Now that I’ve had time to sit back and reflect on my first pass at a mock draft this offseason, which was discussed on air during a recent episode of Pylon U, I gave it a revision before unleashing it on the masses.
There is no absolute in constructing a mock draft. There is no certainty. It is a painstaking, arduous process for any football evaluator, or anyone that believes themselves to be one, that ultimately has no bearing on anything because we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors of 32 NFL franchises with personalities all their own.
The one thing mock drafts accomplish is focus our thinking. How does this team value positions on their roster? Where are their possible holes? What could they do in free agency? What scheme do they play? Who will be on the board when their pick is up? The sheer number of variables make constructing a mock draft a difficult task, but one that helps in assessing the NFL landscape and the next crop of stars.
Typically when I construct a mock draft, I lean on my team investment grid, which consists of team ratings, dollars spent, and previous year’s picks at each position group. This helps to pinpoint not just an area of need for a particular team, but also how they can potentially diversify their investments. This may not be how every team thinks, though, and what we know about each organization also comes into play.
Right now, because free agency has yet to begin, this mock draft will be done without the use of my investment analysis and as a predictive study of what I believe could happen.
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett/DE/Texas A&M
I like Garrett as a prospect. A lot. But not as much as others. Looking back at my historical draft rankings since 2002 – after making a recent adjustment to group all edge rushers together – I have him ranked behind Julius Peppers, Von Miller, Jadaveon Clowney, and Mario Williams, but still as an elite prospect. The Browns need help all over their roster, but in lieu of a sure thing, they need as close to a guarantee as possible while also balancing the value of the selection and the best talent on the board. I believe Garrett represents that balance.
2. San Francisco 49ers – DeShone Kizer/QB/Notre Dame
A number of people from Inside the Pylon, including myself, have talked publicly and privately about the confusion surrounding the assessment of Kizer. A number of factors were at play that contributed to a less than stellar 2016 (relative to his 2015 performance) for Kizer, but questions remain as to whether it was something inherent in him or extraneous factors at play. The point I keep coming back to is when watching the top four quarterbacks in this class on tape, I have very little doubt Kizer has the most upside. I firmly believe that if he is drafted by a team that believes in a collaborative relationship between quarterback and coach (and a self-aware veteran there to help), then Kizer’s intelligence will shine and he will have the freedom to fully develop.
3. Chicago Bears – Jamal Adams/S/LSU
How high is too high for a safety? Eric Turner was the last drafted in the top 3 (#2 in 1991) when safeties played closer to the line of scrimmage. Sean Taylor and Eric Berry, two unquestioned superstars, went #5. With the passing game being more involved and positional flexibility becoming paramount, a player with Adams’s skillset is more valuable now than ever. What sets Adams apart is his ability to play in any scheme, either at the line of scrimmage or deep in the secondary. The Bears secondary is woeful and this pick is a step toward solving that problem. Quarterback is an option as well, but with the coaching staff potentially on the outs, it would be difficult for them to bring in a youngster. I see them hitting the free agent market or potentially dealing for Jimmy Garoppolo.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Allen/DL/Alabama
With Jaguars Executive VP Tom Coughlin’s demands for more toughness in the organization, Allen would fits the bill here. The Crimson Tide defensive lineman can play inside or outside in a four-man front with his best spot probably at the 3 technique where he can penetrate and wreck opposing backfields. A defensive core of Allen, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack (when healthy), Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler, and Jalen Ramsey has a ton of potential.
5. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams) – Marshon Lattimore/CB/Ohio State
For a team so close to making a postseason appearance, having a draft pick this high is a tremendous luxury. They have needs at wide receiver and linebacker, but the best match of fit and value in this scenario is Lattimore. I can see Adams going here if he falls or even Reuben Foster, depending on how the Titans value the linebacker position, but the potential of a premier cover corner is hard to turn down. The lack of game experience for Lattimore is a concern for some, but having another first round pick allows the Titans to take a calculated risk on potential.
6. New York Jets – DeShaun Watson/QB/Clemson
Malik Hooker is a popular name going to the Jets in mock drafts right now and the Cowboys’ selection of Ezekiel Elliott last season is proof that drafting a running back this high isn’t always a bad move putting Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook in play, but I truly believe Watson is going to impress at the combine and his pro day putting him firmly in contention for a top-10 spot. Spending a second round pick on Christian Hackenberg shouldn’t prevent the Jets from selecting their possible quarterback of the future. I hope that front office doesn’t eventually hold Todd Bowles responsible for their inability to find a signal-caller.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Solomon Thomas/DE/Stanford
With the Chargers moving to more of a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Thomas would be an outstanding compliment to last year’s #1 pick Joey Bosa. Like the Jets, the Chargers would be an interesting spot for Hooker, but I believe his lack of playing experience, inconsistent tackling, and recent surgery will weigh more than his talent as we move closer to draft day.
8. Carolina Panthers – Leonard Fournette/RB/LSU
I personally favor Dalvin Cook over Fournette in a vacuum, but the LSU RB remains an elite prospect and fits exactly what the Panthers want to do. Fournette is a case where teams may lean on 2015 tape for assessment over 2016 due to his injuries last season. He still has the chance to be a dominant running back at the next level. Jonathan Stewart, while still productive, is creeping up there in age.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Reuben Foster/LB/Alabama
Foster is the best linebacker in this class (and it’s not particularly close) and my fourth overall prospect who would be a great addition to the Bengals aging linebacking corps. He’s also in the top-5 of linebackers I’ve rated since 2002. Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby are on the wrong side of 30 with their production slipping. The Alabama LB can play any of the 3 linebacker spots in Marvin Lewis’s defense.
10. Buffalo Bills – Mitch Trubisky/QB/North Carolina
The Bills are in an interesting situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They have to decide soon whether to guarantee his contract for the next two seasons after an up and down 2016. It appears the new coaching staff led by head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison want to keep him, but not at $27.5 million next year. Bringing him back at that cost severely hampers the team’s ability to revamp its roster in free agency. I think the new staff, with time on their hands, brings in Trubisky, who despite his warts, has the potential and tools to be a starting quarterback.
11. New Orleans Saints – Derek Barnett/DE/Tennessee
The Saints currently have some young cornerbacks with upside on the roster. In addition to the depth at that position in this draft, New Orleans addresses the defensive line here. They were 27th in sacks last season, which put too much stress on a secondary that gave up the most passing yards in the league. Getting after the quarterback more with a player like Barnett, will begin to address their defensive deficiency in the pass game.
12. Cleveland Browns (via PHI) – Malik Hooker/S/Ohio State
Despite his lack of playing time (one season of starting experience) and injury concerns (labrum and hernia surgeries), Hooker has elite level athleticism and ball skills that could entice a team like Cleveland that has a need at safety. Much of Hooker’s game is projection at this point and he is still an inconsistent tackler, but a team that allows him the time to develop and coaches him up could have a star. A potential first round of Garrett and Hooker should be exciting for Browns fans.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Mike Williams/WR/Clemson
While not my #1 WR on the board, Williams does fit into the void created by Michael Floyd’s departure. There are a host of potential holes on the Arizona defensive line, but the need doesn’t match up with the board here. Adding another weapon for Carson Palmer in his potential last season will open up the Cardinals aerial attack. Williams is a big receiver, capable of outmuscling opposing defensive backs and would fit well with Larry Fitzgerald in the slot and John Brown attacking defenses deep.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Teez Tabor/CB/Florida
This is a situation again where I have Sidney Jones rated higher on my cornerback rankings than Tabor, but believe either would be a great choice here by the Eagles. There are concerns about whether Tabor will be able to match receivers with good deep speed, but his instincts and technique are plusses. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme calls for the front four to generate the pass rush leaving flexibility on the back end to mix up zone and man coverages in order to generate turnovers. Tabor has the ball skills to help in this area.
15. Indianapolis Colts – Jabril Peppers/S/Michigan
Send all of your defensive help to Indianapolis, please! In all seriousness, the Colts need anything and everything on the defensive side of the ball. And for all of the talk about Peppers’s shortcomings (lack of true position, experience in coverage), it completely ignores what he does well. He is an outstanding athlete with terrific instincts and awareness. Along with being a sure tackler, he has demonstrated the capability to match up with opposing receivers and rush the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino should welcome Peppers and build the defense around him.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Corey Davis/WR/Western Michigan
I had John Ross in this spot on the original iteration of my mock draft, but Davis works out even better. The Ravens are lacking a complete receiver on their roster who does everything well like Davis. Daviss’ route running sets him apart and he doesn’t allow himself to be bullied on the outside. He may not show the burst off the line that Ross does, but Davis’s ability to set up cornerbacks with precise footwork and pace will allow him to get open for those patented Joe Flacco deep balls.
17. Washington – Dalvin Cook/RB/Florida State
Talk about the potential of Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, and Matt Jones all you want, if Cook falls to Washington, they should run their card to the podium. Cook would add another dimension to Jay Gruden’s offense that they’ve been lacking. Cook is a three-down back that is a fit for any scheme with the explosion to get north-south and the shiftiness to create yards that aren’t there. I believe Kirk Cousins will be retained, but with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon as free agents, offensive weaponry is needed.
18. Tennessee Titans – OJ Howard/TE/Alabama
Oh, the things the Titans could do with Howard. The Alabama product is in my top-10 rankings of overall prospects in this draft and behind only Tyler Eifert of tight ends I’ve rated since 2002. His underutilization at Alabama shouldn’t be misinterpreted. Howard can do everything you ask of a tight end and was the best player on the field during the Senior Bowl. With the amount of time the Titans spend in two tight end formations and Delanie Walker being 32 years old, Howard feels like the perfect marriage of fit and value.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – John Ross/WR/Washington
This is a pre-combine mock so it’s important to remember there are valid medical concerns surrounding the injury history of Ross’s knees. Independent of that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more explosive player or someone that helped themselves more on the field in 2016 than Ross. Don’t let the size fool you as he lines up all over the field, runs a variety of routes, and sets up each route with precise footwork at the line of scrimmage. Ross would be a terrific compliment to Mike Evans.
20. Denver Broncos – Cam Robinson/OT/Alabama
It’s a question here of whether the Broncos want the stability of Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk or the upside of Robinson. They are safely the top two offensive tackles in the draft with the Broncos having a definite need at the position even before they declined Russell Okung’s option. I am very much a believer in Robinson and think his potential is too much to pass up for the Broncos.
21. Detroit Lions – Taco Charlton/DE/Michigan
Charlton is a guy who continually improved as his college career progressed resulting in an outstanding senior season. He looks the part, has a non-stop motor, and has the functional strength to wreak havoc. There is some technical pieces to his game that need refinement and questions about his true upside, but it appears Charlton would be a good fit for a team looking for an every down end in a 4-3 scheme.
22. Miami Dolphins – Zach Cunningham/LB/Vanderbilt
I went back and forth with this selection mocking both Cunningham and TE David Njoku here. The Dolphins have a serious need at tight end with both of their top two guys being free agents, but this is a case where depth of one position in the draft may trump the need. There are tight ends that can be found later and Cunningham would be able to step in immediately on the weak side to upgrade the speed in the Dolphins’ front seven.
23. New York Giants – Ryan Ramczyk/OT/Wisconsin
Given the Giants’ spending spree last offseason, I don’t believe wads of cash will be thrown around by them this offseason. There is a need at running back if they don’t believe Paul Perkins is the future. Tight end and linebacker are two positions that haven’t been addressed recently, but I believe the question marks on the offensive line make Ramczyk too good to pass up here.
24. Oakland Raiders – Christian McCaffrey/RB/Stanford
Running back Latavius Murray is a free agent, and despite flashes from Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington, neither can do on the field what McCaffrey can. McCaffrey has the versatility to line up all over the formation, but more importantly, the ability to be an every-down back that can run between the tackles, pose a threat as a receiver, and generate big plays on the outside.
25. Houston Texans – Budda Baker/S/Washington
I wrangled with targeting a quarterback like my Pylon U colleague Shane Alexander did in his most recent mock draft, but Baker has the potential to add yet another dimension to the Texans’ already stellar defense. Their safety play in recent years has been lacking. Baker is a dynamic playmaker near the line of scrimmage and when the ball is in the air.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Marlon Humphrey/CB/Alabama
Injuries to the Seahawks’ secondary, including a torn ACL suffered by DeShawn Shead in the playoffs, shone a light on the need at the position. Offensive line is seemingly always a need for the Seahawks, but after spending a first round pick on Germain Ifedi last season, they address cornerback now. Humphrey is a physical player with the speed necessary to play outside in the Seahawks’ Cover 3.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Malik McDowell/DL/Michigan State
I am a lot higher on McDowell than most, believing the concerns about his motor to be unwarranted. I also believe, unlike others, that his best fit is at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme where good coaching can turn that pure strength and athleticism into a workable end product. The technique concerns are real as he often relies on his natural ability to win out, but I am a McDowell believer. Teamed up with last year’s first round pick Chris Jones could be a scary thing for AFC West opponents.
28. Dallas Cowboys – Takkarist McKinley/EDGE/UCLA
Two big needs for the Cowboys are their pass rush and at cornerback. With the depth of cornerback in the draft, the Cowboys take one of the best edge rushers in the draft here. McKinley will need shoulder surgery following the combine, but that hasn’t prevented the Cowboys from taking risks previously. The current Cowboys’ ends lack the explosion that McKinley possesses.
29. Green Bay Packers – Sidney Jones/CB/Washington
Jones is my #2 rated cornerback on the board and I would be totally surprised if he actually falls this far. You can ask 10 different people who their #2 cornerback is after Lattimore and you wouldn’t reach a consensus. There is no doubt the Packers need help in the secondary and Jones would be a terrific fit in Green Bay.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tim Williams/OLB/Alabama
Ignore the off-the-field concerns about Tim Williams and you have a player that should probably be drafted in the top 10. That’s how explosive a pass rusher Williams is. Taking Williams means having both locker room and organizational leadership that would support a player like Williams. The Steelers are that type of organization and a sustainable pass rush is what they need.
31. Atlanta Falcons – Forrest Lamp/OG/Western Kentucky
Running the football effectively and protecting Matt Ryan are paramount to what Atlanta does and Lamp would provide that. The Falcons do have question marks at multiple offensive line positions due to free agency, age, or ineffectiveness. Lamp, having played offensive tackle in college, yet being projected to be a good interior offensive lineman at the next level, would provide both flexibility and production for the Falcons.
32. New England Patriots – Haason Reddick/LB/Temple
Reddick is a fast-rising player after an outstanding final collegiate season and a great Senior Bowl week. He will be asked to make the move to linebacker full-time, but no team utilizes flexible defensive pieces better than the Patriots. Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will put Reddick in the best position to make plays for a Patriots’ linebacking corps.