1. Cleveland Browns – Texas A&M EDGE Myles Garrett
The most valuable commodity in pro sports is a franchise quarterback. The second most valuable commodity in pro football is quarterback disruption. There are no quarterbacks worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Garrett ruined offensive schemes at the highest level of college football, dominating the SEC with a fierce bull rush, lightning-quick inside spin move, and ferocious burst off the snap. Garrett also received strong run-defense grades from PFF College throughout his career. A truly complete edge defender with basketball-player athleticism, Garrett should have an easy NFL transition.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
Despite his team’s No. 31 finish in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA and No. 23 ranking in sacks, rookie GM John Lynch has publicly cited defensive line play as one of San Francisco’s greatest strengths. On that admittedly weak basis, I’m pivoting away from popular 49ers mock pick Solomon Thomas and onto the top corner in this draft. Ideally built (6’0/193) with 4.36 speed and 96th-percentile athleticism, Lattimore allowed a 30.2 passer rating on throws into his coverage last season, and missed zero tackles. Recurring hamstring problems that date back to high school are Lattimore’s big red flag.
3. Chicago Bears – Stanford DL Solomon Thomas
Be it Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky, I don’t doubt that a quarterback will be in play at the No. 3 pick. Ultimately, I think the Bears are building in traditional John Fox mold and will settle for a high-floor defensive stud with scheme and position versatility whom DC Vic Fangio should have a great feel for as the former defensive coordinator at Stanford, where Fangio undoubtedly maintains connections. While I remain highly skeptical of Mike Glennon as a long- or even short-term solution, the Bears presently have the makings of a team that can compete week in and week out with a high-volume, foundation running game and coming-together defensive front. A dynamic difference maker on the line is one missing piece.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – LSU RB Leonard Fournette
Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com), Rob Rang (CBS Sports), Bucky Brooks (NFL.com), Chad Reuter (NFL.com), Josh Norris (Rotoworld), and Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) all have Fournette going to Jacksonville in their latest mock drafts. I’m not going to quibble with that. Drafting tone-setting workhorse Fournette would be one way for new top executive Tom Coughlin to attempt to change the Jaguars’ offensive identity and minimize error-prone quarterback Blake Bortles’ impact on games. Supremely loaded at all three levels on defense, the Jaguars can start the Coughlin era as a run-first, smash-mouth, ball-control team.
5. Tennessee Titans – Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
The Titans have two big needs – cornerback and receiver – and they are positioned well to address both at the Nos. 5 and 18 picks. Clemson WR Mike Williams should be in play here, and I think Washington WR John Ross is a candidate to be drafted far earlier than anyone expects. Pass defense was still Tennessee’s largest 2016 weakness – by far — and Conley is a better prospect than any wideout in this draft class. Bigger (6’0/195), longer (33-inch arms), more durable, and nearly as athletic (4.44 speed, 86th-percentile SPARQ) as college bookend Marshon Lattimore, Conley is a day-one starter at boundary corner. On college tape, it stood out that the Buckeyes’ coaching staff consistently left Conley on a one-on-one island versus aforementioned Williams and Penn State’s Chris Godwin with no safety help. Able to cover on the perimeter and in the slot, Conley compares to Desmond Trufant.
6. New York Jets – North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
Early in the draft process, several news outlets reported the Jets’ interest in Trubisky. I’m more inclined to believe that than late-process reports which can be “smokescreens” or tea-leaf reading during a time where NFL teams have nothing to gain from making their draft interests public. The Jets have embraced full-on tank mode, and are realistically in no position to put a rookie quarterback on the field, especially one entering the NFL with 13 college starts. At the same time, the Jets have almost nothing to hang their hats on from a forward-thinking standpoint. I could envision them settling for a theoretically “safe” pick like LSU SS Jamal Adams, or adding higher-ceiling value to the roster with a quarterback risk. Trubisky erases last year’s round-two Christian Hackenberg pick that never should have happened.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Ohio State FS Malik Hooker
Assuming the board falls like it is prognosticated here – it won’t – the Bolts have a tough decision at No. 7 between Hooker and LSU S Jamal Adams. Whereas Adams draws higher marks for his leadership and all-around game, Hooker’s center-field ability makes him a rarer commodity and arguably more valuable with field-flipping takeaway skills. Hooker plays safety like a wideout and is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball, averaging an obscene 25.9 yards per runback on seven interceptions last year, including three pick sixes. While Adams and Hooker both would fit new DC Gus Bradley’s defense, Hooker’s game more closely resembles what Earl Thomas brought to the table for Bradley in Seattle.
8. Carolina Panthers – Alabama DL Jonathan Allen
Based on how this draft is going, LSU S Jamal Adams, Clemson WR Mike Williams, Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, Alabama TE O.J. Howard, and popular mock pick Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey are all in play at No. 8. I simply don’t trust GM Dave Gettleman to resist his latest, greatest hog molly. In Gettleman’s mind, this is what the early rounds are for. Allen won the 2016 Nagurski, Bednarik, and Ted Hendricks awards as the nation’s top defensive player and defensive end, capping a decorated career by finishing No. 2 in Alabama history in sacks (28.5) and earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. Albeit in a relatively small sample size, SEC Defensive Players of the Year have had an excellent NFL hit rate.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
Understandably not a favorite of the draftnik community for his snap-jumping tendencies and 25th-percentile measurable athleticism, Barnett’s dominant production at an exceptionally young age against SEC competition is nevertheless tough to diminish. A Volunteer at ages 18-20, Barnett broke Reggie White’s school record for career sacks (33) in only three years in Knoxville, and was compared to Vikings DE Everson Griffen by NFL Films’ Greg Cosell based on game tape. I’m not entirely sure why RE Michael Johnson remains on Cincinnati’s offseason roster, let alone in the starting lineup. A team that once sported one of the league’s most fearsome pass rushes, last year’s Bengals finished a lowly 23rd in sacks.
10. Buffalo Bills – Clemson WR Mike Williams
Williams’ college tape reveals a wide receiver who wins almost strictly on back-shoulder fades and contested catches. Tyrod Taylor is a playmayer innately, but I’ve never seen him with a receiver whose game is so tied to chemistry, rhythm, and timing with his quarterback. Admittedly, the Williams-Tyrod fit is questionable. This team-player match would be driven by need and value for a Buffalo club desperate for pass-catching help with a glaring hole beyond foot- and hip-hobbled Sammy Watkins and overpaid, knee-hobbled Charles Clay. The Bills can’t evaluate Taylor properly without getting him another weapon.
11. New Orleans Saints – Alabama ILB Reuben Foster
I am almost certain New Orleans will use its first-round pick on defense. The Saints’ linebacker corps if the season began today? Panthers castoff A.J. Klein, Ravens/Dolphins castoff Dannell Ellerbe, and Browns castoff Craig Robertson. Foster is the tone setter the Saints hoped for when they whiffed on Stephone Anthony two drafts ago. A top-five consideration before his diluted urine sample, Foster’s technically-failed test pushes him to No. 11 here. I’m selling whispers it will cost Foster a first-round slot entirely.
12. Cleveland Browns – LSU SS Jamal Adams
I prefer to be completely transparent: I have no confidence mocking a draft because I’ve been doing this for over a decade and know that each year, the best mock draft in the nation hits on 33-40% of its first-round picks. Actual NFL hit rates are only marginally better. Outside the top ten, I really have no clue whom each team will take. I do know the Browns need good football players, especially in the secondary. Productive in a big sample, of NFL lineage, adequately athletic, and an impact player versus both the run and pass, Adams checks every analytical box as a high-floor, low-risk pick at No. 12.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
There is a reported disconnect among Cardinals brass. As rumor goes, coach Bruce Arians wants an immediate-impact first-rounder, while GM Steve Keim is thinking longer term and realizes Carson Palmer is entering his last year. In this hypothetical scenario, Keim focuses on the future by selecting a signal caller at No. 13, and gives his offensive-minded coach a big-armed passer to spend a year learning Arians’ decidedly vertical-pass-minded scheme. An out-of-structure gunslinger in college, Mahomes should benefit as a first-year redshirt watching structure-oriented Palmer from the bench.
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
Eagles GM Howie Roseman is well aware of how his bread will be buttered, if it’s to be buttered at all. Roseman desperately needs Carson Wentz to succeed. In free agency, Roseman signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, slapped a second-round restricted tender on reserve tight end Trey Burton, and made multiple moves on the offensive line designed to ensure the Eagles’ front five doesn’t collapse if it loses one player, which happened last year during RT Lane Johnson’s suspension. Roseman’s next logical step is to further bolster Wentz’s supporting cast with a high-percentage pass catcher and upgrade in the running game. Should the Eagles pass on McCaffrey – or not have the opportunity to draft him if he goes earlier than No. 14 – beat writers expect them to consider similarly versatile Joe Mixon in round two.
15. Indianapolis Colts – Washington CB Kevin King
Rookie GM Chris Ballard knows where his roster weaknesses are. The Colts made seven additions to their defensive front seven in free agency. They still lack a quality No. 2 corner opposite Vontae Davis, whose contract is up after this year. A pass-rush upgrade is entirely possible here; Wisconsin OLB T.J. Watt immediately comes to mind. King is a terrific alternative, and arguably addresses a more pressing need. At a sturdy 6-foot-3, 200 with impressive 32-inch arms, King is the highest-rated SPARQ athlete in this year’s cornerback class and allowed just one touchdown pass over his final 28 college games.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Alabama TE O.J. Howard
I’ve watched their tape and studied their numbers, and I’m fully on board with the notion that this year’s tight end group is exceptional. At the same time, I’m not entirely convinced NFL teams will value the position inside the top ten. Tight ends ordinarily do not make first-year impacts, and the depth of the class could work against the top-end talents. At No. 16, however, I think Howard would be too appealing for GM Ozzie Newsome to pass. 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams has been a colossal disappointment, and Dennis Pitta is on his last legs. Howard is the pro-readiest tight end in this class.
17. Washington Redskins – Michigan DE Taco Charlton
Last year’s Redskins got bullied in the trenches, finishing 25th in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA and failing to generate consistent pressure. They lost top DL Chris Baker (Buccaneers) in free agency and currently have a slew of journeyman types penciled in up front. Compared to former Giants DE/DT Justin Tuck by CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler, Charlton combines long arms (34 ¼”) with a prototypical five-technique frame (6’6/277) and earned first-team All-Big Ten during a breakout, 9.5-sack campaign last year. Charlton draws high marks for his advanced technique and position versatility.
18. Tennessee Titans – Washington WR John Ross
NFL teams covet speed. It’s mainly why Will Fuller went ahead of Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, and Sterling Shepard last April, and at least partially why Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith, Paul Richardson, Justin Hunter, Tavon Austin, A.J. Jenkins, and Stephen Hill have been top-50 picks over the past five years. The fastest player ever timed at the Combine (4.22), Ross offers more than a one-trick speedster, but speed remains his trump card. The Titans’ offense is painfully short on speed, and adding Ross to three-receiver sets with Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe would give it a new dimension.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – UConn DB Obi Melifonwu
The Bucs’ biggest need is in the secondary, where LCB Brent Grimes turns 34 soon, FS Keith Tandy is in a contract year, SS Bradley McDougald defected to Seattle, and there isn’t a viable slot corner on the roster. Built like Bengals S George Iloka at 6-foot-4, 224 with off-the-charts athleticism, Melifonwu has a chance to take a significant performance leap with NFL coaching and may offer the highest ceiling of any safety prospect in this class. While his likeliest position is safety, Melifonwu offers position flexibility with experience at cornerback. He has matched up with tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage.
20. Denver Broncos – Utah OT Garett Bolles
The Broncos’ offensive line is among the worst in football, and Bolles is this year’s top-rated offensive lineman. Bolles remains flawed in an overwhelmingly-flawed O-Line class. Bolles was kicked out of five different high schools. He spent one year playing D-1 football after transferring from JUCO, and will be a 25-year-old rookie. I’ll be the first to admit I have never seen Bolles play. OL tape watchers I trust vehemently question his upper-body strength, an unanswered concern after Bolles did not participate in the bench press before the draft, either at the Combine or Utah Pro Day. I’m clueless on how to quantify Bolles’ strength, and he faced sub-par competition versus which he was several years older in college.
21. Detroit Lions – Temple EDGE/DL Haason Reddick
In the olden days – as in, five years ago – Reddick would have been labeled an overrated “tweener” who lacks a defined NFL position and is therefore too difficult for a confident NFL projection. As the league is now more pass oriented and open to scheme and position versatility, Reddick fits far better in today’s game than he would have back then. Reddick played tailback and safety in high school, enrolled at Temple as a walk-on cornerback, developed into one of college football’s premier edge rushers, and played middle linebacker at January’s Senior Bowl. The Lions need help in the defensive front seven.
22. Miami Dolphins – Missouri DE Charles Harris
There is a small handful of NFL reporters I truly trust. One of them is Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald who on March 22 tweeted, “No mock draft is legit unless it has the Dolphins picking a DE in Round 1. That is all.” The tweet is nearly a month old at this point, and things change as the NFL draft process progresses. Nevertheless, I’m sending an outside pass rusher to Miami at the 22nd overall pick.
23. New York Giants – Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
I hate this mock pick and doubt it will happen, but I think it should happen and therefore am putting it in this mock. It should be no secret by now that this is a weak offensive line class, and even less of a secret that the Giants need offensive linemen. Ramczyk transferred from UW-Stevens Point and spent only one year in Madison, but impressed that season with his small-sample performance. Ramczyk’s draft stock is sure to be boosted by position scarcity in an almost nonexistent O-Line class.
24. Oakland Raiders – Florida LB Jarrad Davis
The Davis-to-Oakland connection has gained steam since the Raiders hosted Marshawn Lynch, pushing linebacker to the forefront of their needs. Davis was hurt frequently during his college career, but he possesses sideline-to-sideline traits as a run-and-hit linebacker capable of handling a lot of range. At all three levels, the Raiders need good players on defense. Davis is a better than 50:50 bet to become one.
25. Houston Texans – Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
The Texans are in the somewhat rare position of being flush almost everywhere except quarterback, and therefore beholden to a signal-caller upgrade in round one. The entire league knows it, which means other quarterback-needy clubs will consider trading in front of the Texans at No. 25. It also means the Texans may be forced to move up for their guy. On the off chance Watson indeed lands in Houston, I’d wager he beats out sloth-like incumbent Tom Savage in camp.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Alabama T/G Cam Robinson
No offensive line evaluators that I trust have settled on Robinson’s likeliest NFL position, let alone his probability of success. That puts him right down Seahawks OL coach Tom Cable’s alley as a moldable ball of clay with picturesque size (6’6/322) and arm length (35 ½”) but below-par, 35th-percentile athleticism. The Seahawks must also add a cornerback, arguably two. This draft is much stronger in the secondary, and Seattle will struggle to find an O-Lineman with the ceiling of Robinson beyond this round.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Western Kentucky OL Forrest Lamp
The Chiefs’ offensive line completely unraveled when LG Parker Ehinger tore his ACL last year, especially struggling to run block. GM John Dorsey has shown an athletic lean in draft evaluations, and Lamp posted the second highest SPARQ score among offensive linemen at the Combine. A dominant four-year starter at left tackle as a Hilltopper, short arms (32 ¼”) are expected to kick Lamp inside in the pros.
28. Dallas Cowboys – Wisconsin EDGE T.J. Watt
Watt is a 93rd-percentile athlete with extreme position and scheme versatility, having lined up at tight end, linebacker, and edge defense over the past three years. Before he went pro, Watt’s redshirt junior season was most productive with 15 ½ tackles for loss and 10 ½ sacks as a first-year starter. Athletic and long with 33 1/8-inch arms, Watt offers NFL lineage in a league that covets pass-defense talents. At this spot, outside-edge rusher Watt is the defensively-deficient Cowboys’ surest and highest-upside bet.
29. Green Bay Packers – Kansas State EDGE Jordan Willis
Clay Matthews is on a downward trajectory going on age 31, while bookend Nick Perry has battled injuries and turned in one productive season among five. Julius Peppers will finish his career in Carolina. Whereas Green Bay’s secondary stands to benefit from positive injury regression, more talent must be rostered up front. The 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Willis checks boxes as an elite producer and athlete. PFF College charted him with the second most QB pressures (80) in the nation last season.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Miami (FL) TE David Njoku
It’s no secret that Ben Roethlisberger has lobbied Steelers brass for tight end help after last year’s free agent whiff on medical mess Ladarius Green. A passing-game weapon and better-than-advertised blocker, Njoku offers the mismatch-creating traits Pittsburgh targeted in Green. As mentioned in O.J. Howard’s writeup under Baltimore, for the purposes of this mock I’m projecting this year’s top tight ends to fall further than anticipated based on the depth of the class and the position’s tendency to slowly transition. On game tape, Njoku frequently looks like a man amongst boys. He led the nation with an absurd 11.2 yards-after-catch-per-reception average in 2016, and doesn’t turn 21 years old until July.
31. Atlanta Falcons – Houston EDGE/LB Tyus Bowser
Despite playing basketball his first two years at Houston and missing five games with a fractured orbital bone as a senior, Bowser finished seventh in school history in sacks (21.5) before posting the highest SPARQ athleticism score among all edge players in Indy. Bowser showed exceptional versatility on tape, matching up with tight ends in coverage and defending the run well in addition to hurrying enemy passers. The Falcons need an explosive bookend for SLB/LE Vic Beasley, who wore down late last year.
32. New Orleans Saints – LSU CB Tre’Davious White
The 32nd pick is a wild card. We could see a team trade into this slot for a falling quarterback. We could see the pick sent to New England for Malcolm Butler. For better or worse – almost certainly worse – I projected no trades in this mock. New Orleans needs help all throughout its defense, as usual. White is experienced at both boundary and slot cornerback and allowed a mere 41.7% completion rate in 2016.
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