People have been asking me on social media for my take on what the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft may look like, so I’m giving it the old college try. Predicting the draft is an impossible task, especially at this stage, so I’m more or less trying to connect positional needs with prospects who are valued in that range.
Free agency happens first and will completely change the landscape of the draft. There are also plenty of trades to go down in the next few months, further altering things. Don’t be that guy saying the Saints should move back and get more picks. Of course they should, every team would like to do that. Don’t be that guy.
Because this is a lengthy piece (I’ve devoted about 100 hundred words to explaining my thinking behind each of the 32 picks), I’m splitting it up into three parts for ease of reading. This first segment covers the first 10 picks. The second piece will feature picks 11 through 20, and the final entry will break down picks 21 through 32. So for my Saints fans: consider this scenario as a possibility the Saints could be working with on draft day.
1st Overall Pick. Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M. Garrett is the best player in the draft and makes a ton of sense for a defense tied for second-to-last in sacks (30). Garrett fits the profile of a dominant pass-rusher at the next level and should make an immediate-impact on a team in need of it. There’s a strong argument for the Browns to use this selection to get a quarterback, but without an elite prospect like Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston available Garrett is the smart pick.
2nd Overall Pick. San Francisco 49ers: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame. With Colin Kaepernick likely released to free up $14.4-million in salary cap space and the threat of Blaine Gabbert starting more games on the horizon, they should find the next face of the franchise. Kizer may or may not be that guy, but he has all the tools for Kyle Shanahan to develop. Keep an eye on free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who played well in Shanahan’s offense in years past.
3rd Overall Pick. Chicago Bears: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford. The Bears can finally get out of a bad contract given to a bad quarterback by parting ways with Jay Cutler, freeing up $14-million in 2017. They’re reportedly expected to explore trade options for a target veteran passer like Jimmy Garoppolo and Tony Romo to replace Cutler. On the defensive side of the ball, former Saints draft bust Akiem Hicks turned it on and found 7 sacks after signing a free agent contract despite producing just 6.5 sacks through four years in New Orleans. Linebackers Willie Young (7.5 sacks) and Leonard Floyd (7 sacks) each got after the passer, but adding an athletic disruptor like Thomas could bring the Bears’ front to a high level.
4th Overall Pick. Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State. The Jaguars are going to need a shot in the arm for their offense after placing twenty-fifth in the NFL in scoring (just 19.9 points per game). They’re set at receiver between Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns, but need an answer at running back; neither T.J. Yeldon nor Chris Ivory played a full season or broke the 500-yards rushing mark. Enter Dalvin Cook; Florida State’s star rusher is a versatile weapon and maybe the best athlete at his position in the draft. He fills a position of need and, if nothing else, can fire up a fanbase in need by being another local talent.
5th Overall Pick. Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams): WR Mike Williams, Clemson. Few teams have done a better job building around their young quarterback than the Titans. Once he returns from his broken leg, Marcus Mariota will enjoy the benefits of a top-flight offensive line, a pair of hard-nosed running backs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, a dynamic tight end in Delanie Walker, and two polished receiving threats in Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe. Adding Mike Williams will give him the only missing piece to that puzzle; a superbly athletic wideout who can reel in contested catches and use a rare catch radius to always be open.
6th Overall Pick. New York Jets: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina. The Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg last year and Bryce Petty the year prior, but still don’t have any quarterbacks to put long-term faith in. Trubisky has shades of Carson Wentz to his game – both passers had relatively low volume of pass attempts, though Wentz’s case was due to injuries and Trubisky has just struggled to win the starting job. Even so, Trubisky clearly has talent and would probably walk onto the Jets’ roster as its most capable passer. Head coach Todd Bowles may be on thin ice after another losing season, but hopefully ownership will continue to exercise patience and let him stick to his plans.
7th Overall Pick. Los Angeles Chargers: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State. The Chargers added cornerback Casey Hayward in free agency last year and that decision could not have been more timely. Their secondary was hit hard with injuries, resulting in Hayward being the only cornerback to play 39-percent or more defensive snaps; he rarely left the field during his 987 defensive plays (94.1-percent of the whole). Marshon Lattimore has played sparingly for Ohio State due to a glut of talented defensive backs and some early-career injury problems of his own, but he played at a high level in 2016 and already has scouts buzzing. Lattimore is expected to dominate athletics testing this spring and is a dark horse to vault up draft boards.
8th Overall Pick. Carolina Panthers: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama. The Panthers have tried to find a successor to the 31-year old Greg Olsen and came close last year, nearly selecting Hunter Henry until defensive tackle Vernon Butler fell to their pick. However, Alabama’s superhuman athlete at tight end should be a shoe-in for them at the eighth overall selection. Howard is a stellar blocker with untapped athleticism as a receiver. He fits their offense very well and would form one of the league’s best combinations at tight end with Olsen.
9th Overall Pick. Cincinnati Bengals: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama. The Bengals will need help at middle linebacker after failing to find an answer in Rey Maluaga. Foster would enter a similar situation to what he enjoyed at Alabama, playing behind some very talented defensive linemen in Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap, and a pair of impressive outside linebackers in Karlos Dansby and Vontaze Burfict. Foster’s leadership and punishing style of play would fit in well on the Bengals’ defense.
10th Overall Pick. Buffalo Bills: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama. I don’t know how Jonathan Allen fell this far in this mock draft, but don’t be shocked if he slips beyond the top three picks on draft day. Allen is a better player than the sum of his parts would suggest; he has no clear alignment to start out in, whether as a defensive end or an interior lineman, thanks to his huge build and knack for disruption as a pass-rusher off the edge. He probably won’t blow anyone away in athletic testing and more-hyped prospects could surpass him. However, he’s clearly the best player available here and would be a homerun pick in new head coach Sean McDermott’s first year.
Top Available Prospects: So this is the situation the Saints have to work with. According to my board, the best prospects available at the Saints’ pick include:
- S Jamal Adams, LSU
- RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
- S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
- OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
- CB Sidney Jones, Washington
- DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
- WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
- QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Who should the Saints pick?