2017 NFL Mock Draft: Defense rules top five, Steelers target small-school player
The Browns are in desperate need of a quarterback but won't take one with the first-overall pick
The Cleveland Browns have a reputation for making impulsive, ultimately terrible decisions when it comes to drafting franchise quarterbacks. For different reasons, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel didn’t work out, and while the team remains in the market for a passer, they would be much better off taking Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.
There are no sure things in the draft, but Garrett’s abilities translate to the next level, which we can’t say about the lackluster crop of quarterbacks expected to go in the first round. Plus, the Browns have myriad needs and two selections in the top 12, which affords them the opportunity to address those needs early in the proceedings.
You could make the case -- on paper, anyway -- that the San Francisco 49ers are in worse shape than the Browns. Also with a glaring need at quarterback, San Francisco could decide to pull the trigger on Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 pick. Partly because with Colin Kaepernick , Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder on the roster, they’re in need of an upgrade, and partly because newly hired Kyle Shanahan is known for his ability to develop young passers. Trubisky comes with more questions than answers, but he’s a solid, consistent quarterback, something San Francisco would gladly welcome.
And with that, on to our first mock draft of 2017.
1. Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: There isn’t a quarterback worthy of the No. 1 pick, so instead of forcing the issue, the Browns take the freakishly athletic Garrett, who would immediately upgrade Cleveland’s pass rush, which ranked 21st last season.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina Tar Heels : Kyle Shanahan is the new quarterback whisperer and the 49ers are in desperate need of a quarterback. Trubisky is the best of the bunch in a decidedly less-than-spectacular class. The hope is that Shanahan, who replaces Chip Kelly, can do with Trubisky what he did with Robert Griffin III during his rookie season in Washington Huskies -- and then immediately have Trubisky transition into Matt Ryan last season (skipping right over that forgettable 2013 season for RG3 and Shanny).
3. Chicago Bears
Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide : Silver lining to being terrible on both sides of the ball: It’s hard to go wrong with whoever you select. And Allen, who can be a disruptive force along the line of scrimmage, would pair nicely with defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman , two of Chicago’s best players a season ago.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jamal Adams, S, LSU: Adams passes the eyeball test with flying colors, and nothing changes when you turn on the tape. He might be the safest pick in the draft, and he’ll join a secondary that includes 2016 first-rounder Jalen Ramsey .
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
Marshon Lattimore , CB, Ohio State Buckeyes : The Titans would’ve loved Adams, but they’ll settle for Lattimore, who wouldn’t take long to find his way into the starting lineup and bolster a Tennessee pass defense that ranked 26th last season.
6. New York Jets
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson Tigers : We feel like we’ve seen this movie before (hi, Geno Smith ) inasmuch as the Jets took a flier on a physically gifted quarterback who needed a few years to grow into the position. It never happened with Smith, and the Geno era is officially over. Watson is better than Smith at this point, but he shouldn’t be rushed onto the field. If the Jets can be patient, Watson could be worth the gamble.
7. Los Angeles San Diego Chargers
Malik Hooker , S, Ohio State: The Chargers had a top-10 defense a season ago, and Hooker will make them better. He’ll complement 2016 first-rounder Joey Bosa , who was a terror to block when he finally ended his holdout. Bosa should be even better in ‘17, which means more opportunities for the secondary -- and Hooker -- to capitalize on turnovers.
8. Carolina Panthers
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: The Panthers could certainly stand to bolster the offensive line, but the thought of a backfield of Cam Newton and Fournette is an intriguing one, and perhaps too intriguing to pass up.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Reuben Foster , LB, Alabama: Foster had offseason shoulder surgery that will force him to miss the combine, but the best inside linebacker in the draft would be tough to pass up. In Cincy, Foster would line up alongside Vontaze Burfict .
10. Buffalo Bills
Mike Williams , WR, Clemson: The temptation is to take a quarterback, but the Bills will no doubt be wary after the whole EJ Manuel debacle. Instead, Buffalo Bulls adds another wildly talented skill-position player in Williams, who will join Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy to bolster an offense that finished 10th in 2016.
11. New Orleans Saints
Solomon Thomas , DE, Stanford Cardinal : Here’s all you need to know: 30th, 32nd, 31st -- that’s where the Saints’ defense has finished the past three years. So it stands to reason that they continue to add defensive play-makers early in the draft, which is why Thomas -- who is good against the run and the pass -- is too good to pass up here.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
DeShone Kizer , QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish : Hue Jackson was hired in part because of his ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks. Things didn’t quite work out in that regard during his first season in Cleveland, but the Browns will never be competitive until they find a franchise quarterback. Robert Griffin III isn’t the answer, but hopefully Kizer -- who is raw and will need time -- can be.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Corey Davis , WR, Western Michigan Broncos : The Cardinals cut bait with Michael Floyd , and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald will be 34 next season. Davis, comparable in size to both Floyd and Fitzgerald (6-feet-3, 215 pounds), is an adept route runner and a legit threat once the ball is in his hands.
14. Indianapolis Colts
Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles : Thanks in part to Ryan Grigson’s mismanagement, the Colts have many needs, but the dynamic Cook -- who can dazzle as both a runner and a receiver -- could go a long way in alleviating the pressure quarterback Andrew Luck has faced in recent seasons.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
Sidney Jones , CB, Washington: Wide receiver makes a ton of sense here, but with Williams and Davis already off the board, the Eagles look to beef up a secondary that had some issues on what turned out to be a very good defensive group. Nolan Carroll’s future in Philly remains up in the air and Jalen Mills graded out as the Eagles’ worst defensive player in ‘16, according to PFF.
16. Baltimore Ravens
O.J. Howard , TE, Alabama: Former second-round pick Maxx Williams missed all but four games with a knee injury in 2016, and go-to tight end has been a big part of Joe Flacco’s success. Howard has a chance to be a dominant downfield presence, which should make losing Steve Smith slightly easier.
17. Washington Redskins
Malik McDowell , DL, Michigan State Spartans : McDowell is a natural athlete whose versatility, at 6-5 and 276 pounds, is a bonus. CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler compares him to Carlos Dunlap . Put another way: McDowell has a high ceiling, and he would be a welcome addition to a Redskins D that ranked 25th against the run.
18. Tennessee Titans
John Ross , WR, Washington: Ross is only 5-11 and 190 pounds, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in burst and elusiveness. He had 17 receiving touchdowns last season and is also a threat on special teams, averaging 24.4 yards as a kick returner during his career.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Budda Baker , S, Washington: With Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald set to be free agents, the Bucs are in the market for safety help. Baker is solid against both the pass and the run, and would bring more youth to a secondary that includes 2016 first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves .
20. Denver Broncos
Ryan Ramczyk , OT, Wisconsin Badgers : The Broncos’ offensive line ranked 24th in pass protection, and Ramczyk will change that. The task becomes even more important as the Broncos continue their youth movement at quarterback. Last year, it was Trevor Seimian, and in ‘17 it could be time for 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch to lead the offense.
21. Detroit Lions
Derek Barnett , DE, Tennessee: Barnett has been stout against the run since he arrived on campus and his 34 career sacks show that he evolved during his three years with the Vols. The Lions had just two defensive lineman grade out positively last season, according to PFF -- Kerry Hyder and Ziggy Ansah -- which is why Barnett would be a great fit in Detroit.
22. Miami Dolphins
Takkarist McKinley , OLB/DE, UCLA Bruins : An exceptional athlete who is still rough around the edges, McKinley registered nine sacks last season. For a Dolphins team that ranked 31st in pass rush a year ago, McKinley fills an obvious need.
23. New York Giants
David Njoku, TE, Miami: The Giants had just one skill-position player with a positive grade by the end of last season (surprise of surprises, it was Odell Beckham Jr.), which is a clear sign that they need to surround Eli Manning with more play-makers. Victor Cruz is gone, and the expectation is that Sterling Shepard will improve, but a play-making tight end wouldn’t hurt. Njoku’s route-running needs work, but he has the speed to stretch the field and open things up for the other Giants pass catchers.
24. Oakland Raiders
Quincy Wilson , CB, Florida Gators : The Raiders ranked 25th in pass defense last season, and Wilson is a rangy, physical cornerback who plays like a receiver when the ball is in the air. He’s also good in run defense, another area in which the Raiders struggled in ‘16.
25. Houston Texans
Cam Robinson , OL, Alabama: Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes is an option here -- because, well, Osweiler -- but Robinson is the less risky choice and fills another big need on this team: the offensive line. Only tackle Duane Brown and center Greg Mancz had positive grades last season, according to PFF, and Robinson’s skills, especially in the running game, would be a welcome addition in Houston.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Forrest Lamp , OL, Western Kentucky: If you thought the Texans had issues along the O-line, let us introduce you to the Seahawks, who had just one lineman finish with a positive grade last season ( Justin Britt ). Lamp fills an obvious need, particularly for an offense that struggled to do what it does best: Run the ball.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
Zach Cunningham , LB, Vanderbilt Commodores : With Derrick Johnson set to turn 35 next season, Cunningham is an athletic playmaker who could provide a smooth transition once Johnson calls it a career.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Taco Charlton , DE, Michigan Wolverines : For as good as the Cowboys were a season ago -- mostly due to the emergence of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott -- the defensive was average and the defensive line was only slightly better. Charlton racked up 14 sacks the past two seasons, and his ability to get after the passer could be what gets Dallas over the hump and into the Super Bowl.
29. Green Bay Packers
Teez Tabor , CB, Florida: The Packers made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game despite a secondary beset with injuries. Tabor upgrades a group that was middle of the road, even when healthy, which puts less pressure on Aaron Rodgers and the offense to carry this team.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State: Rivers is the early favorite of Steelers beat reporter and draft guru Jon Ledyard, and Pittsburgh has been known to take fliers on small-school players, most recently 2016 third-round pick defensive tackle Javon Hargrave , who started 13 games last season.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Charles Harris , DE, Missouri Tigers : The Falcons lacked a pass rush for much of 2016 (though you wouldn’t have known it to watch them terrorize Tom Brady for two-plus quarters in the Super Bowl), and Harris adds that to a young defense that got better as the season progressed.
32. New England Patriots
Jabrill Peppers , S/LB, Michigan: Peppers is a safety-linebacker hybrid who seems like an obvious fit in a scheme that values versatility. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will undoubtedly find ways to put Peppers in position to succeed.
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