2017 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Next Year's Top Prospects

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2016

Leonard Fournette headlines the 2017 class.
Leonard Fournette headlines the 2017 class.Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

There's an unspoken commandment when it comes to the NFL draft—thou shall not ever suggest it's too early for next year's mock draft.

The 2016 draft isn't in the books yet, with the slog through Round 4 and beyond taking place Saturday. But it's not an excuse to avoid looking at what 2017 has to offer.

While it's fun to review 2016 picks, thinking ahead creates some interesting scenarios for the future of the league's landscape.

For those who want to get ahead, here's a mock draft based on updated team need, projections and the current stock market of the 2017 class.

2017 NFL Mock Draft

1Cleveland BrownsDeshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2Tennessee TitansLeonard Fournette, RB, LSU
3Jacksonville JaguarsDa'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
4Oakland RaidersMyles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
5San Diego ChargersBrad Kaaya, QB, Miami
6San Francisco 49ersCam Robinson, OT, Alabama
7Tampa Bay BuccaneersJuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
8Miami DolphinsJabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
9Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles)Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State
10Houston TexansDerek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
11Chicago BearsNate Andrews, S, Florida State
12Tennessee Titans (via Los Angeles Rams)Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC
13Detroit LionsDalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
14New York GiantsTre'Davious White, CB, LSU
15Atlanta FalconsSam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
16Buffalo BillsMike Williams, WR, Clemson
17Washington RedskinsTravin Dural, WR, LSU
18New Orleans SaintsDesmond King, CB, Iowa
19New York JetsRaekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State
20Baltimore RavensCharles Harris, OLB, Missouri
21Kansas City ChiefsCordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
22Minnesota VikingsConor McDermott, OT, UCLA
23Denver BroncosMalik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
24Indianapolis ColtsTim Williams, OLB, Alabama
25Arizona CardinalsMalachi Dupre, WR, LSU
26Cincinnati BengalsGreg Pyke, G, Georgia
27Dallas CowboysChad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
28Green Bay PackersDavid Sharpe, OT, Florida
29Pittsburgh SteelersJamal Adams, S, LSU
30Seattle SeahawksDarren Carrington, WR, Oregon
31New England PatriotsChristian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
32Carolina PanthersArmani Watts, S, Texas A&M
Author's projections.

Note: Draft order is courtesy of Odds Shark's 2017 Super Bowl odds. Teams with the same odds are listed in alphabetical order.

Analyzing Notable Early Picks

1. Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

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Deshaun Watson has just what Cleveland looks for in a quarterback.
Deshaun Watson has just what Cleveland looks for in a quarterback.Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns selected USC quarterback Cody Kessler with the No. 93 pick in the 2016 class, but it won't stop new coach Hue Jackson and the organization from getting a can't-miss prospect in 2017. 

Such a moniker goes to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who completed 67.8 percent of his passes last year for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns with another 1,105 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

One quarterback coach told FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman that Watson could be the top pick and it's all about his landing in the right situation: 

Asked about whether some NFL personnel people might hold the Clemson offensive scheme against him, since he’s not playing in a pure pro-style system, the QB coach said, “Some coaches probably will be uncomfortable with him because that’s not the style they’re used to, but guys that know what they are doing won’t have an issue with it."

Cleveland is the right situation.

Look at it this way—Jackson squeezed the most out of Andy Dalton in Cincinnati during his role as offensive coordinator. He also happens to love quarterbacks who can extend plays with their feet or get upfield.

Watson is tailor-made for the Cleveland offense, especially with 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman now on board. After another free-agency period and with the rest of the 2017 class in tow, Watson could make an impact right away.

2. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Leonard Fournette is a smart luxury pick for Tennessee.
Leonard Fournette is a smart luxury pick for Tennessee.Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

It's not typically a wise move for a team to take a running back in the top 10 these days, but rules go out the window when it comes to LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

Arguably an even better prospect than Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, who came off the board No. 4 to Dallas Thursday, Fournette is the definition of a pro-ready back who would already be playing in the NFL were it not for arbitrary rules.

The LSU star was a man among boys last year, averaging 6.5 yards per carry while going for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. And as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport pointed out, he headlines a class of running backs that dwarfs the 2016 offering by a mile:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Whenever I talk to scouts about Ezekiel Elliott, they bring up '17 RB draft: Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey

In this scenario, folks will point out the Tennessee Titans already have DeMarco Murray on the roster and just added Derrick Henry.

But that's the same Murray who Dallas let walk so it could draft Elliott and the same Murray who rushed for 3.6 yards per carry last year while being ignored by the team that signed him, Philadelphia.

Tennessee can afford to skimp on giving Marcus Mariota the best of the best. Murray accounts for around only a $6 million cap hit in base salary per year through 2019, per Spotrac, which is a rather small cost to pay—especially if he can form a committee with Fournette and Henry and extend the young running backs' careers for the first few years. Murray doesn't have to stick around for the duration of the contract, either.

Did anyone mention Tennessee sits in the luxurious position of having two picks in the round?

5. San Diego Chargers: Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

Brad Kaaya has all the tools to succeed at the next level.
Brad Kaaya has all the tools to succeed at the next level.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There's been a quiet watch for the San Diego Chargers to grab Philip Rivers' eventual successor over the past few seasons. 

That's for good reason, with Rivers going on 35 years old in December, though in this scenario the Chargers couldn't have waited for a better class.

Brad Kaaya out of Miami is the answer. While his numbers won't blow anyone away after throwing for 3,238 yards and 16 scores last year, those are great given the shoddy circumstances around him. Otherwise, he's every bit the prototypical quarterback the NFL desires.

Standing at 6'4" and 210 pounds, Kaaya is already at the point where he can work through progressions well and hit most pro throws. Upon his arrival in San Diego, he could possibly learn from Rivers for a year or join the fray right away and have a target like Keenan Allen, not to mention new tight end Hunter Henry, with new center Max Tuerk leading the way in the trenches.

With San Diego building the rest of the roster and getting ready to transition to a new face of the franchise under center, the 2017 class is a sweet spot for the move with a prospect like Kaaya available.

Stats are courtesy of NFL.com and accurate as of April 30. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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