OVERVIEW: With the final hours counting down to the 2017 draft, players are moving in different directions – some for the better and some for the worse. As much as stock improvement has taken place, diluted drug tests on prospective first-rounders Reuben Foster and Jabrill Peppers have made the muddy waters of projecting draft spots even more.
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. Don’t buy the hype about not being certain. The Browns know who they’re taking.
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 – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. I’m not a big fan of this pick, but there is so much buzz coming out of Jacksonville that Fournette is the pick. The Jags have wasted a lot of resources on running back in the past since trying to replace Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, including in free agency (Toby Gerhart, Chris Ivory) and the draft (T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson). Throughout it all, they’ve yet to find that magic cure to replace their past superstars. Fournette is the best option yet and, while I think this is too high to take him, apparently those in Jacksonville don’t.
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 having 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 – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama. The Chargers have bigger needs on offensive line, but there isn’t one worth taking at this spot. Allen is a legitimate top-five pick and the best defensive tackle in the draft. Lining him up next to Joey Bosa could give the new-look Chargers one of the most daunting defensive fronts in the AFC. If one of the top two safeties drops, that could be a consideration because they still miss Eric Weddle, but Allen is just too good to pass up.
8. Carolina – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. Just as I’m not sold on Fournette at No. 4, the same applies here. Fournette would have an ideal landing spot here, but, with him gone, it doesn’t change the need for a running back to be the long-term answer (Jonathan Stewart is on a one-year deal). McCaffrey can actually fill two roles as a slot receiver and a running back and, with Cam Newton in need of more weapons, he can kill two birds with one stone.
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 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 (if they buy his Combine story of overhydrating because he was sick), 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) – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. The Browns claimed they were looking at him with the first pick and there have been rumors that they would trade up to get him for a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the draft. If he could fall back to this point without sacrificing draft picks, it would be a bonanza for the Browns and a strong step in the right direction moving forward – hopefully ending the franchise revolving door that is pushing 20 years of futility.
13. Arizona – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. The Cardinals have been linked to a quarterback here and, if that’s the case, they could look at Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes at this pick. Either is a possibility, but the Cardinals have found ways to fill their needs at quarterback with veterans like Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, and Williams is a talent that doesn’t come around all that often. With Michael Floyd gone and Larry Fitzgerald likely entering his final season, they need to find a replacement and who better for a talent like Williams to learn from than a Hall of Famer like Fitzgerald.
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 – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. The Colts have needs on both sides of the ball, but one of the primary needs is to protect franchise player Andrew Luck. It’s rare when a draft can go this deep in before the first offensive tackle comes off the board, but this isn’t a top-heavy year for offensive linemen. Running back and linebacker are options, especially if Christian McCaffrey made it past the top 10, but the Colts’ priority is keeping Luck healthy. They’ve addressed a lot of needs in free agency, but offensive tackle hasn’t been one of them.
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 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. This is higher than a lot of analysts rank him, but he brings versatility to the table and that’s what the Redskins need if they want to compete for a playoff spot again.
18. Tennessee – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. The Titans already addressed a glaring need at cornerback with the pick obtained from the Rams in the Jared Goff deal, and they now have to go after their two primary weaknesses – an inside linebacker or a wide receiver. Foster doesn’t come without reservations. He has a history of shoulder injuries and his diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine automatically puts him the league’s drug program and will result in yearlong testing. As a result, those are potential red flags that could put Foster in free-fall. In our mock draft alone, he has dropped from the Bengals at No. 9 to the Saints at No. 11 to the Colts at No. 15 to this spot. Will his drop go even farther? Don’t bet against it.
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 – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin. The Broncos struggled badly on the offensive line last year and swapped out disappointing free agent Russell Okung with Menelik Watson. But that doesn’t cure the problem; it simply changes the faces but not the dilemma. He has only been a starter for one year so there is a smaller sample size than most to work with, but he has the talent and comes from a program known for having NFL-ready O-linemen. That combination makes Ramczyk a relative value pick at this spot with a solid upside to lock down a roster position for the next few years.
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, the Dolphins are going to have to upgrade their 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 – Garett Bolles, OT, Utah. 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. Bolles has some downside, but, if coached up properly, he could be a big contributor, which is needed more urgently now with Eli Manning turning the corner on the final portion of his career.
24. Oakland – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan. There are few players we like as much in terms of upside potential. He has the ability to be one of the new-look positions being created – safeties with the size, speed and strength to play a hybrid linebacker in five D-back sets. In the right system, he could be more than just another Deone Bucannon, but the reincarnation of Troy Polamalu. There may be no better team for an intimidator like Peppers to land with than Oakland. However, his diluted urine sample at the Combine is going to put him in the program, which will get him tested often throughout the year and, if he does like his weed, it may come back to bite him and the Raiders. His stock could drop hard because of that.
25. Houston – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. 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. 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. Watson is my favorite QB in this year’s class and if he falls to this spot, the Texans should be thankful.
26. Seattle – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State. The Seahawks have a need at offensive tackle, but, with the consensus top three guys all gone in the previous 10 picks, they go for the best athlete. Pete Carroll has done a great job with defensive backs and, considering that the potential exists that Richard Sherman could get moved, having depth at the position is potentially even more of a front-burner issue. He exploded at the Combine and pushed his way into the first round and, if they keep Sherman, the Legion of Boom could be as strong as ever – if not stronger.
27. Kansas City – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech. The Chiefs have been linked to quarterback, but this could be the ideal spot to see Kansas City trade down to a team in need of a QB looking to jump up and take the biggest gunslinger in this year’s draft class. The offers they could get for this pick if Mahomes is still on the board could be significant. Alex Smith could be the mentor to get him ready for Andy Reid’s offense, but this pick (if Mahomes hasn’t been snapped up already) could have more long-term value moving it than using it.
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. He has boom-bust written all over him, which seems to be the M.O. in Dallas every year on draft weekend.
29. Green Bay – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. The Packers were using a wide receiver at RB last year. Early on in the process of rating draftees, there was a case being made that Cook might be the best NFL-ready back of all of them. Since then, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey have vaulted ahead of him. This could easily come down to cornerback or Cook, because the Packers have a major need at corner and they’ve added even more losses in the offseason. The Packers don’t spend heavily in free agency on outside players. They keep themselves strong through the draft and Cook could make an immediate impact on the offensive side of the ball.
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 oft-rumored Malcolm Butler-for-this pick trade. It sounds like the Saints are having second thoughts because they would prefer the lesser cost of a rookie who potentially could become an immediate starter. If they make that trade 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.