2017 NFL Mock Draft
Published at 2/6/2017 7:32:23 PM
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For fans of the long-suffering Cleveland Browns, every season is starting to seem like its own Groundhogs Day, an endless loop they just can't escape. After hitting the reset button once again following the end of 2015, Hue Jackson is now the man tasked with turning this franchise around, the franchise’s sixth coach in ten years. While their 1-15 record might suggest otherwise, this Cleveland team has all the right pieces in place, from Jackson all the way up to GM Sashi Brown and Moneyball analytics-minded executive Paul DePodesta, to be a contender within the next few years. For the fourth time in six years, the Browns have two first-round selections, but if recent history means anything, that may not be best for Cleveland. In 2012 and 2014 the Browns selected Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. Fast forward to 2017 and Weeden is the only player signed to an NFL team, backing up Brock Osweiler in Houston. 2015 was no different, with Cleveland picking up Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving. While Shelton flashes promise, Erving was constantly outmanned and shuffled throughout the lineup. The Browns are trending upwards after a rough season and cannot afford to swing and miss yet again in the first round. Although neither Robert Griffin III or Cody Kessler seem to be a long-term option, the Browns simply can't risk setting this franchise back even more by pulling the trigger on a quarterback this early, and may be better suited to wait until next year when they can get their hands on Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. When Cleveland is on the clock at number one overall, they must target the best player available. At 6’6 and 270 pounds, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett fits the bill. One of the best players in the nation, Garrett made quite the name for himself during his time at College Station. In three seasons with the Aggies, Garrett tallied 31 sacks along with multiple All-American and All-SEC awards. A well-rounded and athletic defender who can lineup at either defensive end or linebacker, Garrett is explosive off the snap and creates havoc for any offensive lineman he’s matched up against. Drawing comparisons to All-Pro Von Miller, Garrett is as much of a can’t-miss prospect as possible, and will be the shot in the arm that this Cleveland defense desperately needs.
The San Francisco 49ers are in a state of disarray, a common theme these past few years. The 49ers will enter the season with their fourth head coach in as many years, not to mention question marks at virtually every position. Colin Kaepernick is gone, and Blaine Gabbert won't be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the streets of San Francisco anytime soon. With a new regime in charge, it's fair to assume that GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will be looking for their quarterback of the future come draft day. The 2017 NFL Draft crop of quarterbacks won't draw any comparisons to historic classes like 1983 or 2004, but this young group of signal-callers flash plenty of potential. At 6’3 and 218 pounds, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is the draft’s top quarterback prospect. Nobody's draft status has fluctuated more in the past calendar year than Watson, but I have a feeling that the former Tiger will hear his name called early on draft day. A former Heisman winner, Watson strung together one of the most impressive college careers ever, totaling over 11,000 all purpose yards and 112 total touchdowns, not to mention a National Championship, in just three seasons with the Tigers. While he may not be the second coming of Michael Jordan that his former head coach Dabo Swinney likes to think, Watson is a terrific dual-threat athlete that has all the tools and traits that embody a franchise quarterback, from his on-field production to his behavior off of it. While his size and ability to step up in the pocket and read different coverages may draw red flags, Watson is simply too talented of a player to pass up on. While adding a defender such as Jonathan Allen or Jamal Adams is certainly an option here, adding Watson to the mix gives San Francisco a talented player to build around, and hopefully give 49ers fans something to cheer about in 2017.
There's uncertainty surrounding the Chicago Bears, and an historically bad 3-13 seasons has left more questions than answers in the Windy City. Both John Fox and Ryan Pace will be back in 2017, but the same cannot be said for a lot of big-name players in Chicago. Jay Cutler will almost certainly not be back in 2017, which leaves a question mark surrounding the game’s most important position. While North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky is definitely an option here, the Bears are rumoured to be heavy favorites to land Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo and defense will always be a priority as long as John Fox is calling the shots. The Bears are in the middle of a much-needed rebuild, and the Chicago front office would be wise to select a paramount defender for Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to work with at three overall. At 6’3 and nearly 300 pounds, Alabama's Jonathan Allen is the top defensive prospect available with Myles Garrett off the board. A disruptive and dominant player, Allen is just another in the long line of hard-hitting Nick Saban disciples. Despite his size, Allen is explosive and nimble as they come, and is versatile enough to line up at any position across the defensive line. Perhaps the most polished and complete player in the draft, Allen has all the makings of a perennial All-Pro, and his presence will be felt immediately from day one, adding skill to a Chicago defense sorely lacking in it.
Many were expecting the Jaguars to take a big step forward in 2016, but instead it was more of the same in Jacksonville. A season that was full of potential ended with a whimpering 3-13 record. Owner Shahid Khan was more than patient with this team, but that patience has slowly run out, and results are expected sooner rather than later. Gus Bradley was axed after a 14-48 record in four seasons, the worst mark in NFL history. With veteran coach Tom Coughlin joining the team in an executive role and Doug Marrone removing the interim head coach tag from his name, the Jaguars have all the right pieces in place, and a full rebuild isn't necessary at this point. While Blake Bortles struggled mightily this past season, the offensive-minded Marrone will want to take a good, hard look at their once presumed franchise quarterback next season before making any drastic changes. While free agent pickup Tashaun Gipson put together a respectable season, Jonathan Cyprien is poised to enter free agency, ending his underwhelming stint in Jacksonville. At 6’1 and 210 pounds, LSU’s Jamal Adams is the top overall prospect available and the draft's best safety prospect. In a talented defensive back class, Adams stands out as the cream of the crop, and that's saying a lot. A third-year player for the Tigers, Adams was consistently mentioned as one of the best safeties in the nation. A quick and versatile defender, Adams can beat you multiple ways, whether it's defending the pass deep or mixing it up in the box against the run. With his rare combination of speed and size, Adams offers an immediate upgrade over Cyprien and can step in right away and make big plays, something that will be needed if the Jaguars have any hopes of closing the gap on the Colts and Texans in the AFC South.
Every trade has a winner and a loser, and the Tennessee Titans certainly look like the winners here. In 2016, the Los Angeles Rams made a king’s ransom for the Titans top overall pick that year, sending their 1st, 2nd and 3rd round selections in 2016 as well as their 1st and 3rd round selections in 2017. The Rams would use their selection on quarterback Jared Goff, while the Titans would select Jack Conklin, Derrick Henry and Austin Johnson. After a strong draft by the Titans in 2016, Jon Robinson and the Tennessee front office must find similar success when late April rolls around. Just two seasons ago this Titans team lacked a true identity, but head coach Mike Mularkey has begun to stamp his imprint on both sides of the ball, and owning a top-five selection in this year's draft gives the Titans yet another opportunity to add a young and talented playmaker. While the Tennessee offense is trending upwards, Kendall Wright has had an underwhelming career up to this point, and Rishard Matthews hasn't exactly lived up to $15 million contract he signed a year ago. At 6’4 and 225 pounds, Clemson’s Mike Williams is the draft's top wide receiver prospect. A four-year player for the Tigers, Williams amassed over 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns during his time in Columbus. With great size for his position, Williams is an explosive and athletic big-bodied receiver that isn't afraid to track down every ball and take on any defender. Following in the steps of Clemson alum DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, Williams will no doubt have a seamless transition to the next level, and will certainly help Marcus Mariota in taking the next step in becoming a top-tier quarterback in the NFL
The writing's on the wall for this New York Jets team. Both Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan will return in 2017, but if they have any hopes of staying long-term in the Big Apple then results are needed sooner rather than later. The Jets put together a promising ten win season in 2016 and were inches away from a playoff spot, and many expected the Jets to be a contender in 2016. In true Jets fashion, Gang Green followed up their impressive season with a 5-11 record mainly due to a revolving door at the quarterback position, not to mention a defense that seemingly checked out and began planning their offseason vacation plans in mid October. Other than the Cleveland Browns, the Jets may very well be the most inconsistent and dysfunctional franchises in the entire league. Although Todd Bowles is an excellent defensive mind and more than qualified to be a head coach, it may be time to hit the reset button again if Bowles can't change the culture and begin producing in New York. Uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position in New York, and it's safe to say both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith won't return in 2017. While Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg offer a lot of upside, the Jets simply can't afford to sit back and hope that one of them develop quickly into a quality starting quarterback, and may look into drafting their twelfth quarterback since the turn of the century. At 6’3 and 220 pounds, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is the top quarterback prospect available. While Trubisky may not be as polished as more recent rookie quarterbacks in the past few years, the demand for a quarterback in today's NFL will lead to Trubisky hearing his name called early on draft day. A late bloomer on the college scene, Trubisky rose to prominence after earning the starting quarterback gig his junior year in 2016, leading the Tar Heels to an 8-5 record while passing for nearly 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns. From a physical standpoint, Trubisky has all the tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, drawing comparisons to Colt McCoy. While scouts will certainly view Trubisky as raw and untested after playing primarily against ACC defenses, pairing Trubisky with a no-nonsense coach like Bowles and veterans Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte may be his best chance of reaching success at the next level.
The Los Angeles Chargers are a team has been stuck in neutral for a long time, and the problem with that is that this is a team built to win now. Philip Rivers certainly isn't getting any younger, and any bleak Super Bowl window that this team has gets smaller and smaller each year. The Chargers enter an important offseason with new head coach Anthony Lynn in charge and a move to the spotlight in the city of Los Angeles. Tom Telesco and the Los Angeles front office have been excellent talent evaluators in the past few years, and hopefully they are able to continue that success in 2017. The Chargers success start and end with Philip Rivers, and that means this offensive line must keep their quarterback healthy and upright. While King Dunlap has certainly revitalised his career while in San Diego, the 31-year old is hardly a long-term option for this team. At a towering 6’6 and 310 pounds, Alabama's Cam Robinson may be exactly what LA’s newest team needs. The top overall offensive lineman in his class, Robinson enjoyed a prolific college career with the Tide, earning multiple national championships and the 2016 Outland Trophy. A mountain of a man, Robinson paved the way for names like Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Bo Scarbrough during his time in Tuscaloosa. A powerful and versatile competitor, Robinson is a dominant run-blocker who is capable of tossing NFL defenders around like rag dolls. Although he may not be as polished in his pass-protection, Robinson certainly has all the tools to play this position for the next 10-15 years. With Robinson paving the way for the wily Philip Rivers and breakout star Melvin Gordon, the Chargers will be a team to keep an eye on in 2017.
There was perhaps no other bigger disappointment in the NFL in 2016 than the Carolina Panthers. After a 15-1 season and Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers seemed primed for greatness lead by reigning MVP Cam Newton. Those hopes were dashed almost instantly, as the team’s season eventually sputtered to a 6-10 record. It's hard to place the blame on one particular issue; with Newton’s inaccuracy, flaccid run game, and below average play from one of the best defenses in the NFL all playing a contributing factor. Despite their flaws, head coach Ron Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman always respond to adversity, and 2017 should be no different. The Panthers boasted the league's top offense a year ago, but finished at a mediocre fifteenth this past season. While Jonathan Stewart is still a serviceable running back, the 30-year old veteran isn't going to be around forever, and it may be time for the Carolina front office to start planning for the long-term future at the running back position to help take some of the pressure off Cam Newton. At 6’1 and 235 pounds, LSU’s Leonard Fournette is the draft’s top running back prospect. A true generational talent, Fournette is the best college running back since Todd Gurley burst his way on to the scene. A consensus All-American, Fournette put together over 4,000 all purpose yards and 80 total touchdowns during his stay in Death Valley. Before he even took his first snap at LSU, Fournette was already drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson and Herschel Walker. Fournette is the real deal, possessing a rare combination of power, strength and speed that will drive fear into the hearts of any NFL defender. Though injuries and wear and tear on his legs may cause concern for some scouts, the former Tiger is a can’t-miss prospect and will be an instant game-changer for this Panthers team, which is exactly what they need to get back on track in 2017.
After a soul crushing loss in the Wild Card round to the Steelers last year, the Bengals seemed primed to enter the season as AFC North favorites and even Super Bowl contenders. Instead, the Bengals would finish out the season with a subpar 6-9-1 record, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Somehow, someway Marvin Lewis is still head coach of the Bengals, despite ZERO playoff wins in fourteen years with the team. Whatever dirt Lewis has on this front office leads me to believe he will stick around for a long time, but his biggest task will be returning this Cincinnati team to the postseason, and that begins with its defense restoring their hard-hitting identity. The front office and coaching staff are growing impatient with Vontaze Burfict, while Rey Maualuga is on the wrong side of thirty and the ancient Karlos Dansby set to hit free agency, addressing the linebacker position must be a priority for the Bengals on draft day. At 6’1 and nearly 230 pounds, Alabama's Reuben Foster is the draft's top inside linebacker. A Butkus Award winner and All-American, Foster is yet another in the long line of standout Crimson Tide defenders. An impactful and versatile player, Foster constantly finds himself all over the field with his awareness and ball hawking abilities. With the physical Foster in tow, the Bengals defense is primed for a bounce-back year.
It's been one crazy offseason in Western New York. Just two years ago Rex Ryan was named the team's head coach, and names like LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Matt Cassel all soon followed. There was a growing sense of optimism for the first time in a long time in Buffalo, and it looked like the longest postseason drought in the NFL was finally coming to an end. Twenty-four months removed from Ryan’s introductory press conference, the Bills are back to square one. Ryan's short stint in Buffalo ended with a 15-16 record, something Bills fans are all too familiar with. Buffalo enters 2017 with its fifth coach in seven years, and the new man in charge Sean McDermott has a large task in front of him in turning this franchise around. It's no secret McDermott is a defensive-minded coach, and fixing the league's nineteenth ranked defense will certainly be a priority for the first-year head coach. While Ronald Darby certainly has a bright future ahead of him, Stephon Gilmore is an impending free agent and neither Corey Graham or Jonathan Meeks necessarily strike fear into the heart of opposing offenses. At 6’2 and 205 pounds, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker is the top safety prospect available. A former All-American, Hooker established himself as one of the best safeties in the nation during his time at Ohio State. A ballhawking and speedy defender, Hooker has a knack for making big plays, even drawing comparisons to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. While Hooker is far from Ed Reed, he has all the potential to be an All-Pro safety at the next level, and that's certainly what your team needs when you have to play Tom Brady twice a year.
After a third-straight 7-9 season, there is a lot more questions than answers surrounding the New Orleans Saints. While head coach Sean Payton will return in 2017, the eleventh-year head coach knows he must take a long, hard look at the roster this offseason. Nobody is going to place the blame on this team's offense, which ranked second overall in the league lead by 37 year old Drew Brees. While Brees continues to play some of the best football of his career, the 10x Pro Bowler has consistently been let down by his defense the past several seasons. While the unit slightly improved under first-year coordinator Dennis Allen, the team still has a long ways to go. Both starting cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams had their seasons cut short due to injuries in 2016, and the lack of depth at the position really showed. At 6’0 and a cut above 190 pounds, Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the top cornerback prospect available. A late bloomer on the college scene primarily due to injuries, Lattimore was one of the nation's best cornerbacks during his final season in Columbus. A fluid and agile defender, Lattimore fits the bill for what many NFL scouts look for in a cornerback. A sticky cover man, Lattimore isn't afraid to match up deep with any receiver. While his injury history will draw concerns, Lattimore is a talented and intriguing prospect who has potential to be New Orleans first positive difference-maker at cornerback since Jabari Greer. With Lattimore in the mix, Payton adds a young playmaker to a defensive unit that will take all the help it can get.
The more things change, the more they stay the same for this Browns team. After using their first overall selection on Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Cleveland has more than their fair share of options when they are on the clock at twelve overall. While many analysts will peg the Browns taking a quarterback here, Cleveland may be better off eschewing the quarterback position here with Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubisky off the board, and may be better served holding off until 2018 when Josh Rosen and Jake Browning are available. Similar to grabbing Garrett at number one overall, the Browns would be wise to add the best talent available, a strategy that doesn't sound too crazy for a 1-15 team. With former first-round cornerback Joe Haden three seasons removed from his latest Pro Bowl season, it may be time for Cleveland to start from scratch at the cornerback position. At 6’0 and 190 pounds, Florida’s Teez Tabor is the one of the top cornerback prospects in a loaded cornerback draft class. A three-year player with the Gators, Tabor made a name for himself as one of the nation's top cornerbacks during his time in Gainesville, consistently facing off against the best offenses in the country. An athletic and speedy defender, Tabor has the ability to track down the ball on each and every play. With excellent size for his position, Tabor can beat you at just about any spot on the field, and is versatile to line up in just about every scheme you can draw up. With ballhawking instinct and game-changing ability, Tabor will be a welcomed addition to a team that has to play Antonio Brown and A.J. Green throughout the year.
The Arizona Cardinals entered 2016 with their usual Super Bowl expectations, but injuries and inconsistent play reared their ugly heads, leading to a disappointing 7-8-1 finish in Arizona. The Cardinals enter a pivotal offseason, with over five starters set to hit free agency and have plenty of decisions to make, particularly at the wide receiver position. While franchise stalwart Larry Fitzgerald has announced he will return next season, the 10x Pro Bowler will be 34 years old at the start of next season, and the Cardinals lack little depth behind him. At 5’11 and 190 pounds, Washington’s John Ross is the top receiver prospect available with Mike Williams off the board. A late bloomer with the Huskies, Ross put himself on the map after returning from a torn ACL in 2016 and putting together over 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns, playing a pivotal role in Washington's CFP push. A speedy and athletic wideout, Ross is a home-run threat each time the ball is in his hands, even drawing comparisons to DeSean Jackson. With a small sample size of production, some NFL scouts may consider Ross raw and untested, and a prior knee injury may scare some teams away. Despite these red flags, Ross is a game-changing prospect on both offense and special teams, and the Cardinals should consider themselves lucky if Fitzgerald's heir-apparent is still on the board at thirteen overall.
The Indianapolis Colts start and end with Andrew Luck, and that may be their biggest detriment. After two consecutive seasons of missing out on the postseason, plenty of questions surround Chuck Pagano and this Colts team. The Colts fielded the league's twenty-third best defense, marking three straight seasons the unit ranked outside of the top ten. After losing franchise veteran and 6x Pro Bowler Robert Mathis to retirement, this team lacks any semblance of an identity on the defensive side of the ball. Indianapolis is seemingly wasting the prime years of Andrew Luck’s career, and if this team has any hopes of returning to the playoffs, they must address the defense early and often throughout the draft. At 6’3 and nearly 275 pounds, Stanford's Solomon Thomas is the top defensive end prospect available with Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen off the board early. A defensive force during his three years at Stanford, Thomas made a name for himself as one of the nation's best defensive lineman, earning All-PAC-12 honors in his final year in Palo Alto. With his rare combination of power and speed, Thomas offers an immediate upgrade over the ancient Kendall Langford, and adding him to the mix gives him the opportunity to step in and contribute immediately to a defense that will take all the help they can get.
First-year head coach Doug Pederson put together a respectable debut season in Philly, and the same can be said for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. While Wentz is undoubtedly the future of this franchise, the former FCS quarterback won't go far without a little help at the receiver position. In 2016, Eagles receivers combined for 24 drops with no receiver topping 1,000 yards or 5 touchdowns. While Jordan Matthews has been a reliable player up to this point, the Eagles have lacked a true home-run threat at wide receiver since Jeremy Maclin. At 6’3 and over 210 pounds, Western Michigan's Corey Davis is the top wide receiver prospect available. A unanimous All-American, Davis fits the bill for everything a team looks for in a wide receiver. A physical player with the size to back it up, Davis isn't afraid to play deep and take on some of the league's best defensive backs. With Davis joining the fray, Carson Wentz has his first true #1 wide receiver to work with.
The Baltimore Ravens started the 2016 strong with a 3-0 record, but after a winless four-game skid in October, the Ravens failed to recover and finished the season with a mediocre .500 record. Despite their struggles, the Ravens finished the regular season with the league's fifth-best defense. While plenty of the focus this offseason will be on the potential retirements of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and finding their replacements, the Baltimore front office must turn their attention to upgrading their secondary come draft day, something they have seemingly ignored the past several years. The last time the Ravens drafted a cornerback in the first three rounds of the draft was six years ago, when the team selected oft-injured Jimmy Smith. Taking a quick look at the cornerback depth chart isn't very inspiring, and expect Baltimore to target the cornerback position early on draft, especially in a deep cornerback class. At 6’1 and nearly 200 pounds, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey may be exactly what the Ravens need. After redshirting his freshman year in 2015, Humphrey put himself on the map with impressive back-to-back seasons which saw him tally 81 tackles and 5 interceptions while shadowing some of the nation's best receivers. A two-sport athlete, Humphrey won a silver medal in the 110 meters hurdles at the 2013 World Youth Championship. An athletic and physical defender, Humphrey’s college tape won't exactly wow NFL front offices, but the rangy cornerback will be a welcomed addition to a Ravens defense that has to play Antonio Brown and A.J. Green twice a year.