- There are seven months until the 2017 NFL draft, but here's an attempt at predicting how the first round will shake out.
Seven months still separate us from the 2017 NFL draft, which will be held in Philadelphia. There’s no telling how the draft order will shift or which prospects will emerge between now and then.
That said, our mock that was released around this time last season included 16 of the 31 eventual Round 1 picks, including nine of the first 10 players selected—the lone name to drop off that list was Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, who suffered a horrible knee injury during bowl season.
This mock, like last year’s first in-season version, won’t bat 1.000 on projecting which players come off the board on April 27, 2017, but it should get the ball rolling with future NFLers to watch. The order here comes from recent Super Bowl LI odds, with slight adjustments made to account for the NFL's Week 3 action.
Mock Draft 1.0 begins:
“You’ve got to trust me on this one.” That was Hue Jackson’s plea after the Browns drafted Cody Kessler in Round 3 last year. And while it’s way too soon to declare Kessler the team’s future, it’s also entirely feasible he shows Jackson enough in the coming weeks to knock the quarterback position down the list of his team's 2017 draft needs. Garrett is the top prospect in this class and an immediate-impact defender. The Browns need to upgrade on that side of the ball, too.
Finally, Chip Kelly gets a shot to handpick a quarterback for his offense. Despite Notre Dame’s miserable start (and Brian Kelly calling out Kizer on Saturday), the redshirt sophomore has ascended to the top of the ranks at his position. He has the size, athleticism and arm to be an NFL star. The lingering mystery is whether he can put it all together on a consistent basis.
The Titans have their quarterback, running back and most of an offensive line set for the forseeable future. They’re still shy several pieces on defense. In Allen and Jurrell Casey, Tennessee would have the makings of an excellent D-line.
Chicago is paying the price for not putting its Jay Cutler succession plan in motion earlier—Brian Hoyer is not a realistic long-term option. It has to nab a QB in the 2017 draft, and all the better if that move comes early. The gap between Watson and Miami’s Brad Kaaya is not as big as some people may think, in part because Watson is less polished within the pocket. The upside on Watson, though, is massive.
Get ready to see the Dolphins paired with a steady stream of DBs and linebackers in 2017 mock drafts. They’re still lacking playmakers in the back seven, an issue that negates the front four’s impact to an extent. Tabor is an absolute ballhawk who seems to be better the more teams test him.
Not a long history of top-10 safeties at the draft: Mark Barron (now a LB) went No. 7 in 2012, Eric Berry No. 5 in 2010, plus a handful of others the past two decades. Adams deserves that level of consideration. He’s a strong tackler with above-average instincts.
King revealed at July’s Big Ten media days that NFL draft evaluators had concerns about his speed. That is always a critical factor in a cornerback’s stock, and it could be the difference for King between top 10 and mid-Round 1. Don’t bet on him falling too far. He’s a lock-down defender who reads and anticipates plays as well as any DB in this class.
It's never too early to start thinking ahead at running back. So even though LeSean McCoy’s contract runs through 2019, the Bills should be open to adding another top-flight option in the backfield. Fournette’s presence might allow the Bills to utilize McCoy even more as a receiver. And within a year or two, Fournette could take over as the workhorse.
Whether or not Vic Beasley can shake his current, extended malaise, the Falcons will be eyeing additional pass-rushers come next off-season. Williams (6' 4", 237 lbs.) might need to bulk up a bit, but he is a premier option off the edge as it is.
The Lions were a popular linebacking landing spot in mock drafts last year, and their alarming lack of depth there this season shows why. Foster would remedy many of the problems. He’s a three-down defender who could take over for DeAndre Levy, if Levy’s injury woes keep derailing his career.
Obviously, the draft picture shifts frequently during the college football season. Right now, though, Davis still stands out as a top-20 talent and arguably the best WR in this class. He has steadily progressed as a route runner, both outside and from the slot, and he has the physical tools to take over games. San Diego could add him to Keenan Allen, or use him as the new No. 1 if Allen’s recent knee injury holds his back.
Figuring out how the running backs will factor into Round 1 will be among the toughest challenges for 2017. (Royce Freeman and Nick Chubb didn’t crack the first round here, but you should remember their names as well.) Cook will be preferred over Fournette by some clubs. He has electrifying abilities in the open field. The pitch here is similar to the Fournette-Bills match—don’t wait until it’s too late at RB—except Matt Forte is older and has a team-friendlier contract than McCoy.
David Irving is starting to look like a keeper, so the Cowboys may not be in all that bad of shape off the edge once Demarcus Lawrence returns. They’re still not going to scare anyone there. Barnett can be imposing against both the run and pass, so defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli would love to have him as part of his DE rotation.
Whether or not the Raiders are 100% sold on either Latavius Murray or DeAndre Washington, a player of McCaffrey’s unique talents would be a welcome addition. It’s still tough to get a read on where exactly McCaffrey will fall come draft time—is he a true No. 1 RB or is he a Theo Riddick-like hybrid?—but he deserves to be picked around here or higher.
Walker, who has improved as an all-around player, opened the season with a monstrous 4.5-sack showing vs. Ole Miss. He’s had just one sack over the past three Florida State games (including that blowout loss at Louisville), but he clearly has the chops to take over.
The first, and only, offensive tackle on the board in Mock 1.0. While need at that position likely will drive the actual number up in April, this doesn’t have the look of an elite class. Robinson remains the pick of the litter. At 327 pounds he can anchor when the QB drops, and he’s a mauler moving forward in the run game.
It wouldn't be the first round of an NFL draft without someone from Ohio State. McMillan has the tools to fit the prototype for a modern-day middle linebacker—stout and imposing against the run, quick enough to shift farther outside to play coverage on backs and TEs.
*TRADE VIA PHILADELPHIA* Beyond the three quarterbacks mentioned in Round 1, other QB names you’ll hear moving forward include Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and Seth Russell (Baylor). But since we already covered the Browns’ QB issue for now, let’s swing over to the defense. There, we find Humphrey, a 6’ 1” redshirt sophomore who uses all of that size to disrupt receivers’ routes.
The Panthers can’t rely on Greg Olsen forever. Even if they have their veteran around for a few more seasons, adding Howard would open up even more options for Cam Newton in the passing game. Howard has averaged 16.2 yards per catch during his Alabama career, despite being lost in the shuffle of skill-position stars at times.
Davis posted 98 tackles last season and he’s on pace to hit triple digits this year. That stat alone does not tell us a whole lot about Davis’s potential. Rather, pay attention to how he makes those plays—covering all areas of the field, with relentless pursuit. He also has a pair of sacks this season, showing that he can also be used to get after the QB.
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There will be a lot of discussion about Kaaya’s arm strength during the draft process, so on the surface he may not fit with Bruce Arians’s downfield-heavy attack. I’d counter that when Kaaya has a clean pocket, he has the arm to make all the throws—accuracy and that ”zip” from velocity are what deserts him under pressure. But there’s a lot to work with. Don’t discount Kaaya as a possible top-10 selection.
TRADE VIA MINNESOTA Over the summer Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren told SI that Caspers “probably” projects best as an NFL center. Caspers has spent time there for the Cardinal, though he is better known for his excellent work at guard. He could handle either spot in the NFL, which gives him early-round hope.
You’ll hear Lewis’s size (5' 11", 186) used as a knock against him, as evidence that he will be a nickel-corner only in the NFL. That’s a little misleading because a.) he has the ball skills to at least hold his own outside, and b.) nickel defenses are widely prevalent right now. Defenses cannot survive with two corners. Lewis has the footwork to mirror receivers, then finds the ball when it’s close. He also averaged 25.2 yards on kick returns last season.
Truth be told, I wasn’t all in on Watkins headed into this year ... at least not given the level of hype he carried out of 2015. After watching Clemson in September, though, I get it. What’s really exciting about the '16 version of Watkins is that he is disrupting the QB on passing downs on a regular basis—he did not always generate that push in the past.
A guard who has moved to center for the Buckeyes, Elflein has been instrumental in Ohio State’s brilliant start to the 2016 season. Not only is he capable as a run blocker, on the move as well as in tight quarters, he’s an outstanding pass protector inside. Sliding over from guard has not hurt his game one iota.
Few college players were as consistently impressive during the month of September as Azuwie was. He started the year with eight tackles and an INT vs. Colorado State, then finished it with back-to-back strong outings at Michigan and Oregon. The 6’ 0”, 190-pound senior erases gaps in the blink of an eye with his ability to plant and close on the ball.