2017 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Way-Too-Early Predictions
The 2016 NFL draft is barely behind us, but it's never too early to start talking about next season.
It always seems like the upcoming draft class is projected to be better than the one that just entered the NFL, but that's not the case this year. There isn't currently a slam-dunk quarterback prospect due to size and/or production, and the wide receiver class is looking thin as well.
Running backs and defensive ends are the early strength of the 2017 class if you count juniors Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, and for this mock draft I am including juniors expected to enter after next season.
Using a projection for 2016 season finishes and updating it for trades, here's mock draft version 1.0 as we look ahead to 2017.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Cody Kessler is not your quarterback of the future. He's there as a smart, accurate deep-ball thrower who will serve as a solid backup to Josh McCown and Robert Griffin III this season. The future will come in 2017 when Deshaun Watson enters the draft.
Watson is a talented touch thrower with excellent running skills coming out of the Clemson shotgun offense. He's not so different from RGIII, other than he's more accurate and hasn't been hit with major injury-related setbacks to this point in his career.
Watson does need to work on limiting interceptions on deep throws, but with the return of standout wide receiver Mike Williams, he'll have a true go-to receiver helping him out on those 50-50 balls.
2. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: OLB Carl Lawson, Auburn
The Chargers didn't go offensive tackle or edge-rusher in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL draft, which makes both a possibility for the team next season. If so, Auburn's Carl Lawson looks like a top-tier combination rusher off the edge.
Lawson came back from a hip injury in early 2015 to dominate the SEC talent he faced. He has size (6'2", 261 lbs) to stand up and beat offensive tackles with speed or power. He's longer on film than his 6'2" frame would indicate, too, and knows how to set up blockers with an excellent use of hands and hips.
Lawson, with Bosa either in front of him or on the opposite side of the formation, could be a nightmare for AFC offenses.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: OT Cam Robinson, Alabama
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a young roster on the rise, but there are still future holes coming up due to some missed draft picks. It's time for Luke Joeckel—the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft—to produce at a level that matches his draft stock. To date he's been solid, but the expectation was much higher than he's shown.
Robinson is the ultimate power left tackle. Unlike Joeckel, he brings a toughness and mean streak to the field and doesn't rely 100 percent on athleticism to beat defenders in the run and pass game. He's big (6'5", 326 lbs) and powerful but also has quick feet and elite movement skills in his pass-protection asks.
4. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Florida)
The San Francisco 49ers missed out on Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft, but with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert competing for the starting quarterback job, spending a first-rounder next year on the position shouldn't be overlooked.
Brad Kaaya looks the part with great size (6'4", 210 lbs) and a big arm. He's also athletic enough to slide around in the pocket and make plays off schedule. He's not surrounded by great talent at Miami, but like Goff at California, his talent stands out and his football IQ is off-the-charts good.
Kaaya is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly's quick-strike system coming out of Miami. If any quarterback in this class can emerge on the level of a Jameis Winston or Goff, my money would be on Kaaya.
5. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: OLB Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Among the most well-known defenders in college football, Myles Garrett has big-time potential as an NFL defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. In Tennessee, he could be the answer to an aging and often-injured Brian Orakpo at outside linebacker.
Garrett has a special speed move when coming off the ball, but he must learn to develop a secondary move with power or better hand play. If he can do that, the production would be special.
Garrett isn't great against the run—something easy to miss when watching a game on Saturdays—but will stand out to NFL evaluators. If that improves, he has the raw talent to be a No. 1 overall-type player.
6. Detroit Lions
The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Leonard Fournette is a special talent, and the NFL is starting to come around on drafting running backs early again. But the teams drafting ahead of Detroit are all invested in young backs, outside of Cleveland—and I can't see a running back going first overall.
The Lions get a rare player here and the type of back general manager Bob Quinn can build his team around after investing heavily in offensive linemen in the 2016 draft. In Fournette the Lions get the total package of size, speed and three-down ability. He's a game-changer and the right kind offensive weapon to take pressure off of quarterback Matthew Stafford.
7. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
The Pick: LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
An absolute missile on defense, linebacker Raekwon McMillan often stole the show when I was watching draft-eligible players like Darron Lee and Joey Bosa last season.
The Cleveland Browns need a stud in the middle of the defense, and McMillan would be that player given his versatility against the run and the pass. He's agile, strong, aggressive at the point of attack and capable of stacking up blockers to find the ball.
McMillan isn't as athletic as Myles Jack or Jaylon Smith, but his instincts and three-down ability will have teams thinking about him early in Round 1.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
After grabbing defensive end Noah Spence in Round 2, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still need a big, powerful defensive end on the other side of the line. There is also the possibility that Spence may play linebacker in the 4-3 defense, which makes Alabama's Jonathan Allen an even better fit for Tampa.
Allen is a monster at left defensive end for Alabama. He may very well be my No. 1 overall prospect heading into next season thanks to his speed-to-power ability and what he brings to the table as a three-down rusher and run defender. He's close to perfect for a 4-3 defensive end role at 6'3", 272 pounds.
With excellent production and athleticism, Allen looks to be a lock as a top-10 pick in 2017.
9. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Forget whatever you think you know about Christian McCaffrey and remember this—he is a freak.
His vision and instincts as a runner are elite. His quickness and breakaway speed are among the best you'll see in college. He also brings excellent value as a third-down back given his hands and ability to make defenders miss in space when he has the ball.
McCaffrey would be a dream in a Sean Payton offense that has found a use for Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller. In McCaffrey, Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have the talented three-down back to add an explosive element to an offense now loaded with receivers Mike Thomas and Brandin Cooks.
10. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: DB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Get ready for the comparisons between Jabrill Peppers and Jalen Ramsey. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Peppers is a mix between a cornerback and a safety and he makes some ridiculous plays in the Michigan secondary. The former 5-star recruit has been turning heads since high school, and now that he's unleashed in Jim Harbaugh's system, Peppers is making NFL-level plays.
The Miami Dolphins were widely expected to draft a cornerback in Round 1 until tackle Laremy Tunsil fell into their laps. In 2017 the team lands a versatile defender capable of taking Reshad Jones' spot at strong safety or lining up on the edge opposite Byron Maxwell at cornerback.
11. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)
The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
One year ago, Mike Williams ranked as my top overall wide receiver for the 2016 draft class. Then he collided with a goal post in the end zone and fractured his neck. That injury would keep him out for all of the past season, but now he's fully healthy and ready to go. He re-emerges as the top receiver for 2017.
The Titans added a ton of talent in the 2016 draft, but the team is still lacking a go-to receiver for quarterback Marcus Mariota unless second-year player Dorial Green-Beckham can live up to expectations. Even if DGB becomes a star, the wide receiver talent and depth here is questionable, and Williams has true No. 1 skills.
12. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State
A massive defensive tackle with legitimate pass-rushing skills, Malik McDowell was the most impressive Michigan State player when I watched the team play against Nebraska last season. NFL scouts will be taking notice now that he's draft-eligible.
The 6'6", 275-pounder is an ideal fit for Atlanta's versatile, multiple defensive front. He has the frame to get up to 300 pounds but could also line up in a Michael Bennett role as a defensive end or defensive tackle depending on the down and distance.
Dan Quinn would be in love with McDowell as a football player, letting him move up or down the line based on what the defense was seeing.
The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, FSU
The depth chart in Washington right now reads: Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Mack Brown. While Jones has big potential, he also struggled with fumbles in his rookie campaign and may not be more than a thumper at the position. Adding a dynamic three-down back in a loaded 2017 class would be a classic Scot McCloughan move.
Dalvin Cook has electric speed in space, phenomenal vision and the three-down tools as a receiver and blocker to wow NFL scouts and coaches. In Washington he would be a great fit in tandem with Jones—who brings more power to the table than speed.
Cook's star is shooting way up, and NFL teams will be quick to grab this college version of Jamaal Charles.
14. Chicago Bears
The Pick: OLB Tim Williams, Alabama
General manager Ryan Pace had a successful draft by focusing on both needs and value to fill holes at linebacker, defensive end and safety for the Chicago Bears. But the roster he inherited after the 2014 season still needs help at many areas, including the outside linebacker spot opposite 2016 first-rounder Leonard Floyd.
Tim Williams is a star waiting to be noticed on a loaded Alabama defense. He has the frame (6'4", 230 lbs) to add more bulk and still compete with great speed, motor and instincts. By draft time he could legitimately be 6'4", 250 pounds while still bringing heat and agility as a speed rusher.
With Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski locking down the middle and Williams teaming up with Floyd, the Chicago linebacker corps could be amazing in 2017.
15. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: OT Roderick Johnson, FSU
The offensive line in Buffalo is holding up, but it can't be long before the hole at right tackle must be filled. That's where big Roderick Johnson comes in.
A top-tier left tackle at Florida State, Johnson has the size (6'6", 323 lbs) to line up on either side and be a Day 1 impact. He's smooth, powerful, long and has the football IQ to handle either side of the line without taking a step back.
If the Bills wanted to move Cordy Glenn to right tackle, Johnson has the skills to be an NFL left tackle right out of the gate. He brings a top-tier ceiling and a talent that may have him becoming a top-10 pick by next April.
16. New York Jets
The Pick: CB Jalen Tabor, Florida
The No. 2 cornerback job is up for grabs in New York, and while the Jets did add Juston Burris in the fourth round, a lockdown starter coming in the first-round of the 2017 draft makes sense for general manager Mike Maccagnan's crew.
Tabor was a star in the Florida defense—a group that was and is loaded with future NFL talent when you watched them in 2015. Tabor even outshined first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves on film at times, impressing with his 6'1", 192-pound frame and length.
Where Hargreaves was shorter and more technical, Tabor brings elite size and length, plus the speed to turn and run with the best of the best at receiver.
17. Houston Texans
The Pick: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
The Houston Texans have been aggressive in addressing the offense this offseason by adding quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Lamar Miller and speedy wide receivers Braxton Miller and Will Fuller. The job is not done, though, and general manager Rick Smith must give head coach Bill O'Brien a top-flight tight end to run his complicated offensive schemes.
O.J. Howard flashed the kind of talent last season to be considered a potential first-round pick if he had entered the 2016 draft class. Instead, he went back to Alabama for a chance to be featured in the offense and a higher draft slot.
If he's on the board for Houston in 2017, Howard is the ideal fit to round out a very young, very talented offense.
18. New York Giants
The Pick: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida
An absolute thumper at linebacker, Jarrad Davis was all over the field when you turned on the Florida tape in 2015. He's a complete three-down backer with the movement and instincts to lock down a defense as a 4-3 or 3-4 middle linebacker.
The New York Giants don't traditionally draft linebackers in the first round, but Davis should be the exception. He would be a freak in a defense with Devon Kennard at strong-side backer and a gigantic hole at the other two linebacker spots.
Draft Davis in Round 1, plug him into the defense and you'll see instant improvement over what the Giants' front seven has been able to do in recent seasons.
19. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
The Reggie McKenzie regime has completely turned around the Oakland Raiders in a few short seasons, but there is still work to be done in replacing aging players and updating the overall talent on the roster. Drafting Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun will help to fill those existing and future holes on defense, but the cornerback position could use more skill.
Marlon Humphrey has the skills to be a top-15 pick in a year. He's just 19 years old but already has the look and tools of a future first-rounder. At 6'1", 200 pounds, he also has the size NFL teams crave at the position. Humphrey's film was arguably better than No. 10 overall pick Eli Apple, and they're already the same size. His arrow is pointing way up.
20. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: OLB Charles Harris, Missouri
The pipeline from Missouri to the NFL is strong on the offensive and defensive lines. Edge-rusher Charles Harris is next in a long line of talent going from Columbia to the NFL—and he has a chance to be the highest-drafted Tiger since Aldon Smith left campus.
Harris is an excellent speed rusher and has the overall tools that would have garnered a Round 1 grade had he entered the 2016 draft class. Given his size (6'3", 255 pounds), there is room for bulk and growth, but Harris was comparable to No. 9 overall pick Leonard Floyd in terms of potential. He also had better production on film. If healthy in 2017, Harris has a shot to be an early pick in the upcoming draft.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Mason Rudolph hasn't performed up to the level of a Round 1 quarterback yet, but he makes this list based on the potential he's shown at Oklahoma State. Given the age of Alex Smith (32 years old this upcoming season) and the lack of a developmental quarterback behind him, Rudolph is a player Kansas City fans should get familiar with this summer.
A big (6'5, 235 lbs) quarterback in his junior season, Rudolph has impressed with his athleticism and arm strength. He's able to execute half and full rollouts—a staple of the Andy Reid offense—and has the traits to improve into a top-tier prospect.
His accuracy and decision-making need to improve in 2016, but in his second season as a starter those should come. In a weak quarterback class, Rudolph has a chance to climb boards quickly.
22. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: DT Carlos Watkins, Clemson
General manager Ryan Grigson had a solid draft class in 2016 and has the team headed back in the right direction after an injury-plagued season kept them out of the playoffs last year. With Andrew Luck back on the field and an improved offensive line, the Colts once again look like a contender in the AFC South.
One area that needs more talent is defensive tackle. Clemson's Carlos Watkins would be an ideal add in the late first round given his size (6'3", 300 lbs), stout ability at the point of attack and the fact that he adds value as a third-down rusher.
Unlike an Andrew Billings or Jarran Reed, Watkins can bump down to a gap alignment and get after the quarterback. That value, plus his immense talent, makes him a valuable pick in the late first round.
23. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: OT Zach Banner, USC
The Minnesota Vikings aggressively added to the offensive line in free agency—nabbing Alex Boone and Andre Smith—but the left tackle position is a question mark after 2016 given Matt Kalil's up-and-down play. If he struggles, the team will be looking for a tackle early in the 2017 draft.
Zach Banner hasn't yet lived up to expectations, but his potential is out of this world. He's agile enough to play the left side and has the length and awareness to be good in pass protection. The issue isn't talent, but coaching—and he must improve his poise and technique to become the Round 1 talent he flashes as at times.
If he can round out his play and improve his timing, the Vikings would be all over him as a late-first-round starter at left tackle.
24. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
After adding Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins, the Dallas Cowboys should be feeling good about the future of the roster. The biggest unaddressed position, though, comes at wide receiver, where Dez Bryant desperately needs a running mate.
Corey Davis was the guy you noticed every time Western Michigan played. While breaking down 2016 draftee Daniel Braverman, it was Davis who kept flashing as a playmaker. He's agile and fast and has the hands to make plays in space and over the top.
With so many talented targets in place, Davis would see single coverage on every play, and he has the talent to take advantage and turn catches into points with the ball.
25. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: QB Luke Falk, Washington State
The Arizona Cardinals must eventually get younger at quarterback—and they've tried by taking fliers on Logan Thomas and Matt Barkley in previous seasons. General manager Steve Keim is a top-notch evaluator, though, and he must know the window on Carson Palmer is closing. It's time to get someone in place to learn behind him.
Luke Falk fits what head coach Bruce Arians wants in a downfield passer. He hasn't shown the consistent production or decisions to be a first-rounder, but Falk does have the potential to get into that conversation with another good season at Washington State.
Falk has the size (6'4", 210 pounds), arm and the downfield accuracy to appeal to both Arians and Keim once they hit the road next season.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
One of the most well-regarded players in college football, JuJu Smith-Schuster may get the same treatment Laquon Treadwell received in 2016. He's not overly fast or explosive, but he is talented at the catch point and has been super-productive in a USC offense without much at quarterback.
The Cincinnati Bengals did draft Tyler Boyd to help replace Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but more help is needed opposite A.J. Green. Smith-Schuster could play both on the outside and as an inside slot receiver given his size and strength. He comes into the 2016 season as a smooth, accomplished route-runner with big-time potential if the new USC regime can coach him up better than the last crew.
27. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU
The LSU roster is stacked with talent for the 2017 NFL draft; if you have a room I can rent for football season, I'm probably going to be in Baton Rouge often given the number of next-level players Les Miles has assembled.
It's a special group, and Jamal Adams is one of the key playmakers on defense.
The Panthers generally draft for future need but were not able to add an impact safety early in the draft after losing cornerback Josh Norman in free agency. General manager Dave Gettleman will be able to find one in 2017.
LSU's Adams is physical, rangy and a hitter when asked to square up ball-carriers in the run game or when receivers cross his face. At 6'1" and close to 215 pounds, he has the size and speed to play either free or strong safety in this attacking defense.
28. Denver Broncos
The Pick: OT Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M
Another Texas A&M offensive tackle going in the first round? Yes. And Avery Gennesy has earned the praise. The 6'5", 305-pound left tackle is young and raw but has the movement and reach to develop into a top-level pro tackle prospect. And if the pipeline from A&M to the pros is any indicator—a tackle has gone Round 1 in every draft since 2013—then Gennesy is being prepared well for the pros.
The Broncos have Russell Okung at left tackle, but he should be seen as a rental and not a long-term answer at the spot. There is versatility here with Ty Sambrailo and others, but John Elway and Gary Kubiak must add the pieces to protect new quarterback Paxton Lynch and the stellar crew of playmakers they've added through the draft and free agency.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: OLB Devonte Fields, Louisville
A top-tier talent coming off the edge of the Louisville defense, Devonte Fields could have entered the 2016 draft and been a potential Day 2 pick. A former TCU player and Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Fields has amazing promise and the NFL-ready body to be an impact edge-rusher.
At 6'4", 250 pounds, Fields is good to go right out of the gate. If he can get back on track in 2016 the way he ended his last season (8.5 sacks in four games), he'll be off the board much higher than the late first round. Fields has top-10 talent, and while teams may be cautious when evaluating why he was dismissed from TCU, everything he's showing on the field is phenomenal.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: OLB Derek Barnett, Tennessee
The pass rush in Pittsburgh has been addressed early in recent drafts, with both Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree coming in through the first round, but the production hasn't yet matched the investment. That's why the Steelers are once again looking for an edge-rusher in this 2017 mock draft.
Derek Barnett has the size, speed and production the scouting department in Pittsburgh should love given he's 6'3", 267 pounds and had 10 sacks last season. His athletic numbers are likely to wow, too, given what's been seen on film. With Jones looking like a low-level player and Dupree still working on developing an NFL game, Barnett is the kind of Round 1 pick who can come in and show them both up.
31. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: DL Chris Wormley, Michigan
Continuing to add talent to a defense that has lost key players to free agency in the last three seasons will be a crucial part of the team-building for general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll. If the holes on the offensive line can be plugged with 2016 draftees and a free-agent signing next season, the front office will be free to go after defense in Round 1.
Chris Wormley is an ideal Seattle defensive lineman. He can play defensive end or defensive tackle and has experience in multiple alignments and formations during his time at Michigan. He's been well-coached, too, and has the size (6'4", 290 lbs) to play anywhere on the Seahawks defensive line immediately.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
Nick Chubb suffered a devastating knee injury in 2015, but if he can get back on the field and return to his previous form, he's no doubt a top-tier prospect.
Chubb has fantastic inside-outside running ability and the speed to pull away from defenders when he turns the corner. Watching him run, you see a Le'Veon Bell-type talent on all three downs. The knee injury will be a concern—Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith taught us that—but a full year-and-a-half from injury, Chubb will have a great chance to be back to full health and running around defenders again.
The Patriots haven't invested in the running back position with early draft picks recently, but Chubb is the type to take the pressure off Tom Brady and round out the New England offense.