We made it to the light at the end of the tunnel. Like I’ve said before, predicting the entire first round of the draft this soon in advance is a fool’s errand. But it’s fun, and can be a good way to gauge which prospects may be available at different points in the draft. You can find the full review of picks 1 through 10 here, and picks 11 through 20 are linked here. Here’s the summary:
- 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
- New Orleans Saints: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee.
- Cleveland Browns: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
- Arizona Cardinals: S Jamal Adams, LSU
- Indianapolis Colts: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
- Philadelphia Eagles: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
- Baltimore Ravens: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
- Washington: CB Jalen Tabor, Florida
- Tennessee Titans: CB Sidney Jones, Washington
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR John Ross, Washington
- Denver Broncos: DE Tim Williams, Alabama
Alright, let’s break down the final leg of this journey.
21st Pick. Detroit Lions: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin. The Lions have been fortunate to keep their offensive line mostly-intact the last few years, but right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff are poised to hit free agency. Left tackle Taylor Decker was one of the NFL’s best rookies in 2016 but finding a bookend for him will be paramount. Wisconsin Badgers tackle Ryan Ramczyk can be that guy. He’s arguably the top offensive lineman in the draft and could start right away at right tackle once he finishes recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery. Ramczyk doesn’t have much of an injury history and he would be a good fit along Detroit’s offensive line.
22nd Pick. Miami Dolphins: TE David Njoku, Miami. This is hardly a creative pick, but explaining the popular “Njoku to the Dolphins” connection is easy: they badly need an option at tight end and he is one of the best in his class. The Dolphins paid Jordan Cameron heavily a few years ago but a series of concussions have kept him out of the lineup. Dion Sims led all Dolphins tight ends in targets last year with 35, and averaged a paltry 9.8 yards per catch. Njoku would be an electric upgrade for the Dolphins and give Ryan Tannehill a weapon with game-breaking height and speed once he returns from injury.
23rd Pick. New York Giants: DE Malik McDowell, Michigan State. The Giants invested heavily in their defensive line in 2016, signing big-name free agents Damon Harrison and Jason Pierre-Paul. But the other two members of the front are probably going elsewhere. Johnathan Hankins is an impressive run defender and will get his money in free agency. Jason Pierre-Paul has made it clear he doesn’t want to sign a one-year contract with anyone in the spring. So a great match of value and need for the Giants is Malik McDowell, who lined up all over the front at Michigan State. McDowell’s position versatility is valuable, but he really has the traits to excel at defensive end in Pierre-Paul’s place.
24th Pick. Oakland Raiders: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida. The Raiders’ pass defense got exposed early and often in 2016, allowing 319 passing yards to the Saints in the season-opener and not looking back. David Amerson and Sean Smith were handed new contracts, though Smith was benched by midseason. Disappointing former first round pick D.J. Hayden looks to be on the way out. Quincy Wilson would be a great add at this stage of the draft, and is one of those guys in the conversation to be the first cornerback off the board. He plays with very sound technique and has flashed impressive ball skills despite being rarely targeted.
25th Pick. Houston Texans: OT Garett Bolles, Utah. The Texans’ quarterback situation has to be addressed in the offseason, and a hot name on the Texans’ radar is Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But I could see the Texans targeting New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade or looking at a free agent like Tyrod Taylor. A position that the Texans will have to take a hard look at is left tackle, because starter Duane Brown is 31 and backup Derek Newton was uninspiring as a fill-in when Brown left with injury. Garett Bolles is a rising sleeper at left tackle in the draft and is known as a smart lineman who plays with great technique. He’s a little old (25) but that’s due to a two-year Mormon mission and time spent in the JUCO ranks.
26th Pick. Seattle Seahawks: OT Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky. Anyone watching the Seahawks’ offensive line this year could see through the facade of converted defensive ends and halfbacks and tell that it was a bad unit. Drafting Germain Ifedi early last year was a step in the right direction, but general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll need to continue bolstering the Seahawks’ biggest weakness. Even if they sign someone like Baltimore Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner in free agency, the Seahawks could use an upgrade at guard in Forrest Lamp. Lamp may be the best lineman in the draft and that secret is officially out. He may go even higher than 26 once it’s all said and done.
27th Pick. Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech. Alex Smith has played well enough to get the Chiefs into the playoffs, but never truly into title contention. Now in his mid-30’s, the wall that all quarterbacks seem to hit is quickly approaching. Head coach Andy Reid’s staff needs to have a succession plan, which is where Patrick Mahomes comes into the picture. The confident passer with a Matthew Stafford-esque cannon for an arm has shown been a frustrating evaluation. Mahomes can make plays from the pocket in the structure of a conventional spread offense, but too often the play breaks down - or he scrambles to try and make a play - and it turns into a backyard, sandlot-style football game. Reid has a good offensive staff who can train Mahomes to be more patient and stand tall in the pocket rather than try and be a hero with his legs.
28th Pick. Dallas Cowboys: DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA. The Cowboys’ group of pass rushers is something like an island of misfit toys. Former second round picks Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory struggled to get on the field through injuries and suspensions, while relative unknowns Jack Crawford, David Irving, and Benson Mayowa rotated in and out of the lineup. Takkarist McKinley can be a steadying presence on the edge. McKinley is poised to dominate athletics testing at the NFL combine after a brief career as a starter at UCLA in which he ruined the day for many quarterbacks. I love his fit in Dallas under the guidance of Rod Marinelli.
29th Pick. Green Bay Packers: WR Juju Smith-Schuster, USC. It looked like the wheels fell off of the Packers’ offense late in the year after receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb missed stretches to injury. Reserve wideout Ty Montgomery transitioned to more of a halfback role, making plays out of the backfield. It was obvious that Davante Adams could not be Aaron Rodgers’ sole receiving threat. Don’t be surprised if the Packers go defense here (their secondary was injured as heavily as the Saints’), or grab a tailback, but the value on Juju Smith-Schuster is too good to pass up. The 20-year old dynamo can make plays all over the field, whether it’s taking off on a screen, reeling in a deep pass, or making tough catches over the middle. In time he could become Rodgers’ new favorite target.
30th Pick. Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Carl Lawson, Auburn. The Steelers are the closest thing to a complete team in the NFL, boasting a deep group of skilled pass-catchers, some bruising tailbacks, a forceful offensive line, and an athletic back seven on defense. But their pass rush leaves something to be desired, with the NFL’s own Vandal Savage in James Harrison providing the lion’s share of edge pressure. Jarvis Jones failed to impress after being drafted out of Georgia back in 2013, but Carl Lawson could cure what ails them. The sack specialist has fought through injuries to develop an outstanding array of pass-rushing moves to go along with some rare twitchiness as an athlete. He would be a great value at this stage of the draft.
31st Pick. Atlanta Falcons: DE Charles Harris, Missouri. The Falcons came within a breathless 25-points allowed in 21-minutes catastrophe of clutching their first-ever Super Bowl win, which is fantastic. A large part of that bumbling was the inaction of Vic Beasley. Beasley is a unique pass rusher when he’s on his game, bursting off the line, turning the corner, and twisting opponents into pretzels with polished hand-fighting technique. But as we saw on the big stage, Beasley can have bad days where his lack of power and length to outstretch blocks can hurt him. That’s where Charles Harris comes in. Hyped up as the next great missouri pass rusher, Harris was rudely snubbed by a change in defensive philosophy. Miscast in a two-gapping scheme that took away his turn-on-a-dime quickness and crafty pass-rushing moves, Harris patiently waited until he could bolt to the NFL. Now he’s in great position to make life miserable for quarterbacks opposite Beasley, putting his long arms and electric spin and swim moves on display.
32nd Pick. New England Patriots: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt. Exit Jamie Collins, enter Zach Cunningham. The tall linebacker from Vanderbilt is maybe one of the smartest players in the draft, and is a few weeks in an NFL strength and conditioning program away from being the next great SEC defender to take the pros by storm. Cunningham is a great communicator on the field who efficiently executes his assignments on all four downs, whether it’s sifting through the trash in run defense, manning his zone against the pass, or coming in hot on a delayed blitz. He also plays some special teams and can lay some thundering hits in the open field. Cunningham is exactly the kind of versatile defender that head coach/Dark Lord of the Sith Bill Belichick values, and picking him here would crush the hopes of many fans hoping Cunningham lasts until the second round.