Above: Photo gallery shows the top 15 picks as projected in this mock draft
Mock draft by Joe Hopkins
The most wonderful time of the year is finally here. For draft nerds like myself, Thursday will be filled with as much excitement as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, the decisions made this week will either lead teams to the Promised Land, or doom them for the next several years.
Countless hours of film study, interviews, public and private workouts and internal debates all accumulate to form the choices to be made in Philadelphia. Every draft is filled with unforeseen twists and turns and this year will be no different.
From the player’s perspective, Thursday is about watching their lifelong dreams come to fruition. These college kids wait anxiously with their families to see which city they’ll spend the next several years of their life in.
How high they’re drafted has an enormous impact on their income, as we watched expected top-five pick, Laremy Tunsil, lose millions by sliding to thirteenth last year. How well a player fits in with the culture of a team and the coaching scheme can make or break a career, as some players need a specific environment to thrive. For all the effort put in to getting these decisions right, the draft is anything but an exact science.
This year’s crop of players is considered an especially talented group and historically deep at defensive back, edge rusher, running back and tight end. While there are no elite quarterback prospects, the importance of the position will cause them to be over-drafted once again.
For each pick I weigh the best overall prospect against the team’s biggest needs and select the player who offers the most value to that team. Player comparisons are based on body type, play style and athletic similarities, and represent a rough projection of how good that prospect could become.
1-Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett – EDGE – Texas A&M
NFL Comparison- Jadeveon Clowney
Don’t overthink this, Cleveland. Reports are circulating that the Browns are split between Garrett and Mitch Trubisky for their top pick. Head coach Hue Jackson will have to wait to take his quarterback of the future. Garrett is a can’t-miss prospect with freakish athleticism and the production to match. This pick provides Cleveland with a dominant edge rusher who will terrorize quarterbacks for the next decade.
Other Considerations- Mitch Trubisky (QB), Marshon Lattimore (CB), Jamal Adams (S)
2-San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas – EDGE – Stanford
NFL Comparison- Michael Bennett
If San Francisco doesn’t trade this pick they should avoid reaching for a quarterback and take the best player available. That would bring us to Thomas who will join fellow first-round picks DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead along the defensive front. The All-American can beat you with power or quickness and makes plays all over the field thanks to his non-stop motor. This pick improves the league’s worst scoring defense (30 PPG) by giving the 49ers a much-needed pass rusher off the edge.
Other Considerations- Mitch Trubisky (QB), Marshon Lattimore (CB), Jamal Adams (S)
3-Chicago Bears: Marshon Lattimore – CB – OSU
NFL Comparison- Desmond Trufant
Chicago refused to overpay for free agent talent and therefore must acquire impact players through the draft. Despite starting just one season, Lattimore has put quite a distance between him and the next best cornerback. His instincts, technique, ball skills and explosive athleticism suggest he’ll be an All-Pro early in his career. The Bears just have to hope his chronic hamstring issues don’t follow him to the pros.
Other Considerations- Jamal Adams (S), Malik Hooker (S), Jonathan Allen (DL)
4-Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette – RB – LSU
NFL Comparison- Steven Jackson
On paper Jacksonville boasts one of the better defenses in the leagues thanks to another year of free agent splurging. While Blake Bortles’s struggles have been well documented, the team also failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth straight season. Fournette’s rare combination of size, power and speed could allow him to have an Ezekiel Elliot-like impact in his rookie campaign. If Bortles fails to progress, the Jaguars can lean on their bell-cow back.
Other Considerations- O.J. Howard (TE), Jamal Adams (S), Malik Hooker (S)
5-Cleveland Browns (Trade): Mitch Trubisky – QB – North Carolina
NFL Comparison- Derek Carr
Draft-day trades are nearly impossible to predict, but this one is too sensible not to happen. With Lattimore off the board, Tennessee can trade back to get help on the perimeter. The Browns have a surplus of picks to offer and must get ahead of the quarterback-needy Jets if they are to land Trubisky. Though his experience is limited to one season, the former Mr. Ohio Football has shown the accuracy, arm strength and mobility to end the QB carousel in Cleveland.
Other Considerations- Jamal Adams (S) Malik Hooker (S), O.J. Howard (TE)
6-New York Jets: Deshaun Watson – QB – Clemson
NFL Comparison- Ryan Tannehill
Buckle up Jets fans because a full-blown rebuilding project has begun in New York. Though this roster is devoid of talent throughout, no position holds more weight than quarterback. Watson plays his best ball when the heat is on and is more than capable of handling all the pressure the Big Apple is sure to throw at him. If the NCAA’s reigning National Champion can become more consistent in his decision making, the Jets will have finally found their franchise quarterback.
Other Considerations- Jamal Adams (S) Malik Hooker (S), Mike Williams (WR)
7-Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker – S – Ohio State
NFL Comparison- Ed Reed
The Chargers lost an astounding nine games by a single score last season and enter 2017 with a promising blend of veteran and youthful talent. General manager Tom Telesco will have his choice of the best two safety prospects to come out in a number of years, thanks to the run on quarterbacks. Hooker illustrated in his lone year as starter the ball-skills, range and instincts to become a top-level ball-hawk. The first-team All-American joins former teammate Joey Bosa to create one of the more promising defenses in the league.
Other Considerations- Jamal Adams (S), Mike Williams (WR), Jonathan Allen (DL)
8-Carolina Panthers: Jamal Adams– S – LSU
NFL Comparison- Eric Berry
The hangover from their Super Bowl loss was a long and painful one for Carolina. While they’re expected to bounce back in 2017, the Panthers are still hungry for in impact player in the secondary. Adams is a natural born leader who punishes ball carriers. Though he’s most effective playing closer to the line of scrimmage, he more than holds his own in coverage. The 21-year-old will give some mojo back to a defense that gave up the seventh most points last season (25.1 PPG).
Other Considerations- Christian McCaffrey (RB), Derek Barnett (EDGE), Mike Williams (WR)
9-Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Williams – WR – Clemson
NFL Comparison- Alshon Jeffery
A 24th ranked scoring offense (20.3 PPG) resulted in Cincinnati missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. With no offensive linemen in this class worthy of a top 10 pick, the departures of stand-out blockers, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler will have to be addressed in later rounds. Instead, the Bengals will reignite their passing game by adding a playmaker opposite A.J. Green. Williams uses his size and strength to bully the defender across from him and makes contested catches look routine thanks to his soft hands.
Other Considerations- Reuben Foster (LB), Cory Davis (WR), Jonathan Allen (DL)
10-Buffalo Bills: Jonathan Allen– DL – Alabama
NFL Comparison- Gerald McCoy
Allen is a top five talent who falls a bit due to concerns regarding arthritis in both his surgically repaired shoulders and a lackluster combine performance. He will eventually take over for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who enters the last season of his contract at 34 years old. As a rookie, the Bronko Nagurski Award winner can impact the game from any positon along the line thanks to his elite strength, quickness and superb hand usage.
Other Considerations- Reuben Foster (LB), Haason Reddick (LB), Corey Davis (WR)
11-New Orleans Saints: Christian McCaffrey – RB – Stanford
NFL Comparison- Devota Freeman
There is no better offense to take advantage of McCaffrey’s skill set than Sean Payton’s. The former Heisman Trophy runner-up is an elusive ball-carrier and phenomenal receiver who is a threat to score anytime he touches the rock. He’ll fill the same role that saw Darren Sproles catch 77 passes a year for the Saints, and is the perfect complement to power rusher Mark Ingram. McCaffrey will help replace some of Brandin Cooks’s production and provides added value as a return man.
Other Considerations- Reuben Foster (LB), Haason Reddick (LB), Derek Barnett (EDGE)
12-Tennessee Titans (Trade): O.J. Howard – TE – Alabama
NFL Comparison- Greg Olsen
Tennessee is able to move back seven spots and still pick up the best tight end prospect to enter the league in several years. In the passing game, Howard has a freakish combination of size and athleticism to go along with a sticky pair of hands. He’s also a reliable blocker in the running game and is perfect for the Titan’s smash-mouth offense. This rare athlete has the traits to be dominant and should quickly develop into Marcus Mariota’s favorite target.
Other Considerations- Gareon Conley (CB), Quincy Wilson (CB), Tre’Davious White (CB)
13-Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes II – QB – Texas Tech
NFL Comparison- Jay Cutler
After a career-year in 2015, Carson Palmer struggled last season, leading Arizona to start planning for life after the 37-year-old. Mahomes is a gunslinger with good size, athleticism and accuracy. The son of a major league pitcher showed off his cannon of an arm by launching a ball 78 yards at his pro day. Despite needing a year or two of development within a pro system, college football’s leading passer has one of the hottest names leading up to the draft.
Other Considerations- Corey Davis (WR), Gareon Conley (CB), Quincy Wilson (CB)
14-Philadelphia Eagles: Haason Reddick – LB – Temple
NFL Comparison- Lavonte David
The cornerback position will have to be addressed later in the draft as Reddick’s potential is too tempting to pass up. The 22-year-old came to college as a defensive back before beefing up and making the transition to defensive end. As a senior he racked up 22.5 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks. Though his lack of size suggests he’s best suited to play off the line of scrimmage as a pro, the former Owl has uncapped potential as an attacking outside linebacker in Philly’s 4-3 defense. Reddick’s versatility and athleticism make him one of the most intriguing players in this class.
Other Considerations- Gareon Conley (CB), Tre’Davious White (CB), Quincy Wilson (CB)
15-Indianapolis Colts: Reuben Foster – LB – Alabama
NFL Comparison- Patrick Willis
Desperation for an impact defender leads the Colts to overlook some of Foster’s issues. Character concerns arose when he was dismissed from the combine after a heated argument with a hospital worker and provided a diluted drug sample at the event. Durability is also a concern due to his smaller stature and violent style of play. The 23-year-old’s explosive athleticism and ferocious tackling make him the best linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechly, and well worth the risk at pick fifteen.
Other Considerations- Charles Harris (EDGE), Gareon Conley (CB), Takkarist McKinley (EDGE)
16-Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis – WR – Western Michigan
NFL Comparison- Jordy Nelson
The Ravens haven’t made the playoffs since 2014. That was also the last year they had a top 20 scoring offense and the last year Joe Flacco had a passer rating above 83. Baltimore will turn to college football’s all-time receiving leader right the ship. Davis is the draft’s most complete receiver and would likely be the first off the board if he could work out for teams. Rehabilitation from a minor ankle surgery and the lack of competition in the Mid-American Conference drop him to the middle of round one.
Other Considerations- Takkarist McKinley (EDGE), Derek Barnett (EDGE), T.J. Watt (EDGE)
17-Washington Redskins: Tre’Davious White – CB– LSU
NFL Comparison- Chris Harris Jr.
Washington surrendered the eighth most passing yards in the league last season (4,130). Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland is entering the final year of his contract and may find more lucrative offers elsewhere with Josh Norman eating up so much cap space. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith join an already receiver rich division, further amplifying the need for a cover man. White was a four-year starter who uses his quick-twitch athleticism to mirror receiver all over the field. His ability to play outside or in the slot gives him an edge over other cornerbacks.
Other Considerations- Gareon Conley (CB), Charles Harris (EDGE), Dalvin Cook (HB)
18-Tennessee Titans: Gareon Conley – CB – Ohio State
NFL Comparison- Stephon Gilmore
The recent release of veteran Jason McCourty is further indication that Tennessee will add a cornerback early in the draft. Conley is the third piece of that incredible Ohio State trio but should be an early starter with Pro Bowl potential. The former Buckeye is an impressive athlete with good length and the ball skills to make quarterbacks pay. He excels in press coverage and has good zone instincts but must play bigger against the run. The two-year starter immediately upgrades the Titans’ biggest weakness.
Other Considerations- Quincy Wilson (CB), John Ross (WR), Charles Harris (EDGE)
19-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Taco Charlton – EDGE – Michigan
NFL Comparison- Chandler Jones
To compete in a division with Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees you’d better be able to get to the quarterback. Charlton is a one-year starter who has his best football ahead of him. The 22-year-old used his rare combination of size, length and athleticism to earn All-Big Ten honors last season. The late-bloomer is still learning how to use his long frame and needs to improve his strength and consistency. Few edge rushers in this draft have a higher ceiling.
Other Considerations- Ryan Ramczyk (OT), Takkarist McKinley (LB), Derek Barnett (EDGE)
20-Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles – OT – Utah
NFL Comparison- Joe Staley
Denver ranked 24th in sacks allowed (40) and 28th in yards-per-rush (3.6) last season, illustrating how they were held back by their offensive line. Free agent acquisitions Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson will improve the run game, but a blind-side protector must be found through the draft. Despite turning 25 in May, Bolles has the most potential of any tackle in this class. In his only season at Utah, he used his sweet feet and mean streak to earn All-Pac 12 recognition.
Other Considerations- Ryan Ramczyk (OT), David Njoku (TE), Jabril Peppers (S)
21-Detroit Lions: David Njoku – TE – Miami
NFL Comparison- Jimmy Graham
The fact that two tight ends haven’t been selected in the first round since 2006 speaks to the talent of this class. Detroit is still looking to equip Matthew Stafford with an elite pass catcher and Njoku fits the bill. This freakish athlete was a national champion high jumper in high school and has the catch radius to dominate in the red-zone. Tight end, Eric Ebron, is entering the final year of his contract and hasn’t lived up to expectations after being selected 10th overall.
Other Considerations- Charles Harris (EDGE), Derek Barnett (EDGE), Quincy Wilson (CB)
22-Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris – EDGE – Missouri
NFL Comparison- Cliff Avril
If Miami is going to build upon their first playoff campaign since 2008 they must improve their pass rush. Cameron Wake (35) accounted for 11.5 of the team’s 33 sacks last season and is nearing the end of his career. Harris explodes off the line and has the bend to get around the edge. If his athleticism doesn’t get him the sack, he possesses several counters, including a nasty spin move. The former Tiger is no scrub against the run either and should start early in his career.
Other Considerations- Derek Barnett (EDGE), Forrest Lamp (OG), Jarrad Davis (LB)
23-New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk – OT – Wisconsin
NFL Comparison- Taylor Lewan
After being drafted ninth overall in 2015 to guard Eli Manning’s blind side, Ereck Flowers has given up more QB pressures than any other linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. If the Giants are going to squeeze one last Super Bowl run out of Manning (36), they need to offer him better protection. Ramczyk has the size, balance, bend and quickness to finally address New York’s left tackle problem. Despite only one season of D-1 experience, the All-Big Ten lineman has surprisingly refined technique and instincts.
Other Considerations- Derek Barnett (EDGE), Takkarist McKinley (EDGE), Jarrad Davis (LB)
24-Oakland Raiders: Jarrad Davis – LB – Florida
NFL Comparison- Thomas Davis
The league’s seventh best scoring offense (26 PPG) led the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. If they are to take the next step and win the division, the Black and Silver must continue to improve their 20th ranked scoring defense (24.1 PPG). Davis is a high character prospect with athleticism and versatility. The alpha male brings the type of leadership needed in the middle of Oakland’s defense and will hold everyone accountable. The two-year starter diagnoses plays quickly and hits you like he means it.
Other Considerations- Quincy Wilson (CB), Kevin King (CB), Malik McDowell (DL)
25-Houston Texans: Cam Robinson– OT – Alabama
NFL Comparison- Michael Oher
Rather than making a dramatic reach for a quarterback, Houston will fortify an o-line that was merely average last season. Robinson has ideal size and strength and is an impressive athlete. The 21-year-old was an instant starter for the Tide, and earned All-American honors as a freshman. Balance and timing deficiencies can cause the bulldozer to struggle with speed rushers, which could force him to play right tackle or guard early in his career.
Other Considerations- Forrest Lamp (OG), Jabrill Peppers (S), Zach Cunningham (LB)
26-Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King – CB – Washington
NFL Comparison- Sean Smith
Richard Sherman made headlines this offseason when the All-Pro asked General manager John Schneider to be traded. Sherman’s asking price will be steep, but even if he isn’t dealt, the cornerback turns 30 in May and has two years left on his contract. Whether he’s Sherman’s immediate replacement or partner in crime, King is exactly what Seattle looks for in their corners. At 6’3”, the three-year starter had an impressive showing at the combine, highlighted by a 4.43 40 yard dash. If the former Husky can increase his physicality, this rare athlete has the tools to be special.
Other Considerations- Forrest Lamp (OG), Quincy Wilson (CB), Marlon Humphrey (CB)
27-Kansas City Chiefs: Quincy Wilson– CB – Florida
NFL Comparison- Aqib Talib
By the season’s start the average age of core players Alex Smith, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Jeremy Maclin will be 30.8. In other words, the Chiefs are built to win now. Rather than draft a quarterback to develop behind Alex Smith, Kansas City will address one of the few holes on this roster by adding an impact corner to play opposite Marcus Peters. Wilson is a big, physical defender with excellent anticipation and closing burst. While he isn’t a track star, he compensates by using his size and strength to bully receivers.
Other Considerations- Chidobe Awuzie (CB), Davis Webb (QB), DeShone Kizer (QB)
28-Dallas Cowboys: Chidobe Awuzie – CB – Ohio State
NFL Comparison- Demarious Randall
The Cowboys’ defense overachieved last season and ranked fifth in points surrendered (19.1 PPG). If they are to come close to repeating their 2016 performance, Dallas must address the loss of three starters in their secondary (Clayborn, Carr, Church). A four-year starter who has played outside, in the slot and at safety, Awuzie’s versatility is exactly what Jerry Jones is looking for. Though his lack of length and ball-skills limit his upside, the 21-year-old has the athleticism and football IQ to be a high quality starter.
Other Considerations- Marlon Humphrey (CB), Derek Barnett (EDGE), Takkarist McKinley (EDGE)
29-Pittsburgh Steelers: Jabrill Peppers – S – Michigan
NFL Comparison- Patrick Chung
Word around town is the Steelers are in love with Peppers. Pittsburgh has lacked an impact safety since Troy Polamalu retired, and they see a lot of similar traits in the Michigan Man. Peppers was a jack of all trades in Ann Arbor who played cornerback, safety, linebacker, running back and kick returner. The Heisman Trophy finalist is an elite athlete but was never able to master any one position in college. If given time to learn to nuances of playing safety, the 21-year-old could become a late first-round steal.
Other Considerations- Takkarist McKinley (EDGE), T.J. Watt (EDGE), Marlon Humphrey (CB)
30-Green Bay Packers: Forrest Lamp – OG – Western Kentucky
NFL Comparison- Zach Martin
Green Bay’s offensive line allowed Aaron Rodgers to hold the ball longer than any other quarterback last season. He’ll need the same level of protection if he’s to once again carry the Packers deep into the playoffs. Starting center J.C. Tretter and Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang signed elsewhere this offseason, leaving two holes along the interior of the line. Though he projects as a guard in the NFL, Lamp is the best all-around offensive lineman this draft has to offer.
Other Considerations- Marlon Humphrey (CB), Takkarist McKinley (EDGE), T.J Watt (EDGE)
31-Atlanta Falcons: Takkarist McKinley – EDGE – UCLA
NFL Comparison- Jerry Hughes
If the Falcons can psychologically recover from the greatest Super Bowl collapse of all-time, their roster is in position to be a perennial title contender. Aside from offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, all the key pieces to Atlanta’s league leading scoring offense (33.8 PPG) return. Dan Quinn’s defense is youthful and talented but must improve a pass rush that ranked 16th in sacks last season (34). Though he’s still raw, McKinley broke out as a senior, using his speed, burst and length to rack up 18 TFL and 10 sacks.
Other Considerations- Derek Barnett (EDGE), Jordan Willis (EDGE), Dion Dawkins (OG)
32-New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett – EDGE – Tennessee
NFL Comparison- Chris Long
The NFL’s second worst scoring defense (28.4 PPG) hopes to improve a 27th ranked pass rush (30 sacks) by adding the draft’s most decorated defensive end. Barnett started all three seasons at Tennessee, racking up the most sacks (33), and second most TFL (52) in school history. His strength, technique and non-stop motor help make up for a lack of length and top-end athleticism. The 20-year-old has a high ceiling and is the fourth first-rounder on New Orleans’s defensive line.
Other Considerations- Marlon Humphrey (CB), Jordan Willis (EDGE), T.J. Watt (EDGE)