NFL teams know that success starts with the quarterback position. Those who don’t have a long-term answer must make finding one their No. 1 priority each offseason.
But while teams picking in the top 10 of the draft tend to be those most in need of help, I see them all passing on the position at this juncture.
What gives? Simply put, this year’s top quarterback prospects don’t feel quite like surefire NFL starters. Sure, each has the potential to flourish in the right system, but none are quarterbacks I expect to succeed in any situation.
And when teams go reaching for answers at quarterback in the wrong draft, they run the risk of having a window of potential playoff contention set back years. Just ask the Jaguars (Blake Bortles, No. 3, 2014 draft) or Bills (EJ Manuel, No. 16, 2013 draft) how that feels.
As the predraft buzz continues to fly, I might have to move one or more quarterbacks up into the top 10 of my mock draft. For now, the talent available on the defensive side of the ball largely wins out.
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.
Top needs: QB, DE, RT, WR
Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: The 49ers could go any number of ways with this pick. If they fall in love with a particular quarterback, he’ll have to be the selection. Adding an elite talent to the secondary also makes sense, and while they’ve spent multiple first-round picks on interior defensive linemen in recent years, Jonathan Allen could be too good to pass up. For now, I’m slotting in Thomas, NFLDraftScout.com’s No. 2 overall prospect, and letting new DC Robert Saleh construct his defensive line how he sees fit.
Top needs: OT, QB, WR, DE
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: DT, RT, QB, RB
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 gets worried that the Jets will snap up their preferred quarterback at No. 6 and spends some of the draft capital they’ve hoarded to move up? 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: RT, CB, G, WR
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: 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 Humphrey to the secondary to replace Brandon Flowers and give themselves insurance at the position with Jason Verrett recovering from a torn ACL. Casey Hayward is plenty capable of lining up in the slot if everyone is healthy, giving the Chargers secondary the ability to stack up with any passing attack.
Top needs: CB, RT, SS, WR
Jamal Adams, SS, LSU: The Panthers figure to add some talent to the secondary, considering where they’re positioned in the top 10. Adams, who could go as high as No. 3, would be a great addition as a relatively safe bet to be a long-term starter at strong safety, considering he has few if any red flags accompanying him into the league. Leonard Fournette could earn consideration if the secondary well dries up early and he’s still available, or the Panthers could opt to address their offensive line, especially if they find a partner with which to trade down.
Top needs: DE, LT, G, FS
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. Full disclosure: As a Bills fan, I would be thrilled to see them take Zach Cunningham to be the cornerstone of the linebacker corps for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier.
Top needs: LB, DE, CB, G
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: The Saints have their pick of linebackers here and are a good bet to take the player they like most at the position to help an undermanned unit. However, finding quality pass rushers is a harder task. Charlton showed just how high his ceiling is once Michigan switched to a base 4-3 in 2016, and he’s nowhere near finished developing into the player he could be. The Saints opt for Charlton’s upside here over the higher-floor defensive end prospect in Derek Barnett.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
Top needs: QB, S, CB, RT
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: The Browns would certainly be happy getting Garrett and landing their next franchise quarterback on Day 1 of the draft, and in this scenario, they get their wish. 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. Count on the Browns not letting him get past them at No. 12 if they can’t pry Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots by draft day.
Top needs: CB, ILB, DE, 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, DT, CB, RB
Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: Yes, I’ve listed cornerback twice under team needs for the Eagles, who lost two starters from an already below-average corner corps and have done nothing to address the position in free agency. In a division with Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant, that’s a problem that has to be addressed immediately. Conley is my pick for the third-best corner in this class. He has the versatility to help outside or in the slot and can handle almost any scheme. While he doesn’t have the upside of a Lattimore or Humphrey, the Eagles should be happy finding a starter-worthy option at a position where they have none.
Top needs: ILB, RT, CB, OLB
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
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: The Ravens lost several key players this offseason, with Elivs 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, and players such as Alabama tackle Cam Robinson and Temple linebacker Haason Reddick would be worthy picks. Finding a quality pass rusher is the toughest task, and there’s a clear drop in talent after Barnett, who doesn’t have top-level athleticism but has been ultra-productive anyway, racking up 33 sacks over the past three seasons.
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 No. 34 overall this year?) a year early and install Watson as the starter as a rookie.
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: SS, RB, CB
Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan: Opinions on Peppers are all over the map; he could go 10 spots higher and no one would bat an eye, and he could fall out of the first round completely. A do-everything weapon for the Wolverines, he would slide right in at strong safety for the Bucs with the ability to contribute in the return game or eventually in a limited role on offense. The Bucs could also choose to go with a running back with only Fournette off the board and Doug Martin’s long-term status up in the air.
20. Denver Broncos
Top needs: LT, DE, ILB, QB
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: 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. Robinson is one of the few standouts in a relatively weak tackle class, and he’s worth this pick as a result.
21. Detroit Lions
Top needs: OLB, DT, ILB, CB
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt: 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. An effective tackler who would fill the hole left by the deterioration of DeAndre Levy, Cunningham is a three-down linebacker who could serve as the quarterback of the Lions’ defense from Day 1.
22. Miami Dolphins
Top needs: OLB, DT, FS, G
Budda Baker, FS, Washington: 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. They’ll likely stay on the lookout for another linebacker, but Baker also makes sense as a playmaking safety to pair with Reshad Jones, one who could also play slot corner in nickel coverages. He has excelled during the pre-draft process and put himself in the first-round conversation.
23. New York Giants
Top needs: LT, OLB, TE, DT
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: Considering how quickly his star has risen during the pre-draft process, Reddick could be long gone by the time the Giants are on the clock. And despite their need at left tackle, his talent makes him impossible to pass up in this spot. Reddick doesn’t have much experience as a 4-3 linebacker, having made his impact as a pass rusher for Temple, but he has shown enough at the position during the Senior Bowl and combine that the Giants should feel comfortable using their first-round pick on him.
24. Oakland Raiders
Top needs: LB, DT, LB, RB
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: 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. Davis carries injury concerns but has the skills to be a long-term starter at whichever spot the Raiders choose to use him.
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
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: The Seahawks went into 2016 with the offensive line as a glaring weakness and it predictably did not end well. They’ve added Luke Joeckel, who is a better fit at guard, to an interior of Justin Britt and Germain Ifedi, but they need to find two capable starting tackles to help protect Russell Wilson this time around. A former D-III starter, Ramczyk took a winding path to the doorstep of the NFL and wasn’t able to participate in the combine after hip surgery. But his talent is undeniable, making him a worthy risk for Seattle.
Top needs: CB, ILB, OLB, G
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: Considering the buzz the speedster generated with his 4.22 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, he could be well off the board by the time the Steelers pick. If he isn’t, he’s the perfect guy to come in and complement Antonio Brown, allowing the Steelers to stop being disappointed when Martavis Bryant gets suspended again and again. Keep Eli Rogers in the slot, hope Sammie Coates gets healthy and whatever Bryant gives the Steelers is gravy. With Ross in place, one of the league’s most dangerous offenses adds yet another dimension.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Top needs: DE, G, OLB, FB
Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky: It would surprise no one to see the Falcons add a pass rusher at this spot, and players like Takkarist McKinley and Charles Harris could be of interest. However, Lamp is also a worthy selection as a plug-and-play guard who can patch up the one weak spot in the offensive line. He played tackle for the Hilltoppers, but much like Zack Martin, he could transition inside and immediately become an above-average option.
32. New England Patriots (from New Orleans via New England)
Top needs: OLB, G, DT, DE
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson: I think it’s likely this pick is eventually heading back to New England in a Malcolm Butler deal, and when it does, the Patriots could go ahead and fill Butler’s spot with a cheaper option in a quality cornerback class. Tankersley ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, one of the top five times at the combine, and a team could fall in love with him in the back half of the first round and take him higher than this. He would make a fine selection at No. 32, regardless of who has the pick.