The story in the top half of this year’s draft will be what the Browns do as they continue to rebuild their franchise with an eye at finally building a playoff contender.
Owners of the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks, the Browns have many different paths heading into the draft, but the main question they have to answer is whether to go all-in with Mitchell Trubisky as their quarterback of the future, or to take Myles Garrett No. 1 overall and cross their fingers that Trubisky will be available when they’re back on the clock.
In many mock drafts, including in this space last week, that best-case scenario comes to pass. But is that realistic? As many as seven different teams could snap Trubisky off the board if the Browns pass on him at the top.
The 49ers and Bears have 2017 starters in place, but those players won’t preclude them from drafting Trubisky if they’re sold on him long-term. The Jaguars could move on from Blake Bortles at any time if they find a more inspiring option. The Jets have possibly the worst quarterback situation in the league. And while the Chargers, Bills and Saints have starters in place, each is on the lookout for their next franchise quarterback. Several other teams could also trade into the top 12 and grab the quarterback.
The latter seems unlikely at this point, while the former seems more wishcasting than a strategy to pursue in the draft.
Of course, there’s a third option available: If the Browns do decide they have to have Trubisky as their next franchise quarterback -- and if they liked what they saw at Friday’s private workout, that may be the case -- they’ve accumulated enough ammunition to trade up from No. 12.
That’s what I have the Browns doing in this mock, striking a trade with the 49ers to move all the way up to No. 2. What would that cost? The Rams moved from No. 15 to No. 1 last year, while the Eagles moved from No. 8 to No. 2. It’s reasonable to expect a Browns’ move to No. 2 to cost somewhere between those prices. The former deal cost the Rams two seconds and a third in 2016, as well as a first and third in 2017 (and they also received a fourth and a sixth). The latter deal cost the Eagles a third and fourth in 2016 as well as a first in 2017 and a second in 2018 (and they also picked up a fourth).
The Browns have two second-round picks, a third, a fourth, three fifths and two sixths in 2017, as well as all their original picks in 2018 plus two extra seconds, another fourth, and another sixth. Would the 49ers take the 12th, 33rd and 108th picks this year as well as next year’s first and third? Considering how many needs they have to address, it’s certainly possible. That would leave the Browns with two Day 2 picks and five Day 3 picks this year, as well as nine picks in 2018.
Since we’re dabbling in the realm of fantasy here, let’s go ahead and strike that trade, guaranteeing the Browns both Garrett and Trubisky at the top of the draft and presumably green-lighting the funding for “Draft Day 2” in the process.
One more note: You’ll find what I believe to be the top needs of each team listed before each pick. Selections won’t necessarily line up perfectly with needs -- when do they ever? -- but in certain situations a need can be too glaring to ignore.
Top needs: QB, S, CB, RT
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Garrett is seen as the best prospect in this class, and for good reason. Pass rushers like this don’t come along often. Despite being the focal point of offensive game-planning in 2016 and dealing with injuries, he still finished with 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He’ll give the Browns a true difference-maker rushing the passer, something they’ve long been lacking.
2. Cleveland Browns (from San Francisco)
Top needs: QB, S, CB, RT
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: I covered how the Browns could wind up with this pick above, and why staying at No. 12 and hoping Trubisky makes it there probably isn’t wise. Trubisky comps are all over the map, from Andy Dalton to Matthew Stafford to even Aaron Rodgers. With just a handful of games on tape for the one-year starter, it’s safe to say we just don’t know what he is yet. But if the Browns fall in love, they have the draft-day ammunition to make a move and land him.
Top needs: OT, QB, WR, S
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama: Despite signing Mike Glennon this offseason, the Bears could opt to grab a quarterback with this pick. They have a glaring need at tackle, but selecting one here would be a huge reach. As such, they’ll grab Allen, who has plenty of experience in a base 3-4 defense and as a three-down weapon who can pressure from the inside in the nickel. His medicals might be a red flag, but his talent and fit in the Bears defense prove too great to pass up.
Top needs: RT, QB, RB, DT
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: If Jonathan Allen makes it to No. 4, the Jaguars figure to jump. Otherwise, I expect them to explore a trade down with the hopes of landing Fournette, this year’s clear top running back prospect. Maybe Cleveland jumps here if they don’t make a deal with the 49ers? If the Jaguars stay put, Fournette still feels like the pick. If the running game can start to take pressure off Blake Bortles, the Jags and their talent-rich defense could make some noise in the AFC South.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
Top needs: FS, WR, DE, CB
Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State: Hooker has earned plenty of buzz as one of the top playmaking free safeties to come into the league in years. Considering that’s exactly what the Titans need to more or less finish the remaking of their secondary after signing cornerback Logan Ryan and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, consider this a perfect fit. They could also opt for their top corner prospect here, but that position is deep this year and the Titans can wait until Day 2 for one. Hooker is recovering from labrum surgery, but that shouldn’t scare away any team from taking him in the top 10.
Top needs: QB, LB, C, RT, NT, CB
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: I listed six team needs for the Jets above, but we could easily keep going. What the Jets need overall is talent, so even though there’s a huge hole at quarterback, they must be disciplined enough to stick to their board and take their best player available, as he’ll likely be an upgrade anywhere. For me, that’s Lattimore, the No. 4 overall prospect accoring to NFLDraftScout.com. He’s fast enough to hang with most NFL receivers, and with the proper development, he should be capable of serving as the Jets’ No. 1 corner. When paired with new addition Morris Claiborne, the Jets all of a sudden have a secondary to be reckoned with.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Top needs: G, CB, RT, S
Jamal Adams, S, LSU: Here’s the first spot where I think an offensive lineman can come off the board, as the Chargers could use another tackle even after signing Russell Okung. However, I think they’ll benefit most from adding to the secondary. While cornerback Marlon Humphrey was the choice last week, this week I’m projecting they take Adams, who is an elite talent at either safety spot and gives the L.A.-bound Chargers a replacement for Eric Weddle.
Top needs: RT, SS, CB, WR
Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: The Panthers figure to eye adding some talent to the secondary, considering where they’re positioned in the top 10. But we’ve seen time and again that they prioritize defensive line above all. So even after re-signing Mario Addison and Charles Johnson, and bringing longtime star Julius Peppers into the fold, don’t think they’ll pass on the draft’s second-best pass rusher if he makes it to No. 8 overall. Thomas is NFLDraftScout.com’s No. 2 overall prospect, so the value here is immense.
Top needs: LT, DT, DE, G
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah: The Bengals could go in several directions here, but losing their two best linemen this offseason makes improving the offensive line critical to returning to playoff contention in 2017. Nothing Cedric Ogbuehi did last season should instill confidence that he can man the left side of the line, so it makes sense for the Bengals to pick up Bolles, a fast riser who dominated the combine and reinforced his stock during Utah’s pro day. Bolles has a rocky past but put in the work to develop into a first-round talent.
10. Buffalo Bills
Top needs: CB, OLB, RT, WR
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: You’ll see Mike Williams mocked to the Bills the majority of the time, but Howard is likely the better prospect overall and also provides a secondary receiving target opposite Sammy Watkins. Considering he’s the best player available and Charles Clay hasn’t panned out, I get the feeling the Bills are eyeing Howard with this pick. Howard is more projection than production at this point, but he’ll provide a key mismatch in the passing game and alleviate the need for an upgrade at No. 2 receiver as a result.
Top needs: LB, DE, CB, G
Derek Barnett, DE, Michigan: Last week we sent the higher-ceiling Taco Charlton to the Saints with this pick, but this week I’m shifting to the safer Barnett, who doesn’t have the testing scores or measurables of other top pass-rushing prospect but delivers on a weekly basis anyway. With Barnett and Cam Jordan as locked-in starters on the defensive line and Daryl Tapp and Alex Okafor back in the fold to provide sub-package pass rush, the Saints should feel like they finally have a handle on getting after the quarterback.
12. San Francisco 49ers (from Philadelphia via Cleveland)
Top needs: QB, DE, RT, WR
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: The 49ers could be looking at selecting a difference-making pass rusher if they stay put at No. 2, but after striking a deal with the Browns to move down, they still land a guy with all the talent in the world to play the Leo position in their switch to the 4-3. His main focus will be locking in on the quarterback on every play on a four-man front that also features DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Earl Mitchell.
Top needs: CB, DE, WR, G
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Cardinals could go in a number of directions after losing Calais Campbell and Kevin Minter on defense, with the clock ticking on Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and with the team doing nothing yet to address cornerback across from Patrick Peterson, which was their biggest hole in 2016. With Michael Floyd flaming out and being cut as well as John Brown’s health issues, taking the top receiver on their board to complement Fitzgerald and eventually take over as the No. 1 option makes the most sense. Williams could be the perfect pick for Cardinals, as he’s a better version of Floyd but without the red flags.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
Top needs: CB, RB, DT, OLB
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: The Eagles addressed one of their cornerback needs by signing former Colt Patrick Robinson, and between him and Jalen Mills, they may be able to get by at No. 2 cornerback and the slot. However, the need for a true No. 1 cover guy is still prevalent, and this week they benefit from Humphrey slipping out of the top 10 and into their laps. The Crimson Tide corner will bring some physicality to the position, something Eagles fans are sure to appreciate. Park him on the outside for the next decade.
Top needs: ILB, RT, G, S
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: The Colts figure to be looking to add a defender with this pick, and nowhere do they lack talent more than at inside linebacker. Sean Spence is one option, and the Colts got a couple of first-year players some experience last year, but a player like Foster would turn this unit from a weakness into a strength. A top-10 talent, Foster could slip a bit after a troubling combine incident got him sent home early. The Colts will have to look past the off-field red flags and hope that Foster is a 10-year starter in the middle of their defense.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Top needs: DE, OLB, RT, WR
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: The Ravens lost several key players this offseason, with Elvis Dumervil, Zach Orr and Ricky Wagner all leaving town. However, the team is well positioned to fill any of those holes in the middle of the first round. With last week’s selection off the board here in Derek Barnett, the Ravens pivot to replacing Wagner by taking Robinson, who becomes the third straight Alabama player drafted in this mock. If Baltimore can live with the off-field concerns, Robinson can team with Ronnie Stanley to give the Ravens a stout pair of bookends on the line.
Top needs: ILB, QB, RB, WR
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: The Redskins and Kirk Cousins are clearly heading for a divorce sooner or later, and with the team on the search for a GM, I can definitely see Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder pulling the trigger on the splashy pick in Watson, who led Clemson to the national title this past season. There are plenty of areas in Watson’s game that need improving, and he would benefit from sitting a year before taking the reins in Washington. Of course, the Redskins could also choose to flip Cousins to the 49ers for draft picks (possibly including the No. 34 overall pick this year?) a year early and install Watson as the starter as a rookie. Whether he sits behind Cousins or plays right away, Watson gives the Redskins a long-term answer at the most critical position on the field.
18. Tennessee Titans
Top needs: FS, WR, DE, CB
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Tennessee added a play-making safety in Hooker earlier in this mock, and here they’re able to land a future No. 1 receiver for franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. Davis is a well-rounded receiver with incredible production on his résumé, including a 1,500-yard, 19-touchdown senior season at Western Michigan. His completeness as a receiver gives him the nod over speedy combine star John Ross.
Top needs: S, RB, CB, OT
Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: Last week we slotted divisive secondary prospect Jabrill Peppers to the Bucs, but if they decide not to gamble on the world-class athlete fitting into their defense, Conley is a fine pick to bolster their talent at cornerback. He isn’t a big name and has been overshadowed by better prospects in his own secondary, but he’s capable of joining Vernon Hargreaves as Tampa Bay’s long-term cornerback duo once Brent Grimes’ contract is up after this season.
20. Denver Broncos
Top needs: LT, DE, ILB, QB
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: The Broncos entered the offseason with a lot of questions to answer on the offensive line. Adding Ronald Leary at guard was a start, but they still need to figure out who’s going to start at both tackle spots. As such, expect them to target the top option available at offensive tackle with this pick. With two tackles already off the board, Ramczyk is the final first-round talent at the position, and he should take over immediately on the blind side in Denver.
21. Detroit Lions
Top needs: OLB, DT, ILB, CB
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: The Lions did a great job boosting their offensive line in free agency, but they still have plenty of holes to address on the other side of the ball. They’re sorely lacking at linebacker, but No. 21 is a great spot to find an immediate starter. Last week I slotted them Zach Cunningham, but Reddick’s stock is on the rise after an excellent predraft process, and it wouldn’t surprise to see him long gone by the time the Lions pick. If he’s available, he could be the perfect fit in Detroit.
22. Miami Dolphins
Top needs: OLB, DT, FS, G
Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky: As they often do, the Dolphins attacked free agency with ferocity, re-signing multiple players, trading for a few more and bringing in Lawrence Timmons to help a weak linebacker corps. That continued this past week when they added T.J. McDonald to potentially fill a need at safety. Instead of going with safety here this week, we shift to Lamp, who is the top guard prospect in the draft and can fill Laremy Tunsil’s spot inside, with last year’s first-rounder kicking to tackle.
23. New York Giants
Top needs: LT, OLB, TE, DT
David Njoku, TE, Miami: The Giants would likely be all over a quality left-tackle prospect if one was available, and they may want to consider trading up into the teens to nab one. In this scenario, they stay put and add another weapon to the passing game in Njoku, who tested off the charts and has the upside to become one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. Add him to the mix with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and newly-signed Brandon Marshall, and Eli Manning will have no excuses if the passing game flops in 2017.
24. Oakland Raiders
Top needs: LB, DT, LB, RB
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt: Like the Eagles with cornerback, the Raiders have a pressing need to find multiple starters at linebacker, even after adding Jelani Jenkins this offseason. This is also a clear spot for running back, but with plenty of veteran options remaining in free agency and excellent talent available on Day 2, there’s no need to bypass linebacker help for that position. Cunningham could go anywhere from No. 10 to No. 50 and it wouldn’t surprise me. He’s a chase-and-tackle linebacker who gives the Raiders the intermediate help they need on defense.
25. Houston Texans
Top needs: QB, CB, RT, ILB
Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech: Consensus seems to be coalescing around Mahomes being the pick for the Texans, who have a playoff-caliber roster but whiffed so badly at quarterback last offseason that they traded a second-round pick just to rid themselves of Brock Osweiler’s onerous contract. Mahomes is talented but needs plenty of work, so he would benefit greatly from the Texans landing Tony Romo and letting the Texas Tech product develop for a year or two before taking over.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Top needs: LT, DT, RT, OLB
Kevin King, CB, Washington: The Seahawks went into 2016 with the offensive line as a glaring weakness and it predictably did not end well. Finding a new left tackle should be their No. 1 concern, but with the top three prospects at the position off the board, they’ll grab King, a bigger cornerback who fits the profile they like at the position. Cornerback isn’t a big need for Seattle, but Deshawn Shead is recovering from a torn ACL, and there’s talk of Richard Sherman being .
Top needs: CB, ILB, G, OLB
Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA: Cornerback -- aside from Marcus Peters, of course -- was a huge concern last season, and if the Chiefs want to have any shot at contending for a Super Bowl in 2017, they’ll need to add talent at the position. A former running back, Moreau is still developing at cornerback but has the ability to match up with physical receivers and press at the line. He’ll join Steven Nelson and Terrance Mitchell to give Peters better support in the secondary and make it even tougher to pass on the Chiefs this season.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Top needs: DE, RT, CB, SS
Obi Melifonwu, SS, Connecticut: The Cowboys could obviously use a difference maker to boost their pass rush, but it’s unlikely they find that type of guy this late in the first round. With the top tackles off the board, they can look at upgrading the secondary. With Barry Church leaving town, Melifonwu gives the Cowboys another first-round talent to pair with former UConn teammate Byron Jones. He has excelled during the pre-draft process, but will his game match his athletic testing?
Top needs: CB, ILB, G, RB
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: Cornerback is a bigger need, but Cook is hard to pass up this late, even considering he tested poorly at the combine. Cook was far better in game than he has showed during the pre-draft process, and there had been debate whether he or Leonard Fournette would be drafted first. However, pair red flags with poor testing numbers, and you get a guy who could fall out of the first round altogether, considering the talent still available in free agency and the good Day 2 options in this draft. The Packers need a bell-cow back after being forced to turn to converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery at the position, and Cook has as much upside as anyone.
Top needs: ILB, OLB, WR, S
John Ross, WR, Washington: Last week, I projected the Steelers taking speedy receiver John Ross. Even with bigger needs on the roster and even with Martavis Bryant expected to be reinstated from suspension soon, I’m going to stick with Ross here. Anything Bryant and his off-field troubles can provide should be considered a bonus at this point, while Ross gives the Steelers a bona fide deep threat and helps solidify a receiving corps that was stretched beyond superstar Antonio Brown last year.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Top needs: DE, G, OLB, FB
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: The Falcons are still on the lookout for pass-rushing help opposite Vic Beasley, and that’s what Harris brings to the table. When you throw in the team’s addition of Dontari Poe in free agency, this is a defense that’s trending up.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)
Top needs: OLB, DE, ILB, CB
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: Last week, I projected this pick would go back to New England in a Malcolm Butler deal, but this week we’ll keep the Saints on the clock and give them Davis, who was an earlier first-round pick in last week’s mock draft. Linebacker is the Saints’ biggest need on defense and one they could potentially fill at No. 11 if they aren’t in love with a particular pass-rusher. Davis could play any of the Saints’ three linebacker spots and be an upgrade on what they currently have.