2017 NFL draft rankings: Top 10 players by position

2017 NFL draft: Position with most depth is...
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2017 NFL draft: Position with most depth is...
Wednesday January 18th, 2017

The draft process for 2017 began months ago, almost before the 2016 event wrapped. There still is a long road ahead: the Senior Bowl and other postseason all-star events, the combine …

In other words, settle in.

Over the summer we compiled a watch list of between 300 and 400 players who could be on the ’17 draft radar. Since then, we’ve added names when any potential prospects arrive a bit out of nowhere. The positional rankings for the 2017 draft class will help lay the foundation for our coverage to come.

Little that you see here is set in stone, save for perhaps Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen’s place atop their respective position groups. There’s still much to learn about who will headline the 2017 class and where they will be as prospects by the end of April.

As of the end of college football’s regular season, this is how it all stands.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Quarterbacks

The Browns, 49ers and Bears all are headed for top-five picks—they could land 1-2-3, in that order—and each team could use its first pick on a quarterback. Alone, that’s enough to think another early quarterback run is waiting at the 2017 NFL draft, even if this year’s class winds up not entirely warranting such a commitment.

The top five names in our QB rankings right now are the prospects you are likely to hear most about between now and April 27—though Patrick Mahomes and Brad Kaaya may wind up among a group of promising mid-round types. But is there enough talent at the top for those teams in need?

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Deshaun Watson Clemson 6' 3", 215 lbs.
2 DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 6' 4 1/2", 230 lbs.
3 Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 6' 3", 215 lbs.
4 Mitch Trubisky North Carolina 6' 3", 220 lbs.
5 Brad Kaaya Miami 6' 4", 215 lbs.
6 Davis Webb Cal 6' 5", 230 lbs.
7 Zach Terrell Western Michigan 6' 1", 210 lbs.
8 Chad Kelly Ole Miss 6' 2", 224 lbs.
9 Jerod Evans Virginia Tech 6' 4", 230 lbs.
10 Alek Torgersen Penn 6' 3", 230 lbs.

Watson is, and will continue to be, a divisive QB prospect—he’s a unanimous early-round prospect, but is he a No. 1 overall-caliber weapon? He holds a slight edge here because of his dual-threat prowess, as well as what he’s shown in key moments on a big stage. Kizer has an inch-plus of height and a good 15 to 20 pounds on Watson, which counts in the pocket, and he also can get out and run when he needs to. Trubisky is such a mixed bag: While the ceiling is unquestionably high, how long will it take his NFL coaching staff to rid him of the wild variations in his footwork? Can it be done? This class has lost a handful of interesting names: Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Luke Falk all will return to school. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Kelly, who has off-field red flags and is working back from a torn ACL. If a team is taking a shot on Day 3, he would have the highest upside.

Montana’s Brady Gustafson drew the early tag as “2017 Carson Wentz”: tall, FCS program, high-powered offense. Don’t forget Torgersen, though. We talked about the Penn QB on a recent On the Clock podcast, and there’s a lot to like in his game.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Running backs

This will come as no secret to anyone who has been paying attention, but the 2017 running back class has the potential to go down as an all-time great. Doesn’t mean it will, just that the talent is there if a few prospects translate their college stardom into NFL production. Todd Gurley set a high rookie bar back in 2015, and Ezekiel Elliott has pushed it farther into the stratosphere this season. While it remains to be seen whether or not anyone in the ’17 class has that level of impact, a minimum of two running backs will go in Round 1. And that number could rise to four or five when all is said and done.​

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Dalvin Cook Florida State 5' 11", 213 lbs.
2 Leonard Fournette LSU 6' 1", 235 lbs.
3 Christian McCaffrey Stanford 6' 0", 197 lbs.
4 D'Onta Foreman Texas 6' 1", 249 lbs.
5 Curtis Samuel Ohio State 5' 11", 197 lbs.
6 Kareem Hunt Toledo 6' 0", 225 lbs.
7 Jamaal Williams​ BYU 6' 2", 215 lbs.
8 Jeremy McNichols Boise State 5' 9", 212 lbs.
9 Samaje Perine Oklahoma 5' 10", 235 lbs.
10 Alvin Kamara Tennessee 5' 10", 215 lbs.

KAPLAN: What Leonard Fournette does when no one’s watching

Could Cook and Fournette both land in the top 10? Unlikely, but don’t rule it out. As things stand right now, both should be off the board within the first 20 picks, if nothing else. Fournette is a bruising, 235-pound back you want to get moving north and south as much as possible, although he sees the field well and can break off a sharp cut. Cook is more of a do-everything back with deadly east-to-west abilities, yet he also has breakaway speed when he does get downhill. The Round 1 wild cards come behind them. McCaffrey and Samuel are electrifying chips that a creative coach could do wonders with, while Foreman and Williams are more in the workhorse vein. Hunt and McNichols could be very good pros—both offer a little of everything and max out their skill sets.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Wide receivers

The 10 receiver prospects in our 2017 rankings have combined for 12,192 yards through the air this season—and a few still have to play their bowl games. Easy math: That’s about 1,200 per man. College offensive stats are as inflated as ever, but we’re still talking about some serious talent atop this position. 

Rank Player School The Skinny
1 Corey Davis Western Michigan 6' 2", 205 lbs.
2 Mike Williams Clemson 6' 3", 225 lbs.
3 John Ross Washington 5' 11", 173 lbs.
4 JuJu Smith-Schuster USC 6' 2", 220 lbs.
5 Cooper Kupp​ Eastern Washington 6' 2", 205 lbs.
6 Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 6' 0", 176 lbs.
7 Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech 6' 2", 195 lbs.
8 Ryan Switzer North Carolina 5' 10", 185 lbs.
9 Taywan Taylor Western Kentucky 6' 1", 195 lbs.
10 Josh Reynolds Texas A&M 6' 4", 194 lbs.

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The top three have a legitimate argument for being the No. 1 receiver right now. Davis is polished and can accelerate in short spaces. Williams is a downfield weapon with the strength and size to dominate defensive backs. The explosive Ross has had a brilliant comeback season after knee injuries sidelined him in 2015—he will be one of the fastest prospects in the draft, period. Any of the first seven names here could wind up in Round 1, given how much NFL teams these days emphasizing explosiveness and speed. Westbrook was a home run waiting to happen this fall, while Ford can stretch the field vertically. Switzer won’t carry as much hype, but in the right system he could be a highly productive slot receiver.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Tight ends

Every NFL team craves a mismatch-creating tight end. All the better if that player can step inline and hand out a little punishment with his blocks, too. Good news for those front offices looking: The 2017 class has several prospects who fill the former void, and at least a couple who bring a complete game to the table.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 O.J. Howard Alabama 6' 6", 251 lbs.
2 Evan Engram Ole Miss 6' 3", 235 lbs.
3 David Njoku Miami 6' 4", 245 lbs.
4 Jake Butt Michigan 6' 6", 250 lbs.
5 Bucky Hodges Virginia Tech 6' 7", 245 lbs.
6 Jeremy Sprinkle Arkansas 6' 6", 256 lbs.
7 Jordan Leggett Clemson 6' 5", 260 lbs.
8 Michael Roberts Toledo 6' 5", 270 lbs.
9 Josiah Price Michigan State 6' 4", 248 lbs.
10 Gerald Everett South Alabama 6' 4", 215 lbs.

Both Howard and Butt (who is recovering from a torn ACL) are capable of lining up anywhere within an offense and are coming out of programs where they are expected to help pave the way for the run game. Howard arguably is a bit more dangerous as a downfield pass catcher, but Butt is about as reliable as they come within a 20-yard window. Engram is kind of like a pass-catching running back playing tight end—he’s undersized for his listed position but has shredded defenses hash mark to hash mark. Hodges pushes the other end of the ​spectrum, as an outside receiver type stuck in a tight end’s body.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Offensive tackles

Get ready to hear plenty about the deficiencies in this year’s tackle class. As always, starters will emerge from the players selected, but there is not an overwhelming number of obvious candidates, nor much in the way of top-10 talent.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Cam Robinson Alabama 6' 6", 327 lbs.
2 Ryan Ramczyk Wisconsin 6' 6", 314 lbs.
3 Garett Bolles​ Utah 6' 5", 300 lbs.
4 Adam Bisnowaty Pitt 6' 6", 305 lbs.
5 Forrest Lamp Western Kentucky 6' 4", 300 lbs.
6 Roderick Johnson​ Florida State 6' 7", 311 lbs.
7 Antonio Garcia Troy 6' 7", 302 lbs.
8 Dion Dawkins Temple 6' 5", 315 lbs.
9 Chad Wheeler USC 6' 6", 310 lbs.
10 Conor McDermott​ UCLA 6' 8", 310 lbs.

Robinson really has been better than the narrative would suggest this season. Case in point: His work earlier this season against Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who is almost unanimously the 2017 draft’s No. 1 prospect. Robinson projects as a long-term answer at left tackle, provided he continues to develop his defenses against speed rushers—he already plays with power. Ramczyk was excellent this season on the left side, too, and he moves extremely well for his size. Bolles will be 25 in May. That’s going to cap his draft ceiling. Johnson is the wild card, a prospect with very obvious natural gifts but who was not able to put it all together this season.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Guards

Pound-for-pound, the guard class could be one of the draft’s most impactful when it comes to making early contributions—especially since several of the top center prospects also have thrived here in the past. Typically, we don’t see more than one interior lineman slip into the first round, but there should be a run on guard/center types starting somewhere on Day 2. 

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Dan Feeney Indiana 6' 4", 310 lbs.
2 Billy Price Ohio State 6' 4", 315 lbs.
3 Taylor Moton Western Michigan 6' 5", 291 lbs.
4 Dorian Johnson Pitt 6' 5", 315 lbs.
5 Quenton Nelson Notre Dame 6' 5", 325 lbs.
6 Nico Siragusa San Diego State 6' 5", 330 lbs.
7 Johnny Caspers Stanford 6' 4", 292 lbs.
8 Zach Banner USC 6' 9", 360 lbs.
9 Greg Pyke Georgia 6' 6", 325 lbs.
10 Isaac Asiata Utah 6' 3", 323 lbs.

KAPLAN: Once near 400 pounds, Zach Banner keeping weight off as NFL looks on

A concussion cost Feeney time earlier this season and he’s had to play a little tackle of late, but he has put together a fine career at guard. Just ask Tevin Coleman, who ran to daylight behind Feeney often in 2015. Price and Johnson both excel as run blockers, too, and Price has to be athletic to do his job in Urban Meyer’s scheme. Nelson has climbed the board as fast as anyone, and he might not be done. Based on how he plays in both the run and pass, he could put up some excellent marks at the combine. Moton has moved here from a spot in the tackle rankings, because that’s likely to be his NFL fit. He has played both outside and in for the Broncos.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Centers

Alabama’s Ryan Kelly was the gold standard at center last draft—the Colts nabbed him in Round 1, and he instantly upgraded their entire line. Expecting any of the 2017 center prospects to have that impact is a high bar, but here we find an ultra-experienced group with a couple names at the top that could be Week 1 starters.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Pat Elflein Ohio State 6' 3", 300 lbs.
2 Ethan Pocic LSU 6' 7", 302 lbs.
3 Tyler Orlosky West Virginia 6' 4", 296 lbs.
4 Kyle Fuller Baylor 6' 5", 315 lbs.
5 Jon Toth Kentucky 6' 5", 310 lbs.

Elflein was great as a guard for the Buckeyes last season. He hasn’t taken any steps back moving to center, and in doing so has made himself an even more appealing NFL prospect. He moves people in the run game and has a little sandpaper in his game. Pocic is a center who can get on the move, either to drop and protect his quarterback or pull as a lead blocker. With Michigan’s Mason Cole leaning toward one more year in college, Toth enters the top five. He will participate in the Senior Bowl in January.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Defensive tackles

If the best prospect in this year’s draft class somehow winds up not being Myles Garrett, look no further than the defensive tackle spot for option No. 2. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen paces this position group, which also includes another likely Round 1 guy (Malik McDowell), plus a deep roster of proven playmakers. 

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Jonathan Allen Alabama 6' 3", 294 lbs.
2 Malik McDowell Michigan State 6' 6", 276 lbs.
3 Caleb Brantley​ Florida 6' 2", 314 lbs.
4 Elijah Qualls​ Washington 6' 2", 293 lbs.
5 Montravius Adams​ Auburn 6' 4", 309 lbs.
6 Jaleel Johnson Iowa 6' 4", 310 lbs.
7 Chris Wormley Michigan 6' 6", 302 lbs.
8 Carlos Watkins Clemson 6' 3", 305 lbs.
9 Eddie Vanderdoes UCLA 6' 4", 305 lbs.
10 Jarron Jones​ Notre Dame 6' 5 1/2", 315 lbs.

I was a big fan of A’Shawn Robinson heading into last year’s draft and liked his Alabama linemate Jarran Reed quite a bit, as well. Allen’s better—at least at this point in the process. He has silly levels of athleticism for an interior D-linemen and would fit a 3–4 or 4–3 defense as a penetrating, pocket-collapsing presence. Brantley can take over games from the interior because he’s so quick off the ball. McDowell did not have a great season with teams focusing extra attention on him, but he’s still a disruptive, highly versatile prospect. Jones (knee/foot) and Vanderdoes (knee) both finished the year on the rise after battling injuries. Wormley is listed here despite playing mostly end for Michigan because his size and powerful style fits—he can help set the edge on early downs, then kick inside to pass rush if his next team so chooses. Under-the-radar name: Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, who notched a Senior Bowl invite. He eats up space.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Edge rushers

A premium has been placed on edge rushers for decades, but rarely have they been as coveted as they are now, and this draft class has a stockpile of standouts. We’ve combined defensive ends and pass-rushing outside linebackers into one group here, because the difference between 4–3 and 3–4 edge defenders is as narrow as ever.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Myles Garrett Texas A&M 6' 5", 262 lbs.
2 Derek Barnett Tennessee 6' 3", 265 lbs.
3 Solomon Thomas Stanford 6' 3", 256 lbs.
4 Tim Williams Alabama 6' 4", 252 lbs.
5 Takkarist McKinley UCLA 6' 4", 230 lbs.
6 Taco Charlton Michigan 6' 6", 272 lbs.
7 ​DeMarcus Walker Florida State 6' 4", 280 lbs.
8 Carl Lawson​ Auburn 6' 2", 253 lbs.
9 Charles Harris Missouri 6' 3", 235 lbs.
10 Ryan Anderson Alabama 6' 2", 253 lbs.

Frankly, I ran out of room—the list of edge defenders with Round 3-and-up potential could go another five to 10 guys deep: Ejuan Price, Dawuane Smoot, Devonte Fields ... just keeps going. Among those who are here, Garrett, Barnett, Thomas and Williams all have the look of top-15 picks. McKinley is a hyper-active defender who benefited when UCLA shifted from a 3–4 to a 4–3. And if you want a plug-and-play end in a 4–3 scheme, Walker could be your guy. Harris might have the best spin move in college football.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Linebackers

Those dynamic tight ends this class appears to offer? A lot of times, these are the players responsible for them in coverage. Linebackers—at least quality, three-down linebackers—have to be able to take on 300-pound blockers, chase running backs sideline to sideline and drop in coverage. This year’s class has several prospects who have done that throughout their college careers, as well as a handful of sleepers.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Reuben Foster Alabama 6' 1", 240 lbs.
2 Zach Cunningham Vanderbilt 6' 4", 230 lbs.
3 ​Jarrad Davis Florida 6' 2", 238 lbs.
4 ​Raekwon McMillan Ohio State 6' 2", 243 lbs.
5 Kendell Beckwith LSU 6' 3", 247 lbs.
6 Anthony Walker Northwestern 6' 1", 235 lbs.
7 Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tennessee 6' 0", 230 lbs.
8 Vince Biegel Wisconsin 6' 4", 245 lbs.
9 Micah Kiser​ Virginia 6' 2", 240 lbs.
10 Matt Milano Boston College 6' 1", 221 lbs.

If we’re playing the Alabama prospect comparison game again, Foster could go 20 (or more) picks higher than former teammate Reggie Ragland, a 2016 second-rounder. Cunningham may emerge as the best of the bunch once they all reach the NFL—he had 125 tackles for Vanderbilt this season. McMillan flies to the ball and punishes people, but he also does have that coverage ability in his back pocket. Davis and Walker are excellent in space, critical for NFL linebackers, while Beckwith is a bit more of the thumper type. Biegel’s my sleeper (much like ex-Badger and current Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert was last year). He can bring pressure on the outside or slide inside and cover ground there.​

2017 NFL draft rankings: Cornerbacks

Cornerback is another position where the list of top-end talent easily could have expanded to include five more names. Whether a team prefers a big, physical cornerback to play outside in press-man or a quick-footed, shifty option to handle the slot, there are choices to go around in this year’s CB class. ​

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Quincy Wilson Florida 6' 1", 213 lbs.
2 Sidney Jones Washington 6' 0", 181 lbs.
3 Desmond King Iowa 5' 11", 203 lbs.
4 Marshon Lattimore Ohio State 6' 0", 192 lbs.
5 Cordrea Tankersley​ Clemson 6' 1", 200 lbs.
6 Marlon Humphrey Alabama 6' 1", 198 lbs.
7 Jourdan Lewis Michigan 5' 11", 186 lbs.
8 Jalen Tabor​ Florida 6' 0", 191 lbs.
9 Gareon Conley​ Ohio State 6' 0", 195 lbs.
10 Corn Elder Miami 5' 10", 180 lbs.

Wilson plays a heavy, physical lock-down style on the outside. King falls shy of the noteworthy 6-foot line for cornerbacks, but you wouldn’t know it by how he goes at it. He can play in all coverages, and he’ll step up in run support. Jones is another in-your-face cornerback, even though he runs 30 or 40 pounds lighter than Wilson. Lewis is among the smallest of the bunch, but he mirrors receivers’ routes incredibly well with his quick feet and finishes plays. Take your pick on the Ohio State guys: Both Lattimore and Conley have first-round potential, which just goes to show what a loaded group this is.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Safeties

Defining a player as a safety these days—even when adding the “free” or “strong” designation—rarely tells the whole story. Safeties obviously have to be able to cover ground deep against the pass, but more than ever they also have to be forceful against the run and be able to handle any offensive position in coverage. This position will have a significant impact in the draft’s first round.​

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Jamal Adams LSU 6' 1", 213 lbs.
2 Jabrill Peppers Michigan 6' 1", 205 lbs.
3 Malik Hooker Ohio State 6' 2", 205 lbs.
4 Budda Baker Washington 5' 10", 192 lbs.
5 Justin Evans Texas A&M 6' 1", 195 lbs.
6 Marcus Maye Florida 6' 0", 216 lbs.
7 Marcus Williams Utah 6' 1", 195 lbs.
8 Eddie Jackson Alabama 6' 0", 194 lbs.
9 Quin Blanding Virginia 6' 2", 215 lbs.
10 Josh Harvey-Clemons Louisville 6' 5", 212 lbs.

Where do you play Peppers? How about: Anywhere. O.K., he’s not going to line up along the D-line, but the worries about finding an exact position fit for him are overblown—he’s an out-of-this-world athlete that can be a matchup buster for a defense. Hooker is cut from a similar cloth, maybe not quite as dynamic as Peppers but a Swiss Army knife safety. Adams is another potential Pro Bowler at the next level. He’s more of a true safety than a hybrid S/LB-type. Evans will have Texas A&M well-represented even after Armani Watts elected to return to school. The Deone Bucannon comp has been a popular one for Peppers. It is more apropos for Baker, who can be very physical when pulled up to the line.

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