2017 NFL Mock Draft: Deshaun Watson to 49ers, Leonard Fournette to Jags
Come the offseason, the
may want to follow the lead of their AFC South division rivals, the
, and invest in the running game.
The first-place Texans lured
out of Miami in free agency and the Titans doubled down with
and Heisman Trophy winner
via the draft.
With sagging offenses at least partly to blame for disappointing seasons in Jacksonville and Indianapolis, the Jaguars and Colts could use their projected top-10 picks on the very best of what is expected to be a historic class of running backs.
With the NFL season entering the halfway point, here is how I see the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft shaking out.
Alabama Crimson Tide
: The quickest way to turn around a franchise is to find a star quarterback but as fans in Cleveland know all too well, early picks invested in the position are far from a guarantee of success. On the other hand, Allen — the best player on the best team in college football — might just be the safest prospect in the draft. The 6-foot-3, 292-pounder offers unique position versatility to go along with the production and intangibles the current regime prioritized in draft picks last spring. Stout against the run and a proven pass rusher with 18 sacks in his past 23 games, Allen would help solidify a defense that currently ranks dead last in total yards allowed.
, DE, Texas A&M: John Fox pushed for the
to take former Texas A&M star
at No. 2 overall back in 2011 and he could see a lot of similarities should Garrett still be on the board here. Garrett has been limited this season with an ankle injury but is a proven difference-maker when healthy. The 6-5, 262-pound junior possesses an explosive first step and rare flexibility to wreak havoc off the edge. McDowell possesses the strength and athleticism to play all over the defensive line and is perfectly suited to playing the 5-technique defensive end role in Fangio’s 3-4 scheme.
San Francisco 49ers
is clearly not the answer.
possesses the mobility Chip Kelly is looking for at quarterback but his decision-making and accuracy from the pocket remain average, at best. Watson isn’t as polished a passer as recent early picks but he’s shown remarkable poise throughout his career and has the dual-threat capability to fit in Kelly’s scheme.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
: With young quarterback
regressing and the offense stagnant, the 2-5 Jaguars fired play-caller Greg Olson October 29. Switching offensive coordinators could create a spark but a longer-term fix would be adding a difference-maker like Fournette to the backfield. With all due respect to Jacksonville’s current running backs, Fournette is a freakish talent, boasting the most exciting combination of size, speed and power since
, CB, Alabama: Growing pains had to be expected with GM Dave Gettlemen opting to go with youth at cornerback over paying
but the results haven’t been pretty. The Panthers could get an immediate boost with Humphrey, Nick Saban’s latest star pupil in the secondary.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Florida State Seminoles
: Adding some juice to the backfield in Indianapolis could be the perfect way to support
and few are better than Cook, who last season shattered Florida State’s all-time single-season all-purpose record with 1,691 yards — nearly 450 more than the great Warrick Dunn registered 20 years earlier.
New York Jets
: Now as the Jets coach and previously as the defensive coordinator in
, Todd Bowles has prioritized versatility in his players. Linebacker, safety, cornerback, returner — put him wherever you would like — Peppers is a natural playmaker with the instincts and athleticism to carry over his success and versatility into the NFL.
San Diego Chargers
, WR, Clemson: Now fully recovered from the neck injury which forced him to miss virtually all of last season, the 6-3, 220-pound Williams has re-emerged as one of the elite pass-catchers in the country. Athletically, he is said to be in the same class as former Clemson stars
. Williams could be a godsend for a Chargers team lacking healthy playmakers.
Miami may be rethinking the decision to release last year’s play-making cornerback
. He recorded four of the five interceptions caught by Dolphins cornerbacks in 2015 and Miami’s three picks this season are tied for second-worst in the NFL. Interceptions aren’t a problem for the trash-talking Tabor, who is tied for the SEC lead with four already this season.
New Orleans Saints
Michigan State Spartans
: While rookie
still has a chance to make an impact as a rookie once he returns from a fractured fibula and Cam Jordan remains one of the NFL’s best, the latest injury to pass rusher
(torn ACL) only reinforces New Orleans’ lack of depth up front. The 6-5, 282 pound McDowell offers position and schematic versatility, winning with both quickness and raw power.
, OLB, Alabama:
remains a marvel at 34, leading the Ravens with five sacks through seven games but his 32-year old counterpart,
, has missed most of the season with a mysterious foot ailment. Possessing a lightning-quick burst off the snap, Williams has starred as a rush specialist for Alabama (GM Ozzie Newsome’s alma mater) and could play an even greater role in the pass-happy NFL after learning from Suggs and Dumervil.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
, S, LSU: The Bucs’ duo of
is one of the league’s least athletic. Adams possesses the range, agility and playmaking ability to warrant comparison to former LSU (and current
and is bigger at 6-feet, 211 pounds.
13. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)
: The three-headed monster of
, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry would be that much more effective with a true speed threat challenging the safeties cheating towards the line of scrimmage. Ross is a
clone, boasting this year’s best combination of acceleration and agility among receivers.
14. Arizona Cardinals
North Carolina Tar Heels
: Poor performances and injury concerns for
has rekindled questions about the Cardinals’ long-term plans at the position. Scouts are intrigued by the strong-armed and accurate Trubisky, who has excelled in UNC’s up-tempo attack. He could be a particularly good fit in Bruce Arians’ offense.
, OT, Alabama With starting left tackle
and right guard
pending free agents, the Bengals could be looking for young blockers in next spring’s draft. Robinson has started at left tackle for the Tide, but some feel he projects better inside at guard or at right tackle due to his size (6-6, 310) and power in the running game.
16. Tennessee Titans
, LB, Alabama: Titans general manager Jon Robinson cut his teeth in New England, where Bill Belichick repeatedly invested early picks in explosive linebackers. Foster was overshadowed a year ago by SEC Defensive Player of the Year
, but he’s a better athlete and arguably the most feared hitter in college football.
: The Lions have just three rushing touchdowns (each by a different player) over their first eight games of the season, easily among the worst totals in the NFL. Adding a playmaker like McCaffrey might finally give
the complementary rushing threat he’s lacked in Detroit. McCaffrey has struggled a bit with injuries this season but he’s a proven difference-maker as a runner, receiver and returner.
Southern California Trojans
: As long as defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan is calling the shots, the Bills will have to find unique athletes at the skill positions to make up for a lack of creative play-calling. Pairing the physical and highly-competitive Smith-Schuster with the explosive Sammy Watson would give the Bills a legitimate 1-2 punch on the perimeter.
: Given the wide open passing attacks of today’s NFL, ball-hawking safeties are worth their weight in gold. Williams is a twitchy athlete with good speed and instincts. He was recognized as a First Team All-Pac-12 defender last season with five interceptions as a sophomore and has continued his big-play flair this season.
New York Giants
, TE, Alabama: Rookie
has diversified the Giants’ offense, but the team remains too reliant upon
, Jr. and is in need of more weapons, especially down the seam. Howard lacks the flashy statistics most often associated with first-round prospects, but he is a freakish athlete at 6-6, 242 pounds who may very well wind up being more productive in the NFL than he has been for the Crimson Tide.
21. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
Virginia Tech Hokies
: Veteran tight end
has to feel like a forgotten man in Cleveland this season with zero touchdowns through the first seven games after earning a Pro Bowl nod last year with career-highs in catches (79), yards (1,043) and touchdowns (nine). At 6-6, 245 pounds, Hodges looks like a tight end but runs like a receiver, making him a potentially exciting complement to this year’s top target
and 2016 first-round choice
: Just two of the club’s past 33 draft picks have been used on blockers. Feeney, a returning All-American who considered leaving school early for the NFL last year, is powerful, athletic and technically sound — among the reasons why he has only allowed one sack in his three-plus seasons as a starter.
IV, CB, Washington: Dan Quinn knows better than most that a team can never have too many cornerbacks and with starter
in the midst of the final year of his contract (and
up after the 2017 season), Quinn and the Falcons may look to take advantage of this year’s strong class. Like Trufant (another former Washington standout), Jones is a silky-smooth athlete with the awareness and grit necessary to play in Quinn’s scheme.
Green Bay Packers
Illinois Fighting Illini
: With edge rushers
all in the final year of their respective deals, the Packers will once again be looking for help at the position. Smoot possesses the explosive first step and flexibility to be a terror off the edge and is well-coached, learning under former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
25. Houston Texans
, NG, Utah: The Texans have quietly assembled one of the better young rosters in the NFL. One of the obvious exceptions is at nose guard, where the aging (34) and increasingly rotund (listed at 325)
is still eating up blocks. Like his older brother, Star, Lotulelei offers power and bulk at the point of attack and could earn early-round consideration if he continues to develop.
: With since-retired running back
and a healthy
leading the way, the Seahawks averaged an NFL-best 150.4 rushing yards per game from 2013-15. Through the first two months of the 2016 season, however, Seattle is averaging just 81.4 yards rushing yards per game, 28th in the league. The 5-11, 230-pound Freeman is a legitimate workhorse back with the bulk, vision and speed to fix the not-so mysterious problem with the Seahawks offense.
Kansas City Chiefs
: Cunningham isn’t a nationally recognized name (yet) but the Commodores star is well known in the SEC, especially among coaches who voted him to the First Team squad with 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 2015 — more than any Vandy defender this century. He could be an ideal apprentice for
, who will turn 34 this season.
28. Denver Broncos
, Jr., and
, the Broncos possess arguably the league’s top trio at cornerback. Big contracts and Talib’s propensity for trouble off the field, however, could push John Elway to consider taking advantage of this year’s strong cornerback class. While perhaps lacking in straight-line speed, King’s instincts, physicality and ball skills are top notch.
, DE, Michigan: The Raiders envisioned an immediate improvement in the pass rush by pairing pricey free agent addition
with young superstar
. Though the wins are up in Oakland, sacks are down with the Raiders registering just nine through its first seven games (tied for 30th in the NFL). Charlton possesses exciting initial quickness and bend given his 6-5, 272 pound frame.
: While all of the focus has been on the Dallas offense with rookie sensations
, the there is concern on the defense, especially given the team’s weak pass rush. Lawson has struggled with durability throughout his career but when healthy, the explosive pass rusher is a proven difference-maker.
: The Eagles gave up their first-round pick to move up for
, then recouped a first-rounder by dealing
and clearing the way for Wentz. Philadelphia needs to protect that investment and LT
is 34. Ramczyk has been one of this year’s most pleasant surprises, starring at left tackle for the Badgers after transferring from D-III UW-Stevens Point. The 6-6, 314-pounder possesses the agility to handle any of the four exterior line positions.
New England Patriots
: The Patriots shockingly traded
to the Browns on Monday, and
are each in the final year of their respective deals. That means the Patriots will likely be focusing on edge defenders in the 2017 draft. The 6-3, 257-pound Barnett lacks the length and pure explosiveness scouts would prefer, but he’s a well-rounded player who combines quickness, strength and technique to be effective against the pass and run, alike.