The start of the NFL offseason will begin in earnest March 9 as the start of the 2017 league year. On that date, teams will be able to address their needs by signing free agents who can help them strengthen weaknesses and enhance their strengths.
Teams like the New York Giants (DE Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison, CB Janoris Jenkins) and Oakland Raiders (OG Kelechi Osemele, DE-LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith) improved as a result of signing free agents last year, and their performance may go a long way toward flipping the script that says you can't build a team through free agency.
However, nearly everyone in the NFL believes that building through the draft is the primary tool for improvement.
This year's draft is starting to take shape, and the two best players appear to be defensive linemen. Myles Garrett of Texas A&M seems to be a consensus top pick, and he is on a collision course with the Cleveland Browns. Jonathan Allen of Alabama is likely to be selected by the San Francisco 49ers.
A look at the Browns and 49ers reveal a boatload of weaknesses, including a lack of strength and talent on the defensive line. This issue helps explain why they have the top two picks.
|2017 NFL Mock Draft|
|Pick||Team||Selection, Position, College|
|1||Cleveland Browns||Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama|
|3||Chicago Bears||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jamal Adams, S, LSU|
|5||Tennessee Titans (via Rams)||Sidney Jones, CB, Washington|
|6||New York Jets||O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama|
|10||Buffalo Bills||Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford|
|12||Cleveland Browns (via Eagles)||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State|
|14||Indianapolis Colts||Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU|
|15||Philadelphia Eagles (via Vikings)||Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||Takkarist McKinley, LB, UCLA|
|17||Washington Redskins||Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State|
|18||Tennessee Titans||Tim Williams, LB/DE, Alabama|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Desmond King, CB, Iowa|
|20||Denver Broncos||John Ross WR, Washington|
|21||Detroit Lions||Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan|
|22||Miami Dolphins||Teez Tabor, CB, Florida|
|23||New York Giants||Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida|
|24||Oakland Raiders||Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama|
|25||Houston Texans||Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina|
|28||Dallas Cowboys||Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan|
|29||Green Bay Packers||Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State|
|30||Pittsburgh Steelers||Haason Reddick, LB, Temple|
|31||Atlanta Falcons||T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin|
|32||New England Patriots||Carl Lawson, LB, Auburn|
As a result, Garrett and Allen would be strong fits for both of those teams. But both have so many weaknesses that they could easily go in different areas and still come up with solid picks.
The Browns need a quarterback, wide receivers, offensive linemen and defensive backs, but we agree that their biggest need is on the defensive line. Garrett is the best player available at the position they need the most help in.
The Niners got pushed around on defense throughout the season, and a powerful man like Allen would make a difference. But they have no alternatives at the quarterback position, and there are three solid quarterbacks available in the draft.
Deshaun Watson of Clemson, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame are the three quarterbacks with first-round grades. After watching Colin Kaepernick struggle at the position, the Niners clearly need help there.
A case can be made for any of the three, yet all of them have weaknesses as well. As a result, the Niners might want to pass on the quarterbacks in the first round, go with Allen and try to upgrade at the position later in the draft or wait until 2018.
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The Chicago Bears cannot pass on a quarterback. They have been stumbling with Jay Cutler under center since acquiring him from the Denver Broncos prior to the 2009 season. Cutler has led the Bears to the playoffs once in the ensuing eight seasons, and the Bears can no longer abide with his up-and-down performances that have been flavored with so much boredom.
Look for the Bears to select Watson to be their next quarterback. While he must prove his ability to avoid interceptions, he is a consummate leader and ideal for Chicago.
We think the Jacksonville Jaguars are likely to select a defensive player with the fourth pick, and there's no argument with that choice. However, instead of selecting a solid all-around player like safety Jamal Adams of LSU, the better fit might be Jabrill Peppers of Michigan.
Peppers is the do-it-all type who excels as a special teamer, and that has not been an area of strength for the Jaguars in a number of years.
Peppers is also a big-time presence and will not shy away from the limelight. He may not be as powerful as Adams, but he can do more to help that team grow.
The Tennessee Titans have the No. 5 pick (through the Los Angeles Rams), and their offense took a huge step up last season as quarterback Marcus Mariota matured quite a bit and could become an elite signal-caller in 2017. The running game is in top shape with DeMarco Murray.
The Titans need help with their secondary, and we expect cornerback Sidney Jones of Washington to be their selection. Jones looks like a fine fit after registering 39 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six passes defensed and two interceptions. However, Teez Tabor of Florida might be an even better choice for them.
Tabor had one more interception and faced tougher competition in the SEC than Jones did in the Pac-12, and he could be better prepared to make a solid contribution from Day 1 than Jones.