Back in March, I published my NCAA March Madness predictions. Considering my bracket finished in the 50th-percentile of all brackets submitted to ESPN, I figured you guys have been anxiously awaiting my next predictions. So here they are. My predictions for the top ten picks of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Not only does the Red Seat have an article, but Jos and I have prepared a special NFL Draft edition Red Seat Rundown. Listen to the podcast and read the article and you’ll be the most knowledgeable fellow at your Draft viewing party.
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Analysis: Myles Garrett is 6’4”, 272 lbs with a near-7 foot wingspan. He benched 225 lbs 33 times at the combine and ran a blazing 4.64-second 40-yard dash. At his pro day, Garrett improved his 40-yard dash to 4.62. In response to his improved time, Garrett claimed his personal best was a 4.47. I believe him. There is not a more dominant athlete in this draft. His unparalleled explosion off the ball led to 31 sacks and 47 tackles for loss in his 3-year career. Few can keep him from penetrating the backfield. No one can break his tackle. Scouts think of him like they thought of Jadeveon Clowney. Myles Garrett is the surest pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Why this pick: This one is easy. But for some reason, the Browns are entertaining other players. Please, Cleveland, do not take Mitch Trubisky with the first-overall pick. Myles Garrett is, hands down, the best player on the board. Every scout and pundit agree (aside from Warren Sapp). The only thing standing in the way, it seems, is the ownership. The Haslam family reportedly wants to bring a flashy new quarterback to excite the base. To figure out how this decision would go, you need to look no further than the last example of ownership bringing in a flashy quarterback the coaches were skeptical of—Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans. But hey, this is the same franchise that pulled the trigger on Johnny Football in the first round. It could be the franchise that pulls the trigger on Mitch Trubisky first overall.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
Analysis: The title of best defensive back in the draft goes to LSU’s Jamal Adams. SEC teams had a hard time getting past LSU’s third layer of defense as Adams racked up an impressive 76 tackles. Jamal Adams never hesitates on the hit. He finds his target and demolishes it (see below). Adams has found a lot of success in the backfield, finishing 2016 with 7.5 tackles for loss. The AP All-American is also a ball hawk, thought to be balanced in coverage and concise in decision making. Oh, and he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Why this pick: Last season, the 49ers ranked 28th in pass defense, per Football Outsiders. Their need for defensive backs is clear for all to see. Not only would Jamal Adams help in the coverage, but his tackling ability will improve San Francisco’s run defense which ranked dead last in 2016. A common projection here is Stanford DE Solomon Thomas. I don’t think the second pick in the draft is worth risking on a guy without the length of a defensive end or the size of an interior lineman. Rumors that new head coach Kyle Shanahan is looking to create a dual-back offense in the image of his offense in Atlanta has thrown Leonard Fournette into the conversation. However, Kyle Shanahan also likes running backs with receiving ability and there will be better fits on Day 2.
3. Chicago Bears – Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
Analysis: While I am not as big on Solomon Thomas as others are, there is no denying his talent. Solomon Thomas earned the 2016 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for his impact on the Cardinal’s defense. Thomas is infamous for his ability to use his hands to shed off blockers. Watching Solomon Thomas highlights makes one thing clear: this is a guy who is looking for a fight every single snap. Critics say that Thomas isn’t long enough for an NFL defensive end and isn’t big enough to play the interior but a lot of these concerns were put to rest by an impressive Combine performance. Thomas’ athletic ability and technical skills make him a favorite among scouts.
Why this pick: I think the Bears will take the player they see as the best on the board. Chicago has needs all over so I don’t see them reaching for a positional talent. Solomon Thomas will help a pass rush that recorded the 24th most sacks last season. I consider Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker reaches here because of their respective injuries and inexperience.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Analysis: Leonard Fournette is an absolute monster. It’s not hard to find someone to say he’s the second-best prospect in this draft class, only behind Myles Garrett. At 6’0”, 240 lbs, no one wants to tackle Fournette. Starting his true freshman year, Fournette earned a reputation, in an SEC with the best defenses in the country, as a bulldozer of a man. Outside of his trucking ability, Fournette possesses a mean stiff arm that’ll put most anybody on the ground. Some scouts say he’s the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. The knock on him is his inability to make defenders miss. Fournette is no LeSean McCoy. He is also coming off an injury-ridden junior year.
Why this pick: Coming into the 2016 season, people, myself included, were very high on the Jaguars’ offense. Blake Bortles and his two stud receivers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, were coming off breakout seasons and seemed to be headed on an upward trajectory. TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory looked like a competent backfield. Unfortunately, nothing went according to plan and the Jags were terrible, hence the 5th pick in the draft. Neither TJ Yeldon nor Chris Ivory reached 500 rushing yards. Embarrassing. A capable running back would take a lot of pressure off of a developing Blake Bortles and would help bolster their offense into what it can be. Leonard Fournette is more than a capable running back.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama
Analysis: Jonathan Allen’s NCAA production is undeniable. Allen was the best player on the best defense in the country—maybe the best defense ever. In 2016, Jonathan Allen was named the nation’s best defender and made the All-SEC First Team with 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Coming out of the season, Jonathan Allen was a near consensus #2 prospect. Unfortunately, a terrible showing at the combine and arthritis has lowered his stock. While most explosive defensive linemen run faster than a 5-second 40-yard dash, that number can’t possibly tell the whole story. Jonathan Allen proved that he can be an elite defensive tackle with his play at Bama.
Why this pick: The Tennessee Titans have had a nonexistent interior pass rush the past couple seasons, pressuring the quarterback just 20% of plays without using a blitz, per ESPN. New addition Sylvester Williams won’t make things any better. Jonathan Allen gives the Titans an exciting new player to send at quarterbacks every down. He’s proven that he can dominate in college. I think his track record alone is more than enough for the Titans to take a gamble on him to try and fill a gaping hole in their defense. It’s too early in the draft for the Titans to address their need at wide receiver.
6. New York Jets – OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
Analysis: OJ Howard is a physical specimen. Standing at 6’6” and weighing in at 251 lbs, Howard provides a dominant presence in any passing offense. Anybody who questions his dominance should go watch this year’s national championship game against Clemson where he accrued 106 yards and a touchdown. He’s not just a big body. OJ Howard has some of the best hands in this year’s draft and was relied on to catch passes in traffic more than anyone else on the Crimson Tide. He needs to work on his blocking before he can be an every-down tight end in the NFL but that can come with time.
Why this pick: It’s no secret. The New York Jets desperately need a quarterback. Offseason pickup Josh McCown’s ceiling is an average quarterback and no one’s fooling themselves with Christian Hackenberg. There’s no quarterback worth taking here so the best thing for the Jets to do is to draft a safety net for whoever they plug in behind center. The monstrous OJ Howard is that safety net. His size, athleticism, and reliable hands make for a phenomenal option ten yards down the field.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
Analysis: Where Jamal Adams is an elite tackler, Malik Hooker is an elite ball hawk. Hooker earned First Team All-American and All-Big Ten honors after pulling in 7 interceptions and breaking up 4 other passes. Before the quarterback releases the football, Malik Hooker knows where the ball is going. An elite pass reader combined with elite ball skills makes for a lethal ball hawk in any secondary. Hooker only has one year of experience under his belt and is weak against the run. However, that room for growth just means his ceiling is high.
Why this pick: Prior to last season, the San Diego Chargers lost their All-Pro free safety, Eric Weddle, and it showed. Replacements Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery were a major downgrade at the position. Malik Hooker would be an exciting addition to an already strong secondary featuring the 2016 NFL leader in interceptions, Casey Heyward. It’s also too early in the draft to reach for offensive linemen or outside linebackers.
8. Carolina Panthers – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Analysis: Coming into 2016, Christian McCaffrey was a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Injuries prevented him from putting together a Heisman-worthy stat line but that’s not to diminish what he did. McCaffrey put up 1,913 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns. While he’s not the biggest running back in the class, he may be the hardest working and the grittiest. He also possesses the best receiving ability out of any of the backs in the draft, a skill that is becoming more and more valuable in the NFL, thanks to the New England Patriots. McCaffrey is not going to be a goal line back but he can do just about everything else.
Why this pick: The Carolina Panthers need a running back. Longtime Panther Jonathan Stewart is approaching 30 and, as of now, they have no adequate backup. McCaffrey’s receiving ability also makes him a weapon without occupying the RB1 slot in the depth chart. Carolina’s offense struggled last season and the dynamic McCaffrey adds much-needed excitement.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Analysis: To see what type of player Reuben Foster is, look no further than his bone-crushing hit against Leonard Fournette. It usually takes three or four student-athletes to bring down Fournette. All it took Foster was one shoulder. Reuben Foster is a hard hitting enforcer that makes running backs slow down and receivers fear going across the middle. On top of all that, he’s great in coverage, accumulating 9 passes defended in the past two seasons at Bama. His character is often called into question. Foster notoriously lowered his shoulder straight into Deshaun Watson’s head early in the National Championship Game.
Why this pick: As much as I would hate it, Vontaze Burfict and Reuben Foster would be one terrifying duo at linebacker. Expect at least one inflicted injury per game for the opposing team. And multiple personal foul calls. This pick would take Cincy’s average linebacking corps to a lethal and athletic force.
10. Buffalo Bills – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Analysis: In the 2017 College Football Championship game, Mike Williams fought through an injury and the nation’s best defense to carry the Clemson Tigers in the second half to victory with 94 yards and a touchdown. That display was more than enough to sell me on Mike Williams. Mike Williams is the best receiver in this draft class. At 6’4”, 220 lbs, Williams has the perfect size for an elite WR1. He also showed a knack for catching all sorts of passes thrown his way, contorting his body to get in the best possible position to make the play.
Why this pick: The Bills have a decently promising quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. However, they have close to no weapons around him. Outside of Sammy Watkins, who is consistently injured and inconsistent, Buffalo’s best receiver is Robert Woods. A developing quarterback like Taylor needs more playmakers around him. Mike Williams is that guy. I have Williams over Corey Davis because Williams has dominated against better competition than Davis faced at Western Michigan.