There are so many unknowns right now as it relates to the NFL draft. Underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to declare, and there are currently six head-coaching openings, along with a few vacant general manager spots. We’re also a little more than two weeks away from the Senior Bowl, plus free agency starting in two months, and NFL teams are now starting to put together the broad sketches for the draft boards they’ll roll out in April.
But you want a mock draft. You need one. Admit it.
So here’s our as-things-stand-now look at how the first two (!) rounds could shape up. Yes, we know lots will change between now and then. That’s part of the fun of this.
(The first 20 picks, other than Nos. 14 and 15, are locked in. Nos. 21-32 will depend on the results of the postseason. If you don’t see an underclassman listed here, it possibly means we believe he’ll return to school.)
1. Cleveland Browns — Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett
They need a quarterback. But the defense is horrendous, too. This looks like the only move, similar to when the Houston Texans knew they had to take Jadeveon Clowney first over a QB in 2014. With Garrett and Jamie Collins (assuming he’s re-signed), the first few building blocks are coming into place on defense for a franchise whose biggest need is game-changing talent.
2. San Francisco 49ers — Alabama DL Jonathan Allen
Like the Browns, they’re missing a crucial QB ingredient. But spending a high first-round pick on one feels foolish based on the talent available and not knowing who the head coach will be and what system they’ll want to run. So here’s Allen, a multi-position scheme wrecker who could form a great front with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Figuring out how to play them all shouldn’t be an issue.
3. Chicago Bears — LSU safety Jamal Adams
Too high? Sorry, we can’t agree with you. And while a quarterback certainly could be in play here, as the Bears don’t have a certain starter for 2017, the need does not meet the talent. The Bears are in a tough spot but can go with one of the best safety prospects seen in recent years. He can do everything, really. Adams could be an ideal addition to a crummy secondary.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars — LSU RB Leonard Fournette
Another open job and another year — it will be the sixth in a row — that the Jaguars are picking top five. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is better overall, but Fournette is a special power back who can help boost the NFL’s 22nd-ranked run game. Chris Ivory’s health concerns persist, and Fournette could help Blake Bortles out with better first-down running.
5. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams) — Clemson WR Mike Williams
The Titans made it to the brink of the postseason with an offense that was tough for opponents to contend with. But for Marcus Mariota and the rest of the unit to take that next step, he needs that outside-the-numbers and red-zone threat. That’s Williams, who would be a tough cover for the AFC South’s corners.
6. New York Jets — Tennessee pass rusher Derek Barnett
They’re unlikely to use a pick this high on a quarterback, which essentially would admit their own mistake on Christian Hackenberg before he ever takes a snap in a game. And while addressing cornerback and offensive line would be nice here, there isn’t a player worth selecting this high. Barnett might not be an elite athlete, but his pass-rush talent would fit nicely on what could be a reworked defensive unit.
7. San Diego Chargers — Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
They badly need OL help, but it remains to be seen if Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk will come out after possible hip surgery and still be worth taking here. Davis might not be penciled in this high on other mocks, but he has a prototypical frame to get off press coverage and also enough speed to go downfield. Think Brandon Marshall without the headaches. That would make Philip Rivers happy and give him another target with outstanding size.
8. Carolina Panthers — Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
GM Dave Gettleman has never been on a scouting staff (that we’re aware of) that took a running back this high. But Jonathan Stewart’s high salary-cap number and injury history are concerning, and Cook could boost this middling rushing attack and take pressure off Cam Newton in the receiving game too. Cook is a special talent who could transform this offense.
9. Cincinnati Bengals — Alabama LB Reuben Foster
We looked for spots for Foster to land before this, but he’d be an excellent fit here — the same range that Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis were drafted. Comparing Foster to those two is unfair, but he’s the closest off-the-ball comp to come along since Kuechly entered the NFL.
10. Buffalo Bills — Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
If you’ve ridden the Watson Wave along with us as we’ve dipped from a top-five pick last summer to a low first-rounder this past fall, please allow us to have him settle nicely here in the middle. A big game in the championship against Alabama could have him at QB1 once more. With Tyrod Taylor likely to move on, Watson has another potential landing spot — and boy, wouldn’t Sammy Watkins be happy — to pick up the spirits of this beleaguered franchise. Can Watson be its savior?
11. New Orleans Saints — Stanford DE Solomon Thomas
The Saints badly need more help up front. A bookend pair of Thomas and Cameron Jordan, plus Sheldon Rankins inside, would make life tough for the run-triggered attacks of the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. Thomas can kick inside on third downs, too, which makes this redshirt sophomore an attractive option.
12. Cleveland Browns — Ohio State S Malik Hooker
Prediction: The Browns will find a veteran option at quarterback or use a pick outside Round 1 on one. Which of course will make everyone mad in Cleveland. Such is life for a Browns fan. But Hooker has the chance to be a special type of center fielder the more he plays. The Browns’ analytics team are likely to have a massive grade on this difference maker on defense.
13. Arizona Cardinals — North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky
Don’t be 100 percent sold on Trubisky as a top-10 prospect, and he’s certainly risky projecting as a Day 1 starter in 2017. A year ago he couldn’t beat out Marquise Williams at UNC, and Williams was bested by Joe Callahan for a roster spot on the Green Bay Packers. Even with Trubisky’s big improvement in 2016, there are still holes in his game. He’s an ideal stash QB for a year if the talented Cardinals can squeeze one more year out of Carson Palmer. They’re not far cries from each other as quarterbacks.
*14. Indianapolis Colts — UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
Changes to the staff or scouting department are probably coming, but what won’t change is the need on defense — all three levels, really. The fast-rising McKinley has a chance to make himself some money at the Senior Bowl and solidify a first-round spot. With the ability to rush from two- and three-point stances, he’s an ideal fit to replace the retired Robert Mathis and/or the eminently replaceable Erik Walden.
*15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings) — Washington WR John Ross
Fire up your DeSean Jackson comps. Ross is the best blazer in this draft, and he could add a shot of badly needed playmaking for Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense. Drops also were a huge problem for Philly, and Ross has better hands than Will Fuller, who was drafted in this range a year ago. Size is a concern, but Ross could add a lot.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
This almost feels like too good a fit. Williams could continue to climb and might not be available here because he’s regarded as that good a pass rusher. But the questions about him are that he might not be a three-down player who excels at stopping the run, mainly because ‘Bama was so loaded they had him mostly come in on passing downs. With only the national title game left this season (assuming he declares, as expected) there’s not much time to change opinions on that, and it’s not like postseason workouts can change that reputation. Still, Williams would step in nicely for a Ravens defense that needs to get younger at this spot, and he can grow into being a three-down defender in time.
17. Washington Redskins — Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
The Redskins’ next defensive coordinator will be their third in four years, and he’ll be seeking help up front first and foremost. Safety and inside linebacker also are worries, but McDowell can be a disruptive force and the kind of trench player who GM Scot McCloughan might seek in this range.
18. Tennessee Titans — Washington CB Sidney Jones
If the Titans can land their top receiver and top corner in Round 1, it would be a massive victory for GM Jon Robinson and his staff. Of course, we’re just guessing who those players might be, and there are several corners who could start flying off the board starting at this point. Jones’ length and press coverage ability are commendable and should help a unit that currently has no regular taller than 5-foot-11.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
The former D-III player has seen his profile raise immensely and yet he hangs in the balance with hip surgery on the horizon. He’ll likely take the risk and enter the draft knowing how weak a class it is overall and how high the need is in the NFL right now. And Ramczyk would continue the overhaul of Jameis Winston’s protection up front, allowing the Bucs to put him either at left tackle or at right. Ramczyk can play either, depending on the team’s long-term plans for Donovan Smith.
20. Denver Broncos — Alabama OT Cam Robinson
Immensely talented but frustrating to watch at times, Robinson lands in a good spot because of his athletic skill and the Broncos’ need for OT reinforcements. He could step in for Russell Okung right away, but the worry would be that Robinson might not be a finished product and he has a few character questions to answer during the draft process to make teams feel comfortable. We still like the fit here.
21. Detroit Lions — Florida CB Quincy Wilson
The cornerbacks start coming off the board quickly, and the Lions grab a good one. Although Gators teammate Teez Tabor has the higher name value, scouts appear a little more roundly impressed with Wilson’s length, strength, fluid hips and confidence. The Lions’ No. 2 CB spot was a problem most of the season, and a Wilson-Darius Slay combo would be a nice upgrade.
22. Miami Dolphins — Alabama TE O.J. Howard
You can question the wisdom of a team needing defensive help drafting a tight end in Round 1, but not many teams offered less at the position this season than the Dolphins. Howard excels as a run blocker and actually could develop into a very good pass catcher with a Jimmy Graham-like frame. Don’t laugh; he’s that gifted physically speaking.
23. New York Giants — Michigan DE Taco Charlton
The Giants have some decisions to make on defense, with Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins set to hit free agency. But even if they keep JPP over Hankins, we still think the Giants’ ends played too many snaps this season and Charlton also can kick down inside and provide coordinator Steve Spagnuolo another versatile, big end to attack passers with. Back in the day, the Giants took Mathias Kiwanuka with Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck on the roster, and they had no problems finding snaps for all of them.
24. Oakland Raiders — Florida CB Teez Tabor
The Raiders expected their investments at corner last offseason to pay off more so they easily could add more help here. Tabor has the size to fit this scheme and play man coverage. The biggest questions he’ll have to answer are with his multiple suspensions, so the interview process will be crucial, especially with so many top talents at the position. Otherwise, he’s a first-round playmaker.
25. Houston Texans — Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
Were you starting to wonder about Kizer? Look, we admit that Kizer’s stock is more likely to rise higher in the offseason, rather than fall, provided he interviews and works out well. Quarterbacks with his skill sets are rare, after all, and a sub-par season easily can be explained away by only watching Kizer’s best tape. Would he fit Bill O’Brien’s offense? Not sure. But then again we also don’t know if O’Brien has much say in which quarterbacks the Texans bring in given the team’s past moves at the position, or if he’ll even remain coach for that matter. The front office wins this battle.
26. Green Bay Packers — Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry
Oh, you say the Packers should target a cornerback here? Well, GM Ted Thompson cares not for your silly “needs” and instead drafts a twitchy pass rusher with ferocity and athleticism. Landry is coming off a huge bowl game in which he took over against Maryland and looked the part of a late first-rounder in the mold of, say, Shane Ray.
27. Seattle Seahawks — Indiana OT-OG Dan Feeney
A right guard most of his fine career with the Hoosiers, Feeney shifted over to right tackle out of need and did a mostly good job there. The Seahawks like their offensive linemen tough and versatile, and they’re not scared to take a player some have pegged as a second-round pick at this point in Round 1. The bigger concern is at tackle, but the team has moved players around as needed the past few seasons.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Auburn LB-DE Carl Lawson
The desire to find an edge rusher is high, and Lawson would be a hit with Steelers fans for his relentless pressure. He seems to live in backfields, even if he’s not making the sack or hitting a quarterback. Asking him to stand up and be a strong run defender is a lot for a rookie, but he’s better than anything they have right now other than James Harrison, who turns 39 the week after the draft.
29. Atlanta Falcons — Michigan S-LB Jabrill Peppers
Yes, we’ve taken our meds. Peppers has been hyped up as an elite prospect since high school, and he’s populated a lot of mock drafts far higher than this spot. But we fear that many NFL teams won’t have a crystal-clear idea of where to play Peppers, who has elite athleticism and coverage ability but might have to be schemed into a role properly. (Similar to Myles Jack a year ago, only without the knee questions.) We think Dan Quinn will find a creative way to fit Peppers into the lineup if he were to fall here.
30. Kansas City Chiefs — Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
With Derrick Johnson rehabbing from a potentially career-altering Achilles injury and Ramik Wilson a nice but hardly special player, Cunningham would be a fantastic upgrade inside. I considered a quarterback here, too, and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes would have been the choice. He could go this high if he tests well.
31. New England Patriots — Washington S Budda Baker
The Patriots wanted to draft Tyrann Mathieu in 2013, and Baker has some of the same aggressive and highly athletic traits. He’s undersized for the position, but who cares? So was Devin McCourty they said. Baker is a human missile, an instinctive player and fits the profile of what the team seeks in its defenders — like a younger faster Patrick Chung, we think. Underrated Duron Harmon is a UFA in the offseason and could seek more money elsewhere.
32. Dallas Cowboys — Missouri DE Charles Harris
It was a down season early on for Harris, who bumped heads with the coaching staff over how he was used and his frustration boiled over a bit on the field. But once he settled in, Harris started heating up the edges. The former prep hoops star is still raw technique-wise and might not have elite quickness around the edge, but he reminds us a bit of former Rod Marinelli protégé Adewale Ogunleye, who reached a Pro Bowl level in a nice career.
* order decided by coin flip
33. Cleveland Browns — Texas RB Dont’a Foreman
Getting a bigger back who can run inside and pick up blitzes would be a coup for Hue Jackson’s offense.
34. San Francisco 49ers — Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
Without knowing the coach or GM, this is just a dart throw based on broad team need and ballpark player value.
35. Chicago Bears — Miami (Fla.) QB Brad Kaaya
Maybe it’s just me, but this feels like a good fit. The Bears could change coordinators, but if John Fox is drafting a QB, he’ll be one who has run a pro system.
36. Jacksonville Jaguars — Florida State OT Roderick Johnson
A need position and a school the team has dipped into more than once in recent years.
37. Los Angeles Rams — Utah OT Garrett Bolles
Bolles went the junior-college route, spent one year with the Utes and turns 25 the month after the draft (which actually might not be the worst thing on this super-young roster). But he is talented, mature and a good-looking left tackle, even though his one year at the FBS level is seen as a negative to some teams. Regardless, Bolles fits a team that needs OL help badly to help protect Jared Goff and open holes for Todd Gurley.
38. New York Jets — Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
Move Darrelle Revis to safety and let Lattimore — an occasional burn victim but a big, good-looking prospect with upside — grow into his old spot.
39. San Diego Chargers — LSU OL Ethan Pocic
Played center, guard and tackle for the Tigers and would help a team getting too old at all three spots. At 6-foot-7, he might project best at tackle or guard.
40. Carolina Panthers — Florida DL Caleb Brantley
This possible Kawann Short replacement (if he walks in free agency) is a textbook 3-technique who gets upfield. GM Dave Gettleman loves collecting great depth up front.
41. Cincinnati Bengals — Florida State DE DeMarcus Walker
Typical Bengals in that they often let good, free-falling talent fall in their laps, and Walker would be a nice fit opposite Carlos Dunlap.
42. Buffalo Bills — USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
An athletic playmaker to add to the mix with Watkins and the other athletes they’ll field in what could be a fast, fun offense.
43. New Orleans Saints — Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
The Saints once again land secondary help from the Buckeyes in Round 2 after trading up for Vonn Bell there a year ago.
44. Philadelphia Eagles — Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis
A huge positional need with all the good receivers in this division and a good system fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense.
45. Arizona Cardinals — Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
The Cardinals were thin at corner opposite Patrick Peterson and would do well to land a good talent here, a player used to operating in a pressure-based system.
46. Minnesota Vikings — Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
Boy, do they need an offensive tackle. And the last time they took a Cardinal back in Round 2 (Toby Gerhart) it didn’t work out. But McCaffrey could be ideal in this West Coast passing game and fill the returner void if Cordarrelle Patterson walks in free agency. If this is it for Adrian Peterson, it’s likely the men replacing him will have far different skill sets.
47. Indianapolis Colts — Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
With Frank Gore in the twilight of his career, the Colts find a perfect baton recipient and a similarly skilled back in Kamara, who can run, catch and pass block well.
48. Baltimore Ravens — Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford
The Ravens find some help to replace Steve Smith Sr. a few hundred miles down I-81 with the crafty, sleek and fast Ford.
49. Washington Redskins — Texas A&M S Justin Evans
Whoever the new defensive coordinator is, they’ll want to upgrade over the lot the team trotted out at the position this season.
50. Cleveland Browns — Cal QB Davis Webb
Again, this is assuming the Browns spend assets elsewhere to acquire a veteran QB (such as A.J. McCarron or Jimmy Garoppolo, let’s say), but the Browns could see Davis up close at the Senior Bowl and like his upside to groom.
51. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Auburn DT Montravius Adams
An eventual replacement for Clinton McDonald, Adams has played in multiple spots and moves really well for his size.
52. Denver Broncos — Washington DT Elijah Qualls
A big man to help anchor the middle for a defense that was surprisingly soft against the run down the stretch.
53. Detroit Lions — Illinois DE Dawuane Smoot
They need more help on the edge, as the pass rush really has lacked overall this season, and Smoot can provide it.
54. Miami Dolphins — Utah S Marcus Williams
The Dolphins have come down the stretch with poor depth amid all the injuries on the back end and need more help.
55. New York Giants — Florida LB Jarrad Davis
The weakest part of this defense is at linebacker, and the highly athletic Davis could replace either Keenan Robinson or Jonathan Casillas readily.
56. Oakland Raiders — Ohio State LB.. Raekwon McMillan
Rangy and a thumper in the run game, McMillan has an old-school, Al Davis-type makeup to him.
57. Seattle Seahawks — Clemson CB-S Cordrea Tankersley
His size fits the Seahawks’ CB blueprint, and he also could project to safety in case Earl Thomas is serious about walking away — either now or soon down the road.
58. Houston Texans — Western Kentucky OL Forrest Lamp
Tough, heady, versatile blocker who will add to the competition and depth up front.
59. Green Bay Packers — Iowa DB Desmond King
They can’t ignore the secondary, and King would be a good catch at this point with his instincts and production, but he might be best at safety with his lack of raw speed.
60. Pittsburgh Steelers — Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
Unrefined but freakishly talented redshirt sophomore who figures to be one of the workout stars at the NFL combine.
61. Atlanta Falcons — Michigan DT Chris Wormley
Inconsistent but flashy, Wormley could add to a thin a rotation up front for Quinn’s improving defense.
62. Kansas City Chiefs — Tennessee CB Cameron Sutton
A broken ankle derailed his season, but Sutton would be a nice addition to help push Phillip Gaines for a starting spot in time.
63. New England Patriots — Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
A perfect fit to replace free agent Jabaal Sheard (and/or Chris Long), Anderson would also have an easier time transitioning from Nick Saban’s defense to that of Bill Belichick.
64. Dallas Cowboys — Virginia Tech TE Bucky Hodges
They might never find Jason Witten’s replacement, but this size-speed prospect is a potential matchup nightmare as a hybrid player.
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