Nov 10, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) throws to a receiver in the first half of their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Article continues below ...
Quarterbacks of course decide how things are going to play out but this 2017 NFL mock draft is driven by an impressive crop of defensive talent.
How those players will be distributed depends heavily on where the QBs end up going and predictably it will be the first team on the board who charts the course. Thus far the Cleveland Browns have remained comfortably in that spot and the beauty of this is nobody knows what they plan to do. Being such a bad team in need of help means they could go any direction. So which way will it be this time and why?
1. Cleveland Browns
QB, North Carolina
Nothing in this league can begin without a quarterback. The Cleveland Browns can try to insist Cody Kessler or Robert Griffin III can help them win. Reality says otherwise. Neither of those players have the chops for the job ahead. This team and that city needs a building block. Somebody Hue Jackson can hitch his wagon to. This is the #1 pick and though there may be better talents, the fact is they will likely not have a better shot at getting a quarterback of their choice.
Word has begun to pick up that they have many eyes on North Carolina standout Mitch Trubisky. They like his game and what he can do. Scouts are beginning to agree he might be the most complete quarterback in this class. He’s got enough size for the position, a solid arm with consistent, accurate passes. He gets the ball out quick and on time. To top it off he has enough mobility to make things happen with his legs. Jackson has made things work with a lot less.
Nov 12, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) attempts to sack Mississippi Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson (20) during the second quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
2. San Francisco 49ers
DE, Texas A&M
There is no doubt that the San Francisco 49ers need a quarterback. Colin Kaepernick isn’t the answer. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t the answer. Chip Kelly can’t be expected to run his offense until he finds the right trigger man. The problem is Trent Baalke has had numerous opportunities to fix this problem early in the draft but he’s remained stubborn about it. Besides he won’t be able to pass up what many consider the most talented player in the entire class at #2.
Even though they took DeForest Buckner this past draft, he doesn’t bring what Myles Garrett does. The Texas A&M product is a once in a generation pass rusher. He can play any position, be it a defensive end or outside linebacker and excel. He’s that gifted of an athlete. Teams have to constantly note where he lines up because he can rush from a multitude of spots. Best of all he knows how to win battles with power and with finesse. Pair him and Buckner together? It’s over.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) sacks LSU Tigers quarterback Danny Etling (16) during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
3. Tennessee Titans (via CHI)
Titans get #3 pick
Bears get #8 pick, 2nd in 2017, 6th in 2017 and 1st in 2018
The Tennessee Titans know they have something special building on offense with Marcus Mariota and that running game. The next order on the agenda if improving their defense. To date they have some nice pieces in place but few true studs. Somebody who can demand the attention of opponents on Sunday. Somebody who knows how to make the big play in the big moment. A winner and a top tier talent that can change situations.
Few know this better than Jonathan Allen. He’s enjoyed success at Alabama that few have dreamed of. Already a national champion, he has a chance to get another before turning pro. Much of that success is his own doing. He’s their best defensive lineman, a mix of power, quickness and violence. He can be moved inside or outside, stops the run and consistently shows he can get to the quarterback. Jacksonville needs a tone-setter like him.
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
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
If by some miracle Gus Bradley survives into 2017, and that looks like a stretch, then it’s time for him to stop screwing around. If he’s going to save his own neck, he has to do it his way. That means going back to the roots of what made him successful. Jacksonville has the makings of a pretty solid defense but they still need more pieces before they can take that critical last step to relevance. Finding a dynamic playmaker at safety is atop the list.
Jabrill Peppers is probably the best overall athlete in the entire class. He’s got the size of a linebacker but can run like a corner. Naturally this makes safety look like his ideal position. In terms of tackling and playing around the line of scrimmage he’s already a force. It will be up to Bradley and his staff to help him with his raw issues in pass coverage. If they can work out the kinks, they got a potential superstar in the making. To say nothing of his special teams value.
Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at EverBank Field. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
5. New York Jets
It’s going to be a difficult decision at this pick for the New York Jets. Many people will be pushing hard for a quarterback even though it’s an overall weak class. Are they prepared to ride it out with Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg though? At the same time this teams’ success was founded on tough defense. That took a major downturn when Darrell Revis regressed at the cornerback position. Top corners are needed for that scheme to work.
Florida looks like it will be the premier destination to find one in this class. Teez Tabor has gotten most of the hype, but the buzz has really begun to pick up on teammate Quincy Wilson. For obvious reasons. He’s got that desired mix of size, length, athleticism and speed. He can man up on any receiver and stick to them like glue. His instinct and ball skills are also very good. There aren’t many holes in his game and he’s only getting better.
Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) during the first quarter against the Missouri Tigers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
6. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals don’t win when their defensive isn’t playing well and their defensive isn’t playing well when their defensive line can’t pressure the quarterbacks. Outside of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap their front four has disappointed in regards to this. Through 10 games they have just 19 sacks as a team. In such a strong division that isn’t going to cut it. If Marvin Lewis survives another year he has to bring in somebody who can apply heat.
Derek Barnett has shown repeatedly at Tennessee that this is his calling. The Tennessee defensive end is a marvel of consistency. He’ll likely go pro having never had fewer than nine sacks in a season in college. That’s hard to do. It speaks to his natural ability at doing this job. He’s got the size and strength to play defensive end along with the quickness and natural finesse to beat blockers off the edge. Him and Dunlap across from each other with Atkin in the middle? Not bad at all.
Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) is tackled by Florida Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
7. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers offense were at their best in 2015. A big reason for that was because they were able to run the football. That hasn’t been the case this season. They rank a distant 15th in rushing. Jonathan Stewart has just 365 yards. It’s clear whatever he had before is no longer with him. Considering the fact he turns 30 next March, the team has to consider finding a replacement sooner than later. So why not give Cam Newton one of the most talented backs in recent memory?
Leonard Fournette may not quite be Adrian Peterson, but he’s close. The LSU back has it all. He can run with power, he can take it the distance for 80 yards with speed and he’s a deceptive athlete for his size. Teams will be concerned about his spotty injury history but backs of this caliber don’t come around very often. Putting him and Newton in the same backfield could have devastating effects for the rest of the NFC and put the Panthers right back in the Super Bowl picture.
Nov 5, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) runs the ball in the second quarter as Navy Midshipmen defensive end Jarvis Polu (90) defends at Everbank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
8. Chicago Bears (via TEN from LA)
QB, Notre Dame
The quarterback urgency continues to get ratcheted up for the Chicago Bears. Since the start of the 2016, all three of their top quarterbacks have missed games this season. Connor Shaw was knocked out in preseason and Brian Hoyer broke his arm in Green Bay. Jay Cutler missed a series of games with a bad thumb and now could be lost for the year with a banged up shoulder. This team has no direction at the most important position in football. That can’t be allowed to continue.
Deshone Kizer has lost steam since the early part of the season. The question is how much of that is his fault and how much is it Notre Dame? It’s clear the coaching at that program has slipped and Kizer doesn’t have the strongest cast of talent around him. He may be the most talented quarterback in this class. He’s big, mobile, can throw the ball far and with accuracy. He’s also intelligent, something Ryan Pace values highly in his signal callers. He’s not a polished product, but the risk is worth it.
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
9. Green Bay Packers
Watching this team the past few weeks, it’s apparent that things have gone off the rails for the Green Bay Packers. Nowhere more so than the defense. Their secondary was absolutely torched by Kirk Cousins on Monday Night. It’s becoming clear they have significant holes on the back end. Injuries have played a part in that but there is no question that secondary needs more talent and depth. Presuming Ted Thompson hangs onto his job, expect him to fix it.
Teez Tabor would be a major get for Dom Capers. The Florida standout is everything a coordinator wants in a boundary corner. He’s got size, quickness, athleticism and enough speed to carry receivers deep. His ball skills are good and improving too. Sometimes teams can nitpick on certain issues and there are some minor ones with him. In the end it shouldn’t matter. This is going to be a good football player and pairing Tabor with Sam Shields would do big things for the Packers.
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
10. New Orleans Saints
Some will argue it’s time for the New Orleans Saints to think about getting the heir to Drew Brees. Problem is this isn’t the class to be doing that. So if they can’t think about that direction, then giving him a better defense is the other direction they must go. Improving their ability to stop opponents through the air remains high. Numerous attempts to shore up the secondary have met with mostly failed results. It’s time they flipped that script.
Marlon Humphrey is tops on many boards as the best cornerback in the class. He’s got that coveted mix of size and sticky coverage ability. Put him on the boundary and he’ll lock down any receiver he lines up across from. He’s also a dedicated run defender as they all must be at Alabama. Some are just concerned he might be a bit stiff when dropping back, opening him up to double moves against faster receivers. Still, the positives should outweigh the negatives.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after intercepting a pass from Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (not pictured) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
11. San Diego Chargers
Getting a new quarterback, wide receiver and left tackle and are valid concerns for the San Diego Chargers. The problem is this draft may not be in line to help them with those problems, at least not in the 1st round. On the other hand their defense still needs work in some key areas. The loss of Eric Weddle at safety is something they still haven’t gotten over yet. Finding somebody who can patrol the back end would be a major help for that emerging front seven.
Jamal Adams will do something for them that no other defensive back on their roster has. He’ll set a tone for games. Adams has a reputation at LSU for being a pretty fierce hitter. He makes receivers pay for going over the middle and fills running lanes like a linebacker. His instinct is apparent almost constantly on tape, able to sniff out screens and where the ball is going through the air. He’s not a pure coverage safety but he can do both run and pass defense well.
Nov 19, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) grabs Chattanooga Mocs running back Alex Trotter (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
12. Arizona Cardinals
Sometimes a team just needs to get a really good player even if the pick isn’t a sexy one. There is no question the Arizona Cardinals have questions to answer at quarterback and wide receiver. Carson Palmer appears done and Larry Fitzgerald may retire. Still it’s their responsibility to stick to the board and neither of those positions have the best player available. So they do the responsible thing and stick to the board. Opportunities will come for those other problems.
Reuben Foster will help improve what is already a pretty good front seven. He’s a solid run defender who fills gaps and tackles consistently. He’s got good speed and athleticism. Though not great in coverage he shows the necessary capacity to handle himself. Best of all he brings value as a blitzer, something the Cardinals love to do. He should be an instant upgrade at that key inside linebacker position for them.
Nov 19, 2016; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) runs after a catch in the first quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
13. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota is fast developing into one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL. Much of that success is brought about by having a dominant running game and offensive line. His cast of receivers has done fairly well thus far but it’s not a group that has much star power. They’re more just solid targets. If Mariota is going to start beating great teams though he’s going to need somebody he can rely on in the big moments.
Mike Williams has shown he’s all about that at Clemson. He’s been living that life for months at Clemson. Every week it seems like the Tigers are playing a tight game they need to win and every week he’s making 2-3 big catches to put them in position. His size-speed-hands combination make him an attractive target regardless of situation or who’s covering him. Just put the ball in a remote vicinity and he’s going to go get it.
Nov 5, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) is tackled by Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) in the second quarter at Ohio Stadium. Armstrong would be taken from the field directly to a nearby hospital. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
14. Cleveland Browns (via IND)
Browns get #14 pick
Colts get #18 pick and 3rd in 2017
S, Ohio State
The Browns are in the business of acquiring playmakers now that they have their quarterback. Improving the defense is the major priority now. Jamie Collins looks like their only star at the moment. Finding somebody who can help him from the secondary would be a huge boost. No position does than better than the free safety position. At least when that player understands how to make things happen in coverage. Malik Hooker has shown he does.
The college season isn’t even over yet and he has five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns thus far for Ohio State. He’s a true ballhawk with ideal size at 6’2″. Hooker showcases plenty of instinct and toughness as a run defender too. His problems are all coachable, having to do with fundamentals and taking proper angles to the ball. It shouldn’t take long to sort those issues out and Cleveland will have another potential stud on defense.
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) gestures to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DT, Michigan State
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their franchise quarterback in place. So the offense can be dealt with in free agency and later rounds. If this team is going to compete in the NFC South they have to keep adding to the defense at every opportunity. Since they run the 4-3 scheme, that means loading up on the front line. Gerald McCoy is their best player but he’s had some nagging health issues. Besides it’s never a bad thing to give him help.
Malik McDowell has suffered through a down year at Michigan State. Not in terms of his own play but the programs’ success. Still it hasn’t impacted his draft stock too much. Scouts love his combination of size, length and quickness. He’s the type of defensive tackle that can ruin game plans for opponents if the light ever switches on. Already a good player, he has a chance to become a great one if the motor revs up and he smooths out his fundamentals.
Oct 15, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (8) during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State won 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
16. Buffalo Bills
CB, Ohio State
The Buffalo Bills will continue to be a team defined by their defense until Rex Ryan is no longer the head coach. That may be a possibility at the end of this season depending on how the team finishes. Even so the Bills have some work to do on that side of the ball even if Ryan exits. Chief among the problems is their sudden lack of capability at cornerback.
Stefon Gilmore will be a free agent this coming March and Ronald Darby hasn’t looked the same as he did last season. Corners are critical to every defense, but especially the one Buffalo runs. Gareon Conley continues to rise up boards. His size-athleticism combination, along with the steadiness under fire have teams excited about what he can do. Conley doesn’t get beat much and shows he has ball skill on top of it.
Nov 19, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) is congratulated by teammates after a fumble recovery during the second half against the Mississippi Rebels at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers remain a team defined by their linebackers. When the unit is loaded with young, able bodies the entire defense benefits. It was true in the 1990s and again in the 2000s. So far they have found quite the right mix yet but they’re close. Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree look like keepers, though health remains a concern with both. Adding another standout talent at the inside or outside spots could make this front seven fierce.
It’s hard not to love Zach Cunningham. He’s stuck in a downtrodden program at Vanderbilt where they hardly win. Yet he doesn’t let that stop him from being one of the best players in the country. Cunningham is a tough, instinctive linebacker who is so good at anticipating what the offense is going to do. He’s a tackling machine, can blitz and isn’t terrible when dropping in coverage. Maybe not the fastest guy in the world, but he doesn’t have to be.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) reacts against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
18. Indianapolis Colts (via CLE)
It seems the Indianapolis Colts finally have their priorities straight. Andrew Luck is their only lifeline to competing for Super Bowls and they can’t be expected to accomplish that goal if he’s constantly under pressure. Adding Ryan Kelly at center was a step in the right direction but that offensive line still needs a ton of work. The tackle positions are highest on the to-do list, more the right than the left side at this point.
Cam Robinson hasn’t gotten a lot of good press the past couple months. He’s run into some off-the-field problems and had several draft sources come out declaring he’s a headache who isn’t even that good a player. The reality is he’s a risk off the field but remains the best tackle in the class. Robinson is a strong run blocker, as per usual at Alabama but shows enough athleticism to handle himself in pass protection. No doubt he’d help the Colts with two key problems.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) carries up the field against LSU Tigers defensive back Dwayne Thomas (13) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
19. Miami Dolphins
Adam Gase has done a marvelous job transforming the Miami Dolphins into a viable, competitive team during his first year as head coach. Ryan Tannehill and the offense haven’t been world beaters, but they continue to show up when it matters most in games. That doesn’t change the fact some tweaks will be needed in order to make things easy and more explosive next year. Finding a tight end who can threaten in the passing game would be a start.
O.J. Howard looks like he’ll be the top option in a strong class. For good reason too. The Alabama product looks every bit the part of what NFL coaches seek. He’s tall and big, making him a matchup problem for shorter defensive backs. He’s also an athlete, showing impressive speed for somebody that big. This makes him a problem for slower linebackers. Thus the Dolphins are getting somebody who can attack the middle of the field, getting first downs and offering a big target in the red zone.
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
20. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIN)
RB, Florida State
The job ahead for the Philadelphia Eagles has become an obvious one. They have to do everything in their power to put better weapons around Carson Wentz. Though the rookie has done lots of good things, it’s clear he can only do so much. His receivers tight ends and running backs all lack overall in the talent department. Somebody is needed to help ease the pressure on Wentz to make all the plays. Often the best way to do that is the running game.
Dalvin Cook has been a tremendous soldier through some tough seasons at Florida State. He understands how to just do his job and try to make plays. A workhorse who does the heavy lifting. That is what the Eagles want and the best part is Cook brings so much to the table. He’s not only an effective running back in the traditional sense, he’s also a major threat out of the backfield as a receiver. Doug Pederson will see plenty of Jamaal Charles in his game.
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
21. Washington Redskins
The offense has been tremendous for the Washington Redskins. It looks like Kirk Cousins will be their long-term solution at quarterback. So GM Scot McCloughan should have a free hand to continue loading up on defense where help is most needed anyway. He likes to build through the trenches so expect some early action on the defensive line where they are weakest. Improving against the run is a big must.
Caleb Brantley would be a good fit for their system. The job of a 3-4 defensive end first and foremost is stopping the run. His combination of strength and explosion have made him a superior run stopper for the Gators. It also opens the door for the Redskins to turn him into a possible pass rush threat if he can learn to put that explosive acceleration to better use. It will be a bit challenging given his stockier frame but the ability is there.
Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA;Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) works out prior to the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
22. Baltimore Ravens (via KC)
Ravens get #22 pick
Chiefs get #25 pick and 4th in 2017
Where is the next great pass rusher coming from for the Baltimore Ravens? It’s a legitimate question to ask because Terrell Suggs doesn’t have much time left in the league. Nor does Elvis Dumervil who’s hurt anyway. The team has a strong defensive line but in order to remain a top defense they need outside linebackers who can rush the passer. Finding somebody who can learn under and then replace Suggs is not a bad plan.
Charles Harris is one of those pass rushers who will get overlooked because he doesn’t have the ideal size or athleticism that makes people go, “Wow.” The thing is though he’s quite good at doing his job, which is sacking the quarterback. That is what the NFL is about. Not being an athlete but being good at football. Harris is a high motor player with quickness and violent hands. He gives blockers fits and is difficult to stop when in a rhythm.
Nov 12, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) sacks Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
23. New York Giants
A few months ago it was rumored the New York Giants heavily coveted Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. They felt his versatility and pass rush potential would be a great fit for their scheme under Steve Spanuolo. That dream never came true as Chicago jumped ahead of them to make that pick. Since then the team has continued searching for options at linebacker to help with their rush. Without much success. This represents their next big chance.
Tim Williams isn’t quite the athlete Floyd was, but he might be a more proven pass rusher. He’s shown that much with his consistent ability to harass the quarterback at Alabama. Coming off the edge with speed, bend and violence are his game but he has enough agility to move around and create mismatches. Spagnuolo is a guy who likes to do something like that. This could make the Giants front seven far more difficult to block.
Nov 12, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Ben Niemann (44) tackles Michigan Wolverines tight end Jake Butt (88) during the first half at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
24. Denver Broncos
Look at the best offenses Gary Kubiak has been able to put together. Each of them had one thing in common. They had a tight end that was a serious threat in the passing game. It was true of Shannon Sharpe in Denver and again of Owen Daniels in Houston. Finding that sort of credible threat will really help things open up for both his running game and play action passing game. Thus far they haven’t found somebody who can create such a threat.
Jake Butt makes plenty of sense for them. He’s a polished, determined blocker who can really help in protection or getting an extra body out of the running lane. However, he’s progressed quite a bit as a pass catcher since the arrival of Jim Harbaugh, a man notorious for developing tight ends. Butt has a tall frame, good quickness, and enough speed with strong hands to make those tough 50-50 catches every quarterback needs on key downs.
Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) sacks Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
25. Kansas City Chiefs
The all-encompassing job of the Kansas City Chiefs front office in 2017 will be finding an answer to this question. Is there any way they will be able to retain star safety Eric Berry without gutting the roster to find the cap space? The odds are not looking good and it appears Berry may have to be sacrificed in order to preserve the teams’ financial stability. It’s just another example of the tough decisions teams must make with a hard cap.
If Berry is gone, then it falls to the Chiefs to find a replacement at safety sooner than later. This draft class seems strong at the position so that’s should help. Budda Baker is a name that has steadily risen up boards over the past month thanks to the success of Washington. In previous years his shorter stature (5’11”) would scare teams off but it’s becoming clearer that such problems are minute. If the player has instincts and a motor, which Baker does, the rest can be masked.
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
26. Atlanta Falcons
There really is no clever thinking or strategic planning in this situation. The Atlanta Falcons have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. They rank 31st and are allowing 283 yards through the air per game. It doesn’t get much worse. Part of the problem is a somewhat toothless pass rush but also a secondary that is pretty light on quality cornerbacks outside of Desmond Trufant. One of those two areas needs fixing.
People always seek the potential superstars or hidden gems. Sometimes just taking the most qualified prospect can be the right thing to do. Nothing about Sidney Jones is eye-popping out of Washington. Nonetheless he is a sturdy, solid cornerback. He plays tough coverage with few mistakes, tackles well and features the size and ball skills teams like. Considering he comes from the same program as Marcus Peters, that only helps.
The Detroit Lions have survived by the skins of their teeth to this point as they lead the NFC North. Most of it has been the inspired play of quarterback Matthews Stafford who may be having the best season of his career. An incredible thought since Calvin Johnson just retired. Even so this is not a flawless team by any stretch. They have serious issues to work through on defense from front to back.
Looking at their cornerback positions it’s basically Darius Slay and a host of average Joes. Another quality cover man would go a long way towards making things easier for them. Adoree Jackson is one of those prospects that people can’t agree upon. Some think he belongs in the Day 2 conversation, others believes he’s too good a player to believe he falls that far. He’s an excellent return man and quality corner who isn’t easy to shake. It’s just a matter of overlooking his slightly shorter size.
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
28. Houston Texans
The offensive line situation for the Houston Texans is becoming a bit murky. Age and injury are catching up to them at both starting tackle positions. Duane Brown is dealing with both while Derek Newton is already done for the year. Bill O’Brien and the front office know that Brock Osweiler can’t be effective at all unless he properly protected. The edges are the most important at this stage so the Texans have to be proactive in finding help there.
He wasn’t even on the radar to start the season. That is how fast Ryan Ramczyk has shot up boards in the past couple months. A transfer from Division II, he has quickly settled in for Wisconsin and become their rock at the left tackle position. His athleticism and ability to move in pass protection are what always draw NFL teams. If he can improve his overall power a bit more there’s a chance he might end up being a 10-year starter at the second most important offensive position.
Apr 16, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones (94) leaves the field following the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. The Blue team defeated the Gold team 17-7. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
29. Seattle Seahawks
DT, Notre Dame
How have the Seattle Seahawks continued to survive and thrive despite so many losses and low points on offense over the past year? Simple. Their defense. That is their fall back option anytime they get into trouble and the unit has continued to deliver over and over again. So why would the team suddenly stop adding quality talent at every opportunity? The secondary has the star power but it’s the defensive front that makes them look great.
Notre Dame hasn’t done a lot of good things lately but it’s clear they continue to find and develop really good defensive tackles. Jarron Jones has established himself as a presence on an otherwise underwhelming defense. He’s stout against the run but really showcases an ability to hit gaps and create pressure up the middle, forcing the quarterback off his spot. In the right situation that would almost guarantee creating a sack. A situation like the one Seattle has.
October 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) brings down Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
30. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots just operate at a different frequency than the rest of the NFL. Players whom might seem like wastes of time to most teams are seen as key gears in their machine. One particular type of player that Bill Belichick likes to have is an athletic hybrid linebacker. One who can fly around the field making tackles but also brings lots of value as a pass rusher. Rob Ninkovich is a good example as was Mike Vrabel.
Given the losses at linebacker this year it won’t surprise if the Patriots seek help right away. Takkarist McKinley is exactly the type of player they like. He’s a pass rush specialist who is excellent at finding ways into the backfield. Beyond that though he understands how to drop in coverage and also forces fumbles. This is a kid who knows how to make things happen. There is any number of ways New England will be able to use him.
Nov 21, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40), defensive lineman Justus Reed (97) and teammates hold a flag as they run out of the tunnel before the game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
31. Oakland Raiders
The offense has carried the Oakland Raiders far in 2016. Not a surprise with the star power concentrated on that side of the ball. The defense isn’t the worst in the league but it’s definitely the second class citizen of that team. There are still plenty of weak points that opponents have been able to exploit. Areas that Jack Del Rio knows have to be fixed if his team wants to seriously start thinking about a Super Bowl run.
One of the key spots that needs filling is middle linebacker. Thus far the teams’ attempts to fill it with veteran free agents and mid-to-late round picks hasn’t worked. Jarrad Davis could finally solve this lingering headache for Oakland. He’s a high energy player who attacks the line of scrimmage as a run defender and blitzer. He goes sideline to sideline well and understands his responsibilities in coverage. Put him in the middle and let him control the action.
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
32. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are the best team in football right now because of their offensive line and veteran playmakers are helping two rookies look great. Defensively they are short on proven stars (or any stars). They survive on effort and the excellent coaching of Rod Marinelli. With the offense loaded up though, Dallas is free to focus on that side of the ball. Given the importance of the front four in that scheme, finding an edge rusher is a top priority.
Jerry Jones has always been a gambler. If he sees a player that has a chance to be special, he’ll hang the risks and jump in with two feet. Carl Lawson represents exactly that kind of gamble. When on the field he is a seriously gifted pass rusher. He just knows how to beat blockers in many different ways. Hard to stop. The problem is he’s a health risk. Staying on the field is a struggle.