2017 NFL Mock Draft: New York Jets Land Mitch Trubisky
2017 NFL Mock Draft for the full first round as the New York Jets land their next should-be quarterback of the future.
After three grueling months of action, the 2016 college football season is finally winding down. And this past Saturday featured two rivalry games that featured some of the best draft prospects in the country. Michigan vs. Ohio State and Auburn vs. Alabama both were littered with players who will be playing on Sunday, though. So coming off of rivalry week, another 2017 NFL Mock Draft is necessary.
In both of those featured college matchups, in addition to the other games throughout the country and the ones played on Friday, there were numerous potential draft picks that shined in a big way. With stakes as high as they are in these types of games, a big performance can go a long way in helping draft stock. That’ll be even more true in the upcoming bowl season.
As always, the draft order in this latest 2017 NFL Mock Draft is determined by the week’s power rankings, those for Week 12 in this case. Moreover, it’s also important to note that there are no trades in this draft just yet, which means that there may be some reaches at positions where that won’t be the case in April. This is all about draft stock and team needs at this point, though.
Keeping all of that in mind, it’s time for this latest NFL mock draft at Week 12 of the 2016 NFL season. And still, the now 0-11 Cleveland Browns are on the clock.
DE, Texas A&M
The more things change, the more that they stay the same. I’ve been driving the train of though to suggest that the Cleveland Browns not feel pressure at No. 1 to draft a quarterback. Yes, I believe that Cody Kessler is not the answer for their franchise at quarterback. However, there are definite questions about every quarterback in the 2017 class. Subsequently, that’s not maximizing value after working so hard to attain so much draft capital.
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Instead, the far better value remains taking defensive end Myles Garrett from the Texas A&M Aggies. Though Jonathan Allen has crept up on him in recent weeks as the top prospect in this draft, I still think that Garrett is the better overall potential pro. More importantly in this case, I truly feel he’s the better fit and value for the Browns. Cleveland has been quietly trying to add young pieces and building blocks to their defense, most notably Jamie Collins, who they acquired via trade.
When you look at moves like the Collins trade and their emphasis on athleticism in last year’s draft, they are looking for the explosive, freak (for lack of a better term) athletes that are simply a rare find and a matchup nightmare at any level. With Garrett’s combination of size, speed, agility, and skill, he’s most certainly that type of player. He has top-five edge-rusher potential in the NFL and Cleveland could desperately use that to help anchor a young, rebuilding defense.
Like I said, Jonathan Allen has been climbing closer and closer in recent weeks to Garrett. While I had him falling last week in our mock draft, he doesn’t make it past the second pick here. Despite, like the Browns, having an apparent need at quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves in an interesting predicament. The ultimate result of that is the talent and value of Allen is too great for them to pass up for a player who’s not a sure-thing at quarterback.
For me, the thing that jumps off the tape for Allen is the versatility and the freedom that Alabama and Nick Saban feels in regards to how they use him. Depending on the down and situation, Allen can be seen literally lining up anywhere across the line. Even more impressive, he provides the same dominance no matter if he’s on the edge or on the interior. He can use his strength and burst to dominate his man and either plug holes or get in the quarterback’s face.
Obviously that versatility is enticing for a team like the 49ers, but they also happen to be a team in need of an edge-rusher. They need a player who can change games and demand attention at that position to first take pressure off their linebackers (when healthy), but also to allow Arik Armstead (also when healthy) a better chance to succeed on the interior and help out a secondary that’s still growing and improving.
This is 100 percent a major reach by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 3 overall pick. Alabama Crimson Tide offensive tackle Cam Robinson is not the the third best player in the 2017 draft class and I don’t think there’s any argument that could be made for it. However, that just goes to show you how great the need is for the Jags on the offensive line and on the end after their past picks to address the issue and free-agency signings of been cyclical failures.
Though it may sound like I believe that Robinson is absolute trash, that’s far from the case. In a weak class at offensive tackle, the Crimson Tide product is the bright spot. When it comes to running the football, you want to be running behind a player who plays as he does. He has tremendous ability to engage on a run-block and manipulate his man to open up the hole or give the ball-carrier the lane he needs. There’s a reason that Alabama continues to be a monster rushing attack and it’s not all skill-position players.
Granted, Robinson is a lesser pass-blocker than run-blocker, but he’s far from incompetent in that regard coming into the draft. However, he needs to work on his footwork throughout a pass play to keep his man at bay and not get tangled up, something he’s done at times that looks less than stellar. If he can get some work in with NFL linemen coaches, though, he can be an above-average NFL left tackle very soon into his career—something Jacksonville needs greatly.
QB, North Carolina
Finally the quarterbacks start coming off of the board and, wouldn’t you know it, I have the first going to the New York Jets. With the No. 4 overall pick, they select the North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. The Chapel Hill man and Mentor, OH native has seen his draft stock skyrocket throughout this season as you could say he wasn’t even on some people’s radars to start the year. In his first season as the starter for the Tar Heels, though, he’s been every bit deserving of climbing to being the No. 1 quarterback in the 2017 class.
Trubisky has both the arm and the accuracy to make just about any NFL throw you can ask for. Though you may like his deep ball to connect just a bit more than he does, that can largely be attributed to a lack of experience still. As North Carolina’s regular season concluded on Friday, his 12 starts in 2016 are essentially all he has in that type of role. Thus, there’s expected to be a bit of a learning curve.
Learning curve or not, though, Trubisky has the mechanics and tools to make the throws necessary, but also the athleticism to also take off and make plays with his legs or simply extend plays to make throws and allow receivers to freelance. The Jets obviously need answers at the position as Ryan Fitzpatrick surely isn’t it and it doesn’t appear they have any faith in Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg. However, they can have fait in Trubisky as he’s worth their time at No. 4.
We follow our first quarterback coming off of the board with the second of this NFL Mock Draft. Though the narrative seems to change weekly at this point, the safe money with the Chicago Bears rests with them moving on from Jay Cutler at the end of the 2016 NFL season. Not only has he given them nothing but frustration as the start under center, but it’s also a money-saving move so they can look to address other needs.
Under the presumption that they do go that route this offseason, then taking Deshaun Watson is an easy call with Trubisky going off of the board. Watson entered the season as the top quarterback in the 2017 class and many considered him to be the top-overall player very early on. However, his stock has taken a hit at times this season, but has leveled out quite a bit now to where he truly should be. Watson has the athleticism and physical tools to be a problem in the NFL with both his arms and legs and can put pinpoint accuracy on his throws while also connecting deep.
The big concern with Watson this season has been his turnovers. Just a brief rundown of his film will show you just why that’s been a problem, though. Watson has been lazy a bit this season (and parts of his sophomore campaign) in regards to his progressions and reads. He’s had a poor tendency to stare down receivers and throw it anyway. However, he seems to have worked at least a bit on it as of late and that’s a coachable trait that can be remedied. The Bears badly need a playmaker and hope at quarterback and Watson provides that.
Pick via Los Angeles Rams
After already having a first-round franchise quarterback and then a first-round, high-quality offensive tackle to offset Taylor Lewan, the Tennessee Titans are sitting pretty in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the two weakest positions in the class already locked up, they find themselves extremely lucky to have two selections in the first round. And with the pick they receiver from the Rams, the Titans choose to address their biggest need: cornerback.
If you’ve spent any time watching the Titans defense this season, it’s been frustrating as hell to watch on passing downs. You look at their secondary and they have the majority of the receivers trapped in good coverage. However, you look at either the No. 2 guy being covered by Perrish Cox or a slot guy being covered by a number of other players and they are open, thus allowing Tennessee to get burned. It’s truly their glaring defensive inefficiency. But they can address it by selecting Marlon Humphrey.
With the Rams worsening as the season goes on, the Titans get to nab the best cornerback prospect in a draft that’s fantastically deep at the position. At Alabama, Humphrey has shown a fantastic ability in coverage to not only blanket a variety of types of receivers, showcasing both his speed and his use of his size and length, but also to go up and make plays on the ball. With an explosive offense like the Titans’, creating turnovers can be a game-changer and Humphrey is more than capable of making plays to get the ball for his team. He would shore up the D in a big way and help this team really move towards something special.
For everyone that’s been on the “Jabrill Peppers is great, but he’s never caught an interception in his career with the Michigan Wolverines” train that’s been gaining steam, go ahead and hit the brakes and get off. The star in Ann Arbor pulled off his first career pick on Saturday against Ohio State in the first half. It wasn’t spectacular, but the stat-heads that couldn’t get past that can now be silenced (a bit) and look at everything that Peppers does bring to the table and why he’s the ideal fit for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Much like with Jonathan Allen, the first word that comes to mind for Peppers is versatility—and perhaps even more so with the Michigan product. Throughout the season, the Wolverines have lined him up at safety, linebacker (inside and outside), and a number of other gimmick positions on defense while also seeing him take snaps at running back, Wildcat quarterback, and return kicks and punts. He can do it all. However, he translates best to the NFL either as a hybrid-linebacker or a safety. For this Bengals team, I love him as the former.
Though the Bengals have talent on their roster at linebacker, what they lack is a playmaker and elite athlete that can simply fly around the field in any situation and make thing happen. Peppers is undoubtedly that guy as one of the freak athletes in this draft class. He’s a big play waiting to happen when he’s on the field and can do so many things well. This is a fantastic pick for a defense in need of an injection of life.
There’s a strong case to be made that the biggest need for the Arizona Cardinals coming into the 2017 draft is for them to address the offensive line. Carson Palmer has been bad on his own, but the line hasn’t done him a bit of favor this season and David Johnson finding success is a credit to his incredible abilities. However, there’s no tackle after Robinson worth taking for quite a while, thus, Arizona must look elsewhere at No. 8.
Where they wind up is on the other side of the ball and strengthening their already stout and talented defense. If there’s one area where this Cardinals team is deficient, it’s in terms of having the big playmaker in the middle of the defense. And yes, I mean big in terms of size and Vanderbilt Commodores inside linebacker Zach Cunningham has plenty of that at 6-3. Even more impressive, though, Cunningham is an absolute freak of an athlete in terms of his jumping ability, lateral quickness, and burst of straight-line speed in attacking holes.
Vanderbilt has pulled out some impressive wins this season despite being a bad team and Cunningham has been in the center of it. The linebacker is an absolute monster that makes a mediocre-at-best unit good at times. For a player that’s able to do that, inserting him into a defense that’s already one of the most talented in the league is a scary notion. He could potentially make Arizona the best defensive team in the league and help get them back to where they were expected to be in 2016.
Quite frankly, does there really need to be an explanation as to why the San Diego Chargers need to be looking at wide receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft? I mean, Philip Rivers is currently throwing to the murderer’s row of Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams—and that’s when those two are healthy. Sure, Keenan Allen is on the roster, but how long has it been since he could stay healthy (answer: his rookie season). Thus, the Chargers must address the position by adding a quality playmaker to help Rivers out.
Mike Williams is the best receiver in this draft class and it’s by a wide margin. At 6-3, 225 pounds, he’s clearly the big target that is so valuable in today’s NFL. He can go up on the outside, over the middle of the field, and in the red zone and make plays on the ball where defensive backs can’t cover him. His size and his leaping ability allow him to do that and he has sure hands to make sure he hauls in the grab as well.
The Clemson Tigers product also has solid speed considering his size, though he’s not a burner by any stretch. But when you couple his size and athleticism with solid speed, he’s going to be a major weapon in an NFL offense. Rivers is perpetually underrated at quarterback in this league, but we could see him truly shine on the back-end of his prime in San Diego when given a target like Williams to throw to.
It’s past time for the Green Bay Packers to cut their losses and quit banking on Eddie Lacy to be what he once showed he could potentially become. He simply can’t stay healthy or stay in shape to be and adequate weapon in the backfield. We’ve seen how detrimental that’s been to Green Bay’s offense this season as Aaron Rodgers has been asked to simply be the NFL’s Atlas and put the offense on his shoulders.
Leonard Fournette would take a great deal of the weight off of his shoulders, though, and that’s why I have the Pack taking him at No. 10. Fournette is far and away the best running back prospect in this class, which says a lot considering the talent at the position coming out of college this spring. The LSU Tigers star is a unicorn in terms of everything he brings to the table, though. He’s a massive back at 6-1, 230 pounds that can embrace contact and mow through it, that while also being able to blow by and make guys miss with unreal elusiveness and top-end speed.
There’s a reason that the hype-train has been rolling for Fournette for quite some time: he’s that damn good. He hasn’t always had the best line at LSU, but we’ve still seen him showcase his ability to get loose despite that when he’s been healthy. His health is a bit of a concern, but I believe it’s also been a bit of him sitting out to protect himself for the draft. The Packers would be getting an absolute stud and a player that would revolutionize the offense in ways that Lacy simply hasn’t been able to.
If there’s a coach in the NFL that’s more divisive in terms of answering the question “is he a good coach” than Rex Ryan, I’d like to know who it is. There are those that believe he’s tremendously overrated and others that believe that he’s every bit as good as advertised. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. However, you can’t deny that he’s fantastic in terms of what he can do with a defense.
The issue with the Buffalo Bills this season, though, has been the play of their secondary. Both in regards to their cornerbacks and safeties, they haven’t been able to capitalize on the blitzing and creation of pressure the Ryan has schemed up consistently all season. Thus, they need a playmaker on the back-end to help them shore that up moving forward. Though there are talented corners still available, the bigger need in my eyes lies back at safety and Jamal Adams out of LSU is the kind of high-caliber athlete and playmaker that can shore that up immediately.
While he needs some refining in terms of technique and not relying on his physical tools as often as he does, Adams’ tools are good enough that he’s been a dominant safety for the Tigers. He has tremendous ability to change directions and burst when he makes his read and breaks. Moreover, his coverage abilities are also aided by the fact that he’s a fantastic tackler and can bring the thunder as well. He’s the type of hard-hitting safety that also possesses coverage ability that would make the Bills much more dangerous moving forward.
Pick a spot that’s not played by Kenny Vaccaro or Cameron Jordan on the New Orleans Saints defense and it’s something that they need to address moving forward. Granted, New Orleans has done an admirable job of not being the turnstile that they were early in the year and improving their defense as the season has gone on. However, they could still use a heavy influx of talent and there’s not a more naturally gifted cornerback in the draft than Teez Tabor.
With the Florida Gators, Tabor has been a monster throughout his career. While Vernon Hargreaves was taken in the first round last year, there were many scouts that believed that Tabor and teammate Quincy Wilson are better NFL prospects. I’m not nearly as high on Wilson as others, but am so on Tabor. His combination of size, ball-skills, and instincts in coverage are near unmatched at the position coming out of college.
Much like with Adams going a pick before him, he needs refinement in not allowing his physical gifts to bail him out on certain plays and situations. That’s not to say he has bad technique, but just that he can get a bit lazy with it at times because he know he can still make plays the majority of the time. He won’t be able to get away with that at the next level, but that’s something that’s coachable and the Saints could be getting a star at No. 12 at a position where they need one.
RB, Florida State
Among many other teams, the Carolina Panthers could also use help on their offensive line. The shortcomings of the unit—particularly at tackle—were exposed in Super Bowl 50 a great deal. However, that was only the tip of the iceberg for these tackles. As Mike Remmers and Michael Oher have both been dealing with injuries this season, the severe lack of depth at tackle has been exposed as well. Unfortunately, the Panthers are also in a position where it’s not feasible to draft a tackle. They’re a candidate to trade back, I’d think.
But if they stay here at No. 13, the Panthers need to address another area of the offense at running back by taking the immensely talented Dalvin Cook out of Florida State. Jonathan Stewart has been productive in Carolina throughout his career, but has always been an injury risk. As he gets on the back-side of his career, though, he’s becoming less valuable behind an O-line that, as mentioned has issues.
Meanwhile, Cook is the type of player that can provide the explosiveness and playmaking necessary to give Cam Newton and the offense a dimension that Stewart simply can’t even when he’s on the field and 100 percent healthy. Cook has the elusiveness and strength to make people miss and then break off big chunks of yardage with tremendous burst. Though he’s not Fournette, the Seminole has a chance to be a great back in this league.
While the Tennessee Titans would love to take Mike Williams, they simply aren’t in the position to grab him. He’s the exact type of receiver that they need, though. In Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, and even rookie Tajae Sharpe, you’re looking at a slew of sure-handed possession receivers that can break off yardage down the field. However, they don’t have the big-bodied red zone threat and playmaker that can come down with anything in traffic.
With Williams off of the board, JuJu Smith-Schuster out of USC is one hell of a consolation prize. Starting the season, Smith-Schuster was the consensus No. 1 receiver in this draft class. The emergence of Williams and another player (who we’ll get to) has seen his overall stock drop a bit over the year. However, that shouldn’t be an indication of what the Trojans product is capable of. He’s a monster as a receiver and competitor that’s willing to do whatever necessary to make plays.
Standing at 6-2, 220 pounds, Smith-Schuster isn’t quite as big of a body as Williams is, but still has the size, strength, and sure hands needed to be that big red zone threat. Moreover, what’s been impressive has been how the big wideout has persevered through tough quarterback situations throughout his time at USC. And since the emergence of Sam Darnold, he has truly shined in a big, big way. Throwing him on an already productive Titans offense with a quarterback like Marcus Mariota could be a dream come true for Titans fans.
This almost seems too perfect to be possible, but it indeed is. When you think about the Baltimore Ravens historically, they’ve always been the team with the vibrant, hard-hitting, playmaking defense that can get after you and make you question everything as an offense. As some of those playmakers get older, though, they find themselves needing to bolster that attack and mentality on that side of the ball. And Tim Williams out of Alabama appears to be the exact type of player they want.
Watching film on Williams is truly a treat on the eyes. There might not be a player in college football (save for maybe his teammate in Allen) that has a more impressive defensive highlight reel than Williams. Whenever he comes off the edge, it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. But what’s tremendous is that he has full control of his body with that type of explosion and speed. If a tackle or other blocker tries to determine, he can either cut or maneuver deftly to get around it and still create pressure.
There are still off-field concerns stemming from an incident with marijuana possession and an unlicensed firearm earlier in the season. However, the Ravens have the personnel in their coaching staff to help keep Williams on the straight and narrow in that regard. On the field, though, he’s a player who just seems to fit the Baltimore mold and would be a fantastic addition moving forward to start the next generation of this unit.
DT, Michigan State
Seemingly out of nowhere—or perhaps just very quietly—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves in contention to win the division in the 2016 season. However, if there’s one reason that seems unlikely moving forward, it’s their defense. This unit has been gashed on a number of occasions this season and a big reason has been the play of their defensive front. With Vernon Hargreaves giving the secondary a boost, an oft-injured and largely quiet front has been an issue.
Adding Michigan State Spartans star Malik McDowell would certainly go a long way in helping remedy that issue, however. In terms of absolute talent, McDowell is a fringe top-10 prospects. However, his value gets dinged a bit for me for a couple of reasons. First, his injuries this season always scare me when it comes to a prospect in college that plays such a physically demanding position and role. What’s more, though, is that I questioned the tremendous effort at times that he’s been lauded for.
That said, the talent of McDowell in the trenches is undeniable. Simply put, he’s a force that can both generate a pass rush up the middle while also making it near impossible for running backs to find a clean hole up the gut as well. And while his effort was lacking a bit in regards to his touted motor to me, that could have been due to the injuries. When that motor’s running, he’s relentless in his attack, making him more dangerous. He’d be a fantastic fit in Tampa.
Pick via Philadelphia Eagles
If there’s one thing that’s undeniable about my approach for the Browns in these mock drafts, it’s that’s I’m consistent. I whole-heartedly maintain that Cleveland should not fret over the quarterback position in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft if the value is not there. They have too many picks and too much opportunity for rapid growth to not be getting value to address needs. And as there’s no quarterback worth being taken at No. 17 left on the board, I chose to look at cornerback with Sidney Jones out of Washington.
With the emergence of the Huskies in the Pac-12 this season, much of the focus has been on their explosive offense and rightfully so. However, Washington has proved in big games this year that they can play great defense as well. A big part of that is the talent they have in the secondary and Jones is the best of the bunch. He has nice size and length, always great assets as a cornerback. However, he’s also shown tremendous coverage abilities in the pass-happy Pac-12. Considering he won’t be facing spread offenses nearly as much in the NFL, you have to imagine he might even look better at the next level in that regard.
Separate from if the Browns choose to keep Joe Haden around beyond this season, they need help in the secondary moving forward. It’s a paltry unit that can be torched by any competent offense at this point. However, as they start to build their defense, adding players like Jones that have high-upside and proven immediate value could go a long way. He’s not going to change the defense single-handedly, but he can have a big hand in helping the unit turn around.
The Indianapolis Colts are getting an absolute steal here at No. 18. You could make a viable argument that Reuben Foster is deserving of being a sure-fire top-10 pick. However, the needs of teams picking after the Cardinals, who took top-rated inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, caused Foster to fall a little bit in the first half. That said, the Colts may be the team that needs a player like Foster the most in this draft and are fortunate he falls into their lap.
Yes the Colts are among the many teams that need help on the offensive line and are in range to reach slightly to address that need. However, the bigger concern for me early in the draft would be adding playmakers on defense. Outside of the oft-injured Vontae Davis, I look at that defense and see no real difference-maker. That’s obviously a problem and an sign of just how little attention general manager Ryan Grigson has paid to this unit as a whole.
However, taking Foster would go a long way in starting to rectify that. He’s a talent that’s uncommon at inside linebacker and that can do it all in the middle of the field. The Crimson Tide star is tremendous against the run and has the physical tools to be a plus-defender in coverage. Where he’s unique is his tremendous ability to also get a pass-rush up the middle at linebacker. While that’s partially scheme at Alabama, you can’t discredit Foster’s ability to make plays in that scheme. He could be the playmaker this defense desperately needs to add moving forward.
Ideally, the Pittsburgh Steelers would love to be able to take a linebacker here. With potential free-agency decisions ahead with James Harrison and Jarvis Jones, they’re going to need to add depth both inside and outside. The problem here, though, is that nay player that matches the value of being taken 19th-overall is already off the board. Pittsburgh isn’t the team that’s going to reach like that, so I see them addressing another need on the interior of their offensive line.
In doing so, the Steelers end up with Dan Feeney out of Indiana. Feeney is far and away the best guard prospect in the 2017 draft class and the only player at his position worthy of a first-round selection. At 6-4, 310 pounds, the big Hoosier has the size, frame and strength to really control the action in the trenches. He’s fantastic at handling multiple types of interior pass-rushes and controlling them to both create time in pass-blocking and open holes in the running game.
Frankly, Feeney looks like a potential can’t-miss prospect at guard. He falls to 19th largely because there isn’t a real premium placed on the position when it comes to the draft. However, the Steelers should do so as they need depth and an upgrade to help keep interior rushes out of the backfield. Feeney is their man and should fit right in.
Pick via Minnesota Vikings
For at least in recent weeks, I’ve been of the mind that the Philadelphia Eagles need to use the first-round pick acquired in the Sam Bradford trade to take a cornerback. For a defensive unit that is truly one of the league’s best, their glaring weakness lies with Leodis McKelvin and the secondary. And yes, they need an upgrade at the position at some point in the 2017 draft. That said, the performance of their receivers of late has been truly horrid enough to make receiver their top draft priority in my eyes.
What Nelson Agholor did in the Eagles last game in Week 11 was downright offensive to anyone who likes watching passes be caught. Whether it was mental lapses, a complete lack of hands, or something else, he dropped balls that were on the money and should be caught even at a high school level. Carson Wentz has been great as a rookie, but he’s getting no help. However, John Ross out of Washington would provide him with more than enough help.
Ross doesn’t have anything resembling the size of Williams and Smith-Schuster, but what he does have is arguably the crispest route-running and move-set at the position in this draft-class. Oh yeah, he also has 4.3-type speed that can take the top off of defenses in an instant. Ross is a tireless worker with great hands and technique. Though he’s not the big playmaker in the red zone, he’s a playmaker in his own right. Wentz and Ross could form a masterful connection in Philly that would finally end their current woes at receiver.
FS, Ohio State
One prospect that impresses me with every single look at film is Malik Hooker out of Ohio State. Sure, the free safety had a big pick-six early in The Game against Michigan on Saturday, but that’s honestly secondary to the other things that he can do. He’s the best free safety prospect in this draft class for a reason. And as the Chiefs could be looking to either wholly revamp their safeties or add a better option beside Eric Berry, Hooker is a natural fit in Kansas City.
What first stands out about Hooker is his skill level in coverage at the position. Whether he’s coming up in man or breaking on the ball playing a deep zone, his ability to read plays and quarterbacks’ eyes is unparalleled. Sometimes it looks as if he knows how the play is developing better than some of the offense does. That’s truly the mark of a gifted playmaker at safety and he has the length and speed to further make him dangerous.
Despite having a bit of a light frame at just 205 pounds for being only 6-2, Hooker has proven to be a great tackler in college in terms of technique and angles. While you’d like to see him fill out the frame just a bit more to deal with pro-level athletes, one look at his frame and you realize that’s not going to be an issue. Hooker is honestly a tremendous value at No. 21, though some don’t have him rated that highly. He has that type of skill and potential though and will be welcomed in KC.
Speaking of teams getting great value, Derek Barnett out of Tennessee dropping to the Miami Dolphins with the No. 22 pick is near criminal. The Volunteers product has shown enough and has the talent where you could argue him being worth a top-12 selection in the 2017 draft. So for the Dolphins to be able to address a big potential need with a top-tier prospect in this position is huge for them.
As to why this is a need, the Dolphins simply need youth on the edge of their defensive front. Cameron Wake is still a monster, but the cut-off point in terms of age has to be coming. Meanwhile, there’s no guarantee that veteran Mario Williams is even around beyond the 2016 season. Thus, they need another pass-rusher on the edge that can help this progressing defense not take a step backwards. Barnett is that guy.
Versatile in that he can be moved around on the line, Barnett is impressive to watch coming off of the edge. Boasting a uniquely long yet strong frame, his functional strength when going after opposing tackles is astounding. While he may look outmatched at times in size, he knows how to use his frame and leverage to get to where he’s strongest and then get past blockers to make plays. His footwork could use some work and it wouldn’t hurt Barnett to both vary his move-set as a rusher and also to work on adding a bit more quickness to his game. That said, the Dolphins are getting an impact player with even more potential.
Perhaps the hardest team to draft for in the first round of any 2017 mock draft is the Houston Texans. On paper, there aren’t a great many deficiencies on their roster. You think about an upgrade on the offensive line at tackle, but they seem to have faith in Duane Brown, despite him being 31 years old. Then you look at guard and the drop-off is so steep after Feeney was taken at No. 19 that you can’t look there. Thus, you have to dig a little deeper.
In doing so, I wound up with the Texans taking Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard with the No. 23 pick. We’ve all seen how this Houston team, both under Gary Kubiak and now under Bill O’Brien, love to use the tight end in their offense. It’s even more the case with the struggling Brock Osweiler at the helm as he often winds up checking down to his tight ends. And while they’ve been productive as a unit in Houston, no one on the roster has the talent of Howard.
A solid run-blocker in that aspect of his game (because, duh—Alabama), Howard is a potential threat to break open a big play whenever the ball is put in his hands. His speed is quite shocking for a man as big as he is and he has nice hands to haul in throws. Oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt him either that he’s a massive target anywhere on the field at 6-6, 251 pounds. That’s so difficult for defenses to match up with and could help Osweiler really progress and, thus, the Texans offense move forward as well.
Despite a strong Thanksgiving Day showing against the Dallas Cowboys and their vaunted offensive line where they held Ezekiel Elliott under 100 rushing yards, the Washington Redskins have had issues this season in regards to their run defense up the middle. It’s an area of concern moving forward and something they will want to shore up moving forward with this team. Subsequently, adding a player like Lowell Lotulelei out of Utah would be a great pick at No. 24.
At 6-2, 310 pounds, it’s not hard to see just based off his size and frame why the big man is such a bear to deal with when it comes to opposing run-blocking. His low center of gravity complete with a stout and strong core makes it near impossible for interior linemen to get leverage on him and move him around. Thus, he’s able to clog up holes up the middle seemingly at will.
Because of his frame, though, it’s also unavoidable that Lotulelei isn’t an ideal factor when it comes to generating a pass-rush up the middle. However, his value as a run-defender is top-notch. So while he may ultimately be used as more of a situational player, he addresses a key need for a Redskins team that has pass-rushing on the edge to make up for him. This appears to be an ideal fit for a unique defensive tackle.
You can’t look at the 2016 New York Giants and argue that they have a renewed focus on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to their personnel decisions. The signing of Olivier Vernon this offseason in addition to the rest of the $200 million in contracts they handed out on the defense are the clearest indication of that. However, that defense could be losing a key piece this offseason as Jason Pierre-Paul could go elsewhere. That leaves a hole on the edge opposite of Vernon.
Luckily, Missouri Tigers product Charles Harris should be able to come right in out of college and help plug in that hole if JPP does indeed go elsewhere. At 6-3, 255 pounds, Harris has an impressive frame with solid strength considering that he could likely use a bit more muscle at the next level. That said, what he lacks in muscle, he can make up for with his ability to get off the line faster than most players off of the edge. His first-step is phenomenal and his speed, quickness, and agility allow him to get after the quarterback.
Don’t mistake Harris for a complete defensive player on the front-four just yet. For all of his abilities as a pass-rusher, there are shortcomings when it comes to his run defense on the edge. That said, a bit more muscle without sacrificing his quickness and agility along with proper coaching make that seem like something that could develop with time. In the meantime, he and Vernon would maintain a vicious one-two punch on the ends in New York.
To be completely honest, there are going to be some people that view this as a bit of a reach. After all, some places have Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Chris Wormley rated as a fringe second-round prospect. To me, though, that is criminally underrating what the big man up front for Jim Harbaugh’s team is capable of. He’s an absolute monster and a perfect fit for what the Detroit Lions need to add to their defense.
At 6-5, 302 pounds, Wormley has a large frame in terms of simply his height and build that makes him stand out a bit. While some may look poorly upon that because it sacrifices leverage in the run game against stout interior linemen, looking at the film of Wormley that’s not the case. He’s prove to be a player with uncanny quickness on the interior that can shock and beat interior linemen and then use his length to then have his way up the middle. He shows this against both the run and pass as a fantastic generator of pressure up the middle for Michigan.
Since the departure of Ndamukong Suh, the interior of the Lions offensive line has been lacking. Especially with pass-rushers such as Ezekiel Ansah on the outside, Detroit needs someone who can come in and demand attention on the inside no matter the play-call from the opposing offense. Wormley is that guy and I think he’s going to vault up draft boards as we get closer to April. Obviously he’s already climbed mine.
As stated previously, this is a tremendously deep class at cornerback for the 2017 draft. All the way through the end of the second round, teams can find players that should be able to come in and help a secondary immediately. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that the Atlanta Falcons would be getting great value at No. 27 if Desmond King out of Iowa were to fall to them and help them address the need.
Though Desmond Trufant is a true No. 1 cornerback with shutdown capabilities on the outside, the Falcons secondary is lacking in certain aspects. Keanu Neal is helping shore things up on the back end, but opposite of Trufant is still an issue. That’s where King should be able to come in and help immediately. Though he doesn’t have the size that his contemporaries do at just 5-10, he has the speed and IQ to make up for it, that along with elite athleticism that allows him to still make plays on passes when the ball is at it’s peak. Simply, he’s not a liability against receivers much bigger than him.
That said, King does need to put on a bit of weight to avoid getting bodied by stronger receivers and playmakers at the NFL level. That will be key to his success as a pro. However, he also would provide the Falcons with value on special teams given his abilities as a punt returner in addition to his skills as a defensive back. This would be a great look for Atlanta and something to help them really move forward as a defense.
Finally we get to a team that needs help on the offensive line and can justify taking one in their draft position. Quite honestly, the offense of the Denver Broncos over the past two seasons hasn’t been much to write home about. Much of that falls on the play of a washed-up Peyton Manning in 2015 and the lackluster Trevor Siemian in 2016. That said, much of the blame also lies with an offensive line that is shallow in depth and not great to begin with from the jump.
Enter Ryan Ramczyk out of Wisconsin. First off, it may be a bit of confirmation bias, but the Badgers have a history of producing high-quality offensive linemen that succeed in the NFL. It’s a product of both the players that they recruit and the coaching in Madison. And Ramczyk is certainly a player that could help the Broncos. Throughout his Wisconsin career, he’s proven to be a fantastic pass-blocker that rarely allows pressure. He uses great size and length to keep rushers at bay and control the action there.
Ramczyk struggled early in his career with the Badgers in terms of his run-blocking. However, he’s improved noticeably in this regard since the start of this season. He’s become a plus-lineman in that regard, though there is still room for improvement. However, the name of the game is simply giving the Broncos and whichever young quarterback they start time to operate right now and Ramczyk should be able to slot in immediately and help that cause.
As has been the case all season, the Oakland Raiders continue to fall in a bad spot in the draft order to address their biggest need. The Silver and Black need to add a middle linebacker to help patrol the middle of the field and come up and stop the run. However, there are two elite inside linebacker prospects in this draft in Foster and Cunningham—and neither will be around when the Raiders are picking with how they’ve played. Then, the drop-off is steep and they shouldn’t reach to continue building something special under Reggie McKenzie.
Instead, the play for the Raiders at No. 29 should be to improve their depth at secondary. While things looked frightening early in the season for their defensive backs that they aimed to improve in free agency with Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith coming to town, things have gotten much better as the unit has progressed and gelled. However, Oakland could still use someone to help shore up the middle of the field with slot guys in man-coverage as T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden are less than ideal options.
Jourdan Lewis is the guy that comes to mind here. Though he plays on the outside for Michigan, he’s proven to be adept in man-coverage to the highest degree throughout his career. He’s consistently left to his own devices in coverage and has produced time and again in doing so. It’s an impressive feat to watch him on film and his instincts and technique translate to him being able to move inside and do the same for this Oakland team.
OT, Florida State
This pick probably looks familiar if you’ve been keeping up with my recent mock drafts. It’s a tremendous reach for the Seattle Seahawks to take Roderick Johnson out of Florida State in the first round. He’s not a first-round prospect at offensive tackle and no one outside of Robinson and Ramzcyk truly is. However, the need is so dire for the Seahawks that they can’t miss out on the next-best player at the position and that’s Johnson.
Johnson’s stock has taken a hit throughout the 2016 season and, frankly, for good reason. After entering the year looking to be on-par with the Robinson potentially, he’s tapered off dramatically with a poor showing throughout the year. He’s struggle in pass-blocking far too often, especially when he’s supposed to be keeping a freshman quarterback healthy and upright. While he’s been solid blocking for Dalvin Cook, worse tackles could do the same for such a dynamic back. He’s been a letdown, but the size and tools are there where he could be a starting NFL tackle with proper development and coaching.
In reality, the Seahawks need to trade up in the first round to get a tackle. While I doubt they can get high enough to grab Robinson without making a dumb trade, they should at least look to move up and grab Ramzcyk. The need at the position is that dire for this team and being stuck with a likely project in Johnson is not the answer. As said, there are no trades in this mock. But this is one team where I think it’ll be necessary down the line.
WR, Western Michigan
Despite picking at the end of the first round, the New England Patriots have a number of options they could pursue. They could look to try and find a hyper-athletic linebacker to try and mold into replacing Jamie Collins. While I like a player like Jarrad Davis, I think that’s a bit of a risk that this team isn’t accustomed to making. Instead, the better option for the Pats at No. 31 will be for them to look at a dynamic playmaker in the passing game. And Corey Davis out of Western Michigan is that and more.
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While I understand fully Williams and Smith-Schuster (and even Ross) being rated higher than Davis simply because of level of competition, Davis is my favorite receiver in this draft class. In terms of his build, his physical tools, and his productivity, there’s no player in my opinion that matches the total package that the star out of the MAC brings to the table. He can go up and catch anything, can beat defenses over the top, and also has a nice route-tree all things considered with the offense he’s in at Western Michigan.
All of this is to say that he seems like the perfect weapon that the Patriots would target. It’s right in character for Bill Belichick to see an undervalued receiver from a small-school and pursue him for his physical tools. And Davis could do a lot worse than having Tom Brady throwing to him to start his career. This is the play for New England—or they’ll trade out of the first round because that’s what they do more than anyone. Either way, the options are solid.
Though Dallas Cowboys fans may have been screaming at their TV sets in April 2016 when they took a running back at No. 4 overall, I think Ezekiel Elliott has worked out quite nicely as he’s a viable MVP-candidate as a rookie running back. However, the outrage came from the fact that the Cowboys need to address the talent deficiencies on their defense moving forward. They have to do that here and it just so happens that Carl Lawson out of Auburn falls right into their laps.
You have to start with saying that there is a bit of a risk when it comes to drafting Lawson. He’s struggled with injuries for the bulk of his college career and that has caused him to miss significant time throughout. However, that doesn’t negate the impact he’s capable of having when healthy. Lawson has great explosion with his first step and is lightning-quick when getting around tackles on the edge. He truly has elite pass-rusher potential if he develops and stays healthy.
What you have to love for the Cowboys is that they can afford this risk to a degree. While they need immediate help on the defensive front and on the edge, they are at No. 32 and should take a gamble on a player with an injury-riddled past. The upside is so great that it creates tremendous value and could potentially bolster the weak part of their roster in a big way.