The 2017 NFL draft is just under one week away, and if you’re reading this article, thank you, as I’m sure it will be lost somewhere in the mountain of predraft speculation.
Scouting college players is hard. Scouting college players and determining which ones will be successful is really hard. Creating an accurate mock draft is impossible.
At ESPN, resident draft wizards Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (who, to be fair, are both probably in the top echelon of talent evaluators) have both released four (four!) distinct mock drafts.
Understandably, plans change. Positive drug tests and injured knees cause prospects to rise and fall in draft rankings from the beginning of January until the end of April. With that said, I figure that just one mock draft, published less than one week before the actual draft, is good enough. Let’s get to it.
Oh, first, some ground rules, I guess. First, you guys have all done plenty of seven-round mock drafts that have been extremely Steeler-centric, and that’s awesome. For that reason, I’m just sticking to the first round, when things are most interesting. Second, no trades, even though several will undoubtedly occur. And lastly, for the sake of brevity, I’m only providing analyses for the ones I feel strongly about. It isn’t like I’m gonna nail this anyway:
No. 1 Cleveland Browns - DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
I am confident that Cleveland, after reportedly wavering between Garrett and Mitchell Trubisky, will draft the former and give themselves a much-needed defensive centerpiece.
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers - DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Much like Cleveland, the 49ers have pressing needs at every position, and the short-term benefits of adding Thomas to the roster will be minimal. I’m not including trades, but I think the 49ers should look into trading this pick. Unlike Garrett, Thomas isn’t a blue-chip prospect (the best analysis of why this is the case can be found here). The idea of drafting Trubisky here will be enticing, as well. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive-minded coach and will rightfully be interested in finding a quarterback who is able to run his system.
With all of that said, however, Thomas is fairly polished, but still relatively malleable, and will probably be best-suited in a defensive scheme that essentially builds around his skillset, kind of like what Seattle does with Michael Bennett. Coincidentally, Robert Saleh, San Francisco’s rookie defensive coordinator, was basically a defensive line consultant for the Seahawks from 2011-13.
No. 3 Chicago Bears - S Jamal Adams, LSU
Chicago had 37 sacks last season but intercepted just seven passes, which indicates that the Bears need to include some opportunists in the secondary to translate that pressure into turnovers. Needless to say, Adams is a good fit.
No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars - RB Leonard Fournette
No. 5 Tennessee Titans - TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
Marcus Mariota is franchise quarterback who desperately requires some additional offensive weapons. Drafting Howard would be schematically interesting, as doing so would force Tennessee to adopt some neat little two-tight end sets, such as those that have fueled the Patriots’ success over the past million or so seasons.
No. 6 New York Jets - QB Mitchell Trubisky, UNC
No. 7 San Diego Chargers - S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
No. 8 Carolina Panthers - DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals - WR Mike Williams, Clemson
A second consecutive free agent exodus has left the Bengals’ perennially-loaded roster with quite a few holes. Offensive line is probably the most glaring of these holes, but Cincinnati needs another outside receiver to mitigate some of the pressure on A.J. Green. Williams, who is yet another solid product from the wide receiver factory known as Clemson University, would make a big impact in his rookie campaign.
No. 10. Buffalo Bills - Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Admittedly, this is super low to rank a cornerback prospect who literally checks every box at his position: he’s big, explosive, lightning quick and boasts arguably the best cover skills in his class. However, Lattimore’s history of leg injuries—the most prominent of which is his hamstring, which required surgery during his freshman season—could push him down some draft boards. If it does, Buffalo needs some cornerback help after losing Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots.
No. 11. New Orleans Saints - Gareon Conley, Ohio State
The Saints’ historically-awful secondary needs all the help it can get. Also, this is unverified, but if Hooker, Lattimore and Conley are all selected in the first 15 or so picks, that’s gotta be the first time that three members of the same secondary were all NFL lottery picks, right? *checks* I stand corrected. Three defensive backs from the same college team were drafted in the first round of the same draft back in 2002(Phillip Buchanon, 17th overall, Mike Rumph, 27th overall, and Ed Reed, 24th overall, all from Miami; as an aside, Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor were backups in that secondary. Yikes), but Hooker, Lattimore and Conley have a shot to technically best that mark by all going higher.
No. 12. Cleveland Browns - QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
No. 13. Arizona Cardinals - WR John Ross, Washington
No. 14. Philadelphia Eagles - CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
No. 15. Indianapolis Colts - DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
No. 16 Baltimore Ravens - S/LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers’ ability to play multiple positions has somehow ruined his draft stock, at least in the minds of those who create mock drafts for fun. I think Peppers is going to end up being draft a lot higher than any of us expect. In fact, here is John Harbaugh, a very smart football man, offering some pretty extensive commentary on Peppers during his predraft press conference. (Note: this entry was created prior to Peppers’ reportedly diluted urine sample)
No. 17 Washington - LB Haason Reddick, Temple
Given their organizational structure, it’s fair to assume that Washington will trade up to draft a punter.
No. 18 Tennessee Titans - WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
No. 20 Denver Broncos - OT Cam Robinson, Alabama
No. 21 Detroit Lions - ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Foster’s event-filled offseason is going to cause him to drop slightly on draft day, but I still can’t imagine a scenario in which he falls out of the first round entirely. Gambling on top-five potential at this point is worth it.
No. 22 Miami Dolphins - OLB Tak McKinley, UCLA
No. 23 New York Giants - OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
No. 24 Oakland Raiders - LB Jarrad Davis, Florida
No. 25 Houston Texans - QB Patrick Mahomes, TTU
Houston is undoubtedly in win-now mode, so I have to admit that I’m not 100 percent sold on them drafting a quarterback in the first round. With that said, Houston has enough pieces in place to compete for the playoff spot with Tom Savage as their starting quarterback (they advanced to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs without J.J. Watt in the lineup and with Brock Osweiler as their starting quarterback; if you can dream it, you can achieve it). Mahomes is an intriguing project, and I think his skillset kind of fits what Bill O’Brien is trying to build.
No. 26 Seattle Seahawks - OL Forrest Lamp, WKU
No. 27 Kansas City Chiefs - RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey’s is so similar to Jamaal Charles and Brian Westbrook that Andy Reid is probably all sweaty just thinking about this pick.
No. 28 Dallas Cowboys - CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
No. 29 Green Bay Packers - Edge T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt descriptors: hard Worker, plays with Heart, loads of Intangibles, Toughness and an uncanny Eagerness to learn from his head coach. #grit.
In all seriousness, the losses of Datone Jones and Julius Peppers are huge for Green Bay. The Packers must make replenishing their front-seven depth a major priority.
No. 30 Pittsburgh Steelers - ILB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
The Steelers used seven of their allotted predraft visits on edge defenders, which tells us two things: Pittsburgh recognizes the current lack of depth at the outside linebacker position, and they are intent on addressing it. However, only one of those visits included a presumed first-rounder (Tak McKinley), which could demonstrate that Pittsburgh sees some value later on in the draft.
Pittsburgh hosted just two middle linebackers—Cunningham and Jarrad Davis—but both are projected first round picks, which could indicate that the Steelers want to address this position early.
Cornerback and outside linebacker obviously make a ton of sense here, too, and with the likes of Charles Harris and Kevin King still on the hypothetical board, Pittsburgh could certainly explore one of those routes.