2017 NFL draft rankings: Top 10 players by position
The draft process for 2017 began months ago, almost before the 2016 event wrapped. There still is a long road ahead: the remainder of both the college and pro seasons, bowl games, the Senior Bowl and other postseason all-star events, the combine …
In other words, settle in.
Over the summer we compiled a watch list of between 300 and 400 players who could be on the 2017 draft radar. Since then, we’ve added names when any potential prospects arrive a bit out of nowhere. The first crack at positional rankings for the 2017 draft class will help lay the foundation for our coverage to come.
Little that you see here is set in stone, save for perhaps Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen’s place atop their respective position groups. There’s still much to learn about who will headline the 2017 class and where they will be as prospects five and a half months from now.
As of mid-November, this is how it all stands.
The Browns, 49ers and Bears all are headed for top-five picks — they could land 1-2-3, in that order — and each team could use its first pick on a quarterback. Alone, that’s enough to think another early quarterback run is waiting at the 2017 NFL draft, even if this year’s class winds up not entirely warranting such a commitment.
The top three names in our QB rankings right now (Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky) are the three you are likely to hear most about between now and April 27. A fourth, Brad Kaaya, has jumped in and out of that group all season — he may wind up among a group of promising mid-round types. But is there enough talent at the top for those teams in need?
An upset-filled Week 11 of the college football season showed off why the 2017 QB class is going to cause so many headaches. Watson racked up 580 yards and three touchdowns but also fired three interceptions in an upset loss to Pitt, as he continued to flash breakdowns in his mechanics; Trubisky had three TDs and 297 yards of his own, but he also did things like this in a loss to Duke; Allen, perhaps still hobbled by a recent knee injury, had his worst game of the season in a loss to LSU. There’s just no consistency, and that has been an across-the-board problem.
|1||Deshaun Watson||Clemson||6’3", 215|
|2||DeShone Kizer||Notre Dame||6’4½”, 230|
|3||Mitch Trubisky||North Carolina||6’3", 220|
|4||Austin Allen||Arkansas||6’1", 209|
|5||Patrick Mahomes||Texas Tech||6’3", 215|
|6||Brad Kaaya||Miami||6’4", 215|
|7||Mason Rudolph||Oklahoma State||6’5", 235|
|8||Davis Webb||Cal||6’5", 230|
|9||Luke Falk||Washington State||6’4", 203|
|10||Baker Mayfield||Oklahoma||6’1", 212|
Watson holds a slight edge here because of his dual-threat prowess, as well as what he’s shown in key moments — he has played in a boatload of high-profile games at Clemson and has a knack for shining late. Kizer has an inch-plus of height and a good 15 to 20 pounds on Watson, which counts in the pocket, and he can get out and run when he needs to, as well. Trubisky is such a mixed bag: While the ceiling is unquestionably high, how long will it take his NFL coaching staff to rid him of the wild variations in his footwork? Can it be done? I do think at least the next four names on the list have starter potential down the line: Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Kaaya and Mason Rudolph, though all four could stay in school. Allen doesn’t have the size or arm of Trubisky, but he’s similar in how he stands up to pressure. Mahomes has incredible athleticism and a huge arm, without any polish to his game.
Montana’s Brady Gustafson drew the early tag as "2017 Carson Wentz": tall, FCS program, high-powered offense. Don’t forget the name Alek Torgersen, though. We talked about the Penn QB on a recent On the Clock podcast, and there’s a lot to like in his game.
This will come as no secret to anyone who has been paying attention, but the 2017 running back class has the potential to go down as an all-time great. Doesn’t mean it will, just that the talent is there if a few prospects translate their college stardom into NFL production. Todd Gurley set a high rookie bar back in 2015, and Ezekiel Elliott has pushed it further into the stratosphere this season. While it remains to be seen whether or not anyone in the ’17 class has that level of impact, a minimum of two running backs will go in Round 1. And that number could rise to four or five when all is said and done.
Could Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette both land in the top 10? Unlikely, but don’t rule it out. As things stand right now, both should be off the board within the first 20 picks, if nothing else. Fournette is a bruising, 235-pound back you want to get moving north and south as much as possible, although he sees the field well and can break off a sharp cut. Cook is more of a do-everything back with deadly east-to-west abilities, yet he also has breakaway speed when he does get downhill. The Round 1 wild cards come behind them. Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel are electrifying chips that a creative coach could do wonders with, while Royce Freeman and D’Onta Foreman are more in the workhorse vein.
The 10 receiver prospects in our initial 2017 rankings have combined for 9,809 yards through the air this season. Easy math: That’s about 1,000 per man. College offensive stats are as inflated as ever, but we’re still talking about some serious talent atop this position.
|1||Dalvin Cook||Florida State||5’11", 213|
|2||Leonard Fournette||LSU||6’1", 235|
|3||Christian McCaffrey||Stanford||6′,0", 197|
|4||Royce Freeman||Oregon||6’0", 229|
|5||Curtis Samuel||Ohio State||5’11", 197|
|6||D’Onta Foreman||Texas||6’1", 249|
|7||Kareem Hunt||Toledo||6’0", 225|
|8||Alvin Kamara||Tennessee||5’10", 215|
|9||Nick Chubb||Georgia||5’10", 228|
|10||Wayne Gallman||Clemson||6’0", 210|
The top three — maybe even the top four — have a legitimate argument for being the No. 1 receiver right now. Mike Williams is a downfield weapon with the strength and size to dominate defensive backs when he wants to. The explosive John Ross has had a brilliant comeback season after knee injuries sidelined him in 2015 — he will be one of the fastest prospects in the draft, period. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a bit of a sleeper contender, but he plays a strong, natural receiver. And then there’s Corey Davis. The Western Michigan product sits atop our board for the moment because he is so polished and well-rounded. Cooper Kupp is a similar player, albeit one starting from a lower floor/ceiling setup, from the FCS ranks.
Every NFL team craves a mismatch-creating tight end. All the better if that player can step inline and hand out a little punishment with his blocks, too. Good news for those front offices looking: The 2017 class has several prospects who fill the former void, and at least a couple who bring a complete game to the table.
It may not play out this way in April, but there is a bit of a gap between the top two and the rest of the tight end prospects. Both D.J. Howard and Jake Butt are capable of lining up anywhere within an offense and are coming out of programs which expect them to help pave the way for the run game. Howard arguably is a bit more dangerous as a downfield pass catcher, but Butt is about as reliable as they come within a 20-yard window. Evan Engram is kind of like a pass-catching running back playing tight end — he’s undersized for his listed position but has shredded defenses hash mark to hash mark. Hodges pushes the other end of the spectrum, as an outside receiver type stuck in a tight end’s body.
|1||Corey Davis||Western Michigan||6’2", 205|
|2||Mike Williams||Clemson||6’3", 225|
|3||John Ross||Washington||5’11", 173|
|4||JuJu Smith-Schuster||USC||6’2", 220|
|5||KD Cannon||Baylor||6’0", 180|
|6||Cooper Kupp||Eastern Washington||6’2", 205|
|7||Isaiah Ford||Virginia Tech||6’2", 195|
|8||Courtland Sutton||SMU||6’4", 215|
|9||Zay Jones||East Carolina||6’1", 197|
|10||James Washington||Oklahoma State||6’0", 205|
Get ready to hear plenty about the deficiencies in this year’s tackle class. As always, starters will emerge from the players selected, but there is not an overwhelming number of obvious candidates, nor much in the way of top-10 talent.
Cam Robinson really has been better than the narrative would suggest this season. Case in point: His work earlier this season against Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who is almost unanimously the 2017 draft’s No. 1 prospect. Robinson projects as a long-term answer at left tackle, provided he continues to develop his defenses against speed rushers; he already plays with power. Ryan Ramczyk has been excellent this season on the left side, too, and he moves extremely well for his size. More people are taking notice of Taylor Moton now that Western Michigan is climbing the ranks. He’s probably the best pure right tackle in this class. The wild cards are Mike McGlinchey and Roderick Johnson, who face decisions on their futures after this season. McGlinchey could fly into the first round if he goes; Johnson has been among the more disappointing prospects this year.
Pound-for-pound, the guard class could be one of the draft’s most impactful when it comes to making early contributions — especially since several of the top center prospects also have thrived here in the past. Typically, we don’t see more than one interior lineman slip into the first round, but there should be a run on guard/center types starting somewhere on Day 2.
|1||O.J. Howard||Alabama||6’6", 251|
|2||Jake Butt||Michigan||6’6", 250|
|3||Evan Engram||Ole Miss||6’3", 235|
|4||Bucky Hodges||Virginia Tech||6’7", 245|
|5||Jeremy Sprinkle||Arkansas||6’6", 256|
|6||Jordan Leggett||Clemson||6’5", 260|
|7||Cole Hikutini||Louisville||6’5", 248|
|8||Blake Jarwin||Oklahoma State||6’5", 248|
|9||Josiah Price||Michigan State||6’4", 248|
|10||Gerald Everett||South Alabama||6’4", 215|
A concussion cost Dan Feeney time earlier this season and he’s had to play a little tackle of late, but he has put together a fine career at guard. Just ask Tevin Coleman, who ran to daylight behind Feeney often in 2015. Billy Price and Dorian Johnson both excel as run blockers, too, and Price has to be athletic to do his job in Urban Meyer’s scheme. Quenton Nelson has climbed the board as fast as anyone, and he might not be done. Based on how he plays in both the run and pass, he could put up some excellent marks at the combine.
Alabama’s Ryan Kelly was the gold standard at center last draft — the Colts nabbed him in Round 1, and he instantly upgraded their entire line. Expecting any of the 2017 center prospects to have that impact is a high bar, but here we find an ultra-experienced group with a couple names at the top who could be Week 1 starters.
Pat Elflein was great as a guard for the Buckeyes last season. He hasn’t taken any steps back moving to center, and in doing so has made himself an even more appealing NFL prospect. He moves people in the run game and has a little sandpaper in his game. Ethan Pocic is a center who can get on the move, either to drop and protect his quarterback or pull as a lead blocker. Mason Cole was a tackle for Michigan before sliding to center — his NFL future probably falls at the latter position, but the team that drafts him won’t complain about having the option.
|1||Cam Robinson||Alabama||6’6", 327|
|2||Ryan Ramczyk||Wisconsin||6’6", 314|
|3||Mike McGlinchey||Notre Dame||6’7½”, 310|
|4||Taylor Moton||Western Michigan||6’5", 291|
|5||Roderick Johnson||Florida State||6’7", 311|
|6||Adam Bisnowaty||Pitt||6’6", 305|
|7||Chad Wheeler||USC||6’6", 310|
|8||Jon Heck||North Carolina||6’7", 300|
|9||Conor McDermott||UCLA||6’8", 310|
|10||Erik Magnuson||Michigan||6’6", 305|
If the best prospect in this year’s draft class somehow winds up not being Myles Garrett, look no further than the defensive tackle spot for option No. 2. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen paces this position group, which also includes another likely Round 1 guy (Malik McDowell), plus a deep roster of proven playmakers.
I was a big fan of A’Shawn Robinson heading into last year’s draft and liked his Alabama linemate Jarran Reed quite a bit, as well. Allen’s better — at least at this point in the process. He has silly levels of athleticism for an interior D-linemen and would fit a 3-4 or 4-3 defense as a penetrating, pocket-collapsing presence. McDowell hasn’t had a great season with teams focusing extra attention on him, but he’s still a disruptive, highly versatile prospect. Jarron Jones (knee/foot) and Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) have had to fight through injuries, but they’re both back on the rise. Chris Wormley is listed here despite playing mostly end for Michigan because his size and powerful style fits — he can help set the edge on early downs, then kick inside to pass rush if his next team so chooses. One under-the-radar name: Larry Ogunjobi, who just landed a Senior Bowl invite. He eats up space inside.
A premium has been placed on edge rushers for decades, but rarely have they been as coveted as they are now, and this draft class has a stockpile of standouts. We’ve combined defensive ends and pass-rushing outside linebackers into one group here, because the difference between 4-3 and 3-4 edge defenders is as narrow as ever.
|1||Dan Feeney||Indiana||6’4", 310|
|2||Billy Price||Ohio State||6’4", 315|
|3||Dorian Johnson||Pitt||6’5", 315|
|4||Quenton Nelson||Notre Dame||6’5", 325|
|5||Johnny Caspers||Stanford||6’4", 292|
|6||Nico Siragusa||San Diego State||6’5", 330|
|7||Zach Banner||USC||6’9", 360|
|8||Greg Pyke||Georgia||6’6", 325|
|9||Isaac Asiata||Utah||6’3", 323|
|10||Tyrone Crowder||Clemson||6’2", 340|
Frankly, I ran out of room — the list of edge defenders with Round 3-and-up potential could go another five to 10 guys deep: Marquis Haynes, Ejuan Price, Taco Charlton, Devonte Fields, Tanoh Kpassagnon … just keeps going. Among those who are here, Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett and Tim Williams all have the look of top-15 picks. (And there are some who’d argue Williams’ teammate Ryan Anderson is an even better pro prospect than Williams is.) McKinley is a hyper-active defender who benefited when UCLA shifted from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Charles Harris might have the best spin move in college football. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m a huge Harold Landry fan. He’s a stout run defender and a developing pass rusher who has stood out on a mediocre team.
Those dynamic tight ends this class appears to offer? A lot of times, these are the players responsible for them in coverage. Linebackers — at least quality, three-down linebackers — have to be able to take on 300-pound blockers, chase running backs sideline to sideline and drop in coverage. This year’s class has several prospects who have done that throughout their college careers, as well as a handful of sleepers.
If we’re playing the Alabama prospect comparison game again, Reuben Foster could go 20 (or more) picks higher than former teammate Reggie Ragland as a 2016 second-rounder. Raekwon McMillan flies to the ball and punishes people, but he also does have that coverage ability in his back pocket. Zach Cunningham may emerge as the best of the bunch once they all reach the NFL — he has 104 tackles for Vanderbilt this season. Jarrad Davis and Anthony Walker are excellent in space, critical for NFL linebackers, while Kendell Beckwith is a bit more of the thumper type. Vince Biegel’s my sleeper (much like ex-Badger and current Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert was last year). He can bring pressure on the outside or slide inside and cover ground there.
|1||Pat Elfein||Ohio State||6’3", 300|
|2||Ethan Pocic||LSU||6’7", 302|
|3||Mason Cole||Michigan||6’5", 305|
|4||Tyler Orlosky||West Virginia||6’4", 296|
|5||Kyle Fuller||Baylor||6’5", 315|
Cornerback is another position at which the list of top-end talent easily could have expanded to include five more names. Whether a team prefers a big, physical cornerback to play outside in press-man or a quick-footed, shifty option to handle the slot, there are choices to go around in this year’s cornerback class.
Desmond King falls shy of the noteworthy 6-foot line for cornerbacks, but you wouldn’t know it by how he plays. He can play in all coverages, although the way he reads and reacts could push him toward a zone-heavy team. Either way, he’ll step up in run support. Quincy Wilson falls into that physical-corner category. Sidney Jones does, too, even though he runs about 40 pounds lighter. Jourdan Lewis is among the smallest of the bunch, but he mirrors receivers’ routes incredibly well with his quick feet and finishes plays. He, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley all will be on the field together in two weeks — Conley was the first name left off, and he has first-round potential, which just goes to show what a loaded group this is.
Defining a player as a safety these days — even when adding the "free" or "strong" designation — rarely tells the whole story. Safeties obviously have to be able to cover ground deep against the pass, but more than ever they also have to be forceful against the run and be able to handle any offensive position in coverage. This position will have a significant impact in the draft’s first round.
|1||Jonathan Allen||Alabama||6’3", 294|
|2||Malik McDowell||Michigan State||6’6", 276|
|3||Jarron Jones||Notre Dame||6’5½”, 315|
|4||Eddie Vanderdoes||UCLA||6’4", 305|
|5||Charles Walker||Oklahoma||6’2", 304|
|6||Chris Wormley||Michigan||6’6", 302|
|7||Carlos Watkins||Clemson||6’3", 305|
|8||Larry Ogunjobi||Charlotte||6’3", 253|
|9||Lowell Lotulelei||Utah||6’2", 310|
|10||Montravius Adams||Auburn||6’4", 309|
Where do you play Jabrill Peppers? How about: Anywhere. O.K., he’s not going to line up along the D-line, but the worries about finding an exact position fit for him are overblown — he’s an out-of-this-world athlete who can be a matchup buster for a defense. Malik Hooker is cut from a similar cloth, maybe not quite as dynamic as Peppers but a Swiss Army knife safety. Jamal Adams is another potential Pro Bowler at the next level. He is outstanding playing high coverage, but like Hooker and Peppers he’s capable of stepping into the box. Justin Evans and Armani Watts will have Texas A&M well-represented — their draft position will flip-flop depending on team. The Deone Bucannon comp has been a popular one for Peppers. There’s some of his game in Baker, too.
This article originally appeared on SI.com.
|1||Myles Garrett||Texas A&M||6’5", 262|
|2||Derek Barnett||Tennessee||6’3", 265|
|3||Tim Williams||Alabama||6’4", 252|
|4||Takarrist McKinley||UCLA||6’4", 230|
|5||DeMarcus Walker||Florida State||6’4", 280|
|6||Charles Harris||Missouri||6’3", 235|
|7||Carl Lawson||Auburn||6’2", 253|
|8||Ryan Anderson||Alabama||6’2", 253|
|9||Dawuane Smoot||Illinois||6’3", 265|
|10||Harold Landry||Boston College||6’3", 250|
|1||Reuben Foster||Alabama||6’1", 240|
|2||Raekwon McMillan||Ohio State||6’2", 243|
|3||Zach Cunningham||Vanderbilt||6’4", 230|
|4||Jarrad Davis||Florida||6’2", 238|
|5||Kendell Beckwith||LSU||6’3", 247|
|6||Anthony Walker||Northwestern||6’1", 235|
|7||Jaylen Reeves-Maybin||Tennessee||6’0", 230|
|8||Vince Biegel||Wisconsin||6’4", 245|
|9||Micah Kiser||Virginia||6’2", 240|
|10||Hardy Nickerson||Illinois||6’0", 230|
|1||Desmond King||Iowa||5’11", 203|
|2||Quincy Wilson||Florida||6’1", 213|
|3||Sidney Jones||Washington||6’0", 181|
|4||Jourdan Lewis||Michigan||5’11", 186|
|5||Marshon Lattimore||Ohio State||6’0", 192|
|6||Jalen Tabor||Florida||6’0", 191|
|7||Marlon Humphrey||Alabama||6’1", 198|
|8||Cordrea Tankersley||Clemson||6’1", 200|
|9||Tre’Davious White||LSU||6’0", 197|
|10||Adoree Jackson||USC||5’11", 185|
|1||Jabrill Peppers||Michigan||6’1", 205|
|2||Jamal Adams||LSU||6’1", 213|
|3||Malik Hooker||Ohio State||6’2", 205|
|4||Justin Evans||Texas A&M||6’1", 195|
|5||Budda Baker||Washington||5’10", 192|
|6||Marcus Maye||Florida||6’0", 215|
|7||Armani Watts||Texas A&M||5’11", 200|
|8||Eddie Jackson||Alabama||6’0", 194|
|9||Marcus Williams||Utah||6’1", 195|
|10||Quin Blanding||Virginia||6’2", 215|