Here’s the initial top ten picks I’ve mocked, albeit well ahead of offseason-defining free agency and trades moving players and draft positioning. So remember to take this all with a healthy dose of salt and enjoy the ride.
- Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
- San Francisco 49ers: QB Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame
- Chicago Bears: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
- Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
- Tennessee Titans: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
- New York Jets: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
- Los Angeles Chargers: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
- Carolina Panthers: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
- Cincinnati Bengals: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
- Buffalo Bills: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Alright, let’s dive in.
11th Pick. New Orleans Saints: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee. This is a tough spot for the Saints. None of the best players available (safeties Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker, tailback Leonard Fournette, or tackle Ryan Ramczyk) fit positions of need. There’s an argument to be made for picking any of them out of principle because you can always use good players. But given the Saints’ needs, they should focus their draft strategy on the best available prospects at positions that will get on the field early and often.
So that means pass rushers and cover corners. Sidney Jones could be picked here, but I expect the Saints to add a cornerback or two through free agency. So pass rusher remains the biggest weakness – and that means adding Derek Barnett, whose studious snap anticipation and unique lower leg flexibility is the perfect match for Cam Jordan’s play strength and power. Barnett is exactly the kind of vocal leader who sets a good example the Saints need. The 20-year old rookie has terrific bend and burst around the edge, which will get him plenty of sacks in the NFL. He has room to bulk up and potential for growth so far as refining his hands and pass rush moves.
12th Pick. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles): QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. It’s about time. The Browns have languished in quarterback purgatory for generations and it’s time to find guy. Watson has the leadership traits, mental aptitude, and arm talent to thrive even in Cleveland. He’s got the makings of a good supporting cast between receivers Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Hawkins, and Corey Coleman and tailbacks Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell. The Browns’ offensive line is better than it gets credit for, but the pocket presence of Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin, Kevin Hogan, and Charlie Whitehurst did it no favors. We’re all praying for you, Deshaun.
13th Pick. Arizona Cardinals: S Jamal Adams, LSU. The Cardinals will probably have other needs going into the draft, but safety will be one of them. Starting safety Tony Jefferson is expected to leave in free agency, and fan-favorite Tyrann Mathieu has struggled with multiple injuries. Adams is one of the best players in the draft and would be someone they could build around. The Cardinals have not shied away from LSU defenders in the past like Mathieu, linebacker Kevin Minter, and of course cornerback Patrick Peterson. Adams would fit right in amongst the NFC West’s hard-hitting defenses.
14th Pick. Indianapolis Colts: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State. A pair of late-season surgeries to Hooker’s labrum and core muscles look to do some damage to his draft stock. Like the case with Adams, safeties don’t go highly in the draft as it is, so they should both slide a little further than currently projected. Hooker is a dynamic ballhawk on the back end who brings to mind Jairus Byrd when he was good for the Buffalo Bills. I can’t name either of the Colts’ starting safeties in 2016 (turns out it was Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers), so this could be a home-run pick for new general manager Chris Ballard. Ballard has seen the value of a playmaker at safety firsthand in Eric Berry.
15th Pick. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings): WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan. This is a popular pick for the Eagles, and for good reason. Their receivers are bad. So are their cornerbacks. The free agent market for cover corners looks more robust than the receivers, with just four 1,000-yard wideouts headed for free agenc: Pierre Garcon, Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson, and Kenny Britt. The best receiver in this draft class is probably Davis, who created nearly three miles’ worth of receiving yards (5,278 yards) in his college career. Davis has great size and is skilled at making moves after the catch. If Saints rookie sensation Michael Thomas had played on a pass-first team, he probably would have looked a lot like Davis.
16th Pick. Baltimore Ravens: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome always drafts by value, and here’s no exception. Leonard Fournette is considered a top-five player in the draft and would be a steal at this pick. Fournette has an unmatched combination of speed, weight, and size, and his viciously physical running style will appeal to many evaluators. However, there are questions surrounding his skills set and whether he can do all the things NFL coaches will ask of him, like picking up blitzing defenders and consistently catching passes. The Ravens need help running the ball after Terrance West led the team with just 774 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year at a clip of just 4.0 yards per carry. There’s no excuse to not get more production than that with an offensive line like Baltimore’s.
17th Pick. Washington: CB Jalen Tabor, Florida. This seems like one of the simpler connections to make: the Washington, D.C.-based pro football club needs defensive backs, they just hired the Florida Gators’ defensive backs coach, and several of those defensive backs are entering the NFL. Between cornerbacks Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson, and safety Marcus Maye, Washington will be flush with options. Evaluators are split on who is better out of Tabor and Wilson, but at this time I’ll give the nod to Tabor.
18th Pick. Tennessee Titans: CB Sidney Jones, Washington. The Titans struggled to defend the pass in 2016, nearly tying the Green Bay Packers for second-most passing yards allowed (4,307 to Green Bay’s 4,308). Tennessee’s secondary also produced a middling dozen interceptions in 16 games. That’s just not good enough for a team that often plays turnover-prone quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiller, and Andrew Luck (who each combined for 45 interceptions on the year). Sidney Jones is a great talent at corner, but he’s entering the NFL a little underweight and may not go as highly as he should due to the depth of this class.
19th Pick. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR John Ross, Washington. There’s an argument for the Bucs to add another edge rusher, and in this deep draft class they probably will. But the defensive line is in better shape than most between Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers (6.5 sacks each), plus rookie standout Noah Spence (5.5 sacks). The linebackers are also locked in with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. On offense, receiver Mike Evans nearly did it alone by posting a dozen touchdowns and 1,321 receiving yards. Tight end Cameron Brate was the only other receiving weapon, so getting a talented deep threat here in John Ross (17 touchdowns, 1,729 receiving yards last year) would be big for Jameis Winston’s continued growth.
20th Pick. Denver Broncos: OLB Tim Williams, Alabama. The rich get richer. Von Miller was again one of the NFL’s best players in 2016, collecting 13.5 sacks, and his fellow edge rusher Shane Ray wasn’t too far behind with 8 of his own sacks. Beyond them, though, the Broncos were not consistent getting after the passer. DeMarcus Ware was in and out of the lineup with injury and only saw 4 sacks, and he may be headed back to the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Depth pieces Shaquil Barrett and Dekoda Watson collected just 2.5 sacks between the two of them. Alabama star pass rusher Tim Williams has been rumored to have some off-the-field questions and only played a third of his team’s defensive snaps the last two years. Still, Broncos general manager John Elway could get great value here, and Williams’ 20 career sacks would be a welcome addition.