As we approach the final two rounds of the 2016-17 NFL postseason, a lot of teams are undoubtedly turning toward the looming offseason.
Unless you're the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons or Green Bay Packers, your team has little reason to linger on what was. Improvement is going to come largely through the upcoming free-agency period and the 2017 draft.
The draft is, of course, especially important for the long-term construction of NFL rosters. With the 2017 Senior Bowl also rapidly approaching, now is a perfect time to revisit the draft order and make some first-round predictions.
In addition, we will examine some of the latest hype surrounding some of the top projected draft selections.
2017 NFL Mock Draft
|Draft Order and Projections|
|1||Cleveland Browns||Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina|
|3||Chicago Bears||Jamal Adams, S, LSU|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU|
|5||Tennessee Titans (via LA)||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama|
|6||New York Jets||Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan|
|7||San Diego Chargers||Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee|
|10||Buffalo Bills||Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford|
|12||Cleveland Browns (via PHI)||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama|
|14||Indianapolis Colts||Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State|
|15||Philadelphia Eagles (via MIN)||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida|
|17||Washington Redskins||JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC|
|18||Tennessee Titans||Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan|
|20||Denver Bronvos||Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin|
|21||Detroit Lions||Charles Walker, DT, Oklahoma|
|22||Miami Dolphins||Teez Tabor, CB, Florida|
|23||New York Giants||Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt|
|24||Oakland Raiders||Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford|
|25||Houston Texans||Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan|
|28||Dallas Cowboys||O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama|
|29||Green Bay Packers||Charles Harris, DE, Missouri|
|30||Pittsburgh Steelers||Garett Bolles, OT, Utah|
|31||Atlanta Falcons||Sidney Jones, CB, Washington|
|32||New England Patriots||Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah|
Deshaun Watson Still Undecided on Senior Bowl
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson left college football with a pretty good final impression. He racked up 420 yards passing, 43 yards rushing, four total touchdowns and zero interceptions against the mighty Alabama defense. More importantly, he delivered a clutch, last-second victory and a national title to the Tigers.
Scouts will likely note how Watson overcame a sluggish start and several brutal hits from the Alabama defense to deliver when it mattered most. Watson's stock is likely as high now as it has been at any point this season.
Yet the signal-caller could have a prime opportunity to increase his stock even more by attending the Senior Bowl, to which he has been invited. By allowing NFL teams to get an up-close look at his preparation, practice habits and leadership skills, Watson could help show that he has what it takes to be a pro quarterback.
Watson has yet to commit to the Senior Bowl, though, and there could be a couple reasons for this. Those advising the quarterback could suggest to him that attending the Senior Bowl would only hurt his stock. If Watson is trying to work on mechanics issues prior to the scouting combine, he may want to avoid up-close scrutiny until then.
According to Dan Hope of the Anderson Independent-Mail, Watson will be working with former UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer in preparation for the draft process:
If Watson is trying to stay out of the spotlight while working on his flaws (and there's no guarantee this is the case), he may avoid the Senior Bowl because of the man who would be coaching him. Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson will be in charge of the South team, and the Browns hold the first and 12th overall picks in the draft.
Cleveland unquestionably needs a quarterback, and Watson may not be ready to make the best impression possible. Or perhaps Watson wants to avoid going to Cleveland altogether.
This is all speculation at this point, of course, but folks are likely to wonder if Watson is hiding something if he declines the invitation to attend.
Boulware Will Attend Senior Bowl
One Clemson standout who will be at the Senior Bowl is linebacker Ben Boulware.
The disruptive defender also shined in the national title game, amassing six tackles and two tackles for a loss. He was named Defensive Player of the Game.
During the 2016 season, Boulware racked up 116 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 4.0 sacks and an interception.
Boulware doesn't project as a first-round pick. In fact, Walter Football currently has him listed as a mid-round prospect. This is primarily because Boulware looks to be an inside linebacker at the pro level, and inside linebackers don't typically command the attention of pass-rushers or edge-setters.
"I think Ben Boulware is going to be an inside LB in a 3-4 defense," Optimum Scouting director Eric Galko recently told the Big O Show on 560 WQAM (h/t CBS 4 Miami).
Boulware will have the opportunity to increase his stock at the Senior Bowl even further.
If Boulware performs well in Senior Bowl practices and on the field, he could potentially rocket into the second day of the draft. He's a bit undersized at 6'0" and 235 pounds, but his motor and knack for dissecting plays will grab the attention of pro scouts.
The Senior Bowl will give Boulware the chance to show off his football IQ, as well.
Still, no one should be surprised if scouts and NFL executives spend much of the Senior Bowl picking Boulware's brain for insights into Watson—especially if the quarterback doesn't attend.
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Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett is considered by many to be the top defender—and potentially the top overall player—available in this year's draft. This makes him a realistic possibility for the Browns or the San Francisco 49ers at the very top of the draft (largely depending on if a quarterback goes first overall).
However, this doesn't guarantee that Garrett is going to have the most immediate impact on the defensive side of the football.
It can take time for a pass-rusher to adjust to the nuances of the pro game. Honing pass-rushing moves and countermoves can limit an edge-rusher's early rookie potential, while defensive backs can often get by on instinct and vision, at least in certain situations.
This is why Michigan hybrid linebacker/safety Jabrill Peppers may actually have the biggest immediate impact among defensive rookies, per ESPN's Booger McFarland:
This theory does make sense in a lot of ways. We've seen defensive backs like Marcus Peters and Jalen Ramsey step in and impact their respective defenses almost immediately in recent years. We've also seen hybrid defenders like Atlanta Falcons defender Keanu Neal have make immediate impacts this season.
Pro Football Focus rates Neal 21st overall among all NFL safeties for the 2016 regular season. That's pretty impactful.
Don't be surprised if Peppers goes extremely early in the draft if a team goes hunting for that immediate impact.