The time has finally come and after months of eagerness and anticipation, the NFL Draft is at last upon us. On Thursday April 27th, 32 teams will take part in the selection of a whole new wave of young NFL talent in an effort to find players that could become cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.
But you already know this. You’ve seen your fair share of drafts already. You know the heartbreak of a draft bust and the merriment of a draft day steal.
Me being a Jets fan I’ve experienced more of the former.
Nonetheless, thousands of mock drafts have been published and everyone has their own opinion. However, if you’re feeling especially cheery and want to hear the thoughts of a college freshman, here are mine.
The following is a complete preview of the upcoming NFL Draft and an examination of the top prospects as well as intriguing players and storylines to follow. Note that this is part one of the preview and there is a link to Part 2 at the bottom of this article.
The Mock Draft you are about to look at does not account for trades and this almost assures that it will be horribly wrong. That being said, I still hope you enjoy.
- Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
For the sake of the Cleveland Browns and the entire NFL, I sincerely hope that this is the selection that is announced come Thursday night. There should be no overthinking, no pleas from Head Coach Hue Jackson for a quarterback; Garrett is the best player in this draft class hands down.
He is an athletic freak who placed top 5 in all combine drills he took part in including a 41.0 inch vertical jump which was not only tops among all defensive lineman, but 4th out of every player in the entire draft. Combine that with his production at Texas A&M which resulted in 31 sacks over 34 career games and it’s not hard to see why he’s the consensus best player in this year’s class.
This is my prayer to the Cleveland Browns’ organization: Don’t screw this one up!
- San Francisco 49ers: DE Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
As I mentioned previously, this mock draft does not account for potential trades. But if it did, this would certainly be a pick to consider a possible trade. However, for the sake of this mock, we’re going to assume the 49ers stay put and select a player at number 2.
In this case they draft defensive end Solomon Thomas out of Stanford. Although there are many routes they could go with this pick (the worst of which being a potential Trubisky choice), the selection of Thomas would pair him up with the team’s first round picks of the last two years, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, which would make for a dominant Pac-12 oriented defensive line.
Thomas’ combination of athleticism and explosiveness as well as versatility to play anywhere from interior lineman to even outside linebacker if need be provide the 49ers with a stellar selection, one that they cannot afford to pass up on, especially for a reach at the quarterback position.
- Chicago Bears: S Jamal Adams (LSU)
On paper, Jamal Adams seems like the perfect fit for the Chicago Bears. Personally, I think that paper’s on to something.
Adams is one of my favorite players in this entire draft class and might just be the best all-around player available. He has the ability to play up close as a box safety and as a result is excellent against the run and is a total game-wrecker in the screen game. His coverage ability is superb as well as he is able to play that single-high safety role effectively in the Cover 3 or Cover 1 and has the ability to match up strongly against tight ends which is held at a premium in today’s NFL.
Adams is a natural-born leader on and off the field and not only sets the tone of play when he’s on the turf, but is a field general who could take command of games with his intangibles and leadership.
The Bears finished dead last in takeaways last season with just 11 and the selection of Jamal Adams would only help to improve that dreadful number.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)
Much has been made of Blake Bortles’ struggles over the past year and whether or not he’s the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville. While the jury may still be out on him, a surefire way to take a lot of the pressure off of Bortles would be to draft a player such as Leonard Fournette who would be a drastic improvement over the two running backs that are currently controlling the Jaguars’ backfield in Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon.
While some of their lack of success could be blamed on poor offensive line play, there just simply isn’t a good enough offensive lineman to take with this pick which is why it make it impossible to pass on a player of his caliber.
Fournette is the consensus top running back in this class with a bruiser mentality combined with a 4.51 40 time which makes for a scary runner with All-Pro potential. The comparisons to Adrian Peterson or Bo Jackson seem fair as he matches up well with them from a physical standpoint and could very well be one of the best players in this draft when all is set and done.
- Tennessee Titans: CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
Marshon Lattimore has emerged over the past few months as the premier cornerback option in a very deep class.
The Ohio State defensive back allowed a ridiculous opponent’s passer rating of just 31.9 on passes in which he was targeted and possesses elite ball skills which resulted in 4 interceptions with 13 passes defended in his only year starting with the Buckeyes. He has the makeup speed necessary to catch up if beaten initially off the snap with a blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds.
The Titans are desperate for some help in the secondary with their significant free agent signings being cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Jonathan Cyprien who are nothing more than experienced starting caliber players. The addition of Lattimore would not only give the team a clear number one option at cornerback to build this secondary around, but also free up their second first round pick to select a playmaker for Marcus Mariota later in the draft.
The potential “red flags” such as his lingering hamstring injuries and one year of starting experience will not be enough to deter the Titans from taking Lattimore this high in the draft.
- New York Jets: S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
Please don’t draft a quarterback…I beg…please.
I apologize as my inner Jets fan hysteria is showing. The absolute worst thing the Jets can do here is draft a quarterback…which means they’ll probably do it.
But I’m going to try and be optimistic here and mock safety Malik Hooker to Gang Green. Hooker is a prototypical “center field” style safety who has elite range that has drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Earl Thomas on multiple occasions.
He is the definition of a ball-hawking safety whose knack for turnovers is exactly what a team like the Jets needs who struggled in the takeaway department last season finishing dead last in turnover differential. Hooker is a talent that is still somewhat raw and may require some development in terms of play discipline and tackling ability, but could very well be the best player to come out of this class (I realize I’ve now said that multiple times but I’m leaving my options open here).
With Calvin Pryor regressing as a player last season and no guarantee that Marcus Gilchrist will be back next season, Hooker is the perfect fit for a struggling Jets secondary and a rebuilding Jets organization.
Just don’t take Trubisky…please.
- Los Angeles Chargers: WR Mike Williams (Clemson)
The Chargers top option here is Malik Hooker. Unfortunately for them, Hooker is gone in this scenario. This leaves the Bolts with the ultimate consolation prize in Clemson wideout Mike Williams.
Los Angeles has holes on the offensive line and in the secondary, but could also use another playmaker on offense. Just imagine, an offense with a healthy Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the outside with speedy receivers such as Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams splitting slot duties. That’s a scary good combination, one that could be too enticing to pass up on.
Williams is a big bodied receiver, at 6’4” 218 lbs., who is able to body defensive backs off the ball and win one-on-one jump balls with ease.
The first-team All-ACC selection may not be the fastest, but he is a high-volume target who could prove to be an excellent safety blanket in Los Angeles for years to come.
- Carolina Panthers: DE Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
It is certainly a likely scenario that the Panthers trade up in this draft to go and get Leonard Fournette. After all, they have a huge need a running back and he is obviously the top option. However, in this mock draft they must suck it up because their prized pick out of LSU is long gone and they must move on.
Now they could go Christian McCaffrey, but I don’t necessarily know if the value is there to take him this high. That’s why I have them selecting defensive lineman Jonathan Allen who I project to be a heavy draft day slide due to an abundance of terrific talent around him and recent concerns over injury proneness.
With a D-Line dominated by players such as Mario Addison, Kawann Short, and Charles Johnson, it may be hard to find Allen any sort of consistent playing time, but his ability to play both inside and out should give him ample opportunities.
This may not be the flashiest or most satisfying pick for Panthers fans, but it may be one that proves to be the most beneficial in the long run.
- Cincinnati Bengals: DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
The first word that comes to mind when people mention Tennessee edge rusher Derek Barnett is usually ‘production’. Barnett may not be the most athletically gifted player on the field. He isn’t some kind of genetic freak such as a Myles Garrett or a Solomon Thomas, but man did he produce during his college career.
Barnett totaled 32.0 sacks and 52.0 tackles for loss over 3 years with the Volunteers which stands on par with, former Tennessee standout and current hall of famer, the late Reggie White. The All-American relies on his awareness and play traits to get to the quarterback and even though he isn’t superbly athletic, could prove to be a very talented pass rusher at the next level.
The Bengals are in need of another pass rusher as they ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks last season and although some may see this as a little high for Barnett, I see it as a match made in football heaven.
- Buffalo Bills: TE O.J. Howard (Alabama)
O.J. Howard is the real deal.
Earlier I mentioned that Jamal Adams was one of my favorite players in this draft…here’s my favorite. Howard is an elite pass catching tight end who also just so happens to be one of the best in-line blockers in this class. So imagine a player like Jordan Reed having the ability to split out wide as well as play a significant role in run blocking and even pass blocking if need be. That’s O.J. Howard.
Critics will point to his lack of production at Alabama as a drawback, but when you have a team that talented it could be hard to utilize everyone to their fullest potentials.
Simply put, if this kid wants to play ball, he’s going to play ball.
At the moment the Bills have a capable player at the position in Charles Clay, but with new Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison expected to run a West Coast style offense, the addition of a TE such as Howard is a very intriguing prospect, one that could prove to be a game changer if done right.
- New Orleans Saints: LB Reuben Foster (Alabama)
Character concerns aside, Alabama’s Reuben Foster is an absolute monster when on the field. Some feel that his recent “diluted urine sample” will be enough to push Foster down draft boards and perhaps even out of the first round. But when it comes to the NFL, players of his caliber are always given 2nd and 3rd chances.
It’s simple economics. The potential reward of taking Reuben Foster surpasses the risk associated with selecting a player with such character concerns thus leaving him right where I initially mocked him, to the Saints at 11.
Foster is a viscous playmaker that isn’t hard to spot when watching tape from Alabama’s games the last couple seasons. He has a large frame which allows for punishing hits that leave skill position players worried about going over the middle of the field. Foster has proven to be capable in coverage which will only serve as an asset for him come draft day.
The Saints are in desperate need of help at linebacker and their defense as a whole and if they’re willing to overlook some personal and injury concerns (he’s recovering from offseason rotator cuff surgery), they may find that defensive playmaker they’ve been in search of for years.
- Cleveland Browns: QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
And with that, the first quarterback is taken off the board.
A large part of me expects the Browns to trade up to secure that they get their prized possession (perhaps as far up as 2nd), but once again this is my mock draft and trades aren’t allowed because I said so. The Browns have debated over whether they would draft Garrett or Trubisky number one overall.
In this scenario, they could have their cake and eat it too.
The story writes itself. Trubisky is the hometown boy, born and raised in the Cleveland area that grew up a Browns fan and might finally take the organization out of the walloping cycle of self-pity that has engulfed the franchise for years.
Maybe let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but Trubisky to the Browns actually makes a lot of sense.
The UNC quarterback is a perfect fit for head coach Hue Jackson’s offensive scheme and the coaching staff seems to be really high on him (perhaps more than the rest of the league). The consistent criticisms of Trubisky are that he’s a one year starter and that he has difficulty recognizing blitzes. While these may be fair assessments, they certainly aren’t the be-all end-all to a potential NFL prospect.
If developed in the right organization, Trubisky could become a very capable NFL starter. I believe that Mitch Trubisky will become a member of the Cleveland Browns on Thursday.
I just don’t know if they’re the right organization.
- Arizona Cardinals: QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
Just like that, the first two quarterbacks are selected in consecutive picks as the Cardinals opt to take their QB of the future in Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Carson Palmer, who turned 37 last December, is beginning to show his age after a very shaky 2016 campaign and selecting Watson here might prove to be a very wise move on the part of the Cardinals. The two-time Heisman finalist will be allowed to sit behind Palmer and develop for a season or two before being thrusted into the starting role early in his career.
Watson is a big-bodied quarterback who is surprisingly mobile for his size, but the thing that will stand out most to scouts evaluating him is his tremendous aptitude to come through in clutch situations and prove that he is ultimately a winner. He is a leader amongst men who has the ideal quarterback mentality needed to succeed in this league.
Concerns about his decision making will continue to loom, but if given the chance to develop behind a veteran like Palmer, Watson could work to correct his mistakes and develop into an excellent starting quarterback with Pro Bowl potential.
- Philadelphia Eagles: RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Christian McCaffrey to the Eagles almost makes too much sense and if they’re lucky enough to have him fall to them at 14 they would be fools to pass him up.
They fixed their WR problem by going out and signing free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. They were able to add a boost to their offensive line by re-upping Stefan Wisniewski and signing free agent Chance Warmack giving them versatility on the interior.
The addition of McCaffrey would provide the team with a scary good offense come next season as his versatility as both a running back and receiver make him a textbook match for Doug Pederson’s West Coast style offense. They need cornerback help, but this class is so deep at corner that they could easily get solid options in Days 2 and 3.
McCaffrey is a dynamic and multidimensional runner who adds value not only in the running game, but also in the passing game and as a return specialist. Although he may not be a prototypical every-down back, his versatility will keep opposing defenses on their toes at all times and Pederson’s offensive mind is perfect for a player such as McCaffrey.
- Indianapolis Colts: OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
Wisconsin has produced some very talented offensive linemen over the past decade or so (see Joe Thomas and Travis Frederick) and Ryan Ramczyk looks to continue that trend as he will enter his rookie season in 2017.
The Colts top priority in this draft should be to find an offensive tackle that could protect star quarterback Andrew Luck from the big, bad defensive linemen in this league. Although Ramczyk may be known as more of a run blocker at this point, he could certainly serve as an upgrade over players such as Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark that currently occupy the Colts’ depth chart.
Admittedly, Indianapolis could certainly go with other needs here such as edge rusher or cornerback, but this class is so stacked with talented players at those positions that they could pass on them in the first rounds and still come away with some pretty good players.
Ramczyk at 15 may be a bit of a stretch, but with a draft class so weak at offensive line, the Colts could come away with one of the few solid options if they opt to go with the former Wisconsin Badger here.
- Baltimore Ravens: WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
There is no consensus top wide receiver in this year’s draft class. Mike Williams has the size, John Ross has the speed, and Corey Davis…well Corey Davis may just be a combination of the two.
Apart from being the most well-refined route runner out of the three, Davis has the size, at 6’3” 209 lbs., that you want from a top receiver and is deceptively fast as evidenced by his deep ball tendencies. He is an incredibly physical receiver who is able to beat press coverage due to his quick hand movements and is an absolute beast in the red zone.
Criticisms arise when it is pointed out that he has done this against inferior talent (having competed in the mid-major MAC conference), but tapes show absolute domination over said talent. He also has some injury concerns which resulted in him missing the draft combine which severely hurt his draft stock. Despite this, Davis is my favorite receiver in this year’s class and could very well be the most successful at his position in the coming years.
As for the Ravens, they are in desperate need of an offensive playmaker as their offense lacks star power. At receiver, Breshad Perriman has been a total bust, Steve Smith is a goner, and Mike Wallace is over the hill. Baltimore needs some kind of spark on offense and a player of Davis’ caliber will provide them with just that.
Click here to continue reading with Part 2 of this article.