We won’t truly know which players in this draft were the best selections until years down the road, but that won’t stop us from giving immediate reactions. We’ve spent months studying all these guys in depth and years collecting data on each, making us confident enough in our evaluations to crown the top 10 value picks from the 2017 draft.
1. Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama (Round 1, pick No. 17 overall)
The No. 2 overall player on PFF’s big board, Allen has been one of our favorite players in the class for quite some time. His 67 total QB pressures last season were easily the most among interior defenders in the FBS, and he also earned the eighth-highest grade in run defense. Allen also offers an upgrade to a huge need position where Washington lost their best interior lineman in Chris Baker.
2. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State (Round 1, pick No. 11 overall)
The fourth overall player on PFF’s big board, Lattimore somehow plummeted out of the top 10 to the delight of the New Orleans Saints. Lattimore is a true difference-maker at the cornerback position, arguably the third-most valuable position on an NFL roster. Lattimore allowed 18 catches all season long in 2016 and a 31.9 quarterback rating against.
3. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama (Round 1, pick No. 31 overall)
There are the obvious off-field reasons for why Foster fell, but there is absolutely zero issue with his play on the field. He posted the highest grade we’ve ever seen from a linebacker in our three years of grading college games, and has all the athleticism to believe it will translate to the next level. Foster goes to a 49ers roster that suffered from some of the worst linebacker play in the NFL last year and should make a big impact in year one.
4. Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn (Round 4, pick No. 116 overall)
The word is that the medical evaluations on Carl Lawson had him off a few team’s boards, but fully healthy, this is a first-round talent dropping all the way to the fourth. His production as a pass-rusher last season was on par with Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, yet he comes off the board over 100 picks later than each. Lawson will be a bull-rush aficionado in the league with some of the strongest hands in the class. Back in the 2015 season, he whipped 2016 first-rounder Laremy Tunsil (then with Ole Miss), collecting six QB pressures in that game.
5. Malik McDowell, DI, Michigan State (Round 2, pick No. 35 overall)
Need, fit, value: it’s all here for the Seahawks. McDowell’s raw talent is on par with base ends like Solomon Thomas and Jonathan Allen, and he’s younger than both at only 20 years of age. The Michigan State defensive tackle, though, was frustratingly inconsistent, and it’s unclear if that will be resolved once he gets to the league. Of all the interior defenders in the draft class, only LSU’s Davon Godchaux earned a higher pass-rushing grade than McDowell in 2015.
6. Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky (Round 2, pick No. 38 overall)
For all the talk about a weak offensive line class, the Chargers were somehow able to manage the draft’s best offensive lineman all the way at the top of the second round. Lamp was the highest-graded left tackle in the FBS in 2014 and 2015 before finishing second in an injury-shortened 2016. That sort of consistency is reminiscent of Cody Whitehair a season ago, who ended up being a top-five center for the Bears as a rookie. There’s no reason to think that Lamp can’t have that kind of impact anywhere along the offensive line.
7. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson (Round 3, pick No. 97 overall)
The deep cornerback class pushed down a lot of talented corners, making a handful of them fantastic value. No one stood out more in that regard though than Tankersley. The Clemson cornerback has a top-notch blend of length and speed that will allow the Dolphins to play press coverage regularly. This past year, Tankersley recorded 13 combined pass breakups and interceptions and allowed a 42.4 passer rating when targeted.
8. Taylor Moton, G, Western Michigan (Round 2, pick No. 64 overall)
The sustained success of Taylor Moton across multiple positions, as well as at the Senior Bowl, makes us feel very comfortable about his projection to the next level. Moton has the flexibility to play either tackle, like he did as a senior, or guard, like he did as a junior. This past season, he surrendered eight total QB hurries and never more than two in a single game.
9. Desmond King, CB/S, Iowa (Round 5, pick No. 151 overall)
Desmond King has so many traits in the secondary that are unteachable. Unfortunately for him, speed is not one of them, and that’s why he slid. King’s ball skills and instincts in zone coverage are top notch. This past season, he broke up eight passes (plus he notched 12 in the 2015 season). He joins Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, both who have stellar ball skills in their own right.
10. Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, DI, USC (Round 7, pick No. 223 overall)
In the draft, pass-rushing prowess takes precedence, but there’s one position on the field where run defense still remains king. That position in nose tackle, and there’s no one more immovable at that position in this draft than Tu’ikolovatu. The USC nose tackle offers nothing as a pass-rusher, but he’s not playing anything other than first or second down. Tu’ikolovatu was the highest-graded nose tackle in run defense a season ago, recording 37 stops on the year.