2017 NFL Mock Drafts

Pete Prisco
By Rob Rang
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Despite what some have suggested, inside linebackers are not being phased out of the NFL any more than running backs. Expect that fact to be proven in the first round of the 2017 draft on Thursday.

As former linebackers, themselves, Oakland Raiders' head coach Jack Del Rio and Kansas City Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey recognize the value of the position better than most. The AFC West competitors may see SEC standouts Jarrad Davis (Florida) and Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) as more likely to provide an immediate impact that rookies at other positions -- a significant factor given that both clubs fancy themselves as potential Super Bowl candidates.

With one final update on the eve of the draft, here is my penultimate projection of how the top 32 selections will go. Despite what some have suggested, inside linebackers are not being phased out of the NFL any more than running backs. Expect that fact to be proven in the first round of the 2017 draft on Thursday.

As former linebackers, themselves, Oakland Raiders' head coach Jack Del Rio and Kansas City Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey recognize the value of the position better than most. The AFC West competitors may see SEC standouts Jarrad Davis (Florida) and Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) as more likely to provide an immediate impact that rookies at other positions -- a significant factor given that both clubs fancy themselves as potential Super Bowl candidates.

With one final update on the eve of the draft, here is my penultimate projection of how the top 32 selections will go.

NFL Mock Draft - 4/24/2017
Round 1
1. Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: The clear top need in Cleveland is at quarterback but frankly it would be a stunner if anyone other than Garrett was the first pick, as he is simply the best player in the draft. Garrett lived up to his hype at the Combine, dazzling with his combination of size (6-4, 272), power (33 repetitions of 225 pounds) and speed (4.64) and explosiveness (41-inch vertical).
2. San Francisco 49ers

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired to help spark a listless offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in passing last season but ignoring better players just to draft a quarterback may only guarantee another poor season in 2017. Thomas is a natural disruptor who has drawn comparisons to LA Rams star Aaron Donald. He could be the perfect finishing touch for a defense line currently better prepared to stuff the run than bother rival quarterbacks.
3. Chicago Bears

Jamal Adams, SS, LSU: Safety has long been a sore spot in Chicago with only one Bears safety (Mike Brown) earning an invitation to the Pro Bowl over the past 20 years. Adams has that kind of potential and is viewed by some as the safest prospect in the draft. He is a tone-setter with a rare combination of instincts, athleticism and intangibles to make an immediate impact on a defense that made strides a year ago but allowed 24.9 points per game, 24th in the NFL.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Splashy signings in free agency suggest that the Jaguars are looking for an immediate difference-maker with this pick. The Cowboys went from last to first in the NFC during the regular season a year ago in large part because of the stellar play of 2016 No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott and the Jaguars could see a similar bounce with Fournette taking the pressure off of young Blake Bortles and the passing game. Fournette was not as impressive at the Combine as expected but he is a freakish talent, boasting the most exciting combination of size, speed and power since Adrian Peterson.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: The addition of veterans Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien help but only the most optimistic of Titans fans believe that they can turn a secondary that ranked 31st a year ago against the pass into an elite unit. Now if a talent like Lattimore was added to the mix, on the other hand, optimism would be much higher. Lattimore struggled with hamstring injuries early in his career at Ohio State but he was dominant last season, showing the easy agility, acceleration and instincts to project as a future Pro Bowler.
6. NY Jets

Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State: Last season only two teams (Cleveland, Detroit) allowed a worse ratio of touchdown passes allowed to interception than the Jets' user-friendly defense, which surrendered 30 scores and only picked off 10 passes. Given the aggressive nature of defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan's trusted Best Player Available strategy, it is easy to envision the duo falling in love with Hooker, whose range and ball skills (seven interceptions in 2016) could have the Jets flying much higher in 2017.
7. Los Angeles Chargers

Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: The Chargers won big a year ago with Joey Bosa and could be in a similar position this year should Allen fall into their lap. The 6-3, 286-pound Allen has the intangibles the Chargers have long prized and could remind new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley of former Seahawks pupil Michael Bennett with his positional versatility, initial burst and coordinated, powerful hand play.
8. Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Though he is far from the only one to blame for Carolina's woes on offense, the Panthers' slip last season in running the ball puts the spotlight once again on Jonathan Stewart's struggles with durability. The 13th overall pick of the 2008 draft has only played in 16 regular season games three times over his nine-year career and not since 2011. Pairing him with a dynamic runner, receiver and returner like McCaffrey could be the perfect fit - and one made easier with Carolina re-hiring assistant coach Lance Murphy, who spent the past three coaching McCaffrey at Stanford.
9. Cincinnati Bengals

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: Adding a young pass rusher to complement veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap is expected to be among the Bengals' top draft day priorities.
10. Buffalo Bills

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Whether it be in the form of wide receivers or tight ends, the Bills need to bring in more weapons for re-signed quarterback Tyrod Taylor. After watching Greg Olsen become the Carolina Panthers' most trusted pass catcher while serving as defensive coordinator, new Bills head coach Sean McDermott may see Howard as the better complement to an offense expected to remain centered around the running game.
11. New Orleans Saints

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: The Saints ranked 27th in the NFL a year ago with just 30 sacks, a real concern given the quarterback talent in the NFC South. Help is on the way with former Arizona Cardinals' edge rusher Alex Okafor but he signed only a one year deal. It took a while for the light to come on for Charlton at Michigan but he led the Big Ten in sacks a year ago in his first season as a full-time starter. Boasting a terrific combination of burst, bend and length, Charlton has Pro Bowl potential.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: The splashy trade for Brock Osweiler is not likely to keep Cleveland from drafting another quarterback. Trubisky is obviously a roll of the dice given that he only started one year for the Tar Heels but he showed impressive accuracy, athleticism and pocket awareness in 2016. The Ohio native possesses the combination of upside and intangibles that Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson prioritized with their draft picks a year ago.
13. Arizona Cardinals

Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech: The Cardinals have publicly stated their intention to find a young quarterback to groom under Carson Palmer and teams are excited about Mahomes' upside. After starring in Tech's shotgun-heavy Air-Raid offense, Mahomes is undeniably a project but he possesses the gunslinger mentality and arm talent to excite Bruce Arians.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: Last year's starters Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll are gone and free agent addition Patrick Robinson was only signed to a one-year deal. Humphrey, the top-rated corner on some boards, is an NFL legacy with a rare combination of size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.41). At just 20-years old, Humphrey appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.
15. Indianapolis Colts

Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple: The Colts have needs all over the defense and could see the versatile and explosive Reddick as immediate help at a number of positions. Reddick recorded 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as an edge rusher for the Owls in 2016 before wowing first at the Senior Bowl as a more traditional linebacker at the Senior Bowl and then at the Combine, recording a ridiculous 4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash and 11-feet-1-inch broad jump at 6-1, 234 pounds.
16. Baltimore Ravens

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Ravens need help at edge rusher and offensive tackle, as well, but general manager Ozzie Newsome may have a hard time letting a prototypical split end like the 6-4, 218-pound Williams slip any further. His ability to box out defenders and win contested passes could make him a quick favorite for Joe Flacco, who lost similarly sure-handed receivers Steve Smith, Sr. and Kamar Aiken over the offseason.
17. Washington Redskins

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: The Redskins surrendered an average of nearly 120 yards per game on the ground in 2016 and only three teams (the Chargers, Bills and 49ers) allowed more than their 19 rushing touchdowns. Foster is a top 10 talent but may suffer a slide on draft day after questions about his decision-making off the field and durability on it surfaced since the season ended. Possessing remarkable closing speed and the physicality to intimidate, he could prove a steal at this point in the draft.
18. Tennessee Titans

David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): The Titans' commitment to running the football already puts a lot of stress on opposing linebackers and safeties and adding a seam threat like the ultra-athletic Njoku would only make Tennessee that much more difficult to stop. Few know the value of a playmaking tight end more than Titans' general manager Jon Robinson, who cut his teeth in New England.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: With Doug Martin facing a four game suspension for PED use and coming off of his third injury-shortened season, the Bucs understandably could be looking for help at running back. Reuniting Cook with former FSU teammate Jameis Winston could be the perfect solution. Cook has off-field and durability concerns of his own but he is an ideal fit in this offense as a slashing runner with terrific hands.
20. Denver Broncos

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: On paper, the signings of former Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson and Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary make up for the decision to let starting left tackle Russell Okung walk in free agency but reality could prove different. Ramczyk has the feet to handle blindside duties and at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, possesses the girth to move people in the running game, as well.
21. Detroit Lions

T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin: Aggressive moves in free agency signal that Detroit has high expectations in 2017. A healthy Ziggy Ansah for the entire season would certainly go a long way towards boosting the pass rush but he could use some help. Watt is surprisingly polished given that he began his career at tight end, showing the instincts and refined hand play to make an immediate impact opposite Ansah, who led the NFC with 14.5 sacks when healthy in 2015.
22. Miami Dolphins

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky: Trading away starting left tackle Branden Albert (to Jacksonville) says a lot about the Dolphins' confidence in last year's first round pick Laremy Tunsil. While Tunsil should have no problem re-acclimating to tackle after starring at left guard last season, his absence inside could be an issue. Lamp looks like a plug and play solution after a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl.
23. NY Giants

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah: The Giants rushed for a miniscule 3.5 yards per carry in 2016 and scored a league-low six touchdowns on the ground and its tackles struggled with speed rushers. Adding former first round pick D.J. Fluker helps at guard but if an athletic left tackle like Bolles was still on the board, incumbent starting blindside blocker Ereck Flower could be moved to his more natural right side, potentially improving three positions immediately.
24. Oakland Raiders

Jarrad Davis, ILB, Florida: The Raiders feature two of the better rush linebackers in the NFL in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. The inside, however, is a relative weak spot. Plugging the instinctive and passionate Davis into this defense could be exactly the type of immediate impact pick needed to re-energize a fan base smarting due to the club's plans to relocate to Las Vegas.
25. Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Getting rid of the colossal Osweiler contract was a relief in itself but unless a veteran replacement (Tony Romo?) is found, quarterback is now the top priority again in Houston. Watson's ability to deliver in the clutch intrigues scouts but he also threw an FBS-worst 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, making him a polarizing player in the scouting community. At this point in the draft, however, GM Rick Smith might see him as simply too talented to pass up.
26. Seattle Seahawks

Obi Melifonwu, SS, Connecticut: While general manager John Schneider recently suggested that disgruntled All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman likely will be playing in Seattle next season, the depth behind him is a significant concern. Melifonwu checks a lot of the boxes that Seattle looks for in the secondary, including durability, versatility, length and sheer athleticism.
27. Kansas City Chiefs

Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt: Linebacker is a clear need in Kansas City with veteran Derrick Johnson again rehabilitating a torn Achilles. Cunningham, the SEC's leading tackler in 2016 and a two-time First Team all-conference selection, possesses the speed and instincts to help fill that hole.
28. Dallas Cowboys

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: The Cowboys' gambles on recent character concerns at pass rusher have not paid off and adding a playmaker to this unit should be a top priority. Harris possesses the burst, bend and lethal spin move to wreak havoc off the edge and, after only joining the sport as a junior in high school, he possesses the upside for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to develop.
29. Green Bay Packers

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: With clear needs at edge rusher, cornerback and running back, Ted Thompson has plenty of options with this pick with splashy athletes like UCLA's Takk McKinley and even Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon possibly in the mix. Conley, however, is the cleaner prospect on and off the field and fills a clear need with the sticky cover skills to help immediate.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan: Due in part to the flashy play of rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis, the Steelers made strides in the secondary last season. More help is needed, however. Asked to play all over the field at Michigan, Peppers is a polarizing prospect in the scouting community but his instincts, aggression and terrific open-field tackling might remind GM Kevin Colbert of former Steelers' great Troy Polamalu.
31. Atlanta Falcons

Budda Baker, FS, Washington: After surrendering a Super Bowl record 466 passing yards to Tom Brady, no one should be surprised if the Falcons opt to reinforce the secondary. At just 5-10, 195 pounds, Baker does not possess ideal size but Dan Quinn has previously been willing to overlook that at free safety with the 5-09, 185 Ricardo Allen currently starting in Atlanta and previously working with Earl Thomas (5-10, 202) in Seattle. Baker has more range and quickness than Allen, projecting as a traditional centerfielder who can drop down to help at nickel, as well.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)

John Ross, WR, Washington: Sure, the Saints have much bigger concerns on defense but general manager Mickey Loomis may see Ross as the perfect replacement for Brandin Cooks. Ross, who set an all-time NFL record at the Combine with a 4.22 second 40-yard dash, has the jets to blow by the bigger, bulkier cornerbacks in the NFC South. Durability concerns, however, could lead to a draft day tumble for the speedster.

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