1. Cleveland Browns – DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
I’ve had a quarterback here in recent mock drafts, figuring that some team would get desperate enough and move up to #1 to get a quarterback, like the Rams did last year, or that the Browns would get desperate and take a quarterback at 1 themselves. That’s still a possibility, but I’m not mocking trades for now until I see how the off-season unfolds. The Browns seem like a likely landing spot for Tyrod Taylor if the Bills let him go, which could be a huge steal for their organization. In that case, they wouldn’t need to take a quarterback and would likely take the top defensive player in the draft, Myles Garrett, #1 overall, if they couldn’t trade down. Garrett would be an instant starter at defensive end in the Browns’ new 4-3 defense, opposite last year’s 2nd round pick Emmanuel Ogbah.
2. San Francisco 49ers – DE Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
While the Browns will likely go hard after Tyrod Taylor if he becomes available, the 49ers and Bears are more likely to be interested in Jimmy Garoppolo as their primary target. Both new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Bears GM Ryan Pace are known to have been big fans of Garappolo during the 2014 NFL Draft and pushed their respective teams at the time (the Browns and Saints respectively) to draft Garappolo that year. Now with new teams, both have a chance to get Garappolo this off-season, probably for the price of around a high 2nd round pick and other later picks. The 49ers have the advantage because they pick before the Bears in the 2nd round. With their 2nd rounder going to New England, the 49ers use their first rounder on defense. Jonathan Allen might be higher ranked on most team’s boards, but the 49ers have gone with an interior defensive lineman in the first round in back-to-back years so they may favor edge rusher Thomas over him. He’ll fill a huge hole for them. Other than Ahmad Brooks, who will be 33 next season, the 49ers didn’t have a single edge rusher with more than 3 sacks this season.
3. Chicago Bears – QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
With the Browns getting Taylor and the 49ers getting Garappolo, the Bears have to “settle” for this draft class’ top quarterback prospect, Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky is also an option to go #1 or #2, either to the Browns or 49ers or a team moving up, and seems like a likely top-3 pick at this point in the process. The Bears seem likely to move on from Jay Cutler this off-season and could move forward with Trubisky as the long-term franchise quarterback and veteran Brian Hoyer as the stopgap quarterback until Trubisky is ready to start.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
The Jaguars’ defense was a lot better than their offense in 2016, but they’re likely to go defense in the top-5 for the 3rd straight year, after taking defensive end Dante Fowler 3rd overall in 2015 and cornerback Jalen Ramsey 5th overall in 2016. This is actually the Jaguars’ 6th straight draft picking in the top-5, drafting wide receiver Justin Blackmon 5th overall in 2012, offensive lineman Luke Joeckel 2nd overall in 2013, and quarterback Blake Bortles 3rd overall in 2014. With a quarterback likely to go in the top-3, the Jaguars should have one of the top-3 defensive lineman fall to them at 4, most likely either Jonathan Allen or Solomon Thomas. Both would fill big needs on the defensive line and Allen can start immediately at defensive tackle next to Malik Jackson.
5. Tennessee Titans – CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
The Titans made out like bandits in last year’s trade with the Rams that landed them 2 first round picks (among other picks) for the #1 pick that the Rams used to draft quarterback Jared Goff, who looked miles away from NFL ready in his first season in the league. As a result, the Titans are picking 5th overall. After an impressive season in which they almost made the playoffs, the Titans don’t have a lot of pressing needs, but they have a big one at cornerback. They need at least one, if not two new cornerbacks to pair with Jason McCourty and are likely to take one early in the draft. Lattimore declaring as a redshirt sophomore was a bit of a surprise, but his stock has shot up since. He’ll likely be the top cornerback off the board and a top-10 pick.
6. New York Jets – QB DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)
The Jets are another team that desperately needs quarterback help. Pending free agents Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are not the answer, nor is 2015 4th round pick Bryce Petty, who struggled down the stretch in his audition for the starting job. The Jets took Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd round last year, but he was horrendous in the pre-season and wasn’t given a chance to play as a rookie even with Fitzpatrick, Smith, and Petty all struggling. Not a draftable prospect on tape at Penn State, the Jets should just cut their losses with a draft pick that was one of the worst in recent memory. Even if he remains on the roster into 2017, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the depth chart. If the Jets fall in love with a quarterback and he’s there at 6, expect them to pull the trigger. This is going to be a very interesting spot on draft day.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – S Jamal Adams (LSU)
The Chargers lost a defensive cornerstone last off-season when Eric Weddle signed with the Ravens after 9 years with the Chargers and they never sufficiently replaced him. He was directly replaced with Dwight Lowery, who isn’t a bad player, but he’s going into his age 31 season, so he’s only a short-term replacement. Meanwhile, Jahleel Addae, the other starter last season, will be a free agent this off-season. Either of the top-two safety prospects, Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker, would be an upgrade over both of them, so look for them to take a look long at both of them at 7.
8. Carolina Panthers – RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)
The Panthers have expressed a desire to limit Cam Newton’s rushing attempts in an effort to keep him healthy as he gets older and have said that he can’t continue to be their leading rusher. Jonathan Stewart is supposed to be their leading rusher, but he can never make it through a whole season healthy. He hasn’t played in more than 13 games in a season since 2011 and has just one thousand yard rushing season in 9 years with the Panthers. Going into his age 30 season, owed a non-guaranteed 6.25 million, he could be at the end of his time in Carolina. Even if he isn’t, he could split carries with Fournette for a year before Fournette takes over as the feature back in 2018 and beyond. The Panthers have shown a willingness to take the best available player and Fournette certainly qualifies. He’s about one level below Ezekiel Elliott as a prospect.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Reuben Foster (Alabama)
Karlos Dansby was an every down linebacker for the Bengals in 2016, but he’s a free agent going into his age 36 season in 2017 and looks pretty close to the end of the line. Foster would give the Bengals a long-term complement to Vontaze Burfict at linebacker and would make an immediate impact on this defense. A true three-down linebacker, Foster has good chance to be a top-10 pick this April.
10. Buffalo Bills – QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
For some reason, the Bills are really eager to get rid of the best quarterback they’ve had since Jim Kelly and replace him with a veteran stopgap and yet another high drafted quarterback, something that hasn’t worked out well for the Bills in the past. Watson has a high upside, but probably isn’t ready to start week 1. He can spend the start of his career behind a veteran like Nick Foles, Jay Cutler, or Tony Romo on a team that doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere in a hurry.
11. New Orleans Saints – DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
The Saints took a defensive lineman in the first round last year, but they shouldn’t be done adding to the defensive line. They desperately need another pass rusher opposite Cameron Jordan because, outside of him, they didn’t have a single edge rusher with more than a sack and a half all season. Barnett is a rising prospect and the Saints could be his floor. He’d be a perfect fit as a defensive end in the Saints’ 4-3 defense.
12. Cleveland Browns – S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
Hooker could still go as high as 5 to the Titans, but he needed shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the pre-draft process, so he could fall a little bit. He’s expected to be ready to go for training camp, but the injury could scare off a couple safety-needy teams in the top-10. That would be the ideal scenario for the Browns, who are probably Hooker’s floor at 12. The Browns desperately need an upgrade at both safety spots and Hooker could be the next Earl Thomas if he reaches his upside.
13. Arizona Cardinals – CB Teez Tabor (Florida)
The Cardinals had major cornerback issues last year behind Patrick Peterson. When Tyrann Mathieu is healthy, he covers the slot really well, but it was a rotation of disappointments outside opposite Peterson after 3rd round rookie Brandon Williams struggled to start the year. Tabor fixes the problem in a hurry and gives the Cardinals a talented outside cornerback duo moving forward, along with a hopefully healthy Tyrann Mathieu, who plays safety and slot cornerback.
14. Indianapolis Colts – RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
In most drafts, Dalvin Cook would probably be the top running back off the board and a top-10 pick. Unfortunately for him, he’s coming out the same year as Leonard Fournette and I just couldn’t find room for two running backs in the top-10. Cook could still come off the board before Fournette, but he’s more likely to be the second running back off the board. Fortunately, the Colts at 14 should be a floor for him. With Frank Gore going into his age 34 season in 2017 and coming off back-to-back seasons averaging less than 4 yards per carry, it’s time for the Colts to look to the future at the running back position, especially since they have next to no depth at the position.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Mike Williams (Clemson)
The Eagles missed badly on wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the first round in 2015, as he has caught just 59 passes in 2 seasons in the league and was a healthy scratch down the stretch in 2016, for a Philadelphia team that might have the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL. They figure to target a wide receiver early in the draft, especially with their only useful wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, slated to hit free agency next off-season.
16. Baltimore Ravens – CB Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
The Ravens seem to have found in a steal in the 4th round last year with Tavon Young, who covered the slot well as a rookie, but in today’s NFL you need three cornerbacks and the Ravens could use an upgrade over Shareece Wright opposite Jimmy Smith. Humphrey is a good value here and another young piece for this Baltimore defense.
17. Washington Redskins – MLB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)
The Redskins had major issues on all 3 levels of their defense last season and figure to take a defensive player here. Defensive line and safety are both pressing needs too, but Cunningham is probably the best available who makes sense. He can be an instant every down linebacker inside in the Redskins 3-4 defense and would be an upgrade over both Mason Foster and Will Compton.
18. Tennessee Titans – WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
The Titans addressed a huge need at cornerback with their last draft pick. Now they address an equally big need at wide receiver. The Titans were hoping that rookie Tajae Sharpe would continue his strong pre-season into the regular season, but instead he proved why he went in the 5th round in the first place, struggling in a starting role. Rishard Matthews, a free agent acquisition last off-season, did well in his first year in Tennessee, but they need at least one more wide receiver in the mix.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
Jabrill Peppers is going to be one of the most interesting prospects to watch leading up to the draft. Peppers was a Heisman finalist, playing linebacker, safety, running back, and returning kicks for the University of Michigan this season, but doesn’t have a clear position on either side of the ball in the NFL. Most expect the 6-0 203 pounder to be a hybrid safety/linebacker in the NFL, but his lack of size for a linebacker and lack of ball skills for a safety complicate matters. Ultimately, it only takes one team to fall in love with him and most still expect him to go in the first round. Peppers would fill a big need as a box safety for the Buccaneers.
20. Denver Broncos – OT Cam Robinson (Alabama)
Both of the Broncos’ starting offensive tackles in 2016 could be gone this off-season. Right tackle Donald Stephenson predictably struggled in his first season in Denver, after signing a 3-year, 14 million dollar deal last off-season, coming over from Kansas City, where he struggled whenever pressed into duty as the swing tackle. Owed a non-guaranteed 4 million in 2017, he’s no guarantee to return and, even if he does, they may want an upgrade at that position anyway. Meanwhile, on the left side, Russell Okung is even less likely to return, even though he outplayed Stephenson by a wide margin in 2016. The Broncos will have to do decide between picking up an option for the remaining 48 million over 4 years left on his contract, which includes 19.5 million guaranteed, and declining the option and letting him hit free agency. Okung was a good value for 5 million in 2016, but there’s next to no chance the Broncos give him that much guaranteed money given his history of injuries. He could be brought back at a cheaper rate, but offensive tackle still seems like a likely direction at 20 for the Broncos. This is one of the weaker offensive tackle classes in recent memory (as evidenced by the fact that the first offensive tackle is coming off the board at 20), but Robinson is a solid value at this point and makes a lot of sense for Denver.
21. Detroit Lions – DT Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
The Lions used a 2nd round pick on A’Shawn Robinson last year, but still have a need at defensive tackle, with Haloti Ngata going into his age 33 season and Tyrunn Walker set to hit free agency. McDowell makes sense in this spot and would provide the Lions with a long-term starter inside next to Robinson. McDowell’s quickness and pass rush ability will complement the bigger, more powerful Robinson well.
22. Miami Dolphins – TE OJ Howard (Alabama)
The Dolphins have a talented young duo of wide receivers in Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker, but could use a big target over the middle like OJ Howard. Jordan Cameron struggled when on the field in 2 years in Miami and will be a free agent with a troubling history of concussions this off-season. Dion Sims was their primary tight end for most of this season while Cameron was sidelined, but he’s not much more than a blocker, catching just 26 passes all season. Howard’s stock is rising after he stood out throughout the week at the Senior Bowl. There aren’t a lot of teams that will be looking at tight ends in the first round, but the Dolphins at 22 are probably Howard’s floor.
23. New York Giants – RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
This is the strongest running back class in a while and this figures to be the first draft with three running backs going off the board in the first round since 2012. I’ve already mentioned Fournette and Cook, but McCaffrey is a very talented running back in his own right. He’s more of a speed/pass catching back, while Fournette and Cook are better power backs, and he fits what the Giants want to do offensively very well. He also fills a huge need for a team that just cut veteran starter Rashad Jennings and that isn’t sold on 2016 5th round pick Paul Perkins.
24. Oakland Raiders – OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
The Raiders have shown a willingness to commit resources to their offensive line in the past and that’s paid off thus far. However, they do have an issue at right tackle, where Menelik Watson is ineffective, injury prone, and headed to free agency, while Austin Howard is inconsistent and owed a non-guaranteed 5 million in his age 30 season in 2017. Ramczyk can be an upgrade over both of them and a long-term option on the left side, where Donald Penn will be in his age 34 season in 2017.
25. Houston Texans – OT Garett Bolles (Utah)
Quarterback wasn’t the only problem the Texans had on an offense that scored a league low 23 offensive touchdowns. The offensive line was a major problem as well. Injuries were a big part of that, but even fully healthy they need help. Besides, right tackle Derek Newton suffered a double torn patellar tendon injury, which is about as bad as a knee injury can get, so his long-term future is very much in doubt. On the left side of the line, offensive tackle Duane Brown is probably their best offensive lineman, but, going into his age 32 season, they need to start thinking about the long-term on the blindside. Bolles can slide in immediately at the right tackle spot, where he’d be an upgrade over fill-in Chris Clark, and could eventually start on the left side.
26. Seattle Seahawks – OT Taylor Moton (Western Michigan)
The Seahawks used a first round pick on an offensive lineman in last year’s draft, taking Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi and moving him inside to right guard, but they still had probably the worst offensive line in the whole league, struggling to pass protect for Russell Wilson and to open any running lanes on the ground. Offensive tackle was particularly a problem, as Bradley Sowell, Garry Gilliam, and George Fant all struggled when given chances to start this season. The offensive tackle position should be the #1 off-season priority for the Seahawks, as they need two new starters at the position. Unfortunately, this is a pretty weak offensive tackle class overall, but the Seahawks tend to have a significantly different board than most of the league and Moton fits what they look for in an offensive lineman because of his size (6-5 328). Moton would probably go in the 2nd most years, but he has a chance to sneak into the end of the first in a weak tackle class. The Seahawks’ last 3 first rounders (Germain Ifedi, Bruce Irvin, and James Carpenter) were all seen as 2nd or 3rd round prospects going into the draft, but the Seahawks took them anyway because they filled needs and were on top of their board. Moton could be a similar situation.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – WR John Ross (Washington)
The Chiefs got a steal with Tyreek Hill in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he’s not a true every down wide receiver. He’s a major weapon as a return man, as a runner out of the backfield, and on screens, but the Chiefs could use another downfield wide receiver, especially with Jeremy Maclin coming off of a down year. If Maclin continues to struggle, he won’t be back, owed 11 million non-guaranteed in 2018. Ross can be a long-term #1 wide receiver for the Chiefs, something they’ve lacked for a few years.
28. Dallas Cowboys – CB Sidney Jones (Washington)
The Cowboys had high hopes when they signed Brandon Carr to a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal and drafted Morris Claiborne 6th overall 5 off-seasons ago in 2012. Unfortunately, that cornerback duo struggled throughout tenure in Dallas, up until their contract years in 2016, when both played well. Giving either player much guaranteed money is risky, especially considering Claiborne is coming off another injury and Carr is now in his 30s, and the Cowboys don’t have much flexibility on the cap either, so they could easily be outbid for both players. That would leave the Cowboys with just Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown at cornerback, in need of at least one, if not two more players at the position for depth purposes. Jones can be a long-term #1 cornerback if he reaches his potential, for a team that doesn’t have many pressing needs.
29. Green Bay Packers – OLB Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)
The Packers need to re-stock at the edge rusher position this off-season, with Nick Perry, Datone Jones, and Julius Peppers all set to hit free agency. That leaves the Packers with Clay Matthews, who seems to be falling apart physically going into his age 31 season, and 2016 3rd round pick Kyler Fackrell, who barely played as a rookie. They’ll probably either re-sign one of their own guys or add someone in free agency before the draft, but they could also use a first round pick on an edge rusher because they lack to rotate players at that position.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Tim Williams (Alabama)
The Steelers drafted outside linebackers in the first round in 2013 and 2015, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did so again in the first round this year, or at least high in the draft. Jarvis Jones, their 2013 1st round pick, hasn’t given them much in 4 years in the league and is not likely to be brought back this off-season as a free agent, after the Steelers’ declined his 5th year option last off-season. Bud Dupree, their 2015 1st round pick, has been very inconsistent through 2 years in the league thus far. Even if he puts it all together, they need another edge rusher opposite him because James Harrison is going into his age 39 season in 2017 and can’t do this forever. Harrison was their leading sack man in 2016 with 5, so there’s definitely room from improvement here.
31. Atlanta Falcons – G Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky)
The Falcons’ strong offensive line was a huge part of their success this season, but they could use an upgrade at right guard over Chris Chester, who was their weakest link by far upfront last season. He’ll also be a 34-year-old free agent this off-season and, if he’s brought back, it shouldn’t be as a starter. Lamp is the top interior offensive line prospect in this draft class and could start instantly as a rookie.
32. New England Patriots – DE Taco Charlton (Michigan)
The Patriots have a bunch of pending free agents at the defensive end position, as Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and Rob Ninkovich all set to hit free agency this off-season. Long and Ninkovich are older players anyway, going into their age 32 and age 33 seasons respectively in 2017. They need another edge rusher opposite the promising young Trey Flowers for the long-term.