It’s nearly time for the draft, but in this particularly unpredictable year, there’s always time for you to read another mock! Below I’ve tried to strike a balance between where I think players should go, and where I think players will go. I don’t have 32 players with first-round grades (it wouldn’t amaze me if few teams do, even in a strong year). In any case, hope you get a few interesting last minute pointers, as the Wild Mass Guessing is nearly over!
1 – Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
This has to be the pick. Garrett is a freakish athlete who’s plenty of the way there as a polished footballer. He has the sort of potential teams saw in Von Miller and Jadeveon Clowney. Though he seemed at time a touch undermotivated during the 2016 season, having dominated 2015 that shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Cleveland can draft a near slam-dunk elite player here who will change the face of their defense.
2 – San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
I’ve gone back and forth with this pick, and even asked Twitter who themselves didn’t have much of a clue. In the end, here’s my logic. Marshon Lattimore probably adds up as the best pick, but there’s so much cornerback depth in the draft I expect San Francisco to prioritise it later. Safety is an option, but bizarrely Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt aren’t that bad, which makes Adams or Hooker more of a luxury pick. Similar for Leonard Fournette – Carlos Hyde is decent and there are more pressing needs. Quarterback? I’d go that way, but I expect San Francisco to wait a year and make a run at Kirk Cousins in free agency (though plans may change). Jonathan Allen’s not a great scheme fit and will probably slide a few spots in the draft because of his slightly arthritic shoulders.
So we’re kind of left with Solomon Thomas by process of elimination. He’s a very high upside player; a vat of raw, untapped potential. Physically and athletically he’s a beast, and had a great 2016 for Stanford. His drafting will give pass rushing terror across from DeForest Buckner, and help make things that little bit easier for the overmatched secondary in a division with some suspect offensive lines. I don’t love the pick, but it’ll happen and I can suffer it.
3 – Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
I don’t love the previous pick, but I don’t even like this one. Okay. If you ask me, Malik Hooker represents the perfect pick for Chicago here. He’d give them a ballhawking threat at free safety, giving opponents pause before going to the deep ball. All that would give that nascent pass rush a situation to thrive in! Thing is, Chicago are boned at quarterback in the long-term. Mike Glennon’s contract is basically a one-year deal. After then? Well if he plays well, no problem. But he won’t.
Trubisky is seen as the safest quarterback in the draft, although he’s not without risk. But he has good short-to-medium accuracy, some mobility, and is relatively ready albeit with limited experience.
Thing is, Chicago are passing up elite players at other positions to get a potentially very good one at quarterback! I guess it’s the quandary of the NFL. Wouldn’t blame them, really.
4 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Allen, DT/DE, Alabama
It’s Allen or Fournette, really. But Jacksonville are building a potentially ludicrous defense, and Allen could be a wonderful near-final piece. Imagine a front four of Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler and Jonathan Allen, with Yannick Ngakoue, Michael Bennett (no, not that one) and Sheldon Day as rotation and depth. Woof!
5 – Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
I’m leaning here as Tennessee have more of a need at corner than safety. Why? Kevin Byard and John Cyprien are fairly good starters at safety. At corner, Tennessee have Logan Ryan (who was a good #2 at the Patriots) and…that’s about it. So they need a number 1. Lattimore’s a Day 1 starter with great coverage skills and fantastic measurables. I expect him to become a lockdown corner in short order. Sure it’s a deep draft for corner, but Tennessee have enough picks in the draft they can splash out on elite players at deep positions.
6 – New York Jets: Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
If the Jets can’t get a quarterback they’ll trade down and pick up…well…name your position. But trying to do trades in a mock draft is like trying to tapdance on an icerink in platform shoes. You end up flat on your face, looking very very silly. Adams is a tone-setting box safety, good in coverage, excellent against the run. The Jets have seen Calvin Pryor’s play decline very quickly, and this will help their defensive all-round game.
7 – San Diego Chargers: Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
Hooker’s actually #2 on my (entirely theoretical) big board. I love watching him play, his instincts, his athleticism, his vision, his reactions, his control, skill…*mops brow*
Where was I? Oh yeah. The Chargers have a vacancy at free safety they haven’t filled since Eric Weddle left for Baltimore. With Hooker and entertaining lunatic Jahleel Addae at safety, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward at corner, this would be a formidable secondary.
8 – Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Oh my god. Imagine the read-options. Carolina’s thrilling yet doomed 2015 season was built on a run game that gave them a balanced offense. Without that in 2016, they had Cam Newton and some inconsistent receivers. A running back like Fournette works for Carolina because of the type of threat he is – a big bruiser, capable of running over defenders. You need linebackers and safeties who are more run-defender than coverage-players on the field. So you leave yourself open to committing to defend the run, only to make it easier for Cam Newton to find a wide open Kelvin Benjamin. This just seems too perfect.
9 – Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
This is between pass rusher and receiver, but I think Cincinnati will have more hope in Tyler Boyd developing as a #2 than any of their ageing defense stepping up alongside Carlos Dunlap. Barnett is a very advanced, very productive pass-rusher. He’s not the most athletic, but he is savvy and makes good choices when rushing; he’s also a good run defender. In the NFL, he’ll need to develop more pass-rushing moves. But he’s a high-floor player I expect to be consistently very good throughout his career.
10 – Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Buffalo gave a clue at their direction when discussing Sammy Watkins’ fifth-year option. Watkins has had plenty of injuries in Buffalo, and though excellent, is tricky to rely on. Buffalo have precisely dick-all other wide receivers, so they’d likely need one even if Watkins hangs around. In this situation, Watkins is your field-stretching speedster, Williams is your physical, acrobatic possession receiver. Corey Davis would work here too, but rumours abound more that Williams is rated more highly by teams.
11 – New Orleans Saints: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
The Saints are in a bit of a pickle in this mock. Barnett, an obvious fit, is gone. I don’t rate Taco Charlton or Charles Harris is quite being good enough for the #11 pick. Haason Reddick doesn’t seem a good fit in a team playing 4 on the line. Reuben Foster’s killed his stock with the combine drug test. So, the underrated Humphrey goes here.
Humphrey is the clear #2 cornerback to me. He’s a physical, tough player of the kind New Orleans have prized at corner recently. He was strong at the combine, and his tape is excellent. Need someone to smash out a screen? Humphrey’s your man? Someone to jam a receiver at the line, and then stay with him downfield? Yep, Humphrey. I have very slight concerns that he may be a bit too handsy. To wit, Saints fans saw enough PI and illegal contact penalties with Brandon Browner. Humphrey is streets ahead as a player though. He could start for the Saints at #2, moving PJ Williams to slot cornerback.
12 – Cleveland Browns: OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
With Trubisky gone, the subsequent quarterbacks don’t appear to have the accuracy Hue Jackson craves. There’s a bit of a gap before the next lot of cornerbacks come into range too. So, it’s down to Howard, Corey Davis, or Christian McCaffrey. Howard has my highest grade of those three, and I think represents the best fit. As well as being a dynamic pass-catcher, he’s the best blocker of all tight ends. Given the investment Cleveland have made on their line, it’d be daft to blow it by leaving a blocking sled where the in-line tight end should be. Howard was under-utilised in college and could be outstanding from Day 1 in the NFL.
13 – Arizona Cardinals: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
I’m higher on White than most, and Arizona have real need at cornerback. Look. I know everyone’s talking about a quarterback in the desert. But Palmer is fine in the short-term, and other positions are not. I think Arizona trade back into the first or up in the second to get whoever’s left of Mahomes and Watson. Or wait on Kizer in the second. Whoever it’ll be will have the time they need to develop, learn and mature. Here they solve a more immediate problem. White is a versatile cover corner with fantastic change of direction who can track the best route-runners and has great closing speed.
14 – Philadelphia Eagles: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
So, how about Dalvin Cook’s draft stock, eh? Once a top-10 lock, now all-but guaranteed to drop out of the first round because of his “friends”. So here’s an alternative. McCaffrey won’t start out as an every-down back, but can play most downs, and on those he’s not in the backfield for, can play in the slot. That gives Carson Wentz a reliable backfield pal and a reliable receiver, after a difficult year when he had neither.
15 – Indianapolis Colts: Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple
I think this is definitely a linebacker pick, be it Reddick or Charles Harris on the outside, or Reuben Foster on the inside. Reddick is what they call a physical freak – a term I’m seldom comfortable with, but it accurately represents his otherworldliness. Reddick dominated mid-major competition at Temple and then had probably the best Senior Bowl of anyone. Then he blew up the Combine. Reddick played defensive end at temple, but in the NFL he looks like a super-dynamic outside linebacker who can play run and pass downs, and even cut inside to blitz and cover if needs be. Indy are short of recognised pass rushers – Jabaal Sheard and John Simon are probably their #1 and #2 – and are weak inside too. Reddick is a terror and still has so much potential to grow.
16 – Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Baltimore have a few options at #16: receiver, right tackle, pass rush, cornerback. Davis is the best value for any of those positions here, a masterful route-runner and reliable catcher. Davis is a record-setter at Western Michigan, even making first-team All-American this year despite playing in the Mid-Atlantic Conference. He’s fairly fast but not the quickest, but will use his agility, twitch and nous to get open again and again. He’s got very reliable hands, and is athletic enough to make contested and difficult catches. With a couple of speed-first receivers in Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, Davis will add another dimension to the Baltimore offense and all should thrive.
We interrupt this draft to go live to the Cowboys war room:
(James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)
Sorry. That photo just tickles me. Back to the draft.
17 – Washington: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
And here endeth Reuben Foster’s slide. Foster would’ve been a top-10 pick but for combine drug testing. While he had an excuse for a diluted sample of urine (often a sign of, say, weed in the system), teams may not have believed him. In fact, I’d have had Washington pass on him but for the way the board’s fallen. Washington’s other areas of weakness – running back, defensive line, safety – don’t have anyone in range here. Thus, the er, rangy Foster falls here, and he’ll help fix Washington’s godawful run D first up. Foster is instinctive, determined and a master at finding a way between O-Line blocks to the backfield. His coverage might need a touch of work, and Washington’ll need to be confident in his character. But otherwise, woof! A potential steal.
18 – Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR, Washington
I mulled over David Njoku here, but in a deep tight end class Tennessee can wait on say, an Evan Engram, Gerald Everett or Adam Shaheen. Somehow, Marcus Mariota managed to have a breakout year throwing to Rishard Matthews and a fifth-round rookie (Tajae Sharpe). Delanie Walker is useful underneath, but a big-armed phenom like Mariota needs a deep threat.
There are concerns over Ross’ durability, but also he’s much more accomplished than your average deep threat. As well as running 4.22 at the combine, he’s got solid hands and some route-running nous. The latter two mean he can at least be a clear-out threat for the underneath, and the former means he can burn anyone. Tennessee will need to help him not get jammed on the line of scrimmage early, sure. But he could be a fantastic weapon for the exciting Mariota.
19 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
If anyone’s going to stop Dalvin Cook ending up being drafted on Friday, it’s Tampa. Having been burned by giving Doug Martin a big contract last year, Tampa have a lot of unknowns at running back. Tampa have been at their best with a functioning running attack, and although Cook tested poorly at the combine, his vision is remarkable. The Bucs are happy to pick in-state, and there is a strong feeling this is the pick.
I wonder though. Two things: 1) Cook will need a zone blocking scheme to thrive (zone-blocking benefits slower running backs with better vision by placing more on them to see where the blocks develop in each play). Tampa will need to provide that. 2) Those off-field issues. I find the “worse than Mixon” stuff odd, but hey. Dodgy friends, animal endangerment (look after your puppies, Dalvin) and an assault charge (found not guilty of punching a woman at a bar, but who knows). It’s not an ideal situation is it?
20 – Denver Broncos: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
At last! An offensive lineman is drafted! And it’s not the one you’d think! The Broncos need a new left tackle. I think it’s probably a (three-way) coin toss between Ramczyk, Garrett Bolles and Cam Robinson for first tackle drafted. All have their strengths and weaknesses. Ramczyk looks like a natural at the position, getting traction and push in the run game and with the strength to hold of particularly bull rushers in pass-blocking. He’ll need work on his footwork to handle the speed rush, but plays with determination and full effort on every play. Ok, this isn’t an amazing value pick – David Njoku would be the pick there. But, if the Broncos don’t get another tackle they’re going to have two broken quarterbacks and a sub-.500 record. It’s that simple.
21 – Detroit Lions: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
You can pencil in “whoever the highest-graded pass rusher left is” here. Charlton is this year’s high-upside, low-floor edge rusher du jour. Blessed with physical traits, he enjoyed a successful 2016 without ever really being more than one-dimensional. So there’s potential for him to bust in the NFL, But if he can put it together, develop a rip move and a spin move and improve his foot and handwork, he can be incredible. Detroit desperately need someone alongside Ziggy Ansah as a three-down end.
22 – Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky
Miami have the odd situation of having two good tackles, a good center, and not much at guard. Lamp is a super-versatile lineman (he played left tackle in college) who looks like a guard or center in future. I don’t have him rated this high (he’s more a Joel Bitonio/Cody Whitehair early-second-rounder to me), but he fills a need perfectly. Miami have been at their best when there’s a strong offensive line. Jay Ajayi’s a good running back but can’t create yards on his own, and Ryan Tannehill definitely needs good pass protection.
23 – New York Giants: David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla)
Here’s the point in this mock where you look at teams who might want a succession plan at quarterback. In reality, someone – probably because of a trade – is going to have picked a QB in the 15-20 range. So I gave Watson and Mahomes consideration here. But a team looking to get their offense back on track after a down year will want a tight end.
The Giants have been so lacking for tight ends in recent years, players like Will Tye and Larry Donnell have appeared on the national radar. I think offensive tackle is the wiser pick, but if legitimate top-16 talent Njoku falls here, they could create a terrifying skill position cadre. Njoku is athletic, determined, tough, skilled, all the things you want from a receiving tight end. His blocking isn’t great, but he’s very willing (compare to the less willing Jimmy Graham, say). There’s plenty of room for growth in his game. How thrilling would Beckham-Marshall-Shepard-Njoku be? SO MANY PASSES.
24 – Oakland Raiders: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
I’d prefer a cornerback here for Oakland (Quincy Wilson, Gareon Conley, Tre’Davious White, Kevin King, take your pick). Cunningham will do though, a do-everything, rangy linebacker who can fill a real position of need in Oakland. Right now Oakland have Bruce Irvin at linebacker. And…Jelani Jenkins? Several players I’ve never heard of?
Cunningham has great instincts, and closes fantastically on the line of scrimmage in run defense. In coverage, he’s pretty good, though looks better against tight ends than running backs out the backfield. He’ll need some coaching, and to stop relying on his athleticism and play a bit cannier at times, but he’s nearly there.
25 – Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson, QB, Texas Tech
At which point every phone in every war room for the next seven picks goes into overdrive as several teams clamour to trade back into the first round for Pat Mahomes. Mahomes would be a good pick! But he’s not a Texans pick.
Mahomes needs some serious work before he’s ready to start. Bless him, if you search this piece for “protections”, he notes that he’s relayed coach instructions about protections to his teammates. Oh, Pat. But yes, coming from an Air Raid offense to the NFL is no easy feat. Watson, meanwhile, is super-mobile, looks pro-ready (to a point), and despite accuracy issues, has a fantastic win-loss and clutch-performance record in the college game. He’s the sort of high-floor, low-ceiling prospect that looks nothing like a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect.
26 – Seattle Seahawks: Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
Bolles is basically the opposite of the existing Seattle O-Line. Said line is a cabal of prospects, athletic positional converts, and attempts to mould offensive tackles out of blocking sleds and tarp. Bolles is not the prototypical left tackle (no-one is) but he has the tone-setting character Seattle need. Watch how he got under the skin of UCLA rusher Takk McKinley. He drives back defenders, finishes blocks and has a super-nasty streak. Just don’t ask about his arm-length.
27 – Kansas City Chiefs: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Kansas City’s cornerback corps is…not as good as you think! Sure, there’s Marcus Peters, but after that? Philip Gaines? Kenneth Acker? Teams need three cornerbacks these days and KC have one and change. Wilson is a big, rangy corner who can deal with physical receivers and has the speed to follow the faster ones. He was the best in Florida’s secondary last year (that’s very impressive!). So he’s good, but a touch unpolished. Nonetheless, you’d fancy him to play the tightly-covering route-runner to complement Marcus Peters’ opportunism.
28 – Dallas Cowboys: Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
Obi Melifonwu is a wonderful example of how the pre-draft process helps some players. Melifonwu was a good – not great – safety for UConn. Then he blew away the Senior Bowl, and put up a Combine to make scouts everywhere rub their eyes in disbelief. The lean is more towards strong safety than free safety with Melifonwu, but he can play both. Nonetheless, Dallas thrived in the secondary thanks to strong play from Barry Church at strong safety last year. He’s gone to Jacksonville, and Melifonwu is a good replacement.
29 – Green Bay Packers: TJ Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
This won’t happen. I’m not even sure it’d be a good pick. Ted Thompson’s not a sentimentalist at all. But putting Badgers hero in Green Bay and watching the fans salivate is a heck of a tempting prospect. Watt’s pro position is a bit up in the air. In some schemes, he can bulk up and play defensive end. For Green Bay, he’d be a pass-rushing linebacker who could chip in occasionally inside. He’s athletic and canny rushing the passer and decent in coverage. Much like Clay Matthews in fact, and it’s no coincidence that Matthews looked like a shadow of himself last year, and I’m making this pick.
30 – Pittsburgh Steelers, Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
I did have Jabrill Peppers here, but in light of his combine drug-test farrago, Pittsburgh can get him in the second round (probably by trading down). You think of Pittsburgh linebackers, you think James Harrison. Also, James Harrison. While there’s no sign that the aging process will ever impact him, Pittsburgh still need someone in the middle.
Davis is a rangy linebacker (all linebackers are rangy) whose stock has risen during the draft process. Why? Well, he missed lots of 2016 with injury, and his tape is broadly excellent. See, this is what happens with “stock rising”. More often than not, it’s draftniks forgetting a player exists for a while. Anyway, why did I mention James Harrison above? Davis is a great blitzer and general pass rusher on stunts. Pittsburgh desperately need someone else to chip in. Davis also looks solid against the run and in coverage, and should make a nice tandem with Ryan Shazier.
31 – Atlanta Falcons: Malik McDowell, DL, Atlanta
Another high-ceiling, low-floor player, McDowell could be a top-10 pick were he consistent. He’s also a quandary in terms of position. He could either end up a versatile lineman playing everywhere but nose, or a ‘tweener without a real role. Thus he will be available for Atlanta here. McDowell has physical talents and an amazing knack for fighting between offensive linemen. For Atlanta, he can slot straight into the non-nose tackle position alongside Dontari Poe, a terrifying prospect for guards everywhere.
32 – New Orleans Saints: Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
Interesting, this. New Orleans have McKinley and Cam Robinson (a potential future right tackle) available here. I go McKinley just because the Saints will fancy at least one more year out of Zach Strief at right tackle, whereas the pass rush is currently a mess outside of Cam Jordan.
McKinley, like a lot of the edge rushers in this class, could go anywhere from about 15 to 70. He’s a natural 4-3 end with good outside speed, really good instincts and decent strength and footwork. He struggled a bit against better left tackles, but didn’t drop his effort during the course of tough games, something you need to play on the Saints D!
So, that’s the mock. Let’s get a sample of fan rection:
Obviously, none of this mock draft will be accurate. Heck, for all I know Cleveland will draft Trubisky first overall and blow the whole thing up. And in reality, someone will trade back into the first round and draft Patrick Mahomes. Not long to go now though!