Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) tackles Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) during the first quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The picture gets a little clearer each time as this latest 2017 NFL mock draft reflects the most accurate selection order to date.
The Senior Bowl is also on the way, which should begin the process of shifting the top prospects up or down boards. What remains unclear is who the Cleveland Browns will go with at #1 overall. They obviously need a quarterback but thus far none of the top names have created enough buzz to think they’re in line to go that high. Whomever the Browns do go with will set the tone for what follows.
1. Cleveland Browns
DE, Texas A&M
The Cleveland Browns know that with two picks in the top 12, including the 1st overall they have to find a way to get impact players. At the same time they know they have to come out of it with a quarterback. So they get creative, which readers will find out later on. In the meantime it’s obvious one of the top priorities on hand is to get new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a pass rusher he can start building his scheme around.
Myles Garrett was, is and probably will remain the best overall prospect in the 2017 class. He’s a gifted athlete with size, speed and explosion. When his motor runs hot, offensive blockers find out quickly that they can’t block him. He’s one of those generational talents with all the tools that doesn’t come around very often. Passing him up for a quarterback who probably wouldn’t start right away is just too difficult.
Nov 5, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) looks to pass the ball in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Everbank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
2. San Francisco 49ers
QB, Notre Dame
It’s still way too early to determine exactly what the San Francisco 49ers plan to do in the draft give they still don’t have a new GM. Even so, it’s not hard to see what will take top priority. This team desperately needs a quarterback. Colin Kaepernick is likely to opt out of his contract after the season and Blaine Gabbert is not the answer. Getting that position right is a first, critical step to a rebuild.
Deshone Kizer was the early favorite to be the highest quarterback drafted in 2017. The reasons why haven’t gone away since. He arguably has more talent than any prospect in the class. He’s big, strong, tough, can play in a pro-style scheme and call audibles. His arm strength is top notch and when protected he’s delivered some impressive strikes. On top of that he’s quite mobile, able to make plays with his feet. It was apparent at Notre Dame the coaching and weaponry were sub par. So what happens if the 49ers can change that?
Sep 24, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) passes the ball during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
3. Chicago Bears
QB, North Carolina
Jay Cutler has run his course as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Eight seasons of erratic play and ill-timed injuries finally wore people out on him. Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley aren’t the answers except for backup consideration. This team knows the time is right to get a young quarterback in the draft. It’s the highest they’ve selected since 1972 and they haven’t picked a top 5 QB since Jim McMahon in 1982.
Mitch Trubisky is the most intriguing of the 2017 crop. He really did come out of nowhere at North Carolina, starting in his first year and putting up some impressive numbers. His mix of size, mobility, arm strength, accuracy and footwork jump off the screen quite frequently. He plays with that poise and awareness teams look for in a starting quarterback, and his style would mesh well in the system Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains likes to run.
Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) walks on the field during the first quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
It does feel like the Jacksonville Jaguars might be one or two moves away from having one of the best defenses in the NFL. What those moves might be is the big question. Making Doug Marrone head coach might be a step in the right direction. Often though the big key to going from good to great is establishing a certain group on the defense that is dominant. Their defensive front appears closest to that reality.
Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue make up an effective trio but there is still something missing. Jonathan Allen could be that something. He’s the kind of big, strong and quick lineman who just wreaks havoc with offensive blocking. It’s hard to run against him and just as hard to stop him in pass protection. He demands near constant double teams, and that will make life easier for everybody on that line.
Sep 10, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 45-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
5. Tennessee Titans (via LA)
Finishing 9-7 was a tremendous accomplishment for the Tennessee Titans after several years of mediocrity or downright ugliness. That being said it was clear the team had some significant roster holes that were going to hold them back from reaching the playoffs. Topping the list was their atrocious pass coverage. At one point they actually cut one of their veteran cornerbacks right after a narrow victory over Chicago.
It’s clear they need some changes on the back end. Normally corners don’t go this high but it’s a strong draft class and the Titans have two picks in the 1st round. They can afford the risk. Quincy Wilson is worth it too. The Florida prospect really jumped to the forefront of draft boards midway through the 2016 season and remains one of the hot names. A tall, fluid athlete he plays tight coverage and shows proper fundamentals and ball skills. QBs try not to attack him too often or he makes them pay.
Nov 26, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) waves to the fans as he stands on the field during the fourth quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Clemson Tigers defeated South Carolina Gamecocks 56-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
6. New York Jets
The New York Jets don’t just need a quarterback. They need a leader. The situation with their team has devolved into near anarchy with the locker split into factions. It’s a big reason why they fell apart so quickly after just missing the playoffs last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is done. Bryce Petty didn’t look like much. Christian Hackenberg has shown no signs of being worth the 2nd round pick they spent on him in 2016. If there is any doubt about his future, the decision at #6 is clear.
Deshaun Watson represents everything the Jets don’t have. He’s a leader on and off the field. He knows how to make plays with his arm and his feet. He comes through in the clutch and now he’s a national champion. The young man just understands how to get it done. He would be a breath of fresh air in that locker room. Somebody to rally around. Yes, there are concerns about his ball placement and accuracy. That alone should not erase all the other good things he’d bring.
Sep 3, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) returns his second interception during the second half against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
7. San Diego Chargers
FS, Ohio State
It seems rather ironic that the Los Angeles Chargers defense was really good in 2016 buy something seemed to be holding it back from being great. Chief among those elements? A playmaking safety on the back end. They had one in Eric Weddle but allowed him to walk in free agency. He left for Baltimore where he helped them become one of the top defenses in the league. This is a mistake the Chargers brass must correct.
Grabbing Malik Hooker at #7 is a hell of a start. The Ohio State standout only started one year for the Buckeyes but that was all he needed. He showcased game breaking ability with seven interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. A tall, rangy athlete who tracks and closes on the football better than any safety seen in a long time. A natural ball hawk. If he’s this good already, how much better will he get with more experience?
Sep 24, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) carries against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
8. Carolina Panthers
Ron Rivera is an old school coach who wants to have a tough, hard-nosed football team that wins in the traditional style. That means good defense, a big play passing game and a steady ground attack that wears opponents out. In 2015 they had all three and reached the Super Bowl. This past year? Not so much. A big loss was their rushing attack. Jonathan Stewart regressed sharply from the Pro Bowl form he flashed a season ago.
If he’s run his course as the starter, then the team should consider finding a replacement. Leonard Fournette is universally considered the best running back in this class and the best to come out of college in years. When he gets on a roll, which is often, his mix of size, speed, vision and strength have made defenses quit. A total package of athletic prowess and genetic makeup. Put him in the same backfield as Cam Newton? Forget about it.
Sep 10, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have produced some really good defenses over the years under Marvin Lewis, but it’s always felt like something was missing. That final piston to make the engine reach top speed. One could argue it was a true middle linebacker. The Bengals have made due with sturdy players like Ray Maualuga but never a true star. What would getting one at that spot do for the defense as a whole? History shows it could be so much.
Reuben Foster may be the middle interior linebacker to come out of college since Luke Kuechly. He’s a throwback type of player who tackles everything in sight and has a seek-and-destroy sense. The guy can deliver some ferocious shots. He’s also quick, athletic and shows comfort in space when playing coverage. Put him next to Vontaze Burfict and behind that solid defensive line, it would become quite a front seven to deal with.
Dec 31, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts after they they stopped Louisville Cardinals on 4th down during the second half at Camping World Stadium. LSU Tigers defeated the Louisville Cardinals 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
10. Buffalo Bills
Taking a quarterback would be ideal for the Buffalo Bills. Tyrod Taylor appears to have run his course there and Cardale Jones feels more like a fun project idea than an actual plan. Problem is the QBs have already been picked clean. Unless the Bills are willing to gamble, they’d be better off helping other positions. Safety has become a nagging issue for them the past two seasons, contributing to their defensive struggles.
Seems rather fitting they find their man of the future the year after Rex Ryan leaves. Then again Sean McDermott is no dummy. Good safeties can do so many things for a defense. Jamal Adams would become an immediate enforcer for the Bills. He’s tough, physical and instinctive around the line of scrimmage. Few can blow up screens and swing passes for losses like he can. Throw in an underrated coverage prowess and this is a plug-and-play starter.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) celebrates after recovering an onside kick during the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
11. New Orleans Saints
Another year, another highly productive offense wasted by the New Orleans Saints because they can’t figure out how to fix their defense. This is fast becoming the legacy of head coach Sean Payton. His offensive brilliance is being overshadowed by his inability to find a defensive coordinator who can turn that unit around. Dennis Allen is the latest to fail, finishing dead last in the NFL against the pass.
What they could really use is a true cover cornerback who they can leave on one side of the field or the other and expect him to lock down his receiver without the constant requirement of safety help. Marlon Humphrey proved at Alabama that he can be that type of defense who is pesky and frustrates pass catchers for 60 minutes. He’s long, athletic and shows the kind of discipline and awareness that allow him to make plays on the football.
Oct 15, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal defensive tackle Solomon Thomas (90) celebrates after a tackle in the second quarter against the UCLA Bruins in a NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
12. New England Patriots (via CLE)
Patriots get #12 pick and 4th in 2018
Browns get QB Jimmy Garoppolo
It’s no secret that the New England Patriots could likely deal quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. His value won’t get any higher than it is, and Tom Brady looks like he’s good for another few years. Odds are the competition for the 25-year old will be strong, but the Cleveland Browns are better equipped to make a deal than any other team with two 1st round picks. Garoppolo instantly gives them youth and experience under center while New England gets a top 15 pick.
The AFC won’t be happy when they see the longtime powerhouse pick up another potential stud for their defensive front in Solomon Thomas. The Stanford defensive end was a nightmare for opposing blockers in 2016, single-handedly ruining dreams for several teams. He’s big, strong and utterly relentless in pursuit of the quarterback. One of those players who is faster than he should be and just understands how to collapse the pocket. Bill Belichick will love him.
Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers receiver Marcus Davis (80) is tackled by by Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
13. Arizona Cardinals
Beefing up the front seven is certainly something the Arizona Cardinals know they must do this off-season. Lately they’ve made due with a pair of decent inside linebackers but no playmakers at the position. Nobody who can impact the game. Finding somebody of the like would be an instant help to their run defense and also create more flexibility with their complex blitzing schemes. Thankfully the board falls their way on this.
Zach Cunningham needed to do a lot in order to get noticed out of a lesser program like Vanderbilt. Despite having limited talent around him, the linebacker continued to showcase his instinct, toughness, range and tackling prowess. One of those defenders who does all the dirty work, cleaning up after teammates. He made some big plays for them in 2016 and showcases the kind of skill set that could make him a Day 1 starter in the NFL.
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) makes a catch while defended by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) during the fourth quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
14. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIN)
The Philadelphia Eagles won’t be relevant in the NFC East until they get wise to the fact that Carson Wentz can’t become who they need without weapons. That offense is devoid of credible wide receivers or running backs. It’s why the team fell apart after such a hot start this season. A young quarterback needs a weapon in his arsenal that he can lean on when the situation is tough. Often a go-to receiver is the antidote of choice.
Getting Mike Williams in the middle of the 1st round is quite the boon. The Clemson receiver showcased his ability on the biggest stage against Alabama, making big-time catches in big moments. He’s 6’3″ with a wide wing span, leaping ability and strong hands. While not blazing fast he shows enough speed to create some separation once he learns how to run crisper routes. Wentz-to-Williams will become a popular saying in Philadelphia.
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
15. Indianapolis Colts
Poor drafting has really put the Indianapolis Colts behind the 8-ball. GM Ryan Grigson knows he has to ace 2017 and get his team back on track or he’s likely to lose his last shot to remain at the job. Owner Jim Irsay has been remarkably patient up to this point, but it’s wearing this. One area that Grigson has failed to address is the pass rush. Now Robert Mathis has retired. If that defense is going to be any sort of threat in the AFC, it needs a legitimate edge rusher.
How thankful they must be then that Derek Barnett basically falls into their lap. The young man was a nightmare for SEC quarterbacks the past three seasons, finishing with 33 sacks. One better than former icon Vol Reggie White. Though not a freaky athlete, Barnett is such a natural pass rusher. He has great awareness, strength, bend and burst off the snap. Setting the edge is something he can do as well. Get him going forward though and he always finds a way to get the quarterback frazzled. Always.
Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe made up a decent receiving tandem for the Tennessee Titans in 2016. They helped Marcus Mariota take the next step towards being the franchise quarterback he should be. It just wasn’t enough to get this team over the hump. They’re still missing that true presence on the outside. Somebody opposing defenses have to gameplan for. That is why Tennessee jumps up to grab Corey Davis.
This young man has already made a name for himself in the scouting community with his outstanding play at Western Michigan. Davis is every bit of 6’3″ with the accompanied long arms and strong body. What has begun to separate him from others is his mix of solid speed and advanced route running skill. Defensive backs just have a hard time controlling him. He just always seems to find a way to get open and make a big catch for a first down or touchdown.
Nov 5, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) hits Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Jeff George Jr. (3) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports
17. Washington Redskins
DE, Michigan State
The Washington Redskins defensive line just isn’t a very imposing group. It’s made up of try-hard players but few difference-makers. This, more than anything was a big reason why the defense repeatedly failed to hold up its end of the bargain in several key games during the season. Adding more dynamic skill up front would be a major step in the right direction. Somebody who can force offenses to deal with them.
That is exactly what Malik McDowell did for Michigan State. The big, long defensive end was a handful for blockers all day, every day. His size mixed with surprising quickness made it difficult to stop him from constantly creating pressure on the quarterback. His dimensions indicate he’d make an ideal 3-4 defensive end. Improving his strength to hold up against the run will be a priority. The rest is all about turning him loose.
October 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) brings down Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
18. Baltimore Ravens (via TEN)
Pass rush is what has kept the Baltimore Ravens defense so good for so long. It was Peter Boulware for a number of years and then it became Terrell Suggs. Now GM Ozzie Newsome is on the spot again. He has to find a quality edge rusher this team can build around for the next 7-10 years. Suggs continues to be effective but his ability to dominate stretches of a game are waning, and there isn’t anybody on the roster ready to plug that gap.
Takkarist McKinley really showed during his final year at UCLA that he’d begun to figure out the pass rush department, something missing from his otherwise well-rounded game. He’s a quick and athletic player whose body type fits the 3-4 outside linebacker dimensions. There are still somethings he needs to learn from a fundamental standpoint, but his game is strong enough to where he’ll be a consistent sack producer if guided right.
Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) warms up prior to the 2016 CFP semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay learned in 2016 that if they’re going to compete in the NFC South, it will be about scoring points. Right now Jameis Winston just isn’t equipped to do that. He has Mike Evans, who is a star at wide receiver but not much beyond that. The rest of the receiving corps is made up of role players who can have bright moments but don’t scare defenses at all. Winston needs another true weapon who can impact the game.
Getting a tight end who can be a real presence in the receiving game to compliment Evans would be huge. If the Bucs somehow got O.J. Howard? That’s theft. The Alabama tight end once again showed his value as a receiver against Clemson in the national title game. He was the only pass target the Crimson Tide had who couldn’t be stopped. His mix of size, speed, and athleticism were giving the Tigers fits. It’s all about giving him more opportunities.
This shouldn’t be any surprise. If one thing could be blamed for why the Denver Broncos weren’t able to make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl a year before, it would be their offensive line. The unit has experienced a steady decline from the imposing unit it was five years ago. Denver has tried keeping it together with various free agent moves but thus far they’ve only delayed the decay. Significant investments are needed to get back on track.
Cam Robinson remains a polarizing prospect due to his off-the-field concerns and his somewhat clunky athleticism. One thing is clear though. He’s a big, strong and tough blocker who has experiencing going against the best pass rushers the SEC has to offer. He’ll be an instant help for their ground game, something that is a definite plus. It’s just a matter of picking which side he’ll be less of a liability in pass protection.
Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at EverBank Field. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
21. Detroit Lions
There are a number of reasons why the Detroit Lions faded down the stretch this season and why they were so soundly beaten in Seattle. Perhaps among the biggest was the steady collapse of their pass defense. Not only was their front rush inadequate, but it was quite apparent that outside of Darius Slay they have no credible cornerbacks who can cover consistently. In this league with these rules that’s just not going to cut it.
Thankfully the Lions catch a gigantic break with Teez Tabor falling to them at #21. Some are still arguing that he’s the top cornerback in the class. For good reason. He’s well-built, athletic, fluid in his backpedal, has speed and can get his hands on the football. Most important is he doesn’t require constant safety help over the top. This means Detroit would be able to get more creative in its scheming with he and Slay on the field together.
Dolphins get #26 pick, 4th in 2017 and 6th in 2018
Watching the loss to Atlanta, it was clearer than ever that the Seattle Seahawks’ biggest mistake over the past couple seasons was allowing their offensive line to get into such a depleted state. That’s what happens when their Pro Bowl center Max Unger is traded and sturdy left tackle Russell Okung allowed to leave in free agency. They just aren’t dominating the line of scrimmage like they used to, and it’s costing them precious chances at another Super Bowl.
This has to change. Ryan Ramczyk has emerged as perhaps the best left tackle prospect in an otherwise weak class. He’s an athletic pass protector who shows enough strength to be a factor in the ground game. For the Seahawks it will be crucial to know the stay of a hip injury he suffered. If it checks out though he could end up being the first major step back towards respectability in the trenches.
Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku (86) reacts after a touchdown in the second half against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
23. New York Giants
TE, Miami Fl.
The New York Giants learned in the playoffs that they can’t be a two-man offense if they want to win. Green Bay controlled Odell Beckham Jr. and predictably Eli Manning wasn’t able to lean on anybody else to make a play. In order to become a legitimate playoff contender, New York has to find another weapon on offense that defenses won’t be able to ignore. Given how much Manning loves to use tight ends, that position makes the most sense.
David Njoku isn’t hiding from teams any longer. The Miami product was one of the more unique tight end prospects in that he brought an element to the passing game tight ends don’t usually have. He can run after the catch. He creates the same mismatches in coverage against safeties and linebackers, but once the ball is in his hands he becomes a running back who shows he can break tackles. That is the kind of productivity the Giants are missing.
Getting a true middle linebacker would be really nice for the Oakland Raiders defense, but the board isn’t falling that way for them. In the absence of that, they need to think about finding more help for their 24th ranked pass defense. The failure of D.J. Hayden means they might have to look at cornerback again. Sean Smith and David Amerson only affected a minor improvement on the secondary. That pass rush can’t reach its full potential until the coverage improves.
Marshon Lattimore is one of the quieter top prospects in this class. He was rock solid for Ohio State in 2016, making tackles and playing consistent, sound coverage. He has good ball skills, size and enough athleticism to play press-man. The question for him to answer is whether he has the raw speed required. That will come to pass during the predraft process. If he checks out, then this is a young corner who could be an instant help for the Silver and Black.
Nov 12, 2016; Stillwater, OK, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes II (5) looks to pass against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
25. Houston Texans
QB, Texas Tech
The playoffs proved beyond a doubt this simple truth: the Houston Texans are a Super Bowl contender in waiting. All they need is a quarterback who can make some plays for them. Brock Osweiler had his opportunities and once again failed to take advantage. There is no longer any doubt that ownership made a calculated mistake thinking he was a franchise QB. He’s not. Bill O’Brien needs somebody who can create offense without constant scheme help.
That is pretty much all Patrick Mahomes did during his time at Texas Tech. There might not be a better improvisational talent at the position in this class. He’s big, athletic, strong and tough. What stands out the most is his ability to keep plays alive with his feet and find receivers down the field for big plays. Better still he did so much damage with limited weaponry and protection at Texas Tech. Give him the arsenal and coaching in Houston? It could be a lethal combination.
Nov 19, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Zack Mahoney (16) is sacked by Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) during the first quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
26. Miami Dolphins (via MIA)
DE, Florida State
The front four was a big reason the Miami Dolphins were able to turn their season around in 2016 after an ugly 1-4 start. Spearheading things, to no surprise was defensive end Cameron Wake. He turns 35 this season and Mario Williams is expected to be cut. That puts the edge rush in a potentially compromising spot given its importance to the overall success of the team. They might be wise to bring in help early.
Demarcus Walker will be passed on by many due to being slightly undersized, but that didn’t seem to stop him from rampaging through countless offensive tackles in the ACC for 16 sacks. He’s a compact defensive end with more power than people realize. Combined with a relentless motor that goes for 60 minutes, it’s not hard to see why he’s so good at penetrating the opposing backfield. Florida-based fans will love keeping him in-state.
Sep 24, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) is seen during the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
27. Kansas City Chiefs
When one has the coaching staff like Kansas City does, they can afford to take calculated risks on great athletes. It was true for Eric Fisher and again for Dee Ford. Something to keep in mind about this off-season is the unknown status of star safety Eric Berry. The Chiefs have a problematic salary cap situation, which could mean they might lose him to free agency unless some serious work is done before March.
Regardless, Jabrill Peppers is the sort of athletic specimen that is worth the risk. He’s already a solid box safety who can tackle and create pressure with the blitz. He’ll also be yet another special teams weapon for Dave Toub. His greatest upside comes in coverage. His athleticism and speed makes it possible but what he needs to learn is how to hone his instincts for tracking the football and making a play on it. If he ever does, the Chiefs have their Berry heir.
December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) during the fourth quarter in the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi
28. Dallas Cowboys
In truth it felt like the Dallas Cowboys were getting away with a lot on defense most of 2016. They never really felt like a unit that could get stops in the playoffs. After all they were ranked a lowly 26th against the pass. Sure enough it caught up to them as Aaron Rodgers sliced them up for 355 yards and two touchdowns. That was without his best weapon in Jordy Nelson too. It’s clear the Cowboys secondary wasn’t up to the task.
Worse still their cornerback situation is liable to get even thinner in free agency. That’s why drafting Sidney Jones is more of a necessity than a desire. Not that it’s a big issue. Jones proved his skill and playmaking potential for Washington all season long. He’s got size, athleticism and enough speed to hang with receivers down the field. While not quite Marcus Peters in terms of ball skills, he has the instincts to find the football in the air too.
Oct 17, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (8) encourages the fans to make more noise during the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
29. Atlanta Falcons
CB, Ohio State
The Atlanta Falcons are in the NFC championship, but don’t let that deceive. They got there mostly on the strength of their dynamic offense. Scoring points is how it was done. The Falcons defense has really been a second class citizen this year. Nowhere was that clearer than their pass coverage. Despite having a breakout pass rusher in Vic Beasley, the team still managed to finish the year ranked just 28th in the league.
Outside of Desmond Trufant their cornerback unit hasn’t produced much more than the occasional big hit or forced turnover. They need another cover guy who can make life difficult for receivers. Gareon Conley did plenty of that for Ohio State. Good-sized with the athletic properties NFL teams look for, he can line up man-to-man on the boundary and be expected to stick with his assignment. His ball skills are solid, as is his tackling ability.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) in action against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
There are times when off-the-field concern is trumped by talent. Unless of course the player is an utter nightmare. Tim Williams reportedly has marijuana-related concerns at Alabama, at least according to recent rumors. While not as damning an issue as in years pass, the struggles of somebody like Randy Gregory is certain to scare some teams away from him. That’s a shame too because he’s one of the top 3-4 outside linebackers in this class.
Pittsburgh isn’t normally a team to take chances on players with off-the-field concerns. At least not in the first round but Williams is not the kind of talent that comes around often. Then there is the reality that big changes could be coming to their linebacker position. James Harrison will be 39 in 2017. Jarvis Jones will be a free agent as well. This team needs to think about adding more help to their outside pass rush. Williams is worth the calculated risk.
Nov 19, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) carries the ball during the first quarter of a game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
31. Green Bay Packers
OLB, Florida State
The Packers have made due at running back this past season by converting Ty Montgomery to the position, but it’s hardly a permanent fix. Eddie Lacy continues to suffer injury and conditioning problems. Aaron Rodgers may be the best in the business but teams find it hard to win championships without a consistent rushing attack. What Green Bay really needs is a back who fits their pass-first offense better than Lacy did.
Enter Dalvin Cook. The Florida State star is built in a similar fashion to Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson. He’s undersized but makes up for it with speed, quickness, acceleration and agility. People continue to underrate his toughness as well. He’s shown his body can handle high loads of carries and still be that home run threat late in games. He’ll be an ideal fit for that Packers offense, adding yet another receiving weapon for Rodgers.
Oct 31, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs with the ball as Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) defends during the second half at EverBank Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 27-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
32. New England Patriots
The defensive front seven for the New England Patriots has undergone a serious overhaul this season with Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins both leaving for other teams via trade. There is also a chance they might lose Dont’a Hightower in free agency. Were that to happen it would create a series of question marks for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in 2017. Still, the Patriots are known for having plans to counter such problems.
Having already landed Solomon Thomas for defensive end, they next grab help at inside linebacker. Jarrad Davis didn’t have as productive a year as in 2015 but the Florida standout still managed to impact games as a tackler and blitzer. What stands out about him are his instincts and intelligence. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time making a big tackle. Bill Belichick likes players who do their job. That’s Davis in a nutshell.
Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) attempts a pass against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; College Park, MD, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel (4) runs during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns – Desmond King – FS – Iowa
San Francisco 49ers – Roderick Johnson – OT – Florida State
Chicago Bears – Rasul Douglas – CB – West Virginia