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Super Bowl LI gave us quite a thrill, and for many it re-stoked the fires for football. We might not have a real game for another seven months — perish the thought — but the offseason flurry soon will be in full swing.
The NFL scouting combine is a few weeks away. Free agency isn’t far behind, followed by pro days and, before you know it, the draft in late April. Teams have started to shape their lists of needs, and now that we’ve gathered a lot of information and observations from the Senior Bowl, the draft picture is becoming a bit more clear on both sides.
This might not be a great quarterback group, but as veteran options dry up the need at the position is always overinflated come draft time. It’s not as if there’s not talent in this group, but there are worries with each of the four quarterbacks projected in Round 1. Beauty most definitely will be a very subjective trait in the 2017 NFL draft, as personal taste will dictate which quarterbacks go off the board earliest.
Here’s our latest Round 1 mock draft (plus two bonus picks) with the order of the first two rounds nearly set:
*Editor’s note: The Nos. 14, 15, 46 and 48 selections will be determined based on a coin flip because of identical strengths of schedules for the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens.)
1. Cleveland Browns — Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett
Nothing tells us this won’t be the pick. Perhaps Garrett — who previously suggested he didn’t want to play for a “cold weather” city — will pull an Eli Manning and say he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. For now, there’s no reason to think the Browns would pass up a rare defensive talent in lieu of one of the shakier QB options, despite their huge need at the position. Along with Jamie Collins, Garrett could help headline an athletic, aggressive, attacking defense under coordinator Gregg Williams.
2. San Francisco 49ers — North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has been on the job a few days, and he still has a lot of catching up to do. Once he fills his staff and sits down with new general John Lynch, it won’t take long until they pore over the QB landscape. (Prior to the Super Bowl, I asked Shanahan what traits he seeks most in quarterbacks and wrote about it here.)
The 49ers have a huge need here, and signing a bridge option such as Matt Schaub servers only as a Band-Aid. Should Trubisky go second overall? No, and it would be a risky first pick for a first-time head coach and general manager. But sometimes need trumps everything.
3. Chicago Bears — Ohio State S Malik Hooker
Like the 49ers, the Bears’ immediate and long-term needs do not match perfectly with what the board presents. But safety certainly is a concern, and Hooker might have the highest upside of any prospect at the position in a decade. He’s that good — calling him a young Ed Reed is a stretch, but not a giant one.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached on the Ravens in Reed’s twilight and knows the value of having a playmaking machine on the back end. The Bears ranked dead last in turnovers forced and tied for last in turnover ratio. Bears DBs made eight interceptions, only two by safeties. The only hangup might be Hooker’s health following hernia and labrum surgeries.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars — LSU S Jamal Adams
Two safeties in the top four picks is extremely rare. Heck, the last time two defensive backs landed in the first five picks of the same draft was … 1997. But Adams has a strong combination of need and character at this position in the draft. The Jaguars are a talented team in need of toughness, both mental and physical, and Adams fills both amply. He feels like a perfect match with Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin, and Adams could end up a tone-setter and Day 1 leader for a defense that lacks just that. His work ethic and football character are said to be impeccable.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) — Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
The clarion call to get Marcus Mariota more artillery is near-deafening by this point, but GM Jon Robinson can avoid reaching at this spot, knowing he also has the No. 18 overall pick — where good receiving options still should be available — in his pocket. Trading down here also could be an option, as the Titans lack a second-round pick.
Everything screams standout corner with Lattimore, who has the size, movement and ball-tracking and run-stopping abilities. Those skills will be valued in a division in which all three opponents have alpha-dog receivers with different skills. The Titans need a No. 1 corner, and Lattimore fills it.
6. New York Jets — LSU RB Leonard Fournette
The approach GM Mike Maccagnan takes this offseason, especially at quarterback, will be fascinating. Bet on the Jets taking the veteran-acquisition route instead of another QB high after having selected one in each of the past four drafts, three of them coming in the first four rounds.
Fournette going this high wouldn’t be a surprise as he still has questions about durability and value in the passing game, and the draft class is loaded at the position. But the best way to help a QB-needy team is with a good run game, and Matt Forte can handle third-down duties to give the Jets an excellent duo. Fournette is a top-10 talent with rare size and speed.
7. Los Angeles Chargers — Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
The franchise has ping-ponged the past few years between offense and defense with its first-round picks and hitting big on Joey Bosa a year ago. In the twilight of the career of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, adding a gifted, big, high-floor receiver such as Davis would be a welcome sight. He might not be blazing fast, but he fits the WR profile of Brandon Marshall — without any of the character concerns — on the next level. That’s perfect for a team that would be putting together a nice arsenal of offensive options, even with Keenan Allen’s injury concerns.
8. Carolina Panthers — Stanford DE Solomon Thomas
As tempting as Jonathan Allen might be here, GM Dave Gettleman can’t go interior d-line again, can he? (Wait, don’t answer that.) Instead, we’ll go with Thomas, who played inside for the Cardinal but projects as a base end who is capable of kicking down inside on third downs and registering double-digit sacks in time. The redshirt sophomore is explosive and has a massive ceiling. He’s the perfect high-energy, versatile rusher to add to a front seven that still needs playmaking talent.
Oh, and we’ll bet on them getting their running back in Round 2 in this scenario … perhaps Thomas’ college teammate?
9. Cincinnati Bengals — Alabama LB Reuben Foster
Cutting Rey Maualuga this offseason, letting Karlos Dansby walk and drafting Foster could be much-needed steps toward reshaping a Bengals defense that should have some fresh faces next fall. Foster could be an excellent three-down playmaker and perennial Pro Bowler who thrives in Paul Guenther’s LB-friendly system. Jonathan Allen also could be in play here, but his skills might not project best as a nose tackle, which would be the Bengals’ bigger need inside.
10. Buffalo Bills — Florida CB Quincy Wilson
The Bills need to make a decision on QB Tyrod Taylor and might opt to pass on bringing him back for health and monetary concerns. If that happens, quarterback becomes an immediate need — although they could sign a veteran such as Jay Cutler, who has solid ties with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. (Kristin, you’ll love Buffalo.)
So we instead pick Wilson, a long, ballhawking corner who fits the mold of what Sean McDermott seeks in his DBs. Wilson also could offset the potential loss of free agent Stephon Gilmore. In this division, the Bills need to draft pass rushers and corners to combat Tom Brady.
11. New Orleans Saints — Alabama DT Jonathan Allen
This would be a great addition up front in case the team doesn’t re-sign Nick Fairley, who made good on a prove-it deal and is likely seeking a raise. Allen and Sheldon Rankins would be a devastating inside pair, especially if Cameron Jordan matches his terrific 2016 season. The Saints have a bigger need at cornerback, but they can address those later with so much draft depth there. Besides, the best way to slow down and combat Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston is to knock them on their tails.
12. Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles) — Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
We’ve asked NFL talent evaluators about Watson and received some lukewarm responses about “system fits” and working around his “limitations” — and less about Watson’s unique skills, rare maturity and big-game poise. That leads us to believe he might not go this high. But when it comes down to it, if the Browns don’t land a veteran QB worthy of stepping in immediately, they’ll have to pull the trigger with a franchise talent at some point.
For now, Watson is pegged here, even though he snubbed Cleveland’s Senior Bowl invite. And for what it’s worth, the Browns would be adding the most dominant offensive and defensive players in college football over the past two seasons in a 12-pick span.
13. Arizona Cardinals — Clemson WR Mike Williams
They need a No. 2 corner, but with Michael Floyd gone and Larry Fitzgerald likely entering his final fun, the team certainly needs to develop a big-play receiver. Williams reminds us of Sidney Rice, who was a star before injuries and poor QB play derailed his career. Carson Palmer also could be heading into the sunset, too, so a quarterback could be in play. But in lieu of that, he gets another target to throw to before what appears to be his final season with the team.
*14. Indianapolis Colts — Tennessee pass rusher Derek Barnett
New general manager Chris Ballard was part of two scouting staffs, with the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs, that required defensive overhauls when he arrived. Both teams accomplished that by collecting talented and high-effort players on that side of the ball, and Barnett fits that mold — and a major need. Although his run-stopping ability, footwork and athleticism are not elite, the Colts can add an edge rusher who can finish and contribute right away.
*15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings) — Washington CB Sidney Jones
The Eagles realized after trading Eric Rowe that they had a shortage of corners, and the unit’s lack of height also became an issue. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will like Jones’ ability to handle press-man assignments but likely also will fall in love with his run-stopping prowess. Turn on almost any tape of Jones’, and he’s out there fighting off blockers, sacrificing his body and attacking ball carriers.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Alabama TE O.J. Howard
It has been a while since general manager Ozzie Newsome was making picks under a bit of real pressure, but here we are. The Ravens have missed the playoffs three of four years, and fans’ pitchforks are being sharpened in lieu of better results. That’s why I lean slightly toward the Ravens taking a battle-tested, ready-made talent. And oh, how interesting it would be if Newsome — the former Bama tight end — took Howard.
Dennis Pitta’s comeback was tremendous and he remains a big and trusted piece of the offense. But he’s more of a detached target off the line, so there’s no reason the two can’t coexist in a lot of “Tiger” personnel groupings (one RB, two TE, two WR). Howard can be a force as a blocker and another option in the passing game for a team that just lost Steve Smith Sr. The Ravens have numbers at tight end, but injuries and suspensions make few of those players reliable options.
17. Washington Redskins — Washington S Budda Baker
This might feel like a reach to some, but with the two top safeties off the board Baker might not last much longer if the Redskins pass at this spot. Baker has the makeup of the kind of player general manager Scot McCloughan seeks: tough, feisty and versatile. On the surface, this might feel like a luxury pick, as Baker isn’t a true center fielder and might have some overlap skills to Su’a Cravens. But the two can coexist as tone setters on an improving defense. Baker’s ability to cover the slot makes him a valuable four-down player, when you consider his value on special teams as well.
18. Titans — Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
In a few weeks, the Njoku hype should bust through the third wall on your TV when he blows up the scouting combine. In fact, I twice considered slotting him higher than this, even ahead of Howard. But in this scenario, the Titans nab an emerging seam weapon to help QB Marcus Mariota stretch the field and don’t have to reach for a true wideout prospect. Njoku could be to Mariota what Jordan Reed has been to Kirk Cousins in a way, so throw position titles out the window if you’d like.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
The Bucs’ offense needs explosiveness. Yes, Jameis Winston needs a No. 2 receiver, but that could come first in free agency. Cook would be a natural replacement for Doug Martin, who currently is in a drug-treatment program, in what really is a run-first system. Adding Winston’s former FSU teammate would give the offense that big-play boost. As Dirk Koetter said in his season-ending wrapup, “We need more speed — and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one in the same.” That’s Cook to a tee.
20. Denver Broncos — Utah OT Garett Bolles
Bolles’ resume reads similarly to that of Kyle Long, a tall, athletic, aggressive and overaged prospect who could be overlooked for his one season of FCS experience. But Long landed to the Bears in this exact spot four years ago — 20th overall — and was well worth the risk. Bolles would be a perfect fit in this Broncos offense and represents a huge upgrade over Russell Okung, who was a liability at left tackle. No matter who is at quarterback for the Broncos, the pass protection must be better. Bolles would be a Day 1 starter.
21. Detroit Lions — Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
Ezekiel Ansah was held without a sack his first 10 games, and the Lions collected only 26 all season — an unexpected eight coming from Kerry Hyder, which might have been a bit of an aberration. So adding a Cliff Avril-style rusher opposite Ansah would make sense. Given GM Bob Quinn’s track record of drafting Alabama players (A’Shawn Robinson in his first draft, scores more with the New England Patriots), this might not be a huge stretch despite a few concerns about Williams off the field and as a run defender. Williams’ stock is most certainly volatile right now, so he could be in play anywhere from the late first round down well into the second.
22. Miami Dolphins — Michigan DE Taco Charlton
The Dolphins thought they were getting a big base end with pass-rush chops with the Mario Williams signing, but that didn’t work out. Enter Charlton, a fast riser this season who has good length, strong hands and tenacity. His game still needs refinement, but Charlton could help bolster a front that missed Olivier Vernon last season. Linebacker might be the bigger need, but there’s no prospect who fits perfectly here.
23. New York Giants — Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
The Giants are not likely to be as prolific in free agency a year after a massive spending spree, so they’ll likely have to address their pass-blocking need through the draft. Doing so this high — with a player coming off hip surgery and might be out of action for some offseason workouts — is suboptimal.
But GM Jerry Reese pondered 2015 first-rounder Erik Flowers’ future a few weeks ago in a very telling statement. “Is [Flowers] the left tackle? Should he be in a different position? We will evaluate that,” Reese said. For a man who seldom says anything revealing about the team, this screams concern. Ramczyk could play left or right tackle, so it would allow the Giants the flexibility of identifying their best front-five combination to block for a 36-year-old Eli Manning.
24. Oakland Raiders — LSU CB Tre’Davious White
The Raiders’ secondary didn’t come together last season the way the team had hoped, and it struggled to slow down quicker receivers. That’s where White comes in. He improved drastically last season for the Tigers and routinely took on tough assignments. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. might be on the hot seat, but he also needs more help and White could provide that as a slot corner our outside. He also could challenge Jalen Richard for punt-return duties.
25. Houston Texans — Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
Unless the Texans were to find a way to land Tony Romo (or perhaps even if they do), we think they could seek a quarterback with a high pick after passing up opportunities the past few seasons and watching Brock Osweiler struggle mightily. Hearing owner Bob McNair say the team needs to “feel better” about the QB position was all we needed to hear to know there’s concern that Osweiler will ever improve.
Mahomes has a big arm, very good potential, toughness and a gunslinger’s temperament that — if coached up — could make him a very good playmaker. One scout we spoke to mused that Mahomes is “the player we wanted [Johnny] Manziel to be.” And yes, that’s a compliment.
26. Seattle Seahawks — Western Kentucky OL Forrest Lamp
The Seahawks have to figure out where everyone fits best on the offensive line, and yet the biggest needs are at both tackle spots right now. There is concern that Lamp’s short arms might restrict him to playing guard, but he had a good week at the Senior Bowl and there are not big concerns about his level of play considering how good he was in the Alabama game. That means more to the Seahawks’ scouting department, we feel, than one physical shortcoming.
27. Kansas City Chiefs — Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
If you can get past some sloppy mechanics, Kizer has a lot to like about him. Working with Andy Reid, Matt Nagy and Brad Childress could be very good for Kizer, who has very good natural skills and could be brought along as a replacement for Alex Smith. This might sound like an odd comparison, but Kizer looks a little like a more athletic Nick Foles: a big-framed, shotgun-based QB who has a nice throwing motion but doesn’t always feel pressure adequately. Kizer needs time but has good potential. The clock is ticking on Smith, and Foles might be nothing more than a bridge option.
28. Dallas Cowboys — Missouri DE Charles Harris
The Cowboys always have placed a high value on players with flash, athletic traits and upside, and that’s not meant at all as underhanded. They have one of the strongest scouting departments in football, and it will be easy for them to see the potential in Harris as a scheme wrecker in Rod Marinelli’s system. With more technique work and polish, Harris has consistent double-digit sack potential and could fill a Simeon Rice-like spot in a defense that needs additional sources of pressure.
29. Green Bay Packers — Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
Slight joke here, but it’s always risky projecting the Packers to use a first-round pick on their biggest-need position. GM Ted Thompson can frustrate fans in that way, and the Packers have used a few high picks at the position in recent seasons, which could sway them elsewhere. But Conley would fill a void for a good No. 2 corner who checks all the boxes for the position with instincts, size and speed but might not have any one elite trait.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers — UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
Despite his lack of bulk, McKinley’s ability to shoot off the line, bend the edge and finish are easy to appreciate. He’s a great backside defender who can stalk quarterbacks and fill a void on this defense with Jarvis Jones ending a disappointing run and James Harrison coming close to the end of his. Adding speed and pass-rush potential in one pick is a coup, but McKinley is not yet a complete defender.
31. Atlanta Falcons — Florida DT Caleb Brantley
The Falcons’ young defense has the look of something special, but it learned a hard lesson in the Super Bowl and needs reinforcements up front. Other teams might view Brantley as more of a mid second-round prospect, but the Falcons proved a lot of doubters wrong when a lot of their “reach” picks a year ago turned out to be major contributors in Year 1. Brantley has good interior quickness to provide a nice complement inside to Grady Jarrett.
32. New England Patriots — Michigan DB-LB-PR Jabrill Peppers
Bill Belichick’s mantra always has been: “Don’t tell me what a guy can’t do; tell me what he can do.” With that in mind, Peppers makes a ton of sense. He might be one of the tougher evaluations in this class when it comes to pinning down his NFL fit, but there’s no doubt Peppers has high-level athleticism with the ability to cover and blitz on defense at the very least.
Belichick also values the kicking game early in the draft more than almost any other decision maker in football, and Peppers’ rare versatility — as a back-half/front-seven defender, as a returner and as a moonlight offensive weapon — makes him a great fit here. For years, Belichick has sought pieces such as these, but they seldom slip this far. The potential loss of safety Duron Harmon also makes Peppers somewhat of a need pick, too.
TEAMS WITHOUT FIRST-ROUND PICKS
37. Rams — Washington WR John Ross
Although the Rams need offensive line help badly, they could start addressing it via free agency. Sean McVay’s offense is expected to add a vertical element to it, and Ross’ blazing speed would be a nice fit, either outside or in the slot. Jared Goff has to have more options downfield, and Ross also can help tilt field position with his kickoff-return ability.
*46. or 48. Vikings — Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
Like the Rams, the Vikings need OL reinforcements. Assuming the top tackles (such as Alabama’s Cam Robinson) go off the board, the Vikings still must address running back if Adrian Peterson is let go. Kamara is one of Shutdown Corner’s favorite backs in this class and could be a star with his ability to catch the ball in the Vikings’ short passing game and inside-zone run game. That was his bread and butter for the Vols.
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