- One thing seems clear already: This is going to be a good spring for teams needing defensive help. Which players made the top 10 in our latest projection?
College football’s conference championship games are a mere week away. Bowl season arrives in less than a month. Any 2017 draft prospect hoping to leave an imprint better put his foot on the gas.
What seems clear already is that this is going to be a good year if your team needs defensive help. There are a handful of potential top-10 edge rushers, with a solid group behind them. There is a ridiculously loaded crop of cornerbacks, and the safeties aren’t half bad either. Defensive tackles? Got ’em. Linebackers? Yep.
There is not as much reason to be excited on the other side of the ball, especially at quarterback.
The order for our latest mock is based on the current draft standings, right on through the 12 teams currently in playoff position. The overload of defensive talent means that there are a lot of Round 1 talents who didn’t fit into the 32 picks projected out. What, if anything, will change next time around?
As of right now, Cleveland would have four of the first 40 or so selections at the 2017 draft (its own first- and second-rounders, plus Philadelphia’s 1 and Tennessee’s 2). That capital could allow the Browns to take Garrett here and then trade up, if necessary, from their second Round 1 spot to grab a quarterback. It also would give them ample chances to add another QB, should they stay put. So, rather than going for broke out of the gate, they can grab the best player available.
The Bears have to draft a quarterback, right? Well, yes, but maybe not here. Allen is the closest there is to bumping Garrett from his perch as the No. 1 prospect. Chicago’s defense remains a significant headache, and it has really missed Eddie Goldman and Will Sutton when they have been out of the lineup. Allen’s incredible athleticism for his size would allow him to excel at a variety of techniques up front.
Much of the Peppers hype comes from his ability to line up at so many different spots, on both sides of the ball. If we have to guess at his semi-permanent NFL home, though, safety is the ticket. From there, he can use his range to impact the game in the maximum number of ways, plus he can slide down to cover the slot or play up against the run. Also, don’t overlook his ability as a blitzer—some of his best work this season has come when Michigan has turned him loose against the QB.
Teams are often hesitant to draft two-down defensive linemen who can’t really rush the passer. Does it work the same way with playmakers who, more or less, only rush the passer? I’ll guess no, but there’s not a ton of history on which to draw—college teams usually do not have the luxury of specialized pass rushers, like Alabama does. But Williams is an absolute game-changer off the edge, even if he winds up playing limited snaps. There is no substitute for a defender that can live in the backfield.
The Titans are on track for a pair of early first-round picks, and they have to consider using at least one on a cornerback. In Wilson, they could add an imposing, ballhawking option on the outside.
Jonathan Stewart is now on a five-year run of not playing a full 16 games. He’s also averaging a career-worst 3.3 yards per attempt, turns 30 in March and has little guaranteed money left on his contract. How about following the Cowboys’ path here, then, and pairing the bruising Fournette with Cam Newton?
A year removed from losing Eric Weddle in free agency, the Chargers can nab his replacement. Adams is a legit top-10 option because he excels all over the field, particularly when playing in the box.
Cam Jordan and Barnett off the edges, with Sheldon Rankins inside? That’s the start of an excellent defensive front. Barnett has the athleticism to transition to an OLB role at the next level, but plugging in his powerful, attacking style on the edge of a 4–3 is the better plan.
You could see this match a lot in the coming months, because it just makes so much sense: a head coach in Bruce Arians who desires a downfield passing game and a QB in Trubisky who needs a lot of work on his mechanics but has the arm and moxie to dial up those deep shots. If not Trubisky, keep an eye on Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes as an option for the Cardinals.
Davis just keeps on piling up numbers for the undefeated Broncos. He would step in as the most talented receiver on Tennessee’s roster from Day One, and his crisp route-running on intermediate routes would make him a popular target for Marcus Mariota.
McDowell sat out Saturday’s potential showcase game against Ohio State with a nagging (and unspecified) injury—he’s been banged up a decent amount in 2016. But when healthy, he’s a dominant three-down defender who could slide in alongside Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward in an outstanding rotation.
Each time we’ve taken stock of the 2017 class, Cunningham has inched up the board. There is an abundance of teams lacking athleticism at linebacker, and Cunningham brings that in spades. He’s an outstanding run defender but can patrol between the hash marks vs. the pass, too.
Speed. All NFL teams covet it at the skill positions, but few can find players with the combination of acceleration and advanced football ability to thrive as a pro. Ross has it. Defenses have to account for his whereabouts on every down.
Doubt that every pick wraps up with a ribbon so nicely for the Browns—Garrett at No. 1, possibly the draft’s best QB at No. 18—but, again, they have the ammunition to make sure they do get a quarterback. Watson can be worrisome with his reads and inaccurate with his throws, but he’s shown up in big game after big game. He’s often at his best airing it out long.
The Dolphins took a cornerback in our last mock; linebacker is another spot where a talent infusion would be welcome. But as long as we’re playing with possibilities, why not send Miami the top prospect at a position of need? Howard can stay in and block or create mismatches sideline to sideline. He’s fits the modern-day TE to a tee.
The Ravens added some youth to their pass-rushing equation last draft (rookie Matt Judon has 3.0 sacks). They won’t stop stockpiling, especially if a talent like Lawson is there for the taking. He has battled injuries and up-and-down play, but his flashes of dominance make him look like a top-five prospect.
The early returns on GM Bob Quinn’s first Detroit draft class have been strong. For his second effort to be a success, he has to upgrade one of the league’s worst linebacking groups. McMillan is an intelligent, hard-hitting option to man the middle.
It was hard to leave Cook out there for this long—I’d argue he’s just as worthy of top-10 billing as Fournette, if not more so. The wait was worth it, because Cook’s dazzling ability to plant and cut would serve him well in Houston. He could pair with Lamar Miller for a year, then take over as the every-down option.
I initially had Missouri edge defender Charles Harris slotted in here—he’s NFL-ready against the pass thanks to his spin move. The change to King occurred because Dan Quinn’s defense could use another in-your-face CB. King is comfortable in any coverage, plus shows no hesitation crashing down against the run.
Defensive tackle is another spot where there figures to be a run earlier rather than later. Brantley has the power to steamroll blockers at the point of attack, and Washington remains in dire need of some muscle up front.
The Giants run an offense that, in theory, could feature a tight end. They’ve even tried to do so at times, to varying degrees of success. Butt is a well-schooled weapon, who displays a willingness to attack the ball in traffic.
Elflein, not any of the tackles, very well might be the most talented offensive lineman in this draft. Denver wouldn’t need him to play center because of Matt Paradis’s stellar work there, but Elflein has multiple years experience at guard. Plug and play.
There’s usually too much focus on size in general, but even more so at the cornerback position. Lewis is slight compared to many of the other CBs listed in this mock. He also might have the quickest feet of them all, which will allow him to hang with less-physical outside receivers or be a borderline dominant slot corner.
If I had to put a stamp on it right now, we’ll wind up with at least three tackles off the board in Round 1. It’s such a premium position that teams can talk themselves into high-upside plays, and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk certainly has had a Round 1-type season. This time around, however, the board just happened to fall so Robinson is the first OT gone. He has a future as a starting left tackle and extensive experience against the likes of Garrett and Barnett.
There’s so much to like about Jones’s game. And every once in a while, we get to see that on display—like with Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander last season, QBs frequently choose to avoid Jones rather than throw at him. The Huskies DB has the 6-foot frame NFL teams want and he uses it to accentuate his above-average ball skills.
Harris, Demarcus Walker, Dawuane Smoot ... an edge defender makes perfect sense for the Cowboys. Continuing to toy with the idea of McCaffrey or Curtis Samuel in that lineup, though, is more fun. McCaffrey would let the Cowboys ease up on Ezekiel Elliott’s workload with a totally different style of back. The Stanford product could hurt defenses from several spots on the field, including as a slot receiver with Elliott alongside Dak Prescott.