2017 NFL draft rankings: Top prospects by position

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Tuesday March 7th, 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 leading up to the first round on April 27.

The NFL combine brought some clarity to the NFL profiles of several big-name prospects, but there’s still much to learn about the 2017 class and whose stock will rise by the end of April. We’ll be updating the rankings regularly as the evaluation process heats up in the coming weeks.

With the combine in the rearview mirror and pro days at campuses around the country straight ahead, 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' 2", 221 lbs.
2 Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 6' 2", 225 lbs.
3 DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 6' 4", 233 lbs.
4 Mitchell Trubisky North Carolina 6' 2", 222 lbs.
5 Brad Kaaya​ Miami 6' 4", 214 lbs.
6 Nate Peterman Pittsburgh 6' 2", 226 lbs.
7 Jerod Evans Virginia Tech 6' 3", 232 lbs.
8 Davis Webb Cal 6' 5", 229 lbs.
9 Chad Kelly Ole Miss 6' 2", 224 lbs.
10 Joshua Dobbs Tennessee 6' 3", 216 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 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.

Virginia Tech’s Evans was a surprise entry to this year’s draft. His size and ability on the move 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' 10", 210 lbs.
2 Leonard Fournette LSU 6' 0", 240 lbs.
3 Christian McCaffrey Stanford 5' 11", 202 lbs.
4 Joe Mixon​ Oklahoma 6' 1", 226 lbs.
5 Samaje Perine​​ Oklahoma 5' 11", 233 lbs.
6 D'Onta Foreman Texas 6' 0", 233 lbs.
7 Alvin Kamara​ Tennessee 5' 10", 214 lbs.
8 Kareem Hunt Toledo 5' 10", 216 lbs.
9 Wayne Gallman Clemson 6' 0", 215 lbs.
10 Jamaal Williams BYU 6' 0", 212 lbs.
11 ​​Donnel Pumphrey San Diego St. 5' 8", 176 lbs.
12 James Conner Pitt 6' 1", 233 lbs.
13 Jeremy McNichols Boise State 5' 9", 214 lbs.
14 Elijah McGuire​ Louisiana 5' 10", 214 lbs.
15 Marlon Mack South Florida 5' 11", 213 lbs.

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 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.

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' 3", 209 lbs.
2 John Ross Washington 5' 10", 188 lbs.
3 Mike Williams Clemson 6' 3", 218 lbs.
4 JuJu Smith-Schuster​ USC 6' 1", 215 lbs.
5 Curtis Samuel Ohio State  5' 11", 196 lbs.
6 Zay Jones East Carolina 6' 2", 201 lbs.
7 Josh Reynolds Texas A&M 6' 3", 194 lbs.
8 Cooper Kupp Eastern Washington 6' 2", 204 lbs.
9 Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech 6' 1", 194 lbs.
10 Chris Godwin Penn State 6' 1", 209 lbs.
11 ​Carlos Henderson Louisiana Tech 6' 1", 191 lbs.
12 Ryan Switzer North Carolina 5' 8", 181 lbs.
13 ​Chad Hansen Cal 6' 2", 202 lbs.
14 ​Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 6' 0", 178 lbs.
15 Taywan Taylor Western Kentucky 5' 11", 203 lbs.

Davis 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—watch his 4.22 40 at the combine for proof. 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' 5", 251 lbs.
2 Evan Engram Ole Miss 6' 3", 234 lbs.
3 David Njoku Miami 6' 4", 246 lbs.
4 Jake Butt Michigan 6' 5", 246 lbs.
5 Bucky Hodges Virginia Tech 6' 6", 257 lbs.
6 Jeremy Sprinkle Arkansas 6' 5", 252 lbs.
7 Jordan Leggett Clemson 6' 5", 258 lbs.
8 Michael Roberts Toledo 6' 4", 270 lbs.
9 Gerald Everett South Alabama 6' 3", 239 lbs.
10 Adam Shaheen Ashland 6' 6", 278 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, enjoyed a rush of attention from draft analysts before 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", 322 lbs.
2 Ryan Ramczyk Wisconsin 6' 6", 310 lbs.
3 Taylor Moton​ Western Michigan 6' 5", 319 lbs.
4 Garett Bolles​ Utah 6' 5", 297 lbs.
5 Forrest Lamp​ Western Kentucky 6' 4", 309 lbs.
6 Roderick Johnson Florida State 6' 7", 299 lbs.
7 Antonio Garcia Troy 6' 6", 302 lbs.
8 Avery Gennessy Texas A&M 6' 3", 318 lbs.
9 Chad Wheeler USC 6' 6", 306 lbs.
10 Julien Davenport Bucknell 6' 7", 318 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", 305 lbs.
2 Dorian Johnson Pitt 6' 5", 300 lbs.
3 Dion Dawkins Temple 6' 4", 314 lbs.
4 Nico Siragusa San Diego State 6' 4", 319 lbs.
5 Isaac Asiata Utah 6' 3", 335 lbs.
6 Danny Isadora Miami 6' 3", 311 lbs.
7 Kyle Kalis Michigan 6' 4", 306 lbs.
8 Jordan Morgan Kutztown 6' 3", 309 lbs.
9 Damian Mama USC 6' 5", 305 lbs.
10 Jessaman Dunker Tennessee 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. At the top of 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' 6", 310 lbs.
3 Jon Toth Kentucky 6' 5", 307 lbs.
4 Tyler Orlosky West Virginia 6' 3", 298 lbs.
5 Kyle Fuller Baylor 6' 5", 307 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", 286 lbs.
2 Malik McDowell Michigan State 6' 6", 295 lbs.
3 Caleb Brantley Florida 6' 3", 307 lbs.
4 Jaleel Johnson Iowa 6' 3", 316 lbs.
5 Chris Wormley Michigan 6' 5", 298 lbs.
6 Larry Ogunjobi Charlotte 6' 3", 305 lbs.
7 Dalvin Tomlinson​ Alabama 6' 3", 310 lbs.
8 Elijah Qualls Washington 6' 1", 313 lbs.
9 Montravius Adams​ Auburn 6' 4", 304 lbs.
10 Carlos Watkins Clemson 6' 3", 309 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' 4", 272 lbs.
2 Solomon Thomas Stanford 6' 2", 273 lbs.
3 Derek Barnett Tennessee 6' 3", 259 lbs.
4 Charles Harris Missouri 6' 3", 253 lbs.
5 Tim Williams Alabama 6' 3", 244 lbs.
6 Takkarist McKinley UCLA 6' 2", 250 lbs.
7 ​​Taco Charlton Michigan 6' 5", 277 lbs.
8 Carl Lawson Auburn 6' 2", 261 lbs.
9 T.J. Watt Wisconsin 6' 4", 252 lbs.
10 Derek Rivers Youngstown State 6' 4", 248 lbs.
11 Tyus Bowser Houston 6' 3", 247 lbs.
12 DeMarcus Walker Florida State 6' 4", 280 lbs.
13 Ryan Anderson Alabama 6' 2", 253 lbs.
14 Daeshon Hall Texas A&M 6' 5", 266 lbs.
15 Joe Mathis Washington 6' 2", 266 lbs.

Sorry, NFL: Exempting players with violent pasts from the grueling combine isn't a punishment

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 he proved why with a jaw-dropping combine performance. 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 might be there, as well, though he offers 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' 0", 229 lbs.
2 Haason Reddick Temple 6' 1", 237 lbs.
3 Jarrad Davis Florida 6' 1", 238 lbs.
4 Zach Cunningham Vanderbilt 6' 3", 234 lbs.
5 Raekwon McMillan​ Ohio State 6' 2", 240 lbs.
6 Kendell Beckwith LSU 6' 2", 243 lbs.
7 Anthony Walker Northwestern 6' 1", 238 lbs.
8 Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tennessee 6' 0", 230 lbs.
9 Elijah Lee Kansas State 6' 3", 228 lbs.
10 Vince Biegel Wisconsin 6' 3", 246 lbs.

In our last positional rankings, Reddick climbed all the way up to No. 4, a move certainly 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. He also helped himself even further with an excellent NFL combine, which has boosted him even closer to the top this time around.

In a stacked defensive class, these defensive linemen, LBs boosted their stock at combine

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 Tre'Davious White LSU 5' 11", 192 lbs.
7 Jourdan Lewis Michigan 5' 10", 188 lbs.
8 Gareon Conley Ohio State 6' 0", 195 lbs.
9 Adoree' Jackson USC 5' 10", 186 lbs.
10 Jalen Tabor Florida 6' 4", 199 lbs.
11 Howard Wilson Houston 6' 1", 184 lbs.
12 Fabian Moreau UCLA 6' 0", 206 lbs.
13 Chidobe Awuzie Colorado 6' 0", 202 lbs.
14 Cordrea Tankersley Clemson 6' 1", 199 lbs.
15 Kevin King Washington 6' 3", 200 lbs.

The top three (Lattimore, Wilson and Jones) are separated by a razor-thin margin, and Wilson could still flip-flop back into the top spot at some point. 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. Kevin King stormed the combine with a 4.43 40 and the fastest three-cone drill of any 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 Obi Melifonwu UConn 6' 4", 224 lbs.
6 Marcus Williams Utah 6' 1", 202 lbs.
7 Eddie Jackson Alabama 6' 3", 201 lbs.
8 Justin Evans Texas A&M 5' 11 1/2", 199 lbs.
9 Marcus Maye Florida 6' 0", 212 lbs.
10 John Johnson Boston College 6' 0", 208 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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