2017 NFL draft rankings: Top prospects by position

NFL Scouting Combine: Pivotal, or overhyped?
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NFL Scouting Combine: Pivotal, or overhyped?
Friday February 24th, 2017

The draft process began months ago, almost before the 2016 event wrapped. 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 following positional rankings for this year’s draft class 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 the 2017 class and which prospects’ stock will rise by the end of April, and we’ll be updating the rankings as the evaluation process heats up in the coming weeks.

As the NFL combine approaches, this is how it all stands.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Quarterbacks

The Browns, 49ers and Bears could all use their 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 four names in our QB rankings right now are the prospects you are likely to hear most about between now and April 27—though several others 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 Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 6' 3", 215 lbs.
3 DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 6' 4 1/2", 230 lbs.
4 Mitch Trubisky North Carolina 6' 3", 220 lbs.
5 Jerod Evans Virginia Tech 6' 4", 236 lbs.
6 Brad Kaaya Miami 6' 4", 215 lbs.
7 Nate Peterman Pittsburgh 6' 2", 225 lbs.
8 Davis Webb Cal 6' 5", 230 lbs.
9 Chad Kelly Ole Miss 6' 2", 224 lbs.
10 Alek Torgersen Penn 6' 3", 230 lbs.

Each of the top four quarterbacks has a claim to the top spot, as well as a glaring issue that comes with his game. Watson turned the ball over too much, Mahomes comes from a Texas Tech “Air Raid” system that could make his NFL transition difficult, Kizer wilted in 2016 as his team struggled and Trubisky has footwork issues that could take a long while to fix. Watson holds an edge here as much for the work he does pre-snap as the production he put up—the former certainly led to the latter. He showed up on the biggest stages. With a game built so much around how he can improvise, Mahomes won’t be for everyone, but he has a huge arm and incredible upside. 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: He might be the first QB off the board, and he also might need the most seasoning before he’s ready to start.

Moving up this list in recent weeks is Virginia Tech’s Evans, a surprise entry to this year’s draft. His size and ability on the move might is reminiscent of what Kizer can do. There’s a drop-off beyond the top four in this class, so why not roll the dice on a multi-dimensional threat?

It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Kelly, who has off-field red flags and is working back from a torn ACL. He did not receive a combine invite.

Montana’s Brady Gustafson drew the early tag as “2017 Carson Wentz”: tall, FCS program, high-powered offense. Don’t forget the name Alek 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 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. 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 Samaje Perine​​ Oklahoma 5' 10", 235 lbs.
5 Joe Mixon Oklahoma 6' 1", 226 lbs.
6 D'Onta Foreman Texas 6' 1", 249 lbs.
7 Wayne Gallman Clemson 6' 0", 210 lbs.
8 Alvin Kamara​ Tennessee 5' 10", 215 lbs.
9 Kareem Hunt Toledo 6' 0", 225 lbs.
10 Donnel Pumphrey San Diego St. 5' 8", 169 lbs.
11 Jamaal Williams​ BYU 6' 0", 211 lbs.
12 Elijah McGuire Louisiana 5' 11", 209 lbs.
13 James Conner Pitt 6' 2", 235 lbs.
14 Matt Dayes NC State 5' 9", 207 lbs.
15 Marlon Mack South Florida 6' 0", 210 lbs.

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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 is an electrifying chip that could be produce massive numbers with a creative coordinator. Former teammates Perine and Mixon both have the look of potential No. 1 backs, although Mixon obviously has significant off-field questions to answer.

The middle rounds could wind up being a gold mine. Pumphrey is a Darren Sproles-like playmaker with excellent vision and burst. McGuire’s an under-the-radar name that also could step in and help as a rookie.

Keep an eye on Mack. He has the speed to blow up the combine and South Florida’s pro day.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Wide receivers

College offensive stats are as inflated as ever, but we’re still talking about some serious talent atop the receiver position and deep into the class. 

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 Curtis Samuel Ohio State 5' 11", 197 lbs.
7 Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech 6' 2", 195 lbs.
8 Zay Jones East Carolina 6' 1", 197 lbs.
9 Josh Reynolds Texas A&M 6' 4", 194 lbs.
10 ​Carlos Henderson Louisiana Tech 6' 1", 191 lbs.
11 Ryan Switzer North Carolina 5' 10", 185 lbs.
12 ​Chad Hansen Cal 6' 2", 205 lbs.
13 Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 6' 0", 176 lbs.
14 ​Taywan Taylor Western Kentucky 5' 11", 198 lbs.
15 Damore'ea Stringfellow Ole Miss 6' 2", 211 lbs.

At least in this camp, the gap between Davis and Williams has opened a bit—and that’s despite Davis being ruled out of combine drills with an ankle injury. The Western Michigan product is a polished weapon, with NFL-ready route understanding and a post-catch burst that turns short gains into substantial ones. Williams still is an early Round 1 prospect, thanks to how he can pummel cornerbacks with his physicality.

Ross and Smith-Schuster are quite different. Both can make defenders miss after the catch, but Ross is an absolute lightning bolt. Smith-Schuster gets the job done with body position and power.

Samuel has moved to wide receiver from his previous spot in the running back rankings. He’ll likely do a little of both in the NFL, but his skill set does seem a better fit for a slot role.

There is talent to be had deep into this class. Ford, Jones, Reynolds, Hansen, Taylor and Kupp all could be pegged as Round 1 talents on certain boards.

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", 249 lbs.
2 Evan Engram Ole Miss 6' 3", 236 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' 5", 246 lbs.
7 Jordan Leggett Clemson 6' 5", 260 lbs.
8 Michael Roberts Toledo 6' 4", 261 lbs.
9 Josiah Price Michigan State 6' 4", 248 lbs.
10 Adam Shaheen Ashland 6' 6", 277 lbs.

At least three tight ends—Howard, Engram and Njoku—should land within the top 50 selections, Howard and Njoku possibly pushing up into the top 20 because of their athletic upside. Don’t sleep on the group below them, though, led by Butt, once thought to be a potential Round 1 option himself but now rehabbing from a knee injury.

Roberts and Shaheen are the lesser-known names to remember. Shaheen, especially, has enjoyed a rush of attention from draft analysts headed into the combine.

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 Taylor Moton​ Western Michigan 6' 5", 330 lbs.
4 Garett Bolles​ Utah 6' 5", 300 lbs.
5 Forrest Lamp​ Western Kentucky 6' 4", 305 lbs.
6 Roderick Johnson Florida State 6' 7", 311 lbs.
7 Antonio Garcia Troy 6' 6", 293 lbs.
8 Avery Gennessy Texas A&M 6' 5", 315 lbs.
9 Chad Wheeler USC 6' 6", 310 lbs.
10 Julien Davenport Bucknell 6' 7", 310 lbs.

There have arguments to label Moton and Lamp interior blockers, with moves to guard from their familiar tackle spots in their future. Not sure why there would be such a rush to shift them, especially in an OT class that’s viewed as light. Lamp may not meet the size requirements NFL teams want outside, but he’s athletic enough play there; Moton can start from Day One as a right tackle.

Both figure to be looking up at one or more of Robinson, Ramczyk and Bolles come the first round. All three have warts—Robinson’s inconsistent in pass protection, Ramczyk just had hip surgery, Bolles will be 25 to start the 2017 season—but the potential is evident.

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", 304 lbs.
2 Dorian Johnson Pitt 6' 5", 315 lbs.
3 Dion Dawkins Temple 6' 3", 317 lbs.
4 Nico Siragusa San Diego State 6' 4", 326 lbs.
5 Isaac Asiata Utah 6' 3", 325 lbs.
6 Danny Isadora Miami 6' 3", 311 lbs.
7 Jessaman Dunker Tennessee State 6' 4", 306 lbs.
8 Greg Pyke Georgia 6' 6", 325 lbs.
9 Kyle Kalis Michigan 6' 5", 305 lbs.
10 Jordan Morgan Kutztown 6' 3", 313 lbs.

This is never a position that drums up a lot of pre-draft fervor, but obviously an important one nonetheless. And fortunately for the guard-needy teams out there, the 2017 class boasts at least a handful of prospects capable of stepping in early. Tops on that list is Feeney, an intelligent pass protector whose run-blocking footwork will have zone teams drooling. Johnson is more of a mauler.

Dawkins is another on the list of prospects who could stick at tackle, where he played in college. His perceived ability to be inside or outside will help his stock.

Sleeper: Jordan Morgan. Playing tackle, he often dominated the lower-level competition he faced by using his athleticism and through-the-whistle edge. He’s nimble enough to be very intriguing as a pulling guard.

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 Jon Toth Kentucky 6' 5", 310 lbs.
4 Tyler Orlosky West Virginia 6' 4", 296 lbs.
5 Kyle Fuller Baylor 6' 5", 315 lbs.
6 Deyshawn Bond Cincinnati 6' 2", 287 lbs.

Elflein and Pocic are both up there with the center prospects we’ve seen in recent drafts: Kelly, Travis Frederick and so on. Expecting either to match the impact those players made is setting the bar awfully high, but don’t be surprised if it happens. This is a good group overall.

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 a deep roster of proven playmakers. 

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Jonathan Allen Alabama 6' 3", 294 lbs.
2 Caleb Brantley​​ Florida 6' 2", 314 lbs.
3 Malik McDowell Michigan State 6' 6", 276 lbs.
4 Jaleel Johnson Iowa 6' 4", 310 lbs.
5 Chris Wormley Michigan 6' 6", 302 lbs.
6 Larry Ogunjobi Charlotte 6' 2", 304 lbs.
7 Dalvin Tomlinson​ Alabama 6' 3", 312 lbs.
8 Elijah Qualls Washington 6' 2", 293 lbs.
9 Montravius Adams​ Auburn 6' 4", 309 lbs.
10 Carlos Watkins Clemson 6' 3", 305 lbs.

Allen is a legitimate top-five prospect in this class, and like many of the others under this “defensive tackle” heading, that description does not cover his capabilities. He played DE quite a bit for Alabama and could stay outside in either a 4–3 or 3–4, dropping down in specific spots. That’s a theme for versatile guys like McDowell and Wormley, too.

The Brantleys and Johnsons of the class, on the other hand, could wind up as fixtures on NFL defenses because of how disruptive they are playing inside. Quick-footed DTs that can push the pocket are coveted—but relatively rare—finds.

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 Solomon Thomas Stanford 6' 3", 256 lbs.
3 Tim Williams Alabama 6' 4", 252 lbs.
4 Derek Barnett Tennessee 6' 3", 265 lbs.
5 Takkarist McKinley UCLA 6' 4", 230 lbs.
6 Charles Harris Missouri 6' 3", 235 lbs.
7 ​​Taco Charlton Michigan 6' 6", 272 lbs.
8 DeMarcus Walker Florida State 6' 4", 280 lbs.
9 Carl Lawson​ Auburn 6' 2", 253 lbs.
10 T.J. Watt Wisconsin 6' 5", 243 lbs.
11 Ryan Anderson Alabama 6' 2", 253 lbs.
12 Daeshon Hall Texas A&M 6' 6", 260 lbs.
13 Derek Rivers Youngstown State 6' 4", 250 lbs.
14 Tyus Bowser Houston 6' 2", 244 lbs.
15 Joe Mathis Washington 6' 4", 250 lbs.

The 2017 edge group is comparable to the wide receivers in that there will be an abundance of talent waiting to be found even into Rounds 3, 4 and 5. Of course, most of the headlines will be written about the top prospects here, namely Garrett. He long has been locked in as the draft’s top prospect, and it should not take him long to be an impact playmaker off the edge at the next level.

Thomas, Williams, Barnett and McKinley all look for now as if they could sneak into the top 15, too. Thomas, for one, has been generating top-10 buzz. He can work off the edge but also has the power to create mismatches as an interior rusher.

Teams seeking out pure pass rushers could do worse than to pick through this group. Harris, Charlton, Watt, Rivers, Bowser and Mathis all are capable of developing into double-digit sack players, before much time passes. Anderson and Lawson might be there, as well, though they offer value beyond specialist roles.

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 Jarrad Davis Florida 6' 2", 238 lbs.
3 Zach Cunningham​ Vanderbilt 6' 4", 230 lbs.
4 Haason Reddick Temple 6' 1", 237 lbs.
5 Raekwon McMillan​ Ohio State 6' 2", 243 lbs.
6 Kendell Beckwith LSU 6' 3", 247 lbs.
7 Anthony Walker Northwestern 6' 1", 235 lbs.
8 Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tennessee 6' 0", 230 lbs.
9 Elijah Lee Kansas State 6' 3", 228 lbs.
10 Vince Biegel Wisconsin 6' 4", 245 lbs.

The two big moves since our latest positional-rankings update are Davis leapfrogging Cunningham and Reddick climbing to No. 4. The Reddick move certainly was fueled by the Senior Bowl. Because of his size, the Temple standout likely will wind up transitioning to a linebacker-heavy role at the next level, and that week in Mobile was one of the first glimpses at how he could handle that responsibility. He was, in a word, phenomenal.

Davis’s coverage abilities, provided he’s healthy, could make him the next best thing to Foster, the runaway No. 1 linebacker prospect this year. Davis can be matched up against backs or tight ends and hold his own.

Lee was among the most notable combine snubs. He had 110 tackles this past season, and he’s well-rounded enough to be counted on for all three downs in the NFL.

2017 NFL draft rankings: Cornerbacks

How many cornerbacks are going to hear their name called in Round 1? Figure a minimum of two, with a maximum pushing double digits. The quality of this class suggests the number should be in the eight or nine range, but depth often can cause teams to wait it out at a position.

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Marshon Lattimore Ohio State 6' 0", 192 lbs.
2 Quincy Wilson Florida 6' 1", 213 lbs.
3 Sidney Jones Washington 6' 0", 181 lbs.
4 Desmond King Iowa 5' 11", 203 lbs.
5 Marlon Humphrey Alabama 6' 1", 198 lbs.
6 Jourdan Lewis Michigan 5' 11", 186 lbs.
7 Jalen Tabor​ Florida 6' 0", 191 lbs.
8 Tre'Davious White LSU 5' 11", 191 lbs.
9 ​Gareon Conley Ohio State 6' 0", 195 lbs.
10 Cordrea Tankersley​ Clemson 6' 1", 200 lbs.
11 ​Cam Sutton Tennessee 5' 11", 182 lbs.
12 Rasul Douglas West Virginia 6' 2", 204 lbs.
13 ​Adoree' Jackson USC 5' 11", 185 lbs.
14 ​Kevin King Washington 6' 2", 178 lbs.
15 ​Corn Elder Miami 5' 10", 180 lbs.

The top three (Lattimore, Wilson and Jones) are separated by a razor-thin margin. If Wilson churns out a strong 40 time at the combine, he may propel himself back into the No. 1 spot. Lattimore, though, belongs there—he already plays like a lock-down cornerback, despite limited college experience, and he packs a punch against the run.

Even the players rounding out the top 15 here are potential rookie starters. The physical Elder is tailor-made to be an NFL slot corner.

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 on the draft’s first round.​

Rank Player School Measurables
1 Jamal Adams LSU 6' 1", 213 lbs.
2 Malik Hooker​ Ohio State 6' 2", 205 lbs.
3 Jabrill Peppers Michigan 6' 1", 205 lbs.
4 Budda Baker Washington 5' 10", 192 lbs.
5 Justin Evans Texas A&M 6' 1", 195 lbs.
6 Obi Melifonwu UConn 6' 4", 219 lbs.
7 Marcus Maye Florida 6' 0", 216 lbs.
8 Marcus Williams Utah 6' 1", 195 lbs.
9 Eddie Jackson Alabama 6' 0", 194 lbs.
10 Quin Blanding Virginia 6' 2", 215 lbs.

This safety class could turn out to be special. Adams is enough of a presence that he could singlehandedly shift a defense’s personality. Barring an unexpected development in the next couple months, it would be shocking to see him slide out of the top 10.

Hooker could join him up in those heights, too, provided a front office can see the full picture. He’s a gem as a ballhawking safety now, but will need time and experience before he also can be considered a strong run defender. Baker’s size may push him into a similar role: free safety first, and anything in the box is a bonus.

As for Peppers, the challenge will be in figuring out how best to use him. The answer very well could include time spent on offense, and it definitely should include a spot on the return teams. More production—or more time spent at safety—while at Michigan would have helped his evaluation. But try to focus on what he did, and what he allowed his teammates to do by playing linebacker, rather than nitpick the negatives.

Oh, and did people forget about Jackson? He broke his leg midway through Alabama’s season, but a healthy Jackson has the skill and instincts to make things happen.

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