2017 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Homestretch Predictions

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterNovember 30, 2016

2017 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Homestretch Predictions

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    Malik Hooker and Mike McGlinchey are out—for now. Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams are in. The 2017 NFL draft class is starting to take shape in terms of which players will or won't be available. We're also starting to understand where teams are weak and where they are strong. That means it's a perfect time to update a Round 1 mock draft. 

    Using the most recent draft order—adjusted for playoff seeding—this is a projection of which players would be drafted by each team based on need (pre-free agency) and expected holes. Some of that may change as players enter the draft or drop out, like Hooker did this week, and as teams sign and lose free agents, like New England re-upping Marcus Cannon.

    Who will go No. 1? Where will the quarterbacks end up? Those questions are all answered here.

1. Cleveland Browns

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    The Pick: DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama

    Where do we go from here? 

    The Cleveland Browns have a roster full of young talent—some developing, some not and a lot of it unproven—which means they could go in any direction at the top of Round 1.

    The natural assumption is that the Browns would draft a quarterback—but not this year. Not yet, anyway, when there isn't a clear-cut No. 1 passer on the board. Mitch Trubisky may become that guy for me with more film study, but four months out he doesn't look ready to be a No. 1 pick.

    That leaves two blue-chip defenders, both from the SEC, for Cleveland to choose from: Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen.

    Garrett is my top-ranked player, but as an edge-rusher he's more in line with the players the Browns drafted last year (Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib), whereas Allen is more of a natural rusher from the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense with the versatility to play defensive end or defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.

    That versatility and the better fit make him the pick at No. 1 overall. Because Garrett and Allen are so closely graded, the scheme fit pushes the latter over the top.

2. San Francisco 49ers

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    The Pick: EDGE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

    The San Francisco 49ers may have an entirely new regime (again) by the time the team comes on the board at No. 2 overall. If Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly are still running the show, there will be temptation to draft a young quarterback, but reaching for a passer too soon can be treacherous. On the flip side, not drafting a young quarterback could be the group's ticket out of town.

    The smart move—one with no emotion or politics involved—would be to draft Myles Garrett. No draft pick is ever a no-brainer, but this is as close as you'll see to it. Garrett has size, strength, speed and understands how to use his hands to disengage from blockers and how to keep himself away from lockdowns. 

    He can't throw touchdowns, but he can do a great job preventing them. And right now, the 49ers don't have that Von Miller or J.J. Watt presence on defense—which Garrett could be.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU

    Jabrill Peppers and Malik Hooker get the hype, but Jamal Adams is the best safety in the country. Hands down.

    Adams is an enforcer with ball skills and patrols the LSU defense both in the box and high atop the secondary. He has the downhill speed and force to be an intimidator when running backs, tight ends and slot receivers come across the middle but also has the hands (and five career interceptions) to be an asset in coverage all over the field.

    If that sounds like something the Jacksonville Jaguars need, well, it is. The secondary has a budding young star in Jalen Ramsey, but John Cyprien never developed into the stud safety he had the potential to be.

    Adams needs little development to become a star, and on a roster that needs to win now, he can have an immediate impact.

4. Chicago Bears

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    The Pick: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

    Someone will pull the trigger on a quarterback early in the 2017 draft, and if North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky enters after one season as the Tar Heels starter, he's the most likely candidate.

    The Chicago Bears need a quarterback, and the front office needs a young offensive player to hitch its wagon to. Finding a smart, athletic, strong-armed signal-caller isn't easy—and Trubisky has his warts in terms of mechanics and inexperience—but the tools he brings to the table can be developed into those of a top-of-the-line starter.

    With Jonathan Allen and Myles Garrett off the board, the Bears could reach slightly for a cornerback or safety and get that ass-kicker on defense they lack.

    But a gamble on a quarterback almost always happens early in the draft. It's time for Chicago to be the team to do it.

5. New York Jets

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    The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

    Say it with me, everyone: best player available.

    That's where the New York Jets will go with their first-rounder (and even into the later rounds) as long as Mike Maccagnan and his crew are running the scouting department. 

    At pick No. 5, there is no better player on the board than running back Leonard Fournette. Even with the ankle injury. Even with the declined numbers this season. Fournette is an elite, rare talent at running back. And the Jets will see him for the generational talent that he is.

    Matt Forte is in place but hasn't been as good as expected, which will open the door for Fournette to come in and be an Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley piece right out of the gate.

6. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama

    Why have the Cincinnati Bengals slipped from a playoff team to the No. 6 pick in the draft? Old, slow linebackers are a big part of it.

    Reuben Foster is a star middle linebacker with the speed, strength and instincts to be dynamic in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. In his senior season, Foster lost 15 pounds, gained better explosive qualities and still showed the pass-rushing, coverage and inside run-stuffing abilities needed to be a top-10 pick.

    As the Bengals work to get younger and more athletic across the board, Foster is the kind of linebacker they need. And while Alabama players may not always develop into 10s, Foster comes into the league as a seven.

    That high floor makes him one of the best middle linebacker prospects of the last decade.

7. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)

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    The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson

    The offense in Tennessee is rolling with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, a great offensive line, a strong run game and solid receivers making exceptional plays. But it lacks a wide receiver who can play above the rim and stretch defenses vertically. Mike Williams will do that and more.

    The Clemson star is a game-changer. He can win on jump balls by getting his hands above his frame to secure rebound-like catches but also has the route running and quickness to beat smaller, shifty cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage for slants and comebacks.

    Williams is close to a complete receiver prospect, and truly complete receivers are rare. A potential pairing of Williams and Mariota with that offensive line should give Titans fans chills.

8. Carolina Panthers

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    The Pick: S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

    Jabrill Peppers is a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the most electric players in college football, but will that translate to the NFL? That will be a question every scouting department dives into once the redshirt sophomore declares for the draft. But right now, based on his athleticism and versatility, Peppers looks like a top-10 pick.

    Peppers is most natural as a strong safety, and the Carolina Panthers would be ecstatic to have him patrolling the field as a money 'backer in sub-packages and mixing it up on deep coverage at times. Peppers has the skill set to play either safety position and can also line up at linebacker when he can get a good matchup and not face pulling guards and centers in the run game.

    The Panthers have taken fliers on hybrid athletes like Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson in the past, and both worked out pretty well. Peppers can be another dynamite pick on defense.

9. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Pick: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

    The time for a quarterback of the future in Arizona is now. 

    Carson Palmer has hit a wall at age 36, and the Cardinals have nothing behind him to develop after missing on Logan Thomas in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. There is no better time than when they have a top-10 pick to draft one, either.

    Kizer is a raw prospect, and he's not exactly been developed by Brian Kelly's staff at Notre Dame.

    If he declares for the 2017 draft, Kizer's arm talent and football IQ would be good enough to push him into the top 10 picks. Clean up his footwork, and a lot of Kizer's issues are gone—which is a lot like how I described Dak Prescott at this time last year.

10. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Pick: EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama

    The Indianapolis Colts will be at a crossroads entering the 2017 offseason, and now is the time for general manager Ryan Grigson (or his replacement) to bolster the defense and finally add a difference-maker off the edge. Not through poor spending in free agency or late-round gems, but with a true blue-chip prospect from early in the draft.

    Tim Williams isn't yet a three-down impact player, but he is the best stand-up pass-rusher in this class after Myles Garrett. Williams' speed, length and hand use are all of the caliber you find in the top 10 picks in the draft. And his ceiling—unlike some Alabama prospects—is incredibly high since he's primarily been a pass-rusher for the Crimson Tide.

    Grigson needs to find a starter, someone who can pinch the edge and make plays against opposing quarterbacks, and that's exactly what Williams can be from day one.

11. Green Bay Packers

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    The Pick: EDGE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

    One of the most productive players in college football this season, Tennessee's Derek Barnett has the power and closing speed off the edge to be a key player in a Green Bay Packers defense that desperately needs help off the corner.

    The problems in Green Bay can't be solved with one pick, but the best move for the long-term health of the roster would be to get better on defense. Look at Denver and Kansas City as evidence of what happens when you add a good pass-rusher to the depth chart. Barnett, if he hits, will make the cornerbacks better and help the inside linebackers get more one-on-one blocks.

    A solid edge changes everything for a defense, and Barnett has the tools to do just that.

    Finding another wide receiver and a running back will be additional draft-day goals, but the Packers cannot pass up a chance to get a dynamic defender like Barnett.

12. New Orleans Saints

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    The Pick: EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn

    The first-round run on pass-rushers hits its stride with Carl Lawson coming off the board at No. 12 overall. The good news for New Orleans is that he's still here, because Lawson is exactly what the Saints need coming off the edge.

    Lawson doesn't have eye-popping measurables—he's probably a little short-armed—but he's a relentless pass-rusher with the speed to turn the corner and make plays in the backfield. The Saints don't have an outside presence right now, and it's showing, as quarterbacks get all day to make plays.

    Adding Lawson would only make this entire defense better by proxy. And while there will be pressure to take a young quarterback or a linebacker here, Lawson is a value and a need.

13. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)

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    The Pick: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida

    A cornerback over a quarterback? That may seem ridiculous, but the last thing the Cleveland Browns can do is draft a quarterback too soon. Some will argue that drafting Deshaun Watson or Brad Kaaya here would be the smartest move—get as much talent at quarterback as possible and let them fight it out—but building a monster defense first and letting Josh McCown and Cody Kessler compete for the job in 2017 will give the Browns a better roster moving forward.

    We're seeing great defenses carry average offenses across the league right now (hello, Denver), and while Cleveland has a gigantic need at quarterback, the NFL draft is about marrying needs and value.

    The Browns have two picks in the second round to add a young developmental quarterback. With pick No. 13, the allure of shutdown cornerback Quincy Wilson is too great to pass on.

14. San Diego Chargers

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    The Pick: T Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin

    Put the San Diego Chargers in any other division, and they'd be competing for a playoff berth. Instead, the Chargers are drafting in the top 15 and searching for the missing pieces to a roster that has Hall of Famers at quarterback and tight end.

    The biggest needs for San Diego are at wide receiver and on the offensive line. John Ross of Washington might be in play here if it values his smallish frame and yards-after-catch ability, but the chance to draft a franchise left tackle to protect Philip Rivers and open holes for Melvin Gordon is too good to pass up.

    Ryan Ramczyk has the length and technique to keep up with pass-rushers who have both speed and power. He's done well against both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in the Big Ten and has proved through the last two seasons that he's a Round 1-caliber tackle.

15. Tennessee Titans

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    The Pick: CB Teez Tabor, Florida

    Two Florida cornerbacks in the top 15 picks? That tells you just how dominant this defense is. And there may be two more of them in Round 2, when Jarrad Davis and Marcus Maye come off the board.

    Jalen Tabor, or Teez as he likes to be called, was the Gators cornerback with the most hype coming into the season. He's a fiery, athletic playmaker with speed to run down the field and the instincts to jump routes and make plays to flip the field.

    There are some off-field concerns with Tabor—he was suspended for fighting a teammate during practice—but he has ball skills and toughness at a position of major need for the Tennessee Titans.

16. Buffalo Bills

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    The Pick: DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State

    The Buffalo Bills have a roster with promise but must replace aging starters or players who aren't living up to expectations. One such area of need will be along the defensive line, where Marcell Dareus seems to be in a tailspin instead of developing into a top-tier player.

    Malik McDowell is a first-class athlete with potential, but he needs to be coached up by an NFL staff. Rex Ryan is the kind of guy who can reach him and develop McDowell's traits into a Calais Campbell-type defensive lineman.

    As this team grows, there will be a need to keep churning the roster and continue to get younger, faster and even cheaper while shaping the depth chart into that of a contender.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)

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    The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State

    Dalvin Cook could come off the board in the first 10 picks—especially if teams bite on his potential as a three-down back along the lines of Ezekiel Elliott or Le'Veon Bell. As it stands now, he falls to the Philadelphia Eagles. Head coach Doug Pederson had a player like Cook in Kansas City (Jamaal Charles) and knows how important a pass-catching back can be to an offense—and to a young quarterback.

    Cook put on some weight this season in an effort to be more of a between-the-tackles back, and it has zapped some of his juice as an outside runner, but that's an easy fix if his NFL team wants him to be more explosive. With three years of film ready for evaluation, Cook looks like one of the safer picks in the 2017 class.

    The Eagles will need to add defenders in the draft but cannot bypass the chance to get a Pro Bowl-caliber running back.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Pick: CB Sidney Jones, Washington

    Johnthan Banks was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and now he plays in Detroit after Tampa Bay traded him Nov. 1. Alterraun Verner was a big free-agent pickup, but he hasn't started much since the team drafted Vernon Hargreaves in April. Brent Grimes is playing well in the other cornerback spot, but he isn't a long-term solution at a crucial place on the roster. 

    Sidney Jones is a long-term solution—and the type of talent who can step in and be a day-one cornerback on the outside. Cornerback might not be the highest priority for the Buccaneers—safety and wide receiver are pretty thin—but it'd be tough to say no to pairing Hargreaves and Jones for the next five seasons.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pick: EDGE Ryan Anderson, Alabama

    A quick look at the upcoming free agents in Pittsburgh shows that Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison are all set to hit the market. Given the team-building philosophy the Steelers employ, drafting a young linebacker is a need.

    Ryan Anderson is a typical Pittsburgh linebacker. He's tough, physical and relentless and has the tools to be a 3-4 outside linebacker right out of the gate. He has the speed to close the gap and the hips to turn the corner, but Anderson also closes the door in the run game and brings heat behind his pads as a tackler.

    He isn't great in coverage, but he has the traits to get better there if needed. But the best move? That would be unleashing him as a pass-rusher.

20. Denver Broncos

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    The Pick: G Dan Feeney, Indiana

    Pick No. 20 might seem early for an offensive guard, but the Denver Broncos have a gigantic hole on the line, and Dan Feeney is a powerful, mean, agile blocker with the tools to play on either the left or right side. He has even lined up at tackle.

    Feeney is a mauler, but he can be a dancing bear in space, too. He's the kind of immediate plug-and-play blocker the Broncos need after taking fliers on projects like Ty Sambrailo in the past few drafts. It's clear those projects need more time to develop; Feeney is ready to go right now.

21. Washington

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    The Pick: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

    A difference-maker at running back is what's missing from the Washington offense. Christian McCaffrey is a difference-maker at running back. And in the passing game. And in the return game.

    McCaffrey is as dynamic as they come. He is an electric outside runner and a top-notch receiver out of the backfield or in the slot and has the breakaway speed to change games whenever the ball is in his hands. With Washington platooning players like Rob Kelley, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson across the season, a true go-to back is a huge need.

    General manager Scot McCloughan has found success with teams built on the run game—Frank Gore in San Francisco and Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. Now is his time to find a workhorse back for Washington.

22. Miami Dolphins

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    The Pick: DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois

    Head coach Adam Gase has the Miami Dolphins starting to turn the corner offensively, while additions like Kiko Alonso are paying off on defense. Now, the front office must make the draft picks to shore up remaining holes while finding the type of impact players who can help the franchise win now.

    Smoot is a 4-3 defensive coordinator's model for a defensive end. He's a 6'3", 265-pound left defensive end with the hands, length and hips to win with speed or power. Smoot's production and potential are Round 1-quality, and he's one of the easier projections to the NFL from the Lovie Smith-coached Illinois defense.

    A cornerback or safety would also make sense here depending on what happens in free agency, but a young defensive end is a monster need in Miami.

23. New York Giants

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    The Pick: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan

    No player has moved up the board as much in the last month as Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton. The Ohio State game offered a glimpse of the talent he brings to the table, and that level of production and potential is what he's shown all season long.

    A 6'6", 272-pounder who excels with his hand in the dirt, Charlton is a perfect defensive end for the New York Giants should Jason Pierre-Paul leave in free agency.

    Charlton's power opposite Olivier Vernon's speed—with Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison in the middle—would give the Giants a four-man front that can keep them competitive in the NFC East.

24. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Pick: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson

    A player many projected as the top pick in the 2017 draft at this time a year ago finally comes off the board—and Kansas City fans couldn't be happier.

    Deshaun Watson took a step back this season, which is why we see the fall down draft boards. A smallish quarterback at 6'3" and 215 pounds, Watson struggled with interceptions outside the hashes and missed passes all over the field. But he was still a dynamic playmaker with over 3,600 yards passing, over 400 yards rushing and 38 touchdowns accounted for this season.

    Those numbers fell short of Watson's 4,000-1,000 season in 2015, but he's still that same playmaker. He'll need some time to adapt to the NFL game, and there are worries he's a product of the system and talent around him at Clemson, but there is no denying the tools he brings to the table. 

    With Andy Reid developing him, Watson has the chance to be special.

25. Houston Texans

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    The Pick: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

    In every draft class, there are a few players who are perfect fits for NFL teams. Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas, for example. A perfect fit on defense in this year's draft is Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham playing inside linebacker for the Houston Texans.

    Cunningham has the length Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel seem to love at linebacker and is a playmaker with eye-popping production for a defense that doesn't have much NFL talent besides him. He's been asked to be the man on every down, and he's doing it in spades.

    With players like John Simon and Akeem Dent approaching free agency—and a need for more athleticism at inside linebacker—Cunningham would be picture-perfect in Houston.

26. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Pick: DL Montravius Adams, Auburn

    Many previous editions of this mock draft had the Atlanta Falcons drafting a cornerback or safety, but the rise of Montravius Adams and the team's need at defensive tackle make this too good to be true.

    Adams has some consistency issues, but he's one of the most athletic interior defensive linemen in the nation. He's the kind of talent Richard Smith and Bryan Cox can mold into a John Henderson-like player at 3-technique.

    Though he's a little rough around the edges as a technician, the Falcons have the coaches to round him into a great pass-rusher and three-down talent.

27. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Pick: CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State

    A run on defensive linemen pushes Gareon Conley down the board some, but this is exactly the kind of pick the Baltimore Ravens make every year—a talented player falls, and they swoop in to grab a future Pro Bowler.

    Conley has ball skills and speed and already grades out higher on my board then last year's No. 10 overall pick and former Buckeye Eli Apple. With better instincts than Apple displayed, and more recovery speed and smoother hips than teammate Marshon Lattimore, Conley has a Desmond Trufant-like element to his game.

    A pass-rusher or wide receiver could get attention here, but general manager Ozzie Newsome is known to draft on value and not strictly on need.

28. Detroit Lions

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    The Pick: DL Caleb Brantley, Florida

    A penetrating defensive tackle is high on the Detroit Lions' list of needs and has been since Ndamukong Suh left town for the money in Miami. Caleb Brantley, another stud athlete from a loaded Florida defense, is the best penetrator on the board and in a great place of value for general manager Bob Quinn—who cut his teeth with the New England Patriots—to get his 3-technique.

    Brantley isn't the biggest tackle prospect—he's only 6'2" and under 300 pounds—but he has the quick first step and closing speed to be a major impact as a pass-rusher.

    It's too soon to compare him to Geno Atkins or Gerald McCoy, but Branley shows that kind of quickness at times.

29. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Pick: T Cam Robinson, Alabama

    The offensive line in Seattle is not good, and it's hard for the Seahawks to find even five starters to build around. Investing in the offensive line—and defensive line—will be a gigantic key for the team throughout the 2017 offseason.

    Cam Robinson has shown flashes of greatness. He rises to the occasion against the best competition but tends to fade against average players too often. If Tom Cable and Brennan Carroll can round out Robinson's lack of consistent fire, they'll have a great right tackle who could potentially be a very good left tackle.

    If it means keeping Russell Wilson healthy, that's a gamble worth taking at the end of Round 1.

30. Oakland Raiders

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    The Pick: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida

    The Oakland Raiders are one of the NFL's best teams, but the defense remains susceptible to beatings from good tight ends or pass-catching running backs. One way to change that is to draft a middle linebacker with speed, agility and the instincts to play all over the field. That's missing right now in Oakland, but Jarrad Davis can bring those traits to the table.

    Davis was one of the best linebackers in the nation during the 2015 season, as I learned while scouting Keanu Neal and Vernon Hargreaves. No. 40 was a missile on the field, running down ball-carriers outside the hashes, blitzing through A-gaps and dropping into coverage. 

    If he can get on the field with the already amazing young talent this team has, the Raiders defense could be one of the best in the league.

31. New England Patriots

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    The Pick: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan

    New England has needed a wide receiver for a long time, but will this finally be the year Bill Belichick and the front office draft a No. 1 option?

    It should be if Corey Davis is on the board when the Patriots' pick comes up.

    Davis is a big (6'3", 220 lbs), fast stud at receiver. He's not just a physical threat, though, as he's the best route-runner of any receiver I've studied in this year's class. He understands timing and in-cuts and how to beat inside or outside leverage when cornerbacks stack him up. Yes, he's fast enough to run past coverage, but he also knows how to beat it before he gets into his route.

    If it sounds like Davis is too good to be on the board at pick No. 31, well, he is. But the NFL has a way of overthinking receiver prospects, and the kid from Western Michigan could be overlooked like Michael Thomas was last season.

32. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Pick: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama

    Dallas Cowboys fans reading this may wonder what the hell I'm thinking drafting a tight end and not a defensive end. It's a good question, but sometimes you have to draft value over need. That time is now.

    O.J. Howard may not have had amazing numbers at Alabama, but he also hasn't been used to his full potential. Howard is incredibly athletic, and when the Crimson Tide offense does use him, he makes plays and has proved himself as a game-changer.

    Tight end isn't the biggest need in Dallas, but Howard is the best player on the board and is an ideal replacement for Jason Witten, who is inching closer to retirement.