Looking ahead to the 2017 NFL draft, the immediate attention goes to how the quarterbacks get graded. Three — Deshaun Watson of Clemson, DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame, and Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina — seem like first-round picks. At least for now. It’s difficult to gauge at this point how the NFL views them. It’s also not a given that all three will go pro.
After the intrigue at quarterback and some excitement about running backs, offense looks like the weak side in the draft. The top overall players in the draft next year are on defense, where Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, Jabrill Peppers of Michigan, and Jonathan Allen of Alabama all rate as star players.
In this week’s mock, 19 of the 32 first-round picks are on the defensive side of the ball. That number could have been higher if some of the teams weren’t forced offensive linemen out of need.
1. Cleveland Browns - Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
This may sound strange, but Garrett is the type of piece the Browns need to finish off what looks like an up-and-coming defensive line. Second-year defensive tackle Danny Shelton is really coming on, and rookies Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah look like solid starters with upside. Garrett could be the star player of the group with his ability to get after the quarterback and play the run.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
In the six games he's played this season, Colin Kaepernick really hasn't done enough to stop the 49ers from taking a quarterback in the first round of the draft. If they do go that route, Watson is still the top quarterback. His 14 interceptions this season are a concern, but his talent is worth a high pick.
3. Chicago Bears - DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Jay Cutler may still be on the Bears next season, but he could just be a bridge to a rookie. That could be Kizer, the inexperienced but physically gifted Notre Dame quarterback. Kizer submitted his request to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, and what they tell him could determine whether or not he enters the draft.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
The Jaguars really need to get better on the offensive line, but this is a really bad draft to need blockers. That could lead Jacksonville to go for the best player available, and that's Peppers. He can play everywhere on defense and be a standout special teams player.
5. New York Jets - Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
This is another team that's in trouble because of the lack of quality offensive linemen high in next year's draft. The Jets have been a mess at quarterback, but they do have two young players in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that the front office obviously likes. So instead of a quarterback, the Jets could add a dynamic running back like Cook. Cook over Leonard Fournette would be like Edgerrin James getting picked before Ricky Williams in 1999. But Cook is good enough, and Fournette's durability this season could make this a reality in April.
6. Cincinnati Bengals - Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Because taking a kicker in the top 10 is absurd, the Bengals could attack their second-biggest need with a pass rusher. Michael Johnson's play has dipped, so getting a pass rusher early is in order. Barnett isn't a size/speed pass rusher, but he's pro ready. A team like Cincinnati could have a quick bounce back next season by hitting on some sure things, and Barnett is one.
7. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams) - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
If Peppers, a redshirt sophomore, is being included in this mock, then so is Humphrey. The Crimson Tide cornerback is physically gifted at 6'1, knows how to press, and is a good tackler.
8. Carolina Panthers - Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley have had up-and-down seasons, and don't have the athleticism or upside like Wilson does. Wilson is an imposing cornerback at 6'1 and 213 pounds, and he can make a play on the ball.
9. Arizona Cardinals - Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
This is strange territory for the Cardinals to be in the draft, and it could lead them to taking a quarterback. With Watson and Kizer off the board, Arizona could target Trubisky. He has the arm strength to fit in the Cardinals offense, and Bruce Arians could mold him like he did Ben Roethlisberger.
10. Green Bay Packers - Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The Packers are another team that's probably picking higher in the draft than expected. And they're another team that gets hurt by the lack of offensive line talent. Picking in the top 10 means getting talent, and there are few more talented players than Fournette. He can be what the Packers hoped Eddie Lacy would be, and much better.
11. Indianapolis Colts - Tim Williams, OLB/DE, Alabama
The impressive career for Robert Mathis is coming to a close, and the Colts could target his replacement with Williams. He's been utilized as a pass-rush specialist at Alabama, but when he's on the field he's productive off the edge.
12. San Diego Chargers - Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Unfortunately, Keenan Allen can't manage to stay healthy, and Travis Benjamin doesn't rate as a No. 1 wide receiver. Williams is the best receiver in the 2017 draft thanks to his combination of size and ability to attack the ball at the catch point.
13. New Orleans Saints - Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Does a better pass rush help the secondary, or does a better secondary help the pass rush? How the Saints answer that question could determine what they do in the first round. In this instance, the choice is Lawson over Florida cornerback Teez Tabor. Lawson is an instant-impact pass rusher who can improve the Saints' pass rush straight away.
14. Tennessee Titans - Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
At this point, Allen is too good to pass up. He's going to rate as a top-10 player in the draft, so to get him in this range will be a coup. For the Titans, he'll boost the run defense, and give them a player who can play tackle or end.
15. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles) - Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Not giving the Browns a player on offense in their first two picks feels wrong. But it speaks to the volume of first-round talent on defense in next year's draft. This may be obvious, but Adams would start immediately for the Browns and give them a player who could be their version of Landon Collins.
16. Buffalo Bills - Malik McDowell, DE, Michigan State
McDowell is an imposing player at 6'6 and 276 pounds, and would fit perfectly as an end in Buffalo's defense. Putting him next to Marcell Dareus could allow McDowell to either stay at home and play the run or use his explosive burst to rush the passer.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings) - Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
The Eagles are pretty woeful at cornerback, and Tabor is just sitting there as the best corner available, and arguably the best player. Tabor relies on his instincts, and uses them to break up passes on the regular.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers - Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama
Lawrence Timmons is a free agent after the season, and could get a nice contract in the offseason. If he leaves, Foster would be an excellent addition. He's a speedy linebacker, but he has the smarts and tackling skills to go with it.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - John Ross, WR, Washington
The thought of pairing Ross with Mike Evans is too enticing to pass up. Ross will get the distinction of being called this draft's Antonio Brown. It's a lazy comparison, but an appropriate one.
20. Denver Broncos - Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
The first offensive tackle may not come off the board until this pick, and it still feels somewhat early. Robinson is the top tackle in the class, sort of by default. He’s a solid player who has been the left-side blocker for Alabama. For the Broncos, he could slide to the right side where Ty Sambrailo and Donald Stephenson have struggled.
21. Washington - Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
For as much attention as McDowell gets, maybe it should go to Charlton. He’s not quite on the same level of athleticism, but he’s been healthier this season, more productive, and has nearly identical size. For Washington, he could boost an average run defense.
22. Miami Dolphins - Dan Feeney, G, Indiana
The Dolphins used a first-round pick on Laremy Tunsil, and his NFL future is at tackle. Because of that, Branden Albert could become an offseason casualty, and Tunsil can easily slide over from guard. Feeney is arguably the best offensive lineman in the draft, but flies under the radar playing for Indiana.
23. New York Giants - Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
The Giants spent a ton of money on their defense last offseason, but could still use more talent at linebacker. Cunningham is a big linebacker with athleticism, and could work in the NFL on the inside or the outside.
24. Kansas City Chiefs - Dorian Johnson, G, Pittsburgh
Johnson is an experienced and athletic guard with few flaws, and he could push for either starting spot in Kansas City. Johnson could rise into the first round with a good Senior Bowl, which he’s likely to get an invitation to soon.
25. Houston Texans - Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
With the two top inside linebackers gone, the Texans could look to add a top-level safety. Hooker has turned into a star for Ohio State this season with six interceptions and 67 tackles. He’s only a redshirt sophomore, but his playing style perfectly translates to the NFL.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
McKinley has been a terror for UCLA this season with 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. For Baltimore, he would be the successor to Terrell Suggs, who will turn 35 next season.
27. Detroit Lions - Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
With Riley Reiff’s contract expiring, the Lions could find potentially a better and cheaper player in the draft. Ramczyk has had a breakout season for Wisconsin, and positioned himself as the second-best tackle in the draft.
28. Atlanta Falcons - Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The surging Falcons are finally playing to the level of talent on the roster, but there will be some holes in the offseason. One could be on the defensive line where Jonathan Babineaux is a free agent. Lotulelei isn’t quite the penetrating tackle up front that Babineaux was at his peak, but he would be an upgrade as a run stuffer.
29. Seattle Seahawks - Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
Like his Pittsburgh teammate Dorian Johnson, Bisnowaty could rise with a good showing during the offseason process. Bisnowaty has a lot of experience, and wouldn’t need to get a lot of technique work in the NFL. Being able to play at a high level as a rookie could be attractive to Seattle, where the offensive line play has faltered.
30. Oakland Raiders - Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Considering the top offensive tackles and middle linebackers are gone, the Raiders could fall back on a cornerback in the first round of next year’s draft. Fortunately for them, it projects as the deepest position. Jones is a cornerback who can play man and zone equally well.
31. New England Patriots - Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Adding a big outside receiver to New England’s offense could really put it over the top. Davis has been a star hidden away in the Mid-American Conference, but his talent transcends. He’s a big target who can outmuscle defensive backs, and has enough speed and quickness to pull away in the open field.
32. Dallas Cowboys - Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
Randy Gregory looks like a wasted pick for the Cowboys, and as a result the team is in the bottom half of the league in sacks. A player like Harris, or even Dawuane Smoot of Illinois, could be brought in as a pass-rush specialist to start their career.