Ready for another more mock draft? It’s never too early to look ahead (or is it?), so here is the first look at the 2017 NFL draft landscape.
This is more of an exercise in gauging the value of next year’s draft, and at first glance, it’s loaded in edge rushers and running backs. After a weak edge rush class this year, the NFL will have a nice influx of pass rushers and this running back class will really test the theory that the NFL is a “passing league.” Will teams bite on the five-plus potential first-round running backs?
Here’s the first look at 2017, with team standings drawn from Las Vegas odds to win the Super Bowl:
- Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Before the 2015 season, we asked if Watson was the best quarterback prospect in all of college football. While Cal’s Jared Goff likely surpassed him in that department, Watson’s all-around tools are difficult to match. He has the strong arm to drive the ball into tight windows, though it’s his touch on two-level throws that impresses most. There’s still room to grow from a quarterbacking standpoint as he can learn to get through his reads better and his accuracy wanes at times, but Watson is poised for a huge season and he’s the early favorite to be the first quarterback off the board. The Browns waited to invest heavily in a new franchise quarterback and that may pay off next year.
- San Diego Chargers: Myles Garrett, OLB, Texas A&M
The first explosive edge rusher is off the board in Garrett, whose two-year production has been outstanding. His +49.7 pass rush grade ranked second in the nation in 2014 as a true freshman and a +42.4 mark ranked fourth in 2015. He continues to improve against the run, and with his frame, burst and production, Garrett looks like a top-5 lock heading into the season.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett brings a different style from Garrett, but he’s nearly matched his on-field production with a No. 30 national ranking as a true freshman in 2014 and a No. 2 finish at +54.7 last season. He stepped into the SEC as an excellent run defender as a freshman, then took his pass rushing to a new level as a sophomore with 62 pressures that ranked fifth in the nation. Barnett adds yet another piece to the ever-evolving Jaguars defense.
- San Francisco 49ers: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
King would have been in the first-round discussion had he come out this season after finishing 25th in the nation overall in 2014 and third last year at +20.0. He’s strong in coverage, picking off eight passes and knocking away 12 others on only 80 targets, and his +9.5 grade against the run ranked third in the nation. King’s all-around game translates well to the next level.
- Tennessee Titans: Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
While teammate Vernon Hargreaves was a first-rounder this year, Tabor outplayed him last fall and that has put him on the NFL’s first-round radar. Tabor’s +12.7 coverage grade ranked 13th in the country and quarterbacks posted a passer rating of 33.0 into his coverage, fifth-best in the FBS. Tabor’s size, speed, and production should land him in the first round, and the cornerback-needy Titans can be the beneficiary.
- Detroit Lions: Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Hindered by injury the last two seasons, Lawson opted to come back to college and a strong full season should put him squarely in the first-round mix. He looked nothing like a freshman in 2013 during Auburn’s near-championship run and after missing the entire 2014 season, Lawson posted a strong +14.1 grade on 416 snaps last season. His quick burst and strong hands should lead to a monster grade and first-round hype next season.
- Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles): Malik McDowell, DE, Michigan State
Get your DeForest Buckner comparisons ready. McDowell features a similar long frame and disruptive interior presence. The former top recruit posted the third-best pass rush grade of returning interior defensive linemen in the country and he’s poised to become one of the nation’s best in 2016.
- Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams): Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
It’s the Titans’ turn to take the second of their two top-10 picks and they add one of the most dynamic receivers in the draft. Davis has the route running, burst and downfield ball skills to be an all-around threat in the NFL. Davis’ +27.0 receiving grade leads all returnees from last year and he averaged a gaudy 8.2 yards after the catch per reception.
- New Orleans Saints: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The year of the running back features a number of different options and the Saints go with the best big-play threat of the bunch. Cook picked up a 15-plus yard gain on 14.8 percent of his carries and 62.9 percent of his rushing yards came on breakaway runs — the highest percentage in the nation. His second gear makes him a scoring threat on every touch, whether in the run game or catching the ball out of the backfield.
- Atlanta Falcons: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
Atlanta has their choice of edge rushers and they go with Harris, who ranks sixth among returning edge defenders with a +30.1 pass rush grade. He rushes the passer with a variety of moves, including an effective swim move, and he improved his work against the run after a lackluster freshman season.
- Miami Dolphins: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The second running back off the board, Fournette is combination of speed, power, and quickness in the draft, and he’s coming off an outstanding 2015 that saw him lead the nation with a +30.8 run grade. After a freshman season in which he looked more like a straight-line runner, Fournette added some wiggle to his game as a sophomore, so if he has any more improvements in store for 2016 – such as his work in the passing game – he becomes even scarier.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
The Bucs add an explosive playmaker in Smith-Schuster who is capable of turning short passes into long gains while also showing the ability to get behind the defense. He averaged 6.1 yards after the catch per reception and he adds a much-needed YAC option to go with the big bodied receivers in Tampa Bay.
- Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen returned to school for another year after picking up 13 sacks, six QB hits, and 17 hurries on only 258 rushes and he’s posted an absurd +57.3 overall grade on 903 snaps the last two years. Expect him to see more time on early downs next season which should increase his draft stock.
- Chicago Bears: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
There’s some projection to this pick as Robinson has the size, look, and flashes of on-field dominance, but the consistency has been lacking in his first two seasons. He was banged up for much of last season, but he played much better down the stretch. It’s also hard to overlook Robinson’s performance his freshman year against Florida, as he handled eventual first-round pick Dante Fowler in pass protection and he showed the ability to make every block in the run game. That Robinson has to show up in 2016 to warrant the first-round selection.
- Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
After missing all of 2015, Williams will return to form one of the nation’s most formidable pass-catching duos with Watson. They had good chemistry during Watson’s freshman year (2014) when Williams had the second-highest receiving grade among this group of returnees and he averaged 18.1 yards per reception and 7.6 yards after the catch per reception. He brings a downfield threat to the Bills’ offense.
- Houston Texans: Deatrich Wise Jr, DE, Arkansas
A late riser in 2015, Wise put on a show down the stretch, finishing with a +18.8 pass rush grade on only 258 rushes (10 sacks, 12 QB hits, 21 hurries). Wise is an athletic 6-foot-6, 272-pounder with the frame to grow into a classic 3-4 defensive end and interior disruptor at the next level.
- New York Jets: Devonte Fields, OLB, Louisville
After transferring from TCU, Fields had a productive season at Louisville, finishing with 13 sacks, seven QB hits and 29 hurries. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he fits the mold of 3-4 rush linebacker and the Jets get an edge rusher mocked to them for about the 10th straight year.
- New York Giants: Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
Yet another edge rusher off the board, Smoot quietly posted the third-best pass rush grade among FBS edge defenders, just behind Barnett and Garrett. He was solid against the run and with Jason Pierre-Paul’s future up in the air after the season, re-loading at defensive end may be the move for the Giants.
- Baltimore Ravens: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Our top-graded cornerback from 2015, Lewis was targeted often with little to show for it. Of his 90 targets, only 33 were completed (36.7 percent) and he tied for the national lead with 15 passes defensed to go with two interceptions. At a listed 5-foot-10, Lewis will battle the NFL’s preference for bigger cornerbacks, but another playmaking season like 2015 should put him right into the first-round mix.
- Oakland Raiders: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
One of the draft’s wild cards, McCaffrey’s all-around ability has to be attractive in the first round. His natural running style fits any scheme and his +33.3 run grade ranked second in the nation while his +15.5 receiving grade led all running backs. He can line up all over the field as a mismatch problem and Oakland continues to add to their explosive offense with another playmaker. McCaffrey is one of the stars of this draft class, but falls in this mock due to the aforementioned positional value of the running back position.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Coming off a knee injury, Chubb’s freshman season was as good as anyone in the class as his elusive rating of 108.5 ranked third in the nation. He was off to another strong start before going own to injury after only 183 snaps last season. Chubb’s running style reminds of Maurice Jones-Drew and if he can regain his form, he’ll be yet another first-round hopeful at running back.
- Indianapolis Colts: Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
While Peppers may be moving to linebacker on Michigan’s depth chart this fall, he’s the athletic hybrid player for which the NFL is looking. Peppers was strong against the run (+8.3) and in coverage (+6.5) and he has the athleticism to play near the line of scrimmage while matching up with slot receivers and tight ends.
- Minnesota Vikings: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
The third Michigan defender in the last five picks, Hurst fires off the ball and his +38.0 overall grade ranks third among returning interior defensive linemen despite playing only 418 snaps in 2015. Hurst shows the power to push the pocket and disrupt in the backfield, though he does need to do a better job of handling double teams and finishing plays.
- Dallas Cowboys: Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
After a strong 2014 that saw him post the second-best coverage grade of the returnees, Sutton took a step back in 2015. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he has the size that the NFL will covet, but he has to return to his 2014 ways when he allowed only 43.3 percent of targets to be completed and his 10 passes defensed tied for 10th in the nation.
- Arizona Cardinals: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Perhaps a surprise first-round pick, but Rudolph’s size and arm will be enticing for NFL teams during the scouting process. He’ll alternate between amazing and head-scratching with his accuracy, but there’s more good than bad and his 2015 passing grade was the second-best out of the returning signal-callers. Rudolph has the tools to fit nicely into head coach Bruce Arians’ scheme.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama
Jackson started his career at cornerback, but the move to free safety as a true sophomore worked out well for him, as his +8.9 coverage grade ranks second among returnees. Given his background at corner, he adds versatility to the back end of a defense, capable of playing deep coverage or manning up on receivers if necessary.
- Carolina Panthers: Pat Elflein, G, Ohio State
While Carolina has two good young guards, they are both hitting the end of their respective contracts and Elflein looks like the best guard in the draft. He had the third-best run block grade in the class against Power-5 competition and his two-year run blocking grade of +35.5 makes him a good fit for Carolina’s power-running scheme.
- Denver Broncos: Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Vanderdoes had a ridiculous +7.7 grade on only 32 snaps in the 2015 opener against Virginia before going down to injury, but he appeared to be building on a strong freshman season and he’s poised to show his five-star hype for a full season. He sheds blocks as well as any defensive tackle in the class and if he can continue to improve as a pass rusher, he’ll be a hot name come next April.
- Green Bay Packers: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
A pass-rush specialist, Williams has pressured the quarterback at an incredible rate over the last two years. He picked up 52 total pressures (11 sacks, 8 QB hits, 33 hurries) on only 147 rushes in 2015, good for a pass rush productivity of 28.4 that lead the nation. While he’s only played 256 total snaps the last two seasons, only 47 of which have been against the run. Williams’ explosiveness off the edge makes him a first-round candidate, although gaining experience on early downs this fall can only help his cause.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Zach Banner, OT, USC
At 6-foot-9, 350 pounds, Banner is an imposing presence and he started to live up to his potential with a +22.1 overall grade in 2015 that included the No. 2 returning pass block grade at +12.5. He surrendered only nine pressures on the season, while showing well in the run game, and Banner is a good fit as Pittsburgh replenishes their tackle position.
- Seattle Seahawks: Cordera Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Another long cornerback, Tankersley had a strong 2015 with a +9.3 coverage grade while surrendering only 39.5 percent completions into his coverage — seventh-best among the returnees. Tankersley does a nice job staying on top of routes and his long 6-foot-1 frame is a good fit for Seattle’s system.
- New England Patriots: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
With Martellus Bennett on a one-year deal, the Patriots re-load their coveted tight end position with Howard. He’s been underused in Alabama’s system to this point, but he’s a strong receiving threat and a more featured role this fall will showcase his first-round ability.