2017 NFL Mock Draft: Deshaun Watson heads to Broadway

There are eight NFL teams remaining in the race to see who is crown the champion of Super Bowl 51. Here is our latest 2017 NFL Mock Draft.

With the regular season in the book, as well as the Wild Card Round, we take a look at our latest mock draft. Picks No. 1-24 are set, with the final eight spots based on record with the Divisional Round, Conference Championships, and Super Bowl remaining. Cleveland and Tennessee will pick twice in the first round, with the Browns selecting first overall.

Here is our latest NFL Mock Draft as we head into the Divisional Round.

1

Myles Garrett

DE, Texas A&M

The Cleveland Browns will pick twice during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and the hopes are, they can build a nice, young group of players to make them a contender in the AFC North. This past season, the Browns struggled to a 1-15 record under first-year head coach Hue Jackson, though there were a few bright spots. Heading into the 2017 season, there are way too many holes to fill, and it may take the Browns at least a couple of years to be competitive in the conference.

With the first overall selection, the Browns should look to grab Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M, who many believe is the best prospect in this draft. Garrett can do it all on the defensive side of the ball, and is as good stopping the run as he is at getting after the quarterback. He is the kind of player who can turn around a defensive unit instantly, and the Browns are seriously lacking an identity on that side of the ball.

Back in 2014, the Oakland Raiders drafted Khalil Mack in the first round, and then Derek Carr in the second. While there may not be that kind of talent at the quarterback position in this draft, Garrett is a very highly regarded prospect, and if Cleveland does not draft a bust with their two ones, they could set themselves up to improve significantly next season. Cleveland will likely pick a quarterback at number 12, but at No. 1 overall, expect them to bolster their defense.

Dec 30, 2016; El Paso, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) throws the ball against the Stanford Cardinal defense at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

2

Mitch Trubisky

QB, UNC

One team that is definitely going to go quarterback in the first round is the San Francisco 49ers, who will be heading into next season with a new coach. Chip Kelly was relieved of his coaching duties after one season, and rightfully so, as the 49ers were an absolute embarrassment in 2016. The organization needs to move on from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and bringing in somebody who can play right away has to be the goal in 2017.

The University of North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky only started 13 games in his collegiate career, but he is definitely the best quarterback prospect in this draft. Trubisky has the tools to be very successful at the next level, and has the size and arm strength to make all of the throws. There is not a ton of tape out on him, but he will have plenty of opportunities leading up to the draft to prove he should be the first quarterback taken next April.

San Francisco is going to need to upgrade at a ton of positions in 2017, but most of all, they need to bring in the quarterback who is going to lead them for the next five years at least. Trubisky had a breakout year in a conference that proved to be the best in college football in 2016. He has already declared for the NFL Draft, and on draft night, it won’t be long until he hears his name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) reacts during the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

3

Jonathan Allen

DL, Alabama

Just watching Jonathan Allen on Monday night in the College Football National Championship Game, and you could see that he is ready to make an impact at the next level. Allen is one of the better defensive prospects we have seen in a long time, and has the ability to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 in the NFL. The Chicago Bears are another team searching for an identity on the defensive side of the ball, and while there are plenty of questions at the quarterback position, grabbing Allen is priority No. 1 in next April’s draft.

For Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler just has not worked out, and that is a shame considering the young talent they have on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey is one of the best in the game, and running back Jordan Howard really burst onto the scene with the position open due to Matt Forte’s departure. Chicago may have enough talent on offense to win games, but their defense proved to be too leaky late in the season.

Allen is going to be a top-3 pick, and he very well may land as the No. 1 overall selection. However, if he is available at No. 3, the Bears have to pounce on him, as he can be a cornerstone in bringing back a solid defensive unit in Chicago. The Bears may look to be pretty far away on paper, but head coach John Fox is a good one, and there is enough young talent on this roster to make a run next season if they can add some pieces around them.

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

4

Cam Robinson

OT, Alabama

Very few teams disappointed last season like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came into the year looking to lock down a playoff spot. Many experts believed this would be the year the Jags took the next step forward, as quarterback Blake Bortles looked like a budding star in 2015. However, that certainly was not the case, and despite the team loading up on free agent talent on the defensive side of the ball, they finished dead last in the AFC South.

Heading into 2017, the organization made wholesale changes, as head coach Gus Bradley was fired before the end of the 2016 season. He has been replaced by Doug Marrone, who took over with an interim tag during the season. Former head coach Tom Coughlin has come out of retirement to take over as Vice President of Football Operations, and should bring a no-nonsense attitude to the organization.

If the team does decide that Bortles is their man, then they have to draft to protect him next April. Alabama’s Cam Robinson is the best offensive line prospect in this draft, and has the size and strength to play on either side of the line. He is going to be a fantastic NFL tackle, and just as he showed during the National Championship on Monday night, he can move defensive players with ease. The 2017 season could be a big one in Jacksonville, though only if Bortles can stay upright and make all the throws.

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

5

Marlon Humphrey

CB, Alabama

The third of three straight Alabama Crimson Tide players is Marlon Humphrey, who many consider to be the best cornerback in this draft. The Tennessee Titans had an incredible run this past season, though it ended on a sour note with the broken leg sustained by quarterback Marcus Mariota. Still, Mariota took a huge step forward in 2016, and the team has a ton of good, young talent surrounding him.

While the Titans could obviously use a standout wide receiver, they will likely go with a cornerback with their first of two first round picks. This pick comes via the Los Angeles Rams, who traded for the Titans No. 1 overall pick prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. That pick was used on Jared Goff, who really did not do much during his first season in La La Land.

Bolstering their secondary has to be a priority, as the Titans have to face the likes of Andrew Luck twice a year. Jason McCourty is a very solid corner, but he is getting up there in age, and may not be able to shut down the opponents No. 1 wide receiver anymore. Bringing in a guy like Humphrey would take a ton of pressure off of McCourty in the passing game, and enable the Titans to really be able to defend against some of the better passers in the AFC.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

6

Deshaun Watson

QB, Clemson

The New York Jets were an absolute mess in 2016, and wholesale changes may be coming to the organization. However, the head of the franchise is going to stay the same, as the team is bringing back their General Manager and Head Coach for the 2017 season. The No. 1 issue with this team the past season was the play of their quarterback, and the scariest issue with that is there is no-one to take that role in 2017.

While the Jets normally do not make a splash on draft night, the 2017 NFL Draft may be different. Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Clemson Tigers does not grade out to be such a high pick by many of the draft experts, but teams have reached in the past. The bottom line is the Jets fan base needs a player they can look forward to seeing play every Sunday, and Watson certainly brings that star power to the position.

In 2016, the Jets selected Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg in the second round, and he barely got to dress during the season. The organization may look to avoid a quarterback because of that, but Watson proved on Monday night that he has the guts to make the big play on the biggest stage of them all. He has already declared for next April’s draft, and with a good pro day, may find himself selected in the top-10.

Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) blocks Western Michigan Broncos defensive end Keion Adams (1) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. The Badgers won 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

7

Ryan Ramczyk

OT, Wisconsin

The San Diego Chargers may be saying goodbye to the city of San Diego, as all signs point to them moving to Los Angeles for the 2017 NFL season. The 2016 campaign was quite a roller coaster ride, as they let some big wins slip through their fingers early in the season. They rebounded to play competitive football throughout, but they are going to have some big holes to fill if they want to compete in the suddenly packed AFC West.

Quarterback Philip Rivers did the best with what he had in 2016, as he lost his top receiver to a torn ACL during Week 1 of the season. Rivers still was as dangerous as any quarterback in the division, but he was often failed by his offensive line. The organization needs to bolster their line if they want to keep him playing for at least the next two or so years, so drafting an elite offensive tackle may be the way to go.

Ryan Rumczyk has officially declared for the NFL Draft, and after being arguably the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten for the past few years, he should go in the first round. He has incredible size and strength, and could stay on the left side at the next level. The Bolts have been piecing their offensive line together for the past few years, so it is definitely time to get a mainstay in next April’s draft.

Nov 12, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs as guard Josh Boutte (76) blocks Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Dwayne Eugene (35) during the second quarter of the game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. LSU won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

8

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers went from the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs in 2016, which was one of the bigger disappointments of the NFL season. Despite getting Kelvin Benjamin back healthy after a torn ACL, the Panthers just never played consistent football on a weekly basis. They are still loaded with talent, and if they can add a solid running back, their offense could be unstoppable next season as they look to reestablish themselves as a playoff contender.

Enter Leonard Fournette, who is highly regarded as the best running back prospect in this draft. Fournette has been a star during his time at LSU, and kept himself out of the team’s bowl game to get ready for the draft. He has been NFL-ready for sometime now, and if he can stay healthy at the next level, he could have a huge impact on the league in 2017.

Jonathan Stewart is still a decent back, but his days of carrying the load look to be over, even though he can be very productive. The team should look to keep him on, especially in goal line situations, while relying on Fournette to rack up between 20-25 carries per game during his rookie season. If Fournette falls to them at No. 8, the Panthers could have a serious 1-2 punch in their backfield next season.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) reacts after bring brought down by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) during the second quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

9

Reuben Foster

LB, Alabama

The Cincinnati Bengals had a surprisingly bad season in 2016, and will be looking to getting back up to the top of the AFC North next year. Quarterback Andy Dalton is still one of the more solid signal-callers in the game, and wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the best in the business. They missed him when he was out with an injury this season, and with him back healthy in 2017, they should be just fine on the offensive side of the ball.

One area where they need to improve is at the linebacker position, where they are starting to get up there in age. They do have some great talent at the position, including guys like Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, but injecting some youth has to be a priority. Head coach Marvin Lewis could be coaching for his life in 2017, and he is going to want both sides of the ball firing on all cylinders from day one.

Reuben Foster of the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best linebacker in this group, and some believe he may be at least the third best prospect in the draft. He is the kind of player who can play from sideline to sideline, and has the size and speed to play on the inside, or out. Foster has the kind of motor that head coaches dream about, and his style of play would be perfect in Cincinnati.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a pass between Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) in the 207 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bart Boatwright/The Greenville News via USA TODAY Sports

10

Mike Williams

WR, Clemson

Sure, Mike Williams may have been knocked unconscious early in Monday night’s National Championship Game, but that did not stop him from putting together another highlight reel game the rest of the way. Williams is by far the best wide receiver prospect in this draft, and he is going to be a superstar at the next level. He could very well go earlier than No. 10 in this draft, but if he is available for the Bills, they have to grab him.

The Buffalo Bills said goodbye to head coach Rex Ryan before the season ended, giving him and his brother, Rob, their walking papers. While the team has not decided on a head coach for 2017, one thing is for sure, whoever comes in is going to have to make a quick decision about who is playing quarterback. Tyrod Taylor appeared to be the quarterback of the future heading into the 2016 season, but it looks like they may go another direction.

Buffalo already has Sammy Watkins at the wide receiver position, but he has had his issues with injuries during his short career. Running back LeSean McCoy is one of the best in the business, so whoever does come in to play quarterback, has some good weapons at their disposal. Bringing in a player of Williams’ caliber is going to make the Bills offense scary good in 2017, so the team needs to make sure they have the right man under center.

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

11

Malik Hooker

S, Ohio State

It seems like every year, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees gets better, while throwing for an ungodly amount of yards. The Saints offense was once again one of the better units in the NFC, but their porous defense made it nearly impossible for them to win games. They need to fix the unit heading into next season, or head coach Sean Payton may see his incredible run in the Bayou come to an end.

Malik Hooker is one of the best defensive backs in this draft, and many believe he is the best safety. While LSU’s Jamal Adams may wish to disagree, Hooker’s talent on the field cannot be understated. He has been a leader during his time with the Ohio State Buckeyes, and has all the tools to be a devastating safety at the next level.

The one thing that makes Hooker stand out is his hands, as he has the ability to go up and get the ball with the best wide receivers in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes defense was one of the more feared units in college football this season, and Hooker was as big a reason as anybody. He is going to be an electric player at the next level, and the Saints need someone in their secondary who is going to stop the likes of Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.

Nov 26, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) throws a pass against the Southern California Trojans during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

12

DeShone Kizer

QB, Notre Dame

With their second pick in the first round, I believe the Cleveland Browns are going to grab a quarterback. DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame did not have a great year, but many scouts believe he has the best physical gifts of any quarterback in this draft. The Browns do need someone to start next season, and while Kizer may need a year of seasoning, he could wind up being the best of the bunch down the road.

Cleveland can go many ways with their quarterback next season, as head coach Hue Jackson may want to give Cody Kessler a longer look. The organization should look to retain Josh McCown, who could serve as a mentor to Kizer in the early going. Kizer can play in cold weather, has the arm to make all the throws, and his game should translate to the pro level.

The Browns have made incredible mistakes in the past while drafting quarterbacks in the first round. However, this new regime will not make the same mistake, and while Kizer may take a year to get ready, he is a solid option at the position. Notre Dame did not showcase his skills enough during his time in South Bend, and Browns fans will not be disappointed when he eventually gets the chance to lead the franchise, hopefully in year two.

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) celebrates the win over the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

13

Teez Tabor

CB, Florida

The Arizona Cardinals are another team that had a disappointing season in 2016. One year removed from playing in the NFC Championship Game, the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs this past season, though they should not be out of it for long. They still have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and while quarterback Carson Palmer may be at the end of his career, he should have at least one more good season left in him.

Next April, the Cards should look to bolster their secondary, bringing in another cornerback to compliment Patrick Peterson. On offense, the Cards boast arguably the best back in football, as David Johnson has established himself as a superstar during the early part of his career. If Arizona can improve on the defensive side of the ball, the should be a Super Bowl contender in 2017.

Tabor is an extremely talented corner, and has teamed with Quincy Wilson to form the best 1-2 cornerback duo in the SEC. He is the kind of player that can take away one side of the field, and had it not been for Marlon Humphrey, he may have been the first player at his position off the board. Tabor and Wilson should both hear their names called within the first two round of the NFL Draft, but Tabor will likely be the first of the two off the board come next April.

Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

14

Dalvin Cook

RB, Florida State

Andrew Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Indianapolis Colts found hard for a potential playoff spot in 2016. However, he just does not have the kind of offensive line you would expect an organization to put in front of a franchise guy. The Colts will likely bolster the offensive line with some veterans in the offseason, and in the draft, they should look to put an elite running back prospect behind Luck.

Watching Dalvin Cook play for the Florida State Seminoles has been a treat, as he will leave campus as the most decorated rusher in school history. That is saying a lot considering the career Warrick Dunn had during his time in Tallahassee. Cook can do it all from the running back position, and plugging him into the lineup is going to take so much pressure off of Luck in the passing game.

Frank Gore had a solid season for the Colts as their feature back in 2016, but his time carrying the load has to be coming to an end. The team should look to retain him to spell Cook in 2017, while providing the kind of leadership any young player needs coming into the league. Gore can still put up solid numbers, and adding Cook to an offense that has Gore, T.Y. Hilton, and Dwayne Allen would make them pretty explosive next season.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) breaks the tackle of Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) during the first quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

15

John Ross

WR, Washington

Thanks to the trade they made with the Minnesota Vikings prior to the season, the Philadelphia Eagles will actually pick in the first round in 2017. The Eagles had traded away their pick to get quarterback Carson Wentz No. 2 overall in 2016, and that bet definitely paid off during Wentz’s rookie season. He has shown he can be a franchise quarterback, now that franchise needs to put some good pieces around him.

Jordan Matthews had a decent season for the Eagles, but he cannot be relied upon to be WR1 in their offense. Philadelphia has two really good tight ends, and bringing in another wide receiver next April has to be a priority at this point. Washington’s John Ross is an electric player at the position, and has all the tools to be an impact player at the next level, which is exactly what Wentz needs if he wants to continue his development.

The Eagles have to keep serve in the NFC East, where both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys made the playoffs this season. The Washington Redskins came close to earning a spot in the tournament as well, and were coming off an NFC East title in 2015. Philadelphia fans are some of the best in the game, and with a few more pieces added to their puzzle, the Eagles could be a team to beat in 2017.

Dec 30, 2016; Nashville , TN, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Ryker Fyfe (17) throws the ball as Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) defends during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

16

Derek Barnett

DE, Tennessee

For so long, the Baltimore Ravens have been synonymous with their defense. Future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis donned the purple and black with a tenacity that struck fear in the hearts of their opponents. Recently, the Ravens have been led by their quarterback, Joe Flacco, who played incredibly well during their Super Bowl winning run a few years back.

However, the Ravens need to go back to their defensive roots, and adding an elite pass rusher in next April’s draft makes sense. Linebacker Terrell Suggs is nearing the end of his career, and the Ravens are going to need to replace his production getting after the quarterback. Over at the University of Tennessee, Derek Barnett has become arguably the best pass rusher in college football, and he would be a perfect fit in Baltimore.

Some publications have Barnett going very high in next April’s draft, and that could certainly be the case. If he is to fall to the Ravens, he would instantly improve their depth on the defensive line. He has the ability to play all over the line, and has shown the speed needed to play an outside linebacker role if needed. He has been a game changer at Tennessee, and finished his career by breaking Hall of Famer Reggie White’s career sack record. Enough said.

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

17

Jabrill Peppers

S, Michigan

A year removed from winning the NFC East, the Washington Redskins fought for a playoff spot up until the final day of the season. While they fell short, there is no doubt that this is a franchise that can beat any team on any Sunday. Quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to get paid, and with the influx of talent on the offensive side of the ball, bolstering their defense is going to be a priority in April.

Jabrill Peppers is the most versatile player in college football, and was honored this year with the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the player who is just that. Peppers did it all for the Michigan Wolverines during his time on campus, and on Tuesday, he officially declared for the NFL Draft. He is going to be a first round pick, and despite playing linebacker at Michigan, will likely be a safety at the next level.

Washington needs help in their secondary, as they must bring in some talent to put around their huge free agent signing from a year ago. Josh Norman is regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and adding a strong safety to their defensive unit is going to be huge if they want to compete with the likes of the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles. Peppers can also be used on special teams, as he has shown to be quite the return man during his time in Ann Arbor.

Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) reacts after catching a touchdown pass during the second half of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

18

Corey Davis

WR, Western Michigan

With their second pick in the first round, the Tennessee Titans will likely look to bolster their wide receiver position. Marcus Mariota established himself as one of the better young quarterbacks in the game this past season, all the while doing it with no real WR1 on the roster. Bringing in someone via the draft is going to be a priority, and they have the luxury of filling two big holes on day one come next April.

The Western Michigan Broncos nearly pulled off an undefeated season in 2016, but ended up losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Cotton Bowl. Still, senior wideout Corey Davis showed why his considered one of the best wide receivers in college football, and will certainly hear his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Titans need to bring in the kind of receiver that Mariota can rely on in big spots, and Davis is that kind of talent.

Tennessee has a great opportunity to be good for a long time, as they have incredible young talent at key positions. The AFC South is a very winnable division, and being able to add two first round picks after having an incredibly solid season in 2017 has to put them in position to possibly be a favorite next year. Davis is going to be a difference maker at the next level, and if he lands in Tennessee, he will have one of the best quarterback in the AFC throwing the ball to him.

Dec 31, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts after they they stopped Louisville Cardinals on 4th down during the second half at Camping World Stadium. LSU Tigers defeated the Louisville Cardinals 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

19

Jamal Adams

S, LSU

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came close to making the NFL Playoffs in 2016, and will head into the 2017 with a ton of confidence. For a while, the Bucs were one of the hottest teams in football, and second-year quarterback Jameis Winston established himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFC. They have a lot of good, talented players on their roster, and may be one year away from becoming a legitimate contender in the NFC for years to come.

One area where the team could look to improve is in the secondary, where they showed some vulnerability throughout the year. There were weeks where the defense played out of their mind, but that was more of a shock than anything else. Tampa Bay needs to bring in a safety in next April’s draft, and luckily for them, there is some incredibly talented players at that position in this draft class.

Jamal Adams of LSU just may go in the top-10, but some believe that Malik Hooker will be the first safety off the board. With Jabrill Peppers making the move to safety, he will be seen as more of a sexy pick than a player like Adams. Still, Adams could wind up being better than all of them, as he has the ball-hawking ability, and fearless tackling that is going to make him an elite player at the next level.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) runs the ball while guarded by Clemson Tigers safety Jadar Johnson (18) during the fourth quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

20

O.J. Howard

TE, Alabama

During the 2016 National Championship Game, the Alabama Crimson Tide were led by their tight end, who went for over 200 yards in their 45-40 win. That player was O.J. Howard, who can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to talking about the Crimson Tide. However, he is an elite tight end prospect, and will be the first player at his position taken in next April’s draft.

The thing about Howard is that he is going to be so much more productive at the next level. This past season, the Crimson Tide went with a true freshman at quarterback, and the team mostly relied on their run game in a tough SEC. Howard was kind of the odd man out, but any offensive coordinator at the NFL level would love to have a player with his skill set to make a big a big part of their offense.

Howard has great size and speed, and has elite pass-catching ability. He also did a nice job improving as a run-blocker in 2016, and should be the complete package at the next level. Having a great tight end can really make a world of difference in the NFL nowadays, and the Denver Broncos need a solid player at that position heading into 2017. There will be plenty of questions as to who will play quarterback for Denver next season, so adding a quality tight end is going to be huge next April.

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes the passer against the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

21

Taco Charlton

DE, Michigan

The Detroit Lions had a very nice season in 2016, as they shook off the loss of Calvin Johnson to retirement to nearly win the NFC North. They ended up losing to Green Bay in Week 17, and then to the Seattle Seahawks on Wild Card weekend, but it was a still a solid season nonetheless. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has one more year left on his deal, and with all the talent the team has on offense, the time is now to win.

Detroit needs to add some depth to their defensive line, as they were pushed around late in the season. They do have some solid players up front, including Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah, but the unit lacks the depth needed to get after players like Aaron Rodgers for four quarters. Michigan’s Taco Charlton has proven he can be used all over the defensive line, and would be a perfect fit in Detroit.

Charlton really burst onto the scene during the Wolverines loss to Ohio State, but his talent has been undeniable all season long. He can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3, as he has the speed to be an elite pass rusher at the next level. The Lions may be one or two players away from being a team that could earn a bye in next year’s playoffs, and bolster the defensive line has to be a priority heading into next offseason.

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

22

Dan Feeney

OG, Indiana

For most of the second half of the season, the Miami Dolphins were the hottest team in the AFC. They ran off nine wins in eight games, as they secured a playoff spot as a Wild Card. Many people expected them to finish at the bottom of the AFC East, but first-year head coach Adam Gase has really changed the culture in South Beach, and could be up for the NFL’s Head Coach of the Year.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has come under so much scrutiny during his time as the team’s signal-caller, but he was finally able to put together a nice season in 2016. However, his season ended early due to injury, and the team was forced to go with backup Matt Moore for the final few weeks and their Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miami needs to spend the offseason bolstering their offensive line, and picking up the best guard in this draft is the way to go.

Dan Feeney of the Indiana Hoosiers is a mountain of man, and possesses incredible strength. While Indiana is one of the lesser known Big Ten teams, Feeney made his presence known every week, and is going to be a great pass blocker at the next level. Miami could be a team on the rise, and adding Feeney would not only help protect Tannehill, but also make big holes for breakout running back Jay Ajayi.

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) stands on the field during the first quarter of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

23

Malik McDowell

DT, Michigan State

The New York Giants spent a ton of money on their defense this past offseason, and boy did it pay off. One year removed from having arguably the worst defense in the NFC, the Giants rode their defense to a Wild Card berth in 2016, though that same defense was shredded by Aaron Rodgers this past Sunday. Still, there is a solid nucleus on that side of the ball, and the team needs to continue to add to it.

One area where the team could use some depth is up front, where Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison both played very well this past season. Harrison was an All-Pro selection, while the 24-year old Hankins collected 30 tackles. Still, bringing in a player like Malik McDowell from Michigan State may be the way to go, especially considering the team may lose star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to free agency.

McDowell has the size and speed to play all over the line, and could actually be moved to the end if the team needs to fill the role left vacant if JPP bolts. He is an incredibly gifted player, and while he has not declared for the NFL Draft yet, there is really no reason for him to return to Michigan State. The Spartans are a program on the decline, and McDowell is definitely a first round talent who would flourish in the Giants defense.

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates with cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) after intercepting pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

24

Marshon Lattimore

CB, Ohio State

Talk about a sad way to end a season. The Oakland Raiders were one of the best teams in football all year long, putting together win after win, on their way to an AFC West title. However, star quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg during the team’s Week 16 win against the Indianapolis Colts, and the wheels completely fell off. The team lost the following week to Denver, losing their grip on the AFC West, and then were trounced by the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round with their third-string quarterback under center.

While the 2016 season did not finish the way most Raiders fans would have liked, they have to be happy with where the organization is headed. They spent a lot of money to make sure the team is good for the next few years, and at No. 24, they should be able to pick up a solid draft pick. One area they need help is in their secondary, and bolstering the cornerback position has to be priority No. 1 on draft day.

The Ohio State Buckeyes had one of the best defenses in all of college football in 2016, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore was a big reason why. Lattimore is going to be a very good pro, and has all the tools you need to be a shutdown corner at the next level. He has great speed, comes up and makes hits, and has very good hands for a defensive back. The Raiders Achilles Heel this season was their secondary, so expect them to add to that unit in April.

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

25

Zach Cunningham

LB, Vanderbilt

The Houston Texans continue on, after their impressive 27-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders this past weekend. Quarterback Brock Osweiler actually showed some life for the Texans, who named him the starter for this week’s Divisional Round game against the New England Patriots. While most believe this should be the end for the Texans, it has been a solid season by all means, and if Osweiler can play the way he did last Saturday, they may be ok at the quarterback position going forward.

Incredibly, the Texans have the best defense in football despite not having the best defensive player in football. Star defensive end J.J. Watt saw his season end in Week 3, after reinjuring his back. That has not stopped this team to be merciless on defense, and fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has really come into his own this season. Still, you can always use help on that side of the ball, and Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt would be a nice addition.

Cunningham has the size and strength to play on the inside at the next level, and that is a position where the team needs depth. Brian Cushing has been the heart and soul of the linebacking corps during his entire career with the Texans, but injuries are starting to take their toll. Bringing in Cunningham would give the Texans a nice future at the position, while enabling Cushing to help bring him along early in his career.

Nov 25, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball against Texas Christian Horned Frogs safety Denzel Johnson (30) and defensive tackle Aaron Curry (95) during the first half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

26

D’Onta Foreman

RB, Texas

Aaron Rodgers stood in front of reporters when the team was 4-6 and said they would run the table and make the playoffs. Well, he was right, and after winning five straight, the Packers headed into their Week 17 matchup against the Detroit Lions with the opportunity to win the NFC North. They did just that, and on Sunday, they destroyed the New York Giants to advance to the Divisional Round against the Dallas Cowboys.

While the play of Rodgers has been MVP-worthy, the organization has to be worried about the lack of a running game. Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and Christine Michael have all gotten a shot to carry the load, which has since gone to wide receiver Ty Montgomery. The Packers need to bring in a running back next April, and University of Texas star D’Onta Foreman just may be the answer at the position.

Just looking at Foreman, and you can see he was built to carry the ball at the NFL level. Playing for a Texas team with really no answer at quarterback, Foreman has had to be a workhorse during his time in Austin. His game equates perfectly to the NFL level, as he has the size and speed to really be a guy who can carry the ball 25 times on Sunday. The Packers need to get a running back next April, and Foreman may be too good to pass up.

December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) celebrates after the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi’s Stadium. The Huskies defeated the Buffaloes 41-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

27

Sidney Jones

CB, Washington

The Seattle Seahawks will head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in the Divisional Round this weekend, after shellacking the Detroit Lions this past Saturday. Quarterback Russell Wilson continues to win games, and running back Thomas Rawls shook off what looked to be a concussion early to rush for two touchdowns. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin has become one of the better players at his position in the NFC, and the team is winning despite the season-ending injury to star safety Earl Thomas.

While the defense has led the way during the team’s recent Super Bowl runs, they could always use some help in the secondary. Sidney Jones does not play far away, as he has been a star cornerback for the Washington Huskies during his collegiate career. He is used to playing in the frigid temperatures in the Northwest, and would be a perfect fit with Richard Sherman and company in the Seahawks secondary.

Jones is an incredible talent, and has shown that he can shut down the best receivers in the Pac-12 during his time with the Huskies. He was a main reason why the team made it to the College Football Playoff in 2016, and is going to be a solid player at the next level. Thomas has said he is going to return, and if Seattle adds to their secondary next April, they will once again have one of the more elite defenses in the league.

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) celebrates after a stop during the second half against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

28

Caleb Brantley

DL, Florida

The University of Florida made it to the SEC Championship this past season, though they were quickly disposed of by the University of Alabama. However, the team was loaded with stars on the defensive side of the ball, including two cornerbacks that should be picked in the first round. Joining Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor as potential first rounders is defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, who recently decided he would forgo his senior season for a shot at the pros.

Replacing Brantley is going to be tough, as he was usually drawing double teams during the Gators games. He has an explosive first step that enables him to get after the quarterback. He is also a bully in the run game, and has the size and speed to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 at the next level. He would be a solid pick up by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who need to continue to add talent to their defensive unit.

The Steelers have oen of the better three-headed monsters on offense in the league, as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are nearly impossible to stop. However, their defense has shown that it can be beaten, so it has to be a priority in the offseason. Brantley is the kind of player who can make an instant impact at the next level, and if he can get into a program like the Steelers, he could end up being an elite defensive lineman in the NFL.

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (2) intercepts a pass intended for Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins (3) the 103rd Rose Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Rose Bowl. USC defeated Penn State 52-49 in the highest scoring game in Rose Bowl history. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

29

Adoree’ Jackson

CB, USC

The USC Trojans were left for dead early in the season, as they struggled with Max Browne as their quarterback. However, the team inserted freshman Sam Darnold under center and the team took off, finishing their season with a Rose Bowl victory against Penn State. Another big reason for the Trojans success was the play of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who proved to be not only one of the better cornerbacks in the Pac-12, but one of the more electric return men.

Atlanta has had one of the best seasons in recent history for the franchise, locking up the No. 2 see in the NFC Playoffs. Quarterback Matt Ryan has played at an MVP level, and the team is absolutely loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Despite the fact that they have the second-best record in the NFC, the defense has not been an elite unit, and they need help in the secondary going forward.

Jackson would be a perfect fit in Atlanta, as he has that “Prime Time” quality that organization has been missing since Deion Sanders left. He became the most prolific return man in USC history this past season, and had a huge interception against the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans are going to miss his leadership next season, but whichever team snags him in the 2017 NFL Draft is going to get arguably the most electric player in this class.

November 26, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) scores a touchdown against Rice Owls cornerback J.T. Blasingame (14) and safety Cole Thomas (28) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

30

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey turned heads before the Cardinal bowl game, as he decided that he would sit out the team’s Sun Bowl contest against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Still, he has had one of the more decorated college careers of any running back in recent memory, and has the pedigree to be a big-time player at the next level. He can do a little bit of everything on offense, and can also be used as a return man on special teams.

The Kansas City Chiefs are once again one of the best teams in the AFC, and claimed the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs after a stellar regular season. Despite getting nothing from star running back Jamaal Charles, who never quite came back from the torn ACL suffered in 2015, the Chiefs still managed to be one of the better teams in the conference. Spencer Ware did a nice job filling in for Charles, but the team needs a playmaker at the position, and McCaffrey could be the answer.

The emergence of Tyreek Hill gave the Chiefs the playmaker they were missing with Charles out, and the disappearing act put on by Jeremy Maclin. Still, the Chiefs need more weapons on offense, as Alex Smith has proven to be just a mediocre quarterback at this point in his career. McCaffrey can do so many things on the football field to change the course of the game, and playing in Kansas City would enable him to go straight to a winner out of college.

Dec 30, 2016; El Paso, TX, USA; Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (90) celebrates with head coach David Shaw (L) after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 25-23 at Sun Bowl Stadium. Thomas was named MVP of the game. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

31

Solomon Thomas

DE, Stanford

After the conclusion of the Stanford Cardinal season, big-time pass rusher Solomon Thomas decided that it was time to take his talents to the NFL. He is going to be a great player at the next level, as he has a rare blend of size and speed. Not only can he plug the gaps in the run game, but his 4.58 40-yard speed enables him to get after the quarterback with ease, which should play perfectly in the NFL game.

Most of the talk around the Stanford program over the past few years has been about star running back Christian McCaffrey who, like Thomas, should be selected in the first round. Some scouts have compared him to Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, due to his ability to run around, or through offensive lineman. The Cowboys hit the lotto in the 2016 NFL Draft, and if Thomas falls to them at No. 31, they have to scoop him up.

Thomas has all the tools to play at the next level, and his ability to be disruptive no matter when he plays on the defensive line is going to give offensive coordinators fits. I like the fact that he never lets the big moment get to him, and he plays the game with such passion. Thomas has made a point to get in the best shape of his life heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, and it should pay big dividends for him on draft day.

Sep 10, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot (91) tackles North Carolina Tar Heels running back Elijah Hood (34) in the endzone for a safety during the 2nd quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

32

Dawuane Smoot

DE, Illinois

The New England Patriots are once again the favorite to win the Super Bowl, and the road to the big game will go through Foxboro Stadium. Quarterback Tom Brady has played at an MVP level since coming off suspension, and the defense has been much better than advertised. There are still plenty of solid AFC teams left in the playoff, but it is going to be very hard to beat this Patriots team this year.

While the defense has played extremely well, they could always use help up front. During his time at the University of Illinois, Dawuane Smoot has had the privilege of playing underneath head coach Lovie Smith. Smith has made it his quest to make sure Smoot is drafted in the first round, and they could certainly happen come next April.

Smoot is an explosive player off the ball, and has the stength to bring down running backs with ease. The Patriots are amazing at building up young players, and Smoot would be in an incredible situation if the Patriots come calling at No. 32. He has had to work for everything he has earned at the University of Illinois, and that is just the kind of player that head coach Bill Belichick likes to take under his wing.

This article originally appeared on