1. Cleveland Browns – QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not sure Trubisky is going to go to the Browns, but I think he ultimately will be the first player off the board. We saw last year how quarterbacks can get pushed up the board. It doesn’t always work out (see Jared Goff), but teams are going to continue taking the risk at the top of the draft because of how good the reward is when they pan out. With the going rate for even borderline starting quarterbacks being at 12-13 million dollars annually, potentially getting a legitimate franchise signal caller on a cheap rookie contract is so intriguing to teams, even if you have to mortgage your entire draft to do so. If the Browns aren’t interested in Trubisky, there will be no shortage of teams with interest, including the New York Jets, who are reportedly enamored with him. Trubisky is the top quarterback in the draft class and figures to go #1 overall to someone.
2. San Francisco 49ers – OLB Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
The 49ers are another team that could take a quarterback, either here at 2 with DeShone Kizer, the 2nd best quarterback in the draft class, or by moving up to 1 to grab Trubisky. Another option is staying put and grabbing the top defensive player in the draft class, Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett. 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. Garrett could have double digit sacks as a rookie and would instantly become their best pass rusher. He’s probably the best overall player in this draft class.
3. Chicago Bears – QB DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)
The Bears are another team that will be picking at the top of the draft in need of a quarterback. Jay Cutler could be back in 2017 at his 15 million dollar salary, but he’s going into his age 34 season and probably isn’t the guy who is going to take this team where they need to go. Kizer is far from a polished prospect, but has all the tools and will likely be a top-5 pick when all is said and done, either to a team like Chicago or to a team that wants to move up. This could be another trade down spot if the Bears are not interested in Kizer.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
The Jaguars are in an interesting spot quarterback wise. They just used the 3rd overall pick in the draft on Blake Bortles in 2014 and he had a solid year in 2015, but he struggled mightily in both 2014 and 2016 and has always been an interception machine. Only going into his age 25 season, it might be too soon to give up on him, but front office has already said the new coaching staff won’t have a mandate to keep Bortles as the starter. It’s tough to know what they’re going to do until they hire their next coach, but using another high pick on a quarterback is certainly a possibility, even if they have to move up to do it. With Kizer and Trubisky off the board at this point, it’s more likely that they take a quarterback in the later rounds and take a top defensive prospect like Jonathan Allen here. Allen would instantly be a starter inside at defensive tackle in Jacksonville.
5. Tennessee Titans – CB Teez Tabor (Florida)
The Titans made out like bandits in last year’s trade with the Rams that landed them 3 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 and, given that the Rams don’t have a first round pick to improve themselves, they could be picking high in the Rams’ spot again in 2018. 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.
6. New York Jets – OT Cam Robinson (Alabama)
As I mentioned, 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. They’ll probably have to move up if they’re going to grab a quarterback in the first round, certainly a possibility. If they stay put, taking the draft class’ offensive tackle makes a lot of sense, considering they need upgrades on both end of the offensive line.
7. San Diego Chargers – S Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
The Chargers parted ways with long-time safety Eric Weddle last off-season and didn’t really replace him, only adding veteran journeyman Dwight Lowery. The safety duo of Lowery and Jahleel Addae was underwhelming in 2016 and the latter is a free agent this off-season anyway, so help is needed at the position. Peppers isn’t a traditional safety and will probably play more linebacker than anything in the NFL, but the Chargers have a need at that position as well. The top defensive player left on the board, Peppers makes a lot of sense at this juncture.
8. Carolina Panthers – S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
Neither Tre Boston nor Kurt Coleman played particularly well at safety this season, a big part of why the Panthers’ defense was not nearly as good as it was last season. Coleman had a strong 2015, so he could return as a starter in 2017, but he’s also a one-year wonder going into his age 30 season and, even if he returns as a starter, Boston isn’t a guarantee to return as a starter either. Hooker is the best pure safety prospect in the draft class and could help turn Carolina’s defense around immediately.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – WR Mike Williams (Clemson)
The Bengals used a 2nd round pick on a wide receiver last year in Tyler Boyd and obviously still have AJ Green, but in today’s NFL you need three receivers. Free agent acquisition Brandon LaFell had a nice bounce back year in 2016 after a terrible year in 2015 in New England, but he was only signed to a one-year deal so he might not be back in 2017. Williams would give them a trio of talented young wide receivers. They have more pressing needs on the defensive line, but any defensive lineman would be a reach at this point and Williams fits their strategy of taking the best available player.
10. Buffalo Bills – S Jamal Adams (LSU)
Unfortunately, safety Aaron Williams’ future is very much in doubt after back-to-back seasons that ended with scary neck injuries. The Bills should look to the future at the safety position, especially since their other starting safety, converted cornerback Corey Graham, will be in his age 32 contract year in 2016. Adams is more of a replacement for Williams though, as he projects as a strong safety in the NFL. He’s the top pure strong safety in this draft class.
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. In a weaker than usual defensive line class, Derek Barnett could get pushed up into the top-15. He’s a first round talent regardless and fills a big need here for the Saints, who need to continue to add to an improving, but still weak defense.
12. Cleveland Browns – CB Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
Like the Titans, the Browns have a pair of first round picks as a result of trading down last year, sending the 2nd overall pick to the Eagles, who drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, for the 8th overall pick last year, Philadelphia’s first rounder this year, and several other picks. Unlike the Titans, the Browns desperately need these picks as they have pressing needs all over the field, including at cornerback. Joe Haden is a shell of his former self thanks to injuries and, if he returns at his scheduled 11.2 million dollar salary, it’s only because the Browns have the most cap space in the league going into this off-season and don’t need to cut players to free up space. Jamar Taylor was the Browns’ best cornerback this season and will return as a starter, but Tramon Williams is expected to move to safety in 2017 and 2016 undrafted free agent Briean Boddy-Calhoun is best off as a 4th cornerback. If they take a quarterback atop the draft, expect them to use their other first rounder on the best available defensive player, which Humphrey is.
13. Arizona Cardinals – MLB Reuben Foster (Alabama)
The Cardinals have one talented middle linebacker in Deone Bucannon, an ex-safety who has done a very nice job converting to linebacker. However, they need a 2nd middle linebacker for their 3-4 defense. Kevin Minter is a capable player, but unspectacular and a free agent this off-season. With several other pending free agents, Minter could easily not be back in 2017. Foster would be an upgrade anyway. The top middle linebacker in this draft class, Foster’s skill set would complement the smaller, more athletic Bucannon very well.
14. Indianapolis Colts – RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)
The Colts badly need help on the defensive side of the ball, but that hasn’t stopped GM Ryan Grigson from drafting offensive players in the past. 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. This spot makes sense for the draft class’ top running back to come off the board. Fournette is a top-10 talent, but there wasn’t an obvious spot for him early on.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Sidney Jones (Washington)
The Eagles’ defense has been much improved in Jim Schwartz’ first season in Philadelphia, but they really need more talent at the cornerback position. Despite a very talented front 7 that can pressure the quarterback with regularity, the Eagles allowed several big passing days this season because they have arguably the weakest group of cornerbacks in the league. The likes of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Jalen Mills, and Ron Brooks are not going to cut it. The Eagles got this first rounder from Minnesota in the Sam Bradford trade and should use it on a cornerback like Sidney Jones, who would instantly be in the best cornerback on their roster.
16. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Tim Williams (Alabama)
The Ravens had a strong defense once again in 2016, but they need youth in a few spots, especially outside linebacker. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are going into their age 35 and 33 seasons respectively in 2017 and the edge rushers they’ve drafted in the mid rounds in the past couple years, Matt Judon (2016 5th round pick) and Za’Darius Smith (2015 4th round pick), haven’t shown themselves to be long-term starters in limited action thus far. GM Ozzie Newsome has always loved players from Alabama and Williams is the top pure 3-4 edge rusher in the draft class.
17. Washington Redskins – RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
The 2017 NFL Draft could have 3 different running backs drafted in the first round, a rarity in today’s NFL. In fact, it would be the first time that’s happened since the 2012 NFL Draft and it would match the total amount of running backs drafted in the first round from 2013-2016. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook seems like locks for the first round at the very least and Washington is one of the teams that I could see taking a running back in the first round. They drafted Matt Jones in the 3rd round in 2015, but he’s just averaged 3.91 yards per carry with 6 lost fumbles on 243 career carries and wasn’t heard from after yet another lost fumble week 7. Undrafted rookie Rob Kelley took over down the stretch, but he’s a mediocre runner whose production was largely the product of a strong offensive line. They could easily use a high pick on a running back.
18. Tennessee Titans – WR John Ross (Washington)
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, possibly two if Kendall Wright leaves as a free agent.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
The Buccaneers have one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league in Gerald McCoy, but they could use help next to him in their 4-3 defense. Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence split snaps at the other defensive tackle spot this season and both struggled mightily. McDowell could step in immediately and, if he reaches his potential, he and McCoy could form a fearsome duo inside for years to come.
20. Denver Broncos – DE Chris Wormley (Michigan)
The Broncos’ pass defense was as good as ever in 2016, but their run defense took a big hit from 2015. Injuries were part of it, but free agent losses were the primary cause, particularly the loss of defensive end Malik Jackson. Jackson wasn’t properly replaced so they could use an early draft pick on the position in the 2017 NFL Draft. Wormley is an ideal fit as a 5-technique defensive end in Denver’s 3-4 defense and would be an instant starter over mediocre veterans Jared Crick and Billy Winn and last year’s 2nd round pick Adam Gotsis, a reach who barely played as a rookie.
21. Detroit Lions – MLB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)
Detroit’s linebacking corps has been a mess all season, a big part of the reason why they’ve struggled defensively. Things got better when DeAndre Levy returned from injury, but he’s been limited to just 6 games by injury in the last 2 seasons. Even if he can stay healthy long-term, they still need another every down linebacker. Tahir Whitehead is a solid run stopper, but should only be a base package third linebacker going forward. He’s been overstretched as an every down player in recent years because of injuries to other players.
22. Houston Texans – OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
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. Ramczyk 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.
23. Miami Dolphins – TE OJ Howard (Alabama)
The Dolphins have a talented young duo of wide receivers in Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker, but could 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 is the top tight end in the draft class and a candidate to go off the board late in the first round, so the Dolphins could definitely be interested.
24. Green Bay Packers – RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
The Packers haven’t had a strong feature back since 2014 with Eddie Lacy struggling in 2015 and getting hurt in 2016. Lacy could be back in 2017, but he’s a free agent this off-season, so he’s no guarantee to return. The Packers had a couple strong rushing performances from different backs in 2016 even after Lacy got hurt, but those were primarily the result of strong blocking and a great passing game giving their backs room to run. The Packers tend to take the best available prospect and McCaffrey could easily qualify. He’s the #3 running back in this draft class and a likely first round pick. He’d also be an ideal fit in Green Bay because of what he can do as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
25. Seattle Seahawks – OT Roderick Johnson (Florida State)
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.
26. Atlanta Falcons – G Dan Feeney (Indiana)
The Falcons’ strong offensive line has been a huge part of their success this season, but they could use an upgrade at right guard over Chris Chester, who has been their weakest link by far upfront this 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. Feeney is the top interior offensive line prospect in this draft class and could start instantly as a rookie.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Carl Lawson (Auburn)
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 terrible through 2 years in the league thus far. Even if he turns it around, 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.
28. Oakland Raiders – MLB Jarrad Davis (Florida)
The Raiders have a young talented roster, but they desperately need help at linebacker. Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney both struggled mightily as every down players this season. Heeney got hurt and veteran Perry Riley took over and played surprisingly well down the stretch, but he’s a free agent this off-season and can’t be trusted to be an every down player given his history of inconsistency. Davis would instantly be their best young linebacker.
29. New York Giants – OT Garett Bolles (Utah)
The Giants used a first round on an offensive tackle in 2015, taking Ereck Flowers 9th overall, but he’s struggled mightily through 2 years in the league. They won’t give up on him or anything because he’s still young, but the offensive line as a whole is a big problem for the Giants, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they took another offensive lineman in the first round. First year starting right tackle Bobby Hart was probably their worst offensive starter in 2016. Bolles would be an instant upgrade on the right side or he could play left tackle with Flowers moving over to the right side, where he could be a better fit.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – QB DeShaun Watson (Clemson)
DeShaun Watson isn’t a lock to go in the first round, but there’s a good chance someone takes a chance on him at the end of the first round. Someone could trade back up into the end of the first round to grab him or a team like Kansas City could take him as a long-term quarterback option. This would be a surprising pick, but Andy Reid always liked to have a developmental quarterback prospect behind Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and they don’t have one in Kansas City behind Alex Smith, an average at best starting quarterback going into his age 33 season in 2017. Smith is no lock to remain with the Chiefs beyond the final year of his contract in 2018.
31. Dallas Cowboys – WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
Wide receiver isn’t a huge need for the Cowboys, but they don’t have a ton of pressing needs and Davis is arguably the best available player left on the board. Dez Bryant hasn’t been the same player over the past couple years thanks to injuries. Cole Beasley has emerged as a solid complementary receiver, but you need three good wide receivers in today’s NFL. Terrance Williams was the 3rd wide receiver in Dallas this season, but he’s an underwhelming player and a free agent this off-season.
32. New England Patriots – DE Charles Harris (Missouri)
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.