As many of you know, I do one (and only one) mock every year, and that’s the fault of all of you, who continue to read it and feed my overweening ego.
First, a few disclaimers: below represents what I think will happen on Thursday, not necessarily what I would do with any team’s pick. Also, I’m not great at predicting these things; I typically hover around 75% accuracy with regard to identifying the players that will be picked in round 1, and around 25% accuracy with regard to which players end up on which teams.
As always, I welcome any comments...try to be nice.
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett-EDGE/Texas A&M
Very few folks would dispute that Garrett is the best player in the draft, and for a Browns team that ranked 30th overall in sacks and 31st in passer rating allowed, adding an EDGE defender that can harass opposing QBs would be a huge benefit. Garrett has the best measurables of any EDGE defender since Mario Williams, and wrought havoc on the rest of the SEC with 31.0 sacks and 47.0 TFLs in only 3 seasons.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas-DL/Stanford
New 49ers GM John Lynch is a total wildcard, so making a prediction here is dicey territory. So why give them Thomas after they’ve spent two consecutive top picks on similar players in Oregon duo Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner? Simple: not a single 49er overtopped 6.0 sacks last year, and new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wants big, athletic lineman that can attack the backfield. Thomas has the size and strength to take on blockers, and the athleticism to rush the passer. He’ll be a versatile piece that can contribute on the EDGE or inside.
3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams-S/LSU
This Bears secondary is largely in shambles. There are reports that 2014 1st round pick Kyle Fuller could be cut after only 3 seasons, and the current starting safeties are Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps. For a secondary that had only 8 interceptions all of last season, an infusion of talent beyond free agent acquisition Prince Amukamara would go a long way toward helping to improve a defense that allowed a 40 percent 3rd down conversion rate in 2016. Adams is a do-it-all defender with leadership qualities who can thump in the run game and handle his business in coverage.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette-RB/LSU
Back-to-back Tigers! New Head Coach Doug Marrone likes to pound-the-rock, and despite having both Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon on the roster, the Jaguars finished ahead of only one other team (the Giants) in rushing TDs scored last year. If Fournette’s college career that saw him amass 40 rushing TDs in only 32 games is any indication, he’ll bring consistent scoring ability to an offense that managed only 19.9 points per game in 2016.
Cleveland Browns trade #12, #52, and #65 (1,845 points) to Tennessee Titans for #5, #100, and #145 (1,850 points)
5. Cleveland Browns (f/ Tennessee Titans): Mitchell Trubisky-QB/North Carolina
Regardless if the reports of organizational hand-wringing over Trubisky versus Garrett at the No. 1 pick have any merit, there’s no denying that this team needs a QB. Trubisky is a local kid that displayed the type of poise, accuracy, and mobility that gives him the look of a potential franchise QB. He’s hardly a finished product, as he misses some key reads, particularly in the deep middle, and he has a tendency to float some balls to the boundary that he should be driving. I’d also like to see his drop-back mechanics before I’d be really comfortable forecasting his ability to play under center in the NFL, but these are the effects of a guy playing only one college season as a starter.
6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard-TE/Alabama
Fun fact: last season, Austin Seferian-Jenkins lead the Jets’ TE's in catches with…10. 10 catches. For the season. That is unacceptable. If Todd Bowles’ squad wants to overcome cutting ties with Brandon Marshall AND improve upon an offense that scored only 17.2 points per game in 2016, they need to get more production from the position. Although marooned in a run-heavy scheme at ‘Bama, Howard managed to improve every season in both receptions and TDs. That his athletic numbers were off the charts (4.51s 40, 22 bench reps, 6.85s 3-cone, 4.16s 20 shuttle) suggests that he can be a much bigger factor in the passing game than his college numbers show; the fact that he’s an excellent blocker is icing on the cake.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker-S/Ohio State
This Chargers defense has a huge amount of young talent in Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, Casey Heyward, and Jason Verrett, yet they still somehow managed to allow the 4th-most points per game in the NFL. While he’s hardly the finished product that can propel their defensive unit into the elite tier, Hooker did show elite potential as a center-field safety, snagging 7 interceptions (3 of which he returned for TDs) and breaking up 4 passes in his only season as a starter. With his size, speed, and instincts, Hooker could eventually be one of the premier ball-hawking safeties in the league.
8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey-RB/Stanford
McCaffrey is one of the most productive backs to come out of college in years, possessing breakaway ability on the ground and wide-receiver-like route-running ability and hands in the passing game. Carolina has not had a RB crest 25 receptions since 2014, and their rushing yards per game fell from 142.6 in 2015 to 113.4 in 2016. The fact that Carolina’s WR coach, Lance Taylor, was the RB coach at Stanford from 2014-2016 gives them an added layer of intel on McCaffrey’s game as well.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster-LB/Alabama
I’m choosing not to believe the hype regarding a Foster slide; the guy is too good a player for a combine outburst and a diluted urine sample to fell. The Bengals have never been shy about taking chances on kids with some character questions, and since they lost 2016 leading tackler Karlos Dansby in free agency and parted ways with Rey Maualuga, Foster seems to be a perfect fit as both best player available and filling a critical need. I’d expect Kevin Minter to fill the Mike role in Paul Guenther’s scheme, while Foster slides into the Will spot opposite Vontaze Burfict’s Sam.
10. Buffalo Bills: Corey Davis-WR/Western Michigan
The Bills could go a lot of different ways with this pick, and I’m tempted to give them John Ross based on GM Doug Whaley’s long history of drafting speed receivers (and QB Tyrod Taylor’s affinity for them as well). Davis won out, however, as he not only has excellent speed and route-running ability, but the production is there: he lead the FBS in receiving TDs, was 7th in receiving yards, and 8th in receptions. For a team that did not have a single receiver finish among the top 50 NFL players in receptions, yards, or TDs, you couldn’t ask for a better fit.
11. New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore-CB/Ohio State
Where do I start with regard to the Saints’ defense? For 2016, they allowed the 2nd-most passing yards per game, the highest yards/attempt from opposing QBs, the most receptions of 20+ yards, the most receptions of 40+ yards, and the highest passer rating against. Lattimore fell outside the top 10 due to hamstring issues, but his athletic numbers are outstanding. Landing the No. 1 corner in the draft, who collected 4 INTs and 9 pass break-ups as a sophomore, is quite the stroke of luck for a team that failed to acquire Malcolm Butler in an offseason trade.
12. Tennessee Titans (f/ Cleveland Browns): Haason Reddick-LB/Temple
The Titans had only one player, Avery Williamson, who amassed more than 57 tackles in 2016; the production at the LB position simply hasn’t been there for Tennessee. Reddick played with his hand in the dirt most of the time at Temple, but his Senior Bowl and combine performances show a guy with the kind of versatility and athleticism to play ILB in the NFL. Combining that athleticism with the type of EDGE ability that netted him 22.5 TFLs as a senior projects to a very productive player in Dick Lebeau’s scheme.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes-QB/Texas Tech
There’s no better situation in which Mahomes could land: he’ll have the benefit of a great offensive coach in Bruce Arians while being able to sit behind Carson Palmer and be brought along slowly. Mahomes has plenty of arm, great athleticism, and a unique ability to extend the play. He isn’t simply a broken-play QB, as he does look to get the ball out quickly whenever he can. As with most college QBs nowadays, he’s going to need to prove that he can go through progressions consistently, but his pre-snap reads seem to be very advanced. If he can calm his footwork, and grow his tendency to climb to safety instead of bailing (a la Russell Wilson), he has a chance to be special.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Gareon Conley-CB/Ohio State
Conley has prototype NFL make-up: great size, extremely long arms, excellent speed, and an aggressive demeanor to challenge receivers and support the run; he’s an excellent fit for Jim Schwartz’s scheme. Philadelphia’s entire group of CBs from 2016 amassed a total of 3 INTs, and 2 of those came courtesy of Leodis McKelvin, who’s no longer with the team.
15. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Barnett-EDGE/Tennessee
The Colts’ defense is generally terrible, having allowed 7.4 YPA to opposing passers and a passer rating of 97.5, which ranked 28th in the NFL. After losing their top two pass rushers this offseason (Robert Mathis retired and Erik Walden was not brought back), they tried to reload on the run by signing Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Barkevious Mingo--none of whom would be considered premier pass-rushers. Barnett isn’t the flashiest prospect, but he was extremely productive at Tennessee, terrorizing the rest of the SEC to the tune of 32.0 sacks and 52.0 TFLs over 3 seasons. He has drawn some comparisons to Dee Ford, who went to a similar situation in Kansas City three years ago. Coincidentally (or not), new Colts’ GM Chris Ballard was Director of Player Personnel in KC at the time.
N.Y. Giants trade #23, #55, and #87 (1,265) to Baltimore Ravens for #16, #78, and #122 (1,250)
16. N.Y. Giants (f/ Baltimore): Garrett Bolles-OT/Utah
The Giants have made no bones about their desire to upgrade the tackle spots, and in a draft that sorely lacks talent at the position, moving up to ensure that they get their man is the prudent move. Bolles is still a bit raw, but his athleticism and nastiness make him a perfect fit to man the LT spot. He’ll need to fill out his 295-pound frame a bit more if he’s to help the Giants improve upon a run game that ranked 30th in the NFL in yards per carry, but his pass protection skills are undeniable.
17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen-DL/Alabama
As we saw with Myles Jack last year, NFL teams get scared off by the idea that a kid’s physical health could limit him to a single contract. Allen’s slide stops right where value meets need, as the Redskins surrendered an NFL-worst 23 1st-downs per game to opponents and finished 25th in yards per carry allowed. Allen is a menace up front, with the ability to take on double-teams and disrupt offensive backfields. His size and length make him a perfect fit as a 5-technique in Washington’s front.
18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross-WR/Washington
Head Coach Mike Mularkey gave Marcus Mariota some of what the offense was missing last year by putting together a run game that ranked 3rd in the NFL, and it helped the Titans improve to 14th overall in points scored (up from 28th in 2015). To make the next big jump and truly become a complete offense, they need to give Mariota the kind of receiving threat that can take the top off defenses. Ross’ speed would provide plenty of opportunities to create more big plays, as evidenced by his 17 receiving TDs as a senior, which would be a huge addition to an offense that produced only 8 passing plays of 40+ yards last year.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: David Njoku-TE/Miami
2016 saw a relative breakout campaign for the Buccaneers’ offense, and TE Cameron Brate played a big role in by snagging 57 receptions and 8 TDs. However, Brate lacks the consistency and big-play ability of the league’s top TEs, and playing in a division with Atlanta and New Orleans, Tampa Bay will most likely need to win more than a few track meets in the foreseeable future. Njoku is an outstanding athlete with extremely long arms and big hands; he can threaten a defense from any level and has the frame to fill out and become a more effective blocker.
20. Denver Broncos: Forrest Lamp-OL/Western Kentucky
The Broncos did some reloading along the offensive front in free agency, bringing in Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson to fortify the right side of their line. To finish the job, they’d love to add a versatile talent like Lamp, the best offensive lineman in the draft. With a nimble set of feet, excellent technique, and plenty of power, Lamp would likely wrest the starting LG job away from Max Garcia, and could help this unit improve upon a run game that ranked 28th in yards per carry, 24th in sacks allowed, and 25th in QB hits allowed.
21. Detroit Lions: Mike Williams-WR/Clemson
Although WR isn’t a glaring need, this pick makes too much sense not to happen if Williams drops this far. The Lions’ WR corps lacks any type of size, and their depth behind Marvin Jones and Golden Tate consist of Jared Abbrederis and T.J. Jones--good college players, but they have only 25 career NFL receptions between them. Williams is a hulking physical specimen with good enough downfield speed and a penchant for snagging contested passes, which could help a Lions’ offense that is converting only 54% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
22. Miami Dolphins: Jarrad Davis-LB/Florida
There’s a fair chance that Davis could be gone before this pick, but if he’s not, he’s an ideal selection for Miami as both great value and a major need. Kiko Alonso had a nice resurgence in 2016, and Miami is hoping to get some productivity out of 31-year-old Lawrence Timmons, but they clearly need an upgrade over Koa Misi at OLB. Davis fits the mold of the “new breed” of NFL LB: he’s explosive and can run. He also has enough size to hold up against the run, and has the change-of-direction ability to go step-for-step with backs and tight ends, which will help Miami improve upon a defense that ranked 29th in yards per game allowed.
23. Baltimore Ravens (f/ N.Y. Giants): Cam Robinson-OT/Alabama
GM Ozzie Newsome gets another Alabama product in Robinson, the premier run-blocking tackle in the draft. Having lost RT Ricky Wagner to Detroit in free agency, they could stand to upgrade over James Hurst at the position. After rushing for only 91.4 yards per game in 2016 (28th), Robinson would team with 2016 first round pick Ronnie Stanley to give the Ravens what they hope will be a bookend set of tackles for the next several years.
24. Oakland Raiders: Malik McDowell-DL/Michigan State
McDowell probably goes earlier than this if not for a midseason injury in 2016. He’s got great size and length, and possesses elite-level instincts when operating on the defensive interior. If he can get his technique issues cleaned up, he has a chance to be a dominant force up front, which the Raiders badly need. Adding a disruptive interior presence could help a unit that ranked 25th in yards per carry allowed and finished 31st in yards per attempt surrendered.
25. Houston Texans: Deshawn Watson-QB/Clemson
After waiving the white flag on big-ticket free agent QB Brock Osweiler, the Texans are faced with the ugly reality of going into the season with the QB depth chart of Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden being the only thing holding them back from legitimate contention in the AFC. There’s a lot to like about Watson’s physical skills--he’s a QB that can run rather than an athlete playing QB. NFL GMs are going to have some pause about how his ability to go through progressions will develop, which is why I think he drops into the 20’s, but for a team with a QB need, a player with his wining pedigree and physical gifts is worth the investment at this point.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Ramczyk-OT/Wisconsin
Seattle has been making chicken salad on the offensive line for a long time, but sooner or later, they have to take their front-5 more seriously. This offseason, GM John Schneider expressed angst about the difficulty in finding good offensive linemen in today’s NFL, lamenting the idea that the team was forced to start an UDFA with only 2 years of organized football experience at the critical LT position in 2016. Drafting a skilled technician like Ramczyk would allow them to keep 2016 1st rounder Germain Ifedi at guard and create competition at the tackle spots for George Fant and free agent acquisition Luke Joeckel.
San Francisco 49ers trade #34 and #66 (820) to Kansas City Chiefs for #27 and #91 (816)
27. San Francisco 49ers (f/ Kansas City Chiefs): Davis Webb-QB/California
New Head Coach Kyle Shanahan gets his Matt Ryan. Wow bandit, is that a fair comparison? Yes, yes it is…Ryan left Boston College in 2008 after completing 807 passes in 1,347 attempts (59.9%), throwing for 9,313 yards and 56 TDs with 37 INTs. Webb leaves FBS with strikingly similar numbers: 841/1,367 (61.5%) for 9,852 yards, 83 TDs and 34 INTs. The Washington game really showed me that Webb can make plays against NFL-level secondary talent, and Shanahan’s timing-based offense is an ideal situation for him to grow into the role of starter without having to face outrageous immediate expectations.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Charles Harris-EDGE/Missouri
The Cowboys have made no bones about needing another EDGE rusher to add to the mix, which makes sense considering that they faced the 3rd-most pass attempts in the NFL in 2016. And let’s face it, when David Irving coming out of nowhere to produce 4.0 sacks is the best story your defense can proffer, it speaks quite ill of your pass rush. Harris is a ferocious rusher with natural bend and terrific closing speed, as evidenced by his 16 sacks and 30 TFLs at Mizzou over the last 2 seasons.
29. Green Bay Packers: Marlon Humphrey-CB/Alabama
Despite spending a bevy of early round picks on the secondary the last few years, Green Bay still finished dead last in the NFL in yards per attempt allowed to opposing passers. GM Ted Thompson has to be thinking about adding another corner to the mix, and Humphrey has all of the tools to be a No. 1 cover man in the NFL. He’s sticky and aggressive in coverage, has nice long arms to jam and redirect, and he can play downhill against the run. Although I hate to sound like I’m hedging my bet, I will say that I gave a LOT of thought to projecting Joe Mixon or Dalvin Cook at this pick, but in the end I couldn’t get over the off-field stuff.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Budda Baker-S/Washington
This isn’t your classic Steeler size-speed pick at all, but I simply can’t help myself here. The smart money says to go with someone bigger and more in their typical mold like NC State’s Josh Jones, but I’m going with Baker. The Steelers were repeatedly victimized by the Patriots’ short and intermediate passing game in the AFC Championship game, and NE was routinely able to run the ball against their nickel packages. The only knock on Baker is his relative lack of size, because he’s got all-pro potential everywhere else. He’s aggressive and instinctive, excellent in coverage, and is a technically-sound tackler who can lay the wood with anyone; I think he’s a day 1 starter as a SS and slot corner.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Taco Charlton-EDGE/Michigan
At first glance, the defending NFC Champions don’t have a ton of needs after signing both starting CBs to long-term deals and landing Dontari Poe in free agency. They could, however, stand to add another pass rusher to the mix. Vic Beasley was outstanding last season, collecting 15.5 sacks, but not a single other defender had more than 5.0. Charlton has prototype build for an NFL 9-technique, and only started to realize his athletic potential as a senior with 9.5 sacks. If Dan Quinn can coax Taco’s talent out of its shell (sorry, I had to), Charlton could end up becoming the second bookend of a pass rushing tandem similar to the one that Quinn had in Seattle.
32. New Orleans Saints (f/ New England Patriots): Takkarist McKinley-EDGE/UCLA
I’ve been over the numbers, so I won’t regurgitate them for you, but New Orleans’ defense is unspeakably bad. In addition to being awful in coverage, they also ranked 27th in the league in sacks. McKinley is relentless and aggressive, and has disproportionately long arms. He was very productive in his final year at UCLA, producing 10 sacks and 18 TFLs. He has technique issues to clean up before he can be an every-down type of player, but he should provide immediate returns as a situational pass rusher.