Pre-Combine 2017 NFL Mock Draft
Published at 2/21/2017 11:50:47 PM
A few moves have changed the complexion of the draft a little bit, so it's time to do another mock.
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This pick's not changing; at least, not any time soon. In 2014, despite a few good QB's on the board, Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick by the Texans, simply because he was a generational talent at edge rusher. Myles Garrett isn't as good as Clowney was coming out of South Carolina, but is in a similar position because he's just that much better than every other prospect on the board. To help his case to be the first overall pick, look at the year Clowney had; finally healthy, he was an absolute force out there. Garrett could be similar.
Despite concerns about his height, I've moved North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky back to this pick. With Kyle Shanahan at the helm in San Francisco, the 49ers will likely run his West Coast-style offense that thrived so well in Atlanta the past two years. Trubisky is the best fit for this offense out of all the QB's available in this year's draft, and it seems most analysts have come to agree upon him as being the draft's best QB overall. Shanahan would probably most like to acquire Washington's Kirk Cousins, but that just isn't happening.
In 2014, the Chicago Bears selected cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round. When healthy, he's played very well, but after missing all of 2016, the Bears were forced to start undrafted rookie Cre'Von LeBlanc and veteran Tracy Porter. LeBlanc played fairly well, but Porter was a disaster. Drafting Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, the draft's best cornerback, would allow the Bears to play LeBlanc on special teams and in the slot, where he is better suited to succeed. Lattimore, Fuller, LeBlanc, and Bryce Callahan could be one of the better cornerback corps in the league.
This past week, the Jaguars re-signed defensive tackle Abry Jones, a 2013 UDFA signing who has performed very well in his first four seasons as a pro. He was retained for a very modest price as well. That re-signing has changed the needs for the Jaguars, and therefore, changing this pick. Instead of targeting Alabama's Jonathan Allen, it's more likely Jacksonville will select safety Jamal Adams. The LSU product is the third overall player on my big board and would be able to replace free agent Johnathan Cyprien if he is not tagged or re-signed in some other manner.
The Tennessee Titans would have to be thrilled if Alabama's Jonathan Allen, the second-best player in this year's draft, fell to them at #5. However, it's becoming more and more of a possibility. Similar to how Leonard Williams fell to #6 in 2015, teams picking in the top-four just don't have a need at defensive tackle. The Titans do have a need at 5-technique defensive end, which is where Allen may be best suited to succeed in the NFL. He would replace the departing Karl Klug and possibly allow DaQuan Jones to move inside to nose tackle, where his size would come in more handy.
In another pick that doesn't change with the recent moves in the league, the Jets can finally find an actual offensive weapon with LSU's Leonard Fournette. The prolific runningback has been touted as the best prospect at his position since Adrian Peterson in 2007. Fournette is a big, powerful runner with good enough lateral quickness to get by, in combination with his power. He would complement Matt Forte and Bilal Powell very well, as both are more receiving-oriented runningbacks.
Ooh, a shocker. That line was just too easy. Anyway, it wouldn't be any surprise to see the Chargers load up on offensive linemen in this year's draft, as the only competent man on last year's O-line was center Matt Slauson. The hype is strong on Utah's Garett Bolles right now, despite his age (25 in May) and inexperience (just one season in FBS). Nevertheless, many scouts view him as the top offensive lineman in the draft with the inconsistency of Alabama's Cam Robinson and the uncertainty of Wisconsin Badger Ryan Ramczyk's hip injury.
In the past few weeks, most of the more respected draft analysts have declared Western Michigan's Corey Davis as the best wide receiver in the draft, and some have even moved him into the top-five of their mock drafts. This is baffling to me as Davis is battling an ankle injury and might not work out for teams prior to the draft. Even if Davis was healthy, I would still have Clemson's Mike Williams as the top receiver in this class. Williams has put together two stellar seasons against top-flight competition, all while recovering from a career-threatening neck injury. Clemson has an intriguing pedigree of producing elite NFL receivers, and Williams could be next in line.
Pass protection is a huge need in Cincinnati, but the Bengals have a bigger need in getting to the opposing QB consistently. Carlos Dunlap regressed this past year and Michael Johnson is nothing like his 2012 self anymore. Insert Solomon Thomas, who has put together an incredible 2016 campaign at Stanford. Thomas is more of a tweener who could move inside on passing situations and provide an excellent interior pass rush, which is why some consider Thomas a better fit for a 3-4 defense. However, I think Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, one of the best in the business, should be able to get the most out of him.
The hype on Florida's Quincy Wilson has gone down in the scouting community recently, but I still see the talented cover man as the second-best cornerback in the draft. Wilson's length and athleticism is reminiscent of Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore, who is conveniently a free agent this offseason. Wilson might not be able to replace Gilmore right away as he's still a bit raw, but should develop similarly to Gilmore, who took a year or two to get going. The Bills are also slated to lose well-traveled veteran Corey White, who played significantly last year.
As the hype has gone down on Quincy Wilson, it has steadily increased on Washington's Sidney Jones. Rightfully so as well, considering Jones was one of the best cover men in the entire nation last season. He is also expected to test very well at the combine, so a top-15 selection is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. A player like Jones is sorely needed in New Orleans as the Saints pass defense just can't seem to stop anybody. Veteran Sterling Moore was the only serviceable cornerback the Saints had last year, and he is headed for free agency. If P.J. Williams can stay healthy, he and Jones could be a good tandem for years to some.
Most draft analysts believe Malik Hooker's shoulder surgery will not affect his draft stock much, I definitely disagree. The Ohio State safety probably won't be ready for full contact until the second or third week of the preseason, and the mobility of his arm may be limited in his rookie year, which is a huge problem for defensive backs. That being said, he's still a first round pick based on his potential when healthy. Hooker should be an upgrade over Ed Reynolds, who hasn't been bad his first few years in the league, but hasn't overly impressed anybody either.
The 2017 NFL Draft class is full of injured, elite prospects. The most recently revealed of those players is Alabama's Reuben Foster, who recently underwent shoulder surgery. As a result, Foster will not work out at all for teams prior to the draft, which should hurt his draft stock. It might not hurt it too bad though, considering so many players are either injured right now, or will be having surgery after the combine. Additionally, the Cardinals are so pressed for a starting linebacker, they may have to overlook Foster's injury and take him early in April.
Last week, Mel Kiper mocked UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley to the Indianapolis Colts. I'll take credit for this pick though, considering I starting mocking McKinley to the Colts three weeks ago, when Chris Ballard was named the new GM of the team. Ballard is a height-weight-speed type of GM, looking to just add the biggest and best athletes to his team. McKinley is a bit short for the rush linebacker position, but makes up for it with good arm length and elite athleticism. I wouldn't be surprised to him run a sub-4.5 40-yard-dash at the combine.
Since trading away LeSean McCoy to the Bills in 2015, the Philadelphia Eagles have not been able to been able to consistently run the ball, despite employing more runningbacks than I can name. In particular, Ryan Mathews has been very disappointing and is injured far too often to be effective. Florida State's Dalvin Cook is an elite runningback prospect, but his off-field concerns will keep him out of the top-10.
As mentioned earlier, many draft analysts view Corey Davis is a possible top-10 or even top-five selection. However, I think the Western Michigan receiver is more of a mid-1st round pick. Davis put up three straight seasons of insane production, but never did it against a decent opponent, or a fellow top NFL draft prospect. He may have bust potential coming out of a small-conference school, but will probably be chosen in the first round due to potential, and a receiver-needy team, like the Baltimore Ravens, would jump at the chance to choose him if they get the chance.