2017 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Quarter-Season Predictions
As the quarter-mark of the NFL season hits, things begin to come into focus regarding the 2017 NFL draft. Where will teams be selecting? What are obvious strengths and weaknesses of each club? Who are the top college players likely to be available in Round 1?
Those are the types of things that can come into focus in the first quarter of the season, but a mock draft written right now isn't about getting pick-for-pick accuracy. Instead, think of an October mock draft as an attempt to identify team needs and get college players in a close range of where they'll be picked come April.
Of course, stocks will rise and fall for both NFL teams and college prospects over the next three months, but this gives a picture of what would happen right now based on needs and the value of the prospects.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Cody Kessler has impressed in limited playing time for the Cleveland Browns, but the new regime must make decisions for the long-term health of the NFL's only winless team. That means adding a legitimate franchise quarterback when the chance is there for it.
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer isn't playing on a dominant team, but neither was Jared Goff a year ago, and he still ended up going No. 1 overall. Kizer is a much more impressive physical specimen than Goff too. He brings a Cam Newton-sized arm and excellent athleticism to the position in combination with a heady, instinctive style of quarterbacking from the pocket and on the go.
Kizer, just a redshirt sophomore, isn't a lock to enter this year's draft, but he currently ranks atop the class of eligible passers.
2. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The No. 1 overall player in the 2017 draft class slips to the No. 2 pick, but only because of a need at quarterback for the Browns. Make no mistake—Myles Garrett is the best player in this class right now.
At 275 pounds, Garrett bends the edge like he weighs 255. He's also now bringing power with finesse moves when asked to beat tackles to the quarterback. For those who complained Garrett feasted on weaker competition in 2015, he posted a sack, three hits and seven hurries when facing future NFL left tackle Conor McDermott of UCLA in Week 1.
Many will want to compare Garrett to Jadeveon Clowney, and athletically both are rare talents, but Garrett's work ethic and production are much better than Clowney's ever were at South Carolina.
3. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: DB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
The Miami Dolphins are an interesting club to project a draft pick for. There is young talent at quarterback, wide receiver and all along the offensive line. On defense the team has invested heavily in free agents on the defensive line and acquired a stud linebacker in Kiko Alonso via trade. That doesn't leave many needs on paper unless the team is going to give up on a young player somewhere.
Even so, if the Dolphins wanted to make an addition on the offensive line again in Round 1, there isn't a player worthy of the No. 3 draft pick. That points to a "best player available" approach for a club with on-paper talent and on-field struggles.
That best player is at Michigan, and he plays all over the place. Jabrill Peppers can play cornerback, safety, money 'backer, returner and even running back. He's built like an NFL outside cornerback at 6'1", 205 pounds, and has the speed to run with NFL receivers.
Where do the Dolphins play Peppers? Like one director of player personnel told me last year about Myles Jack, "You play him on defense."
4. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Fla.)
The San Francisco 49ers cannot go another year with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. In fact, the front office would probably trade Gabbert for any of the top three quarterbacks in this class right now. Whether it's current general manager Trent Baalke who makes the pick this April or a new GM, a decision has to be made at quarterback to improve the position long-term.
If you liked Teddy Bridgewater and Jared Goff—and boy, did I—then you'll like Brad Kaaya a lot. A tall, lean, smart quarterback with a ton of poise, Kaaya hasn't been on great Miami teams, but he's balled and won games while showing accuracy, smarts and instincts few college passers have. Now that he's working with Mark Richt, many of the old habits (back-foot throws were a big one) are gone.
Kaaya's tape may not wow like DeShone Kizer or Deshaun Watson from an athletic standpoint, but he will win NFL scouts over in the interview room. He's a top-level processor and has the quick decision-making skills to be an ideal fit in Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense, where you're ripping off plays every 60 seconds and need a quarterback who can win the game mentally.
5. New York Jets
The Pick: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
When draft season started, every scout in the country knew the Florida defense was loaded with talent. Anyone with some game tape could watch this team last year when scouting Keanu Neal, Vernon Hargreaves and Jonathan Bullard and see the cupboard was full again for 2016.
What's been a surprise is that junior Quincy Wilson has outplayed and outshined his more esteemed colleagues Jalen Tabor, Jarrad Davis, Caleb Brantley and Marcus Maye. In the four games I've charted, Wilson has allowed just four catches while grabbing two interceptions. And unlike Tabor, the other cornerback, Wilson is squeaky clean off the field.
The New York Jets have an expensive secondary, but the results this year have not been good. Even with an elite pass rush from the defensive line, the coverage has been disappointing. Adding a top-flight young cornerback who will eventually allow Darrelle Revis to move to safety is a smart play.
6. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: T Cam Robinson, Alabama
Let's be real here—there isn't an offensive tackle worth drafting in the top 10. Cam Robinson ranks outside the top 25 on my current big board. The issue is that some team will draft a tackle early. It happens every year. Robinson, with his size, athleticism and Alabama pedigree, is the most likely to go early.
If you're the San Diego Chargers, the only thing you need more than a new stadium is a left tackle. Keeping Philip Rivers upright and helping an improving Melvin Gordon in the run game is huge for the future of this team. Yes, adding a wide receiver or another pass-rusher is tempting, but nothing trumps that need for a blindside protector.
Robinson has talent, but there are questions too. He can be sluggish when moving off his spot at left tackle and struggles when he's not battling power. He played very well down the stretch in 2016 and has the tools to be a longtime NFL left tackle, but the floor for him is very low if he doesn't continue to develop.
7. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Where do we even start with this team?
The New Orleans Saints have big names and big salaries across the depth chart, but the on-field performance is once again down despite having a Hall of Fame quarterback, two very good wide receivers and building blocks at left tackle, defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. Some of the issues are no doubt due to injuries, but this roster is ill suited for the future.
That's where Deshaun Watson comes in. Look at what Dallas did in drafting Dak Prescott and you get an idea of how important it is to support an aging quarterback with a viable replacement. Garrett Grayson was thought by some to be that guy, but the former third-rounder has been relegated to practice squad duties. Now is the time for a "starter in waiting" pick.
Watson is an electric passer who is an exceptional fit for Sean Payton's offense. He can air it out down the field or pick up chunk plays on crossing and combination routes. Watson is also a talented runner and can easily execute the rollouts and play actions Brees has been so good at for the Saints.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Will the Indianapolis Colts ever give Andrew Luck some help?
General manager Ryan Grigson might not, but I will. Luck and Leonard Fournette can be the duo Luck and Trent Richardson were supposed to be when the team traded a first-round pick for him in 2013.
With an already strong corps of wide receivers, the Colts can use a top-10 pick on an elite talent at running back. There is a need for more offensive line help, but no players on the board are worthy of this selection. The same goes for defensive line, where Jonathan Allen would be tempting, but the Colts need edge-rushers more than a 3-4 defensive end.
Fournette's talents are well known, and in Indianapolis he could have David Johnson-like impact for an offense that is sorely lacking an identity.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
Tampa Bay has an awesome talent at wide receiver in Mike Evans but little else in the passing game with the decline of Vincent Jackson and the release of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. For Jameis Winston to reach his potential, new weapons are needed.
Mike Williams has been the top-ranked wide receiver on my board since the summer before the 2015 season. He lost last year to a freak injury when he collided with a goal post after selling out to catch a touchdown pass. But he's back now and once again dominating with size, length and smooth route-running skills.
Put Williams opposite Mike Evans and the Bucs offense starts wrecking teams.
10. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama
The Arizona Cardinals aren't recognizable on the field right now, and fans may want a young quarterback to be the pick here. Unfortunately, there isn't one after the top three that fits the value of the pick. Instead of getting younger at quarterback, the Cardinals can get younger on the defensive line by drafting the eventual replacement for Calais Campbell and a linemate for Robert Nkemdiche.
Allen is one of the best defenders in college football, and he was last year too. He's an elite pass-rusher at almost 300 pounds and has the football IQ to be a disruptor against the run and the pass. Allen doesn't make mistakes or get beaten off the ball. His bad plays are a wash with rare negatives on his film. That type of consistent, smart playmaker on the defensive line is exactly what Campbell has been for Arizona.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Another linebacker one year after selecting—no, stealing—Myles Jack in the second round? Yes, because the Jacksonville Jaguars need all the talent possible, and Reuben Foster is the best linebacker prospect I've seen since Patrick Willis.
Foster is a heat-seeking missile at linebacker. He plays fast, instinctive, aggressive football while showing the range and agility to make plays outside the tackle box. Too many Alabama linebackers get typecast as slow, in-the-box players. Foster isn't that. He's rangy as hell and has been a blur on the field all season long.
Foster and Jack would give Jacksonville an amazing young linebacking crew to build. With Jalen Ramsey at cornerback and Dante Fowler and Malik Jackson up front, this defense starts to look like a potentially elite one if the young talent can all develop to its potential.
12. Chicago Bears
The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, FSU
The Chicago Bears may win too many games to get in on the quarterback derby in the 2017 NFL draft, but the team can still capitalize on the amazing talent at running back in Round 1.
The Bears have a solid group of running backs but no clear-cut leader in the clubhouse. In Jeremy Langford they have speed, and Jordan Howard is a powerful back with good hands, but with Dalvin Cook you get a combination of both. Cook, a player I've compared to Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell, is a true threat as a runner and receiver with his breakaway speed and impressive power to finish runs.
Drafting a running back isn't the sexiest pick in the first round anymore, but if you can get an Ezekiel Elliott- or Todd Gurley-caliber back with pick No. 12 with no quarterback or left tackle on the board? That's an easy decision.
13. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Eli Apple was the No. 10 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, and he wasn't even the best cornerback at Ohio State. Gareon Conley was.
The junior cornerback has elite size (6'0", 195 lbs) and the athletic traits to serve as a No. 1 cornerback from day one in the NFL. He is tough, rangy and has the quick hips for a tall cover man to work against the bigger wideouts on the edge of an NFL offense.
Conley is the right mixture of tough and smooth, making him a fit in man or zone schemes. Coming out of the Ohio State defense, he's been prepared to handle NFL-level coaching and responsibilities. As the Panthers look to move on from Josh Norman and rebuild the secondary, it's Conley who can step in and become that alpha dog at cornerback.
14. Detroit Lions
The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU
With a quarterback, running back, left tackle and good wide receivers in place, it makes sense for the Detroit Lions to focus on defense if there is value when the pick comes on the board in the 2017 NFL draft. With Jamal Adams here waiting for his name to be called, there is indeed value.
Adams is an intriguing strong safety prospect thanks to his athleticism, range and ability to flip and run with tight ends or even slot receivers in the SEC. He's a punishing hitter some teams may see as a money 'backer (a la Deone Bucannon), but I see as a top-of-the-line strong safety in the Eric Berry mold.
Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs look like foundational pieces in Detroit, and adding Adams goes further to complete an already talented defense.
15. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Back-to-back picks at defensive end in Round 1 for the Buffalo Bills? Yes. It's that much of a need.
The Bills added Shaq Lawson last year in the first round and haven't yet seen his talent due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Pairing last year's dominant power defensive end with a top-tier end in this year's class could get Buffalo back to the days of scaring offensive tackles.
Barnett is tearing up the SEC with four sacks in his first five games but also with a charted 10 quarterback hurries in that time. His power and length are equal to (or better) than what Lawson brought to the table last year. Unlike so many of the speed rushers coming out of college these days, Barnett can play the run too.
16. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: OLB Charles Harris, Missouri
Right down I-70 there is a speedy, long, productive pass-rusher who could help the Kansas City Chiefs with the eventual decline of Tamba Hali and the frustrating lack of production from Dee Ford so far. His name is Charles Harris, and he was the one going for three sacks against Georgia at right defensive end.
Harris flashed last season and would have been a Round 1 player had he declared as a redshirt sophomore. He opted to head back to Missouri for at least one more season and thus far has been looking like the same ol' dominant end he was last year.
Harris would be a natural fit in Kansas City thanks to the length, power and ability to work offensive tackles with flexibility or strength on the go.
The Pick: DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State
General manager Scot McCloughan has focused on building a tough, physical football team since taking the job before the 2015 NFL draft but bypassed a huge need at defensive lineman for a wide receiver in this past draft class. The chance to right that wrong comes in the form of Michigan State defender Malik McDowell.
McDowell, at 6'6" and 276 pounds, looks the part of a 3-4 defensive end in the mold of a DeForest Buckner or Arik Armstead with his long arms and athletic frame. In Washington's defense, McDowell would be an instant starter and represents a youth movement that's sorely needed up front.
18. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: DE DeMarcus Walker, FSU
The Cincinnati Bengals have a solid group on the defensive line, but it's a group that's been together for a long while now. As Margus Hunt sees the field more in a contract year, there is a future need at defensive end creeping up on the roster.
Enter DeMarcus Walker.
The Florida State defensive end has been devastating to offensive tackles all season, posting 4.5 sacks against Ole Miss and then two more in the last two weeks. At 273 pounds, Walker is big enough to bump down to a 3-technique to give Cincinnati that "NASCAR" package teams love up front on third downs.
19. New York Giants
The Pick: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Christian McCaffrey is set to be one of the most polarizing and most debated players in the 2017 draft class. Teams will argue over where to play him given the incorrect perception he's a slot receiver or return man only.
A wise team will see McCaffrey's value for what he is—a running back—and select him in the first round because of his tools there as a runner and receiver. Add in his deadly ability in the return game, and McCaffrey is one of the best bets to make an instant impact in the 2017 rookie class.
The Giants may have bigger needs a year from now—another wide receiver would be tempting here—but the allure of McCaffrey in Ben McAdoo's offense will be too great to ignore one year after the team broke the bank to fix an aging defense.
20. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: EDGE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
How many years in a row will the Green Bay Packers ignore a need for a stand-up pass-rusher early in the draft? A better question: How many years in a row will they get away with it?
Dawuane Smoot isn't the big-name prospect that Myles Garrett, Carl Lawson or Derek Barnett is, but he's been tearing it up this season in his own right with 3.5 tackles for a loss and some of the most impressive game tape you'll see while offenses focus their protection calls to his side of the field.
Smoot hasn't produced a sack yet this season, but don't let that fool you about his impact and potential. He's 6'3", 255 pounds, and has the length to consistently stack up offensive linemen at the next level.
21. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
The Pick: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
The pick sent to Tennessee from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for the rights to move up and get Jared Goff results in No. 21 overall as of this time.
The Titans grabbed defensive end Myles Garrett with their first pick and will keep a focus on defense with the extra first-rounder. Malik Hooker—the man who grabbed three interceptions in his first two games as a redshirt sophomore and added 1.5 tackles for a loss and a sack in the next two—has the NFL draft community buzzing thanks to the multitalented ability he shows on game film.
In Tennessee, Hooker would be a natural free safety, but he's already shown the skill set to play either safety spot. It's still early for Hooker after he played behind Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell last season, but the ceiling of his potential is much higher than either player he sat behind last year.
22. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: DL Caleb Brantley, Florida
The Seattle Seahawks are now winning with the exact opposite roster style of what they built during the Super Bowl runs—a roster dominated by six or seven big salaries and supplemented by young talent either waiting to develop or average starters picked up in free agency. To get back to the winning ways and salary control they became known for, general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have to find starters in the draft.
Caleb Brantley is yet another star on the Florida defense and will be a top-50 prospect from the Gators defensive line—following in the footsteps of Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard. Brantley, a natural 3-technique pass-rusher, has the hand usage and leverage of an NFL veteran. He has been well coached at Florida to handle the run game and stack up blockers, but he also knows how to knife through an offensive line and use his athleticism to chase the quarterback.
23. Houston Texans
The Pick: S Justin Evans, Texas A&M
Andre Hal and Corey Moore are manning the depth chart for the Houston Texans at free safety. Just outside of town, at College Station, there is a free safety named Justin Evans who would be an immediate upgrade over both.
Evans is a ball hawk with size (6'1", 195 lbs) and excellent range to find and attack the ball in the air. He's also tough against the run and isn't afraid to come downhill and clean house when he sniffs out the run. Evans' ability to impact the game on three downs is exactly what NFL scouts need at the safety position after years of watching spread offenses leave the position guessing and grasping for air on too many tackle attempts.
24. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
We can thank B/R's Michael Felder for turning me on to Solomon Thomas during our NFL draft live show on Facebook last week (shameless plug, right?). He was right to do so, because Thomas is a monster at defensive end for the Cardinal.
Thomas often plays out of position as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense, but his natural position is as a defensive end rushing the passer. He does that with power, length and surprising quickness until you realize his stocky frame is actually 6'3" and 273 pounds—perfectly suited for a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
The Falcons are winning right now without much on defense, and the only fix for that will come with a better pass rush. Vic Beasley needs to improve, and the front office must add another pass-rusher with power moves. That's Thomas.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: CB Jalen Tabor, Florida
Jalen Tabor will be an interesting debate as draft time nears. He's been a shutdown cornerback at Florida and has the skill set and size that scouts drool over. He's also cocky and has served a suspension for fighting with a teammate. Tabor was also suspended in 2015 for "some choices he made," according to head coach Jim McElwain.
Suspensions can easily be overlooked by evaluators, but teammate-on-teammate crime doesn't usually go well when discussed behind closed doors. Scouts must dig to find out if Tabor is just immature or if there are deeper issues that could affect his on-field availability and performance.
When on the field, Tabor has the skills to be a top-15 pick. The Steelers, who grabbed Artie Burns in the past draft, could have a dynamic duo at cornerback for the next five seasons if they can get these two on the edge of the defense together.
26. New England Patriots
The Pick: CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
Jourdan Lewis is more than a human highlight reel—even if he's good at that. He's an exceptional zone-coverage cornerback with the footwork and length to come up and attack underneath routes. As shown in maybe the sweetest interception I've seen since Charles Woodson's one-handed sideline grab back in '97, Lewis has the recovery speed and hands to take away receivers in man coverage.
Lewis would be a fit at cornerback—inside or outside—in the New England Patriots' scheme. Malcolm Butler is locking down one side, but Lewis is exactly the kind of cornerback the team favors, as he comes from a major school, has ball skills that have been shown on the field and is a leader in the locker room.
27. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Another Ohio State Buckeye in the first round? It seems to be a new trend with defenders coming out of Columbus, and linebacker Raekwon McMillan makes it a projected three in the 2017 first round after the school sent five defenders to the first round of the NFL draft in the last three drafts combined.
McMillan isn't Ryan Shazier, and he's not Darron Lee, instead looking more like a young Dont'a Hightower thanks to his toughness and NFL-ready size. He's able to play strong-side or middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense like the one Oakland runs, but he would be a natural fit in the middle of the field as the captain and anchor of the Raiders defense.
28. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama
Tim Williams was set to be in the running as a top-15 draft pick before he was arrested on gun charges last week. How this ultimately affects his draft stock is yet to be seen—that won't be fully known until interviews are done and it's seen what type of off-field character Williams is—but the early look isn't good.
The NFL has shown us in recent years that almost anything can be forgiven if you're a good enough player, and the La'el Collins and Laremy Tunsil situations also point out that unknowns are ultimately the only factor that can crush your draft stock. With Williams, NFL teams will have seven months to investigate his character and see how he's wired. If he comes out with a misdemeanor charge and dominates as Alabama runs to another national title, this story will likely be forgotten by April.
Taking away the off-field issues for now, Williams would be a dynamic fit as an outside linebacker and defensive end in the Baltimore scheme. Of course, there is the Alabama connection with general manager (and Alabama great) Ozzie Newsome. That pipeline between Tuscaloosa and Baltimore could make the Ravens comfortable with taking Williams in the first round.
29. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: DE Devonte Fields, Louisville
Can the Dallas Cowboys take on another player—hell, another defensive end—with a past of off-field run-ins? That'll be a question the front office must answer if talented pass-rusher Devonte Fields is on the board when it's their turn.
Fields began his college career at TCU before being dismissed after it was alleged he assaulted his ex-girlfriend in 2014. He missed all but three games in 2013 due to a foot injury after a two-game suspension for what was called "a violation of university and team policy."
Since arriving at Louisville, Fields has been quiet off the field and disruptive on it, posting 22.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks in 13 games last season and already adding an interception, two TFLs and two sacks this year. That brings Fields' career sack total to 23, including his 2012 freshman season that saw him earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.
NFL teams must be comfortable with Fields—and in private conversation, some scouts and general managers have told me their teams will not draft a player with an assault charge in his background—but the talent is tempting given his quiet path since leaving TCU.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)
The Pick: WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
The removal of all things Chip Kelly from Philadelphia has been rewarding for general manager Howie Roseman and the new coaching staff, but the team is also without game-breakers at wide receiver and running back. With a first-round pick acquired in the Sam Bradford trade, the front office can be aggressive in adding a playmaker for the offense.
Isaiah Ford is a game-breaker with the deep speed to open up the Eagles offense and perfectly complement Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews as the possession and slot receivers. Ford's vertical style will also give big-armed Carson Wentz a threat when plays break down or he simply needs to air it out.
Other areas to consider would be cornerback or running back, but Ford's stock is rising, and his talents would be an ideal fit in Philadelphia.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: ILB Jarrad Davis, Florida
The loss of Danny Trevathan to the Chicago Bears hasn't been devastating to the Denver Broncos defense, but the need to consistently churn the roster and add young, athletic talent won't be lost on general manager John Elway when it comes draft time. If the chance is there to get another talented inside linebacker for the 3-4 defense, it makes sense.
Jarrad Davis is all over the field when you watch the Florida defense on film. No. 40 is the constant blur running from hash to hash, taking on blockers and finding the football. He's athletic, tough, rangy and brings heat behind his pads as a sure tackler in traffic and in space. While inside linebacker isn't likely atop the wish list of fans, Davis is an immediate player on a defense that is carrying the Broncos.
32. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)
The Pick: CB Desmond King, Iowa
The Cleveland Browns kicked off this draft with the selection of DeShone Kizer and end the first round with Desmond King of Iowa.
The Browns have holes all over the place, which makes a selection at cornerback smart in many ways. It's both a need and a value pick at the end of Round 1, as King has the ball skills and technique to play in a man or zone scheme right away. He's also a need for a team that needs to get younger and more aggressive in the secondary.
Drafting to help Joe Haden and then eventually replace him as the No. 1 cornerback on the roster is the kind of move the Browns wouldn't have made in the past, but they should with a smarter, more levelheaded crew running the show.