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NFL mock draft 2017: A rare year for defensive players

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Will something that hasn’t happened in 25 years take place in the 2017 NFL draft?

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren’t obvious that defense was the strength of the 2017 NFL draft, it should be evident after this mock draft. It’s such a defense-heavy year that in this week’s mock draft, the first five picks are players on defense. That hasn’t happened in the draft since 1991 when the first six picks were defensive players.

Need another indictment on the offense? In this week’s edition the first offensive player taken is a tight end. The first round this week does even out, however, with 17 of 32 picks coming on defense.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Since 2000, only five non-quarterbacks have been taken first in the draft. Three of those — Courtney Brown in 2000, Mario Williams in 2006 and Jadeveon Clowney in 2014 — were defensive ends. Like those three, Garrett is the unique combination of size and athleticism. If you’re going to go against the norm and not take a quarterback first overall, getting the NFL’s second-most important position should be the choice.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

This is where the draft really starts. Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has emerged as a popular pick for the 49ers, but I still contend that Hooker is the better choice. The Cover 3 defense begs for a player of Hooker’s quality and style. While getting a pass rusher is important too, Hooker can be the Earl Thomas of San Francisco’s defense.

3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, S, LSU

The Bears may have signed Quintin Demps, but at 32, he shouldn’t stop the team from going after a player like Adams. Demps, who had six interceptions a season ago, could be the team’s main coverage safety while Adams plays more in the box against the run.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Although the Jaguars spent a high draft pick on Dante Fowler in 2015, they still couldn’t get to the passer much last season. Adding Calais Campbell this offseason helps the defense as a whole, but bringing in Thomas will give the Jaguars a versatile edge rusher. Having Thomas, Fowler, and Yannick Ngakoue could finally fix the team’s pass rush woes.

5. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams): Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

This could be a wide receiver like Mike Williams of Clemson, but with the top cornerback still available, the Titans could strike. Lattimore is a playmaker who is just scratching the surface.

6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

Going into his third season, Jets head coach Todd Bowles has to win in 2017 to save his job. That’s why I think the Jets will eventually bring in Jay Cutler to be the starting quarterback. If they could add a tight end like Howard to go along with him, the Jets would have some semblance of an offense.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama

With the two safeties going in the top five, the Chargers could look to move off the No. 7 pick to get as much talent they can while Philip Rivers is still the team’s quarterback. If they stick and Allen is there, he could be a nice pickup. He can play opposite Joey Bosa, giving the Chargers a formidable duo for the foreseeable future.

8. Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Considering how the first seven picks have played out, the Panthers could go after Fournette instead of an end like Derek Barnett of Tennessee. With his power running style, Fournette can transform the offense.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama

At some point when the fascination for the Bengals at the No. 9 pick became a wide receiver or a pass rusher, it was forgotten they could still use a middle linebacker. Foster should still be in play for the Bengals. He can replace Rey Maualuga and give the Bengals a linebacker with range.

10. Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

The Bills kept Tyrod Taylor, so why not give him a new weapon? Williams is the draft’s top wide out, and his ability to attack the ball in the air would give Buffalo a great outside target.

11. New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

It will be interesting to see what happens with this pick and whether the Saints ultimately give it up to acquire Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. If they stay here, they could get an NFL-ready pass rusher in Barnett who would fit the system in New Orleans nicely.

12. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles): Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

I still think the Browns are going to use this pick and more to make a push for Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo. If that fails, the team needs to add a quarterback early in the draft.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

The Cardinals could ultimately go with a wide receiver or cornerback here, but the time is now to find Carson Palmer’s replacement. This might be the veteran’s final season, and if the Cardinals want to avoid a complete rebuild, a player like Trubisky could be brought in now to be groomed.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings): Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

If Humphrey happens to be available when the Eagles pick, he should be an easy selection. Cornerback is overwhelmingly the biggest need on the team and Humphrey could be the answer. Don’t discount a running back or wide receiver here, though. In the past week, the Eagles have worked out Dalvin Cook, Corey Davis, Fournette and Mike Williams.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

The Colts have gone on a front-seven binge, signing Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard and John Simon this offseason. Because of that, they may be under the impression that a pass rusher is no longer a first-round need. Instead they could go after Cook, a versatile running back who might remind Colts fans of Edgerrin James.

16. Baltimore Ravens: John Ross, WR, Washington

The deep speed of Ross might be hard for the Ravens to pass up if he’s around with the 16th pick. Kamar Aiken remains on the open market and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman has been a nonfactor. The combination of Ross’ deep speed and Joe Flacco’s arm strength could be dangerous.

17. Washington: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

Reddick is a fit for a ton of teams starting in this range, and Washington is one of them. With Foster gone, Washington could target Reddick to play middle linebacker. His versatility will allow Washington to run a number of different defenses.

18. Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Tennessee’s need at wide receiver has been stated time and again. Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe are good players, but Davis could be the superstar No. 1 target Tennessee needs.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

Whether he plays right tackle or pushes Donovan Smith for the left tackle spot, the Buccaneers could use a player like Ramczyk. He only played a season at Wisconsin, but he quickly emerged as the draft’s top tackle prospect.

20. Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

The Broncos fixed the right side of their offensive line with Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson, but the left side could still use help. The opinions on Robinson are mixed, but if he can refine his pass blocking he could stick at left tackle.

21. Detroit Lions: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Last week, the pick for Detroit was Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, and that enraged some Lions fans. This week, it’s back to being Charlton, who has the size and athleticism to work the edge or kick inside on certain plays.

22. Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky

There seems to be three directions the Dolphins could go with this pick: guard, safety, or outside linebacker. Lamp is the choice this week. He’s a pro-ready blocker who should be able to come in and help the team’s run and pass blocking.

23. New York Giants: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

Cunningham could be the new version of Antonio Pierce for the Giants. He’s a good athlete who can be used playing middle or on the weak side.

24. Oakland Raiders: Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

If the top linebackers are gone, the Raiders may turn to the defensive line. McDowell is something of an enigma, but he has top-10 talent. He can be used on the edge or inside. If he’s working hard, he could be a steal if a team in the 20s gets him.

25. Houston Texans: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

If Bill O’Brien could take a team quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler to the playoffs, surely he can fix Kizer and do the same with him. The Tony Romo talk is still out there, but until it happens, he’s just as likely to be in a TV booth as he is in an NFL jersey next season.

26. Seattle Seahawks: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

If the Seahawks thrive on competitiveness, Bolles is a perfect system fit. He’s the meanest, nastiest blocker in the draft this year and would give Seattle some attitude on the line.

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

It seems likely the heir apparent to Alex Smith will be added in the draft this year, and why not make it Mahomes? He has more arm talent than any quarterback in the draft this year and could be a fine player with the right coaching.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

A pass rusher is a popular choice for the Cowboys, but their secondary needs talent. After losing Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and Morris Claiborne, the secondary is Byron Jones and not much else. Conley would be a nice addition because of his ability to play man and zone coverage.

29. Green Bay Packers: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

McCaffrey might not be viewed as a direct replacement for Eddie Lacy, but he would add an incredible dimension to Green Bay’s offense.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama

James Harrison might be immortal, but he won’t play football forever. Williams could be his successor to pair opposite the emerging Bud Dupree.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

After making a splash signing of Dontari Poe, the top two needs for the Falcons appear to be at guard and pass rusher. With Lamp gone, the attention could turn to pass rusher where Harris happens to still be around.

32. New Orleans Saints (via New England Patriots): Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

If the Saints don’t acquire Butler, they will likely use one of their first-round picks on a cornerback. Tabor didn’t have the best combine numbers, but he’s a proven pass defender who should be able to help the Saints pass defense straight away.