2017 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Projections Heading into Bowl Season

Now that the regular season is in the books, here is who we project will go in the first round this spring based on the current 2017 NFL Draft order.

After Army knocked off Navy on Saturday and Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy despite his late-season swoon, two things are surely on every football fan’s mind. First, the upcoming bowl season offers 40 tantalizing contests over three wonderful weeks to send out 2016 and welcome in the new year.

The other thing on many people’s minds is the upcoming NFL Draft. Fans are left to wonder who will declare to go pro and who will be returning to school for another year. As Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Washington prepare to face off in the College Football Playoff semifinals, each player must also deal with the decision-making process as to whether these will be their final college game(s).

After going through the needs of each NFL team and reviewing the revised draft order after last week’s NFL contests, here is how I’ve projected the first round might play out. Things have shuffled a bit since my colleague Connor provided his mock last weekend, so click through and see our revised projections here at Saturday Blitz.

Note: The NFL draft order is based off of current records, pick trading and standings from NFL.com as of December 10.

Sep 24, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

1

Myles Garrett

EDGE, Texas A&M

The Browns must decide between greatest need and best talent on the board when they make the first of their two picks in the opening round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Since they also hold Philadelphia’s first-round pick that will likely be a top-ten selection, Cleveland will be able to meet needs in several areas. But with this top choice, they would be foolish to pass up the chance to select from among the pool of talented defensive players.

While my colleague projected Jonathan Allen in this spot last week, I have a feeling that the Browns are going to be more enamored with the size and raw potential of Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett. At 6’5” and 270 pounds, Garrett has the frame to add a few more pounds and the strength and speed to destroy NFL quarterbacks. He bursts explosively off the line at the snap, and will be giving offensive tackles fits for years. My guess is that he’ll be doing so for the Browns.

Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) blocks USC Trojans linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (42) during the game at AT&T Stadium. Alabama defeats USC 52-6. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) blocks USC Trojans linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (42) during the game at AT&T Stadium. Alabama defeats USC 52-6. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2

Cam Robinson

OT, Alabama

San Francisco needs help everywhere, with a roster that has been severely depleted since making its Super Bowl run. If Chip Kelly is going to get a third year in the Bay Area, he will need to find a cornerstone player in the first round. The question is which need he decides to fill first. Does he think that either Mitch Trubisky or DeShone Kizer can be the quarterback to lead his system and allow the 49ers a chance to regain prominence quickly?

The smarter money is on San Francisco taking a long look at one of the defensive players before shifting course and beginning to build a depleted offensive line. Cam Robinson, the Alabama tackle that has been a key part of the Tide’s run to perfection in the regular season, would provide an instant starter on Kelly’s line. The 49ers need a right tackle, which is where Robinson projects in the NFL, and he is an especially strong run blocker that would help open wide lanes for the 49ers’ backs.

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

3

Jonathan Allen

DL, Alabama

Jacksonville, like every other team that picks high in the annual draft, has glaring needs on both sides of the ball and will have to determine what need is most important to meet with their first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. One of their biggest priorities is finding someone to plug up the interior of their defensive line, and luckily the best talent likely to still be on the board when the Jaguars pick third is a behemoth that could play all along the defensive line.

6’3”, 294-pound Jonathan Allen would be just the person to provide that interior pressure for the Jaguars. Projected as either a defensive tackle or a 5-technique defensive tackle, Allen has great hands to shuck off blocks and is explosive from the snap. He is a solid against the run and, despite playing inside rather than on the edge, managed 8.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide throughout the regular season. Given Jacksonville’s needs, Allen seems like a match made in heaven for the Jags.

Oct 29, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) looks to throw in the first quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) looks to throw in the first quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

4

DeShone Kizer

QB, Notre Dame

With the Chicago Bears set to move on from years of diminishing results from Jay Cutler, the question turns toward who they might decide to go with in the 2017 NFL Draft in terms of finding their next quarterback. With the first three teams on the board projected to bolster their lines on either side of the ball, the Bears are likely to have their pick of the field of quarterbacks available in this year’s pool of draft candidates.

At this point it looks as though that race boils down to the question of whether a team prefers the mobile DeShone Kizer or the more traditional pocket passer from North Carolina, Mitch Trubisky. Having just spent the better part of the past decade hoping that a pro-style guy like Cutler would push them to the top of the NFC, here’s guessing that the Bears try something different for a change. Kizer is mobile and has a strong arm with good touch on his passes, but his decisions making needs work.

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers eduring the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers eduring the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5

Quincy Wilson

CB, Florida

In a division where the Patriots continue to dictate the terms of the battle, teams must have strong secondaries. In New York, this has become an issue of the utmost importance for the Jets to address in the 2017 NFL Draft. All season long the Jets have been burned by the aerial attacks of one opponent after another, and if Todd Bowles hopes to improve his long-term prospects in the Meadowlands he will need to find someone to bring instant improvement to the unit.

Enter Quincy Wilson, who was part of a Florida secondary that created nightmare matchups for opposing offenses. While his cornerback partner Teez Tabor will probably also be a first-round pick, Wilson will probably be off the board first thanks to a game that relies less on guesswork and more on sound technique. At 6’1’ and 213 pounds Wilson has the size to lock down big receivers, and while he is not overwhelmingly fast he is an athletic defender with natural ball skills that would immediately improve the Jets secondary.

Nov 26, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a touchdown pass in front of South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Jamarcus King (7) at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 26, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a touchdown pass in front of South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Jamarcus King (7) at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

6

Mike Williams

WR, Clemson

Tennessee’s biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draftcome on the back end, as both their receivers and their secondary needs reinforcements. Given the development of Marcus Mariota in his sophomore season in the pros, the Titans will want to begin loading up on weapons for their young quarterback. There are several stud receivers that could help stretch the field, give Tennessee a legitimate number-one threat on the outside.

The best of the available bunch is probably Mike Williams. At 6’3” and 225 pounds, the receiver blends size and speed on College Football Playoff contender Clemson. His reliable hands would provide a sturdy target for Mariota and open the door for their quarterback’s further development. Having developed a good rapport with Deshaun Watson in college, Williams looks like just what Tennessee needs to take the next step toward contending in the AFC South.

Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) breaks loose for a touchdown run against the Mississippi Rebels during the third quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) breaks loose for a touchdown run against the Mississippi Rebels during the third quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

7

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

The Carolina Panthers have fallen off the NFC map after featuring near the top of the conference the past few years. Ron Rivera’s team has several needs, including along both lines, but they are likely going to be in the market to bolster the talent around quarterback Cam Newton with their first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. With Jonathan Stewart gaining in years and continuing to battle injuries that have plagued his entire career, running back could be a major priority.

Luckily for the Panthers, there are several stud rushers in this draft. None are more highly touted than Leonard Fournette, the LSU star who entered college as one of the best backs in the country. His play with the Tigers has been uneven the past season as he has endured ankle injuries, but if Carolina is willing to take a chance on another high-risk/high-reward runner there is nobody better than the 6’1”, 235-pound bruiser who has built up a highlight reel of bulldozing hapless defenders.

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Danny Etling (16) is hit by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) as he slides during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Danny Etling (16) is hit by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) as he slides during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

8

Reuben Foster

LB, Alabama

ddd

Sep 24, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

9

Mitch Trubisky

QB, North Carolina

After dealing the second pick in 2016 to Philadelphia, who selected Carson Wentz, Cleveland enjoys the chance to select twice in the top ten of the 2017 NFL Draft. They are projected to pick the best talent with the number-one selection, making their second chance in the first round an opportunity to meet one of their biggest needs. If there haven’t been any surprises above them, they will likely pick whichever top-two quarterback Chicago doesn’t select.

We’ve projected DeShone Kizer to the Bears, meaning that the likely choice to head to Cleveland is North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. Though he has started just one season in college, the Tar Heel has completed 70 percent of his passes in 2016 and has bolstered his draft stock immensely over the course of the year. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but Trubisky is great at putting the ball where only his receivers can make a play and he has great pocket presence and prototypical size.

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after intercepting a pass from Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (not pictured) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after intercepting a pass from Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (not pictured) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

10

Jamal Adams

S, LSU

New Orleans finds itself woefully thin on the defensive side of the ball, with every position throughout the unit a priority that the team will try to address in the 2017 NFL Draft. There really is no wrong answer, given the depth of talent coming out of the college ranks this year on that side of the ball, but the most likely place that the Saints will start the rebuilding process is in the secondary. Luckily for Sean Payton, there are plenty of options at that level.

While their greater need is at cornerback, New Orleans will probably find it too tough to pass up the best talent at that point. And the best talent on their board at this point of the draft will probably be LSU safety Jamal Adams. He has the size to battle just about anyone in the passing game, and his aggressive style of play makes him prone to make big plays – but also puts him at risk of costing the team when he whiffs. Regardless of those minor shortcomings, the Saints will try not to overthink this pick too much.

Nov 5, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) runs for a touchdown against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 5, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) runs for a touchdown against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

11

John Ross

WR, Washington

The Chargers might not be long for San Diego, but they are also seeing a window of opportunity begin to close with Philip Rivers. The team will eventually need to think about its quarterback of the future, but more important for the franchise will be finding some more weapons that can work with Rivers as the team tries to take advantage of his final years. Depending for years on replacement-level talent at wide receiver, the 2017 NFL Draft offers the chance to strengthen the position.

While they might take a look at a bigger target like Corey Davis, JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Isaiah Ford, the Chargers are most likely going to find their receiver of the future in Washington’s big-play threat John Ross. While he is just 5’11” and 190 pounds, Ross is one of the most explosive deep-play threats in the country. A combination of dazzling footwork, great hands, and a sixth sense for tiptoeing the sideline combine with an incredible burst to make Ross an enticing target for San Diego.

Nov 12, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Damarea Crockett (16) runs the ball and is tackled by Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) during the second half at Faurot Field. Missouri won 26-17. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 12, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Damarea Crockett (16) runs the ball and is tackled by Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) during the second half at Faurot Field. Missouri won 26-17. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

12

Zach Cunningham

LB, Vanderbilt

While Arizona is in desperate need of reinforcement on its offensive line as Carson Palmer approaches the tail end of his career, there are other glaring needs in Glendale. The Cardinals could really use someone who can bring real playmaking ability at linebacker, a strong presence in the middle of its front seven. They have the chance to pick up one of the best linebackers in the country this season even this late in the first round.

Zach Cunningham was perhaps the biggest star of an uneven season’s worth of performances in 2017. A bit undersized at just 230 pounds, Cunningham nevertheless has a 6’4” frame that could add pounds. He is solid in coverage and has great awareness at his position, and despite his weight has no problem shedding blockers. He will need to work on his intuitive decision making, as he tends to take bad angles and miss tackles. But even with that knock, Cunningham would provide an immediate boost to the Cardinals’ defense.

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver D.J. Chark (82) is tackled by Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver D.J. Chark (82) is tackled by Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

13

Jalen Tabor

CB, Florida

The Titans already got to pick once in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to the pick they received from the Rams. They decided to select a skill player on offense with their first selection, giving Marcus Mariota a new weapon to bolster the aerial attack. With their second selection, Tennessee could focus on another position of need on either side of the ball. We’re projecting that they’ll take this opportunity to bolster their defense after beginning to work on the offense.

The most glaring need on the defensive side of the ball is in their secondary. Tennessee has the pick of several strong cornerbacks coming out of college this season, including Desmond King and Jourdan Lewis out of the Big Ten. Instead, they’ll probably select the second Florida corner taken in the first round as Jalen “Teez” Tabor follows in teammate Quincy Wilson’s footsteps. Tabor has decent size to match up with receivers, though he needs to work on his contributions to stopping the run.

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) sacks Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) sacks Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

14

Tim Williams

EDGE, Alabama

While the temptation will be there to provide Andrew Luck with more protection on the offensive line or to bring in a new weapon at one of the offensive skill positions, the Colts also have a glaring need on defense. They’ve had the need for a strong playmaker disrupting opponents’ passing attacks for years now, and they’ll get the chance to find their next Dwight Freeney in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Three Alabama players have already been projected off the board, and edge rusher Tim Williams will be the fourth of them to go in the first half of the opening round. At 6’4” and 252 pounds, Williams is explosive coming off the edge and racing into the backfield. He is a raw prospect, having focused primarily on that one duty at the expense of his instincts in pass coverage and against the run. Indianapolis would be taking a risk in picking Williams, but it would be a calculated one they hope yields dividends for years to come for a depleted defense.

Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) blocks Michigan State defensive end Evan Jones (85) during the second quarter of their game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) blocks Michigan State defensive end Evan Jones (85) during the second quarter of their game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

15

Ryan Ramczyk

OT, Wisconsin

Buffalo has been trying for years to find the right formula to compete in the AFC East, and more often than not the fearsome defenses of the division have been their undoing. The Bills have cycled through quarterbacks over the years since Jim Kelly’s retirement, but that has been as much due to the patchwork nature of their offensive line as it has been specific failings on the part of their passers. The team will probably address that deficiency this year.

Since Cam Robinson will already be off the board, Buffalo will instead turn toward a traditional lineman factory to rectify the issue. Ryan Ramczyk transferred to the Badgers from UW-Stevens Point, and in his final year in Madison he was an integral part of a division-winning effort. The 6’6”, 314-pound tackle has great technique and rarely gets beat in pass coverage. He has also proven strong in the running game, often getting to the second level to open lanes for runners.

Nov 19, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) scores a rushing touchdown as Syracuse Orange defensive back Daivon Ellison (19) dives in an attempt to make a tackle during the third quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Florida State won 45-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) scores a rushing touchdown as Syracuse Orange defensive back Daivon Ellison (19) dives in an attempt to make a tackle during the third quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Florida State won 45-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

16

Dalvin Cook

RB, Florida State

For years Green Bay has relied heavily on its passing game. When you have first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers slinging bombs, it can paper over a lot of deficiencies in the ground game. But with Rodgers in his 30s and the window closing for another Super Bowl run, the Packers will likely look to address their rushing woes in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The run on defensive players early in the opening round could open the door for Green Bay to land one of the best backs in this year’s draft class.

Dalvin Cook is one of the most explosive backs to come out of college in recent years, and the Florida State star could quickly provide balance to a Packers offense that has been hamstrung by ineptitude in its ground game. Though he is just 5’11” and 213 pounds, Cook has a propensity to make players miss and break big plays. He is great at remaining patient and allowing holes to reveal themselves, and can accelerate away from even the fleetest of opponents.

Dec 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) runs the ball for a touchdown in the first half against the Ohio Bobcats at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) runs the ball for a touchdown in the first half against the Ohio Bobcats at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

17

Corey Davis

WR, Western Michigan

Cleveland holds Philadelphia’s first-round pick after last season’s deal that brought Carson Wentz to the Eagles. But the franchise regained a spot in the opening round of the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to the deal that sent Sam Bradford to Minnesota and brought back the Viking’s first rounder in return. That allows the Eagles to target a top receiver to provide a consistent threat for Wentz in a tough NFC East.

That guy could be Corey Davis, the Western Michigan star that was instrumental in propelling the Broncos to an undefeated MAC title and the Group of Five’s automatic spot in the Cotton Bowl. The 6’3”, 215-pound wideout makes up for his less-than-blazing speed with precise route running and elusiveness. He is not afraid to use his size to muscle for contested balls, and once he makes a catch Davis is tough to bring down.

Nov 19, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Zander Diamont (12) is sacked by Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Zander Diamont (12) is sacked by Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

18

Jabrill Peppers

S/LB, Michigan

More than anything, Washington could really use a rangy safety in its secondary to shore up pass coverage. They originally hoped to land Malik Hooker, whose play at Ohio State has been compared favorably to Ed Reed, but the redshirt sophomore has declared his intention to return to Columbus for his junior season. That could change before the start of the 2017 NFL Draft, of course, but for now Washington is likely going to turn its attention to another Big Ten safety.

Jabrill Peppers, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting on Saturday night, offers one of the most versatile building blocks available on defense. This season he showed an ability to play at linebacker as well as safety, and the 6’1”, 205-pound missile could be the most complete raw athlete in the 2017 draft class. The main question is which position best suits Peppers, who could play anywhere in the secondary as well as move forward into linebacking duties at times.

Nov 26, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) pulls in a pass against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 26, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) pulls in a pass against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

19

O.J. Howard

TE, Alabama

Miami could have some major issues to address on both lines in the 2017 NFL Draft, but they also need to find another weapon that can open things up for Ryan Tannehill in the passing game. With Jay Ajayi evolving into a dangerous runner out of the backfield and several receivers that are beginning to build rapport with Tannehill, the biggest need in the first round will probably be tight end. Luckily for the Dolphins, there is a guy on the board who presents an instant mismatch for opponents.

At 6’6” and 242 pounds, Alabama’s O.J. Howard should have no trouble adjusting to the NFL after spending several years learning under Nick Saban and his staff. Howard is still rather raw as a tight end, and he could stand to learn how to run more crisp routes on passing plays. But with his size he presents the potential to outmuscle overmatched safeties and linebackers as well as provide a strong blocker on running downs. Howard would immediately give Tannehill another dangerous weapon to spread the field in a tough division.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) in action during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) in action during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

20

Derek Barnett

EDGE, Tennessee

Pittsburgh has long made its name as a team that consistently fields one of the most dangerous defenses in the league, but as players age they are in need of reinforcements. They especially need help at linebacker, specifically rushing the quarterback off the edge. They have the chance to select a hybrid player in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft who could slot in either at defensive end or outside linebacker and who could quickly integrate into a contributory role for the Steelers.

That player is Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, who probably projects better as a 4-3 defensive end but who could ostensibly also develop into a disruptive linebacker. The 6’3”, 265-pound Volunteer is an aggressive, powerful front seven stalwart who brings great leadership qualities to the table as well. While he is still learning the ropes and is raw at his position, Barnett’s maturation could be a blessing in disguise depending on how Pittsburgh decides to use the player.

Nov 19, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow (21) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

21

Taco Charlton

DE, Michigan

Tampa Bay has begun to assemble some great building blocks on the offensive side of the ball, with Jameis Winston and Doug Martin providing a solid one-two combination at quarterback and running back. The team needs more wideout weapons for Winston, and could ostensibly go in that direction with a player like Dede Westbrook or JuJu Smith-Schuster. Instead, the Buccaneers will probably spend their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft shoring up a position of need on defense.

No position needs more help than the defensive line, and there are several players left in the opening round who could make an immediate impact in Tampa. They will probably give a long look to Taco Charlton, the Michigan defensive end that brings a great combination of size and long arms to the edge. There are questions as to whether Charlton can evolve to better break outside containment and more consistently get around the edge, but the 6’6”, 270-pound lineman could serve as another building block for a young team on the rise.

Sep 26, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson talks with offensive lineman Dan Feeney (67) during the first quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 26, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson talks with offensive lineman Dan Feeney (67) during the first quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

22

Dan Feeney

OG, Iowa

It might be tempting to go with a tight end like Evan Engram in the first round, but Denver has more glaring issues on its offense. With Cam Robinson and Ryan Ramczyk off the board already in the first round, Denver could instead choose to focus on another deficiency along its offensive line. The Broncos have been in need of more steady interior line play, and they could be the first team in the 2017 NFL Draft to focus on this position with their first-round pick.

The best projected interior lineman on the 2017 draft board is Indiana’s Dan Feeney. At 6’4” and 310 pounds, Feeney has the size and build to enjoy a long career as an NFL guard. He was a big part of a line that plowed massive holes for backs like Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, and he is also strong in protection on passing downs. Interior line is one of the least glamorous positions in the NFL, but for a team that especially relies on zone-blocking schemes to drive its running game Feeney could be a great addition.

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) rushes the ball against the Washington Huskies during the second half at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) rushes the ball against the Washington Huskies during the second half at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

23

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

With Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook already off the board, will the New York Giants try to bulk up their running game by taking a back in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft? One of the most versatile backfield weapons left in the first round is not necessarily the bruiser they’ll be looking for at the position, but if the Giants are serious about giving Eli Manning more weapons they might take a flyer on the son of a player they drafted 25 years earlier.

Christian McCaffrey fell off most people’s radars after a slow start to the season and a few missed games in the heart of Stanford’s schedule. But even with the absences, he once again came close to 2000 all-purpose yards. A threat catching the ball out of the backfield as well as running both inside and outside, McCaffrey also offers the option of using him on special teams as a returner. He still has some work to do in terms of improving his blocking without the ball, but offers home-run potential to compliment other skill players.

Jan 1, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Jake Rudock (15) throws a pass as he pressured by Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the second quarter in the 2016 Citrus Bowl at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Jake Rudock (15) throws a pass as he pressured by Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the second quarter in the 2016 Citrus Bowl at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

24

Jarrad Davis

LB, Florida

Kansas City will probably spend its first few rounds focusing on fortifying its defense. While they are doing pretty well on the defensive line, the most obvious needs for the Chiefs come further down the spine at inside linebacker and safety. Andy Reid’s team could ostensibly address either concern in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but they will likely take one of the few elite linebackers that will remain on the board at this point of the opening round.

The most likely option is Jarrad Davis, who was inconsistent at Florida this past year but brings tremendous upside to the position. Davis has plenty of size to play the position, measuring 6’2” and 238 pounds. He is a powerful tackler who rarely lets opponents get away once he has his mitts on them, and Davis is also competent enough in pass coverage to snuff out plays over the middle. The one main weakness in his game is a propensity to lose discipline when opponents run the ball, as he steps out of lanes and opens up gaps for opposing backs.

Dec 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the first quarter of the ACC Championship college football game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the first quarter of the ACC Championship college football game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

25

Deshaun Watson

QB, Clemson

The Texans have been consistently among the better defensive teams in the league, and thanks to the weak AFC South they are a regular threat to make the playoffs. Once there, though, they have been overmatched on offense and unable to score enough points to make a difference. For several years this team has seemed a competent quarterback away from contention, and Houston might finally address that glaring issue in the 2017 NFL Draft.

With Kizer and Trubisky going off the board much earlier, the Texas will likely turn to Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson to provide hope at the most important position in the sport. The 6’3”, 215-pound quarterback could stand to bulk up a little more, but he is a mobile quarterback with a strong, accurate arm. He is great at placing the ball where only his receiver can make a play, but Watson also has a tendency to lock in on his first read and rely too heavily on his legs rather than going through a full progression.

Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) returns a punt against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) returns a punt against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

26

Desmond King

CB, Iowa

Most of Atlanta’s greatest needs come on the defensive side of the ball, and they could choose any number of players to provide immediate impact. They need to look for both interior and exterior defensive linemen, but the temptation to take one of the elite cornerbacks available this late in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft might be too strong for the Falcons to pass up. They have the option to pick several shutdown corners at this slot in the draft order.

They could go after bigger players such as Gareon Conley, but Atlanta will probably turn instead toward one of two other Big Ten defensive backs. Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and Iowa’s Desmond King would both provide immediate strength at the nickelback position. We project that the Falcons will go with King, who is a great tackler with the speed and ball-hawking skills to provide instant improvement in pass coverage. He has the quick hips to keep up with and maintain position on even the fleetest of slot receivers.

Juju Smith-Schuster

Nov 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) reaches for the end zone against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

27

JuJu Smith-Schuster

WR, USC

Baltimore has often spent much of its time in the first round of the draft selecting defensive players. The 2017 NFL Draft, however, could mark a change in approach as they look for new weapons to work with quarterback Joe Flacco. Nowhere is there a more obvious need than at wide receiver, where the Ravens have depended on aging receivers for several years and could benefit from picking an elite collegiate player to fortify the position.

They have several options, but given their low draft position in the first round the Ravens will likely look for someone who can bring a combination of size and speed to the position. That probably means that they’ll go with USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster rather than Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook in the battle of receivers with repeating-syllable first names. Smith-Schuster is a 6’2”, 220-pound speedster with great hands and the size to challenge defensive backs. He was inconsistent in the Pac-12, but Baltimore will take a chance on his high-upside potential with its first pick.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball against Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) during the second quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

28

Ryan Anderson

EDGE, Alabama

Detroit might be leading the NFC North in a down year for the division, but it still has an overwhelming need for reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball. At every level of the defense, the Lions are thin on depth and talent and could use their 2017 NFL Draft to seriously address these deficiencies. Perhaps the most important position of need is in their pass rush, where they will look to nab one of the strong edge rushers available in this year’s college class.

They will probably go with Ryan Anderson, who will become the sixth Crimson Tide player selected in the first round. Anderson is a bit undersized at just 6’2” and 253 pounds, but he makes up for it with great footwork and hands and an explosive first step at the snap. He has developed great technique at Alabama under Nick Saban, and he is the type of player who knows how to use his momentum to greatest effect to blow up opposing skill players.

Oct 29, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley (25) tackles Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (80) short of a first down during the third quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium. Clemson won 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley (25) tackles Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (80) short of a first down during the third quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium. Clemson won 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

29

Cordrea Tankersley

CB, Clemson

With the two best offensive tackles already off the board this late in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Seattle might turn its attention instead toward trying to fill another need rather than reaching too high for a talent that will be available in future rounds. In addition to the deficiencies on the offensive line, the Seahawks also need to find more talent for the interior of their defensive line and will also look for another playmaker at cornerback to fortify the Legion of Boom.

That could lead Pete Carroll and the Seahawks to take a chance on Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley. The 6’1”, 200-pound defensive back provides the size that Carroll like from his cornerbacks, and he has long arms that allow him to effectively jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. His movement and ball skills allow him to keep pace with most receivers and to break up passes, though when opponents manage to get into his space with the ball he is not that great a tackler.

Nov 19, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) runs the ball during the first quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) runs the ball during the first quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

30

Dede Westbrook

WR, Oklahoma

The Patriots are going to need to find more weapons for Tom Brady in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that mission could begin right away in the opening round. They need multiple tackles to bolster offensive line depth, but they also need to hunt down more receiving weapons for Brady. They could focus on that latter issue with the team’s first pick of the draft, a move that would be just out of character enough from Bill Belichick for it to make sense.

That move would be selecting Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook. Not since Wes Welker has Brady had a potent slot receiver, and Westbrook provides an even more dynamic skill set. He is undersized at just 175 pounds, though at 6’0” he could probably add a few p ounds without costing his speed. He is a great route runner with excellent footwork and hands that catch nearly anything thrown his direction, and a strong double move opens him up not just inside but also as a vertical threat. The one knock could be his age, as Westbrook is entering the draft after exhausting his college eligibility.

Oct 15, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Justin Jackson (21) is chased down by Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Justin Jackson (21) is chased down by Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

31

Malik McDowell

DL, Michigan State

Having made a major turnaround on offense, the impetus is now on Oakland to strengthen its defense. There are several spots of need, including middle linebacker and cornerback. But they also have a definite need for a stout body to occupy blockers in the interior of its defensive line. They could luck out from the fact that most teams are looking more for edge rushers, and land one of the highest-upside defenders available in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Michigan State fell off the map this year, but that shouldn’t hurt Malik McDowell’s draft stock too drastically. The 6’6”, 276-pound Spartan can play either on the edge or at tackle, though the Raiders would most likely slot him in the middle of their defensive line. He is a strong pass rusher, but McDowell still has some work to do to improve his ability to fight off double teams. He has a propensity to play too high from the ground, and he needs to work on keeping his pads low to gain leverage.

Oct 1, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels tight end Evan Engram (17) scores a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Memphis Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi won 48-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 1, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels tight end Evan Engram (17) scores a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Memphis Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi won 48-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

32

Evan Engram

TE

While they also have needs to address on the defensive line and in the secondary, Dallas has the luxury of picking and choosing where it wants to focus its attention throughout the 2017 NFL Draft. One area that the Cowboys are going to need to address the future at the tight end position as Jason Witten advances in years and seems to be approaching the natural end of his shelf life. One of several game-changing tight ends could fortify an already formidable offense.

With O.J. Howard projected to go to Miami, the next best choice for the Cowboys is Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram. Few college tight ends are better route runners than the 6’3”, 227-pound Rebel, who has great speed for his size and is adept at challenging defenders in the air for jump balls. Engram will need to work on both his blocking and his tendency to drop passes, but he has the ability to learn from one of the best tight ends in NFL history should he make his way to Dallas.

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