The ultimate determining factor in most sports draft is filling needs. Sure, teams will espouse the want to take the best player available, but often it just so happens that the best player happens to fill a need for the team.
That’s most certainly the case in football, and it will likely play out that way in the 2017 NFL Draft. This week’s mock draft is an exploration to identify the key needs for every team in the first round, and how they might fill them.
1. Cleveland Browns - Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Key needs: QB, pass rush, S, OLB, CB, OL
The needs for the Browns are endless. Quarterback is the big one, but acquiring someone like Jimmy Garoppolo or A.J. McCarron via a trade are possibilities. Emmanuel Ogbah looks like a good end, but the Browns need a player to go with him. Both safety spots should be in play with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Cornerback becomes an even greater need if Joe Haden is released this offseason. Offensive line in general for the Browns is iffy at center, right guard and right tackle.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Key needs: QB, pass rusher, CB, WR
With the 49ers at the start of a rebuild, that begins with a quarterback. Should the 49ers pass on quarterbacks early, there will be some good pass rushing outside players high in the draft. Just behind those two positions is cornerback, where the 49ers just need a legit No. 1, and wide receiver where a big play threat is lacking.
3. Chicago Bears - Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Key needs: QB, WR, CB
Is it time to move on from Jay Cutler? If so, neither Matt Barkley nor Brian Hoyer is a long-term replacement. If Alshon Jeffery is gone in free agency, the Bears could rely on the solid depth of the position this year to find his replacement. Kyle Fuller missed the entire season after undergoing knee surgery in August, and his dependability could lead Chicago to find a high-upside cornerback in the middle of the draft.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jonathan Allen, DE/DT, Alabama
Key needs: OL, DE, S, RB
You could argue that Jacksonville needs to get better at right tackle, right guard and left guard. At defensive end, Jared Odrick is likely a cap casualty. Safety becomes a bigger need if Johnathan Cyprien leaves in free agency. You could argue that a better offensive line will make the running backs on the roster better, but in a deep running back class, the Jaguars could find a good player.
5. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams) - Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Key needs: CB, WR, S, MLB
It’s clear that the Titans need a legit No. 1, shutdown cornerback but is the fifth pick too high to get that player? Take out “shutdown cornerback” in the previous sentence and the same can be said for wide receiver. The Titans could go after one of the elite playmaker safety early. A middle linebacker the Titans just need a dependable player who can get forward and stop the run and occasionally drop in coverage.
6. New York Jets - DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Key needs: RB, QB, CB
The Jets have several bodies at quarterback, including last year’s second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, but there is no sure thing there. Considering the lack of production at quarterback, a running back could take over the offense for the Jets. Of course, that would be easier if there weren’t questions on the line at center, where Nick Mangold has an uncertain future, and right guard where Brian Winters is a free agent. Darrelle Revis got old in a hurry at cornerback, and there isn’t a lot of talent at the position for New York.
7. San Diego Chargers - Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Key needs: OT, S, WR
On the offensive line, the Chargers haven’t had a great tackle in years. King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale are average players who could be upgraded. At safety, the team needs a playmaker that they’ve lacked since Eric Weddle left. Because Keenan Allen can’t stay healthy, the Chargers could target an outside receiver at some point in the draft.
8. Carolina Panthers - Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Key needs: LT, RB, DE, DT
Mike Remmers is better off on the right side of the offensive line, and Michael Oher’s future with the team could be in question after his missed 13 games with a concussion. At running back, Jonathan Stewart averaged less than four yards per carry, and isn’t the type of player who can take over a game if Cam Newton is struggling. The play of Charles Johnson has dipped, and Kony Ealy has been inconsistent at defensive end. Defensive tackle might jump to the front of this list if Kawann Short can’t be brought back.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Key needs: WR, DE, MLB, LT
A.J. Green is the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL, but do the Bengals really have a difference maker at the position beyond him? At defensive end, the Bengals need a good bookend for Carlos Dunlap, and Margus Hunt and Will Clarke have failed to break out. The Bengals could really use an inside linebacker next to Vontaze Burfict with Rey Maualuga potentially being an offseason cut. Cedric Ogbuehi has been a disappointment at left tackle thus far.
10. Buffalo Bills - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
Key needs: QB, WR, TE, CB
Once the Tyrod Taylor era closes with his release in Buffalo, only Cardale Jones will be under contract at quarterback for the Bills next season. Wide receiver could get a look because when Sammy Watkins was sidelined this season for nine games, the passing offense really struggled. At tight end, Charles Clay has been uneven and another pass catcher at the position could help. Stephon Gilmore’s pending free agency leaves a hole at cornerback.
11. New Orleans Saints - Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Key needs: DE, LB, CB, QB
The Saints have needed to address pass rusher for several years, and this could be the year to strike. Linebacker needs an infusion of young talent, especially on the outside. Although New Orleans will get Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams back at cornerback, adding another player at cornerback would help if either – or even both – gets injured again. At some point the Saints will need to consider a successor to Drew Brees.
12. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles) - Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
13. Arizona Cardinals - Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Key needs: QB, CB, WR, OLB
How much time does Carson Palmer have left in the NFL after turning 37 in December? Finding his heir in the past has been a failure with players like Logan Thomas and Matt Barkley. Other than Patrick Peterson, Arizona’s talent at cornerback is questionable. The Cardinals cut Michael Floyd near the end of the season, and Larry Fitzgerald will be 34 at the start of next season. Can Arians’ offense work with just John Brown and JJ Nelson? Outside linebacker becomes a need if Chandler Jones isn’t re-signed. Keeping or finding his replacement will keep the pressure of budding star Markus Golden.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings) - Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
Key needs: CB, WR
It’s all about the perimeter for Philadelphia. The Eagles might be smart to take not just one, but possibly two cornerbacks with their first three or four picks in the draft this year. Wide receiver becomes less of a need if DeSean Jackson returns to Philadelphia, but the Eagles really need a sure thing at the position.
15. Indianapolis Colts - Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
Key needs: OL, OLB, RB
It seems like the Colts just can’t manage to put together a complete offensive line. A player to fit the right side would be good to pair with Joe Haeg, who can play guard or tackle. At linebacker, a pass rusher is needed. A running back would be a nice fit because Frank Gore’s career is winding down, and Robert Turbin is little more than a backup.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
Key needs: Pass rush, WR, S, RB
Baltimore’s pass rush faded this season, and it will need to be bolstered even if Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both back – though the latter could be gone in a cap relief move. With Steve Smith’s retirement, the Ravens lose a player who was targeted on nearly a quarter of Joe Flacco’s pass attempts. Safety becomes a need if Baltimore chooses to save $5.5 million by release Lardarius Webb this offseason. Few teams ran as little as Baltimore last season. Is that because of the offensive scheme or Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon just not being that good?
17. Washington - Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama
Key needs: DT, MLB, S, WR
Washington’s needs are straight up the middle on defense. Better talent on the defensive line will keep blockers off players like Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. A good middle linebacker will do the same, and give the team a player who can stop the run. Wide receiver becomes a greater need if DeSean Jackson isn’t re-signed.
18. Tennessee Titans - Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
Key needs: WR, DE, C
The Buccaneers are on the brink of being a playoff team, and a very good secondary wide out to go along with Mike Evans could put the offense over the top. At end, run stopping ace William Gholston is a free agent. A defensive end who can rush the passer would be a good fit as well. It won’t be a first round need, but the Buccaneers should be one of the first teams to take a center in this year’s draft.
20. Denver Broncos - Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Key needs: OT, G, DT, RB
The offensive line for the Broncos is a wreck, and needs multiple upgrades this offseason. Denver also has a big need along the defensive line where the play has dipped the last couple of seasons. At running back C.J. Anderson played in just seven games, and failed to impress.
21. Detroit Lions - Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
Key needs: Pass rusher, DT, CB
Whether they find it at linebacker or defensive end, the Lions have to find a pass rusher who can keep some pressure off Ezekiel Ansah. A linebacker could be of particular need if DeAndre Levy is released. A defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata is really starting to show his age. A cornerback with playmaking ability could really boost the pass defense.
22. Miami Dolphins - Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Key needs: OLB, WR, CB
It’s clear that the Dolphins need athletic outside linebacker who can play the run and the pass. They could add multiple players at the position. At wide receiver, the Dolphins could target a player if Jarvis Landry can’t be re-signed. A high-end cornerback would be a good addition on a roster that lacks a star at the position.
23. New York Giants - Taco Charlton, DL, Michigan
Key needs: DL, TE, CB
Along the defensive line, both end Jason Pierre-Paul and tackle Johnathan Hankins are free agents, and the team splashed big money on that side of the ball last offseason. Neither Larry Donnell or Will Tye are the playmaker the Giants need at tight end. In the first two rounds they should have several options at the position. If Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is let go this offseason it opens up a key spot at cornerback.
24. Oakland Raiders - Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Key needs: MLB, DT, RB
If the Raiders really want to take the next step, they’ll have to get better up the middle, with no position being more important than linebacker. They need someone who can really move around, but also play with strength. A power defensive tackle would help keep blockers off whichever linebacker is brought in. Running back Latavius Murray is a free agent after the season, and if he’s not re-signed the Raiders will need a big back to go along with promising rookie DeAndre Washington.
25. Houston Texans - Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
Key needs: MLB, DT, OT, QB
Bernardick McKinney has become a good player for the Texans at middle linebacker, but Houston could look to replace Brian Cushing this year. An offensive tackle to play the right side or eventually replace Duane Brown on the left would make for smart choices. At defensive tackle, Vince Wilfork’s career is winding down, so finding a place to complete with D.J. Reader would be ideal. Considering the uneven play of Brock Osweiler, the Texans could go after a high-upside passer at some point this year.
26. Green Bay Packers - Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Key needs: RB, G, CB
It’s clear the Packers need to improve a running game that’s fallen back on wide receiver Ty Montgomery and journeyman Christine Michael. If they don’t go running back early, a good guard to fill the hole created before the season with the release of Josh SItton. This offseason the Packers will have to decide whether the development of a player like Quinten Rollins is where they want it to be.
27. Seattle Seahawks - Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
Key needs: OL, DL, S
Seattle has possibly the most obvious needs of any team. It’s clear the team needs to get better along the offensive line to protect Russell Wilson and bolster the run game. On the defensive line the Seahawks could find an upgrade over Ahtyba Rubin inside. Safety will get a look early if Earl Thomas decides to retire.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - Charles Harris, OLB, Missouri
Key needs: LB, OL, QB
The Steelers will have to figure out what to do at linebacker where Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones are free agents, and James Harrison may be in the final year of his career. The Steelers have done a nice job of developing their offensive line, but quality depth is needed. Pittsburgh can improve upon Landry Jones as a backup developmental quarterback.
29. Atlanta Falcons - Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Key needs: DT, DE, FS
Atlanta could be light at defensive tackle depending on what happens with Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson. Getting a player to go alongside Grady Jarrett would be ideal. Adding an extra pass rusher this offseason will be a priority as well. This looks to be a strong class of free safeties, so there’s a possibility head coach Dan Quinn could find his very own Earl Thomas at some point.
30. Kansas City Chiefs - Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Key needs: CB, FS, QB
Pairing Marcus Peters with another dynamic cornerback early would be smart, and an upgrade over Phillip Gaines. Considering Eric Berry’s pending free agency, the Chiefs could have a hole there as well. Quarterback is a sneaky need for the Chiefs considering the talent behind Alex Smith.
31. New England Patriots - Ryan Anderson, LB, Alabama
Key needs: LB, DT, WR
After getting rid of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, the Patriots are lacking in pure talent at linebacker. The Patriots could also target the defensive tackle spot to work alongside players like Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine. Finally, a consistent wide receiver could have a usual role in New England’s offense.
32. Dallas Cowboys: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Key needs: DE, CB, OLB
The Cowboys may have found a real player David Irving, but they could stand to do with another good pass rusher on the edge. They could also be looking to add a cornerback considering Morris Claiborne’s pending free agency. Linebacker depth could be added in this draft just in case Sean Lee happens to suffer an injury again.