2017 NFL Draft: Top 25 Rankings Before the Scouting Combine
With the NFL Scouting Combine only a week away, how do the top 25 prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft rank right now?
It’s that time of the offseason. The NFL Scouting Combine is a mere seven days away, marking the first of several pre-draft events that will help shape and shift how the 2017 NFL Draft plays out at the end of April.
The upcoming festivities in Indianapolis play a huge part in determining the landscape of the NFL Draft. Many prospects suffer serious slides as a result of the Combine, while many others shoot up the board after wowing during workouts.
For now, though, we should focus on what the rankings look like before the action in Indianapolis. It’s an opportunity to see where we sit before all of the 40-yard dashes and vertical measurements skew our views of some of the 2017 draft class’ top talent. As we all know, the numbers can blind even the brightest of minds.
So here we are, a week before the draft, looking at my pre-Combine 2017 NFL Draft big board. Also keep in mind that these rankings will absolutely change between now and the beginning of the draft on April 27.
25. Jarrad Davis, ILB – Florida
It’s not very often inside linebackers are seen as first-round talents. This offseason, though, there could be as many as three to come off the board on Day 1. One of those three that I’m particularly fond of is Jarrad Davis.
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The former Gators star is everything you want in an inside linebacker. Not only is he a force against the run, but he’s a surprisingly reliable presence in the passing game and brings tremendous leadership both on and off the field. All of the tools are there for him to be a star early in his NFL career.
There are many in the draft community who don’t think as highly of Davis as myself. I’ve seen him mentioned as an early- to mid-second round selection by most folks with a respectable opinion. However, I’m very confident his talents warrant a first-round pick falling somewhere in the mid- to late-20s.
No matter when Davis comes off the board, his new team is sure to be very happy with the end results. His effort and tenacity are contagious, and they show in the impact he makes on game days. We’ll soon be talking about the Florida product as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.
24. Takkarist McKinley, OLB – UCLA
To the surprise of no one, there’s an abundance of edge rusher talent in the 2017 draft class. However, if it wasn’t for his lack of size and strength, Takkarist McKinley may easily warrant a top-10 selection.
The UCLA product is at his best when rushing the passer. He’s got an amazing get-off, with the speed, acceleration and burst to leave offensive tackles in his dust. You put him on the edge of an NFL defense, and there’s a very good chance he’ll be racking up huge sack totals for the next decade.
Unfortunately, he is a bit undersized, especially for a defensive end. That means he’ll likely fit best at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He’ll be given every opportunity to add weight and power upon entering an NFL-caliber strength program, but it’s clear McKinley has a long ways to go in that department.
Purely in terms of his edge-rushing abilities, though, McKinley is a star in the making. The speed and bend he displays on film is uncanny. Assuming he lands in the right defense and puts on a few pounds, we could soon see him landing among the NFL’s sack leaders on an annual basis.
23. DeShaun Watson, QB – Clemson
Here it is—the first of only two quarterbacks on my big board. I’m not very confident in this year’s class of gunslingers, even going as far as leaving one of the top three out of my top 25. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t significant potential in the bunch.
DeShaun Watson is certainly capable of being a star at the next level. He’s done a great job of leading the Tigers to consecutive title appearances, including a clutch win this past season. It’s clear he offers tremendous poise and confidence under pressure, and is more than capable of earning Ws.
However, there are some concerns that could make potential suitors wary of the Clemson product. The biggest issue on film is Watson’s accuracy, which can be a bit inconsistent at times. He does tend to miss easy throws on occasion, and especially struggles on deep routes.
Still, there’s a ton to like about Watson as well. He’s a tremendous athlete, and does a great job of making plays with his feet. The arm strength is also there, and he obviously possesses the leadership qualities you want in a franchise quarterback. It’s unclear where he could land on draft day, but the early parts of Day 1 seem ideal for a player of his abilities.
22. Taco Charlton, DE – Michigan
There are a lot of big-name edge rushers in this draft class, but the one riser who doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves is Taco Charlton. Sure, he’s been ranked high on some prominent big boards. In general, though, he’s been overlooked at this point in the pre-draft process.
Based on his 2016 performance, there’s plenty to like about his prospects as a pro. The Michigan product was a sensational playmaker off the edge, recording 10 sacks throughout this past season. He quickly caught fire and the eyes of scouts, earning this designation as we move towards the end of February.
I really like Charlton’s motor and versatility. He’s capable of playing defensive end in a 4-3 or 3-4, and may even have the athleticism to make an impact as a 3-4 outside linebacker. While I wouldn’t put him among the class’ top pure pass rushers, he’s definitely capable of creating consistent pressure off the edge.
Given more time to develop his all-around game, I believe Charlton could emerge as a standout defensive end at the next level. I don’t think he’ll ever push for an All-Pro selection, but a couple of Pro Bowl nods wouldn’t be out of the question.
21. David Njoku, TE – Miami (FL)
At this moment, there are a lot of mixed opinions on David Njoku. I think the mentions of him as the No. 1 tight end have soured the public on him as a prospect, but the Combine will be the perfect opportunity to convince folks he’s a talent worth taking seriously.
By that, I mean Njoku is an absolute monster when it comes to athleticism. He’s got the size, speed and explosiveness to turn a lot of heads in Indianapolis. And we all know how much a player’s draft stock can rise after an impressive showing at the Combine.
There are some initial concerns about the former Hurricane, though. He only has one year of outstanding production, and is relatively young as a redshirt sophomore. Njoku needs more development, but has everything NFL scouts love in tight end prospects.
He can catch, he can block and he can simply overwhelm a defense. There’s some uncertainty because he’s still an unfinished product, but a dominant showing at the Combine could convince the league as a whole to bump him far up draft boards.
20. Tre’Davious White, CB – LSU
I’m a bit surprised Tre’Davious White doesn’t get more love from the draft community as a whole. More often than not, I see him listed as an early- to mid-second round talent. In my opinion, he should be one of the first few cornerbacks off the board.
What really sets White apart are his instincts. Put simply, the LSU product is always finding a way to make big plays in coverage. Whether he’s flying up to deliver a hit on a screen, or shutting down his receiver in man-to-man, there isn’t much he’s incapable of achieving from the cornerback position.
There are some concerns, however, he’ll hope to address during the Combine. He’s only expected to run an average 40-yard dash, and doesn’t offer the ideal length NFL teams are currently looking for. It also doesn’t help how loaded the 2017 draft class is at cornerback.
Still, the film I’ve watched shows a player capable of making big plays early and often in the NFL. There are some technique issues that need work, but I’m confident White will develop into a starting-caliber cornerback in the near future.
19. Derek Barnett, DE – Tennessee
There is plenty of edge talent in the 2017 draft class, and Derek Barnett is definitely one of the players to keep an eye on in the coming months. However, due to certain limitations, we find him here at No. 19 instead of in the top 10.
If you’re focused solely on production, Barnett should be a top-five pick this year. He was absolutely deadly off the edge last season, and it showed on the stat sheet. In three years at Tennessee, Barnett racked up a whopping 33 sacks, including 13 in 2016. It’s clear he’s more than capable of getting after the quarterback.
Unfortunately, he’s a bit limited in terms of athleticism and may have a relatively low ceiling as a pass-rushing specialist. Spending a top-10 pick for a guy who can only shine on passing downs isn’t exactly ideal. Barnett is also inconsistent with his get off, which can make a big difference in the NFL.
Barnett has plenty of potential as a pass rusher, but he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Unless he can convince teams he’s capable of holding his own as a run defender, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide into the later parts of the first round.
18. Christian McCaffrey, RB – Stanford
I’m really not sure why Christian McCaffrey continues to get the cold shoulder from the draft community. Put on the tape and you see a do-it-all superstar with the potential to go for six on any given play. So what’s the hang up here?
Yes, he’s coming off a 2016 campaign during which an undisclosed injury cost him a game and limited his effectiveness at times. Yes, he skipped Stanford’s bowl game in order to begin preparations for the draft. Two understandable knocks, but not big enough to drop a first-round talent to the second half of Day 2.
McCaffrey may not be the true workhorse back that some of the class’ other top backs appear to be. However, when you look at everything he brings to the table, he may end up offering more value overall. Not only is he a tremendous, natural runner with great vision, patience and elusiveness, but he’s also a dynamic weapon out of the backfield and as a returner.
All it takes is an innovative offensive coordinator to turn McCaffrey into a Pro Bowler. He’s got the natural abilities to be a star—just put the ball in his hands and let him work his magic. Even if he falls to the end of Day 1, his future team is going to be very happy.
17. Quincy Wilson, CB – Florida
Man, this class is loaded with cornerback talent. To start the season, it looked like it would be Teez Tabor earning the designation as the can’t-miss cornerback prospect out of Florida. Instead, it turned out to be Quincy Wilson who has NFL teams drooling over his sky-high potential.
Right now, it appears Wilson is all athleticism and instincts in coverage. He does a great job of reading and reacting, excelling in man-to-man with his ability to quickly flip his hips and run with receivers. Much like a few of the other cornerbacks on this big board, he’s got the upside to develop into a cover man worthy of the “shutdown” designation.
Wilson will need to work on his effectiveness in run support. He also doesn’t appear to be a big-time ballhawk, but does a great job of getting a hand on the football and keeping it away from opponents.
At this point, Tabor seems like more of a boom-or-bust type of prospect. Meanwhile, Wilson appears to have a slightly lower ceiling with a higher floor. That’s why he makes this pre-Combine draft board while Tabor is sitting just outside of my top 25.
16. Forrest Lamp, G – Western Kentucky
Considering the uncertain state of this year’s offensive line class, it’s no surprise a fast riser came out of nowhere to steal the hearts of NFL scouts. Yes, I’m talking about “small-school” talent Forrest Lamp.
The Western Kentucky product has quickly worked his way up draft boards after going relatively unnoticed throughout the 2016 campaign. His performance during the Senior Bowl, though, was a big part to his sudden rise. Once people heard his name and started watching film, the exponential growth of his value was only hastened.
Lamp actually played left tackle for the Hilltoppers, but seems destined for a move inside at the next level. He possesses ideal size and strength to win along the interior, and shows enough movement skills to warrant serious first-round consideration.
Depending on where he lands, Lamp could earn significant snaps sooner rather than later. Especially if he tests well at the Combine, we could see him push to be the top offensive lineman off the board in 2017.
15. Sidney Jones, CB – Washington
On the surface, Sidney Jones looks like an undersized cornerback for today’s NFL. However, when watching the film, you see a tough, tenacious player capable of overwhelming receivers on the edge.
It also helps that he’s about as feisty of a cornerback as you can ask for. Put simply, he wins with his ability to keep opponents on their heels. Jones may be a tad on the small side, but there’s no denying the Washington product can win at the next level.
Realistically, I’m being conservative placing him at No. 15. However, several folks have mentioned Jones as a shutdown cornerback in the making. As more people start to review the former Husky’s film, they’ll find out what all of the hype is about. He’s tough, physical, isn’t afraid to step up against the run, and shows tremendous awareness in coverage.
If it wasn’t for Jones’ size limitations, he’d likely be higher up this list. However, after what should be a strong showing at the Combine, I’m guessing he’ll see his stock continue to rise. NFL teams love the suffocating type of defense he plays on the edge, which should see him come off the board in the first half of Day 1.
14. Mitch Trubisky, QB – North Carolina
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of sure-fire quarterback prospects in the 2017 draft class. However, if I had to pinpoint one who appears to have the brightest future, it’s Mitch Trubisky.
There are obviously some issues Trubisky will need to address once he enters the league. He shows good accuracy, but it could afford to be better in the future. It’s also a concern for interested teams when you consider he only spent one year as the starter for North Carolina.
Then again, the skills he put on film are why those aforementioned interested teams even exist. The former Tar Heel shows excellent athleticism, and possesses plenty of arm talent. He’s got the strength to make all of the NFL throws, and shows good awareness in the pocket. Trubisky did seem to fall apart in some games, but more often than not he set the field on fire.
As happens every year, there are going to be plenty of mixed opinions on the quarterback class. Based on what I’ve seen, though, I’m confident Trubisky will be the best of the bunch. We’ll see if he can convince others of that during the Combine.
13. O.J. Howard, TE – Alabama
There are a lot of mixed opinions on O.J. Howard at this moment. However, following his performance at the Senior Bowl, it’s clear he’s a prospect on the rise as we move through the later parts of February.
Possessing a massive frame, reliable hands and the athleticism to make waves in the passing game, Howard will certainly appeal to tight end-needy teams. Although he was underutilized at Alabama, it’s obvious he’s got the tools to be a star in the NFL if given the opportunity.
Howard wins with his impressive mix of size and speed, often pulling away from slower linebackers and safeties. Even when someone matches his speed, he uses his reliable hands and large body to put himself in position for the catch. It also helps that he’s capable of proving quality support as a run blocker.
When it all comes down to it, Howard appears to be the complete package at tight end. Based on what we know right now, he could land anywhere from the middle to later parts of the first round. A strong showing at the Combine, though, could elevate him to the early parts of Day 1.
12. Dalvin Cook, RB – Florida State
While he may not be the top back in this draft, there’s a lot to like about Dalvin Cook. The Seminoles’ star runner has shown the ability to single-handedly change the outcome of a game with his unique mix of speed, vision and explosiveness.
Unfortunately, there are some concerns that could force Cook to fall on draft day. Many teams will be digging into his past, which includes a few red flags when it comes to character. He’s dealt with domestic violence charges, and also received a citation for animal abuse. Teams will be wary of his off-field issues heading into the draft.
In terms of overall talent, though, it’s hard to question Cook as worthy of a first-round pick. He possesses the speed to kill teams on the outside, and the grittiness to grind out the tough yards on the inside. Assuming he can fix his fumbling woes, the former Florida State star shouldn’t have too much trouble in his transition to the pros.
As long as more red flags don’t pop up, Cook seems like a lock for the first round. Even with the unstable value of running backs in today’s NFL, he simply possesses too much potential to stay on the board past Day 1.
11. Ryan Ramczyk, OT – Wisconsin
The status of this year’s offensive linemen seems so uncertain at this point. Heading into the 2016 campaign, Cam Robinson was seen as a potential top-five pick. Now, he’s not even in my top 25.
Instead, one-year starter Ryan Ramczyk has found his way onto most big boards as the top offensive lineman before the Combine. It’s not exactly a reassuring situation for front five-needy teams, but Ramczyk certainly earned the designation this past season.
What I believe sets the former Badger apart is his mix of size, athleticism and smarts at offensive tackle. He does a great job of using his footwork to keep pass rushers at bay, while showing enough power to create movement in the ground game. To top it off, Ramczyk has plenty more room for growth after one year at the FBS level.
Some teams will be turned off by his lack of experience. However, Ramczyk is more than capable of developing into a starting left tackle in the near future. Some more time and coaching could bring out the best in this budding star.
10. Mike Williams, WR – Clemson
This may come as a shock to some, but Mike Williams is not my top-ranked wide receiver. I’m sorry, but I’m just not convinced he’s this year’s best pass catcher or the elite talent many see him as.
Now don’t get me wrong—Williams can be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL. That’s why I have him ranked at No. 10 in the first place. I just don’t necessarily think he’s quite ready to live up to the hype at this point in his young football career.
Sure, he’s got the size, strength and physicality to cause serious headaches for opposing secondaries. He’s also got reliable hands, and obviously knows how to step up in big games after securing a National Championship this past season. My only concern is his lack of top-end speed, which will make his Scouting Combine performance all the more important.
When it all comes down to it, I see a little Laquon Treadwell in Williams. All of the physical tools are there, but injuries and average speed could see him struggle out of the gates. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just the way I see it heading into the final few days of February.
9. Jonathan Allen, DT – Alabama
I must be missing something, because I’m not buying what most folks are selling when it comes to Jonathan Allen. Sure, he earned all of the accolades at Alabama and looked like a freak for most of the 2016 campaign. Still, there’s just something that doesn’t sit right in my opinion.
Maybe it’s the confusion regarding what his position will be at the next level. He’s got the athleticism to play outside, but the size and power to play inside. I feel like lots of those types of prospects get bounced around, or get stuck in a situation that doesn’t best suite their skills.
Or maybe it’s just the fact that he played for the Crimson Tide. Many of their defensive tackles end up at the top of these early draft boards, but eventually slide on draft day. Just ask Jarrad Reed and A’Shawn Robinson from last year. Both were routinely mocked in the first round, and ended up as Day 2 selections.
I like what I see on film with Allen. He’s got tremendous burst, makes smart plays and shows more movement than a man of his size should. However, there’s just something about him that screams “bust” to me. Maybe I’ll figure it out between now and the end of April.
8. Jamal Adams, S – LSU
When you put on the film, it’s difficult to deny that Jamal Adams is a big-time playmaker. He’s a tremendous athlete with ball skills, big-hitting abilities and the speed to fly around the field. Unfortunately, I’m starting to believe he’s not ready to live up the hype.
Most folks view him as a top-five lock at this point in the pre-draft process. It’s understandable how they came to that conclusion, but it seems his value is being a bit blown out of proportion.
Side by side, Adams is nowhere near the prospect Malik Hooker appears to be. He doesn’t have the same instincts in coverage, and doesn’t possess the same awareness either. Some might say he’s a better enforcer on the backend, but even that can be a disadvantage at times.
Now don’t get me wrong—Adams has all the makings of a star at safety. I wouldn’t go as far as comparing him to Tyrann Mathieu like many folks have, but it’s clear he’s got the physical tools to excel at the next level. Is he overrated at the moment? Absolutely. Will he still warrant a top-10 pick when the 2017 NFL Draft rolls around? You bet.
7. Corey Davis, WR – Western Michigan
Boom! I know this isn’t exactly a new concept, but I’m currently in the club that has Corey Davis ranked ahead of Williams. The “small-school” product has elite wide receiver written all over him.
Just look at the size and physicality he brings to the table. He’s 6-3, 215 pounds and sports a muscular frame that allows him to overpower smaller cornerbacks and safeties. Davis was a big fish in a small pond at Western Michigan, which is exactly what you’d expect for a prospect in his situation.
It’s not just his size that helps him win in the passing game, though. Davis is surprisingly fast, and does a great job of making big plays after the catch. Although I’d anticipate a short adjustment period once he gets to the next level, he has a toolbox full of abilities that’ll make the transition quick and easy.
There are some concerns about his recent minor ankle surgery, which could keep him out of pre-draft workouts. Watching the tape, though, should show scouts everywhere just the type of impact Davis can make.
6. Marshon Lattimore, CB – Ohio State
In today’s NFL, teams are constantly searching for the next Richard Sherman. While I’m not entirely convinced Marshon Lattimore is ready to live up to those type of expectations, he has the makings of a shutdown cornerback.
When it comes to physical tools, Lattimore checks just about every box on the list. The former Buckeye has the speed, length, physicality and ball skills to be an impact cover man very early in his career. We saw in 2016 the type of playmaker he can be, evidenced by his 41 tackles, four interceptions and nine defended passes.
Although it may have helped playing in an absurdly talented Ohio State secondary, there’s no denying Lattimore can hold his own. A strong showing during the Combine should confirm his standing as this year’s No.1 cornerback.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying he has the potential to be drafted No. 2 overall like NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah. However, based on what we’ve seen so far from Lattimore, a top-five selection certainly isn’t out of the question. All of the skills are there for him to develop into a shutdown cornerback in the very near future.
5. Reuben Foster, ILB – Alabama
It’s not very often a linebacker of Reuben Foster’s potential comes along. As you’re probably guessing by his position on the big board, though, this guy’s ceiling is astronomically high.
Put simply, Foster flies around the football field in a way most linebackers can’t. Against the run, he takes advantage of tremendous speed and short-area quickness to work his way past blockers and stop the ball carrier. Against the pass, he’s a reliable option who has the athleticism to stick with most running backs and tight ends.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper even went as far as saying he was the best inside linebacker prospect to ever come out of Alabama. That would insinuate he’s a superior talent to C.J. Mosley, who was 17th overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014.
I’m not sure if he’ll have that type of impact in the NFL—no one is. However, if he can turn out to be anything like Mosley, whichever team lands Foster will be very happy with the end results. The former Crimson Tide star needs some work, but has everything he needs to be a star very early in his NFL career.
4. Solomon Thomas, DE – Stanford
This may seem a tad high for Solomon Thomas, but I’m a firm believer he’s one of the 2017 class’ most underrated prospects. In fact, I’m even going as far as saying he’s better than Allen, assumed by many to be the consensus No. 2 defensive lineman.
While I wouldn’t put him ahead of Myles Garrett, Thomas is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is he explosive and powerful, but he’s got tremendous athleticism and burst to make life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Thomas also brings a lot of value due to his versatility. He can line up inside as a three technique, or outside on the edge. Whether he ends up in a 3-4 or 4-3, he’s got the flexibility to fit in and make an early impact in the NFL. No matter what opposing offenses throw at him, you can bet he’ll be wrecking havoc and filling the highlight reel.
What I truly believe sets Thomas apart is his passion, determination and leadership. He was the heart and soul of the Stanford defense this past season, and it showed more than ever during the team’s Sun Bowl win. The entire NFL would love to have that type of contagious effort and emotion on their sidelines.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB – LSU
Unless you’re nitpicking, there isn’t a lot to dislike about Leonard Fournette. The former top-ranked recruit is a dynamic talent, possessing the combination of size and speed that results in the type of workhorse back that’s become rare in today’s NFL.
Realistically, he may be one of the most feared runners to enter the league in recent years. Although he isn’t fond of making people miss, he will intimidate defenders with his power and aggressiveness as a runner. Whether he’s putting a shoulder down or delivering a deadly stiff arm, Fournette always finds ways to punish potential tacklers.
He still needs work as a receiver, but is capable of making an impact in the passing game. Fournette’s blocking is also a work in progress, but he’s shown improvement during his three years at LSU.
Although it’s unclear when he’ll come off the board, there’s no denying Fournette has Top 5 talent. Unfortunately for the former Tiger, running backs aren’t exactly valued very high in the first round. Then again, Ezekiel Elliott was taken No. 4 overall in 2016 and found his way into the MVP conversation.
2. Malik Hooker, S – Ohio State
The 2017 draft class is loaded with safety talent, and Malik Hooker is the cream of the crop. The former Buckeye is one of the most instinctive, playmaking safeties we’ve ever seen come out of college. That’s why he rightful sits at No. 2 heading into the Combine.
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There just doesn’t appear to be anything he can’t do well. Whether he’s using his ballhawking skills to pick off a pass or stepping up and laying the wood against the run, Hooker finds a way to shine. And when he does get his hands on the football, expect him to their the interception into six points.
The tackling isn’t perfect—Hooker will miss from time to time, often due to over-aggressiveness. However, more often than not, he makes the play in the open field. I wouldn’t consider him a heavy hitter, but he can definitely put a hurting on runners when given the opportunity.
Especially in today’s NFL with so many big, athletic tight ends, safeties who are capable of covering them are as valuable as ever. With his size and length, Hooker appears to fit the bill with the potential to quickly develop into one of the league’s best.
1. Myles Garrett, DE – Texas A&M
At this point, is there any reason to suggest Myles Garrett isn’t the top overall prospect of the 2017 NFL Draft? I don’t think so, and I’m sure plenty of folks would back me in that assertion. Obviously a lot can change between now and late April, but Garrett is the clear-cut top talent at this point. Not only does he possess all of the physical tools to be a star in the NFL, but the production and film prove he’s capable of being a dynamic edge rusher at the next level.
Putting on the tape, you’ll see a naturally gifted defensive end who explodes off the snap to put offensive tackles on their heels. On top of that, he’s got the bend to consistently get around the edge and keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Barring some colossal meltdown during the Combine, Garrett should go No. 1 overall. He’s easily this year’s top prospect at this moment, and plays a position of huge value in today’s NFL. Whether it’s the Cleveland Browns taking him or another team that trades up to No. 1, Garrett should be the first man off the board.