It’s the same question every year: How badly do those teams near that top of a draft want a quarterback?
The answer usually turns out to be “very,” and this year doesn’t set up all that different—except the presence of Myles Garrett, like Jadeveon Clowney in 2014, tips the scales in favor of defense. Clowney was perceived as the clear No. 1 prospect that year, and while it’s taken him a little bit to get going he is starting to show flashes toward that end. The best QB from the ’14 class? Thus far, it’s been Derek Carr, taken in Round 2 after Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were off the board.
Could that history lead the team picking No. 1 to roll with Garrett and wait on a QB? And which QB even is the best pick right now? DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson have been the leaders in the clubhouse for a bit, but both have stumbled on occasion this season. Ditto for Brad Kaaya, whose momentum has slowed. Rising North Carolina prospect Mitch Trubisky could crash the party, but he offers very limited college experience.
In other words, as is usually the case this time of year, it’s wide open.
Our latest mock draft follows. How much will change when it’s time to check the lay of the land again in a few weeks?
(Note: The order for this draft is based roughly on the current NFL standings, with adjustments made for playoff seeding.)
1. Myles Garrett, DE/OLB
The debate is already raging, and it will continue on no matter where the Browns pick: Should they draft a quarterback early? Keep in mind that they also hold Philadelphia’s first-rounder (No. 24 here), plus an extra second-rounder via Tennessee. Do they have enough faith in a) Cody Kessler’s development, and/or b) their own ability to find another viable QB prospect later, to pass on a quarterback here? For now, I’m betting they do, and much of that has to do with what we’ve seen so far from Kessler, a hand-picked Hue Jackson player.That, and the fact that Garrett is the best player in this draft class. Add him to Danny Shelton, Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah, and suddenly the Browns’ front seven is in business.
2. DeShone Kizer, QB
Unlike in Cleveland, there is no real discussion to be had here. The 49ers have to find themselves a quarterback—ideally, one that can start from the get-go. The jury will stay out until 2017 on Kizer’s (or Deshaun Watson’s or any other rookie QB’s) ability to do that, but Kizer has much of what it takes, including mobility and an arm to find tight windows downfield.
3. Deshaun Watson, QB
4. Jabrill Peppers, S
The Panthers’ need for help at cornerback is obvious, so ... yeah, Peppers can play there if you want him to. They’re not desperate at safety, but also wouldn’t decline an upgrade on Kurt Coleman or Tre Boston and ... O.K., that works, too. Want to groom someone for the post-Thomas Davis era? Need another weapon for the offense or special teams? Check. Check. Peppers is a draft-now, figure-out-the-plan later prospect.
5. Derek Barnett, DE/OLB
The combination of Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams has not worked out all that well because they’re too similar—all 3–4 DEs in a perfect world, which has left Richardson playing out of place. Swap him (and his contract that the Jets likely will bail on after this season) out for Barnett, and it all makes more sense. Barnett can play the edge when Todd Bowles wants a 4–3 look; he would face a challenge as a 3–4 OLB but could do the job as a downhill playmaker from there, too.
6. Jonathan Allen, DT
7. Malik McDowell, DT
The Saints just used a 2016 first-rounder on Sheldon Rankins (who has yet to play because of injury), so this would be doubling down at DT. But, well, why wouldn’t you double down? McDowell is an imposing figure, with the versatility to line up anywhere. Add McDowell to Rankins and perhaps Nick Fairley ($745K salary for 2017), and the Saints might finally find some defensive footing behind their D-line.
8. Quincy Wilson, CB
(Trade via Los Angeles) There will be worse spots to be this year than to need a cornerback. The potential Round 1 talent at the position is through the roof, so much so that guys like Tre’Davious White and Jourdan Lewis—legit top-32 possibilities—slid off the board. Wilson has been brilliant this season, and at 6' 1", 213 lbs., can bang with physical, NFL-caliber receivers. Of course, you could drop his teammate, Jalen Tabor, into this spot instead and no one would blink.
9. Mike Williams, WR
10. Jamal Adams, S
For as much as Peppers’s mix-and-match talents are discussed, Adams, while not as eye-popping in his explosiveness as Michigan’s star, brings a lot of similar elements to the table. He is cut from the hybrid-safety mold the NFL has placed such an emphasis on recently, with the wherewithal to play high, low or over the slot.
11. Leonard Fournette, RB
As amazing as it is that Frank Gore is on track to top 1,000 yards again, at age 33, the Colts should be thinking about the future at RB. Anyone who just saw Fournette’s 16-carry, 278-yard, three-TD showing vs. Ole Miss knows what he’s capable of doing. He could be the next Gore: a back with 1,500-yard potential and the frame to last.
12. Reuben Foster, LB
13. Desmond King, CB
We do not talk enough about what cornerbacks can add in run defense, instead focusing on the obvious topic of their coverage. But King excels in both areas—perfect for a Miami team that’s been worn down on the ground but also is holding its secondary together with duct tape. King has 12 career interceptions and 32 pass break-ups.
14. Tim Williams, OLB
Maybe Williams never becomes an NFL defender who’s on the field for 80% of snaps, in all situations. For two years straight now, though, few players in college football have been able to match Williams’s per-snap impact off the edge. His speed as a pass-rusher is dazzling, and it should allow him to maintain his success as a pro.
15. Dalvin Cook, RB
16. Corey Davis, WR
I was thisclose to slotting Davis in as a top-10 pick before hedging a bit, but I have a hard time watching Davis and not seeing a successful NFL receiver. Continued exposure to (and improvement against) physical, press coverage will have to come in time, and his 40 time will be one to note. Otherwise, what else do you want? He runs sharp, nuanced routes from all spots on the field, plus has the size to finish plays when he can’t create separation. Michael Floyd never became a true go-to threat for Arizona; Larry Fitzgerald’s nearing the end of the line.
17. Carl Lawson, DE
This is an obvious spot for the prospect slotted in at 18 (Raekwon McMillan), but the Giants are organizationally allergic to Round 1 linebackers. Instead, with Jason Pierre-Paul again on the verge of free agency, they nab an end. Lawson has responded this season to those who questioned the hype surrounding him—he has 6.5 sacks already.
18. Raekwon McMillan, LB
19. Mitch Trubisky, QB
Washington’s still playing the “Is Kirk Cousins the long-term answer?” game, with the franchise-tagged QB in limbo beyond 2016. Cousins has been good in stretches, yet nothing he’s done should prevent the Redskins from adding a young arm if they like one. Trubisky has limited experience (eight starts as of Oct. 28), but he offers the size, arm and moxie to develop into a star.
20. Cam Robinson, OT
Even in what’s perceived as a down year for offensive tackles, there are bound to be a few plug-and-play starters uncovered. Based on his impressive showing against Garrett, Robinson remains atop the list of candidates. While his technique requires clean-up work, the 6' 6", 327-pound Robinson ticks off almost all the boxes for NFL teams projecting out a franchise tackle.
21. Malik Hooker, S
22. Marlon Humphrey, CB
Atlanta scored with its Keanu Neal pick a year ago. It can do the same at the cornerback spot by adding a player of Humphrey’s caliber. Yet another of Alabama’s defensive studs, Humphrey is an elite-level athlete, with the speed to track anyone the NFL will throw at him. The Falcons could drop him in as the new starter opposite Desmond Trufant.
23. Zach Cunningham, LB
Cunningham’s game at Georgia on Oct. 15 was one of the best individual defensive showings this season—he made 19 tackles capped by a game-clinching stuff. He may not hit those heights each week, but it has become a usual occurance for him to make plays all over the field, for 60 minutes. Next to Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh, he would have 100-tackle potential.
24. Jalen Tabor, CB
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25. Isaiah Ford, WR
Juju Smith-Schuster, Courtland Sutton, Cooper Kupp, K.D. Cannon (who is not being talked about nearly enough), Travin Dural, Zay Jones ... there will be a run on receivers in the Day 1/Day 2 strech. Why Ford here? Because Green Bay needs a big receiver with the speed and route-running to separate downfield.
26. Ryan Anderson, DE/OLB
Tim Williams has 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss; Anderson has 4.5 and 11.5, respectively, with 30 total tackles. Whereas Williams dominates with his burst, Anderson, at 6' 2" and 253 lbs., packs more of a punch. Dee Ford’s noticable improvement should not prevent Kansas City from bulking up off the edge.
27. O.J. Howard, TE
28. Ryan Ramczyk, OT
When it comes to players who have flown up the draft board this season, Ramczyk is right there with Trubisky. Unfamiliar with him? Understandable. He played for Wisconsin Stevens-Point in 2013–14, prior to transferring into the Badgers’ program. (And he was studying to be a welder at Mid-State Technical College before all of that.) True to what you’d expect of a Wisconsin tackle, he can move guys in the run game but he’s shown impressive consistency on passing downs, as well.
29. Jourdan Lewis, CB
How much do you value size in a cornerback? If it’s a priority, Tre’Davious White or the underrated Sidney Jones also work here. As I said, it’s a good year to need a cornerback. Lewis is listed at 5' 11" (probably an overestimate) and 186 lbs., but he makes up for any height disadvantage with incredible footwork. He’s had no issues playing outside, but he could be a shut-down slot defender in the NFL. Either way, Oakland will take him.
30. Royce Freeman, RB
(Pick via Minnesota) Freeman is closing in on 4,000 yards rushing for his Oregon career. He has been a workhorse back for the Ducks—those 617 (and counting) carries could be a concern for the NFL—and at 229 lbs., can be the same as a pro. He’d look great alongside Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, where Ryan Mathews has come nowhere close to holding up as the lead dog.
31. Curtis Samuel, RB/WR
Christian McCaffrey works for the purpose of this pick, too. The purpose, in this case, being to add a highly talented, versatile chip to a Cowboys offense centered (for now?) around Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Samuel could be a more explosive Cole Beasley-like option in the passing game, and he would be electrifying as a curveball in the run game paired with his former Ohio State teammate.
32. Justin Evans, S
Because of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, the Patriots are in a strong position at safety. That hasn’t stopped them from addressing the position at the draft, nor should it given how often they like to shift into three-safety looks. Justin Evans is cut from the Keanu Neal mold as a big-hitting safety with improving coverage skills.