- There's no doubt about it—this NFL draft class is packed with strong defenders, and needy teams should get ready to load up their rosters.
One thing has become clear over the first few 2017 mock draft runs: There is going to be an abundance of defensive talent available in Rounds 2 and 3.
No matter how I plot out those opening 32 picks, there are a good five to 10 other defenders it’s tough to exclude because of how talented they are. Those teams in need of edge rushers and cornerbacks, in particular, stand to be quite happy with what they find when the draft reconvenes for Day Two on April 28.
For now, though, we’re focused on who did make the cut for Round 1. The latest mock:
Longtime Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas said last week that the Browns should take a pass rusher at No. 1. Listen to the man. Cleveland can circle back on QB at pick No. 12 or No. 33 (or use those picks to trade back into the top 10). Up top, it should take the best available prospect.
If the 49ers don’t love one of the quarterbacks, a trade down has to be their top option. They can the Bears’ unsettled QB situation as leverage in floating the pick. But hypothetically, should they stay put and pass on a quarterback, what’s the play? Jonathan Allen is a bit of a redundant piece given the young talent they already have on the D-line. Foster is not. Pair him with NaVorro Bowman and San Francisco’s linebacking corps could be as good up the middle as any in the league.
A similar conversation at 3 as at 2: what happens if the pick isn’t a QB? Defense is the obvious choice, but the Bears could look WR if Alshon Jeffery leaves. Sooner or later, though, they have to draft a quarterback. Watson has his detractors, but his experience will help him separate from the pack.
(Pick via Rams) The last safety selected in the top five was Eric Berry, by Kansas City. It’s safe to say Tennessee would take a Berry-esque impact right here. Maybe it’s setting the bar too high to say that Adams will be a perennial Pro Bowler, but he can be. He plays like a linebacker against the run and like a cover corner when diagnosing pass plays.
How quickly are the Jets willing to admit they botched the Christian Hackenberg pick last year? Even if the answer is “not yet,” they will be adding a quarterback to compete for the starting job. Rather than pick through the veteran retreads, diving in headfirst with Trubisky would provide hope for the future. Trubisky needs time—or he’ll make a lot of mistakes, if forced to play early—but his upside may be greater than any ’17 QB.
As a tackler in run defense, Hooker will overpursue and tends to lead with his shoulder, both of which can cause problems. A reminder, though, that he spent just one season as a starter at Ohio State. And as a coverage safety he is unparalleled in this class. Put him in the L.A. secondary, and he’d only make guys like Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward better.
Thomas’s stock already was on the rise before he demolished North Carolina in Stanford's bowl game. He has the power necessary to drop in as a starting end for the Bengals, but he also might be lethal as an interior pass rusher alongside Geno Atkins.
Another obvious potential landing spot for a QB, since the Bills seem determined to nudge Tyrod Taylor out the door. Saving that, though, Buffalo has to consider a big-play wide receiver. Sammy Watkins is a constant injury risk, Robert Woods is about to be a free agent and no one on the current roster can physically impose his will as Williams can.
Barnett may not possess the elite explosiveness of Garrett, but let’s not just ignore those 33 career sacks. His scouting reports may sound a lot like those of current Saint Cam Jordan, a 2011 pick, who was viewed as a heady, high-effort, three-down player with question marks about his ability to be dominant off the edge. He has 46.5 sacks as a pro. A Jordan-Barnett edge duo, with Sheldon Rankins inside? Pretty good.
Thus endeth the Cardinals’ search for a No. 2 cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. Lattimore is a physical, ballhawking defender. As is the case with Peterson, he has the speed to stay right on receivers, plus the physical nature to press effectively at the line.
Williams is a top-10 talent in this class, with off-field red flags that will require some digging. Assuming he checks out from a character standpoint, the Colts would have to be thrilled to find him here. He is a freakish pass rusher who can beat OTs in a variety of ways.
(Pick via Vikings) The Eagles’ offense was better in 2016 when Darren Sproles was RB1 ahead of Ryan Mathews, in part because of how dangerous Sproles is as a big-play threat. The problem: Sproles isn’t built to handle a 20-plus-carry workload. Cook is, and he’s just as capable of taking one the distance.
Washington simply was not competitive enough up front on defense this season, coughing up 4.5 yards per carry. Aside from 2016 fifth-rounder Matt Ioannidis, there are not a whole lot of pieces in place for the future, either. McDowell can line up at multiple spots, but he’s tailor-made to be a 3–4 DE.
Rishard Matthews broke through in his first Titans season, putting up 945 yards receiving and nine TDs. That could be close to his max, though, and there’s nothing in the way of a true No. 1 receiver elsewhere on the roster. Davis may not be as physically dominant as Mike Williams, but his game is more polished headed into the NFL.
The growing consensus appears to be that TE O.J. Howard is destined for the top 15. So, if he’s still around at 19, the Buccaneers would have to take a good, hard look. Pairing him with Cameron Brate would give their offense a boatload of matchup advantages. But in Ross, they can land the No. 2 receiver they need to help Mike Evans. He is an absolute blur in the open field.
The obvious: The Lions need help on defense, at linebacker, end, cornerback and possibly tackle. But with starting right tackle (and former first-rounder) Riley Reiff about to become a free agent, there’s a hole at a key O-line spot, too. GM Bob Quinn might have his pick of OTs at this spot. Robinson was a left tackle for Alabama, but his powerful presence would translate well to the right side; Taylor Decker could maintain his LT spot.
The Dolphins may want to stand pat at corner (at least early in the draft)—Byron Maxwell’s contract doesn’t become fully expendable until 2018, and youngsters Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain have shown promise. On the flip side, Jones is an impressive, physical cover man, essentially a more complete version of Howard.
Aside from a competent offensive line, an obvious missing piece on the Giants’ offense is a game-changing tight end. Njoku is raw, but he has the potential to be just that at the next level. The Giants’ WR corps frees up a lot of space in the middle of the field. Njoku has the downfield athleticism to take advantage.
Derek Newton’s football future is in doubt after he tore both patellar tendons; Duane Brown, 32 in August, has no guaranteed money left on his contract. It’s time for the Texans to address their future at tackle. Ramczyk’s post-bowl hip surgery is a concern, but his quick-footed blocking on the move would make him a brilliant fit in Houston’s scheme.
There are concerns about King’s deep speed, but he excels when he can keep a play in front of him. He has the instincts to read routes and get to the football and has long been a willing run defender. King would make a great fit in the Seahawks’ preferred Cover-3 ... and the chatter about a potential move to safety might build in a safety net for Seattle behind Kam Chancellor/Earl Thomas.
Derrick Johnson may not call it a career after his latest Achilles tear, but the Chiefs hardly can depend on him long-term—he’ll turn 35 next season. Nabbing a run-stuffing linebacker like Cunningham would put in place a plan for post-Johnson life. He and Ramik Wilson would have high upside as an ILB duo.
Julius Peppers is an impending free agent (and 37 years old). Nick Perry is an impending free agent, ditto Datone Jones. Clay Matthews is still around, but he’ll be 31 this May and is coming off his least productive NFL season. The Packers have to find help off the edge. McKinley is a high-motor athlete who could be dominant once he’s coached up.
Humphrey’s size (6' 1") and speed (he ran for Alabama’s track team in 2014-15) can help him cover up for the occasional warts in his game. This would be another team doubling down at a position—the Steelers took Artie Burns in Round 1 last year—but there’s no question Pittsburgh requires at least one more playmaker at cornerback.
Brantley is a 300-pounder with a quick get-off. He’s also a player who could benefit from building his way into a heavy workload—in other words, he’d be a nice piece as a rookie in a rotation, where he could help wear down interior O-lines. A Grady Jarrett–Ra’Shede Hageman–Brantley trifecta would be a non-stop challenge. Eventually, Brantley can become a star.
Trey Flowers has been a versatile revelation for the Patriots this season, but they have very few pass-rushing answers beyond him for the future. Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are both about to hit free agency, while Rob Ninkovich turns 33 this week. Charlton’s a plug-and-play option on passing downs. He’s a freaky athlete who’s only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.