2017 NFL Mock Draft: Titans nab Howard, Ross; Williams falls to the Cowboys

Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers are national champions, but come April 27 the Alabama Crimson Tide (and the SEC as a whole) will again reign supreme in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Five former Alabama players are among the projected Top 32 in this updated mock draft with tight end O.J. Howard vaulting ahead of former teammates on the defensive side of the ball to be the first off the board. No other school has more than two players listed.

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 it would be a stunner if anyone other than Garrett was the first pick. 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 : 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 might only guarantee another poor season in 2017. Thomas is disrupting force 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

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.

Jamal Adams looks like Honey Badger 2.0. USATSI

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Splashy signings in free agency suggest 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. The Jaguars could see a similar bounce with Fournette taking the pressure off 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.

Can Fournette provide the Jags a Zeke-like boost? USATSI

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Featuring the three-headed running threat of DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry and quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans’ strategy on offense is different than most teams in this pass-happy era. Adding a seam-busting threat like Howard would be a perfect complement. After spectacular performances at the Senior Bowl and combine, Howard is gaining traction as the top pass-catcher in this draft and a top-10 pick.

O.J. Howard is the best tight end in the draft. USATSI

6. New York Jets

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: The signing of Morris Claiborne -- the No. 6 overall pick of the 2012 draft -- is a step toward reshaping a leaky Jets secondary, but reinforcements are needed. 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.

Marshon Lattimore helps fix a leaky Jets secondary.  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

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama: Defensive line is not necessarily the biggest concern in Carolina, but general manager Dave Gettleman might have a hard time letting a talent like Allen slip any further. Questions about the health of his shoulders and schematic fit could hound the 6-3, 286-pound Allen, but the tape does not lie; he is agile, powerful and technically refined, possessing the ability to play virtually anywhere along the defensive line.

Jonathan Allen can play anywhere on the defensive line. USATSI

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: Adding a young pass rusher to complement veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap is expected to be among the Bengals’ top draft day priorities. Charlton might lack polish as just a one-year starter, but scouts are enamored with the 6-6, 277-pounder’s burst and bend off the edge. General manager Mike Brown has consistently drafted players based on upside rather than just college production, relying upon Marvin Lewis and his coaching staff to develop the drafted talent.

Taco Charlton offers an intriguing blend of size and speed. USATSI

10. Buffalo Bills

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: With significant losses to both position groups in recent weeks, this selection is likely to be spent on either a wide receiver or a cornerback. Given the commitment made to re-sign quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the depth at cornerback this year, GM Doug Whaley might like the idea of taking his pick of the receivers. Ankle surgery has kept Davis from working out but his production, size and savvy route-running speak for themselves.

Davis is a plug-and-play starter at WR. USATSI

11. New Orleans Saints

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: The Saints ranked last in pass defense in 2016 and might opt to trade this or another pick for New England Patriots’ star cornerback Malcolm Butler in an attempt to fix the issue. Until that occurs, adding talent in the secondary is likely New Orleans’ top priority. Humphrey is an NFL legacy with a rare combination of size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.41), who at just 20 appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.

Marlon Humphrey is a physical, attacking corner.  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.

Trubisky is the first QB to come off the board. 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 Mahomes would seem to be a perfect fit in Bruce Arians’ aggressive passing attack. After starring in Tech’s shotgun-heavy Air-Raid offense, Mahomes is undeniably a project, but he possesses the gunslinger mentality and arm that project well to the next level.

Mahomes is the future at QB for the Cardinals.  USATSI

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: 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. For whatever reason Awuzie has not generated as much national attention as some of his peers at cornerback, but some scouts believe he is the safest of this year’s class, standing out on tape due to his quickness, anticipation and toughness, including in run support.

Chidobe Awuzie might be the safest CB prospect in the draft.  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

Derek Barnett, DE/OLB, Tennessee: Terrell Suggs remains one of the NFL’s best edge rushers, even at age 34, but adding youth to the pass rush to complement (and ultimately replace) him should be a high priority in Baltimore. Like Suggs, Barnett lacks the length and pure explosiveness scouts would prefer, which could lead to his slipping a bit on draft day. Barnett’s instincts, use of hands and production (33 sacks over the past three years), however, could have him ultimately outplay his draft slot, just like Suggs.

Barnett’s production speaks for itself.  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.

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

18. Tennessee Titans

John Ross, WR, Washington: Titans GM Jon Robinson doubled down on running backs a year ago with the additions of Murray and Henry and he could do the same in 2017 with Howard at No. 5 overall and a speedster like Ross here, who would force defenses to think twice about crowding the box to slow down Howard and Tennessee’s running game.

Ross can flat-out fly.  USATSI

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

David Njoku, TE, Miami: Cameron Brate has developed into a solid young security blanket for Jameis Winston, but he does not possess Njoku’s big-play potential. The 20-year old Njoku is still a work in progress, but scouts are enamored with the 6-4, 246-pounder’s ability to create mismatches in the passing game. 

Njoku brims with big-play potential. USATSI

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.

Ramczyk fills a pressing need in Denver.  USATSI

21. Detroit Lions

Haason Reddick, ILB, Temple: 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. 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.

Reddick’s athleticism is off the charts. USATSI

22. Miami Dolphins

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: In part because scouts are so mixed on where he projects best, Peppers is one of the true wild cards of the 2017 draft. For a variety of reasons, Miami is an intriguing potential landing spot for him. The Dolphins need to replace injured (and since released) starting safety Isa Abdul Quddus, the team’s second-leading tackler last season. Peppers might be able to provide similar game-breaking ability as Miami’s current returners Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake but more roster flexibility. Finally, team owner Stephen Ross is a Michigan alum (and major benefactor) who might pull for the Wolverines’ star.   

Where does Peppers line up in the NFL? 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. Some of these issues are due to shoddy blocking, but a lack of juice at running back also played a role. McCaffrey isn’t a bruiser at 6-0, 202 pounds, but his instincts, shiftiness and soft hands make him perfectly suited to today’s up-tempo offenses, like Ben McAdoo’s.

McCaffrey would add juice to the Giants’ backfield.  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 what the 6-5, 285-pound McDowell does best.

Even double-teams don’t consistently stop McDowell. USATSI

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.  

Is Watson the long-term answer at QB in Houston? USATSI

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, has the size and strength Seattle prioritizes with a skill set that projects well to guard or tackle, wherever offensive line coach Tom Cable needs him most.

Cam Robinson is a mauler up front. USATSI

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt: The Chiefs have some massive shoes to fill up the middle with nose guard Dontari Poe walking in free agency and the 34-year-old Derrick Johnson recuperating from his second season-ending Achilles tear over the past three years. The 6-3, 234-pound Cunningham -- a two-time All-SEC defender who led the conference in tackles last season -- has the length, awareness and speed to help immediately.

Cunningham is a tackling machine.  USATSI

28. Dallas Cowboys

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: By allowing multiple members of their secondary to walk in free agency, it seems like that the Cowboys will address that position early and potentially often in the draft. A cornerback like UCLA’s Fabian Moreau or Ohio State’s Gareon Conley would appear to make sense. Picking this late, however, puts Dallas in position to potentially get a steal if following the best player available strategy. At 6-4, 218 pounds, Williams offers a similar catch radius and physicality as current Cowboys’ star Dez Bryant, potentially giving Dallas one of the NFL’s most imposing duos of receivers.

Williams could learn a lot from Dez. 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. 

Lamp is a plug-and-play starter. 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 change-up 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 coach Dan Quinn will appreciate.  

Harris gives Vic Beasley a partner in crime.  USATSI

32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)

Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: 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. McKinley’s stock is a bit in flux after recently undergoing shoulder surgery but he possesses the explosive first step, arm length (34¾”) and high-revving motor to ultimately prove one of the best edge rushers from this year’s class.

McKinley has an explosive first step. USATSI
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