2017 NFL Mock Draft: Broncos nab Christian McCaffrey; Browns add a QB

John Elway threw 23 touchdowns to Ed McCaffrey during their respective playing careers in Denver but it could be the versatility the latter’s son wound bring to a struggling Broncos’ offense -- rather than just familiarity -- that would make this Stanford reunion particularly intriguing.

Elway drafted Devontae Booker a year ago to help spark Denver’s running game and he proved more consistent that veteran C.J. Anderson. Neither, however, possesses McCaffrey’s juice as a runner, receiver and returner -- skills that will be all the more necessary as the Broncos rebuild their offense around last year’s first-round pick Paxton Lynch.

With free agency and trades altering team needs by the day, here is my latest projection of what will take place in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft


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-foot-4, 272 pounds), power (33 repetitions of 225 pounds) and speed (4.64 in the 40) and explosiveness (41-inch vertical).

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The Browns pass on a QB at No. 1 for the draft’s top talent. USATSI

2. San Francisco 49ers

Solomon Thomas , DL, Stanford Cardinal : 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 Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald . Sandwiched between massive defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead and new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell , he could give the 49ers the dominant defensive line to compete in the NFC West, with the need at quarterback more likely to be addressed with a veteran.

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Solomon Thomas is just too good to pass up at No. 2.  USATSI

3. Chicago Bears

Jamal Adams, S, 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

Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide The Jaguars’ overhaul of the defensive line may continue on draft day should Allen still be on the board. Allen dominated the SEC the past two seasons and at 6-3, 286 pounds he possesses the bulk, strength and quickness to line up virtually anywhere along the defensive line. 

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Jonathan Allen helps upgrade an improving Jags defense.  USATSI

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)

Marshon Lattimore , CB, Ohio State: The Titans improved in virtually every category in 2016 but one significant exception was in pass defense, where Tennessee ranked 31st in the NFL. Recurring hamstring injuries limited Lattimore to just one healthy season for the Buckeyes but his easy athleticism (as demonstrated by a 4.36 second 40-yard dash) jumps off tape.

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Marshon Lattimore helps fix a serious need in Tennessee.  USATSI

6. New York Jets

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Adding a third young quarterback to compete with recent draft picks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg would be bold but with little evidence that either is the long-term answer at quarterback, general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles may have little choice but to exhaust all options. Barring the signing of a veteran (Jay Cutler), Watson could be a candidate to watch. Watson is a polarizing player in the scouting community, dazzling with his dual-threat ability but throwing 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, most in the FBS. His undeniably impressive track record of playing his best under the bright lights could be more valued on Broadway than elsewhere.


7. San Diego Chargers

Malik Hooker , S, Ohio State Buckeyes : The Chargers won big with Joey Bosa a year ago and could see another Buckeye as an ideal replacement for Eric Weddle , whom the club clearly missed in 2016. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hooker possesses the range and ball skills to complement San Diego’s small but physical cornerbacks.

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Malik Hooker is still raw in spots but he's a can't-miss top-10 prospect. USATSI

8. Carolina Panthers

Leonard Fournette , RB, LSU: One of the reasons for Carolina’s slip in 2016 was an inconsistent running game, putting the spotlight once again on Jonathan Stewart’s struggles with durability. Stewart has only played in 16 regular season games three times over his nine-year career and not since 2011. 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 .

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Leonard Fournette would give Cam Newton a new weapon. USATSI

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Haason Reddick, ILB, Temple: Marvin Lewis will remain the Bengals head coach in 2017 but with the pressure on, he likely will be pushing for players who can make an immediate impact.  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 and then at the combine, recording a ridiculous 4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash and 11’1” broad jump at 6-1, 234 pounds.

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Haason Reddick’s stock is on the rise.  USATSI

10. Buffalo Bills

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Extending Tyrod Taylor accomplished one big goal, but for the Bills’ offense to take the next step more weapons are needed. After spectacular performances at the Senior Bowl and combine, Howard is gaining traction as the top pass-catcher in this draft. His strength and experience as an inline blocker would also complement Buffalo’s commitment to the running game. 


11. New Orleans Saints

Derek Barnett , DE/OLB, Tennessee: The Saints ranked dead last in pass defense in 2016 but this is as much a reflection on a poor pass rush as it is the secondary. Barnett lacks the length and pure explosiveness scouts would prefer but his instincts, use of hands and production (33 sacks over the past three years) are certainly first-round caliber.

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Derek Barnett’s production speaks for itself.  USATSI

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

Mitchell 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 Red Raiders : 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. 

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Patrick Mahomes is the future at QB for the Cardinals.  USATSI

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: With last year’s starting cornerbacks (Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll) playing elsewhere in 2017, the Eagles will be looking hard at this position in free agency and the draft. Humphrey is an NFL legacy player with a rare combination of size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.41), who at just 20-years old appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.

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Marlon Humphrey is a physical, attacking corner.  USATSI

15. Indianapolis Colts

Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles : The best way to spark Andrew Luck and the Colts’ sagging offense? A dynamic running back. Ignore the questions about Cook’s so-called lack of athleticism after a disappointing combine performance. On the field where it matters, Cook is a proven superstar with the soft hands and elusiveness to put Indianapolis right back in the playoff picture.

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Dalvin Cook’s underwhelming combine shouldn’t scare off the Colts.  USATSI

16. Baltimore Ravens

Jabrill Peppers , S, Michigan Wolverines : With starting safety Matt Elam a pending free agent -- and likely done as a Raven after his arrest in Miami  --  and Eric Weddle poised to enter his 11th NFL season, the Ravens may very well be looking for help in the secondary in the 2017 draft. Peppers starred as a linebacker in 2016 but possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage, as well.

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Jabrill Peppers is a playmaker wherever he lines up. USATSI

17. Washington Redskins

Reuben Foster , LB, 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 was kicked out of the combine after a run-in with medical personnel but his talent is undeniable. Possessing remarkable closing speed and the physicality to intimidate, he could prove a steal at this point in the draft.

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Reuben Foster falls out of the top 10 after his combine fiasco. USATSI

18. Tennessee Titans

John Ross, WR, Washington: Allowing former first-round receiver Kendall Wright to leave in free agency leaves an average receiver corps even shallower. Adding a vertical threat like Ross would not only give Marcus Mariota another weapon, it would keep defenses from crowding the box in run support.

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John Ross can flat-out fly.  USATSI

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: The Bucs boast two dynamic pass-catchers in Mike Evans and recent free agent signee DeSean Jackson but both have struggled with consistency over their respective careers. With depth at receiver a relative weakness, GM Jason Licht may see the polished Davis as an ideal insurance policy.


20. Denver Broncos

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: The Broncos averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season and Elway made adding reinforcements along the offensive line the top priority in free agency. McCaffrey is perfectly suited to today’s wide-open NFL, offering the speed and shiftiness to make defenders miss as a runner, receiver and returner.

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Christian McCaffrey would provide a nice spark to the Broncos’ offense. USATSI

21. Detroit Lions

Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt: The Lions addressed concerns along the offensive and defensive lines through free agency but lost speed at linebacker with the decision to release DeAndre Levy. Cunningham, a two-time first team All-SEC pick, has the range and length to fill this hole immediately.

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Zach Cunningham is a tackling machine.  USATSI

22. Miami Dolphins

Tim Williams , OLB, Alabama: Adding two more years to Cameron Wake’s contract lessens Miami’s need for pass rush help but doesn’t eliminate it. The talented but troubled Williams might learn a thing or two from Wake, who finished with more than twice as many sacks last season (11.5) as any other Dolphins defender and has earned Pro Bowl nods five times since jumping from the CFL to Miami in 2009.

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Tim Williams can learn a few things from Cameron Wake.  USATSI

23. New York Giants

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: 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 a gifted left tackle like Ramczyk was still on the board, incumbent starting blindside blocker Ereck Flowers could be moved to his more natural right side, potentially improving three positions immediately.


24. Oakland Raiders

Malik McDowell , DT, Michigan State Spartans : The Raiders’ rise to the playoffs is directly attributable to their explosive offense, but if the club is to take the next step -- and remain a consistent postseason threat -- help must be on the way for a defense that surrendered an average of 375 yards per game, 26th in the NFL. In his postseason wrapup, Jack Del Rio stressed the need to create more disruption on the interior, which is exactly what the 6-5, 285-pound McDowell does best.

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Even double teams don’t consistently stop McDowell. USATSI

25. Houston Texans

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: Ridding itself of the colossal Brock 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. Kizer lacks polish but possesses the size and arm that Bill O’Brien has always prioritized.


26. Seattle Seahawks

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: It is no secret that the Seahawks’ top priority over the offseason would be addressing a leaky offensive line. Robinson, the reigning Outland Award winner as the nation’s top blocker, possesses the size and strength Seattle prioritizes with a skill-set which projects well to guard or tackle, wherever offensive line coach Tom Cable needs him most.


27. Kansas City Chiefs

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Chiefs’ receiving corps is full of savvy route runners and speed demons but lacks bulk and physicality, which is precisely where the 6-3, 218 pound Williams excels. This would be an ideal landing spot for Williams, whose ability to win contested passes could make him a perfect red zone threat for an offense built around Alex Smith’s accuracy in the short to intermediate levels.


28. Dallas Cowboys

David Njoku, TE, Miami: Jason Witten is a future Hall of Famer but his inability to stretch the field anymore limits Dallas’ offense. Incorporating a seam threat like Njoku would make it risky for defenses to crowd the box to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ powerful running game and who better to model the work ethic necessary to be successful in the NFL for Njoku than Witten. 

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David Njoku would fit in the Cowboys offense nicely, learning from Jason Witten.  USATSI

29. Green Bay Packers

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky: The Packers may be ready to absorb the losses of former Pro Bowl guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton with young players already on the roster but GM Ted Thompson could see Lamp as a plug-and-play solution here. Lamp starred at left tackle for the Hilltoppers but made a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl. 


30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Obi Melifonwu, FS, Connecticut: Two years ago, it was former Husky Byron Jones who wowed scouts at the combine with his sheer athleticism, earning a first round pick by Dallas. Melifonwu was one of this year’s brightest stars in Indianapolis, producing a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, 44-inch vertical and 11’9” broad jump at 6-4, 224 pounds. Better yet, Melifonwu’s athleticism translates onto the field and the Steelers could use his range in the deep patrol.

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Obi Melifonwu jumps into the first round after an impressive combine.  USATSI

31. Atlanta Falcons

Charles Harris , DE/OLB, Missouri Tigers : The need for more juice in the pass rush was evident throughout the second half collapse in the Super Bowl. The 6-3, 253-pound Harris would be an ideal changeup to the similarly sized Vic Beasley . Harris may lack Beasley’s initial burst but he possesses a full complement of pass rush moves and plays with the intensity that head coach Dan Quinn will appreciate.  

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Charles Harris gives Vic Beasley a partner in crime.  USATSI

32. New Orleans Saints 

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: The Saints reportedly were interested in New England cornerback Malcolm Butler before ultimately agreeing to send receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for this selection. GM Mickey Loomis may see similar qualities in Awuzie, a highly instinctive and physical corner just as effective in run support as he is in coverage.

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