NFL Mock Draft: Saints find next Jimmy Graham, Lions pick small-school star
Drew Brees can't play forever so why not give him another big-play tight end?
We're coming down the home stretch, but still far enough out from the actual draft that it remains unclear exactly what teams picking in the top half of the proceedings have planned. That said, and with all the necessary caveats, it appears that the Browns will take pass rusher Myles Garrett with the first overall pick. After that, however, all bets are off.
The Jaguars have been linked to a bruising running back while the Titans bolster their secondary with a player who has made a late push of draft boards. Meanwhile, the Jets, Bills and Cardinals take quarterbacks, while the Browns use their second first-rounder to beef up an understaffed receivers corps.
In the second half of the first round, the Titans land a play-maker for Marcus Mariota, the Bucs give Jameis Winston some help, the Lions take an FCS phenom that impressed at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, and with the pick the Saints got from the Patriots for Brandin Cooks, New Orleans gives Drew Brees another play-maker, one who could end up being one of the best players to come out of this class.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: While it's unclear who wants what among coaches and the front office, it's hard to imagine the Browns taking a quarterback first overall. So instead of forcing the issue, they grab the freakishly athletic Garrett, who would immediately upgrade Cleveland's pass rush, which ranked 21st last season.
Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: Yes, there is a glaring hole at the quarterback position but the 49ers defense was god-awful last season, ranking 28th against the pass and 31st against the run. Solomon, who has been compared to Michael Bennett, is a low-risk pick because A) of his upside; and B) he's not a quarterback who would arrive in San Francisco with unreasonable expectations.
Jamal Adams, S, LSU: Silver lining to being terrible on both sides of the ball: It's hard to go wrong with whoever you select. And Adams, who might be the safest pick in the draft, can play in the box or deep centerfield.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: We had Fournette falling out of the first round , and before that, we had him going to the Panthers at No. 8. And while we don't think it makes sense to take a running back so early, the word on the street is that the Jags really like Fournette and he could be a legit option with the No. 4 pick. Remember, the Cowboys picked Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall last year and he was a huge part of one of the NFL's most high-powered offenses.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: He played in the same secondary with Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker, started every game the past two seasons and replaced another first-rounder, Eli Apple, who was drafted by the Giants last year. At 6-feet and 195 pounds, Conley has been compared to Aqib Talib, which would make him a valuable asset in a Dick LeBeau defense.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Never let it be said that the Jets shy away from using high-round picks on quarterbacks. They took Geno Smith in the second round in 2013 and that was an unmitigated disaster. They used another second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg last year and it would surprise no one if they drafted another quarterback in 2017. Watson is the most NFL-ready of the bunch and if the Jets can be patient, Watson could be worth the gamble.
7. Los Angeles 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
Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama: Allen slips outside the top five after a pedestrian combine, and there are also the multiple shoulder surgeries that could drop him out of the top 10. Still, Allen was unblockable at times at Alabama and had 28.5 sacks as a three-year starter. In Carolina, he would join a group that includes Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Charles Johnson.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: The Bengals drafted Tyler Boyd last year, but it wasn't enough to overcome the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, who had great 2016 seasons in Atlanta and Detroit. Williams isn't a burner, but he would immediately improve a passing offense that already includes A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Boyd.
10. Buffalo Bills
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: The Bills will have Tyrod Taylor for the 2017 season but first-year coach Sean McDermott's long-term vision might include building the team around his guys, a conversation that always starts with the franchise quarterback. The Bills missed on EJ Manuel in 2013 but the only thing that Trubisky and Manuel have in common is they they both played in the ACC. Trubisky won't be ready in 2017, but if the Bills can be patient, he could pay dividends in 2018 and beyond.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: 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 they would likely sprint to the podium to turn in Lattimore's name. He's easily a top-five talent, but hamstring injuries could see him slip into the middle of the first round.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: The Browns have needs up and down the roster but Howard is the best tight end in a strong class, and he gives this offense a big-play weapon in the middle of the field. Bonus: He's a tenacious run blocker. Howard will pair nicely with Gary Barnidge, but there's still a glaring hole at the quarterback position.
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: The Cardinals could address life in a post-Carson Palmer world a year or two before it actually happens. Interestingly, coach Bruce Arians said recently that he's "bugged" by Trubisky playing just one season and thinks only one quarterback is ready to play right away. .
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
John Ross, WR, Washington: Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were offseason additions, but Ross would bring a dynamism to the Eagles offense that currently doesn't exist. Nelson Agholor hasn't lived up to his first-round pedigree, and Jordan Matthews struggled with consistency a year ago. Put another way: Not only would Ross make life easier for the rest of the wide receiving corps, Carson Wentz would have one more weapon at his disposal.
Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: The Colts added pass rushers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard in free agency, and Reddick would bring speed to the inside linebacker position on early downs, and move outside in passing situations. A former walk-on who showed up at Temple weighing 185 pounds, Reddick blazed a 4.52 40 at the combine and that, coupled with a dominant 2016 season (9.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss), has NFL teams taking notice.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: Terrell Suggs is still a pass-rushing force but Barnett could replace Elvis Dumervil on the other side. He had 33 sacks, 43 hits and 110 hurries the past three seasons at Tennessee -- which bettered Myles Garrett -- and would fit in nicely in the AFC North.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: It's hard to imagine Foster lasting this long, but the game-changing inside linebacker was dismissed from the combine for what he calls a "misunderstanding." Either way, he would upgrade a linebacker corps in Washington that includes Mason Foster newly signed Zach Brown.
18. Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Davis is a wild card because he played at a small school and because he has been sidelined by an ankle injury. There's some speculation that he could fall out of the first round all together, but the Titans need downfield play-makers to complement the running game, and Davis fits the profile of just such a player.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: The Bucs have a glaring need in the backfield and McCaffrey addresses that and then some. Not only is he a shifty runner, he's a receiving threat and a dangerous return man. Put another way: He could go a long way in making life easier for Jameis Winston and the Bucs' offense. There's also this: The latest scuttlebutt is that McCaffrey won't make it out of the teens, and that the Broncos really, really like him.
20. Denver Broncos
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: 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 2017 it could be 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch's time to lead the offense.
21. Detroit Lions
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State: The Lions are looking to bolster the front seven and what better way to do that than with one of the most underrated pass rushers in the draft. The team met with Rivers at his pro day and several teams reportedly like him late in the first round.
22. Miami Dolphins
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: Charlton, who has drawn comparisons to Chandler Jones, racked up 14 sacks the past two seasons, and his ability to get after the passer would fill an obvious void on a Dolphins team that ranked 31st in pass rush a year ago.
23. New York Giants
David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): The Giants had just one skill-position player with a positive grade 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. Brandon Marshall has replaced Victor Cruz, and the expectation is that Sterling Shepard will improve, but an offense can never have enough athletic tight ends.
24. Oakland Raiders
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: The Raiders ranked 25th in pass defense last season and Humphrey is considered one of the most physical cornerbacks in the draft. His father, former running back Bobby Humphrey, was a first-round draft pick of the Broncos in 1989.
25. Houston Texans
Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky: Quarterback makes sense here, but the Texans could also stand to improve an offensive line that was mediocre in the running and passing game a year ago. Lamp, who didn't allow a sack last season, can play guard or tackle.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Garrett Bolles, OL, Utah: The Seahawks had just one lineman finish with a positive grade last season (Justin Britt). Bolles, arguably the most gifted tackle in this class, fills a glaring need, particularly for an offense that struggled to do what it does best: Run the ball.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Alex Smith has been a good fit for Andy Reid's offense, and that should remain the case for the next couple seasons. But Smith is on the books for $14.5 million in '18, and will be a free agent in '19, and by then Mahomes could be ready to take over the offense.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: For as good as the Cowboys were a season ago -- mostly due to the emergence of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott -- the defense was average and the defensive line was only slightly better. Harris had a poor combine but was impressive at his pro day -- and more important, he improved every year at Missouri.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: The Packers re-signed Davon House and have Damarious Randall, but Quinten Rollins has been a disappointment and the team let Micah Hyde walk in free agency. Awuzie can fill Hyde's roll and add some much-needed depth to a unit that struggled with injuries a season ago.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn: The Steelers desperately need a pass rusher and Lawson does that and then some. His playing style has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley (early in his career, not after he signed that fat contract) and he would line up opposite another former first-rounder, Bud Dupree. At Auburn last season, Lawson racked up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and he has an explosive first step. He's also strong as an ox, as evidenced by his combine-best 35 reps of 225 pounds.
31. Atlanta Falcons
T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin: 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 Watt, whose stock has grown since the combine, adds that ability to a young defense that got better as the season progressed.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)
Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss: The Saints' defense ranked 30th last season, according to Football Outsiders, and the pass defense was measurably worse than the run-stopping counterparts. Which is why the team drafted a cornerback with the No. 11 pick. And while continuing to bolster the defense makes some sense, how about giving Drew Brees a legit weapon at tight end, something he hasn't had since Jimmy Graham was in New Orleans? Coby Fleener ranked 26th in total value among all tight ends last season and Engram could end up being the best tight end in the class.
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