2017 NFL Mock Draft: Reuben Foster falls fast in big post-combine shakeup

Production on the football field will always be more important than splashy numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine but a dominant year for defenders was reinforced in Indianapolis this year, where star edge rushers, cornerbacks and safeties took turns lighting up the track.

The Cleveland Browns are widely expected to take the splashiest athlete -- Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett -- with the first overall pick, but there were plenty of other big winners in Indianapolis, including Temple Owls linebacker Haason Reddick , speedy Washington Huskies wideout John Ross and Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu .

With free agency sure to change team needs, 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).

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.

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

3. Chicago Bears

Mitch Trubisky , QB, North Carolina Tar Heels Whether he is traded, released or retires, Jay Cutler appears on the way out in Chicago. After dropping from six wins in 2015 to just three a year ago, coach John Fox may see the investment in a young quarterback as one way to buy himself time. 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.

Mitchell Trubisky checks a lot of boxes for an NFL starting QB. USATSI

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide : The Jaguars invested heavily in the defensive line during the Gus Bradley era with limited results and with Jared Odrick , Tyson Alualu and Jordan Hill each entering free agency, there is still a need for help. 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. 

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.

Marshon Lattimore helps fix a serious need in Tennessee.  USATSI

6. New York Jets

Jamal Adams , S, LSU Tigers : General manager Mike Maccagnan announced at the combine that he would like to trade out of this pick to acquire more selections, but with a tone-setter like Adams still on the board, he may want to reconsider. Instinctive, athletic and productive, Adams may remind Jets coach Todd Bowles of his former protégé in Arizona, Tyrann Mathieu. 

Jamal Adams looks like Honey Badger 2.0. 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 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 .

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.

Haason Reddick’s stock is on the rise.  USATSI

10. Buffalo Bills

Deshaun Watson , QB, Clemson Tigers Expected to move on from Tyrod Taylor , the Bills might see Watson as a bigger, more poised and cheaper alternative. Watson remains a polarizing player in the scouting community but general manager Doug Whaley has never been one to shy from controversial decisions and new coach Sean McDermott is used to working with dual-threat quarterbacks after his time as defensive coordinator in Carolina. 

Is Deshaun Watson an upgrade over Tyrod Taylor?

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.

Derek Barnett’s production speaks for itself.  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 is still very raw.  USATSI

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. 

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

14. 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 earn 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 looks like a plug-and-play star in Philly. 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.

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.

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.

Reuben Foster falls out of the top 10 after his combine fiasco. 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: Jameis Winston has publicly expressed his desire for the Bucs to pursue free agent DeSean Jackson , but general manager Jason Licht may be hesitant to give the oft-injured nine-year veteran a big contract, especially with a similarly gifted (and significantly cheaper) alternative like Ross available in the draft.

John Ross can flat-out fly.  USATSI

20. Denver Broncos

Ryan Ramczyk , OT, Wisconsin Badgers : The release of veteran Russell Okung only confirms the obvious -- the Broncos need help at tackle. Ramczyk was one of this year’s most pleasant surprises, starring 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’s zone blocking scheme.

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 is more mauler than dancing bear.  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 -- possesses all three. The speedy 6-foot-1, 197 pound redshirt sophomore plays with the confident, aggressive style that Pete Carroll prefers.

Marlon Humphrey is a physical, attacking corner.  USATSI

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Zach Cunningham , ILB, Vanderbilt Commodores : The Chiefs could have a massive hole up the middle with nose guard Dontari Poe a pending free agent and veteran inside linebacker 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.

Zach Cunningham is a tackling machine.  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. Green Bay Packers

Takk McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA: 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. McKinley comes with medical concerns, as he is facing a four to six month rehabilitation following shoulder surgery but he possesses explosive speed off the edge, has the length (34 ¾” arms) scouts covet and is relentless.

Takk McKinley is explosive coming around the edge.  USATSI

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.

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.  

Charles Harris gives Vic Beasley a partner in crime.  USATSI

32. New England Patriots

David Njoku, TE, Miami: With Jamie Collins traded to Cleveland and Dont’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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