2017 NFL draft: Position with most depth is...
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2017 NFL draft: Position with most depth is...
Wednesday December 7th, 2016

The draft process for 2017 began months ago, almost before the 2016 event wrapped. There still is a long road ahead: the remainder of the pro season, bowl games, 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.

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 three names in our QB rankings right now (Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky) are the three you are likely to hear most about between now and April 27. A fourth, Brad Kaaya, has jumped in and out of that group all season—he 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 Mitch Trubisky North Carolina 6' 3", 220 lbs.
4 Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 6' 3", 215 lbs.
5 Mason Rudolph Oklahoma State 6' 5", 235 lbs.
6 Austin Allen Arkansas 6' 1", 209 lbs.
7 Brad Kaaya Miami 6' 4", 215 lbs.
8 Davis Webb Cal 6' 5", 230 lbs.
9 Luke Falk Washington State 6' 4", 203 lbs.
10 Baker Mayfield Oklahoma 6' 1", 212 lbs.

Watson holds a slight edge here because of his dual-threat prowess, as well as what he’s shown in key moments—he has played in a boatload of high-profile games at Clemson and has a knack for shining late. Kizer has an inch-plus of height and a good 15 to 20 pounds on Watson, which counts in the pocket, and he can get out and run when he needs to, as well. 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? I do think at least the next four names on the list have starter potential down the line: Allen, Mahomes, Kaaya and Rudolph, though all four could stay in school. Allen doesn’t have the size or arm of Trubisky, but he’s similar in how he stands up to pressure. Mahomes has incredible athleticism and a huge arm, without any polish to his game.

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.

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 Royce Freeman Oregon 6' 0", 229 lbs.
7 Alvin Kamara Tennessee 5' 10", 215 lbs.
8 Joe Mixon Oklahoma 6' 1", 226 lbs.
9 Kareem Hunt Toledo 6' 0", 225 lbs.
10 Nick Chubb Georgia 5' 10", 228 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 and Samuel are electrifying chips that a creative coach could do wonders with, while Freeman and Foreman are more in the workhorse vein.

The 10 receiver prospects in our initial 2017 rankings have combined for 9,809 yards through the air this season. Easy math: That’s about 1,000 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 Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 6' 0", 176 lbs.
6 Cooper Kupp Eastern Washington 6' 2", 205 lbs.
7 Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech 6' 2", 195 lbs.
8 Courtland Sutton SMU 6' 4", 215 lbs.
9 KD Cannon Baylor 6' 0", 180 lbs.
10 Zay Jones East Carolina 6' 1", 197 lbs.

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The top three—maybe even the top four—have a legitimate argument for being the No. 1 receiver right now. Williams is a downfield weapon with the strength and size to dominate defensive backs when he wants to. 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. Smith-Schuster is a bit of a sleeper contender, but he plays a strong, natural receiver. And then there’s Davis. The Western Michigan product sits atop our board for the moment because he is so polished and well-rounded. Kupp is a similar player, albeit one starting from a lower floor/ceiling setup, from the FCS ranks. Considering how much teams emphasize speed and creating mismatches, Westbrook has top-20 potential.

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 Jake Butt Michigan 6' 6", 250 lbs.
3 Evan Engram Ole Miss 6' 3", 235 lbs.
4 Bucky Hodges Virginia Tech 6' 7", 245 lbs.
5 Jeremy Sprinkle Arkansas 6' 6", 256 lbs.
6 Gerald Everett South Alabama 6' 4", 215 lbs.
7 Jordan Leggett Clemson 6' 5", 260 lbs.
8 Cole Hikutini Louisville 6' 5", 248 lbs.
9 Blake Jarwin Oklahoma State 6' 5", 248 lbs.
10 Josiah Price Michigan State 6' 4", 248 lbs.

It may not play out this way in April, but there is a bit of a gap between the top two and the rest of the tight end prospects. Both Howard and Butt 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.

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 Mike McGlinchey Notre Dame 6' 7 1/2", 310 lbs.
4 Taylor Moton Western Michigan 6' 5", 291 lbs.
5 Roderick Johnson Florida State 6' 7", 311 lbs.
6 Garett Bolles Utah 6' 5", 300 lbs.
7 Adam Bisnowaty Pitt 6' 6", 305 lbs.
8 Chad Wheeler USC 6' 6", 310 lbs.
9 Conor McDermott UCLA 6' 8", 310 lbs.
10 Erik Magnuson Michigan 6' 6", 305 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 has been excellent this season on the left side, too, and he moves extremely well for his size. More people are taking notice of Moton now that Western Michigan is headed to a prestigious bowl game. He's a right tackle/guard prospect. The wild cards are McGlinchey and Johnson, who face decisions on their futures after this season. McGlinchey could fly into the first round if he goes; Johnson has been among the more disappointing prospects this year.​

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 Dorian Johnson Pitt 6' 5", 315 lbs.
4 Quenton Nelson Notre Dame 6' 5", 325 lbs.
5 Johnny Caspers Stanford 6' 4", 292 lbs.
6 Nico Siragusa San Diego State 6' 5", 330 lbs.
7 Zach Banner USC 6' 9", 360 lbs.
8 Greg Pyke Georgia 6' 6", 325 lbs.
9 Isaac Asiata Utah 6' 3", 323 lbs.
10 Tyrone Crowder Clemson 6' 2", 340 lbs.

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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.

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 Mason Cole Michigan 6' 5", 305 lbs.
4 Tyler Orlosky West Virginia 6' 4", 296 lbs.
5 Kyle Fuller Baylor 6' 5", 315 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. Cole was a tackle for Michigan before sliding to center—his NFL future probably falls at the latter position, but the team that drafts him won’t complain about having the option.​

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 Montravius Adams ​ Auburn 6' 4", 309 lbs.
3 Malik McDowell Michigan State 6' 6", 276 lbs.
4 Caleb Brantley Florida 6' 2", 314 lbs.
5 Eddie Vanderdoes UCLA 6' 4", 305 lbs.
6 Chris Wormley Michigan 6' 6", 302 lbs.
7 Carlos Watkins Clemson 6' 3", 305 lbs.
8 Vita Vea Washington 6' 4", 346 lbs.
9 Jarron Jones​ Notre Dame 6' 5 1/2", 315 lbs.
10 Charles Walker Oklahoma 6' 2", 304 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. McDowell hasn’t had a great season with teams focusing extra attention on him, but he’s still a disruptive, highly versatile prospect. Brantley can take over games from the interior because he's so quick off the ball. Jones (knee/foot) and Vanderdoes (knee) have had to fight through injuries, but they’re both back on the rise. 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 just notched a Senior Bowl invite. He eats up space inside.​

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 Tim Williams Alabama 6' 4", 252 lbs..
4 Takkarist McKinley UCLA 6' 4", 230 lbs.
5 Taco Charlton Michigan 6' 6", 272 lbs.
6 DeMarcus Walker Florida State 6' 4", 280 lbs.
7 Charles Harris Missouri 6' 3", 235 lbs.
8 Carl Lawson Auburn 6' 2", 253 lbs.
9 Ryan Anderson Alabama 6' 2", 253 lbs.
10 Harold Landry Boston College 6' 3", 250 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: Marquis Haynes, Ejuan Price, Dawuane Smoot, Devonte Fields, Tanoh Kpassagnon ... just keeps going. Among those who are here, Garrett, Barnett and Williams all have the look of top-15 picks. (And there are some who’d argue Williams’s teammate, Anderson, is an even better pro prospect than Williams is.) McKinley is a hyper-active defender who benefited when UCLA shifted from a 3–4 to a 4–3. 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. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m a huge Landry fan. He’s a stout run defender and a developing pass rusher who has stood out on a mediocre team.​

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 ​Raekwon McMillan Ohio State 6' 2", 243 lbs.
4 Jarrad Davis Florida 6' 2", 238 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 Hardy Nickerson Illinois 6' 0", 230 lbs.
10 Micah Kiser Virginia 6' 2", 240 lbs.

If we’re playing the Alabama prospect comparison game again, Foster could go 20 (or more) picks higher than former teammate Reggie Ragland as a 2016 second-rounder. Cunningham may emerge as the best of the bunch once they all reach the NFL—he has 119 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.​

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 Desmond King Iowa 5' 11", 203 lbs.
2 Quincy Wilson Florida 6' 1", 213 lbs.
3 Sidney Jones Washington 6' 0", 181 lbs.
4 Marlon Humphrey Alabama 6' 1", 198 lbs.
5 ​Jourdan Lewis Michigan 5' 11", 186 lbs.
6 Jalen Tabor​ Florida 6' 0", 191 lbs.
7 Marshon Lattimore Ohio State 6' 0", 192 lbs.
8 Gareon Conley​ Ohio State 6' 0", 195 lbs.
9 Tre'Davious White LSU 6' 0", 197 lbs.
10 Cordrea Tankersley Clemson 6' 1", 200 lbs.

King falls shy of the noteworthy 6-foot line for cornerbacks, but you wouldn’t know it by how he plays. He can play in all coverages, although the way he reads and reacts could push him toward a zone-heavy team. Either way, he’ll step up in run support. Wilson falls into that physical-CB category. Jones does, too, even though he runs about 40 pounds lighter. Lewis is among the smallest of the bunch, but he mirrors receivers’ routes incredibly well with his quick feet and finishes plays. Conley has first-round potential, which just goes to show what a loaded group this is. ​

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 Jabrill Peppers Michigan 6' 1", 205 lbs.
2 Jamal Adams LSU 6' 1", 213 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 Armani Watts Texas A&M 5' 11", 200 lbs.
8 Eddie Jackson Alabama 6' 0", 194 lbs.
9 Marcus Williams Utah 6' 1", 195 lbs.
10 Quin Blanding Virginia 6' 2", 215 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 is outstanding playing high coverage, but like Hooker and Peppers he’s capable of stepping into the box. Evans and Watts will have Texas A&M well-represented—their draft position will flip-flop depending on team. The Deone Bucannon comp has been a popular one for Peppers. There’s some of his game in Baker, too. 

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