The College Column Mock Draft, Vol. 2
With the 2017 combine in the books, a second look at how the first round might play out in April
The MMQB writer Robert Klemko says the interview process of the NFL Combine could have helped players who have to improve their reputations.
Note to first-time visitors: The College Column is much more than mock drafts. Visit the archive for enlightening profiles on some of the 2017 draft’s biggest names, as well as stories on some of this year’s most important trends.
John Ross shattered a record and Myles Garrett looked like a superhero. Those were the headlines from combine week, but the annual draft-prospect showcase brought a little more clarity to how the first round might shake out in Philadelphia.
No. 1 Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
What would it take for Cleveland not to take Garrett with the No. 1 pick? Desperation for a quarterback—either by the Browns, or by a team feeling like they need to move into that top spot before someone else does. Either scenario could happen; both seem unlikely. Garrett cemented his status as the draft’s best player, emphatically, at the combine. Consider this nugget from NFL research on his testing: Garrett measures taller than Julio Jones, heavier than Rob Gronkowski, quicker (10-yard split) than Devonta Freeman and faster (40-yard dash) than Jarvis Landry. The Browns get a Day 1 impact player to build their defense around. They’ll address the quarterback situation later.
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers: Marshon Lattimore, DB, Ohio State
The 49ers currently have zero quarterbacks on their roster. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan might figure out a way to snag Kirk Cousins from perennial franchise tag-dom in D.C.—I have a feeling trade rumors will persist—but I’m more inclined to believe the new regime will try to build the roster elsewhere. That said, the rebuild may be a slow burn, and that means Lynch might not over-draft for a quarterback here. Instead, how about addressing the secondary? Former first-rounder Jimmie Ward might be switching to safety in San Francisco’s new Cover 3-heavy defense, and Lattimore would be a stud starter to plug in at cornerback, for 2017 and many years to come.
No. 3 Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Ah, the first team to bite on a quarterback. The Bears might have a laundry list of needs—including cornerbacks and anyone who can catch a football—but most pressing is the passer. Hopefully the UNC product with 13 college starts to his name won’t be asked to step in right away. Re-sign Brian Hoyer! Start Connor Shaw! Heck, pluck a guy from the Red Line and ask him to play dummy until at least September! Just don’t force Trubisky out there until he’s ready, and I think this could be a very solid pick. I’ll go on the record saying Chicago’s roster is not far off from competing for the NFC North. If Trubisky develops as expected, the Bears will be right in the mix.
No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
Allen still on the board? Jaguars GM David Caldwell says thanks. He’ll take a talented run-stopper whom he can plug in anywhere on the defensive line. That’s what Jared Odrick was supposed to be when he signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in 2015; Jacksonville cut Odrick last month. Allen is a cheaper alternative. Having Allen as the foundation of a front seven also featuring Myles Jack, with Jalen Ramsey patrolling the backfield… that sure looks exciting on paper.
No. 5 Tennessee Titans: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
I promise I didn’t put two Buckeyes in the top five just to appease superfan colleague Albert Breer, likely weary from guest-writing Peter King’s MMQB column this week. Both Hooker and Lattimore are simply that talented. In Hooker, the Titans address their biggest weakness, the secondary. Scouts rave about his ball skills and instincts—he gets Ed Reed comparisons. With two picks in the first round, and three top-tier wide receiver candidates available, Tennessee will grab a go-to target for Marcus Mariota later (see pick No. 18).
No. 6 New York Jets: Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama
After plucking his roster bare, Jets GM Mike MacCagnan is starting over. Everything is for sale—even this No. 6 pick—to stockpile a new wave of talent. If the Jets stay put, they can add a lockdown corner to help make fans forget about Darrelle Revis.
No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
The Chargers are lucky to have the No. 7 pick in a year with two premium safeties available. Should the Titans select Hooker, I can’t imagine Adams falling past here. Adams has good size, hits hard and lined up all over the place for LSU last season. As Gus Bradley tries to recreate the signature defense that made him famous in Seattle, Adams is the type of player to build around.
No. 8 Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Cam Newton had an off year, and Carolina needs to buttress its offensive line to ensure that doesn’t happen again. It’s too high to take an O-lineman here, but not too high to take a runner—if it’s a once-in-a-generation talent like Fournette. The LSU star could also alleviate some pressure on Newton as the Panthers look to reclaim a balanced offense and regain form in the NFC South.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett, DL, Tennessee
The Bengals need edge rushers. At Tennessee, Barnett was incredibly productive in getting after the quarterback, beating some very good tackles (like Alabama’s Cam Robinson) along the way. Barnett left UT with a school-record 33 career sacks. (Yes, that tops Reggie White.) I also think Barnett won some brownie points from scouts for competing while sick at the combine.
No. 10 Buffalo Bills: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
One rumor that percolated at the combine: The Bills could cut Tyrod Taylor. Whether that becomes true or not, we know Buffalo is seeking a long-term answer at quarterback. As Breer reported, Watson was perhaps the most impressive of the top quarterbacks at the combine—especially in team interviews. That confirmed his status as a first-rounder, and the Bills would pick him if he’s available here. (Watson’s leadership traits are so convincing, I wouldn’t be shocked if a team trades up higher to snatch him before Buffalo can.)
No. 11 New Orleans Saints: Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
Cameron Jordan can’t be the only Saint generating pressure. If New Orleans is going to make one last run with Drew Brees, that front seven must improve. Thomas has been slapped with the tweener label, but I don’t think that fazes the Saints.
No. 12 Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Securing a starting quarterback and a generational talent like Garrett would be a home run of a draft for the Browns’ front office. Don’t mess this up, Sashi Brown. Among the top QB prospects, it feels like Kizer is the guy talked about least. He has traits to be a strong pocket passer and is the biggest of the first-round candidates.
No. 13 Arizona Cardinals: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
With Larry Fitzgerald’s career winding down, I could see the Cardinals in the market for a No. 1 wideout. Williams is the outside target Carson Palmer craves. Among the top three wideouts this year, Williams has a slight edge as a lengthy (6'3") red zone target with top-notch contested ball prowess.
No. 14 Philadelphia Eagles: Sidney Jones, DB, Washington
The Eagles need corners, period. But Jones can be the elite lockdown corner who elevates Philadelphia’s secondary. He was extremely impressive for the Huskies, whose secondary was essentially the Seattle Seahawks of college football last season. Jones doesn’t shy from physicality in his matchups.
No. 15 Indianapolis Colts: Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
One of the reasons Chris Ballard was attracted to the Indy GM job was Andrew Luck. So Ballard must do everything he can to ensure that Luck is in the best position to succeed—and for Indianapolis, that means addressing an Achilles heel: the offensive line. Pair Robinson with his former Crimson Tide teammate Ryan Kelly, and the Colts are getting back on track.
No.16 Baltimore Ravens: Taco Charlton, DL, Michigan
In the NFL, Charlton will be whatever a defensive coordinator wants him to be. Baltimore’s Dean Pees will love Charlton’s length (he measured just under 6'6" at the combine) and athleticism. He could be a great playmaker against the run.
No. 17 Washington Redskins: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Should DeSean Jackson leave in free agency, the Redskins would need a No. 1 target for Kirk Cousins. Enter Davis, a polished wideout with some of the best hands in the draft. Evaluators believe he’s a sure thing, and a sure thing is exactly what Washington needs right now.
No. 18 Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR, Washington
The Titans need a top target for Marcus Mariota, but with Mike Williams and Corey Davis off the board, they settle for Ross. It’s not really settling. The 5'10" Ross has the chance to be the next DeSean Jackson—and as I detailed in this profile, the comparison has merit. Jackson has been mentoring Ross to hone in on that combine-record-breaking speed.
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Breer has alluded to some off-the-field concerns teams have about Cook, but his talents cannot be understated. Cook has been compared to everyone from Jamaal Charles to Fred Taylor. A dynamic weapon as a runner or when he splits out wide, he’d make an offense already featuring Jameis Winston and Mike Evans very difficult to game-plan for.
No. 20 Denver Broncos: Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky
Doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Broncos in 2017; he will have a hard time flourishing if John Elway doesn’t improve the offensive line. One of the league’s smartest executives will fall for one of the draft’s biggest risers. You may not have heard of Lamp yet, but evaluators took notice ever since he put up dominant tape against Alabama—especially in winning one-on-one battles against Jonathan Allen (my No. 4 pick). Lamp was a left tackle in college but could slide to guard.
No. 21 Detroit Lions: Teez Tabor, DB, Florida
The Lions need a pass-rusher or penetrating defensive tackle in the worst way, but I think they can get a starter in the second round. Instead, look for Detroit to lock in a corner here. The Lions just paid up for Darius Slay. They need a sidekick but would like to be frugal (i.e. not overpaying a free agent). Tabor has a chance to be as good as any of the corners on the market.
No. 22 Miami Dolphins: Takkarist McKinley, DL, UCLA
With Andre Branch testing free agency, the Dolphins may need to make moves to keep their pass rush afloat. McKinley is a bit of a late bloomer. He was getting after quarterbacks in 2015, but scouts were frustrated when he could never seal the deal. That wasn’t the case last season, when he racked up 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles for the Bruins.
No. 23 New York Giants: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
I get the feeling the Giants would like to draft a quarterback to eventually replace Eli Manning, but this is not the year—or rather, this is not the round. Instead, New York’s front office will decide to maximize the last of the Manning years by giving him a go-to tight end. Howard is every bit as polished and impressive as advertised.
No. 24 Oakland Raiders: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
The Temple product was the talk of the Senior Bowl and followed that up with a dominant combine. In Mobile, Reddick switched seamlessly from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in drills.
No. 25 Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
He’s a total gunslinger with some mechanical and footwork issues to sort out. He’s also the best arm in this draft, no doubt, with some of the special playmaking and leadership qualities scouts gush about when talking about Deshaun Watson. The Texans are a quarterback away from being legit contenders. I think Rick Smith would like the idea of giving Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler every chance to compete for the starting job next season, knowing Mahomes is waiting in the wings to take over down the line.
• PATRICK MAHOMES IS THE DRAFT’S RORSCHACH TEST: In a QB class full of question marks, Mahomes has emerged as the most fascinating passer in the draft. And every evaluator will see something different
No. 26 Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin
The Seahawks need tackles. Some scouts believe Ramczyk is the best one in this draft, even a Day 1 starter on the left side. As long as his medicals hold up, Seattle could be getting a steal here.
No. 27 Kansas City Chiefs: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
There’s more on Foster’s odd combine dismissal lower in the column, but bottom line: It’s not a huge deal for teams. Still, a player with a few off-field question marks doesn’t scare away this front office, which believes it has the right system in place to help young men flourish. Foster is an explosive tackling machine, and a possible successor to Derrick Johnson.
No. 28 Dallas Cowboys: David Njoku, TE, Miami
The classic “excellent veteran is aging, so let’s find him a replacement” scenario surfaces yet again. Here, Jerry Jones finds a successor for Jason Witten. Njoku, one of the youngest players in this year’s draft (he turns 21 in July) has a high ceiling, as he has only been playing tight end for two years. A core featuring Njoku, Dak Prescott (23-years-old) and Ezekiel Elliott (21)? That will keep Dallas front-running in the NFC East for years to come.
No. 29 Green Pay Packers: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
In Indianapolis, I was told by a few people that there were two teams that made perfect sense for McCaffrey: the Packers and the Patriots. Well, Green Bay picks earlier, so Aaron Rodgers gets to work with the dynamic Stanford talent. While Ty Montgomery was a nice stopgap for the Green Bay running game, it’s hard to imagine a guy who wore a No. 88 jersey becoming the long-term answer out of the backfield. McCaffrey, however, is, and if there’s any offense that can squeeze the most out of his versatility, it’s this one.
No. 30 Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
Most believe J.J.’s little brother would be best as an outstide linebacker in a 3-4 system. He can set the edge and rush the passer, with 15.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks last season, his second full year playing linebacker (like J.J., he began his career as a tight end). Pittsburgh really needs help with the pass rush. This could be a great match.
No. 31 Atlanta Falcons: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
The Falcons could use pass-rushers. The going rule in today’s NFL is that you need three good ones to be successful. Pair Harris with the Clemson crew (Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, coming off a breakout Super Bowl performance), and Atlanta has a trio to harass quarterbacks of the NFC South for a very long time.
No. 32 New England Patriots: Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
McCaffrey is off the board, and Bill Belichick weeps. But not for long. New England decision-makers opt for their second-favorite typecast: the supremely talented player with a few off-the field question marks. (At the combine, Williams acknowledged he had failed past drug tests in college, and evaluators I’ve talked to expressed concerns beyond that.) No matter. The Patriots can squeeze the most out of his talent, then when his rookie contract expires, let someone else pay big bucks for him. Wash, rinse, repeat.
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FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
2. In the quarterback top tier, I’m not sure any player separated from the pack. At this point individual team preference will likely dictate what quarterback is first of the board. Mitchell Trubisky earned a personal win by just standing tall—literally. When the UNC quarterback measured just above 6'2", he quashed questions about his size. Meanwhile Deshaun Watson certainly dazzled in team interviews and was solid in passing drills. However, the question with Watson is not what type of quarterback was he in college, but what do you envision him being in the NFL? I re-read my column from January in which I asked Randall Cunningham, Josh McCown and Mike Shanahan to evaluate Watson off of his national championship game performance, and found some of Shanahan’s comments especially relevant. For example: “It takes a while to learn to be a pocket passer. You can tell that he struggled a little bit with the intermediate and deep routes. That does take some time. Your footwork in the pocket, your ability to slide in the pocket, instead of just taking off and looking downfield or looking at the holes in the defense where you can keep your head up and still slide and still focus downfield. And key the whole defense? That takes time.”
3. This was the first year that the NFL opened portions of the combine workouts to fans, and the results were mixed. There seemed to be some concern over how rowdy the crowd was in watching the bench press. Specifically, there was one incident in which a fan was yelling at Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram as he lifted. (Engram knocked out 19 reps of 225 pounds.) While evaluators I talked to agreed it was certainly an odd atmosphere, one scout I trust said this, essentially: Perhaps it was annoying, but it fits into the crux of the combine. It creates a high-pressure situation and you see how these players respond.
4. Here are three players I will be paying attention to after the combine: Garett Bolles, the offensive lineman from Utah, Chris Godwin, the wide receiver from Penn State, and Jordan Willis, the linebacker from Kansas State. Bolles is an athletic wonder who is projected to only get better and stronger as he’s exposed to more big-time football. A junior college transfer, Bolles has a remarkable comeback story. He was suspended or kicked out of five different schools growing up, briefly sent to jail for vandalizing another school, and kicked out of his home by his father, after which he was taken in by his lacrosse coach. Godwin had a sensational Rose Bowl for Penn State, but a scout said it wasn’t an anomaly. “Definitely heard some chatter after his 40 time [Godwin posted a 4.42].” Meanwhile a scout called Willis an “underrated pass rusher” with “speed and versatility.”
5. With the combine pushed back this year, pro days begin sooner than usual. There are two big headliners Wednesday: Alabama and Oklahoma. The latter is especially high-profile this year as evaluators will get the chance to speak to running back Joe Mixon, a combine snub, in Norman. As I reported after the Senior Bowl, the consensus I got at the combine remains the same: A team will not draft Mixon in the first round, but don’t be surprised if he goes sometime in Day 2.
• THE LONGSHOTS: A 28-year-old former drug addict turned sack master, a promising receiver who walked away from Clemson just before they won it all. Meet the prospects who have taken the most unusual paths to the draft
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WHAT I’M WATCHING
Pro day edition!
The workouts will be televised by SEC Network from 1 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. I was told there are 17 Alabama players participating, including seven who are first-round candidates (Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster, O.J. Howard, Marlon Humphrey, Cam Robinson, Tim Williams.) It’s a good bet that all 32 teams will be in Tuscaloosa, already one of the most scout-friendly venues.
Last year, Temple had record attendance in terms of NFL personnel at its pro day. I expect similar interest this year. Haason Reddick is not just a trendy post-Senior Bowl riser—he is a legitimate first-round candidate. And I’ve been hearing good buzz about offensive lineman Dion Dawkins.
John Ross broke Chris Johnson’s nine-year-old record in the 40-yard dash but sustained cramps after that and wasn’t able to complete all drills. The wide receiver will get the chance to do that in Seattle, where he can convince teams he’s worthy of a first-round pick with a skill set that’s more than just speed. A few evaluators came up to me at the combine after reading my profile on Ross and agreed the positive character assessments were spot on. Scouts on the West Coast have been smitten with Ross all season. Meanwhile, the country’s most talented secondary collection (Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King) jostle for recognition to prove they deserve to be drafted high too.
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FACTOID OF THE WEEK
On Thursday, I sat in as Peter King recorded an upcoming podcast with Ravens coach John Harbaugh. I highly recommend you listen whenever it comes out; it was an illuminating conversation during which Harbaugh opened up about chasing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s success and shared a few good stories about competition with his brother, Jim (he of University of Michigan and khaki pants fame).
As for those pants, John shared this tidbit: Jim Harbaugh is no longer sporting the $8 Wal-Mart pleated variety anymore. “He’s now wearing Lululemon khakis,” John said.
That’s not the only Jim Harbaugh fashion nugget of the weekend. In his podium session with reporters on Sunday, Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis said his coach not only wears cleats during games—he also wears the cleats on the charter flights to games.
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