns – but he has a ton of natural talent and, along with recent major investments (Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell) in free agency and Dante Fowler in the 2015 draft along the defensive line, the addition of Allen could make Jacksonville potentially dominant up front.
5. Tennessee (from L.A. Rams) – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State. Wide receiver is an option, but with two picks in this round and no wideout worthy of being taken in this spot, the Titans take the combination of the best player available and their most glaring need. Tennessee had the 30th pass defense last season and much of the reason was due to having a combination of aging veterans and erratic young players. Lattimore could step in immediately and upgrade the position. He has a history of hamstring injuries, but, when healthy, he can be a shutdown corner and the Titans need one badly.
6. New York Jets – Jamal Adams, S, LSU. The Jets are going to be the first in a line of teams that will look at the potential of drafting a quarterback and have to weigh the value of a QB against other elite athletes who grade out higher. Adams could be gone by this point because he has the skill set to be a star. The Jets had one of the worst secondaries in the league last year and need to upgrade across the board. If Lattimore is on the board, he could be the pick, but Adams is the best available D-back on the board here.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. If there was an offensive tackle worthy of taking in this spot, the Chargers would snap one up, but the truth is this is a weak offensive tackle class and the Chargers need to upgrade wherever they can. Some may contend that Corey Davis is the top wide receiver in the draft, but Williams is NFL-ready, Philip Rivers needs weapons and Keenan Allen can no longer be counted on to stay healthy. Even if he is, the Chargers need more weapons for Rivers and Williams can step in right away and make a difference.
8. Carolina – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. This pick hasn’t changed since our first mock and there doesn’t seem reason to start now, especially with Cam Newton having surgery and the need for a strong run game taking on even more importance. Jonathan Stewart is still there, but is nearing his finish line. 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 early success of guys like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott could create a revival for the top 10.
9. Cincinnati – Derek Barnett, DE/OLB, Tennessee. The Bengals’ primary needs are in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They need help on the offensive line after losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, but, as we’ve already discussed, there isn’t a tackle or guard worth taking yet. That isn’t true on defense. Barnett has a lot of Tamba Hali traits to him and could be a dominant outside linebacker or add 20 pounds and be a high-end defensive end. Either way, he will be an upgrade from Day 1.
10. Buffalo – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama. The Bills need to add more weapons to the passing game and Howard is a rare tight end that can create big plays downfield in the order of a Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. He has the ability to be a lead-dog receiver and help take some of the heat off Sammy Watkins. With a new coaching staff and a new scheme in place, the Bills can make some noise on offense. If Mike Williams is still available, he could make the decision more difficult, but with him gone, Howard is a rare tight end that can create a lot of mismatches and will make the Buffalo offense more two-dimensional than it was last season.
11. New Orleans – Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple. The Saints need help at all three levels of the defense and there are multiple ways this pick could go. They could add inside linebacker Reuben Foster, DE/OLB swingman Takkarist McKinley or cornerback Gareon Conley, but Reddick is a fast-rising prospect who increased his stock at the Senior Bowl, showing he has the versatility to be a power edge rusher.
12. Cleveland (from Philadelphia) – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. The Browns took a calculated risk by waiting this long, but the wait is worth it when they get the chance to take another shot at getting a long-term quarterback to lead the franchise. The position is in question after the team made its infamous trade to take on Brock Osweiler’s onerous contract to add another draft pick. Some will say Mitch Trubisky is the better NFL quarterback, but Watson is a proven winner and an athlete that can grow into a very good NFL signal-caller. Cleveland needs a winner in the worst way.
13. Arizona – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. The Cardinals have lured Carson Palmer to play one more season and he has said he would be open to mentoring a young quarterback. The Cardinals have a lot of talent and don’t anticipate drafting this early in the coming years, so they take advantage of the opportunity to grab what many view as the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft.
14. Philadelphia (from Minnesota) – Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama. The Eagles have been very aggressive in free agency, addressing the offensive side of the ball, but have largely ignored defense to date, cutting CB Leodis McKelvin and losing CB Nolan Carroll to free agency. The Eagles have replaced depth along the defensive line with veterans Timmy Jernigan and Chris Long, but have yet to do anything in the secondary. Nobody gave up more pass plays of 30 yards or more and they lost both starters, making this more of a pressing need early in the draft.
15. Indianapolis – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. The Colts have been investing heavily to make a run for the Super Bowl, adding free agents at just about every position except quarterback and running back. Foster has some injury concerns because he hasn’t made it through a full season without getting banged up, but you can’t watch any Alabama game without noticing him. He is a dominant player and, if he stays healthy, will etch his place in the Colts history for the next several years.
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 or free-agent loss Kamar Aiken.
17. Washington – Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA. The Redskins needed to upgrade the defensive line and edge rush linebacker positions. In McKinley, they get a player who could provide an upgrade that has been missing and only got more pressing when starters Chris Baker and Ricky Jean-Francois left via free agency. Wide receiver is a possibility here, but the Redskins need to improve their defense if they’re going to return to the playoffs, and getting a pass rusher would be an immediate upgrade.
18. Tennessee – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State. The Titans had one of the worst secondaries in the league last season and, despite signing part-time players Logan Ryan (New England) and Demonte Hurst (Chicago), Conley would add another weapon to a division that seems to be amassing troops at the border in free agency. Wide receiver will garner consideration, but with the Titans’ potent rush offense, having a defender that can run with No. 1 receivers is a must.
19. Tampa Bay – David Njoku, TE, Miami. Running back will get strong consideration here, but the plan is to open things up for Jameis Winston. They’ve added DeSean Jackson to give Mike Williams someone to clear things out for and adding Njoku, who can stretch the seam down the middle, will give the Buccaneers a diverse offensive attack they will need to keep pace with the other offenses in the division.
20. Denver – Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama. The Broncos struggled badly along the offensive line and, while they replaced Russell Okung with Menelik Watson, they still need more help. It’s hard to imagine a draft where the first offensive lineman to come off the board doesn’t happen until the 20th pick. Whether the Broncos consider this good news or not, they have their choice of Robinson, Ryan Ramczyk or Garett Bolles. Whichever one they like best, they can have.
21. Detroit – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. When Ziggy Ansah went down last year, the lack of depth along the defensive front became painfully obvious. The team added DE Cornelius Washington in free agency, but more help is needed because the Lions need to provide a better pass rush if they want to get back to the playoffs. Charlton may not be this high on a lot of boards, but the fans of Michigan know what they have in him and the Lions likely aren’t lost on that.
22. Miami – Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky. The Dolphins had a porous offensive line last year and cut Branden Albert due to his $8.9 million salary. If the offense is going to do anything, it’s going to have to upgrade its offensive line. The plan is to move Laremy Tunsil to left tackle to take over for Albert and slide Lamp in next to him, potentially turning a 2016 weakness into a 2017 strength.
23. New York Giants – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin. The Giants’ offensive tackles were about as bad as any tackle pairing in the league last year and they did nothing in free agency to replace either of them. Ramczyk is a raw talent, but would compete immediately for one of the starting jobs and, with some coaching, would be ready to be the long-term answer at left tackle moving forward.
24. Oakland – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan. One of our favorite players in this year’s draft, he has the ability to be a dominating force and seems like the type of guy who would fit the Raiders model of athletic, versatile players. He is viewed as the ideal case for the current trend of big safeties that can also play hybrid speed linebacker. This incarnation of our draft had needs and talent at other positions forcing Peppers to fall on our board. He would be a great value at this spot and would give Oakland fans someone to cheer for before the Raiders tear their hearts out by moving to Vegas.
25. Houston – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech. The Texans thought they had solved their long-term revolving door at quarterback when they signed Brock Osweiler to a mega-deal last year in free agency. But we all know how that turned out. He’s gone and the Texans gave up their second-round pick to get rid of him. With Tony Romo no longer in the equation, the Texans need to lock down the position because everyone else in the division is locked and loaded to knock the Texans off their perch and the easiest way to do that is to go into the season with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as their quarterbacks. Mahomes is a gunslinger whose stock is on the rise and could be the answer to their problems because, barring a veteran coming in, they need a long-term plan.
26. Seattle – Garett Bolles, OT, Utah. The Seahawks had 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. They addressed guard by signing Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi, but still have big needs at tackle. Bolles has good athleticism and technique, which has got him rising draft boards in a relatively weak offensive line class. The Seahawks 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 – Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State. There are a lot of options here for the Cowboys, who could look for a cornerback, a safety, a wide receiver or a tight end, but Jerry Jones has a weak spot for athletic types who can make plays. Wide receiver John Ross, who tore up the Combine, could be the guy who intrigues Jones with this pick, but McDowell provides the variety to line up on the outside or slide inside on nickel downs to play tackle. He may last a while if he makes it past Dallas, but he is a great pick for this spot and this team.
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 refused to overspend on doughy Eddie Lacy and give him a long-term deal. That’s not the Packer way and it led Lacy to sign a short-term deal with Seattle. McCaffrey could add an element that has been missing in the Packers offense since the heyday of Ahman Green as a rushing/receiving dual threat.
30. Pittsburgh – Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida. Linebacker was a need before the Steelers lost Jarvis Jones and Lawrence Timmons to free agency and they have done nothing to replace them. The only offseason signing has been to re-sign aging James Harrison. Davis has the ability to be a three-down linebacker, but his injury history will likely be the biggest question mark. If the Steelers are convinced he has a clean bill and can hold up for several years, he is the perfect type of player to come to the Steelers and have a strong career.
31. Atlanta – Dion Dawkins, G/T, Temple. The Falcons replaced Chris Chester with Hugh Thornton to provide a lateral move at guard, but Matt Ryan took too many big hits last season and the Falcons need an upgrade. Their biggest need was defensive line, but they were aggressive in free agency. Dawkins may be a bit of a reach here, but he provides versatility in that, if he doesn’t start immediately, which isn’t a given, he can be a primary backup at multiple positions. The Falcons aren’t going to be in a position to land a player who can do what Dawkins can do if they don’t take him here.
32. New Orleans (from New England) – Kevin King, CB, Washington. This pick is predicated on the Saints not making the much-anticipated Malcolm Butler-for-this-pick trade. If they do and this pick goes back to New England, it likely wouldn’t be a cornerback here. But, if the trade doesn’t go down, the Saints will still need upgrading at cornerback to go with Delvin Breaux and Sterling Moore.