The 2017 NFL draft is less than a month away, and while the first overall pick may be nearly set in stone, the rest of the first round is as muddled as its ever been. A lot can and will happen between now and April 27th, and there are still plenty of teams near the top that could go in a number of different directions on draft day.
Pro Football Rumors’ first mock draft of 2017 is below. To be clear, this is our projection of what will happen – not necessarily the choices we would make – based on reports and information gathered from beat and national writers, our general assessment of this year’s crop of prospects, and, of course, team needs. Let’s dive in:
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, LB, Texas A&M
The easiest prediction of the first round, Garrett was considered the favorite to be selected first overall for much of the collegiate season. Nothing Garrett has done since the 2016 campaign concluded has changed that outlook, and the Browns reportedly have an “astronomical grade” on the Aggie edge rusher. At the scouting combine, Garrett weighed in at 272 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, and posted 33 bench press reps. Cleveland was “blown away” by the numbers, and it will pick Garrett knowing he can single-handedly alter their front seven.
2. Carolina Panthers (projected trade with San Francisco) – Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
Rumor has it the Panthers are interested in acquiring the No. 2 pick from the 49ers, and I’ve projected that trade will indeed occur (last week, I examined what sort of package Carolina may need to sacrifice in order to move up). While Leonard Fournette could also garner consideration, the Panthers will take Thomas, another signal that Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman values the defensive line above all else. Veteran defensive ends Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers are only signed through 2017, and Thomas would give the Panthers long-term security on the edge. He can slide inside, as well, protecting Carolina against free agent defections by Star Lotulelei and/or Kawann Short.
3. Chicago Bears – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
While the Bears have a number of needs on both sides of the ball, they could stand to add another cornerback, and in Lattimore they’ll secure the best CB in the draft. Chicago did add Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in free agency, but Amukamara signed a one-year deal and Cooper has done nothing to prove he’s a starting NFL defensive back. Former first-round pick Kyle Fuller‘s time with the Bears may be coming to an end, and Lattimore would give Chicago shutdown corner potential from day one. Chicago hosted Lattimore on a predraft visit on Monday.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Defense shouldn’t be a problem in Jacksonville this season, as the team has invested heavy resources — both dollars and draft capital — on the defensive side of the ball over the past two years. The Jaguars’ offense, however, ranked just 27th in DVOA in 2016, and while much of the struggle can be attributed to Blake Bortles and a poor front five, Jacksonville isn’t going to replace Bortles immediately, and there are no offensive linemen worthy of the No. 4 pick. Instead, the Jags will select one of the safer players in the draft, pinpointing Howard to replace free agent whiff Julius Thomas, who was traded to Miami last month.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) – Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
The Titans could still use help at both wide receiver and cornerback, but with another pick in Round 1 to address other needs, general manager Jon Robinson goes with the best player available and selects Allen. At least one AFC personnel director believes Allen’s shoulder issues could lead to a draft-day tumble, but Allen would give Tennessee a truly dominant defensive line. He’d team with lineman Jurrell Casey and Sylvester Williams and edge rushers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan on one of the league’s more underrated front sevens.
6. New York Jets – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Gang Green isn’t in a great position at No. 6. Lattimore and Howard may have been the club’s best options, but they’re now off the board, and it’s difficult to see the Jets selecting another linebacker or defensive lineman given their first-round investments over the past several years. Under center, New York seems to want to give 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg a chance to play, and the team’s visits with this year’s top quarterback prospects are largely viewed as smokescreens. Safety probably isn’t a priority for the Jets, but the the team simply needs talent, and Hooker is the best player left.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Hooker is a better fit for new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley‘s scheme, but Adams will work as well. While he’s not the center fielder that Hooker is, Adams offers the type of versatility the Chargers covet. Los Angeles has yet to replace Eric Weddle, who left after the 2015 season, and while it re-signed Jahleel Addae last month, Adams would serve as an improvement over Dwight Lowery. The Bolts could begin eyeing a long-term replacement for Philip Rivers this year, but they won’t use the seventh pick to find their franchise quarterback.
8. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with Carolina) – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Even after signing 13 external free agents, the 49ers still have holes all over their roster. Foster would be in consideration for San Francisco even if it holds on to the No. 2 selection, but in this scenario, the club has traded down to acquire more assets while still getting the player it originally targeted. Foster has some negatives — a February shoulder surgery, a dust-up with a hospital worker at the combine — but he’s unquestionably one of the more talented players in the 2017 class. An inside ‘backer by trade, Foster would likely slide into the weak side in the Bay Area given the presence of NaVorro Bowman.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
If the Bengals have a “type,” it’s productive players from the SEC. During Marvin Lewis‘ 14-year run as head coach, Cincinnati has selected a first-round SEC prospect half the time. Barnett fits that mold, as he topped Reggie White’s Tennessee sack record of 33 in only three years. Doubters, however, worry Barnett’s physical traits don’t match his production. But the Bengals need to upgrade on defensive end Michael Johnson, who hasn’t posted an above-average season since 2013. Wide receiver could be another option here, as could a trade back, especially if quarterback-needy clubs want to jump ahead of Buffalo, New Orleans, and Cleveland.
10. Buffalo Bills – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Corey Brown. Andre Holmes. Dezmin Lewis. Brandon Tate. Jeremy Butler. Those are the names on the Bills’ wide receiver depth chart behind Sammy Watkins. It’s the worst group of supplementary pass-catchers in the NFL, and while Buffalo’s offense is heavily run-focused, Tyrod Taylor still needs someone to throw to besides Watkins. Davis comes from a small school, but he’s been extremely productive against lesser production, topping 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. He’d immediately become the Bills’ No. 2 receiver.