Welcome to my first mock draft of the season, where you are encouraged to slay me for each and every pick without reading my analysis or acknowledging the fact that it is February 6 and there is much we do not know! I’ve accentuated your criticism by making this a “what-I-would-do” mock draft, providing my analysis of who I believe each team should select given their needs and who is still on the board.
This mock was done with a heavy emphasis on need-based drafting, so some players that I currently grade as first rounders – Malik McDowell, Derek Barnett, Quincy Wilson, etc. – may have simply been passed over because the need or fit with a certain team wasn’t there. The order these players were selected in was not necessarily indicative of my positional rankings or big board either, as I often went with the best scheme fit of player to system rather than simply the next player on my board. The reasoning behind looking at “fit” in this way is that even if and when these picks inevitably fail to materialize, we still have some analysis of how the players fit into given schemes based on their existing skill sets.
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, EDGE, Texas A&M
The need at quarterback is a crying one, but I need to do more work on this class before I decide if Cleveland should be willing to pass up on a special edge rushing talent to nab a signal caller. I also fully expect a passer to be available for the Browns at #12 or for Cleveland to package one of their many other picks to move up and grab one. On the other hand, Garrett isn’t going to last and the Browns aren’t in position to pass on a high-impact player at one of the game’s most important positions.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The 49ers won’t be good anytime soon, so this pick is all about finding the long-term solution under center. Watson is a sharp, mentally tough quarterback who has the right tangibles and intangibles to pick up Kyle Shanahan’s offense and become the leader San Francisco needs. It won’t happen right away, but if John Lynch can build anything around those two – player and coach – the 49ers’ dark days may be brief.
3. Chicago Bears – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
I actually think the Bears will be relatively active in their attempt to bring in a veteran quarterback this offseason, given the fact that their roster – when not ravaged by injury – is a little closer to competing than some of the other top-10 teams. If Jay Cutler is jettisoned, I’d expect Chicago to re-sign Brian Hoyer at the very least, who played well last season and should come at an affordable price. He’ll be the bridge while Kizer works out his mechanical flaws and attempts to maximize his exceptional tools.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU
The Jaguars might end up needing a quarterback but, for now, getting Blake Bortles some help should be the top priority. Cook is a dynamic athlete with some of the best burst and acceleration I’ve seen from a running back; he’ll be an instant starter and add the threat of a backfield receiver to the Jaguars stable of weapons in the passing game.
5. Tennessee Titans – Marshon Lattimore, CB, OSU
Thanks to the Rams trade for Jared Goff last year, Tennessee has two top-18 picks and relatively few needs to address. The cornerback position is by far the biggest void on the roster, and Lattimore has the all-around talent, size, and athleticism to be an instant starter in the NFL. Expect Jamal Adams to get heavy consideration here, as well as Jon Allen, Reuben Foster, and Corey Davis.
6. New York Jets – Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
The Jets are in desperate need of a dynamic edge rusher and have been for quite some time. Williams’s off-field concerns may eventually bump him out of the first round entirely, but for now he fills a huge need and gets the opportunity to work with a coach who has maximized plenty of formerly troubled athletes in the NFL. If Todd Bowles can get Williams focused on football, the Alabama edge defender has all the explosiveness and physicality to become a top-notch pass rusher.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Jamal Adams, S, LSU
The Chargers would be overjoyed if Adams fell to them at #7, giving them the safety they desperately need on the back end and continuing to fill out a suddenly talented defensive lineup. Adams is one of the more versatile and talented safeties I’ve ever scouted, displaying the ability to line up in the slot, in the box, or patrol the back end in a two-high or single-high role. I honestly think he might be able to play outside corner in the NFL with a little work, and coaches as well as teammates rave about his work ethic, on-field communication, and passion for the game.
8. Carolina Panthers – Solomon Thomas, EDGE, Stanford
The Panthers need some pass rush help off the edge and, while that will require Thomas moving positions, the redshirt sophomore has all the tools to develop into a premier player all over the defensive front. If Carolina loses Kawann Short this offseason, Thomas will be able to rotate inside on obvious passing downs and be effective while playing base defensive end on early/short downs. His first-step burst and violent hand usage make him a tough blocking assignment anywhere in the trenches, but Thomas should be much more effective without having to deal with doubles teams as a 1 technique like he did at Stanford.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
The Bengals need another pass rusher and could potentially fill holes at running back or linebacker, but Davis is the type of threat they’ve needed for years at wide receiver. A dynamic pass catcher who gains outstanding separation in the short-intermediate portions of the field, Davis is terrific after the catch and NFL-ready as a route runner. He doesn’t win in the air as frequently as his top competition for WR1 – Mike Williams – does, but, on a team with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, that shouldn’t be a major issue.
10. Buffalo Bills – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Buffalo has a couple of needs that should come to light as decisions about current defensive personnel and Tyrod Taylor’s future are made, but the Bills haven’t had a dominant all-around tight end for ages. Howard’s enticing skill set is a perfect fit for an offense that needs more big play potential in the passing game. Sammy Watkins’s health is up in the air annually and Robert Woods might not be back, so the opportunity to nab a high ceiling player that will make an immediate impact in the Bills’ air and ground attacks, from an in-line or flexed position, is too tempting to pass up.
11. New Orleans Saints – Jon Allen, DL/EDGE, Alabama
The Saints love to mix up their fronts, and Allen is the perfect candidate to bookend Cameron Jordan on early downs, or kick inside next to Sheldon Rankins on long and late downs while Hau’oli Kikaha or Dannell Ellerbe man the edge. Allen might not have the ceiling of Solomon Thomas or the explosiveness of Tim Williams, but he’s an outstanding athlete with some of the best hand usage I’ve ever scouted.
12. Cleveland Browns – Mitch Trubisky, QB, UNC
Trubisky isn’t a high ceiling passer in my opinion, but he’s a solid quarterback who needs a team with strong weapons to help maximize his tools. Cleveland is on their way there, as Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor look to grow into one of the better wide receiver tandems in football during their second season. In reality, Watson is probably the most likely top-three quarterback to be on the board at this point in the draft, but both he and Trubisky have the skill set to work well in Hue Jackson’s diverse offensive system.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
The Cardinals have a ton of key players whose futures with the team are in question due to free agency, and there may not be enough capital to retain Kevin Minter what with Tony Jefferson, Chandler Jones, and Calais Campbell to pay. Foster is one of the top players in the draft as a three-down linebacker with elite range and instincts for the position. He’ll slip down the order some due to a stacked class and the waning value of linebackers, but Foster has all the tools to become one of the best second-level defenders in the NFL.
14. Indianapolis Colts – Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
The Colts top three edge rushers are all both free agents and 31 or older, making this pick a perfect fit from a need and talent perspective. McKinley might have one of the highest ceilings in the draft and is the type of elite athlete the Colts need more of on one of the slowest defenses in the NFL. He’s raw and needs work on his pad level and hand usage, but McKinley’s explosiveness, violent play temperament, and ability to win inside as well as off the edge should have his stock rising after the combine.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
The Eagles have a few of needs, namely at defensive end, wide receiver, and running back, but with Nolan Carroll’s future up in the air, Sidney Jones makes a lot of sense at cornerback. A tough and physical corner who can play in press or off coverage, Jones could help fill a big need in Philadelphia, as their corners were victimized too often down the stretch last season.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
Lawson just looks like a Baltimore Raven, but injury concerns could drop him down the board a peg or too. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both over 33-years-old now and the team needs to find its future in a deep draft at the edge rusher position. Lawson is polished and NFL ready, with the powerful hand usage and necessary variety within his attacks to be a very good pass rusher at the next level.
17. Washington Redskins – Budda Baker, S, Washington
Washington sure could use better play on the back end of their defense to support Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland, and Baker could be the answer to their problems in more ways than one. His ability to play single-high and cover centerfield is exceptional, while his ball skills and physicality against the run will help create impact plays all over the field. I also believe Baker can step in and cover the slot at times as well, allowing Washington to get three “safeties” on the field while staying strong against the run.
18. Tennessee Titans – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
The Titans have the small, short-to-intermediate type receivers in their current corps, but lack the big, my-ball-mentality wideout who can make transcendent plays for their offense down the field. Williams is on another level when the ball is in the air, with a magnificent catch radius and the ability to sky for contested catches at a ridiculous rate. He might not gain elite separation in his routes like Corey Davis can, but Williams could be special if he and Mariota can develop some chemistry together in the Titans offense.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Is there a better value pick so far in the first round? The Bucs, in desperate need of safety help, have one of the top prospects in the class fall in their lap at #19, as Hooker should immediately provide takeaways and coverage ability that wasn’t always present last season in Tampa. He’s far better against the run than many analysts suggest, and could step into the lineup quickly despite his lone year as a starter at Ohio State.
20. Denver Broncos – Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
Admittedly I still need to watch more of Bolles, but Denver needs an offensive tackle that is NFL-ready, and based on the tape I’ve studied so far, Utah’s left tackle fits the bill. Bolles is physical and aggressive in the trenches, with a finishing mindset that Mike McCoy loves in his guys up front. The question will be if Bolles can handle moving to the right side while Russell Okung finishes out his career bookending him.
21. Detroit Lions – Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
Tabor is a highly athletic corner with the coverage skills to play in man and the instincts and ball skills to create turnovers in zone. He’s a little inconsistent, but has a high ceiling even if he’ll probably measure in st a little smaller than his listed size. Detroit needs help opposite Darius Slay, as Nevin Lawson and Johnson Bademosi were victimized time after time down the stretch last season.
22. Miami Dolphins – Haason Reddick, EDGE/LB, Temple
This is a wild card pick, as Miami has a couple key needs, but most of them seem to be on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker is by far the team’s biggest weakness, and Reddick showed in Mobile that he has the tools to make the transition to an off-ball role in the NFL with his coverage ability and athleticism. The Temple product has some experience at linebacker from his time with the Owls, but he’ll need to master reading and attacking his keys in the run game. Reddick will also have the opportunity to rush with his hand down in Miami, giving the Dolphins much-needed juice on third downs opposite the aging Cameron Wake.
23. New York Giants – David Njoku, TE, Miami
Rumors are already swirling about the Giants interest in several of the field-stretching tight ends in this class, and Njoku just makes too much sense here. The Giants have needed a reliable weapon in the middle of the field since Jeremy Shockey left and Njoku has all the tools to be a game changer with a little more refinement. He’s not the best route runner or blocker just yet, but Njoku’s long speed and ability after the catch would give the Giants another mismatch option to combat opposing defenses.
24. Oakland Raiders – Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
The development of Darius Latham may render this pick moot, but the Raiders struggled against the run this season and they need improved play on the interior of their defensive line. Johnson is powerful and aggressive, with the technique and hand usage needed to hold the point of attack. He’ll also be an impact player as an interior pass rusher, able to push the pocket and help make life easier for Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin off the edge.
25. Houston Texans – Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
The Texans might decide to go with Patrick Mahomes here, but I’ve barely started on the Texas Tech quarterback’s tape, so I’m not ready to go in that direction just yet. There really aren’t a lot of crying needs on this roster, but the offensive line isn’t the strength they’d like it to be and it remains to be seen how strong Derek Newton is coming back from his injury. Both of the Houston bookends will be 30+ this season, so adding Garcia, a left tackle with a sky-high ceiling and some of the best tape in the class, makes sense to develop behind the two veterans.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan
Seattle has a screaming need at offensive tackle, and while Ryan Ramczyk might be the best value on the board, it’s pretty tough to mock him in the first round while he’s recovering from something as major as hip surgery. Moton can play right now, and his technique is much better than you’d expect from a MAC player. He’s probably a right tackle in the NFL, but he stood out in pass protection all week at the Senior Bowl, where he may have been the best offensive linemen present.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Tre White, CB, LSU
White is a premier cover corner who can play outside or in the slot, with fluid hips and some of the best feet I’ve seen for a corner. He doesn’t have elite ball skills, but White can press and make life miserable for receivers with his physicality or play off and break on routes effectively. I wish he was a little bit better as a tackler against the run, but his struggles certainly aren’t from a lack of trying, as White gives great effort all over the field.
28. Dallas Cowboys – Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
Harris isn’t even my highest ranked edge left on the board, but his fit in Dallas makes a ton of sense, especially if he tests well at the combine. With Demarcus Lawrence a disappointment so far and Randy Gregory’s personal issues continuing to surface, the Cowboys need pass rushing help in the worst way, and Harris has some rare tools to work with off the edge. His first step might be the best in the class, but he’s hit or miss after that, using speed to set up an inside spin counter despite not having elite cornering ability to bend the edge. If Rod Marinelli can improve his hands, Harris could end up making a terrific impact in Dallas.
29. Green Bay Packers – John Ross, WR, Washington
The Packers receivers stepped up over the second half of the season and in the playoffs, but Jordy Nelson will be 32 this spring and you have to imagine they’ll at least explore a way to get out of Randall Cobb’s contract in the coming months. Ross is the field stretcher this team desperately needs: A receiver that is able to create consistent separation down the field will be a welcome sight for Aaron Rodgers. Ross could have his struggles against more physical corners, but moving him all over an offense littered with weapons will make it much tougher for opponents to defend his vertical abilities next season.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
Huh? I know, Rivers is a small school prospect and this is admittedly a bit of a reach for him, but Joe Mathis’s foot injury and limited college production/availability are a concern, and Derek Barnett, Taco Charlton, and Malik McDowell don’t fit as 3-4 outside linebackers in the Steelers front. Cameron Sutton or Evan Engram could be options, but Rivers is far more NFL-ready than most realize, and his stock should soar if he lights up the combine next month. He’s an excellent athlete with the ability to play in space and set the edge against the run as well as provide a well-rounded pass rushing attack from a 2-point or 3-point stance.
31. Atlanta Falcons – Forrest Lamp, OG/OT, Western Kentucky
The Falcons don’t have many holes, but getting better offensive guard play should be a priority for 2017. Lamp has the versatility to play tackle if needed, but his best position in the NFL will likely be guard, where he can use his technique and athleticism to excel in Atlanta’s zone blocking schemes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta considers a pass rusher at 31 either, especially if Dwight Freeney retires or isn’t retained.
32. New England Patriots – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The Patriots might have needs elsewhere, but with LeGarrette Blount bumbling his way into the dog house down the stretch this season while also set to become a free agent, running back should be at the top of the priority list. Many will have Fournette much higher than this, but the running back position doesn’t typically carry a ton of value – and I just don’t think the LSU product is going to re-write the combine record books like many believe. Fournette should excel in New England however, as the big-bodied runner with breakaway speed that they want between the tackles.