2017 NFL Draft: Assessing the Pros and Cons of Projected Top 10 Picks
Perfect NFL draft prospects don't exist.
Some players—such as John Elway, Bo Jackson, Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson and Andrew Luck—came close. This year, even when a young man like Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is touted as a "once in 10 years player," there's something to scrutinize.
The predraft process is designed as a series of checkpoints. All-star contests, the combine, pro days and private workouts are added to in-season evaluations, which help establish who the top prospects are.
Bleacher Report's lead draft writer Matt Miller provided his top 10 available talents for the 2017 class, but they're not without blemishes. Read on to see their pros and cons.
1. DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Game recognizes game. Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, who may be the first quarterback selected, watched video of Myles Garrett's pro day and told The MMQB's Emily Kaplan, "That kid is just a freak."
If a team were to construct the ideal pass-rusher, Garrett would be the final result. The Texas A&M product appears to have been sculpted out of stone with his 6'4", 272-pound frame and 35 ¼-inch arms. Athletically, the 21-year-old prospect is exceptional. At the NFL combine, the defensive end ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, benched 225 pounds 33 times, posted a 41-inch vertical jump and leaped 10'8" in the broad jump.
Garrett's ideal physical tools translate to the field too. During his three seasons in College Station, the defender amassed 48.5 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks. Production means little without the necessary traits to consistently win against blockers at the next level, though. Garrett is a complete edge-rusher.
Prior to suffering a high ankle sprain halfway through his junior campaign, Garrett displayed a lightning-quick first step. He coupled his speed off the edge with tremendous flexibility and a full toolbox of pass-rush moves. The defensive end can run around blockers or bull-rush them into quarterbacks. Texas A&M's coaching staff also asked him to move him around the defensive front in order to take advantage of matchups. Thus, Garrett could be seen working at 7-technique, 5-technique, 4-technique and 3-technique.
The defensive end improved against the run as well during his final year on campus. Garrett regularly took on double-teams and attacked them with his quickness, good leverage and the strength to bow up against some of the SEC's best offensive linemen.
Garrett is a complete talent, which equates to his being the No. 1 overall prospect.
Two concerns plague Garrett's evaluation, neither of which pertains to his skill set.
First, the young man didn't produce at the highest level during his final season. He provided 8.5 sacks in 2016, but 4.5 of those came against the UTSA Roadrunners. Concerns about his performances against top competition continued to surface. This apprehension leads to bigger potential issues: Does Garrett take plays off and lack the motor necessary to become a dominant NFL pass-rusher?
Some of this can be explained away by the previously mentioned ankle injury, and Garrett still provided a large impact in Texas A&M's biggest games last season. The concern lingers, though.
Second, Garrett doesn't bring a traditional mentality to the game. He has outside interests, and those are being used against him to a degree.
"It's a shame people are trying to question or bring down a good kid that I'm sure any parent would love to have because he isn't your stereotypical football player," an area scout told The MMQB's Albert Breer. "In terms of [how he] competes, put it this way—he played most of the year on a high ankle sprain."
2. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
The perception of a running back's value continues to evolve. A few year ago, the position was considered devalued. Since then, the league has welcomed Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott into its ranks. LSU's Leonard Fournette is another special runner.
The NFL has been awaiting Fournette's arrival for the past three years due to his rare combination of size, speed and physicality.
The LSU running back weighed 240 pounds at the NFL combine yet still ran an official 4.51-second 40-yard dash. According to Football Perspective's Chase Stuart, Fournette ran the fastest weight-adjusted 40-yard dash among this year's running back crop. To put his time into context, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Ezekiel Elliott each ran in the 4.4-second range, but none of them weighed more than 225 pounds when they tested.
While Fournette has the speed to be a breakaway threat, his bulldozing running style is expected to wear down NFL defenses. He fits the very definition of a back who runs behind his pads, stays under control and finishes plays.
With the speed to hit the edge, balance to remain upright and power to run between the tackles, the New Orleans native displays a rare level of explosiveness through the hole. When fully healthy during the 2015 campaign, Fournette dominated the competition with 300 carries for 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He single-handedly carried the Tigers offense at times.
Fournette isn't the type of running back prospect who relies on jump cuts to make defenders miss or displays the wiggle to shake oncoming tacklers, but he's never easily brought down. Just forget trying to arm-tackle this freight train.
"If you're looking for a pure physical runner, with the best power/speed combination that most of us have ever seen, then Fournette is your guy," an anonymous scout told The MMQB's Emily Kaplan.
The wear and tear placed on a physical running back cannot be denied. Fournette dropped to 228 pounds at LSU's pro day to quell any concerns about his weight.
"Some people had concerns at 240," he admitted, per the Advocate's Ross Dellenger. "I wanted to show them I can stay on course and be disciplined and do what I have to do and get my stuff in order."
A high-ankle sprain slowed Fournette during the 2016 campaign, and he ran for only 843 yards. His running style will leave him open for big shots. He's a downhill, physical runner best suited to chew up yardage on first and second down.
Like many incoming backs, the 2015 All-American needs to show he can stay on the field in the passing game. Fournette displayed soft hands when given the opportunity to catch the ball, but he only managed 41 receptions in three seasons.
As a blocker, he provides plenty of effort and remains aggressive, but his understanding of responsibilities and technique in this particular area will need to grow.
Fournette may not be a true three-down back at this point, but he has the potential to develop into one.
3. LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Linebacker is no longer the glamour position it once was, but Alabama's Reuben Foster has the ability to be a future star at the NFL level.
Taking positional value out of the equation, Foster is counted among the top available difference-makers. Just like when the Carolina Panthers used the ninth overall pick on Luke Kuechly in the 2012 draft—one of only two off-the-ball linebackers to be selected among the top 10 picks in the last six drafts—Foster's value lies in his ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline.
This is an area where the reigning Butkus Award winner greatly improved as a junior and why his draft status dramatically increased. His overall range expanded after he lost 15 pounds last offseason, per AL.com's Michael Casagrande. Instead of being viewed as a downhill thumper like he was when he weighed 240 pounds, a 225-pound Foster tracked down running backs and receivers in both phases of the game.
Despite the weight loss, Foster's level of physicality never diminished. The linebacker arrives with bad intentions on his mind. Some might remember his near decapitation of Clemson's Deshaun Watson or when the linebacker sent the quarterback flying.
Foster led the Crimson Tide in 2016 with 115 tackles. He added 13 tackles for loss, five sacks and eight more quarterback hurries. In coverage, the Alabama native graded second in the country among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
"This guy is fast, explosive, the real deal," an anonymous scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn.
Foster's play in 2016 was as good or better than any prospect in this year's draft class. However, multiple problem areas exist off the field.
An expansive injury history for a sub-230-pound linebacker with Foster's physical approach automatically raises concerns. The All-American is currently rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery, but his agent, Malki Kawa, said on Twitter that Foster is ahead of schedule and will be ready for training camp.
Foster also suffered two recorded concussions and has a history with shoulder stingers. Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline told the Saturday Morning Sports Show on OV Sports Network that teams haven't red-flagged these issues. But a team will need to be comfortable with his medical reports before using a high draft selection on the linebacker.
Also, the combine incident still looms to a degree. Combine officials sent Foster home after an altercation with a medical professional. Some teams won't give the episode a second thought. Others will.
"He already had immaturity, issues with life skills. This is the same guy," an evaluator told The MMQB's Emily Kaplan after the incident. "We're not in the market."
As talented as Foster is on the field, attitude and injury concerns could have an adverse effect on his draft standing.
4. S Jamal Adams, LSU
No top-10 talent in this year's class is more divisive than LSU's Jamal Adams. Some view him strictly as a strong safety, while others see him in a far more favorable light. "That's Earl Thomas but bigger," an anonymous scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn.
Safeties around the NFL are asked to do more each passing season. As sub-packages continue to dominate schemes, a safety's versatility allows defensive coordinators to be more creative and aggressive. Adams is the most complete safety in this year's draft.
The 214-pound defensive back is at his best near the line of scrimmage. He finished first on the Tigers roster last season with 42 solo tackles and added 7.5 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus graded Adams as No. 1 safety against the run in this year's class.
But he's not a pure box safety. His speed was on display during LSU's pro day when he ran an unofficial 4.33-second 40-yard dash, according to the Advocate's Ross Dellenger. Of course, the number is pumped up to a degree, but Adams plays fast, and it showed during his predraft workouts. His speed should ease any concerns regarding his range.
Adams is also an experienced nickel corner. Last season, he allowed a 64.1 quarterback rating into his coverage, per PFF. The safety shows good instincts in the alley, has solid route recognition and presents the requisite size-speed combination to cover athletic tight ends out of the slot.
The defensive back's attitude will come into play among teams that are looking for a leader in their secondary. LSU's coaching staff named him a permanent captain for the 2016 campaign. An AFC secondary coach referred to Adams as a "culture-changer," per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.
Another AFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, "The people who have been at that program the longest think he might be the best leader LSU has had in years."
Some organizations still aren't comfortable selecting a safety high in the draft, and enough question marks can be found in Adams' skill set that he won't change any of those organization's opinions.
Despite 15 career pass breakups and five interceptions, Adams isn't viewed as a fluid playmaker in coverage. His hips are a little stiff when it comes to turning and running with receivers. This is expected to a degree with any safety prospect, yet potential top-five selections should supersede position norms.
Adams is also an aggressive defensive back who can be coaxed into mistakes by savvy receivers and quarterbacks. While the LSU product has the raw speed necessary to play free safety, his instincts while operating along the deep third can be questioned.
The game continues to change with a heavy emphasis on passing. Adams can play both safety spots, though his abilities lend more toward a defensive back equipped to make an impact near the line of scrimmage than one who roams the back line.
5. DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Some players don't fit the mold; they break it. Versatility to play multiple positions along the defensive front is a valuable trait, and Stanford's Solomon Thomas leads the way.
Thomas isn't a prototypical defensive lineman, yet he still dominated and worked his way to the top of the 2017 draft class.
Whichever team selects the Stanford product will get a defensive lineman who can play base or rush end, 3-technique and even stand up as an outside linebacker in certain schemes. At 6'3" and 273 pounds, the Texas native is a tremendous athlete. Thomas posted a 4.69-second 40-yard dash and finished among the top five defensive linemen in the bench press (30 reps), broad jump (10'6"), three-cone drill (6.95 seconds) and short shuttle (4.28 seconds) at the NFL combine.
Thomas' athleticism translates to the next level, but his ability to disengage from blocks is his true strength. The Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best lineman isn't a natural edge-rusher. He doesn't display flexibility comparable to Texas A&M's Myles Garrett. However, he can take advantage of mismatches across the defensive front.
The Stanford coaching staff often used Thomas as an in-line defender, and he excelled when asked to stack and shed blockers on his way to the opposing quarterbacks or ball-carriers. His technique coupled with very good first-step quickness helped to overwhelm blockers.
Thomas led the Cardinal in 2016 with 62 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. All of these factors led him to overtake Alabama's Jonathan Allen as the draft's second-best defensive lineman.
"I'll be surprised if Solomon Thomas doesn't go ahead of Jonathan Allen," an NFL executive told NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah. "That probably wasn't the thinking right after the season ended."
Traits define the scouting process. As much as physical tools aren't supposed to overrule a player's body of work, they still do.
A prospect like Thomas fits all the athleticism and production traits teams want from a top prospect. But concerns persist about where he ultimately fits.
At 273 pounds, Thomas isn't built to be an every-down defensive tackle even if that may be his best position. On the edge, he doesn't have the length (33-inch arms) or consistent leverage to overcome bigger offensive tackles. Thomas' motor doesn't stop, yet offensive linemen can control him at the point of attack if they are able to gain a good initial fit.
There's very little not to like about Thomas. He plays hard, produces and has the athleticism required of a top pick. He doesn't have any off-field concerns either. But his success will be determined by how he's used by coaches at the next level.
6. S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Ohio State's Malik Hooker is a rare safety prospect. A scout told Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, "I feel pretty strongly that when we look back at this draft, we will talk about him as maybe the best player in it."
Ball skills matter. While LSU safety Jamal Adams is considered a better all-around safety prospect, Hooker presents a skill set that grows in value each year.
During the draft process, the Ohio State prospect has been compared to the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed because of his range along the back line of the defense, recovery speed and ability to create turnovers.
Hooker is an ex-basketball player who is still developing after starting only one year for the Buckeyes. Even in one season, he skyrocketed toward the top of the draft boards because he displayed unparalleled range compared to his collegiate counterparts.
Not only did Hooker cover more ground from sideline to sideline, he also made plays on the ball. The Ohio State safety tied for third in major college football with seven interceptions, which included a trio of pick-sixes. The 21-year-old defensive back also defended four passes and finished third on the Buckeyes with 74 total tackles.
Hooker isn't the biggest (6'1" and 206 pounds) or fastest safety in this class, but he's a natural athlete whose instincts are rare and translate to the field as a true center fielder.
"He's real. I think he's the real deal," an AFC college scouting director told NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.
As valuable as Hooker is when the ball is in the air, there are still areas of his game that must vastly improve.
As a tackler, the safety is inconsistent at best. He's a willing tackler, yet he can be slow to fill the alley and not properly break down upon arrival. For example, Hooker attempts too many arm tackles. According to CFB Film Room, the Pennsylvania native missed 13 tackles last season, which equated to a 16 percent missed tackle rate.
"A word of caution on Malik Hooker: Over his final eight games, he had as many missed tackles as he did defensive stops (nine)," Pro Football Focus' Josh Liskiewitz noted (via PFF College Football).
Hooker is best suited playing deep without being asked to defend near the line of scrimmage. He will also be learning on the job. As naturally instinctive as Hooker is, he's still developing as a safety.
"I was surprised at how he struggled with some of the basic football questions at the board during our meeting," an NFC secondary coach told Brooks. "It's not a huge concern, but you have to understand that he is still new to the game."
Hooker is one of the most naturally gifted players in this class and an elite talent based on his ball skills and instincts. At this point in his development, it will take him some time to adjust to the NFL game after relying heavily on his natural ability during his collegiate career.
7. TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
Vernon Davis was the last tight end selected before the 10th overall pick, drafted sixth in 2006. Alabama's O.J. Howard could be the next.
In a world where complete tight ends are no longer needed for an offense to operate at a high level, Howard is a complete tight end. Very few at the NFL level affect both the passing and ground games. The New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski is a rare specimen. Howard has similar potential.
Gronk is well on his way to the Hall of Fame, but it's interesting to compare these two athletes. Prior to the 2010 NFL draft, the Patriots tight end measured 6'6" tall and weighed 264 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds and posted 4.47-second short shuttle and 7.18-second three-cone drill, per NFL Draft Scout. At 13 fewer pounds, Howard bested all of those numbers with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, 4.16-second short shuttle and 6.85-second three-cone drill.
Howard may never develop into a Gronkowski-level target, but those numbers indicate his overall athleticism. After all, this is a young man who disappeared at times in the passing game. However, Howard provided a major presence during Alabama's biggest games. The tight end combined to make nine receptions for 314 yards and three touchdowns in the past two national championship games.
At the Reese's Senior Bowl, Howard tantalized NFL scouts and decision-makers with his array of one-handed catches in practice and the fact no safety or linebacker could cover the top prospect.
The potential to be a mismatch at the next level is obvious. What makes Howard truly valuable is his prowess as a blocker. He continued to grow in this area with each passing season and finished his senior campaign as college football's best run-blocking tight end, per Pro Football Focus.
Howard never achieved a level of consistency during his Alabama career.
As mentioned earlier, his performances during the title games were exceptional, but those were his only two career games where he eclipsed 81 receiving yards. The tight end had 30 games in four seasons with fewer than 40 receiving yards.
His lack of production can be attributed to both the young man, who needed to sell his routes better, and Alabama's offense.
"He should have had more production here, through no fault of his," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said during an interview with Bob Papa and Greg McElroy on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "Never had the offense to take advantage of him."
Consistency, or lack thereof, can also be applied to his blocking.
Yes, Howard graded as college football's best run-blocker, but he may need to add bulk and improve his technique when facing NFL defenders. This area of his game should be viewed as one he can continuously improve despite being the best all-around tight end in this year's class.
8. DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Sometimes the predraft process muddies instead of clarifies the picture. For example, Alabama's Jonathan Allen remains an elite prospect despite multiple concerns. Former NFL general manager and NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly said, "Coming out of college, Allen is better than [Ndamukong] Suh."
Two areas of Allen's game are superior to any other prospect in this year's class.
First, the defensive lineman is a true technician. The way he uses his hands is far more advanced than defensive linemen typically are at this point in their careers. He stays under control and hits his aiming points. Allen consistently stacks and easily sheds blockers because he works to get an offensive lineman's hands off him with a variety of techniques that prove effective against the run and rushing the passer.
The first point lends to the second. Allen is a premier interior pass-rusher. At 286 pounds, this year's recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award is a mismatch against guards or centers. Over the last two seasons, Allen managed 22.5 sacks and added 30.5 tackles for loss.
Allen provides system flexibility too. His combination of size, motor and ability to be equally effective against the run and pass allows him to play in multiple schemes. He can be a base end on early downs and a 3-technique in sub-packages. He primarily served as a 5-technique during his time in Alabama. Some teams may envision him as an every-down defensive tackle.
The All-American will never be viewed as an elite athlete, yet he excels in the unnoticed areas that are required for a defensive lineman to win on a down-by-down basis. Allen is technically sound, proficient in his movement, versatile, engaged throughout contest and displays a level of hustle necessary to be a top-flight defender.
While Allen can be a brute at the point of attack, teams also see a defensive lineman who isn't an athletic edge-rusher and undersized as an interior defender.
The Alabama product didn't perform well at the combine. Allen ran a 5.00-second 40-yard dash, 7.49-second three-cone drill and 4.50-second short shuttle. To provide an idea how poorly Allen performed, he tested among the 27th percentile of defensive tackles already in the league, per 3sigmaathlete.com's Zach Whitman.
"Allen just isn't very explosive," an anonymous executive told NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah. "Good player, but I could see him sliding a little bit more than people think."
A history of shoulder injuries will also play into teams' evaluations. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Alabama native required surgeries on both shoulders during his collegiate career, and concerns linger over possible arthritis. Allen said he's fine and it's more of a long-term issue, per Yahoo's Eric Edholm.
Even so, the combination of subpar athleticism and injury concerns caused this star to lose a little luster throughout the evaluation.
9. CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
This year's secondary class is the deepest in recent memory. Florida's Quincy Wilson has all the tools necessary to be the first cornerback off the board even if he's considered a surprise pick.
There's something to be said about an individual who comes out of a teammate's shadow and develops into a top prospect. That's what happened with Quincy Wilson after fellow Florida Gator Teez Tabor was touted as a potential top-10 pick earlier in the process.
"He may not be that clean with his coverage, but I would rather go to war with him over Tabor any day," an AFC executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He's big and he's tough. Tabor has more talent, but Wilson just has to find the right spot because he's got the mindset to be a pro player."
Wilson quietly established himself as a premier corner this past season. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished first among draft-eligible cornerbacks in coverage snaps per reception and third in both yards per coverage snap and quarterback rating into his coverage.
Multiple defensive backs benefited from playing in Florida's defensive scheme in recent years, and Wilson isn't any different. He's a capable defender in both man and zone coverage. He was asked to backpedal instead of relying on bail technique.
When the aforementioned experience is coupled with his natural tools, he becomes an intriguing prospect. Wilson stands 6'1" and weighs 211 pounds with 32 ¼-inch arms and above-average short-area quickness. The Florida product is big and physical yet displays good instincts to make plays on the ball.
Wilson is an easy projection to the next level. As cornerbacks are asked to do less in certain collegiate schemes, the Florida native has been proficient when asked to do more.
Even though the term is somewhat outdated, Wilson won't be viewed as a shutdown corner. This has less to do with his ability to cover and more about inconsistency found within his technique.
Wilson can look very smooth at times. Other times, his length can be a detriment when trying to cover quicker targets. He can also get far too physical against certain routes, which will result in NFL penalties.
His size, length and physicality often offset a lack of true deep speed. Wilson only ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. This places him in the 29th percentile compared to other NFL cornerbacks, per MockDraftable.
If Wilson doesn't work out at cornerback, a transition to safety shouldn't be ruled out. But that's a secondary option.
As long as Wilson continues to hone his technique and footwork and takes advantage of his natural length, this Florida defensive back has the potential to be the best cornerback in an exceptional class.
10. CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Even in a deep secondary class, no defensive back presents more upside than Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore. A pro personnel director told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, "He'll be one of the top cornerbacks in the league pretty quickly."
As a pure coverage corner, Lattimore tops this year's class. Some cornerbacks struggle in one area compared to the other, but that's not the case with the early entrant.
Lattimore displays the necessary speed and fluidity to turn and run with any wide receiver. The 6'0", 193-pound corner ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also posted explosive numbers with a 38.5-inch vertical jump and an 11'0" broad jump.
His ability to latch onto a target isn't purely about speed, though. The Ohio State product shows tremendous flexibility in his hips so he doesn't slow down through his transition and maintains proper spacing throughout his coverage.
Ohio State loved to put its cornerbacks on an island and asked them to be aggressive with their jam near the line of scrimmage too. This allowed Lattimore to excel in man coverage. According to Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, the former Buckeye only allowed a 26.1 completion percentage and snagged three interceptions when he lined up in man coverage during the 2016 campaign.
Run support is an often overlooked aspect of a cornerback's play. Lattimore is a willing and aggressive tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cleveland native didn't miss a single tackle last season.
Lattimore's impressive skill set makes him a popular choice to become a top-10 selection and possibly the first cornerback off the board.
Lattimore's natural ability speaks for itself. A few factors continue to work against him, though.
His injury history must be addressed. Lattimore dealt with hamstring issues throughout the 2015 campaign. He excelled during this past season only to pull up lame at the NFL combine. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler reported teams expressed concern over the possibility these hamstring problems are a "chronic" issue.
On the field, Ohio State featured a pair of outstanding cornerbacks. Gareon Conley outperformed Lattimore this past season and seems to be picking up steam as a top prospect with the draft drawing near.
Finally, the Buckeyes coaching staff doesn't ask its defensive backs to do certain things. For example, Lattimore played predominantly on the right side of the ball and wasn't asked to regularly backpedal. Instead, he often relied on bail technique to react to route patterns.
With all the other options available, one of these problem areas may be enough to push Lattimore down the board.