2017 NFL Mock Draft: Jets, Bills, Browns gamble again on QB fixes

Only twice in modern NFL history (2014, 1992) have eight defensive backs cracked the top 32 picks, but I expect there to be at least this many selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. That’s a reflection of both need in today’s pass-happy NFL and an exceptional crop of talent.

The year’s richest position is led by projected top-10 picks in LSU’s Jamal Adams and former Ohio State teammates Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker. The prototypical blend of size, athleticism and play-making ability of all three offer a striking contrast to this year’s top quarterbacks, a group that comes with more questions than answers. 

Perhaps best of all for the DB-needy in the NFL is the depth at the position. There are a handful of defensive backs -- like LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Florida’s Quincy Wilson and Washington Huskies ’s Budda Baker -- who didn’t make the cut in this mock draft but scouts see as possible first rounders.

As such, do not be surprised if this year’s class matches the nine defensive backs selected three years ago or even sets a new NFL draft record. 

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 of the 2017 draft. He is much more agile than Emmanuel Ogbah (who led the Browns with 5.5 sacks in 2016) or Carl Nassib , early picks by Cleveland last year, boasting the combination of length, burst and bend off the edge to project as an immediate difference-maker and future All-Pro. 

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

2. San Francisco 49ers

Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide : New 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. The 6-foot-3, 292 pound Allen sandwiched between massive defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead could give the 49ers the dominant defensive line to compete in the NFC West immediately.

Jonathan Allen would make the 49ers scary again on defense. USATSI

3. Chicago Bears

Jamal Adams , S, LSU Tigers : 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.

Jamal Adams is Honey Badger 2.0: bigger, faster, stronger. USATSI

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles : Tom Coughlin will bring a no-nonsense approach back to Jacksonville, including a renewed commitment to the running game. Jacksonville was the only team with more lost fumbles (nine) than rushing touchdowns (eight) in 2016. Instinctive, explosive and durable, Cook might be hard to pass up for a franchise that has gone with a local flavor with its past three first-round picks: QB Blake Bortles (Central Florida), DE Dante Fowler (Florida) and CB Jalen Ramsey (Florida State).

Is Dalvin Cook worthy of a top-five pick? 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 and reliable open-field tackling jump off tape. With two first-round picks this year, general manager Jon Robinson can afford to gamble on Lattimore’s upside.

Marshon Lattimore helps the Titans upgrade a leaky secondary. USATSI

6. New York Jets

Deshaun Watson , QB, Clemson Tigers : Youngsters Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg have shown little evidence that either is the long-term answer at quarterback, and with veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith set to hit the open market, at least one addition to the position group is likely coming. Watson is a polarizing player in the scouting community, dazzling with his dual-threat ability but throwing 28 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.

Is Deshaun Watson really the answer at QB in New York? USATSI

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.

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 this season 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 is a freakish talent, boasting the most exciting combination of size, speed and power since Adrian Peterson .

Leonard Fournette would give Cam Newton a new weapon. USATSI

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Solomon Thomas , DE, Stanford Cardinal : 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. Despite the fact that he is just a redshirt sophomore, Thomas has that kind of ability, demonstrating the initial quickness, power and refined hand technique of a much more experienced player.

Solomon Thomas is a little green but he's only going to get better. USATSI

10. Buffalo Bills

Mitch Trubisky , QB, North Carolina Tar Heels : The Bills’ draft day strategy will get a lot clearer by March 12, when the guaranteed portion of incumbent starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor ’s contract kicks in. If Taylor remains on the roster, Buffalo may address a receiving corps that currently contains five pending free agents. General manager Doug Whaley has shown a willingness to gamble in the past, however, and he could be eyeing this year’s top quarterback prospects as way to reshuffle the deck. Sure there is skepticism surrounding Trubisky, who only emerged as the Tar Heels starter in 2016, but other than experience, he possesses many of the traits scouts look for in a franchise quarterback including accuracy, arm strength, mobility and poise.

Mitch Trubisky resets the QB picture in Buffalo. USATSI

11. New Orleans Saints

Reuben Foster , LB, Alabama: Given that the Saints finished last in the NFL against the pass in 2016, adding one of the talented cornerbacks from this year’s class would seem like a shoo-in selection. Instead, look for the Saints to go bigger. With remarkable closing speed and the physicality to intimidate, Foster could offer immediate impact ability against both the pass and run.

Reuben Foster would upgrade a Saints defense in need of playmakers. USATSI

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

DeShone Kizer , QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish : Whether it is a veteran ( Jimmy Garoppolo ?) or a rookie, the Browns cannot head into the 2017 season with their current quarterbacks ( Robert Griffin III , Cody Kessler and Josh McCown ) and expect to make strides in the AFC North. Kizer is raw but possesses the size, intangibles and accuracy on the deep ball to fit in well with the Browns coaching staff and current receiving corps.

Kizer would finally give the Browns an answer at quarterback. USATSI

13. Arizona Cardinals

Mike Williams , WR, Clemson: Cardinals fans should be happy with the news that veterans Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are returning for 2017 but that does not erase the need for youth at both positions. Steve Keim likely would not hesitate if Williams, the top receiver in the draft, was still on the board. At 6-3, 220 pounds, Williams has the size and body control to match up against the physical corners in the NFC West.

Mike Williams is the top receiver in the draft. USATSI

14. Indianapolis Colts

Takkarist McKinley , OLB/DE, UCLA Bruins : Outside linebacker Erik Walden contributed a full third of the Colts’ 33 sacks this season and with longtime standout Robert Mathis retiring, adding reinforcements to the pass rush should be among the Colts’ top priorities. McKinley possesses the explosive upfield speed and flexibility to wreak havoc off the edge.

Takkarist McKinley's athleticism makes up for his lack of size. USATSI

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Corey Davis , WR, Western Michigan Broncos : Despite plenty of draft picks invested in the position, the Eagles lack a go-to target in the passing game to aid the development of Carson Wentz . Starring in the MAC rather than a Power 5 conference, Davis does not get the attention he deserves but he’s a polished route-runner with an ideal combination of size (6-3, 213) with 4.4 speed.

Corey Davis gives the Eagles a true No. 1 WR. USATSI

16. Baltimore Ravens

Jabrill Peppers , S, Michigan Wolverines : With starting safety Matt Elam a pending free agent 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.

Jabrill Peppers is a playmaker wherever he lines up. USATSI

17. Washington Redskins

Zach Cunningham , LB, Vanderbilt Commodores : The Redskins surrendered an average of nearly 120 yards per game on the ground in 2016, and only three teams (Chargers, Bills and 49ers) allowed more than their 19 rushing touchdowns. Cunningham, the SEC’s leading tackler in 2016 and a two-time first-team all-conference selection, possesses the speed and instincts to help shore up Washington’s run defense.

Zach Cunningham is the run stuffer that Washington needs in the middle. USATSI

18. Tennessee Titans

O.J. Howard , TE, Alabama: The Titans’ commitment to running the football already puts a lot of stress on opposing linebackers and safeties and adding a seam threat like Howard would only make Tennessee that much more difficult to stop. Howard was simply the best player on the field at the Senior Bowl and given his time in New England, Robinson knows better than most what a dominant tight end can do for an offense.

O.J. Howard is the draft’s most complete tight end. USATSI

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

John Ross , WR, Washington: Ross is a DeSean Jackson-clone with the electric elusiveness and acceleration to make an immediate impact as a receiver and returner, alike. The speedster’s big play capabilities on underneath and vertical routes would make him the perfect complement Mike Evans for Jameis Winston

John Ross can flat-out fly.  USATSI

20. Denver Broncos

Ryan Ramczyk , OT, Wisconsin Badgers : The Broncos gave veteran left tackle Russell Okung a one-year “show me” type of deal but his play in Denver was as inconsistent as it was in Seattle. Ramczyk was one of this season’s most pleasant surprises as he starred at left tackle for the Badgers after transferring from D-III UW-Stevens Point. The 6-6, 314-pounder is long and surprisingly agile, making him a potentially perfect fit in Denver.

Ramcyzk has made scouts take notice in a hurry. USATSI

21. Detroit Lions

Taco Charlton , DE, Michigan: Stellar play from quarterback Matthew Stafford has diverted attention from a Detroit pass rush that struggled with star Ziggy Ansah limited by an ankle injury. The Lions need not look far for help. Only emerging as a full-time starter for Michigan this season, Charlton developed into one of the country’s better edge rushing prospects, boasting exciting initial quickness and bend given his 6-5, 272-pound frame.

Taco Charlton wouldn't have to travel far to Detroit from Ann Arbor. 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.

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

23. New York Giants

Christian McCaffrey , RB, Stanford: The Giants rushed for a minuscule 3.5 yards per carry in 2016 and scored a league-low six touchdowns on the ground. McCaffrey isn’t a bruiser but his instincts, shiftiness and soft hands out of the backfield could make him an intriguing weapon for Big Blue.

Christian McCaffrey would upgrade a Giants ground game in need of a spark. USATSI

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.

Even double teams don't consistently stop McDowell. USATSI

25. Houston Texans

Cam Robinson , OT, Alabama: Injuries to starters Duane Brown and Derek Newton played a part in Brock Osweiler ’s disappointing first season in Houston, making improving the depth on the outside a clear need for the Texans. Robinson is not as polished as one might think given that he won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top blocker, but he possesses the tools and temperament needed to contribute immediately.

Cam Robinson would be a plug-and-play starter on the Texans' line. USATSI

26. Seattle Seahawks

Marlon Humphrey , CB, Alabama: The Seahawks prioritize length and physicality over speed at cornerback. Humphrey -- the son of former Broncos first-round running back Bobby Humphrey -- has all three. The speedy 6-1, 195-pound redshirt sophomore surrendered some big plays (including Washington’s only touchdown in the Peach Bowl), but he plays with the confident, aggressive style Carroll prefers.

Marlon Humphrey's father was a former first-round pick of the Broncos. USATSI

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Haason Reddick , ILB, Temple Owls : Assuming the club is able to retain pending free agents Dontari Poe and Eric Berry , inside linebacker is one of the few obvious concerns for the Chiefs. GM John Dorsey -- a former linebacker himself -- could be intrigued by Reddick, whose agility and closing speed proved just as effective in coverage at the Senior Bowl as it was attacking off the edge for the Owls.

Haason Reddick projects as a linebacker at the NFL level.  USATSI

28. Dallas Cowboys

Sidney Jones IV, CB, Washington: With quality prospects at each of their primary positions of concern (edge rusher, pass catcher and defensive back) still on the board, the Cowboys take the best player route with Jones, a silky smooth athlete with good size and ballskills (eight career interceptions) who is tougher than he looks in run support.

Sidney Jones is the best on the board when the Cowboys pick.  USATSI

29. Pittsburgh Steelers

Teez Tabor , CB, Florida: The loss in the AFC Championship Game proved that Pittsburgh’s secondary still has its faults, especially when multiple receivers are on the field. Tabor is not the classic zone corner Pittsburgh has built around in the past, excelling instead in man coverage. Further, he comes with some off-field baggage. He plays with the bravado and ball skills, however, that Pittsburgh has been lacking in the deep patrol.

Teez Tabor upgrades a sore spot on the Steelers’ defense. USATSI

30. Green Bay Packers

Derek Barnett , DE/OLB, Tennessee: With edge rushers Julius Peppers , Nick Perry and Datone Jones all in the final year of their respective deals, the Packers will once again be looking for help at the position. 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.

Derek Barnett is as polished as it gets for an edge rusher in the draft. USATSI

31. Atlanta Falcons

Adoree’ Jackson, CB/RS, Southern Cal: The Falcons let a championship slip through their fingers and that disappointment could have Thomas Dimitroff willing to gamble on a potential difference-maker like Jackson, an exceptional athlete with a combined eight punts and kickoffs for touchdowns in just three years at USC.

Adoree’ Jackson is electric with the football.  USATSI

32. New England Patriots

David Njoku, TE, Miami: With Jamie Collins traded to Cleveland and Don’t’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long each pending free agents, the Patriots will likely be focusing on pass rushers in the 2017 draft. There should be some quality candidates available with this pick. Martellus Bennett is a free agent, as well, however, 

David Njoku could make sense for the Pats if Martellus Bennett leaves in free agency.  USATSI
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