With the college football season more than half over and the NFL trade deadline behind us, we look at how the 2017 NFL Draft might look. At this early juncture, it’s nothing more than speculation. Unlike later editions, the selections here are more of the “what I would do” variety than “what I think they will do” mocks.
1. Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Okay, I lied; this is not the pick I would make. But the Browns have to address the most important position in team sports. Watson misses too many downfield throws and looks for my liking, but he’s got a lot of talent and confidence.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M. To the same point in their collegiate careers, Garrett is a better prospect than 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. The Niners desperately need a QB, but a game-changing pass rusher is just as critical.
3. Chicago Bears: Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina. He’s got under 10 career starts but has impressively led a pro-style attack with all the tools the NFL loves. If he had even 20 starts under his belt Trubisky would run and hide as the No. 1 overall pick, right or wrong.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama. Allen is getting all sorts of hype right now, being compared to Ndamukong Suh and even Bruce Smith. That’s too lofty praise for my blood but he’s definitely an impressive and versatile talent, albeit one that’s redundant with Malik Jackson in Jacksonville.
5. Carolina Panthers: Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan. My pat phrase on Peppers is that he’s got everything everyone loved about Myles Jack, except Peppers actually does football things incredibly well. His size--my guess after meeting him a couple of times is he’s 5119 and 212--will scare some teams from playing him at fulltime LB, but the Panthers will happily take him as a playmaking Swiss Army knife.
6. New York Jets: Teez Tabor, CB, Florida. With Revis Island sinking and the Jets sorely in need of back-end help, they strike with the talented Tabor. He’s cocksure but backs it up by being very good both before the throw and with the ball in the air.
*If Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer declares early, he’s the pick here
7. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee. Barnett has proven productive against all comers this year, dispelling notions of a lack of athleticism along the way. The Colts need impact defenders at all three levels and Barnett is a good place to start.
8. San Diego Chargers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State. Matt Millen called the Ohio State redshirt sophomore “a bigger Ed Reed”. As delusional as Millen might be, Hooker does have great size and a legit nose for the ball. His high ceiling could be too much for the Chargers to bypass.
9. Miami Dolphins: Marquis Haynes, OLB, Ole Miss. There’s always a surprise in the top 10 and here it’s Williams, who plays DE for the Rebels but at 225 pounds will move to LB in the NFL. He’s a gifted playmaker who can cover and has outstanding closing burst to the ball carrier. Miami has many needs but a long-term playmaker at the second level of the defense is near the top.
10. Tennessee Titans (from LA): Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama. The Titans have devoted much draft capital to overhauling the offense, and now it’s time for the defense. Humphrey is long and smooth at corner, and his NFL pedigree (dad Bobby was a longtime NFL RB) helps in scouting eyes. I’m a big advocate of using an acquired pick on a position the team which traded it away sorely needs, too.
11. Baltimore Ravens: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Volumes will be written about this incredibly deep RB class and how it sorts out. Fournette has the public hype, and right now that carries the day. His powerful style makes him a nightmare to tackle, and the Ravens have the kind of OL that can help spring the LSU phenom.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin. A former D-III player, Ramczyk has been one of the most pleasant surprises. For my money he’s the most NFL-ready and technically sound tackle in this class if he declares. He’d be an instant upgrade over Donovan Smith and help Jameis Winston get more comfortable behind the line.
13. New Orleans Saints: Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State. The production isn’t there in his senior season, but McDowell still brings all sort of disruptive athleticism and positional versatility. New Orleans still needs major defensive reinforcements, but the physical McDowell is a good start. He could go much higher than this.
14. Arizona Cardinals: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. There are a number of different ways for Arizona to go here. In this scenario they take a longer view and choose Robinson, a left tackle for the Crimson Tide but a player who might be better at right tackle or even left guard in the NFL.
15. Cincinnati Bengals: Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame. At times the imposing, active interior lineman looks like a future star. The Bengals can definitely use that Jones, but the reason why this slot might be high for him is that Jones only shows up about every other week. High risk-reward talent for a team that needs a fresh defensive spark
16. Buffalo Bills: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington. Jones doesn’t get the publicity…yet. He’s got length, aggression and ball skills, but where Rex Ryan and the Bills will love him is his run defense off the corner to go with all that.
17. Tennessee Titans: Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC. Tennessee’s top offensive priority is a playmaking wideout, and after a slow start Smith-Schuster has proven one of the most capable of those in the nation. This is a vastly inferior WR class compared to recent vintages, and that will either mean teams reach to take them early or they all sit longer than expected.
18. Detroit Lions: Jamal Adams, S, LSU. Detroit’s defense over the middle and against opposing tight ends is the worst in football. Adams has the size and aptitude to fix that, with a playmaking vein too. He’s also a proven leader with a high football IQ, catnip for Lions GM Bob Quinn.
19. Washington: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama. Inside LB is a position which tends to fall on draft weekend, but Foster could be the exception. He’s got more lateral range and hip fluidity than predecessor Reggie Ragland. Washington, like many teams, can use a player with those skills.
20. New York Giants: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. On the field, Cook merits being the first RB off the board. However, his shoulder injuries--plural--will require medical clearance and a leap of faith. The Giants desperately need Cook’s home run ability in the backfield.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida. He entered the season without Tabor’s hype, but many would argue Wilson is the better NFL prospect in Florida’s secondary. He could be long gone by this point. Pittsburgh would love a corner with his speed, instincts and physicality at the line, though they did just take Artie Burns last draft. Alternate pick: Marcus Williams, S, Utah
22. Green Bay Packers: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan. In some ways the MAC superstar reminds me of Jordy Nelson when the Packers drafted him: very strong all-around game, underrated speed, ability to play any WR spot. Green Bay sorely needs another viable weapon to help Nelson.
23. Cleveland Browns (from PHI): Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama. With QB addressed earlier, now the Browns can add a top shelf pass rusher. Williams has the complete toolbox of burst, bend and drive, but has some off-field questions and benefits by playing with an overwhelming collection of talent around him.
24. Atlanta Falcons: Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida. Brantley is consistently disruptive and can defeat double teams on the inside. The fact he can even command them makes him attractive to Atlanta, which needs more impact talent on the defensive front 7.
25. Houston Texans: Desmond King, CB, Iowa. He would have been a first-rounder last year, and King hasn’t lost the skills even though both he and the Hawkeyes haven’t been as good as expected. King is a nice fit in a Houston defense that needs more consistent pieces in the back end. Sleeper pick: Ben Feeney, G, Indiana.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Ethan Pocic, C, LSU. This is likely higher than you’ll see Pocic, but the scarcity of quality OL prospects should push up the rangy LSU center. Seattle can no longer try to get by with the minimalist offensive line approach, and Pete Carroll will like Pocic’s intelligence and intensity.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN): Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State. I flopped back and forth between WR and CB here. Conley gets the nod because he is exactly what Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz wants in his corners, the length and ability to play both press and off man coverage and be an asset in the run defense. If you prefer WR in your mock, John Ross from Washington is a fine choice here.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Vita Vea, DT, Washington. The big man plays with a high motor but also a great deal of technical prowess, and 320-plus pounders typically don’t have Vea’s closing burst to the ball. Kansas City might have more pressing needs but in this scenario they opt to reinforce and reinvigorate a position of strength. NFL scouts are higher on Vea than the media is right now.
29. Oakland Raiders: Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah. The Raiders continue their habit of taking a defensive front player early and tab Lotulelei, who is similar to his brother Star but not quite as dynamic up the gut. Lowell plays with exceptional leverage and is very quick to the ball.
30. Denver Broncos: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt. He plays outside for the Commodores but Cunningham’s best NFL fit might be inside in a 3-4. His range, closing burst and ability to sniff out plays will remind Broncos fans of Danny Trevathan.
31. Dallas Cowboys: Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech. Labeling the freakishly athletic Hodges as a tight end undersells his skills. He’s more of a Jimmy Graham/Eric Ebron kind of hybrid receiver. Hodges would give Dak Prescott another impressive weapon as the Cowboys transition forward, and the depth of pass rushing talent helps them address that later on.
32. New England Patriots: Takkarist McKinley, LB, UCLA. You’ll be seeing a lot more of McKinley’s name in this range of the draft as the 258-pound senior continues to make plays all over the field for UCLA. He’s an optimal Jamie Collins replacement for New England.
Next 10 picks:
John Ford, WR, Washington
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Dan Feeney, G, Indiana
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Marcus Williams, S, Utah
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami FL