- With the bowl season in the books and the NFL season over for all but 12 teams, it's time for many evaluators to pivot to draft prep. Here's the year's first look at how the first round could shake out.
The NFL regular season has wrapped. The bowl schedule, save for the Alabama-Clemson national title showdown, is in the books.
It’s time to talk about the draft.
O.K., so we’ve been talking about the 2017 draft since approximately the day after the 2016 draft ended, but we’re really due to get into it now. The top 20 selections for the ’17 draft are set, occupied by the franchises sitting out the postseason. The remaining 12 slots will be settled via the playoffs. (For our purposes here, 21–32 is organized in terms of playoff seed, bottom to top, with overall record used as a tiebreaker.)
Mock Draft 4.0, hot off the presses:
The Browns should be one of those teams keeping an eye on the developing free-agent QB market. Tyrod Taylor in Hue Jackson’s system may not be Super Bowl-worthy, but it’d be interesting. Regardless, they should stick with Garrett here. He is the best, most dominant player available, and the Browns’ positioning at spots 12 and 36 give them ample ammunition to draft a quarterback.
Trubisky is one of those QB prospects that stumbles through stretches where he makes people wonder why he’s a top-10 possibility—there were a couple of these stretches in the Sun Bowl. Then, he’ll make a throw that reminds everyone of his gifts. He’s going to take some time. Perhaps Matt Barkley or another vet buys the Bears a window to let Trubisky develop. The payoff could be massive.
(Pick via Los Angeles) Foster is a special talent. Linebacker may not be the Titans’ most pressing need, but it is a need, especially when we’re talking about a potential defensive centerpiece. There aren’t a lot of linebackers out there who can be equally effective playing the run, dropping in zone or matching up with a RB or TE. Foster has that skill level. He’ll be a long-term defensive anchor in the NFL.
It’s kind of amazing given how impressive he has been all year long, but Adams seems to get better and better each time out. He was phenomenal in LSU’s recent bowl win. Adams would make for an intimidating pairing with current Jets safety Calvin Pryor—the LSU product has the range to play mostly high, while Pryor serves as a hammer.
The Panthers may wait to address their other issues if Fournette (or Dalvin Cook) is sitting there for the taking. Jonathan Stewart is about to turn 30, has a contract that essentially expires after 2017 and has been injury-prone. Good luck to the defense that has to contain both Fournette and Cam Newton on those read-option plays.
Bad season for the Bengals, but they’ve landed in a nice spot to find a premier pass rusher or a playmaking wide receiver, both of which they need. Barnett wrecked SEC defenses en route to 32.0 sacks. He is a work in progress against the run, but he’s also shown noticeable signs of improved strength there.
An NFL area scout recently told The MMQB’s Albert Breer that “off-field stuff”—like a September gun charge—will hurt Williams’s draft stock. Based on what he can do as a pass rusher (and better-than-advertised run defender), Williams is top-10 worthy. Whether it’s here or later on, the Saints have to add help off the edge.
(Pick via Philadelphia) Two Cleveland picks, two defenders. Maybe that’s not where the safe money lies in predicting the Browns’ plans, but how badly could the league’s 31st-ranked defense use a potential perennial All-Pro in Garrett and a true lockdown corner type, like Wilson? The Florida DB is big, strong and won’t shy away from the league’s best receivers.
It almost makes too much sense for the Cardinals to take a quarterback, so I’m a little hesitant to keep giving them one. Carson Palmer plans to be back in 2017, and Arizona expects to bounce back into contention, so a Round 1 draft-and-develop QB could be a reach. On the other hand, they have to plan for the future—and possibly the present, depending on how Palmer plays—at the position. Either Kizer or Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes would pair well with Bruce Arians.
(Pick via Minnesota) Cornerback? Sure. Wide receiver? Of course. Offensive tackle? Maybe. The Eagles have ample pressing needs, as of Jan. 3. But running back should be on that list, too. And here, they get what may be the best skill-position player in this class. Cook’s Orange Bowl provided a perfect Cliff’s Notes on his game: He’ll take a few negative plays, but he can explode through the smallest of holes for game-changing gains, be it via run or pass.
If a team wants to take Davis in the top 10, I’ll be here to pat them on the back. He has WR1 traits that translate to the next level, like his exceptional burst after cutting upfield and his ability to run crisp routes from all alignments. With Steve Smith bowing out, Davis could become a Joe Flacco favorite from the get-go.
Did you see the Sun Bowl? This dude already looked like an NFL veteran playing against overmatched college linemen. Thomas has the power to push through OTs off the edge, coupled with the quickness to slip past interior blockers. He’s a fit for all schemes and all downs. Exactly what Washington is missing up front.
Comparing Lattimore just to his Buckeyes teammate and fellow draft hopeful at CB, Gareon Conley, sort of ignores the other dozen or so corners with realistic Round 1 hopes. Should Lattimore emerge from the pack (and separate from Conley), it’ll be thanks to his combination of size and willingness to play a physical game for 60 minutes. Rugged man-to-man CBs that want to be involved against the run are rare.
If a defense loses Ross for even one play during the course of a game, the speedy receiver will burn it. For as reliable a weapon as Adam Humphries has become in Tampa Bay, he does not have the eye-popping acceleration Ross possesses. This is the mold of WR the Buccaneers need taking advantage of the space created by Mike Evans.
Now that Wisconsin’s season is over, Ramczyk will undergo surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. The recovery timetable could make it so that he’s not 100% until after the draft, which might complicate the redshirt junior’s decision. Should he go ... well, what’s not to like? He’s long and athletic on the move as run blocker and was an absolute rock in pass protection this season.
Davis projects best as an inside/middle linebacker but would fit as a weakside defender, too. Those are the spots currently held in Miami by Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins, respectively. The rub: Both are set to be free agents (Alonso restricted). So, Miami could tap Davis as a replacement for either, or depth behind both. The Gators linebacker is a force against the run; he’s a sneaky good blitzer.
Credit where it’s due for Will Tye, who caught a combined 90 passes the past two seasons, but he’s nowhere near the mismatch-creating mold of the modern tight end. Howard is. Maybe it’s overkill to keep adding receiving threats to this offense. Maybe Howard would turn a very good passing attack into one of the league’s best.
Admittedly, I am higher on King than (at least at present) it seems that the NFL would be. As a cornerback, though, he has the understanding of his position and the physical wherewithal to be a top-two player on the depth chart. And if he winds up shifting to safety, as has been the recent rumor, he might be an even better fit for Oakland.
Jadeveon Clowney just earned a Pro Bowl nod after moving from OLB to DE, and J.J. Watt remains an all-world DE himself when healthy. Why, then, would the Texans draft another 3–4 defensive end type? Because McDowell would provide them even more versatility up front. He can rush inside, as he did often for Michigan State. He could play DE on passing downs, allowing Clowney to kick farther outside. Use your imagination.
Should the board fall this way—what? You don’t think my Jan. 3 mock will start 26-for-26 come April 27?—the Seahawks could face a tough choice between Robinson and Utah’s Garrett Bolles. The latter would fit well in their scheme. That said, Robinson flashes ascendant tackle traits and is just begging for an NFL staff to clean up his game.
Tough closing note for Lewis, who struggled in the Orange Bowl. Don’t let that cloud the big picture. Lewis has the footwork to mirror quick receivers in tight spaces, and he battles for the ball in the air. (Florida State’s game-winning TD over him was an outlier.) The pressing need teams have for excellent slot corners can get overlooked, but that’s a place the Steelers can focus. Lewis could be a star there.
Mentioned above the ability prospects like Thomas and McDowell have to play inside or out. Add Walker to that list, too. He can anchor on the edge against the run, but he’s also at times an overwhelming force blasting through the line from closer to the ball. The Falcons’ defense would benefit from pairing a player like Walker with Vic Beasley.
I understand why we can be quick to assume even moderately undersized players will have to swap positions in the NFL. Harris, listed at 235 pounds by Missouri, falls into that DE-to-OLB transition range. But why push a guy out of his comfort zone before seeing what he can do? Harris has been electrifying off the edge for the Tigers, with a spin move that’s NFL-ready. At the very least, he could be a passing-situation playmaker for Rod Marinelli.
Washington lost in the playoffs to Alabama, but its defense showed what it could do. Jones was one of the key pieces of that unit, a lanky but strong defender outside. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler (RFA) could hit free agency this off-season. Drafting a DB like Jones would make it easier to potentially lose one of that duo, or it would add to the depth New England has outside.