Come the offseason, the
Jacksonville Jaguars
Indianapolis Colts
may want to follow the lead of their AFC South division rivals, the
Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans
, and invest in the running game.

The first-place Texans lured
Lamar Miller
out of Miami in free agency and the Titans doubled down with
DeMarco Murray
and Heisman Trophy winner
Derrick Henry
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.

Cleveland Browns

Jonathan Allen
, DE,
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.

Chicago Bears

Myles Garrett
, DE, Texas A&M:
John Fox pushed for the
Denver Broncos
to take former Texas A&M star
Von Miller
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

Deshaun Watson
, QB,
Clemson Tigers

Blaine Gabbert
is clearly not the answer.
Colin Kaepernick
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.

Deshaun Watson is the perfect QB for Chip Kelly’s scheme.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette
, RB,
LSU Tigers
With young quarterback
Blake Bortles
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
Adrian Peterson

Carolina Panthers

Marlon Humphrey
, CB, Alabama:
Growing pains had to be expected with GM Dave Gettlemen opting to go with youth at cornerback over paying
Josh Norman
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

Dalvin Cook
, RB,
Florida State Seminoles
Adding some juice to the backfield in Indianapolis could be the perfect way to support
Andrew Luck
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.

Dalvin Cook would add some needed juice to the Colts offense.

New York Jets

Jabrill Peppers
, S,
Michigan Wolverines
Now as the Jets coach and previously as the defensive coordinator in
Arizona Wildcats
, 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

Mike Williams
, 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
Sammy Watkins
DeAndre Hopkins
. Williams could be a godsend for a Chargers team lacking healthy playmakers.

Miami Dolphins

Teez Tabor
, CB,
Florida Gators
Miami may be rethinking the decision to release last year’s play-making cornerback
Brent Grimes
. 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

Malik McDowell
, DT,
Michigan State Spartans
While rookie
Sheldon Rankins
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
Hau’oli Kikaha
(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.

Baltimore Ravens

Tim Williams
, OLB, Alabama:

Terrell Suggs
remains a marvel at 34, leading the Ravens with five sacks through seven games but his 32-year old counterpart,
Elvis Dumervil
, 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

Jamal Adams
, S, LSU:
The Bucs’ duo of
Chris Conte
Bradley McDougald
is one of the league’s least athletic. Adams possesses the range, agility and playmaking ability to warrant comparison to former LSU (and current
Arizona Cardinals
) star
Tyrann Mathieu
and is bigger at 6-feet, 211 pounds.

13. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)

John Ross
, WR,
Washington Huskies
The three-headed monster of
Marcus Mariota
, 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
DeSean Jackson
clone, boasting this year’s best combination of acceleration and agility among receivers.


John Ross is electric when he touches the football.

14. Arizona Cardinals

Mitch Trubisky
, QB,
North Carolina Tar Heels
Poor performances and injury concerns for
Carson Palmer
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.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cam Robinson
, OT, Alabama
With starting left tackle
Andrew Whitworth
and right guard
Kevin Zeitler
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

Reuben Foster
, 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
Reggie Ragland
, but he’s a better athlete and arguably the most feared hitter in college football.

Detroit Lions

Christian McCaffrey
, RB,
Stanford Cardinal
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
Matthew Stafford
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.

Buffalo Bills

JuJu Smith-Schuster
, WR,
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.

Washington Redskins

Marcus Williams
, FS,
Utah Utes
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

O.J. Howard
, TE, Alabama:
Sterling Shepard
has diversified the Giants’ offense, but the team remains too reliant upon
Odell Beckham
, 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)

Bucky Hodges
, TE,
Virginia Tech Hokies
Veteran tight end
Gary Barnidge
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
Terrelle Pryor
and 2016 first-round choice
Corey Coleman

Bucky Hodges is built like a TE but runs like a WR.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Dan Feeney
, OG,
Indiana Hoosiers
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.

Atlanta Falcons

Sidney Jones
IV, CB, Washington:
Dan Quinn knows better than most that a team can never have too many cornerbacks and with starter
Robert Alford
in the midst of the final year of his contract (and
Desmond Trufant
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

Dawuane Smoot
, DE,
Illinois Fighting Illini
With edge rushers
Julius Peppers
Nick Perry
Datone Jones
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

Lowell Lotulelei
, 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)
Vince Wilfork
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.

Seattle Seahawks

Royce Freeman
, RB,
Oregon Ducks
With since-retired running back
Marshawn Lynch
and a healthy
Russell Wilson
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

Zach Cunningham
, ILB,
Vanderbilt Commodores
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
Derrick Johnson
, who will turn 34 this season.

28. Denver Broncos

Desmond King
, CB,
Iowa Hawkeyes
Aqib Talib
Chris Harris
, Jr., and
Bradley Roby
, 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.

Oakland Raiders

Taco Charlton
, DE, Michigan:
The Raiders envisioned an immediate improvement in the pass rush by pairing pricey free agent addition
Bruce Irvin
with young superstar
Khalil Mack
. 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.

Dallas Cowboys

Carl Lawson
, DE,
Auburn Tigers
While all of the focus has been on the Dallas offense with rookie sensations
Dak Prescott
Ezekiel Elliott
, 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.

Philadelphia Eagles
(from Minnesota)

Ryan Ramczyk
, OT,
Wisconsin Badgers
The Eagles gave up their first-round pick to move up for
Carson Wentz
, then recouped a first-rounder by dealing
Sam Bradford
and clearing the way for Wentz. Philadelphia needs to protect that investment and LT
Jason Peters
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

Derek Barnett
Tennessee Volunteers
The Patriots shockingly traded
Jamie Collins
to the Browns on Monday, and
Dont’a Hightower
Jabaal Sheard
Chris Long
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.

Source link