2017 NFL Mock Draft: Post Wild Card Round PredictionsJanuary 9, 2017
2017 NFL Mock Draft: Post Wild Card Round Predictions
With the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs in the books, only eight teams are alive. That means 24 squads league-wide have already flipped the page to the offseason.
With an updated draft order, we attempt to project an accurate mock draft four months before the real thing. Some franchises have vacancies at head coach and general manager, or coaches who are still rumored to be on the hot seat so it's difficult to pinpoint who those teams might target. Still, there's enough common sense out there to start matching prospects to schemes and the coaches who are safe.
If you're one of the unfortunate fans who is living stress-free during these winter weekends, watching football just for the enjoyment of the sport itself, then this is the mock draft for you. Players are still shuffling, we're still a week from underclassmen officially declaring and the All-Star cycle hasn't even started. But if you want a snapshot of what this draft looks like today, our first-round mock has you covered.
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, EDGE, Texas A&M
When you think of the most troubled organizations in the NFL, one of the first that comes to mind is that of the Cleveland Browns. What's amazing is that, throughout all of their turmoil as a franchise, the Browns haven't held the first overall pick since the 2000 draft, just one year after they were re-established as an NFL team.
The Browns became a doormat of the NFL for one reason: They've been bad, but not bad enough to gather the most talented players in college football. This year, it's almost consensus that the top player in the 2017 draft is Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, a premier pass-rusher.
Garrett's upside is similar to a Jason Pierre-Paul in his prime, and that is more than enough to warrant a first overall selection. NFL pass-rushers are getting quarterback money in the current league landscape.
In a class without a clear-cut signal-caller at the top, the best player available is the best option. That's Garrett, who had 31 career sacks at Texas A&M. For reference, Vic Beasley, who played four years at Clemson and jumped out of the gym at the combine, recorded 30 career sacks for the Tigers.
Garrett, with one less season, had more sacks in his college career than Beasley. The Aggie might be as athletic as a 10-top pick who led the league in sacks in his second NFL season. That matters, especially when the Browns front office is known to have analytical voices (like Paul DePodesta) in the room.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Allen, DL/EDGE, Alabama
It is incredibly hard to mock a player to a franchise without a standing general manager or head coach, but Alabama's Jonathan Allen is about as close to a safe bet as you're going to get.
Allen, who decided to return for his senior season in Tuscaloosa, is the heart and soul of Nick Saban's Crimson Tide defense. Allen is a full-blown star—the defender received more first-place Heisman Trophy votes than hybrid linebacker-running back Jabrill Peppers of Michigan, who visited the award ceremony as a finalist.
In recent years, the San Francisco 49ers used top-20 picks on defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, but they can still use some help up front. One reason why their defense gave up so many rushing yards in 2016—other than always playing behind—is that Buckner and Armstead were full-time defensive ends weighing in around 290 pounds.
Adding Allen into the rotation, as either a 3-4 defensive end, 3-4 outside linebacker, 4-3 defensive end or 4-3 under tackle, depending on what scheme San Francisco installs, could improve the play of everyone along the defensive line.
3. Chicago Bears: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
The Chicago Bears can't ride with quarterback Jay Cutler for much longer. If the Bears let him go, they can save $16 million in 2017, per Spotrac.
Behind Cutler on the depth chart, the team has:
- Brian Hoyer, an NFL journeyman
- Matt Barkley, who flashed talent in 2016 before regressing to his fourth-round expectations
- David Fales, who has bounced on and off the roster for three years
- Connor Shaw, who was cut by the 2016 Cleveland Browns before their 1-15 season
To say the least, the Bears have a poor quarterback situation. But they're also one of the few teams that can cut their highest-paid passer and start with a blank slate. In that context, DeShone Kizer, a gunslinger in the mold of Jameis Winston and Eli Manning, makes a lot of sense.
The Notre Dame product has the arm to make any NFL pass with velocity and he's young (a redshirt sophomore). Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is a sitting duck, and after starting the season as a top-10 team, the Irish finished the year ineligible for bowl season. Kizer probably made the right decision to leave South Bend, Indiana early.
Kizer needs some development, but he has all of the potential Winston did coming out of college, even though he's a streaky player. His ability to win may be an issue, but Eli faced the same questions, and he turned his NFL streaks into two Super Bowl rings. If Kizer can get a head coach or general manager that kind of success, he'll pay off his value instantly.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Let's think about this. The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't finish with another top-five draft selection because of shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball.
They need to improve on offense.
At quarterback, there's not much they can do, since Blake Bortles is still on his rookie contract after being selected as a first-round pick. This is also one of the worst offensive line classes in recent memory. And at receiver, the team already has a trio of talents in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.
In this situation, the best player for the Jaguars might just be Dalvin Cook of Florida State, a talented runner in the mold of Jamaal Charles, even though the squad already has Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, who provide average snaps for the team.
In the last three drafts, the Jaguars have used a first-round pick on a player from an in-state school. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Cook landing in northern Florida. If anything, it would be less surprising than the Bortles situation in 2014.
5. Tennessee Titans: Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee
The Tennessee Titans earned a top-five pick in 2017 by trading their 2016 first overall selection to the Los Angeles Rams, which was used to select quarterback Jared Goff. The Titans, who were a breath away from an AFC South title in 2016, didn't have much use for Goff after drafting Marcus Mariota a year earlier. But the pick they got in return can provide huge value to their franchise moving forward.
This year, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan combined for 19.5 of Tennessee's 40 sacks, but no one else on the team had more than five sacks on the entire season. At the same time, the Titans also missed out on Tennessee native Jalen Ramsey in the 2016 draft, who was selected at No. 5 by the in-division Jacksonville Jaguars and has become a vocal leader for that team.
Derek Barnett, a pass-rusher like Orakpo and Morgan, can help create a strong rotation on the edge for the team, while the Brentwood native can also be the long-term solution at a position with two aging veterans. Barnett, like Ramsey, was a visible leader on his college football team. When Barnett was healthy and on the field for the Volunteers, you could see the entire defense playing with a little more spark.
Despite only playing three seasons, Barnett recorded 32 sacks in his college career. That ranks seventh since 2005, per Sports-Reference.com, the best mark for a true junior or redshirt sophomore.
6. New York Jets: Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
The New York Jets have a problem: edge-rusher. When they get into long and late downs, it's hard for the Jets to get after the quarterback naturally, because they have large bodies like Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson on the field.
Due to that fact, they frequently have to send inside linebackers on stunts, meaning the back end of their defense is often man. When a cornerback like Darrelle Revis has a significant decline, that combination leads to massive breakdowns in coverage. (The Buffalo Bills faced a similar issue in 2016.)
This is a solvable problem, but it comes down to talent. You either have to get after the quarterback at a high level or cover at a high level to win NFL football games. The Jets can't do either right now.
Tim Williams of Alabama, similar in style and athleticism to Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons, is a perfect plug-and-play prospect for New York. He could immediately help on long and/or late downs, where the team currently struggles.
Despite the fact that he has played under 50 percent of the snaps at Alabama because of his fit in Nick Saban's scheme, Williams has still recorded 18.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons.
7. San Diego Chargers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
The San Diego Chargers already have a great cornerback in Jason Verrett (when he's healthy). This past year, they signed the best bang-for-your-buck cornerback on the free-agency market in Casey Hayward, who previously played for the Green Bay Packers.
Still, it seemed like every Chargers game in 2016 ended with quarterback Philip Rivers being down a touchdown with 2:00 to go. If the team wants to win in more ways than just shootouts, it needs to take the next step by adding a ball-hawking safety.
Malik Hooker of Ohio State is one of the more talented free safety prospects in recent memory, and after hitting a home run with Joey Bosa, it wouldn't be shocking if the Chargers double-dipped on first-round Buckeyes in back-to-back drafts. If Hooker joined Verrett and Hayward, they would come close to the secondary talent of the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and New York Giants.
As we've seen recently, that's enough to carry a team into the playoffs.
8. Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
In a vacuum (and a downhill running scheme), Dalvin Cook is a better running back than Leonard Fournette. But Fournette does offer upside in a power-heavy rushing attack. If you look at the Carolina Panthers, whose top back is a 29-year-old Jonathan Stewart, you see a nice fit for Fournette.
The team's interior offensive line is strong. Fournette can be a complement early on, but he'd have an easy long-term path to the starting job. He'd also have a dual-threat quarterback in Cam Newton who could make Fournette even harder to follow in the backfield.
Fournette shouldn't fall because he didn't suit up for a bowl game. The eighth overall pick, as long as the Panthers hold it, very well could be his floor in April.
Without a major tackle prospect on the board, it's hard to pin down another direction that the Panthers could take.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Malik McDowell, EDGE/DL, Michigan State
Some teams look for specific position traits that make for perfect fits in their schemes. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals like long and heavy defensive ends. That's why they've stuck so long with Margus Hunt, despite his poor play, and Michael Johnson, through two stints, across from stalwart Carlos Dunlap.
They need to upgrade the position, but in today's spread game, it's hard to find defensive ends who are the size the Bengals are looking for. That's where Malik McDowell, who split time on the edge and at defensive tackle with the Michigan State Spartans, comes in handy.
McDowell measures in at 6'5", 276 pounds, which is close to what the Bengals like in their defensive ends. Though McDowell did get some defensive tackle looks in college, it's hard to imagine him playing inside of the tackles often, just because he's light and long, which hurts in the quick leverage battle in the trenches.
Think of McDowell like a more athletic DeForest Buckner. He's a talented but not elite 3-4 defensive end who can also be a heavy end in 4-3 defenses and kick inside for long and late downs.
10. Buffalo Bills: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
The biggest issue for the Buffalo Bills during the Rex Ryan era was that they weren't talented enough on the back end of their defense to be as aggressive as they were up front. No matter who the Bills install at head coach and defensive coordinator, they need to fix that if they want to progress in 2017.
Jamal Adams of LSU might be the best player in the class that no one is talking about. He doesn't post turnovers like Tyrann Mathieu did in Baton Rouge. He doesn't have the upside of a Malik Hooker (though he doesn't miss tackles like Hooker does, either). He isn't a big-name return man like Jabrill Peppers.
Adams just does everything the right way, which is enough in the secondary. Remember, the best thing you can do as a defensive back is eliminate your zone as an option. Quarterbacks don't challenge Adams often, and he doesn't get shaken in the running game either.
He might even be athletic enough to kick outside as a long cornerback. In some ways, he's like Damarious Randall, who has been Green Bay's No. 1 cornerback for most of the season after being drafted as a first-round college safety in 2015. But Adams is much more refined and physical in all areas.
11. New Orleans: Solomon Thomas, EDGE, Stanford
Solomon Thomas might have ended his career on a higher note than anyone else in college football this season. After two years of being the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12, Thomas dominated the Sun Bowl against North Carolina—though his performance was overshadowed by Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey's choice not to play at all.
In the end, Thomas ran through the Tar Heels offensive line, including a highlight sack against Mitch Trubisky, a potential first-round quarterback in this draft class. When you look at the New Orleans Saints defensively, they're improving, but they still have little to no help on the edges other than Cameron Jordan.
Thomas, like Jordan, has a background in a 3-4 defense, but he has played plenty of even-front looks while at Stanford. The athletic redshirt sophomore can play outside, kick inside in pass-rushing situations and he has no major hole to his game.
12. Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
If the Cleveland Browns go best player available with the first overall pick, they still need to draft a quarterback in the first round. In a league where a highly paid head coach like Chip Kelly can get fired after one season, the Browns staff doesn't have years to build a competitor after earning the top pick in the draft.
This selection came from the Philadelphia Eagles, who swapped it to trade up for North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz last draft. The Browns could use the pick to add a quarterback of their own—like Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.
Watson is somewhere between Vince Young and Teddy Bridgewater as a prospect. He's consistent and risk-adverse, and he offers all the upside associated with mobile quarterbacks.
Watson was widely crowned the top passer in the 2017 draft after his performance against Alabama in the 2016 CFP National Championship. He has a chance to repeat that performance, as Clemson will play the Crimson Tide in the title game in back-to-back years. If Browns head coach Hue Jackson was a fan of Robert Griffin for his dual-threat potential, Watson should be right up his alley.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has massively regressed from the first three-fourths of the 2015 regular season. Bruce Arians' offense needs quality vertical play from its quarterback, which is why the Cardinals went from 13-3 last year to missing the playoffs in 2016.
If you're wondering who Josh Allen is, you're not the only one. Think of Allen as this class' Blake Bortles. He's a strong-armed, mid-major quarterback who needs years of development at the pro level, but he has the raw talent to be a franchise passer.
For what it's worth, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has discussed Bortles in the past, and if Arizona wants to get in front of the Palmer decline, there aren't many options in college football for a vertical passer. Allen played under head coach Craig Bohl at Wyoming, the same man who built up the North Dakota State program and recruited Carson Wentz, who was drafted second overall last season.
14/15. Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles
Because of the NFL's tiebreaker protocol, the 14th and 15th overall picks in the 2017 draft will be decided by a coin toss at the combine in Indianapolis, with the picks going to the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles receive this first-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings after trading away quarterback Sam Bradford the week before the season kicked off.
Indianapolis Colts: Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan
The Indianapolis Colts can't be choosers—they're beggars on the defensive side of the ball. They have no identity, and it's hard to call anyone but 28-year-old cornerback Vontae Davis a game-changer on their team.
Jabrill Peppers of Michigan was a Heisman Trophy finalist as a defensive player, which is about as big of a compliment as you can give to a player on that side of the ball. He might even be able to help out the team as a running back, another weak position for the Colts, as he was able to handle backfield touches with the Wolverines during his career.
Getting Peppers as a linebacker or a safety (which are just more broad terms for an overhang defender) would give the Colts an instant identity to rally around. That's something they've needed for years.
Philadelphia Eagles: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
If you watched any of the Alabama-Washington game, you were probably wondering where in the world John Ross was. Marlon Humphrey, a 6'1" redshirt sophomore, wiped Washington's star receiver off the board in a Crimson Tide blowout win.
Humphrey, whose father Bobby was an All-American running back for the Tide, was born to be a talented football player. In the NFL, length and athleticism matter more than anything at the cornerback position, and the long former track star checks both of those boxes.
The Philadelphia Eagles struggled with receivers this season—their opponents' and their own. Humphrey can at least get their secondary moving in the right direction, especially after they traded 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe after just one season at the beginning of autumn.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
After the Clemson Tigers lost receiver Mike Williams for most of 2015 to a neck injury, Williams bounced back with a 90-reception season, helping Clemson vault into the national title game against Alabama in back-to-back seasons.
Steve Smith is retiring, Breshad Perriman isn't living up to first-round expectations and Mike Wallace is living and dying with his speed as a 30-year-old. Baltimore needs more talent in its receivers room. With Joe Flacco locked up at quarterback through at least the 2022 offseason, the team needs someone who can help its passing offense long-term.
Williams, who is on the DeAndre Hopkins-Jordy Nelson spectrum as a borderline possession receiver, could be a big get for Baltimore down the line.
17. Washington Redskins: Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
The Washington Redskins franchise-tagged quarterback Kirk Cousins last offseason in hopes that his price would go down or he would sign a team-friendly contract before the 2017 season. As of this point, even though Washington missed the playoffs, neither outcome seems likely.
If Cousins hits the open market, he should net about $25 million a year—similar to his salary under a second consecutive franchise tag from Washington. Even if the team does slap the tag on him again, there's a chance that Cousins holds out on principle or demands a trade.
At some point, you have to ask yourself how much trouble you're willing to go through to pay a quarterback more than he's worth (even if the market dictates it). If Washington decides that Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are enough pass-catching weapons to transition a quarterback in, you might see a controversy similar to when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Andy Dalton with Carson Palmer still on the roster.
If Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina is still on the board here, he'd be an interesting candidate. Though he only started for one year in a spread-heavy system, he compares similarly to Ryan Tannehill as a prospect.
Would you rather have current Cousins for $100 million over four years, or a Tannehill clone, who at this point in the draft would make about $11 million over four years? The choice is simple if you're willing to buy into the passer.
18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR, Washington
The Tennessee Titans need help at wide receiver. At the end of the season, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride and Marc Mariani were the team's wideouts.
While quarterback Marcus Mariota has clearly elevated the franchise, the Titans are still lacking a bit in the passing game, because their young quarterback has no one to throw to. Even their 2015 second-round pick, wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, was traded after just one season.
Mariota can't calibrate the deep ball well, but that can be fixed if he gets reps with a high-quality deep threat. If you're looking for that talent in this draft, the top player on the list is John Ross, who played with Mariota's rivals in the Pac-12, the Washington Huskies.
Hailing from Long Beach, California, Ross is about as close as you're going to get to DeSean Jackson in a college football prospect. In Tennessee's offense, he'd be a great threat between the 20s to test teams deep, run gadget plays and execute screens.
Despite his listed 5'11" frame, which looks even smaller next to other college players, Ross did an amazing job of scoring in the red zone. 12 of his 17 touchdown receptions came inside the 20-yard line in 2016.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
At some point, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to make it a priority to protect Jameis Winston's blindside. Before he arrived in Tampa, they had the worst record in the league.
After you get a quarterback in the NFL, you find people who protect him or you find defenders who get after other teams' quarterbacks. With the additions of Robert Ayers and Noah Spence last offseason, it's the Buccaneers' turn to look at offensive line.
This isn't a great year for bookends by any means, but for the past three seasons, Cam Robinson has been considered the best tackle prospect in the 2017 class.
Robinson has mental lapses when he doesn't play up to his true talent, which might come down to the lack of threats lining up across from him in the SEC. But he has just about every trait you could ask for from a bookend prospect, including a mean streak. He's no Laremy Tunsil, but in the late teens, you could come up with worse value picks than upgrading from Donovan Smith to Robinson.
20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
The Denver Broncos might not have to leave the Mountain Time Zone to find their next left tackle. Garett Bolles, who will be a 25-year-old rookie next season, only played one year at the University of Utah after transferring from Snow College, a junior college in Utah. But he proved enough against Pac-12 competition to earn a spot in this draft class.
Bolles is listed on NFL Draft Scout at 6'5" and 296 pounds with a 4.97-second 40-yard dash. While that drill isn't a total measure of a player's athleticism, it's at least a reflection of Bolles' on-field talent. His projected 40 time is in the 95th percentile historically among offensive tackle prospects, per MockDraftable.
Denver signed Russell Okung to a deal with a one-year out for John Elway and Co. As it stands right now, there's little reason to lock into a long-term contract with a 29-year-old tackle outside of the structure of the open market.
21. Detroit Lions: Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
In 2016, the Detroit Lions had to win via shootouts under quarterback Matthew Stafford. They simply couldn't run the ball or play defense effectively.
In the passing game, teams completed 73 percent of throws against the Lions. That's an amazing statistic, and it's also why Detroit ended its season on a massive cold stretch, including a one-game appearance in the playoffs.
If a player like Teez Tabor slips all the way down to Detroit's lap, they have to pull the trigger on a talent like his. Tabor has made back-to-back first-team All-SEC teams, which is a big deal considering some of the best defensive back coaches in the world are developing some of the best recruits in the world in the Southeastern Conference currently.
Matching a Tabor, who should easily measure in over 5'11", opposite of Darius Slay should get rid of a lot of the Lions' headaches defensively. You're only as good as your weakest link on the back end.
22. Miami Dolphins: Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
Defensive end Cameron Wake will turn 35 years old this month. Defensive end Mario Williams is turning 32 years old this month. Defensive end Andre Branch is going to be 28 years old next season, and he's posted an inconsistent career so far.
Defensive end Dion Jordan will enter next season as a 27-year-old former third overall pick who has one start to his name in his NFL career. The most important position on the football field, other than quarterback, is pass-rusher, and the Miami Dolphins have a whole lot of issues on the horizon at the position.
Carl Lawson of Auburn is being overlooked by the established talents of Jonathan Allen, Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett at his position in the SEC, and he's not a hidden-enough gem like Alabama's Tim Williams to receive a lot of the "sleeper" talk from the conference media down south. Lawson has been one of the more consistent talents, when healthy, during his college career though.
For example, Lawson went toe-to-toe with Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil, a 2016 first-round pick, better than anyone else did in his college career. If Lawson joined in with the Dolphins, allowing them to move on from Williams and Jordan, and transitioning Wake into a full-time rotational role like Dwight Freeney in Arizona and Atlanta over the last few seasons, he could make an instant impact all over the board in Miami.
23. New York Giants: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Reuben Foster has been a player used in a rotational role with the Alabama Crimson Tide for years, but it wasn't until last season that he took over as a full-time starter. The inside linebacker is a huge part of Nick Saban's 3-4 defense, and he was rewarded this season by being named a consensus All-American.
Foster has the flexibility and athleticism to potentially play all three roles in a 4-3 defense. That is a great attribute if he were to join the New York Giants, as they have had massive issues filling out their linebacker unit for years.
Though they re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and signed both Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins this offseason, their defense has improved greatly, but they still need to improve between the line of scrimmage and secondary. Foster might be more talented than anyone they have in their linebacker room at the moment.
24. Oakland Raiders: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie learned under Ted Thompson, who learned under Ron Wolf who learned under Al Davis. All of them have about the same mantra when it comes to the cornerback position: long and fast.
As a mold, cornerbacks in this tree are similar to a Charles Woodson, Al Harris or Mike McKenzie, players right around 6'0" who have the recovery speed to keep up with most receivers. If you're looking at someone who can check off those boxes in this class, it's Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State, who might have the highest upside of any cornerback in this class, if he's able to reach his peak.
In his first two seasons in Columbus, Lattimore only played in seven total games, but his breakout season of 2016, as a starter, vaulted him into the spotlight of not only college football, but the draft community. The Oakland Raiders absolutely fell into the tank when quarterback Derek Carr went down with an injury, because they were a shootout team that could only compete through the air offensively.
In 2017, they need to get better on the defensive side of the ball, and that starts with their secondary since they already have a quality pair of pass-rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
25. Houston Texans: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
The most valuable player of the 2015-16 national championship game was Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Howard is one of the most athletic tight end prospects in recent memory, but like many players for the Crimson Tide he is kept from playing his best role as a prospect compared to what is best for the team.
You can't blame a college coaching staff for playing a prospect in a position that gives the team a chance to win. Unfortunately, that means Howard, who has the potential to rip off a 200-yard game, is used often as a blocking tight end.
The Houston Texans have an issue: Their quarterbacks aren't good. They have another issue: Their quarterbacks look at their tight ends just as much as they do their star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and first-round rookie Will Fuller.
If you want to improve offensively, which Houston needs to do, and you know those two factors, then it's clear your team needs to upgrade at tight end. There's no better option this year than Howard, and with Bill O'Brien's background as an offensive coordinator in New England, it shouldn't be too hard to get the ball in one of his tight ends' hands.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Two years ago, a former Green Bay front office member in current Kansas City general manager John Dorsey selected a cornerback out of Washington by the name of Marcus Peters. A former first-round pick, Peters has made two Pro Bowls in two years in the NFL.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson must find his Peters in this draft with Sidney Jones, who also plays for Washington. Under Dom Capers, it's almost mandatory that cornerbacks be long and speedy to play in his scheme, and Jones should be high on their defensive backs list considering this.
This year, they've struggled because they have players transitioning from safety to cornerback, or from other sports to cornerback, or from receiver to cornerback, or are just too young to know Capers' complex scheme or are flat-out slow playing outside.
No one on the Packers' roster was ready to step up as a No. 1 cornerback, especially after losing Davon House, Tramon Williams and Casey Haward in just a few offseasons, other than Sam Shields, who missed the vast majority of this season with a concussion.
With Shields' health status up in the air for 2017 and the Packers needing an immediate hole-plugger at the cornerback position, a slipping Jones donning a green and gold jersey on draft day makes about as much sense as anything.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
At some point, the experiments in Seattle surrounding the Seahawks' offensive line have to stop. You don't need to move a tackle to guard and to center. You don't need to draft the athletic tackle who can't get out of his stance and move him to guard. You don't need to play the basketball player or the converted defensive lineman.
Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin is the third of three first-round-caliber tackles coming out of college football and if the Seahawks are lucky enough to still have a chance to pick him with the 26th overall pick, they should be running to the podium. He doesn't have much experience since he's a Division III transfer, but he has the strength, length, mean streak and feet you expect from a first-round selection at the position.
Protecting Russell Wilson is a must, considering the fact the Seahawks run their offense through his backyard style of play, and we've seen how vulnerable their defense gets when they lose just one key piece like safety Earl Thomas down the stretch.
28. Atlanta Falcons: Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida
Last year, there were plenty of talented defensive tackles who were drafted early on. This year, the market is fairly thin, but the best true defensive tackle in the class is Caleb Brantley of Florida.
Last year, we saw the Dan Quinn connection flashed when the team selected Keanu Neal as their first-round safety and Brian Poole was added as an undrafted slot cornerback. Quinn, who was the defensive coodinator for Florida before moving on with the Seattle Seahawks, may still be close to the program, which could give him a leg up on Brantley.
Right now, Grady Jarrett, who is built more like a 3-technique tackle than a nose tackle, is playing nose tackle for the Falcons. If they can rotate Jarrett and Brantley between 1-technique and 3-technique penetrators like the Carolina Panthers do with their defensive tackle duo, then this selection would improve two positions, next to each other, with one selection.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
There's no promise that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to re-sign running back Le'Veon Bell this offseason. If they don't, they don't have many options.
If they want to continue to win with their triplets style of play with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and an all-around running back, with Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette off of the board, the next best option is Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.
Like Bell, McCaffrey contributes as a pass-catcher and might be able to split outside in the NFL at times, too. He's not Bell, but if you're trying to replace Bell with someone on a rookie contract, there's no better option left on the board than McCaffrey.
In three years at Stanford, the running back had 3,915 rushing yards, 1,213 receiving yards and 1,859 return yards. If you need yards, he's your guy.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Derrick Johnson has had a great career in the NFL, but the athletic linebacker is a 34-year-old who is currently on the injured reserve list. When Alex Smith is playing quarterback for you, you need a near-flawless defense.
At inside linebacker, the Chiefs need to catch up with the rest of that side of the ball. Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt is an interesting prospect because he's a flexible piece like K.J. Wright, though he might be smaller, who can move around on the line of scrimmage to a near-safety role at times.
Cunningham may need to have bodies kept off of him inside, but that's been Johnson's narrative during his entire career and Kansas City has already figured that puzzle out. After posting 256 tackles in the SEC, including 42 behind the line of scrimmage, there couldn't be a better landing spot for Cunningham than to play in Arrowhead Stadium.
31. Dallas Cowboys: Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best defensive minds in the league in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who also helped coach the Super Bowl-winning defense of the early 2000s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's not a coincidence that players like Maliek Collins and David Irvin made strides later in their young careers after Marinelli started to get his hands on them.
As long as you can stay on the field, Marinelli can get you to meet your athletic potential, or at least he gets players to that range more often than any other coach in the league. When you watch Charles Harris of Missouri, a declared redshirt junior, you see one thing: incredible explosion off of the line of scrimmage.
Harris has a counter move, a vicious spin that will remind you of Minnesota's Everson Griffen. Other than that? Nothing. That's enough of a start, though, and his upside is high.
Everything he's average at can be coached. Marinelli is a living example of "so you're saying there's a chance," in coaching. If Harris lands in Dallas, it's the best-case scenario for his career moving forward.
32. New England Patriots: Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
Last offseason, the New England Patriots traded away Chandler Jones, their star pass-rusher, to the Arizona Cardinals. They replaced him, at least in terms of a roster spot, with Chris Long, formerly of the Rams.
Long has done a decent job as a replacement in the rotation, which includes Jabaal Sheard, another free-agent signing, and Trey Flowers, a breakout second-year player, but the team doesn't have a true No. 1 pass-rusher heading into 2017. That's an issue, considering the fact it's the most important position in the sport.
The highest upside of any pass-rusher in this draft class might be Takkarist McKinley of UCLA. Somehow, he's only a 21-year-old, despite the fact he's a senior prospect who transferred from the junior college ranks.
He's an insane athlete, and he may get linked to DeMarcus Ware in terms of comparisons around the combine and Senior Bowl, but he need to fix his pad-level issues sooner than later. If Belichick can refine this gem, he could have his first star defensive end since Richard Seymour.