2017 NFL Mock Draft: Post Underclassmen Declaration Deadline
The field is set for the 2017 NFL draft.
Another loaded group of underclassmen is set to enter the NFL prospect pool. In total, 94 sophomores and juniors will forego their amateur status and begin the path to a pro career.
Some are ready. Others aren't. And their perceived value may be higher or lower than expected.
Evaluations take place over a matter of years. Too many become prisoners of the moment. Whoever produced the latest best bowl performance will drive the conversation even if said player isn't the top prospect.
For example, Clemson's Deshaun Watson stole the show during the College Football Playoff National Championship against a loaded Alabama defense. His performance, particularly in the second half, was special. However, pro scouts are split on the type of prospect he is.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah stated that he hasn't spoken with a single team that considers Watson a first-rounder. On the flip side, ESPN.com's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported three top decision-makers believe Watson will now be selected somewhere at the top of the first round.
The NFL doesn't just look at production and results. Traits and how they transfer to the next level are the biggest determinants.
Watson has the potential to be a first-round pick and a high one as the process continues, but he still has questions to answer about how his game translates to the professional ranks. As such, he won't appear among the first 32 selections.
This is the balance a team must strike when it evaluates prospects. Does a player's upside weigh more than his collegiate production? Will his potential make him into something greater at the next level?
With those questions in mind, Bleacher Report considered the options and provided its latest mock draft.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
After a 1-15 campaign, a massive decision awaits the Cleveland Browns organization. Who will define the team's identity under the direction of head coach Hue Jackson?
Cries for a new quarterback have already begun. However, none of the prospects in the 2017 class grade as highly as Garrett.
Another argument is that Alabama's Jonathan Allen should be the selection. Allen is a tremendous football player, but he doesn't match Garrett's raw upside.
Garrett set the SEC freshman record with 11.5 sacks. He finished his career with 48.5 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks. He's explosive and flexible off the edge. Plus, his run defense greatly improved in 2016 even while he dealt with an ankle injury throughout the campaign.
Garrett has the potential to be a legitimate difference-maker along the Browns' young yet talented defensive front. The Texas native's addition would provide the type of presence Cleveland has lacked for a long time. Offenses would need to game-plan for the edge rusher. As a result, the rest of the defensive line would benefit.
In a league where the most valued commodities are quarterbacks or those who can put quarterbacks on their back, the Texas A&M defender is a rare talent with the potential to develop into a Von Miller or Khalil Mack-type presence.
As such, the decision should be much easier than it's being portrayed.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Derek Barnett and Myles Garrett will be inextricably linked.
The two entered the SEC at the same time. They play the same position. Both were tremendously successful and productive. Barnett even broke Reggie White's school record with 33 sacks and finished second behind Leonard Little with 52 tackles for loss over his career.
It should come as no surprise if they're selected No. 1 and 2 overall in April's NFL draft.
The former Volunteer isn't the same type of athlete as Garrett, giving the Texas A&M product an edge. But Barnett proved to be just as good during his time in Knoxville, Tenn. He's a relentless pass-rusher with multiple moves and he sets the edge with authority.
The 49ers definitely need an upgrade at quarterback, but they're in the same position as every other QB-needy team in the top 10: Reach for the game's most important position or draft a top defensive prospect.
Barnett, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Aaron Lynch would form an enticing group—one that could define the 49ers in future years.
3. Chicago Bears
The Pick: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
If the first two picks weren't any indication, the third overall selection should ram home the point: The 2017 draft class is littered with top-end defensive talent.
The Chicago Bears—like the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers before them—are in desperate need of a quarterback. But the allure of a franchise building block on the defensive side of the ball will be difficult to overcome.
Alabama's Jonathan Allen can make a strong argument to be the No. 1 overall pick.
The 291-pound defensive lineman can play defensive end and defensive tackle. In fact, he possesses a rare trait even those in the NFL struggle to capture. Allen's greatest strength is his ability to rush the passer along the defensive interior.
That skill is rare. This past season, not a single interior defender reached the 10-sack mark. A year ago, the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins and the Carolina Panthers' Kawann Short each registered 11 sacks. The value of pocket-collapsing ability shouldn't be understated.
Allen uses a combination of power, tremendous technique and a little bit of athleticism to shed blockers and pursue quarterbacks. This past season, he accumulated 16 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
If he was paired with the likes of Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Akiem Hicks, the Bears could own a devastating defensive front.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Inevitably, teams will attempt to imitate the Dallas Cowboys' success. Their jump to the NFC's top tier required investing a top-five pick in a running back.
Ezekiel Elliott set an impossible standard after leading the league in rushing during his rookie campaign. It'd be unfair to say any top running back prospect could emulate his success or even be worthy of such a high draft selection.
However, the NFL has long awaited the arrival of LSU's Leonard Fournette.
The 235-pound back has been physically ready to make the leap to the professional ranks since his freshman campaign. In three seasons with the Tigers, Fournette amassed 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The New Orleans native offers a combination of size, physicality and explosiveness that NFL teams crave.
"He's a rare, rare talent," an anonymous executive told Daniel Jeremiah. "He's the most talented runner to come out since Adrian Peterson."
Fournette would help balance the Jacksonville Jaguars offense—a unit that features wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns—and he would become a security blanket for quarterback Blake Bortles. After the 24-year-old signal-caller regressed in 2016, it became clear he needs fewer responsibilities to properly develop.
A strong running game will make all other aspects of the offense better.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
The Tennessee Titans benefited greatly from their blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Rams in the 2016 draft.
Not only did the Titans acquire a top-notch offensive line prospect in Jack Conklin after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick, the organization also acquired a future first-round selection that turned out to be another top-five pick.
The Titans decided to build the trenches a year ago to establish an offensive identity. It's now time to give quarterback Marcus Mariota more weapons.
Clemson's Mike Williams is the class' top wide receiver prospect. At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Williams is a big target with exceptional body control and the ability to high-point the football.
Last season, the junior led the Tigers with 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. His ability to rebound after suffering a broken neck during the first drive of the 2015 campaign speaks to his perseverance and drive.
Questions exist about the receiver's straight-line speed, but the way he shields defenders and plucks balls out of the air, he can make contested catch after contested catch.
For Mariota, Williams would be a new security blanket—replacing those tight end and running back check downs.
6. New York Jets
The Pick: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Ball skills are very valuable in today's pass-happy NFL.
Coaches don't want their defensive backs to just break up passes; they want the secondary to create turnovers. This past season, the New York Jets were among the league's worst with eight interceptions. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars managed fewer.
Ohio State's Malik Hooker snagged seven interceptions by himself during his junior campaign.
The former basketball standout is an exceptional athlete along the back line. His ability to cover ground sideline-to-sideline is a rare trait even among the best free safeties. When that type of range is coupled with ball skills and natural instincts, an elite prospect emerges.
How developed is Hooker's recognition? His playmaking? One anonymous NFL scout didn't disagree when Hooker was compared to future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.
"He's a ballhawk, so I would agree with that," the scout told MMQB.com's Albert Breer in October. "Dude is the best player on the field."
Of course, the New York Jets need to rectify their messy quarterback situation. As such, the franchise could select its next starting signal-caller at this juncture. Although, the team might be better served by acquiring a defensive back with Hooker's special skill set.
New York doesn't want to be the team that passed on the next Reed for this year's version David Carr or Joey Harrington.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU
The Chargers need to get the Los Angeles market excited about their arrival. Picking a safety in the top 10 might not be the sexiest decision, but it could be the smartest.
As talented as Ohio State's Malik Hooker is, LSU's Jamal Adams is a better all-around safety prospect. Adams' ball skills aren't at the same level, but he's as adept playing in the box as he is in his team's coverage schemes.
The 6'1", 213-pound defender finished third on the Tigers roster with 76 total tackles. The defensive back also added 7.5 tackles for loss, nine defended passes, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda used his safety in a variety of ways. In a single series, the defensive back could crowd the box, cover the slot and play as a single-high safety. Adams showed he can excel in each role, too.
The Texas native graded as well against the run as the pass and finished as the nation's top safety, according to Pro Football Focus.
Last offseason, the Chargers made a controversial decision in letting veteran safety Eric Weddle walk in free agency. (Weddle played well for his new organization, the Baltimore Ravens.) This spring, the Chargers could face a similar choice with impending free-agent safety Jahleel Addae.
Whatever happens, Adams would provide stability at the position for years to come.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
The Carolina Panthers must protect quarterback Cam Newton at all costs.
Since the 6'5", 250-pound signal-caller entered the league in 2011, he's been sacked 221 times. That figure doesn't include the countless instances he's been hit in the pocket and as a runner.
Newton might be a physical specimen, but those hits add up over time, and they affect his play. This past season proved it.
Carolina's offensive line suffered multiple injuries and never jelled. The unit's continuity, seen in its 2015 performance, was never evident in 2016. As a result, defenses beat up Newton, and his production suffered.
Newton accounted for more turnovers and regressed in completion percentage, passing yardage, rushing yardage and touchdowns when compared to his previous season.
With Mike Remmers about to enter free agency and Michael Oher's status as the starting left tackle in question, the draft class' top offensive tackle would rectify a long-standing issue within the team's roster.
Ryan Ramczyk did undergo offseason hip surgery, according to Optimum Scouting's Eric Galko, and experience is a question mark. Even so, one year after being a Division III transfer, he proved to be college football's top blocker.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster is a beast about to be unleashed upon the NFL.
Foster's performance against the Clemson Tigers in the national championship game highlighted his potential. The linebacker registered 12 tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. More importantly, he brought a different level of intensity to the game.
The effort was merely an extension of his season-long dominance. Winner of the 2016 Butkus Award, which recognizes the nation's best linebacker, Foster led the Crimson Tide defense with 115 total tackles. He also added 13 tackles for loss and five sacks.
"He has a perfect grade on my board," an anonymous scout told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
Foster took another step as a senior when he committed to his offseason training and shed weight. As a result, the defender looked a step or two faster and developed into a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
The Cincinnati Bengals need an infusion of talent and athleticism along their second line of defense. Vontaze Burfict is a standout performer, but veterans Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby need to be replaced.
Foster has the potential to develop into the face of the Bengals defense.
10. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
If there was a list of players most likely to skyrocket during the NFL draft process, Stanford's Solomon Thomas would be at the top of it.
The 6'3", 273-pound defensive end is a disruptive force who proved to be too much to handle for any collegiate offensive lineman. Thomas led his team with 62 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. His motor runs hot, and he showed he can take over a game in the Sun Bowl against Mitch Trubisky and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Stanford product graded among the nation's best defenders too, per Pro Football Focus.
Furthermore, Thomas is expected to test very well at the combine and/or his pro day. According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, the defensive lineman is expected to run his 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and post a vertical jump at or near 40 inches.
Thomas' combination of production, potential and youth (he's 21 years old) makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
For the Buffalo Bills, Sean McDermott's defense is predicated on a pressure front. The Bills' new head coach experienced plenty of success during his time as the coordinator of the Carolina Panthers just by rushing his front four.
Thomas would join a defensive line rotation that features Marcell Dareus, Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams. That group could attack opposing quarterbacks in waves.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
The New Orleans Saints are the NFL's version of Sisyphus. Every year, they're tasked with the same burden, yet they never achieve their goal of an improved defense.
This group struggled under the direction of former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and current play-caller Dennis Allen. Only once in the last six years has the unit finished among the top half of the league in total defense.
The only thing the organization can do is acquire talent for that side of the ball and hope it develops.
Since the Saints feature an explosive offense that can quickly build a lead, they need a defense that can pin its ears back and get after opposing quarterbacks. However, New Orleans finished sixth-worst this past season with only 30 sacks.
Cameron Jordan remains a consistent presence, but the team hasn't gotten much from its other edge-defenders.
UCLA's Takkarist McKinley is a tailor-made outside linebacker/rush end at 6'2" and 265 pounds with long arms and top-notch athleticism. He displayed the ability to bend the edge and finally realized his potential during his senior campaign with 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles.
After the Saints struggled to get to the quarterback in 2016, adding another pass-rusher will make the whole defense better.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
The Pick: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
An argument could and should be made that this upcoming draft class lacks elite quarterback talent. As such, franchises in need of a signal-caller will scramble to acquire prospects they believe have the potential to develop.
Some may take a leap of faith sooner rather than later. The Cleveland Browns' constant carousel of quarterback change has the franchise earmarked for another young gunslinger.
At this juncture, Cleveland still has its choice of quarterbacks. Mitch Trubisky presents the best combination of developing talent and overall upside.
Clemson's Deshaun Watson will draw a lot of interest at this spot for obvious reasons. But Trubisky actually finished with a better completion percentage against pressure, during play-action calls and in the quick game. Plus, their numbers are similar in both adjusted completion percentage and deep passing, per Pro Football Focus.
Let's keep in mind Trubisky is only a one-year starter being compared to an experienced, national championship-winning counterpart.
The amount of growth the 6'3", 220-pound quarterback displayed throughout the 2016 campaign is staggering. He completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions—and two of those turnovers came during a monsoon against Virginia Tech.
More importantly, it was easy to see how he expanded his comfort zone throughout the year and continued to build on his role in the Tar Heels offensive scheme.
Trubisky is a bit of a gamble due to his lack of experience, but his upside is as good or better than any other quarterback in the class.
13. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
A quarterback's decline can occur much faster than anyone expects.
Carson Palmer experienced a dip after his tremendous 2015 campaign. Palmer is now 37 years old with two years remaining on his contract, and the Arizona Cardinals must plan for life without him.
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer is a developmental prospect, but he has all of the physical tools for an NFL coaching staff to mold. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, the junior signal-caller fits the prototype Bruce Arians has become accustomed to coaching, seen in QBs like Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Palmer.
Kizer flashed during his final season in South Bend, Indiana. With all eyes on him as he faced the Texas Longhorns in the season opener, the quarterback threw for five touchdowns and ran for another.
The underclassman completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,925 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions during his junior campaign.
However, his mechanics are suspect, and he needs drastic improvement in his footwork. Arizona appears to be an ideal situation since Kizer can learn behind Palmer for a year or two, and the Cardinals have shown tremendous patience with their recent first-rounders. Neither D.J. Humphries nor Robert Nkemdiche started a single game as rookies.
If one is available, the Cardinals must strongly consider selecting their future quarterback. Palmer's time is running short, and a talented prospect like Kizer would be an optimal fit.
14. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
A chicken-or-egg argument will ensue in regards to the Indianapolis Colts' draft options.
Should the team attempt to upgrade its offensive line before worrying about a running back? Or should the organization favor a talented back over another young blocker?
Really, it all depends on the situation. In this scenario, Florida State's Dalvin Cook presents far more value than any offensive lineman still available.
FSU's all-time leading rusher is an explosive runner and a threat to score every time he touches the football. Veteran Frank Gore remains a reliable option after another 1,000-yard campaign, but the 33-year-old back doesn't present the same type of ability anymore.
Cook finished his final campaign on campus with 1,845 rushing yards, 488 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns.
There are concerns about a lingering shoulder injury, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. But Cook's ability to turn any play into a touchdown makes him a valuable commodity if he's cleared by team doctors.
Plus, the Colts are already starting to build something positive along the offensive line. The left side is set with Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort and Ryan Kelly. The right side needs to be improved but does feature a couple of intriguing developmental options in Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg.
An addition to either position would help quarterback Andrew Luck, and that's what really matters.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
The Pick: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Nobody should be shocked a wide receiver is slotted to the Philadelphia Eagles. The team's entire wide receiver corps disappointed this past fall, and quarterback Carson Wentz needs a reliable target.
In fact, tight end Zach Ertz led the team in receptions and receiving yardage.
What the team lacks is a true outside receiver, who can consistently win his matchups. Jordan Matthews is a good slot receiver, while former first-round pick Nelson Agholor remains a work in progress.
Philadelphia lacks a true physical presence outside the numbers.
Western Michigan's Corey Davis is a 6'3", 213-pound target, who shattered Western Michigan and MAC receiving records. What makes Davis special is his ability to create separation with an extra gear to run away from defensive backs.
As a senior, the Wheaton, Illinois, native caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns. He amassed more than 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last three campaigns even with defenses keying on him.
Greg Jennings once left Western Michigan as the school's all-time leading receiver and became a second-round pick before enjoying a 10-year career with three 1,000-yard campaigns. Davis is a better prospect coming into the league.
This type of talent will make the rest of the Eagles wide receiver corps and Wentz better.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Michigan's Jabrill Peppers is the most divisive prospect in the 2017 NFL draft.
Some view him as a potential top-five talent due to his versatility and athleticism. Others believe he's a limited prospect who never excelled in coverage and isn't physical enough against the run.
What Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will likely see—as he always does in the draft—is value.
Many seem to have trouble defining Peppers as a prospect. Is he a safety or a linebacker? Can he line up and cover in the slot? Will he hold up when playing in the box? Can he even play some corner like he did when he first came to Michigan?
All of these questions actually point toward Peppers' allure. Every modern NFL defense is multiple. Players are asked to do more and not be defined by a particular role.
Having someone like Tyrann Mathieu, for example, allows the Arizona Cardinals to stay in certain defensive packages without the need to adjust, because the defensive back can match up against multiple types of targets.
Peppers doesn't own the same skill set as Mathieu, but they're similar in the fact both can be used as Swiss army knives.
Traditionally, the Michigan product can come in and play safety—a position of need since Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb will both be 32 years old. But Peppers can also fill a role as nickel linebacker or come in as the team's big nickel in other defensive sub-packages.
The defender also provides a spark on special teams. Individuals who can do more hold more value, and Peppers can do plenty.
17. Washington Redskins
The Pick: DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Since Scot McCloughan took over as the Washington Redskins general manager, a concerted effort began to become a bigger and more physical squad. This was extremely evident when McCloughan spent his first draft pick at the helm on guard Brandon Scherff.
The offensive line now has plenty of talent, but the defensive line needs an overhaul.
This past season, veterans Chris Baker, Ziggy Hood and Cullen Jenkins played large roles. All three are about to enter free agency. Kedric Golston's contract also ends this offseason.
McCloughan is tasked with replenishing the unit.
Michigan State's Malik McDowell is a rare physical talent. At 6'6", 276 pounds, he does things that men his size shouldn't be capable of doing. Despite his large frame, McDowell is very flexible, and he can bend the edge as a pass-rusher. He's strong enough at the point of attack to take on double-teams and athletic enough to chase down ball-carriers.
Physically, McDowell is everything a team wants in a top-10 talent. So, why is he still available with the 17th overall selection?
Concerns arose when he didn't consistently perform to the level expected in 2016. The defensive lineman only registered seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Plus, he missed the final three games of the season with an ankle injury.
If properly nurtured, though, Washington could land one of the top defenders from this class.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Quincy Wilson, CB Florida
Earlier in the mock, the Tennessee Titans acquired the top wide receiver in the class. With their second opening-round selection, the organization landed the top cornerback prospect, too.
Multiple cornerbacks can stake a claim as the best in the class. The variety and depth of the position makes it one of the strongest from top to bottom.
But Florida's Quincy Wilson gets the nod due to prototypical size (6'1", 213 lbs), his fluidity in coverage, an ability to play both press and zone coverage and elite level of play during the 2016 campaign.
Teammate Teez Tabor certainly deserves attention for similar reasons and grades among the class' best. However, Wilson played at a higher level this past year.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson was the most difficult cornerback in college football to complete a pass against in 2016. He ranked first in coverage snaps per reception, yards allowed per coverage snap and NFL QB rating when in coverage. In fact, the Florida product only allowed 16 receptions and a single touchdown all season.
Tennessee, meanwhile, couldn't find a bookend opposite veteran corner Jason McCourty. The team released Perrish Cox in November after signing him to a three-year, $15 million contract in 2015. Wilson could slide into the vacated role as a starter from the onset of his career.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: OT Garett Bolles, Utah
Protecting quarterback Jamies Winston should top the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' list of offseason priorities.
Center Joe Hawley is a free agent, and left tackle remains a concern. Last season, Donovan Smith surrendered 41 quarterback hurries, 13 quarterback hits and officials called him for 14 penalties, per Pro Football Focus.
The organization originally invested a second-round pick on Smith, but his performance hasn't been good enough. As such, a blindside upgrade should be considered if one presents itself during the draft.
Utah's Garett Bolles is an older prospect; he'll turn 25 before he takes his first meaningful NFL snap. However, he's also a ready-made left tackle, and the league's offensive line coaches will be excited to get their hands on the first-team All-Pac 12 performer.
Bolles is a former elite recruit who took a circuitous route to Utah. In his one season with the Utes, the left tackle graded among the nation's best blockers, according to PFF.
The Utah product's potential addition would create a ripple effect across the offensive line. Smith can be moved to left guard to replace Kevin Pamphile, who struggled as a first-time starter. Or, head coach Dirk Koetter could choose to unseat the 31-year-old Demar Dotson at right tackle.
With all of the talent the Buccaneers feature among their skill positions, improvements along the offensive line will make the entire unit better.
20. Denver Broncos
The Pick: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
A cliches exists regarding certain prospects who don't live up to their full potential in college. It's often said they will make better pros, because their talent translates to the NFL game.
Most of the time, this is a backhanded compliment. In O.J. Howard's case, this is likely true since the Crimson Tide's cadre of offensive coaches never seemed capable of using the tight end to his fullest.
At 6'6", 251 pounds and athletic, Howard is an instant mismatch in any passing attack. Yet, he never managed more than 45 catches, 602 yards or three touchdowns during a single season.
The only time Alabama fully unleashed the talented target came in the last two national championship games. Against the Clemson Tigers in 2016 and '17, Howard caught nine passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't register more than 81 yards in any other game.
The team's play-callers seemed to forget about him for long stretches. A positive emerged from his inactivity in the passing game, though.
Howard is one of the better blocking tight ends in the class. He helped lead the way for Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry and kept freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts clean as both a passer and runner.
Traditional tight ends are hard to find. Howard is a rare exception, who can also serve as a mismatch in the passing game. The Denver Broncos are a natural fit since none of the tight ends on the roster developed into what the organization envisioned.
21. Detroit Lions
The Pick: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
The ability to get to the quarterback is more important than ever. As such, teams are constantly searching for those defenders with the necessary traits to beat offensive linemen at the next level.
Besides having the best name in the draft class, Michigan's Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton is a prototypical edge defender at 6'6", 272 pounds. More importantly, he displayed the flexibility necessary to bend the corner and shorten the pocket.
However, Charlton doesn't just pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. He's also a good run defender, who plays with leverage and shows an ability to shed blockers.
The defensive end led Michigan's talented defense with 9.5 sacks and 10 more quarterback hits. He also registered 13 tackles for loss.
Charlton decided to skip the Senior Bowl where his stock could have skyrocketed. But he battled nagging injuries throughout the season. By taking off the required time, he should be fully prepared for the rest of the draft process.
In Detroit, the Lions organization lost a ton of talent along the defensive line in recent years. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Willie Young are long gone. Opposite Ziggy Ansah, the team lacks a true presence off the edge. The Lions tied for 30th overall with only 25 sacks this past season.
The Adventures of Taco and Ziggy might sound like the next great reality television show, but the Lions would envision the potential pairing turning into a horror story for opposing quarterbacks.
22. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Due to the prevalence of nickel fronts, today's linebackers can't be limited in any particular area. Position requirements include being stout enough to hold up against the run, an ability to comfortably drop into space and even cover some of the league's most talented tight ends or receivers.
Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham is the most well-rounded linebacker available in the 2017 NFL draft class.
When watching the Commodores play, the Alabama native could be found all over the field. He was used in a traditional linebacker role, playing on the edge or even covering the slot.
The talented defender either led his team or tied for the lead with 125 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
"For me personally, it's been fun for me to try and move him around and make sure he can be unblocked," Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said during the season, per AL.com's Creg Stephenson. "Because he can get in and out of traffic very quickly and find the football."
The Dolphins' linebackers played poorly this past season. None of them graded among the NFL's top 40 linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cunningham's potential addition would instantly upgrade the Dolphins' second line of defense.
23. New York Giants
The Pick: LB Tim Williams, Alabama
What the New York Giants decide to do with Jason Pierre-Paul this offseason could have a big impact on the team's draft plans. The defensive end already stated he won't sign another one-year deal, per Newsday's Kimberley A. Martin.
Another pass-rusher jumps to the forefront of the team's needs if JPP can't be re-signed.
Alabama's Tim Williams isn't the same type of edge defender as Pierre-Paul. Instead, he played outside linebacker for the Crimson Tide. But he can be used similarly to how the Denver Broncos employ Von Miller or the way the Atlanta Falcons utilize Vic Beasley.
At 6'4", 252 pounds, the Alabama product can play "Sam" linebacker in traditional defensive fronts and move to defensive end in sub-packages. Over the last two seasons, he accumulated 28.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks.
Williams' quickness, length and flexibility make him an ideal situational pass-rusher just like Nick Saban used him.
For teams eager to select such a talented edge defender, Williams is an older prospect, who will be 24 years old during the 2017 campaign. Teams will also investigate a September arrest and misdemeanor charge of carrying a pistol without a permit.
Depending on how organizations feel about those final two issues, the Alabama product could be selected even higher in the first round.
24. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
A team can never have too many cornerbacks.
Yes, the Raiders signed both Sean Smith and David Amerson to multiyear contracts last offseason, but the franchise could conceivably move on from both and not sustain major hits against the salary cap. According to Spotrac.com, the Raiders would actually save $7.5 million if Amerson is cut or $9.5 million with Smith's release.
Neither is expected to happen—although Amerson played poorly late in the year—but Humphrey's potential might be too much to bypass.
At 6'1", 196 pounds, the Alabama product has the length defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. prefers at the position. Humphrey has been well-coached in Nick Saban's scheme, too. He's a physical defensive back and isn't afraid to jam a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage or be left one-on-one against an offense's top target.
Humphrey won't even turn 21 years old until this summer.
Four years ago, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie made a mistake by taking a chance on an exceptionally talented yet raw talent in D.J. Hayden. He can rectify the situation with Humphrey's selection.
25. Houston Texans
The Pick: OT Cam Robinson, Alabama
Early in his career, Alabama offense tackle Cam Robinson was considered an elite prospect. Upon closer scrutiny, the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's best offensive lineman had holes poked in his game and character.
The biggest concern stems from questions about his lateral agility and overall athleticism. Can he remain at left tackle?
Robinson excels as a run-blocker. He's very physical at the point of attack and regularly uproots defensive linemen. As a pass-blocker, he's not nearly as dominant.
This isn't as much of a concern for the Houston Texans since veteran Duane Brown remains a stalwart at left tackle. Right tackle can be upgraded, though. Derek Newton's career is in question after tearing both of his patellar tendons during an Oct. 24 contest against the Denver Broncos.
With Newton out of the lineup, Chris Clark proved to be a disaster. Robinson's addition would fill a massive void on the strong side.
But any organization who considers the talented tackle must be comfortable with his background.
Eight months ago, Louisiana police arrested Robinson on a felony count of illegal possession of stolen firearms and a misdemeanor possession charge. Each of those charges were eventually dropped, but organizations will thoroughly vet the 21-year-old blocker.
Once a team becomes comfortable with the person, a talented offensive lineman can be added to the roster.
26. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: OG Dorian Johnson, Pitt
To put it nicely, the Seattle Seahawks offensive line isn't very good. It never jelled nor developed into the unit head coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable expected this past season.
In order for the team to be successful during future campaigns, the offensive front needs to be rebuilt. A couple pieces are in place at right guard in Germain Ifedi and center with Justin Britt. The rest of the group is far below average.
Pitt guard Dorian Johnson presents a unique opportunity for the Seahawks to upgrade the line.
At left guard, Johnson can replace Mark Glowinski, who graded among the league's worst, per Pro Football Focus. Plus, it's important to build a strong interior for an undersized quarterback. By building the pocket along the middle, it provides more depth for the 5'10" Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks could also choose to develop Johnson as an offensive tackle. The 22-year-old blocker came to Pitt as an elite left tackle recruit. He even started a couple games on the blind side as a true freshman before being moved to guard.
With Johnson's athleticism and length, he's an ideal fit for the Seahawks offensive line—whether he plays guard or tackle.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: WR John Ross III, Washington
Even with tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jeremy Maclin, the Pittsburgh Steelers still found a way to shut down the Kansas City Chiefs offense in the playoffs.
The Chiefs need more offensive weapons who can create with and without the ball.
Washington wide receiver John Ross III is similar to Hill because his speed is a constant threat. Defenders must know where he's lined up at all times. His mere presence affects how an offense is defended.
The idea of potentially pairing those two is quite exciting.
Ross led the Huskies this past season with 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. The final number is the most important because it indicates the 5'11" target is far more than just a speedster. He's a red-zone threat, too.
The California native displays very strong hands and a penchant for high-pointing the football. His route running still needs works, but his home run ability cannot be overlooked.
As long as Andy Reid leads the Chiefs, there will be certain limitations within the offense. But the coach adjusted throughout the year to provide Hill with more touches. The same concessions can be made for a talent like Ross.
28. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: CB Teez Tabor, Florida
Temperamental talents have never been a problem for Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. In certain cases, the approach served the organization very well. In other instances, the players weren't worth the headaches.
Florida cornerback Teez Tabor is one of the most talented prospects in the entire draft. He's 6'0" and 201 pounds with the length and coverage skills in both press and zone to entice teams with a high draft pick.
But he's also been suspended at Florida twice over the last two seasons.
The first came during his sophomore campaign when he declined to take a drug test and then complained on social media. Head coach Jim McElwain suspended his star cornerback again this past season for "behavior that is not acceptable," per ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf.
According to Tabor on Twitter, the second suspension came as the result of a "scuffle" during fall camp.
Personality aside, the Florida defensive back is an exceptional cover corner with 20 pass breakups and eight interceptions over the last two seasons.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli developed a solid and technically sound unit, but the group still struggled against the pass. Dallas finished 26th overall in pass defense during the regular season. Plus, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are free agents, and the organization has the least amount of salary-cap space entering the offseason, per Over the Cap.
This is a perfect time for the Cowboys to take a chance on another talented prospect.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Ty Montgomery's transition to running back provided the Green Bay Packers with a spark during the 2016 campaign. He never carried the ball more than 16 times in a game, though. The wide receiver convert is a nice change of pace and an effective weapon out of the backfield, but the Packers still require a feature back since Eddie Lacy is a free agent.
Ironically, Tennessee's Alvin Kamara never served as a true workhorse for the Volunteers. Even so, his talent was evident every time he touched the ball.
In two seasons, Kamara managed a meager 284 touches as part of a shared backfield that also featured Jalen Hurd. The Georgia native took full advantage of his opportunities with an average of seven yards every time the ball touched his hands. The running back also provided 23 career touchdowns.
These numbers don't include his ability to return punts where he averaged 10.9 yards and added another touchdown.
What makes the 215-pound back such an intriguing talent is a blend of explosiveness, balance, ability to make defenders miss and dual-threat capabilities as a runner and receiver. His performance against the Texas A&M Aggies should have NFL scouts salivating. The back amassed 127 rushing and 161 receiving yards during the Oct. 8 contest.
Kamara and Montgomery could be interchangeable pieces used in a myriad of ways to make the Packers offense even more dangerous.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
As the Pittsburgh Steelers continue in the NFL playoffs, the importance of the team's outside linebackers has resurfaced.
James Harrison and Bud Dupree have played exceptionally well in recent weeks. Harrison continues to perform at a high level despite his advanced age, while Dupree is finally putting it all together.
A long-term option opposite Dupree is needed, though. Harrison is 38 years old, and former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is a free agent after this season.
Auburn's Carl Lawson may be the best pure edge-rusher in the class with a lightning-quick first step. The defensive end led the Tigers with 13.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and 24 quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, he added 45 more quarterback hurries—which was good for fifth-best in the nation.
The concern is whether Lawson can develop into a full-time starter depending on how he holds up against NFL run blocking. The Steelers can find a run defender, but a top-of-the-line pass-rusher to replace Harrison should sit atop the franchise's offseason wish list.
31. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DE DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
The Atlanta Falcons finally found a pass-rusher who could counteract the team's anemic production over the previous years. Vic Beasley experienced a breakthrough 2016 campaign when he led the NFL with 15.5 sacks.
Despite Beasley's production, the team still tied for 16th overall with 34 sacks. Adrian Clayborn finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks, but he's entering the last year of his contract and just suffered a torn biceps in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Falcons can always get better on the edge, especially with Beasley at linebacker in the Falcons' traditional 4-3 front. DeMarcus Walker's possible addition could provide an interesting chess piece.
During Dan Quinn's time as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, he relied on Michael Bennett to be a disruptive force along the defensive front. Bennett isn't a traditional defensive end, though. He does plenty of damage lined up as a 3-technique in sub-packages.
Walker was used in a similar fashion at Florida State.
During his time in Tallahassee, the defensive lineman lined up as a traditional defensive end, 5-technique and along the defensive interior. The Seminoles coaching staff liked to put him over guards to take advantage of the mismatch.
While being used all over the front, Walker finished second in major college football with 16 sacks. Walker can serve as Quinn's version of Bennett in Atlanta.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
The New England Patriots have multiple decisions to make prior to free agency. Multiple key defenders are about to enter free agency. Which will the organization prioritize?
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower, defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard and cornerback Logan Ryan will all be hot commodities on the open market. If Ryan isn't retained, the Patriots should add another cover corner in a very deep draft class.
Tre'Davious White presents the same type of versatility as Logan.
First, the LSU cornerback is arguably the smoothest defensive back in his coverage. His ability to open his hips, turn and run with receivers is counted among the best in the class. He can play outside against bigger receivers, but he's also a top nickel corner. Ryan became a larger part of the Patriots' nickel package this past season and spent more than a third of his snaps covering the slot, per Pro Football Focus.
As the league evolves, nickel corners are more important than ever and should be considered a valuable asset.