On Tuesday, February 28, the nation’s top college football players (other than Chad Kelly maybe) will gather at the NFL Scouting Combine to engage in a big group workout in front of every front-office official who has any say in personnel decisions. Oh, and you and I will tune into watch as well, because our opinion matters, too, right?
Once the combine concludes, each team will head back home with the knowledge of how fast and strong each NFL-hopeful is, and alter their draft board accordingly. Obviously, with free agency opening on March 9, some teams will be able to address some holes ahead of the draft (April 27-29). But here’s what I see each team doing in the first-round the way rosters currently stand.
NFL Mock Draft: Round-One
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, DE (Texas A&M)
Although they recorded the second-fewest sacks in the NFL last season, I’m hesitant to say an edge-rusher is a position of need. This is because everywhere – outside of left tackle – is a position of need for the Browns. Nevertheless, Garrett is the best player on the board and the smart choice for Hue Jackson’s squad. Cleveland’s history of drafting quarterbacks will silence any second-thoughts on this pick.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Mitch Trubisky, QB (UNC)
The 49ers roster resembles the Browns: bare. While San Francisco could certainly use the help on defense, I don’t see them passing on a quarterback, unless they land a veteran before the draft via free agency/trade – Tony Romo, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Tyrod Taylor. (They’d take Jonathan Allen in that case.)
Of the top-three quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer), Trubisky has the highest-ceiling and would be the best fit in a Kyle Shanahan offense. The UNC product has the mobility, arm strength, and accuracy to excel in a west coast system. It will be on his new head coach to help him read-out the blitz, though.
3. Chicago Bears – Deshaun Watson, QB (Clemson)
It’s no secret that the Bears need some secondary help, but with the impending release of Jay Cutler, Chicago will also need a quarterback. Watson has athleticism and all the intangibles, but he’s also a little inconsistent throwing the football. Chicago will overlook that to acquire Watson’s upside and winning pedigree.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Allen, DL (Alabama)
Allen is the second-best player in this draft, but will see himself fall as teams obsess over quarterbacks. The 2016 Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski Award recipient excels against the run and can rush the passer from inside or out. Jacksonville would be thrilled to see Allen fall to four.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Rams) – Jamal Adams, S (LSU)
Moving down in the 2016 draft couldn’t have worked out better for Tennessee. Jared Goff looks terrible (not that they would have taken him), Jack Conklin was a First-Team All-Pro as a rookie, and now they get a top-five pick this year. At no. 5, the Titans will be able to address their biggest need: the secondary. Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker are viewed as 1a and 1b. Hooker’s recent surgeries will allow Adams to steal the show at the combine.
6. New York Jets – Marshon Lattimore, CB (Ohio St.)
The Jets do not have a single serviceable corner on their roster right now. If Darrelle Revis’ inability to cover anyone last year wasn’t reason enough to be cut, his $15.33 million cap-hit (with only $6 million in dead cap) should send him flying out the door. New York desperately needs help at corner and Lattimore has all the physical tools to blossom into a shutdown guy.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Solomon Thomas, DE (Stanford)
When the Chargers named Gus Bradley defensive coordinator, it meant a switch to a 4-3 defense. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram is going to enter free agency, and I don’t believe LA can win the bidding war for his services. This will leave the team searching for a replacement to rush opposite Joey Bosa. Solomon Thomas’ strong performance in the Sun Bowl sent him shooting up draft boards. His stock is expected to continue rising during the combine.
8. Carolina Panthers – Malik Hooker, S (Ohio St.)
Hooker’s absence from the combine may see him fall a little on draft boards. That should mean a team like Carolina, which possessed the 29th-ranked pass defense last year, will strike gold with the safety who intercepted seven passes in his first year as a starter.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Reuben Foster, LB (Alabama)
The Bengals allowed 4.4 yards per carry last season (23rd) and need an upgrade at more than one linebacker position. A corps that includes both Foster and Vontaze Burfict would be extremely athletic and vicious. Foster’s natural fit would be as a Will, which would allow Burfict to move to Mike.
10. Buffalo Bills – Mike Williams, WR (Clemson)
If Sammy Watkins can stay healthy, this pick would give the Bills two stud receivers who can lineup anywhere on the field. But the more likely outcome is that the oft-injured Watkins is unable to stay on the field, making the addition of Williams all the more necessary for a team lacking in targets. With it sounding more likely that Buffalo will keep Tyrod Taylor, it makes sense to get him some weapons.
11. New Orleans Saints – Sidney Jones, CB (Washington)
No team defended the pass worse than the Saints last year. Their secondary shouldn’t take all of the blame, though, as opposing QBs had all day to find their receivers. New Orleans only managed 30 sacks on the season, but will wait until the second-round to address that need. Sidney Jones’ 170-pound frame is counteracted by superior instincts and toughness.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Eagles) – Marlon Humphrey, CB (Alabama)
I suspect this pick will be traded. Cleveland will either use it to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo, or will move down for more picks. If they do keep this pick, I still don’t see them taking a QB. Instead, they’ll look to add a corner who can play opposite Joe Haden. Humphrey struggles some against the long-ball, but his physical tools are too much to pass on.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Corey Davis, WR (Western Michigan)
Larry Fitzgerald is still a top receiver, but for how much longer? Both JJ Nelson and John Brown are glorified slot receivers, and neither should be relied upon to take over WR1 duties. Corey Davis has drawn comparisons to Demaryius Thomas, just without the silly drops.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Vikings) – Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU)
*Note: There will be a coin-flip for the 14th-pick, as Minnesota and Indianapolis had identical records and strength of schedule.
Philadelphia needs weapons for Carson Wentz. But with both Williams and Davis gone at this point, they’ll take a running back who can help carry the load. Fournette has the size and strength to be a workhorse, and offers some help in the passing game, too.
15. Indianapolis Colts – Derek Barnett, DE (Tennessee)
The Colts will lose Robert Mathis to retirement this offseason and need to give Erik Walden some help rushing the passer. Tennessee’s all-time leader in sacks would be a great fit, as the Colts convert him into a stand-up player on early downs.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Takkarist McKinley, DE (UCLA)
Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can’t bring the heat off the edge the way they used to. The two combined for just 11 sacks last season, with Dumervil only playing in eight games. McKinley is very raw but could grow into a premier pass-rusher with some improved mechanics.
17. Washington – Teez Tabor, CB (Florida)
No one in Washington wants to see Bashaud Breeland get beat up and down the field again this season. Finding a corner to play opposite Josh Norman is a priority for Dan Snyder’s squad. Teez Tabor may not be much help against the run, but he sure can mirror a receiver.
18. Tennessee Titans – Adoree Jackson, CB (USC)
As mentioned, Tennessee’s biggest priority this offseason is getting help for their 30th-ranked pass defense. The Titans may be able to get two birds with one stone here. Adoree Jackson is not only an intriguing talent at corner, but a phenomenal return-man, too.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dalvin Cook, RB (FSU)
I know this may seem like going from one troubled running back (Doug Martin) to another, but Dalvin Cook’s talent is worth the risk. Tampa Bay averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season (29th), and Cook’s big-play potential is exactly what the offense needs.
20. Denver Broncos – Ryan Ramczyk, OT (Wisconsin)
The Broncos allowed 40 sacks last season and are without a viable option at either tackle spot now that they officially declined Russell Okung’s option. There is a good chance Denver lands Andrew Whitworth in free agency, which would alter this pick (to O.J. Howard). If they don’t, John Elway’s hand will be forced. Ramczyk may fall a little on draft boards as a result of the hip surgery he underwent following the Cotton Bowl. If he gets this far, Denver will have a new starter at left tackle.
21. Detroit Lions – Taco Charlton, DE (Michigan)
The Lions recorded a measly 26 sacks last season. Taco Charlton is one of the most talented players in the draft; concerns over his commitment to the game have his stock falling. This late in the first round, it’s worth rolling the dice on his potential.
22. Miami Dolphins – Zach Cunningham, LB (Vanderbilt)
The Dolphins ranked 30th against the run in 2016. Kiko Alonso can ball when he’s healthy, but Miami needs to get him some help. Cunningham is a sideline-to-sideline defender who would be able to step into a starting role from day one.
23. New York Giants – O.J. Howard, TE (Alabama)
After seeing what Howard did at the Senior Bowl, it pains me to have him this low. If he does fall this far, the Giants would be jumping for joy. Howard has proven he is a force in the run game and was finally able to display some of his athleticism in the passing game at the Senior Bowl. The Alabama product is the big body the Giants need over the middle of the field.
24. Oakland Raiders – Caleb Brantley, DT (Florida)
The Raiders were terrible against the run last season, largely due to a glaring hole up front. Caleb Brantley can play both nose and as a three-technique, making him a perfect fit for Oakland.
25. Houston Texans – DeShone Kizer, QB (Notre Dame)
Brock Osweiler is a bad quarterback. I have Houston pegged as the probable landing spot for Tony Romo. The former Cowboy won’t be around much longer, though. He’s a short-term solution. Adding Romo and drafting Kizer would allow the latter to learn from the sideline for a year or two, which is exactly what Kizer needs.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Cam Robinson, OT (Alabama)
Offensive line (more specifically left tackle) is one of the Seahawks’ few weaknesses. George Fant cannot remain a starter if Seattle wants to contend. Robinson possesses extraordinary power and has played against top talent throughout his career in the SEC.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Malik McDowell, DL (MSU)
The Chiefs got beat-up in the trenches last year, on both sides of the ball. McDowell possesses one of the highest-ceilings in this draft, but there are concerns over his character. Marcus Peters had similar concerns coming out of college, and that has worked out very well for Kansas City. They won’t hesitate to pull the trigger if McDowell is available.
28. Dallas Cowboys – David Njoku, TE (Miami)
Jason Witten will be 35 years old by the time the 2017 season kicks off, and the 15-year veteran’s 1,000-yard seasons are long behind him. Njoku possesses freakish athleticism and above-average hands. Most importantly, the Miami product has the will to block for the run game.
29. Green Bay Packers – Christian McCaffrey, RB (Stanford)
Unfortunately, the Packers will have missed out on all the elite cornerback talent at this point. Green Bay will take the best player available, and that’s the versatile McCaffrey. With Eddie Lacy potentially finding a new home this offseason, McCaffrey also makes sense from a depth-chart perspective. Mike McCarthy could pair him with Ty Montgomery in the backfield and create mismatches all over the field.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tim Williams, OLB (Alabama)
It’s time to give up on Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison is about to turn 39 years old. Pittsburgh needs to find a legitimate edge threat, and will overlook some off-field issues to land pass-rush specialist Tim Williams.
31. Atlanta Falcons – Jabrill Peppers, S (Michigan)
The Falcons would love for either Caleb Brantley or Malik McDowell to fall to 31, but I don’t see that happening. As a result, look for Atlanta to take a flyer on one of the mysteries of the 2017 draft. Peppers adds even more speed to Dan Quinn’s defense, and while many want to see the Michigan product have a more defined role, I expect Quinn to use his versatility to the Falcons’ advantage.
32. New England Patriots – Adam Shaheen, TE (Ashland)
No team is in a better position to take a risk in the first-round than the Pats. You might not know who Shaheen is yet, and may not even know where Ashland is, but you will once the combine gets underway.