The NFL Draft is just two days away. Organizations have been working around the clock trying to determine which collegiate could alter the trajectory of their franchise. Before I list my draft projections, there are two things I feel certain of in this draft: First, there is a clear-cut number one choice but there is no clear-cut second prospect. Because of this, teams will try to trade down, but will be unable to accumulate adequate draft capital because other teams will be trying to do the same. Second, I have a sneaking suspicion that a team (maybe the Browns or Chiefs) will trade up into the top ten to select a quarterback. With that being said, assuming the current draft positions remain constant, here is how I think it will shake out:
- Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Texas A&M. While the Browns desperately need a quarterback, they simply cannot pass up on the 6’5” 270-pound pass rusher out of TAMU. He is undoubtedly the best player in this draft. Playing the same position as Von Miller, and hailing from the same school, the comparisons are pretty accurate. In fact, Garrett is 20 pounds heavier than Miller. Simply put, he’s an athletic freak, and an athletic freak who wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks is worthy of the number one overall selection.
- San Francisco 49ers – Solomon Thomas, Defensive End, Stanford. Thomas has climbed draft boards unlike any prospect. His athleticism, his quickness, his brain – scouts love him. The 49ers have an abundance of holes, as does every other team selecting this high, but a defensive end with Thomas’ motor has very little bust potential. I think the Stanford product stays on the West Coast.
- Chicago Bears – Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, Ohio State. Playing in a division with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Bears could always use an addition to their secondary. Signing Mike Glennon this offseason likely takes them out of the quarterback market, here at number three. Lattimore, the OSU, has the potential to be a lockdown corner at the next level.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU. Fournette is a house. At 6’2” and 230-pounds, the Louisiana native has been destined for the NFL since he entered high school. Check out his highlight tape. The Jaguars offense has weapons on the outside – Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – and Fournette would give them a real threat out of the backfield. While he is limited in the passing game, Fournette would add some much needed punch to the Jacksonville offensive attack.
- Tennessee Titans – Mike Williams, Wide Receiver, Clemson. The Titans need to provide Marcus Mariota with a playmaker, and Williams provides just that. Built in the same vein as Brandon Marshall, Williams is as physical as any wide receiver in this draft. He obliterated Alabama in the National Championship Game. Expect him to do the same on Sundays.
- New York Jets – Mitch Trubisky, Quarterback, North Carolina. The Jets are desperate. They do not currently have a competent quarterback on their roster. While they could very possibly wait until next draft, where they would likely have another high selection and the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen could be available, I don’t see that happening. I think Trubisky, despite his lack of experience (only 13 collegiate starts), will be too tough for the Jets to turn down.
- San Diego Chargers – Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU. Ed Reed 2.0. It appears that that’s what he can become. The Chargers, with a defensive foundation of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, could really use an enforcer in their secondary. “Enforcer” might as well be Adams’ middle name. The hard-hitting SEC talent would add a ferocity to a Charger team in their first season in Los Angeles. Yes, Phillip Rivers is getting older, and yes they could use another weapon on offense, but Adams is too great of a player to pass up in this spot. The Chargers pounce and Adams ends up with a lightning bolt.
- Carolina Panthers – Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Stanford. A second Stanford product in the top ten? Yup! The Panthers are in dire need of some complexity to their offensive scheme. Power run, power run, pass. That seems to be the extent of their playbook. McCaffrey would add an element to their offense that has been non-existent in Cam Newton’s tenure, not to mention his playmaking ability as a returner man. McCaffrey to Carolina makes too much sense. It has to happen!
- Cincinnati Bengals – Malik Hooker, Safety, Ohio State. The Bengals aren’t really in need of too much. They are a good football team, and quite frankly, I am surprised they finished last year with as poor of a record as they did. I think they will take the best player still available here with the ninth pick, and that is Hooker. Adding a safety with the ball skills of the former Buckeye will add an element of youth to an aging defense.
- Buffalo Bills –John Ross, Wide Receiver, Washington. The former Husky opened eyes at the NFL Combine where he ran a 4.22 forty-yard dash. That is next-level speed. The Bills could surely use another wide receiver alongside Sammy Watkins, and Ross is their guy. There have been plenty of speedsters who haven’t quite panned out – see Darrius Heyward-Bey, Stephen Hill, etc., but Ross has impressive ball skills to go along with his other-worldly speed. Tyrod Taylor would be licking his chops to have Shady McCoy and then Ross and Watkins on the outside. If the Bills pull the trigger on Ross, they could become one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL.
Apart from these ten, there are a number of NFL prospects who have seen their stock fluctuate dramatically. Why? Who knows, but the evaluations of these prospects from club to club have great variance. For instance, one team might view former USC wideout Juju Smith-Schuster as a solid second-rounder, while another might not even think about taking him until the fourth or even fifth round. The thing to remember is that it only takes one team to fall in love with a prospect. They don’t need to be universally adored, they just need one team to call their name. With that said, here are five prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft who face the most uncertainty in not only where they are selected, but how their games translate to the next level.
Jabrill Peppers, Safety/Linebacker, Michigan …… Peppers is an athletic freak. He returned kicks and punts for Jim Harbaugh and also found himself running the wildcat in addition to his status as a hard-hitting defensive weapon. I call him that because his position, or lack thereof, is what NFL teams are worried about. He is too small to be a linebacker, but too slow to be a safety. I think this commentary is ludicrous. But along with his recent diluted urine sample, it might be the reason that Peppers, despite his college production, falls come Thursday’s draft. I think he could really thrive in a defense such as Dallas’. If he is there when the Cowboys pick at 28, I would be surprised if they don’t snag him.
Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State …… Cook’s talent is undeniable. It’s his character that has raised some red flags. He has a checkered history with the law, and that might keep some teams from taking him. Despite his history, his talent is evident. He could have a similar impact as a rookie as Ezekiel Elliot did for the Cowboys. He will fall, but I do not envision him falling out of the first round. I could see the Buccaneers taking him at 19, or worst case scenario he falls to the Raiders, who desperately need a running back, at 24, whether or not they come to a resolution with Marshawn Lynch. I think Joe Mixon is also in play here for the Raiders if Cook is off of the board, which is fascinating considering all of the controversy that would surround his selection.
Budda Baker, Safety, Washington ….. Similarly to Peppers, Baker is undersized for the safety position. At only 195 pounds, some teams will certainly be scared off that he is not as physically imposing as your typical NFL safety (say, Kam Chancellor). When I saw Washington play this season, Baker was all over the field making plays. One hundred ninety five pounds or not, this dude is a playmaker. I think he will fall to somewhere in the mid-second round, but he will be a steal. Baltimore and Cleveland make the most sense for Baker, so look for him to go somewhere in between picks 47 and 52 overall.
Cam Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Alabama ….. Earlier this season, Robinson was a consensus top-five pick. Then, as happens each year, he didn’t test so well at the combine. Now it appears as though he will not come off of the board until the mid-to-late first round. What should be valued more: three years of utter domination against SEC opponents or three days of testing in compression shorts? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. But despite that, Robinson will fall. Logical landing spots for the All American: Broncos at 20 or Giants at 23.
Dede Westrbook, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma …… Think Tyler Lockett. Westbrook is made in the same mold as the Seahawks’ sophomore playmaker. The former Sooner will return kicks and be a threat in the passing game. He isn’t viewed as much more than a fifth round talent, but ask the Seahawks how valuable Lockette has been to them. I guarantee that they will tell you he’s worth way more than just a fifth-round pick. Westbrook would be a great pick-up for Drew Brees and the Saints. He would add another vertical threat to an already potent offensive scheme.