USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis gives us his top five picks of the 2017 NFL draft.
USA TODAY Sports
With a fabulous Super Bowl LI complete, focus now shifts to the NFL offseason, particularly the draft. Several players already competed in the Senior Bowl, though most of the top prospects skipped it. But all are now preparing for next month’s scouting combine. Their stocks will rise, fall and probably rise again over the next three months, but we’ve got to start somewhere — so, without further ado, mock draft 1.0 for 2017:
1. Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: What will the Browns, who own two first-round picks, do? It surely seems their perpetual quarterback question remains unanswered, yet they forfeited the opportunity to draft one second overall last year. With little buzz around this year’s crop, it could be hard to justify picking one here and probably even more difficult to trade out of this spot. Right now, Garrett is the consensus top player. A 1-15 team that had just 26 sacks in 2016 and plays in a division that features three capable veteran passers could certainly use an elite pass rusher. Bet new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will certainly lobby to add Garrett to his four-man front.
2. San Francisco 49ers — Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: Yes, the Niners need a quarterback … but is there really a worthy choice here? (And might new GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have a plan to acquire a veteran? Stay tuned.) And yes, San Francisco drafted a defensive lineman in the first round of the past two drafts … but Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were part of the league’s worst defense — one that got run over for 2,654 yards last season. Better to play it safe with a stud like Allen, who can shut down running lanes but is versatile enough to be a three-down player.
3. Chicago Bears — Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: It’s a roll of the dice for an intriguing prospect, but one with just 13 college starts. Still, the Bears are finally in position to replace Jay Cutler, so this seems like the right time — especially since RB Jordan Howard proved he’s ready to serve as the offensive centerpiece for now.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: What better way to improve a struggling offense (and boost QB Blake Bortles’ confidence) than to install a game-breaking runner who can shoulder the load and alter the unit’s personality?
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) — Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: Dick LeBeau’s defense in Pittsburgh truly took off once playmaking S Troy Polamalu came aboard. That’s not a fair comparison to hang on Hooker, but he should be the kind of instant impact player that can take Tennessee’s improving unit to the next level.
6. New York Jets — Jamal Adams, S, LSU: The Jets have to get younger (and better) at a multitude of positions, so once again, no need to reach for a quarterback given Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are still being assessed. Adams could immediately shore up the team’s poor play on the back end and find himself paired with Darrelle Revis in what might be a dynamic safety duo for a defense that needs to reboot in several areas.
7. Los Angeles Chargers — Ryan Ramczyk, T, Wisconsin: He showed good promise in his lone season with the Badgers, and the Bolts need a lot of help on the offensive line if they hope to get several more productive seasons out of 35-year-old QB Philip Rivers.
8. Carolina Panthers — Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: GM Dave Gettleman miscalculated by letting CB Josh Norman walk for nothing, and Carolina’s 29th-ranked pass defense paid the price. Gettleman doesn’t like picking defensive backs this high, but his hands might be tied this year.
9. Cincinnati Bengals — Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: It’s about time for Cincinnati to reload at linebacker, especially given the reliance on a wild card like Vontaze Burfict. Foster can bring the wood in base packages but also seems to have the cover skills to stay on the field in sub packages.
10. Buffalo Bills — DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: Might the Bills have to gamble here with Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel likely both hitting the market? It wouldn’t be the worst situation for Kizer, whose development would get a boost with assistance from Buffalo’s top-ranked rushing attack and WR Sammy Watkins. Kizer showed in 2015 he can be rather effective with playmakers around him.
11. New Orleans Saints — Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: It was another miserable season for the Saints defense, which ranked last against the pass. Thomas might be a guy who can help DE Cam Jordan generate pressure, alleviating pressure on a secondary constantly under siege in the pass-heavy NFC South.
12. Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles) — Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: He’ll be a bit of a project at the pro level, but Hue Jackson might be the right guy to develop him. And with Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler on the roster, Watson wouldn’t have to be pressed into service while he adapts to the NFL.
13. Arizona Cardinals — Teez Tabor, CB, Florida: If Watson (or another promising quarterback) is available here, the Cards may have to pounce given Carson Palmer’s uncertain future. Barring that, they must improve at a corner position that will be constantly under attack while opponents avoid Patrick Peterson.
14. Indianapolis Colts – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: Frank Gore gave a heroic effort last season at age 33, but it’s time to give QB Andrew Luck a young, dynamic threat for the future. Cook is a fierce competitor and every-down back who would be a boon to Luck by virtue of his running, blocking and capability as an outlet receiver when all else fails.
15. Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings) – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: He seems to have all the tools to develop into a No. 1 receiver, and QB Carson Wentz could clearly use a better primary option than WR Jordan Matthews and TE Zach Ertz, who would both benefit from playing alongside a more explosive target.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have both been slowed by age and injuries in recent seasons, so McKinley is a candidate to recharge a sagging pass rush.
17. Washington Redskins — Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: He’s wiry (6 feet, 180) but athletic. And despite the arrival of expensive CB Josh Norman, Washington had one of the league’s least effective pass defenses in 2016 and could definitely still use another solid cover man in a division with so many capable wideouts.
18. Titans — Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: The only thing missing from the Tennessee offense is a bona fide No. 1 receiver for QB Marcus Mariota. There’s also an opening on the depth chart with Kendall Wright headed for free agency. Davis has all the tools and probably some leeway to develop for a team likely to continue emphasizing the run when it can.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — John Ross, WR, Washington: His speed and ability to operate from the slot would be a perfect foil to Mike Evans’ size. And Evans, the most-targeted player in the NFL (175) last year, could use some help as it was often all-too-obvious where QB Jameis Winston would be throwing last year.
20. Denver Broncos — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Denver hasn’t really had a legitimate threat at tight end since Julius Thomas left in free agency two years ago. Howard’s game-breaking ability has been showcased during the past two national championship games, and his presence could also serve as a confidence builder for QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
21. Detroit Lions — Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky: A tackle in college, he probably projects to guard in the NFL due to his short arms. Either way, he’s a fit for the Lions, who could lose the right side of their offensive line (T Riley Reiff, G Larry Warford) to free agency.
22. Miami Dolphins – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: Cameron Wake is still a good player, but he’s 35 and should probably be shifting to a situational role. Mario Williams and Andre Branch had limited impact as free agents, and Williams could be a cap casualty, too. Barnett’s a young, strong player who could immediately help a defense that was smoked by season’s end and could use another player to exploit double teams that DT Ndamukong Suh demands.
23. New York Giants — David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): After watching all of their NFC East foes get significant production from tight ends, it might be time for the Giants to finally add a consistently effective player at the position. Njoku doesn’t block much, but he sure can take advantage of the wide open spaces created when coverage rolls toward WR Odell Beckham Jr.
24. Oakland Raiders — Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: The Raiders have to get better defensively, and interior line help would certainly be a consideration at this spot as well. But they’re also thin at corner in a division where they’d face three Pro Bowl quarterbacks if Tony Romo somehow ends up in Denver. White is the latest in a proud lineage of LSU defensive backs.
25. Houston Texans — Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida: Yes, most of this team’s problems stem from the offensive side of the ball. However the league’s top-ranked defense may have to let breakout CB A.J. Bouye walk in free agency, which would make reloading with a talent like Wilson logical.
26. Seattle Seahawks — Cam Robinson, T, Alabama: For the sake of their running game and QB Russell Wilson’s health, Seattle really needs to replenish its O-line. Robinson’s a load who’d immediately grade some rushing lanes from the right side.
27. Kansas City Chiefs — Budda Baker, S, Washington: It wouldn’t be fair to ask a guy to replace team leader Eric Berry. But K.C. could be in a bind if negotiations for Berry’s next contract disintegrate and he follows through on a threat to sit out the season if franchised. Baker’s talents could eventually make him a comparable player.
28. Dallas Cowboys — Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: The NFC East champs could use an accomplished pass rusher on their defensive line, especially given Randy Gregory’s ongoing issues with substance abuse. Harris was a constant presence in opposing backfields the past two seasons.
29. Green Bay Packers — Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Imagine the damage he could do as a runner and receiver given the spacing QB Aaron Rodgers and this offense create naturally. McCaffrey and former Cardinal teammate Ty Montgomery could form a lethal combo.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers — Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama: Former first rounder Jarvis Jones didn’t pan out. And even if James Harrison re-signs, he’ll be 39 this year and best used as a role player. But pairing Williams with Bud Dupree could give Pittsburgh a quality tandem to sustain the Blitzburgh ethos for years to come.
31. Atlanta Falcons — Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: He’d be a very nice addition to the front of Atlanta’s ascending defense. If he can harness his ability, Charlton might become a very capable rusher on passing downs opposite Vic Beasley and, at 6-6, he can knock down plenty of balls when he doesn’t reach the quarterback.
32. New England Patriots — Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: What better place for a uniquely talented (but perhaps flawed) player like Peppers than New England? Not hard to imagine Bill Belichick and Co. deploying him with sub packages on either side of the ball to maximize his athleticism.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
PHOTOS: Underclassmen in the 2017 NFL draft