Nov 5, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) scores a touchdown on his forth quarter run against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 48-20. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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Our latest 2017 NFL Mock Draft at Week 9 of the season with the Cleveland Browns doing the (almost) unthinkable.
We’ve reached the midway point of the 2016 NFL season and things are still as fluid as after Week 1. Just when you think early-season disappointments are about to jump out of their rut, they regress back to their troubling habits. Meanwhile, teams that looked like contenders are starting to falter. Perhaps the only constants this season have been Tom Brady upon his return and the Cleveland Browns not winning games. Why yes, that does sound like the perfect time for a 2017 NFL Mock Draft.
Both teams in the cellar-dwelling position of the Browns and atop the league like the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys are already looking ahead to their future. In both success and a lack thereof, the areas where improvement is needed come to light. With the college football season still in full-swing and with the NFL standings forever fluctuating, an NFL mock draft is based on player-value and team need. Things will change, but we have to go off what we know currently.
For this midseason mock, the draft order will be determined by our latest NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 9 of the season. There will also be no trades at this point that we’ll work with, though spots where that’s possible will be evident.
Shall we get to the fun? Buckle in for this 2017 NFL Mock Draft at the midway point of the year. The Cleveland Browns are on the clock.
Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) in action during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
DE, Texas A&M
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is rapidly rising up draft boards, even more so than he was before. In fact, some prospect rankings have him as the top player in the 2017 draft. Despite Allen’s immense talents and how worthy he is of the praise he’s receiving, that’s a mistake in my opinion. The best player in this class remains defensive end Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M.
Garrett has the unique blend of size and athleticism that makes teams in need of an edge-rusher drool. Watching him on the field, it’s often mesmerizing to see a player at 6-4, 268 pounds move with the quickness and agility that the Aggies end does. He can disrupt almost every play he’s on the field for. Perhaps what makes him even more special is the fact that Garrett could get even better in an NFL weight-training program and with more experience.
The Browns have needs all over their depth chart, especially with Joe Haden potentially leaving. While the predominant belief is that they need a first-round quarterback, I’ve steadfastly maintained they can’t afford to pass on Garrett at No. 1. Players of his caliber are a rarity and his position is so immensely valuable in today’s league. Without thinking twice, this is the pick Cleveland has to make.
Nov 5, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Syracuse Orange at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
NFL scouts collectively held their breath on Saturday in Week 10 of the college season when watching the Clemson Tigers play the Syracuse Orange. In the second quarter, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson went down with a shoulder injury that forced him out of action. He didn’t return to the game, but is diagnosed with just a bruised shoulder. Thankfully, it’s nothing serious to where the San Francisco 49ers wouldn’t select him with the second-overall pick.
Watson entered the year as the best quarterback in the 2017 draft class, but many feel that he’s not produced and progressed at levels that they expected him to. However, the Tigers quarterback still has all the tools to develop into a dangerous weapon at quarterback in the NFL. He’s an accurate thrower with elite athleticism for his position. While Watson offers the ability to gain yardage with his legs, he’s most valuable as a passer.
It’s no secret that the 49ers are coming into this draft in need of a quarterback. In one of the least shocking developments of 2016, neither Blaine Gabbert nor Colin Kaepernick appear to be the long-term solution in the Bay Area. Whether Chip Kelly remains around or not, the Niners have to improve at the most important position on the field and Watson is a player that does that for them immediately.
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
QB, North Carolina
Talk about a player rising up draft boards throughout the college football season, North Carolina Tar Heels junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky wasn’t sniffing the first round when the year began. However, as he’s put forth one of the most impressive seasons in the country by players not named Lamar Jackson or not playing in a air-raid offense, the talent of the UNC signal-caller has become undeniable.
In terms of physical tools, Trubisky has everything you can ask for. He possesses the arm strength to break off big chunks of yardage down the field consistently while also being able to remain accurate all over the field. The Tar Heels quarterback is also a fantastic athlete with the ability and feel for the game to create plays, buy himself time, and simply make positive things happen for his offense. The biggest knock on him is inconsistency, which leads to questionable mechanics on his throws at times. However, with more coaching and experience, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.
Whether the Chicago Bears move on from Jay Cutler this offseason or not, they need to start developing their quarterback of the future. Trubisky has proven this season that he can be just that. Moreover, a year behind Cutler (should he stay in the Windy City) could help him get the necessary coaching to be ready to take over the Bears sooner rather than later.
Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) hits Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
As previously stated, Allen is a player that’s been vaulting up prospect rankings of late. The Alabama defensive lineman has been absolutely wrecking opposing offenses with regularity this season. Measuring in at 6-3, 291 pounds, it’s hard to believe that he’s able to move as well and show the explosiveness he’s capable of near unfailingly.
What makes Allen a truly special prospect is the versatility that he offers on the defensive line. Allen has a singular trait in his position group in that he could be both a defensive tackle or an end at the next level. Often matters of size, strength, speed, and athleticism in some combination force a player’s hand into what they’re going to be in the NFL. However, that’s not the case with Allen. Even against the vaunted offensive lines in the SEC, Allen has no problem getting pressure up the middle against both the run and pass. However, his quickness and framed make it feasible for him to become an edge-rusher at the next level on the end.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have spent plenty of draft capital on improving their defense in recent years. Just last year, they took cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the first round. That pick looks like a sure-fire hit, but their defense as a whole is still getting gashed on a weekly basis. The Jags have to find players who can take pressure and attention off of Malik Jackson on the interior with consistency. Allen, no matter where he winds up playing, could be that guy in Jacksonville.
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) attempts a pass as Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) defends during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
For all fo the versatility that Allen brings the table on the defensive line, Jabrill Peppers brings even more behind it. Peppers’ ability to switch to different roles on the Michigan Wolverines defense on a play-to-play basis is uncanny. He wears so many hats (effectively, it should be noted) that ESPN was even keeping a track of all of the different positions he lined up at last week against Michigan State. The fact that a player even necessitates that seems surreal—but Peppers is a surreal talent.
Despite the New York Jets bringing a vaunted defense into the 2016 season, that unit has largely been lackluster. While they’ve had success in stuffing the run consistently, they’ve been getting burned behind the front-four. There’s a need in both the secondary and linebacker core for an influx of talent. Subsequently, Peppers is the perfect prospect to come in and work under head coach Todd Bowles.
While it could depend on both free agency and the rest of their draft, Peppers could potentially fill two major needs for the Jets. If you’re thinking that they might be okay at strong safety with Calvin Pryor, they certainly believe so. However, the talent and versatility of the Michigan star offers New York the chance to add a new element. By inserting Peppers into a hybrid-linebacker position (a la Deone Bucannon), the Jets would be able to help their pass-coverage as well as maintaining their effectiveness against the run. Moreover, Peppers’ value in special teams as a returner can’t be understated either. He could be just the spark that both units in New York need.
Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) before a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Carolina Panthers find themselves in a difficult position entering the 2017 NFL Draft, by no fault of their own of course. After entering 2016 as one of the favorites in the NFC, they’ve fallen incredibly short of those and now are knocking on the door of a top-five pick. Why that’s somewhat problematic for this Panthers team, though, is that they aren’t really in a position to address their biggest issues.
While some people may point to the secondary without Josh Norman as the biggest issue, much of their issues there are a product of their youth as a whole. The hope would be that players would progress moving forward. Regardless, taking a defensive back here seems unlikely. Another glaring issue people point to is their offensive line, which has been abysmal this season. However, the 2017 class pales in comparison to last year’s in terms of offensive linemen. They aren’t yet desperate enough to make the reach that they’d have to if they were to take a tackle.
Instead, they get Leonard Fournette out of LSU with the No. 6 pick. Jonathan Stewart is on his last legs in the Panthers backfield and Cameron Artis-Payne isn’t a long-term replacement option. Fournette, however, would be. The Tigers running back runs with speed, elusiveness, power, and burst all in one package. He can make something happen almost any time the ball is in his hands. So while other needs might appear more pressing, Fournette is too enticing of a prospect at another position of need to pass up.
Sep 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) in action during the game against the USC Trojans at AT&T Stadium. Alabama defeats USC 52-6. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Yes, I realize that I just got through saying that taking an offensive lineman this early would be crazy for the Panthers as it would be a reach. Indeed, it would be crazy for the Panthers. For the Indianapolis Colts, however, they really don’t have any other choice. And the only potentially elite offensive tackle in this draft is Cam Robinson out of Alabama, who Indy takes at No. 7 in this mock.
Robinson is far from the same level of prospect that player like Laremy Tunsil, Jack Conklin, Ronnie Stanley, and others from last year’s class were. However, he has the size and physical tools to develop into a high-quality player on the edge of the line at the next level. Making the leap to the pro ranks, he’s going to have to work on his technique dropping back into pass protection, especially with some of the inconsistent footwork he shows. However, he has the agility for a player his size where that’s totally feasible.
Why the Colts have to take Robinson here, though, is the simple fact that they’re going to get Andrew Luck killed in their current state. Luck is a superstar talent at quarterback, but general manager Ryan Grigson has done an abysmal job of putting players up front to protect him. So while Indianapolis also needs talent on the defensive side of the ball, Robinson has to be the pick as they have to better protect their franchise player.
Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) and defensive back Andraez Williams (29) celebrate after a defensive stop against the Mississippi Rebels during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It doesn’t take much diving into tape and scouting reports to fall in love with LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams. The big man has highlights that absolutely jump off the film and into your heart as a football fan. However, you can’t base a player’s value as an NFL prospect solely off his highlights. That being said, his overall body of work is unquestionably impressive. Adams has the potential to be a star safety as a pro.
Though much bigger at 6-0, 211 pounds, Adams’ abilities as a safety have been likened to that of another LSU great in Tyrann Mathieu. Any time that you’re being compared to the Honey Badger, you might be doing some great things on the gridiron. Not only does Adams have the ability to drop back in coverage and defend passes (as well as create turnovers as a ball-hawk), but he’s also capable of laying the wood with big hits both in the open field and coming up to stop the run.
The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in a tough spot as Joe Flacco’s enormous contract ties their hands a great deal financially as to who they can add. Flacco hasn’t been elite as of late and the offense has suffered because of it. That said, no player at this spot is really going to change that all too much. Adams, on the other hand, gives Baltimore needed depth at safety and a potential star in the process. The LSU product could truly emerge as the next Ravens great on the defensive side of the ball.
Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) walks onto the field before the game against the Missouri Tigers during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor
Pick via Los Angeles Rams
In a draft class that’s littered with top-tier defensive prospects, Teez Tabor is the best cornerback in the group. That says a great deal considering the depth and quality of the other players at the position that will be available come April’s draft. However, it’s undeniable when you watch what the defensive back is capable of when he’s in coverage.
Boasting impressive size on the outside at 6-0, 201 pounds, Tabor isn’t a lumbering player by any stretch when it comes to his coverage ability. He has terrific instincts and the speed, quickness, and agility to act on those instincts effectively. If there’s a knock on Tabor, the primary issue that comes to mind is the fact that he needs to be reeled in at the next level. All of the potential and ability is evident, but he gambles often at Florida and it sometimes gets him into trouble. If an NFL head coach can teach him more discipline in coverage, though, he has superstar corner potential.
Fittingly, the Tennessee Titans are in the process of developing a quality culture around their abundance of young assets. Thus, Tabor would be in a position to where he could learn the needed discipline on (and potentially off) the field. Moreover, the Titans need an upgrade over Perrish Cox in the worst way. Their secondary has been torched far too often by picking on Cox, setting this team back as a whole in 2016. Tabor is an instant upgrade that could potentially help them form one of the best corner duos in the league with Jason McCourty.
Oct 8, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) is blocked by Brigham Young Cougars offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch (78) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
DT, Michigan State
One thing I’ve said previously about Michigan State Spartans defensive tackle Malik McDowell is that I felt like his draft value was being a bit overblown. However, I truly meant just “a bit” in that he’s not worthy of a top-six pick. If a team winds up taking the big man in the Nos. 9-12 range, though, he’s talented enough to warrant it. And that’s why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers adding him to their front-seven at No. 10 makes a great deal of sense.
The junior tackle’s size jumps off the page immediately. Standing 6-5 at 282 pounds and with a strong frame, McDowell is an absolute mammoth of a man for opposing offensive linemen to have to deal with coming up the middle. What’s more impressive is that he knows how to use his strength and size to advantage to gain leverage and disrupt plays up the middle. Sure, NFL teams will want to see him bulk up further as he enters the pro ranks, but that’s an easy best considering what he already brings to the table.
For Tampa, they are a team that’s still trying to piece together an effective and quality defensive unit. While health in the front-seven has been a huge issue in that regard, so too has been the absence of a consistent force disrupting plays on the interior. McDowell may not be a game-changer right away. But with experience and the necessary physical growth, it shouldn’t be long before he’s just that for the Bucs.
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
This is yet another unexpected team to be picking as high as they are, but the Cincinnati Bengals have been wholly uninspiring this season. Their offense has taken a step back, but A.J. Green and Andy Dalton still strike fear in opponents. What’s been the most glaring issue, though, is the defense of the Bengals, particularly against the run. This was an area they excelled in not long ago, but that’s since dissipated. A lack of a star-caliber middle linebacker has been the primary issue in that regard, which is why Reuben Foster is the sensible choice with the 11th-overall pick.
Watching film on Foster is an absolute treat. The Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker—to use a tired cliche—simply has a nose for the ball. However, while that cliche is often used to talk about turnovers, the meaning in Foster’s sense is a bit different. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his game (and there are many) is his play-recognition. He has fantastic ability when it comes to seeing plays develop before they do and then has the physical tools to get to his spot and make spots. That he’s also more than capable in pass-coverage only adds to his value.
Perhaps the Bengals turn things around in the second half of the 2016 season. However, that seems unlike from what we’ve seen of them to this point. Instead, they’ll likely be picking around this spot on Day 1 of the draft. And if they were to take anyone other than Foster given their defense’s biggest need, it’d be a glaring error.
Nov 5, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) during the first quarter against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
How some people don’t see the value in Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett is beyond me. Granted, there is a no consensus on where he ranks as a prospect, but there are some that rate him as an end-of-the-first-round type talent. That seems absolutely insane to me given what he’s done at Tennessee and what he’s capable of becoming.
Barnett’s sack numbers at Tennessee aren’t going to wow you by themselves. He totaled just nine sacks overall last season and had nine coming into their Week 10 game against a cupcake in Tennessee Tech. However, he’s just an absolute monster when it comes to busing plays. It feels like he beats his man on the edge nine times out of 10 and is either forcing quarterbacks to roll out, stuffing play-action plays, or forcing a quick, bad throw. He might not be on the level of Allen or Garrett, but he’s far closer than some would indicate.
Knowing that, I don’t know how you’d be sitting at the No. 12 pick if you’re the New Orleans Saints and not take Barnett. The offense in New Orleans has a number of obvious holes and needs that must be addressed. However, being able to get pressure off of the edge is priority No. 1. Barnett has the physical tools and techniques to bring that to the Saints upon arrival. As the Saints try to build a future and a semblance of a defense, Barnett would be a wonderful building block.
Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) intercepts the ball from Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Josh Reynolds (11) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
It’s almost like this Alabama team is good or something with the way prospects are flying off the board from Tuscaloosa. Next up is cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to the Buffalo Bills with the 13th pick in the first round. Humphrey may not make the same jaw-dropping plays that the likes of Allen, Foster, and Tim Williams are able to as part of the front seven, but don’t let that sway you into thinking that he isn’t a highly skilled cornerback.
The first thing you have to like about Humphrey is the length that he brings to the table defending on the outside. At 6-1, he has tremendous height and then the length to match and essentially cover a wide range of space when the ball is thrown his way. However, it’s worth noting that the ball comes his way less and less it seems each week. That’d be because he’s been playing quite well in coverage this season and opponents aren’t willing to test him because he can and will make them pay.
Buffalo certainly has talent at cornerback right now and their defense is productive under Rex Ryan. However, their secondary lacks and kind of quality depth either as relief or to throw in nickel-type packages. Whether in the slot or on the outside, Humphrey has the size and coverage abilities to be effective in his duties and could really help shore up the secondary for Buffalo with added depth.
Oct 15, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) scores a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
One NFL mock draft after another, this pick seemingly never changes. It’s one of the rare instances where the value of a player and a team’s level of success and needs perfectly align. JuJu Smith-Schuster has long been considered one of the most talented and gifted receivers in all of college football. However, he’s largely been wasted playing with subpar quarterbacks at USC.
That said, the talented wideout has still remained productive, which is a testament to his talent. Not only does he have the size, speed, and athletic ability to break open big plays almost any time that the ball his thrown his way, but perhaps the most impressive thing JuJu offers is his ability to adjust. Because of the inconsistent-at-best quarterback play for the Trojans, the proper read or accurate throws aren’t always there. Yet Smith-Schuster has proven time and again that he can adjust either in his route or with the ball in the air with tremendous awareness and skill to still make the play.
While quarterback play isn’t an issue for the Chargers, depth at wide receiver most certainly is. Between injuries and just a general lack of talent, it’s a rough life in San Diego on Sunday’s for Philip Rivers. However, he’d have an absolute gem in JuJu and you’d think the two could form an instant and prolific connection that would make this pick well worth the while of the Bolts.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) celebrates his touchdown with tight end O.J. Howard (88) against the LSU Tigers during the fourth quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Without question, the Miami Dolphins picking in the middle of the first round puts them in a difficult spot in terms of finding value and addressing immediate needs on either side of the ball. If they were just a bit worse and picking higher, they could pick up someone like Humphrey to help the secondary. The same can be said of picking a bit later when there is another crop of corners. Moreover, they could use help on their offensive line, but taking anyone at this point would be a massive reach.
Subsequently, I wound up going with O.J. Howard out of Alabama as the Dolphin selection at No. 15. While it may not be an immediate need in Miami, it’s a need nonetheless. The Jordan Cameron experiment went up in flames long ago for this team and they haven’t had anyone else truly step in to fill the void. For a passer like Ryan Tannehill, having that reliable check-down option at tight end would be hugely beneficial.
Howard is certainly that and more. With the Crimson Tide, he’s displayed both the ability to be a big, reliable threat to catch balls over the middle of the field, sure. However, he’s also proven that he has the ability to bust open big plays with shocking agility for a player as massive as he is. His size helps him in run-blocking as well, though he’ll need work with his technique. Still, this is the best value pickup that also fits a need for Miami here in the middle of the first round.
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
Once again, we’ve landed on a player that has been soaring up draft boards over the past few weeks. There were certainly eyes on Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham when the draft evaluations began coming into the college season. However, he hadn’t proven at that point that he has the potential to be an elite force in the middle of the field. Throughout the 2016 campaign, though, he’s proven that time and again.
What makes Cunningham such a monster to begin with is his blend of size and athleticism. He towers at inside linebacker at 6-4, but has athleticism like he’s a 175-pound high school receiver. The way that he’s able to glide across the field, shed blocks in ridiculous fashion, or even just avoid getting touched so he’s able to get in space to make a tackle is absurd and absurdly valuable. Yes, he needs a bit of work in coverage, though he is still serviceable there. However, he’s a run-stopper at an NFL level already.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals desperately need that type of player in their defense right now. Arizona remains disappointing this season after being another favorite in the NFC to not meet expectations. However, they still boast a ton of talent on each side of the ball and simply need to plug in new life and new talent. Cunningham could play right away in an area of need and fit right in under the guidance of Bruce Arians.
Oct 15, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) carries the ball while being defended by North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Josh Jones (11) during the first half at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Now using their own pick and not the one owed to them from the Los Angeles Rams, the Tennessee Titans have the chance to address another need with a first-round caliber talent. Having already grabbed a cornerback in the top-10, they now need to turn their attention to the offensive side of the ball. Specifically, the Titans have to give Marcus Mariota more weapons to distribute to and Mike Williams is certainly a weapon.
Coming out of Clemson when he enters the draft, Williams has size and big-play ability oozing from him. He stands at 6-3 with a stout from considering his position. While he’s not a burner, he’s far from being slow by any measure. He can still beat defensive backs over the top with his speed, but also get open with crisp route-running. Williams is the type of receiver capable of making plays happen with and without the ball in his hands.
For the Titans, what they lack right now in their receiving game is the pass-catcher that’s simply the big target that catches anything, but can also make big plays. Rishard Matthews, Kendall Wright, and Tajae Sharpe are not that type of player. Williams undoubtedly could be, though. For a young offense that’s already taking a nice shape, the Clemson receiver could take them a step further.
Oct 29, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) outruns Clemson linebacker Korrin Wiggins (15) at Doak Campbell Stadium. Clemson won 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports
RB, Florida State
Matthew Stafford is proving a lot of things to a lot of people in the 2016 season. For most of his career as the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, the knock on Stafford was that he relied way to heavily on Calvin Johnson. However, it turns out that was more of a “why would I not throw it to Megatron” than needing to throw it to him as often as he did. With Johnson retired. Stafford is having his best season yet, arguably. However, the offense remains inconsistent.
While there are holes on the defense that need addressing through the draft and free agency, there’s no one making the mistake of thinking that the Lions don’t thrive off of what their offense does. Subsequently, the Detroit front office would have to take advantage of what’s on the board at No. 18 in this draft and add a new element to their offense: a rushing attack. And Dalvin Cook is certainly a weapon to have in your rushing attack.
As the stater for Florida State both last year and this season, Cook has time and again proven to be an absolute monster. He has great vision as a ball-carrier, solid hands as a pass-catcher, the strength to shed tackles, and the speed to break away from defenses. In terms of overall talent, he’s probably a top-12 player. But because of needs he drops to the Lions. With what he could add to balance out Stafford, though, this could be a perfect pick.
Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Northwestern Wildcats punter Hunter Niswander (96) tackles Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
As you overview the crop of cornerbacks in this draft class, there are two separate tiers at the position. At the top of the list are the players like Tabor and Humphrey. Then there is a tier near the end of the first round and at the start of the second round that has a ton of guys at the position that could be quality NFL starters at some point in their careers if all goes well. However, right in-between those two tiers is Iowa Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King.
Throughout his career at Iowa, King has shown flashes of absolute brilliance. There are plays, moments, and even entire games where he looks like he could be every bit as dangerous as a corner as a player like Teez Tabor. However, he also has games where he’s not really a factor. He may not be giving up 75-yard touchdowns to his man, but he’s not making plays by any stretch either. What that says, though, is that the talent is there and just has to be developed properly.
Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins could use some secondary depth in a big way. Even after the signing of Josh Norman to a massive deal this past offseason, that unit as a whole has its tendencies to not do their job effectively 200 percent of the time. King, with the proper coaching, could be a player to help remedy those issues and really get this Washington defense going to new heights.
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
My how a year can change a team, specifically on one side of the ball—sort of. The Houston Texans went into free agency last summer and had no qualms about throwing money at the players they wanted. They wound up with Brock Osweiler on his albatross of a contract and Lamar Miller as their big signings. Moreover, they added Will Fuller through the draft as a speedy weapon opposite DeAndre Hopkins. Yet, this offense has continued to sputter.
Part of that is certainly due to the shortcomings of Osweiler. To this point, he hasn’t even sniffed a level of play that would justify the contract that he’s on. At the same time, though, you fall into a sort of catch-22. Because as bad as Osweiler’s been there’s been limited time for him to work and limited room for Miller to try and open up the pass with the rushing attack because of holes in the offensive line.
Enter Dan Feeney out Indiana. For starters, you want him on you team so you can make Boy Meets World puns incessantly. However, Feeney is also a bear of a man to put on the interior of an offensive line at guard. The big Hoosier measures at 6-4, 310 pounds and is just a boulder to move. He’s been the rock of the Indiana offensive line and could be a gem in this draft that’s undervalued because of his position. However, that’s a position of need for the Texans and they’d be wise to capitalize on Feeney being available here.
Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Remember that time that the New York Giants went absolutely berserk in free agency to try and fix their defense and wound up spending a fortune to try and do so? And remember when that experiment fizzled out largely through the first eight weeks of the season? Essentially, the Giants put themselves in a tough spot. They have talent on their defense right now, but still have holes and not enough production. And with Jason Pierre-Paul potentially bolting, they could use new life as part of their edge rush.
Carl Lawson at his best is capable of that and more. If Lawson were to reach his top-level potential, he might not be a Von Miller or Khalil Mack type of edge-rusher, but he would be in the tier just below them. He has that type of physical ability and instincts when it comes to shedding blocks and wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and plays run to his side. However, he’s been a bit inconsistent throughout his career and is going to have to become less reliant on raw talent at the next level.
That’s why a team like the Giants seems like a quality fit. Not only will he slot into a position where there is likely to be a glaring need, but he’ll also be around a group of mostly veterans and a solid coaching staff to help him pick up the nuances he needs to be a force in the NFL off the edge.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Danny Etling (16) looks to pass under pressure from Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) during the second quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Evaluating just talent, Tim Williams should be a top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. When it comes to an outside linebacker and edge-rusher, everything that you look for in a player is there with Williams. He’s insanely explosive at the snap and when he sees an opening he can burst through. Moreover, he has a solid read of the offense more times than not, giving him the anticipatory skills to break up plays for his team. Oh yeah, he can also bring the thunder whenever he lays down a big hit on someone. He’s truly a total-package in that regard.
However, Williams has had off-field issues this season, notably an incident involving marijuana and an unlicensed firearm. While that’s not exactly sinister behavior (even for the gun, which appeared to be the result of ignorance, not malice), those are the types of things that organizations in this league nit-pick to death. Thus, I think he falls well below where his talent should have him being drafted.
That said, he’s not going to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers. With several contracts, including Jarvis Jones’, coming up this offseason, the Steelers could be in the market for a new outside linebacker in their 3-4 base scheme. That has Williams’ name written all over it in addition to this being a great organization for him to mature with as well.
Oct 22, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) in action against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Washington won 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Pick via Philadelphia Eagles
Here’s the part where people start to get angry. With the Browns taking Myles Garrett first-overall in this mock draft, the general rule of thumb would be that they should take a quarterback with the pick that’s owed to them by the Philadelphia Eagles. However, this draft class for quarterbacks is shallow and iffy for the most part. There are major questions for most of these young players.
If you’re in the rebuilding position that the Browns are, wasting a pick and time on a quarterback who you aren’t sure 100 percent can be the future of the franchise is futile. Making it even more futile is the fact that they still aren’t totally sure what they have in Cody Kessler. He’s shown flashes as a rookie of real promise, while not so much at other times. Nonetheless, addressing another need (of which there are many in Cleveland) rather than go after the wrong quarterback (again) makes more sense.
With Joe Haden possibly leaving, the Browns are going to nee to re-tool at cornerback. Sideny Jones out of Washington is an interesting prospect for a few reasons. He looks the part with solid size and athletic abilities, but he is a bit slight of frame. Moreover, he plays in the Pac-12, a conference full of air-rade offenses. That makes it hard to get a read on just how good a defensive back actually is when defending that offense. Still, Jones has been effective defending that style and has the tools that should translate to him being a quality player on Sundays.
November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs against Oregon State Beavers cornerback Xavier Crawford (22) during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Beavers 26-15. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Though it might be a tough pill to swallow for Green Bay Packers fans and their front office, the Eddie Lacy experiment needs to die a quick death. He can’t keep his weight under control, can’t stay healthy, and hasn’t been an effective back in a couple of seasons now. Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger and the Packers can’t waste time beating a dead horse with the weapons around him.
If they’re smart and do just that, then Christian McCaffrey is just the guy that they need. If you’ve even loosely kept up with college football in recent years, you know what the Stanford Cardinal running back is capable of. Simply, the man can do everything at a high level. He’s a great runner with speed, agility, and unreal vision. That vision also helps him as a dangerous weapon in special teams where he can be a return-man. Moreover, he could add a consistent element to Rodgers’ offense with his ability to catch passed out of the backfield. He’s the Swiss-Army Knife of offensive players, which would seemingly fit perfect in Green Bay with Rodgers.
Though this is dependent upon what they plan to do with Lacy as you don’t want to overcrowd the backfield, cutting ties with Lacy in favor of drafting a player like McCaffrey seems like the better option available. He adds elements to the offense and special teams that Lacy can’t and could be a monster in this productive offense.
Sep 17, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Utah Utes defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (93) during the game at Spartan Stadium. The Utah Utes defeated the San Jose State Spartans with a score of 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
The turnaround that the Atlanta Falcons have managed this season has been nothing short of a miracle. They finished 2015 as one of the league’s biggest disappointment as they collapsed in the second half of the season. However, this team rebounded by Matt Ryan looking like an MVP candidate, the offense being unstoppable, and the defense coming to life to be an adequate—if not even better—unit this season. However, the defense’s life could be much easier and the unit could be much better with a force in the middle of the front seven.
Say hello, then, to Lowell Lotulelei out of Utah. The 6-2, 310-pound junior defensive tackle is a load right off the bat just because of his girth and center of gravity with his measurements. If that weren’t enough to make him an enticing prospect, he’s also a beast when it comes to just overpowering people and getting into space through the interior of offensive lines. He’s a run-stuffer that also demands adequate attention when trying to rush the passer.
Lotulelei isn’t an elite talent in any regard really. However, you could easily say that he’s above-average almost across the board and will continue to be that at the NFL level. For a team with such a need like Atlanta and at this spot in the draft, taking a player with that pedigree is a sensible decision.
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
Throughout the entire buildup to the draft up to this point, the lack of depth at offensive tackle has caused valuations fluctuate a wild amount. One week, this player looks like a plausible first-rounder. The next, he’s somewhere in the middle of the second round in terms of where he’s being value. One of the players that’s currently being touted a bit more than before, though, is Wisconsin Badgers tackle Ryan Ramczyk. And it’s a given that the Seattle Seahawks would be in the market to nab him here.
Ramczyk isn’t hurting when it comes to size, coming in at a massive 6-5, 314 pounds. He has the strength and body to really be a bear to get around off the edge at the next level. While he may lack the quickness or elite athleticism for a player his size and at his position, he makes up for it with his footwork and ability to use his frame for leverage. He’s as consistent as they come, something we’ve come to expect from lineman coming out of Wisconsin.
Russell Wilson is currently running for his life on every single snap for the Seahawks this season. They’ve pieced together their current offensive line out of old glue and decades old newspaper at the point and it hasn’t worked even slightly. Seattle to protect their star at quarterback and give him time if they want to be successful. This pick would be a step towards doing that properly.
Nov 5, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) looks to throw the ball in the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Everbank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
QB, Notre Dame
Not too long ago, Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was being talked about as a top-five pick. In fact, there were weeks at the start of the season where some rated him as the best quarterback in the draft. Based on his physical tools, you could buy into that line of thinking. However, the consistency and production that you want from a future NFL quarterback wasn’t necessarily there.
Subsequently, Kizer has been falling down draft boards. He’s obviously been firmly surpassed by both Watson and Trubisky at this point as both look like more pro-ready prospects. However, the Notre Dame quarterback is looking more like a project, albeit a a worthwhile one. Kizer has the arm strength and athletic ability to make plays whenever the ball is in his hands.
And frankly, there may not be a better situation for Kizer to go into in the draft than falling to the Kansas City Chiefs. Though they currently roster both Alex Smith and Nick Foles, it’s high-time to start looking toward the future. Andy Reid has proven to be effective in coaching up quarterbacks and catering offenses to help succeed. With a talent like Kizer, that’s exactly what he needs. As the Chiefs hope to find Smith’s eventual successor, Reid’s tutelage could lead to Kizer being just that.
Nov 5, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles tackle Roderick Johnson (77) blocks against North Carolina State Wolfpack defensive end Bradley Chubb (9) during the second half at Carter Finley Stadium. Florida State won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
OT, Florida State
Things always start to get a bit dicey when you get to this point at the end of the first round. This is typically the time where you start to see teams trading down for more pick or organizations willing to reach on a player that fits a need. That’s exactly what happens here with the Denver Broncos picking at No. 29. There are other needs on both sides of the ball, but none more pressing than on the offensive line. What’s more, Roderick Johnson has first-round upside despite slipping down boards recently.
At Florida State, Johnson has been a big part in spearheading a prolific offense. From helping Dalvin Cook break free on the edge by sealing his blocks and in keeping Deondre Francois clean (from his side, at least), Johnson is an integral part in making the Seminoles offense run effectively. There are issues with his footwork and inconsistent levels of engagement and burst on his initial blocks. However, those are workable with a pro discipline coming into play.
Make no mistake, the Broncos offense isn’t going to be much with Trevor Siemian at this point. However, the second-year quarterback hasn’t had much of an opportunity to showcase his full abilities because of the lackluster offensive line protecting him. They have to make an effort to improve that area to keep either Siemian or Paxton Lynch upright. If not, their offense will never be able to reach it’s peak.
Nov 5, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Kenneth Goins Jr. (30) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines safety Delano Hill (44) and cornerback Jourdan Lewis (26) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve talked about this previously, but this draft class is absolutely ripe with talent at cornerback. What’s interesting about that, though, is what the draft starts to look like at the end of the first round and beginning of the second round. There is a crop of corners that essentially all grade out right next to one another as prospects, meaning it’s more of a pick-your-poison type deal rather than finding the best value. For me, Jourdan Lewis has become that guy you’d want to take first among that group.
Playing in arguably the best defense in the country in Michigan, Lewis finds himself in an interesting position. For one, you could argue that he’s made to look better because of all the talent and playmakers around him on the Wolverines defense. However, why Lewis is so intriguing is the responsibility he carries as a corner in Jim Harbaugh’s defense. Lewis is left out in man-to-man coverage more often than not. What’s promising is that he’s shown the speed and reactivity time and again to rarely get burned.
Considering the signing of Sean Smith this past offseason, you might consider it odd to see the Oakland Raiders taking a cornerback in the first round. However, their depth behind Smith and David Amerson is less than appealing. Lewis would be an instant upgrade there and could ultimately do enough to supplant the weaker of the two starters—and do so quicker than you might expect.
Sep 3, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) attempts to make a catch against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
WR, Western Michigan
Pick via Minnesota Vikings
It feels like every season and every draft, there’s a receiver that doesn’t go to a power-5 school that starts gaining a lot of traction leading up to April. As is the case with any receiver regardless of where they played in college, those players have had varying degrees of success. That player this season is Corey Davis out of Western Michigan. However, what sets Davis apart is that he might actually be the best wideout in the 2017 draft.
Despite playing at a smaller school for the Broncos, Davis has elite size at the position. The senior wide receiver stands 6-3 at 213 pounds. He’s shown throughout his career in college that he can use his size to make plays on the ball and come up with some ridiculous catches. However, Davis is more dangerous than just that as he also has shocking speed. Time and again, he burns opposing defensive backs deep on a variety of routes. Take away the school and you could argue that he’s the most complete player at his position.
What the Eagles have been dealing with in the receiving core in 2016 is downright criminal in regards to what they’re giving Carson Wentz in terms of assistance and weapons in the offense. Between drops, an inability to consistently get open, and simply not making plays, that Wentz has looked this good with these receivers is an act of God. However, Davis could remedy that almost immediately, in theory. The Western Michigan product could be the big playmaker to help take Wentz and the offense in Philly to the next level.
Nov 5, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (4) tries to outrun Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) during the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina wins 31-21 over Missouri. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Seemingly against all odds, the Dallas Cowboys currently sit at 6-1 atop the NFC. And a big reason why that’s the case is what they were able to bring in through last year’s draft. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing through his first seven NFL games while Dallas’ fourth-round pick in quarterback Dak Prescott has been a revelation since being forced into action due to another Tony Romo injury.
However, the one thing that the Cowboys didn’t do last April was address immediate needs on the defensive side of the ball. They nabbed linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round, but the Notre Dame product is still rehabbing from a gruesome leg injury suffered at the end of his college career. He’s a question mark in the highest regard, though his potential is enormous. That said, this defense for the Cowboys has been performing above their talent-level in 2016 and could use an influx at key positions to make that less of a potential issue.
Perhaps the two biggest needs for Dallas are at cornerback and on the edge. As any cornerback pick here feels like it wouldn’t be great value for the Cowboys, they can get great value in Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris. Not only does Harris often line up in a 4-3 at Missouri, thus making the transition to Dallas easier, but he’s been a force for the Tigers. He consistently creates a pass-rush and commands so much attention from the opposing offensive line that it opens the game up for the rest of the defense. Simply, he’s the exact type of player the Cowboys need.
Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) against the Missouri Tigers during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Quite frankly, I’m not sure how some people have Jarrad Davis falling outside of the first round—which is something that I’ve seen happening in several other places. However, the Florida Gators outside linebacker is an absolute playmaker in college. At 6-1, 238 pounds, he has solid size that’s made even better by his rock-solid build. However, it takes more than just how he looks to make him a quality NFL prospect.
Davis has great athleticism at linebacker to go with above-average instincts and recognition. Perhaps the most impressive part of what he’s shown at Florida is the variety of roles that he’s asked to play in their defense. Depending on how they line up, you’ll see Davis blitzing on the outside, dropping back into coverage, and contributing in stopping the run. While he’s not otherworldly in any of those areas, he’s more than effective.
That type of versatility and his physical tools make Davis an intriguing prospect for the New England Patriots. After they traded Jamie Collins ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline, they now are left with unproven guys at outside linebacker—and are left without the best athlete on their defense. Davis could come in and start trying to fill the hole left by Collins. While he may not be as much of a freak as the now-Brown linebacker athletically, he is almost surely more coachable and will be a player Belichick will love.