With the season concluding for the majority of fans, eyes next turn toward the 2017 NFL draft.
Much will change between now and the draft itself, including the order of picks for those teams lucky enough to find themselves in the playoff bracket. What won't, though, is the majority of the names often cited as top picks.
So it goes in a class touting the long-awaited arrivals of guys like Leonard Fournette. Others will break into the top ranks through strong draft journeys, but the names on the list right now have obvious ideal fits with the top of the draft order set.
Here is an opening look at a mock draft based on team need and projections.
2017 NFL Mock Draft
|1||Cleveland Browns||Myles Garrett, DE,Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina|
|3||Chicago Bears||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama|
|5||Tennessee Titans (from LA)||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson|
|6||New York Jets||Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan|
|7||San Diego Chargers||Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State|
|10||Buffalo Bills||Tim Williams, LB/DE, Alabama|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama|
|12||Cleveland Browns (from PHI)||Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State|
|14||Indianapolis Colts||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State|
|15||Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN)||John Ross, WR, Washington|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan|
|17||Washington Redskins||Malik Hooker , S, Ohio State|
|18||Tennessee Titans||Teez Tabor, CB, Florida|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Marlon Humphrey, CB , Alabama|
|20||Denver Broncos||Jamal Adams, S, LSU|
|21||Detroit Lions||Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan|
|22||Miami Dolphins||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee|
|23||New York Giants||Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford|
|24||Oakland Raiders||Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida|
|25||Houston Texans||Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State|
|26||Green Bay Packers||Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State|
|27||Seattle Seahawks||Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama|
|28||Pittsburgh Steelers||O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama|
|29||Atlanta Falcons||Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida|
|30||Kansas City Chiefs||Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana|
|31||Dallas Cowboys||Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC|
|32||New England Patriots||Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford|
Philadelphia and Indianapolis will flip a coin for No. 14 and No. 15 at the NFL combine.
Best Spots for Top Names
3. Chicago Bears: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Talk about the perfect fit—how about pairing Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with a franchise looking like it's a quarterback away from playoff competition?
This might sound silly when it comes to the Chicago Bears, but keep in mind the team had one of the biggest injured-reserve lists this year. The team has a strong offensive line in place when healthy, Alshon Jeffery might be back and newfound running back Jordan Howard just rushed for 1,313 yards and six scores despite not starting until Week 4.
Granted, the Bears need to rebuild the secondary, but Eddie Goldman in the trenches and a strong linebacking corps give Watson a nice complementary defense.
Watson himself, of course, was a Heisman Trophy candidate once again in 2016, completing 67.3 percent of his passes with 38 touchdowns against 17 interceptions while rushing for another 586 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Chicago really has it all for Watson. The Bears can employ a run-first offense if Watson looks ready to start as a rookie. If not, he can sit and learn while a veteran such as Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley starts. Chicago has shown plenty of patience during this rebuild under head coach John Fox, and sometimes the key to success for an NFL quarterback is simply not being thrown to the wolves by an impatient staff fearful for its job.
Unlike places like Cleveland, the Bears have a strong supporting cast and a long-term blueprint sure to let a rookie quarterback blossom at his own pace.
5. Tennessee Titans (from LA): Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Watson's top wideout, Mike Williams, needs a quality quarterback and complementary ground game to succeed out of the gates as a rookie.
Luckily for Williams, the Tennessee Titans clutch a top-five pick.
Williams casually dropped 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns on opponents this year, using his solid size (6'3", 225 pounds) to box out smaller defensive backs and otherwise flaunt a silly catch radius.
His game is why NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared him to Plaxico Burress:
Wide receivers seem to be getting bigger each season, but Williams still has rare size for the position and it can be tough to find a physical match for him. While he's not a burner by any stretch, he has the ability to win the deep ball with excellent ball skills and upper-echelon ball-tracking skills. And as for being able to get to throws outside his frame, Williams' catch radius is everything a team could want from a WR1.
Tennessee happens to be one of the NFL's most wideout-needy teams. Marcus Mariota had a breakout year before a season-ending injury, throwing for 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
Despite this, no Tennessee wideout broke the 1,000-yard mark. Williams, even as a rookie, shouldn't have a problem doing so with defenses needing to worry about the one-two punch in the backfield consisting of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, not to mention tight end Delanie Walker.
Mariota making Williams his No. 1 wideout is a symbiotic situation, which could be enough to get the Titans to the top of the AFC South and into the playoffs.
8. Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Gone are the days a rookie running back can simply land anywhere and post great numbers, perhaps carrying a bad team on his shoulders—just look at Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley lately.
Fournette, great as he is, isn't an exception here.
To burst onto the scenes and have more of an Ezekiel Elliott-style impact, Fournette needs to land somewhere with an established quarterback and capable defense.
Somewhere like the Carolina Panthers.
Fournette, whose highlight season came in 2015 when he rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns, would be the perfect complement to Cam Newton in Carolina. Defenses needing to account for both in a read-option attack wouldn't have a good time, to say the least.
The nice thing about Carolina is the Panthers could keep Fournette fresh. Newton takes some of the rushing load and the offense could pair him with veteran Jonathan Stewart, who could also double as a quality mentor. Defenses can't just account for the ground game, either, not with weapons such as Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin through the air.
For Fournette, landing in a potential triple-headed monster surely beats trying to carry a miserable team behind a bad offensive line in which he's the focal point of the defense's attack.
Follow Chris Roling (@Chris_Roling) on Twitter.
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