2017 NFL Mock Draft: Post-Senior Bowl Update
Reese's Senior Bowl week is counted among the NFL's most important offseason events.
From Sunday through Thursday of that week, Mobile, Alabama, becomes the NFL's unofficial headquarters. Nearly all of the league's coaches, scouts and front office personnel descend upon the Port City.
It's not only the top all-star contest with the best overall collection of collegiate talent; information is exchanged, and a few hires inevitably occur.
The game is played on Saturday, but most league personnel have already left by that point, as the contest is considered the least important part of the week's festivities. (This year, the South Team captured a victory over the North Team, and MVP honors went to Cal quarterback Davis Webb.)
Instead, organizations concentrate on getting accurate measurements for all the contestants, rely on evening meetings to get their first feeling of these young individuals and see how the players perform and/or improve throughout the practice week.
The performances impact how certain talents are perceived. Inevitably, a handful of future first-round selections play in the game.
In the previous five Senior Bowls, 29 individuals went on to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. The league is littered with other participants—such as quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Derek Carr—who were drafted outside of the first round and still developed into stars.
Bleacher Report slotted four of this year's Senior Bowl performers in the first round of its latest mock draft. Despite a low point total, the game still provided a strong glimpse into the NFL's future.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
This selection should not change anytime soon.
Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is the obvious choice for the No. 1 overall pick. The 21-year-old defender shouldn't be considered a consolation prize in a class without a clear top quarterback prospect.
Garrett is everything a top talent should be: He's a freakish athlete, plays a premium position and has the potential to develop into one of the NFL's best defensive ends in time.
Though Garrett production dipped as a junior and he often faced inferior competition, he played the majority of the campaign with an ankle injury in an effort to help his team. When healthy, he proved to be a terror.
In the Aggies' season opener against future NFL offensive tackle Conor McDermott and the UCLA Bruins, Garrett demonstrated his quick-twitch ability, a myriad of pass-rush moves and an ability to convert speed into power.
Other teams at the top of the draft can agonize over taking a quarterback instead of top defensive talent. The Browns' decision is easy.
"If Myles Garrett isn't a Cleveland Brown, I'll be floored," said an anonymous scout at the Senior Bowl, per CBS Sports' Dane Brugler. "Can't overthink it."
2. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Indecision sets in at No. 2 overall. The San Francisco 49ers don't have the same luxury as the Cleveland Browns in regard to a default position due to an obvious talent. This is where the quarterback-needy Niners gamble on a top signal-caller or decide the defensive options (such as LSU's Jamal Adams, Ohio State's Malik Hooker, Alabama's Jonathan Allen and teammate Reuben Foster) are too talented to overlook.
Though those four may tempt San Francisco, Stanford's Solomon Thomas has the potential to become a wrecking ball in the NFL. At a listed 6'3" and 273 pounds, Thomas can line up as a base end or 3-technique. The 21-year-old defensive end is strong at the point of attack and has the ability to stack and shed much bigger offensive linemen.
He couples his ability as a run defender with a relentless motor that translates into pocket pressure. This past season, Thomas led his team in both tackles (62) and sacks (eight).
Though the 49ers have major needs on both sides of the ball, they have the opportunity here to build an identity through their defensive front.
3. Chicago Bears
The Pick: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Every team at the top of the draft should heed Joe Thomas' words.
"I think you've got to be careful reaching for a quarterback at No. 1 because if they fail, they don't help your team at all," the Pro Bowl left tackle said in a recent interview on the Dan Patrick Show. "Whereas if you pick a defensive lineman and maybe they don't live up to the hype, you can still find a place to get them on the field and to have an impact."
The Cleveland Browns offensive lineman was responding to a question about what his team should do with the No. 1 overall pick, but his answer applies to every organization in the top 10 considering a quarterback.
Alabama's Jonathan Allen is arguably the safest pick in the 2017 NFL draft, which is why the Chicago Bears should select him at No. 3. Though Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and Stanford's Solomon Thomas offer more upside, Allen is a polished prospect who will provide some type of impact.
Allen can start as a 5- or 3-technique. He's a proficient defensive lineman who excels with his technique as much as his raw strength and athleticism. Plus, he's a disruptive interior pass-rusher.
The major concern with Allen is that he had at least two shoulder surgeries during his time in Tuscaloosa and may have gone under the knife a third time, per Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. If he checks out medically, nothing stands between him and a top selection.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Jacksonville Jaguars running backs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory combined for 904 rushing yards during the 2016 campaign. Neither averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry.
While the Jaguars invested a lot in both players, they still need an upgrade at the position. General manager Dave Caldwell is open to the possibility.
This is an important year for Jacksonville. After hiring head coach Doug Marrone and executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin, the team is expected to win now. It has the talent in place to do so, but plenty of concern surrounds the quarterback position since Blake Bortles regressed in 2016.
"I've said this time and time again: 'I think we can win a lot of games with Blake; I think we can win a Super Bowl with Blake," Caldwell told Sexton.
For Bortles to reach his potential, he needs help. A strong ground game would go a long way in taking pressure off the young quarterback.
"It's one of the better running back years," Caldwell mentioned.
LSU's Leonard Fournette tops the class. His combination of power and big-play ability would make him an ideal addition alongside Bortles and wideouts Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
Wide receiver Rishard Matthews led the Tennessee Titans in both receptions and receiving yards during the 2016 NFL campaign. He didn't rank higher than 30th overall league-wide in either category.
Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker are nice options, but they're not game-changing talents. They're reliable targets for quarterback Marcus Mariota, but he would benefit from a player who he could count on to consistently win 50-50 balls.
Mariota is already the league's most efficient quarterback in the red zone, per 4for4 Fantasy Football's TJ Hernandez. Imagine if he had a legitimate red-zone target.
Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams would be just that. His size (6'3", 225 lbs) coupled with his extraordinary body control often helps him make something out of nothing, as he can convert mistakes and errant passes into big plays due to his massive catch radius.
Former first-round pick Kendall Wright is a free agent and Walker turns 33 years old this summer, so general manager Jon Robinson needs to continue retooling his pass-catching corps. Dating back to his days with the Oregon Ducks, Mariota has never played with a true No. 1-caliber wide receiver, but Williams would give him just that.
6. New York Jets
The Pick: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
The New York Jets are in the same position as multiple others in the top 10. Though they're in desperate need of a franchise signal-caller, they must weigh the positives and negatives of passing on a superior defensive talent for what may be an inferior quarterback prospect.
The likes of Clemson's Deshaun Watson and North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky may be tempting, but New York can't pass up Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who tied for the second-most interceptions (seven) among all FBS players this past season. He turned three of those takeaways into touchdowns.
Hooker's range is what separates him from other safeties. Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks is widely considered the NFL's premier safety because no one can duplicate his ability to cover ground from sideline to sideline. He'll have some competition once Hooker enters the league.
The Ohio State product is a ball hawk with tremendous physical tools and the potential to develop into the league's top free safety. He could wind up being a top-five pick, which makes him a steal at No. 6.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU
At No. 7 overall, the Los Angeles Chargers need to prioritize safety since Jahleel Addae is a free agent and Dwight Lowery is 31 years old. Though Ohio State's Malik Hooker holds an edge over LSU safety Jamal Adams due to his ball skills, Adams is a more physical and intimidating presence, making him a strong fit.
"You can't get too caught up in whatever negatives you want to find on him because that position in the pros takes a different level of physicality and a different mindset," an AFC personnel man told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He's got what you want if safety is a priority position for your defense."
Adams has the ability to play in the box and drop into coverage, while Lowery and Addae fit the more traditional roles of free and strong safety. Even if the Chargers retain Addae, all three of the safeties can play together in big nickel packages.
To become better and more consistent, the Chargers must acquire the type of talent that makes it difficult for opponents to contain. They did so a year ago with Joey Bosa. They can do it again by selecting Adams.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Since Dave Gettleman took over as the Carolina Panthers' general manager in 2013, the organization has selected a defensive lineman with four of its eight first- and second-round picks. The trend shouldn't end this year.
After free agency, Gettleman might need to replace defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison. The general manager already planned ahead last year when he selected Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler in the first round to potentially replace Kawann Short, who joins Johnson and Addison as free agents.
With a top-10 pick at their disposal, the Panthers can't overlook the opportunity to add another edge presence. It's hard to overlook the production, technique and overall effectiveness of Tennessee's Derek Barnett, who led all SEC players in sacks (13.0) and tackles for loss (19.0) this past season.
However, Barnett isn't a dynamic pass-rusher, which is why some scouts are questioning his athleticism.
"He's physical and he's got great production, but some scouts just don't think he'll be able to translate those numbers to the pros because he's not very explosive off the ball," an anonymous scout told Zierlein. "He won't overpower NFL tackles like he did in college."
If Barnett does pan out, he'd join Kony Ealy, Star Lotulelei and Butler to form a talented, albeit tweaked, defensive front.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Outside of Vontaze Burfict, who is only 26 years old, two of the Cincinnati Bengals' other starting linebackers—Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby—are both on the wrong side of 30. Dansby is also a free agent, and Maualuga's future with the team is uncertain with only one year remaining on his current deal.
As such, the Bengals need to address linebacker in the draft. Reigning Butkus Award winner Reuben Foster would be a welcome addition, even if he's not the best Alabama linebacker to enter the NFL in recent years.
"He's not as good as [C.J.] Mosley was, but he's good," an anonymous scout told NJ.com's Mark Eckel. "He'll make plays."
Mosley, who the Baltimore Ravens selected with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, excels when asked to work in space. Foster, who could be chosen among this year's top 10 selections due to his physicality and improved athleticism, is a far more intimidating presence.
Though he may never develop the same comfort level in coverage as Mosley, Foster provides more against the run and while rushing the passer. During their respective final years on campus, Foster accumulated more total tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
With the trio of Foster, Burfict and Vincent Rey, the Bengals' second line of defense could develop into one of the league's best.
10. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Despite the wealth of defensive talent at the top of this year's draft class, the Buffalo Bills may be forced into selecting a quarterback.
According to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, the team has no intention of picking up Tyrod Taylor's upcoming $15.5 million option bonus. The free-agent and trade markets are thin. The New England Patriots aren't likely to pull another Drew Bledsoe and trade Jimmy Garoppolo within the division.
Thus, the draft is the most logical route to address the game's most important position. Multiple teams ahead of the Bills will consider a quarterback. In this scenario, none of them picked one.
Though Mitch Trubisky touts the least amount of starting experience among the top choices, he has a strong chance to be the first selected. The North Carolina quarterback's combination of arm talent, athleticism, attitude and continued growth through the 2016 campaign makes him an intriguing option.
Scouts don't have multiple years of tape to pick him apart. This will play to his advantage. It also creates a mystique regarding his NFL potential.
In a class where every quarterback prospect has question marks, Trubisky appears to have a slight edge.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
Surprise, surprise, the New Orleans Saints still desperately need defensive upgrades. Sean Payton's squad finished dead last in pass defense during the 2016 campaign.
Two years ago, the organization focused on upgrading its linebacker corps by drafting Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha. Last year, the franchise added defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins in the first round.
It's time to address the secondary. The Saints are in a good position to do so, too.
Multiple cornerbacks will vie to become the first selected on April 27. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, Washington's Sidney Jones, LSU's Tre'Davious White and Florida's Teez Tabor all have first-round potential. But Tabor's teammate, Quincy Wilson, may be the most intriguing.
At 6'1" and 213 pounds, Wilson has as much size and length as any other top cornerback prospect. Even though he's a bigger corner, the Florida product displayed tremendous lower body flexibility and ability to effortlessly flip his hips out of his backpedal.
Florida cornerbacks are some of the few in college football who are asked to backpedal, play in zone coverage and jam wide receivers in press. As a junior, Wilson's overall coverage throughout the season stacked up against the best the draft has to offer.
The Saints have the luxury of sitting back and taking whoever slides to the 11th overall pick. In this case, New Orleans has its choice of cornerbacks, and it lands the top prospect.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
The Pick: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is a polarizing prospect. Depending on who you talk to, he's in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick or isn't even a first-round talent.
Questions remain about his game despite a wonderful career with the Tigers. Will his success in Clemson's offensive scheme translate to the NFL? It's the same question asked of all young quarterback prospects who played in spread systems.
"It is a major factor," an NFC offensive coordinator told The MMQB.com's Albert Breer. "It just is. Especially playing early, there’s so much to learn, there are so many skills you have to develop and work. ... They may have the skill set, it's just doing it. It's doing things they haven't been asked to do."
Watson could have answered some of those lingering questions during the Senior Bowl, but he declined an invitation. As such, Watson missed an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the Cleveland Browns coaching staff. Regardless, the organization still seems keen on the College Football Playoff National Championship-winning signal-caller.
"I've spoken to multiple scouts, one general manager and even a prominent trainer who have all been told the Browns are enamored with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson—but not at No. 1 overall," Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported.
Well, here we are. The Browns selected Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick and waited to see if Watson fell into their lap. In this mock, he did.
13. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
The 2017 NFL draft features an interesting and diverse cornerback class. Which player comes off the board first will come down to team preference.
In this scenario, Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore isn't the first cornerback selected, but he may be the most physically talented. Entering the draft early as a redshirt sophomore, Lattimore has displayed the natural skill set teams desperately want.
The Ohio State product is long and lean at 6'0" and 192 pounds. He can turn and run with any wide receiver. The cornerback racked up nine passes defended and four interceptions last season, finishing among the top two on his team in both categories.
Some concerns linger about Lattimore, though. The Cleveland native is only a one-year starter after he battled hamstring issues in 2015. In Ohio State's scheme, cornerbacks aren't asked to backpedal, and he played mostly on the right side of the defense.
However, Lattimore's exceptional physical tools should outweigh any deficiencies found within his game.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and his staff couldn't find a starter to adequately fill the spot opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson last season. Lattimore has the potential to be a great Robin to Peterson's Batman.
14. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Before the 2016 season commenced, the argument already began: Who is the better running back prospect, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or LSU's Leonard Fournette? At the time, an NFL scout claimed Cook was "every bit as good" of an NFL prospect as Fournette, per Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson.
Based on their respective 2016 campaigns, an argument can be made in Cook's favor. The Florida State product rushed for 1,765 yards compared to Fournette's 843 yards. But the LSU back only played seven games due to an ankle injury.
Fournette's size and physicality separate these two as prospects. The former No. 1 overall high school recruit fits the NFL running back prototype. He's a 235-pound workhorse who takes over games. Cook falls on the other side of the spectrum, as a more explosive back who gashes teams with long runs.
In the Indianapolis Colts' case, beggars can't be choosers, as they need far more from their running game. Cook could be a dynamic presence behind quarterback Andrew Luck.
Since signing with the Colts in 2015, veteran back Frank Gore hasn't eclipsed 4.0 yards per carry after doing so in each of his previous 10 seasons. In fact, none of the Colts running backs who carried the ball 15 or more times this past season averaged more than Gore's 3.9 yards per carry. Luck led the team with three carries of 20 or more yards.
Cook's quick-strike ability would add a new dimension to the Colts' offense.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
The Pick: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
How good of a prospect is Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis?
"Yeah, he's not tough to evaluate," an unnamed general manager told NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah.
Davis is a special talent. He could even overtake Clemson's Mike Williams as the draft's top wide receiver prospect.
Major college football's all-time leader in receiving yardage is an obvious fit in this slot. The Philadelphia Eagles have a dire need at wide receiver after last year's group disappointed.
There is talent among the team's current wide receivers. Jordan Matthews is a good slot receiver. Nelson Agholor is a former first-round pick. And Dorial Green-Beckham has the physical tools teams want at the position.
Consistency never materialized, though.
Quarterback Carson Wentz needs another security blanket. Tight end Zach Ertz, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season, can control the middle of the field. A wide receiver who can win his matchup on a consistent basis is necessary too.
Davis is explosive at the top of his routes, runs away from defenders after the catch and creates with the ball in his hands. The 6'3", 213-pound target is everything the Eagles need to upgrade their skill positions.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: LB Tim Williams, Alabama
Every team will have a decision to make regarding Alabama edge defender Tim Williams.
On the field, he's an exceptional pass-rusher, which holds a lot of value around the league. But there are legitimate concerns about his overall play and attitude.
"I came into the season thinking one way on Tim Williams and now I'm thinking another way," an anonymous scout told Zierlein during the season. "He isn't a factor on first downs, and then off the field he's getting in trouble too. It's starting to feel like he's too high maintenance for me."
Similar concerns surrounded Bruce Irvin before the Seattle Seahawks selected the West Virginia product with the 15th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
It's important to have a plan for the player's talent and a strong locker room for the person.
The Baltimore Ravens appear to be an ideal fit for Williams, and the Ravens need a talented pass-rusher to complement aging stars Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Over the last two seasons, Williams managed 28.5 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks and 16 more quarterback hurries.
All of this production came despite playing only 31 percent of Alabama's defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
The Ravens organization is known for getting the most out of talented individuals considered potential discipline problems. Head coach John Harbaugh relates well with his players, and the locker room is one of the league's best. Williams may require a leap of faith from a team as a player and person, but the franchise willing to take a chance could be rewarded with an elite pass-rusher.
17. Washington Redskins
The Pick: DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Potential versus production: The debate will never cease when examples of prospects who fall on each side of the spectrum enter the NFL and succeed.
Michigan State's Malik McDowell personifies the argument for potential. The defensive tackle is an intimidating presence at 6'6" and 276 pounds with tremendous mobility.
However, he didn't produce during his junior campaign before entering the NFL draft. He only managed seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. A year earlier, he provided 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. McDowell attributed his drop in production to extra attention from opposing offenses.
"It felt like I was taking on more double-teams, triple-teams," the defensive lineman said, per MLive.com's Kyle Austin. "It was a hard year for me this year, a hard year for the team overall."
The talented defender also missed three games due to an ankle injury.
"You can't really get frustrated," McDowell said. "I couldn't really be mad. ... There isn't anybody to really be mad at."
As such, the evaluation of the 20-year-old's traits becomes vitally important. What McDowell is today isn't the same player he's expected to become.
The Washington Redskins defensive line could be gutted this offseason since Chris Baker, Cullen Jenkins and Ziggy Hood are free agents. An individual addition with McDowell's potential can serve as a massive upgrade.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: CB Sidney Jones, Washington
After finding a new target for quarterback Marcus Mariota earlier in the first round, the Tennessee Titans should look to improve their defense with the team's second opening-round selection.
An addition along the secondary is an ideal option due to the depth at cornerback and the team's need to improve the 30th-ranked pass defense.
Jason McCourty remains the team's top cover man, but he turns 30 years old this summer, and the team lacks a viable option opposite the veteran. The organization released Perrish Cox in the middle of the 2016 campaign after he failed to live up to his three-year, $15 million contract.
Washington's Sidney Jones is a three-year starter who earned first-team All-Pac-12 and second-team Academic All-Pac-12 honors during his collegiate career.
The 6'0", 181-pound cornerback has the length and ball skills NFL teams want at the position. Jones snagged three interceptions and broke up six passes this past season. He also forced a pair of fumbles.
There are questions about how the Washington product will deal with more physical wide receivers at the NFL level, but he's clearly one of the top cover corners in the draft.
With the 18th overall pick, the Titans will have their choice of multiple defensive backs who can immediately help their secondary. Jones has the potential to play opposite McCourty and develop into the Titans' top corner in a year or two.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: WR John Ross III, Washington
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans is a Pro Bowl talent and a dynamic weapon in Dirk Koetter's offense. Evans needs a running mate, though.
Last season, the 23-year-old target led the team with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tight end Cameron Brate finished second with 57 receptions for 660 yards and eight touchdowns.
Those are two solid building blocks around franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers offense still needs more options.
Veteran Vincent Jackson is a free agent, and the 34-year-old target's career might be coming to an end. Adam Humphries is a solid slot receiver, but he's limited.
This group lacks speed too. Evans is a vertical threat because of his size.
John Ross' outstanding speed gives him the potential to be an effective deep threat. The California native should be one of the fastest participants at the NFL combine. He's expected to run in the 4.3-second range in the 40-yard dash.
The Buccaneers don't have anyone on their offense with his acceleration.
Even after Ross required surgery in 2015 due to a pair of meniscus tears in his right knee, he showed an ability to blow past defensive backs this past season. Ross caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior.
Building a wide receiver corps is like fielding a basketball team. Different types of talents are needed to maximize each position. Ross' velocity paired with Evans' size and physicality will make the Buccaneers offense far more difficult to defend.
20. Denver Broncos
The Pick: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
The 2017 offensive line class isn't considered very strong, as none of the prospects carry a high first-round grade. Even so, a handful of good blockers should emerge.
Wisconsin's Ryan Ramcyzk is the best and most interesting of the bunch. Ramcyzk took the road less traveled to develop into the class' top left tackle.
After playing his first two years at Wisconsin-Stevens Point—a Division III program—Ramcyzk transferred to Wisconsin. He redshirted in 2015 before becoming the Badgers' starting left tackle.
Even though he played only one season at the FBS level, the Wisconsin native earned First-Team All-American honors.
"If you study his path that he's been on just to get to this school, it's definitely a lot of work," running back Corey Clement said, per the Associated Press (via Fox Sports). "I can definitely tell why he [was named All-American] because every time I go to his side, it's definitely either a big play or a big chunk of yards."
Ramcyzk plays with great balance and weight distribution. He showed an ability to mirror against college football's best pass-rushers. The Wisconsin blocker only allowed one sack and received the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any offensive lineman last season.
The Denver Broncos' upcoming decision regarding Russell Okung will determine the team's need at left tackle. The veteran lineman has an upcoming four-year, $48 million option built into his contract.
If the team doesn't pick up the option—a likely scenario—the acquisition of the draft's top left tackle prospect is nothing short of a home run.
21. Detroit Lions
The Pick: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
The Detroit Lions can't get to the quarterback on a regular basis. The team finished tied for 30th last season with just 26 sacks. Only the Oakland Raiders managed fewer, and they still finished just one sack behind the Lions.
In a pass-first league, the ability to disrupt opposing quarterbacks is vital for any team to experience consistent success. Sacks aren't the only indicator of a team's pressure. However, pressure is needed to get quarterbacks out of their comfort zones and create turnovers.
The Lions defense tied for 28th in takeaways too.
Detroit's defensive front must make more plays. Ezekiel Ansah missed three games with an ankle injury and managed only two sacks. Devin Taylor finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks, but he's a free agent. Only Kerry Hyder provided a consistent presence up front. He's more of an interior pass-rusher, though.
Michigan's Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton is filled with raw ability. He's a defensive end who fits the prototype at 6'6", 272 pounds, and he continually improved during his time in Ann Arbor.
"Has always been strong against the run game," an anonymous scout told MMQB.com's Emily Kaplan in November. "Really coming along as a pass-rusher this year, learning how to bend the edge and developing pass-rush moves. Turning into a complete player."
The comment came before the Wolverines' final two games. Charlton registered three sacks and nine quarterback hurries in those contests, per Pro Football Focus.
Detroit once struck gold when it spent a high pick on a developmental edge defender in Ansah. Charlton has similar potential.
22. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Linebacker isn't a glamour position anymore, but the Miami Dolphins should be grateful if Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham is available at this juncture.
In today's game, a linebacker's impact can be limited. Every team wants edge defenders who can get after the quarterback. Defenders who serve as middle or traditional outside linebackers don't receive the same attention.
There's the Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly and then everyone else. Of course, there are other tremendously talented linebackers in the NFL, but that's the perception. As a result, the position's value has lessened over the past decade.
If a linebacker can't play sideline to sideline, he won't be considered in the early rounds. The prospect must be as comfortable working in space as he is defending the run.
Cunningham fits the mold as a modern linebacker. For the Dolphins, he's everything the team needs too.
The Dolphins linebacker corps is in severe need of an upgrade since Kiko Alonso, Spencer Paysinger and Jelani Jenkins are about to enter free agency. Even if the organization decides to retain any of these veterans, their play underwhelmed in 2016.
Cunningham won't receive the same amount of attention as Alabama's Reuben Foster, but he's just as good as his fellow SEC linebacker.
23. New York Giants
The Pick: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. need help.
The wide receiver corps is set with Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz, but tight end hasn't been a real threat in the offense for some time. Will Tye finished fourth on the team in 2016 with 395 receiving yards and provided only one touchdown reception.
The Giants require a presence over the middle of the field and another red-zone threat.
Alabama's O.J. Howard is the top tight end prospect in the 2017 NFL draft. He confirmed his status with a strong week at the Reese's Senior Bowl. Howard is a 6'6", 250-pound, athletic receiving target and one of the better blocking tight ends in the class.
But he never served as a primary option in Alabama's system. He needed to display his natural fluidity as a pass-catcher in Mobile, and he did.
His capabilities as a receiver and blocker will be a boon for the Giants. The tight end can stretch the seam and provide yards after catch, which creates space for other receivers. His blocking should improve the team's anemic rushing attack too.
Howard is an ideal fit for a team that can score points yet needs another piece to become more consistent.
24. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
Even after a 12-4 campaign, the Oakland Raiders experienced change in their coaching staff. Head coach Jack Del Rio dismissed offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and hired former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano as his associate head coach.
Changes on defense shouldn't have come as a surprise despite the team's success. The Raiders finished 26th in total defense and 24th against the pass.
There were points during the 2016 campaign when opponents torched the Raiders, particularly early in the season. Oakland owns talented pieces like Khalil Mack and Karl Joseph, but the group has yet to develop into a formidable unit.
A problem area exists within the slot. Neither D.J. Hayden nor TJ Carrie proved to be effective as nickel corners. Hayden is about to enter free agency too.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. prefers long and physical cornerbacks, and he has two of them in Sean Smith and David Amerson. However, LSU's Tre'Davious White is a different type of cornerback with the ability to complement the team's other defensive backs.
White can serve as the team's primary nickel corner, but he has enough length to play outside if either Smith or Amerson isn't playing to expected levels.
The LSU corner went to the Senior Bowl as a potential first-round pick and showed he can cover all kinds of talented targets. His fluidity through his backpedal as well as his experience playing in both zone and man coverage schemes will help him fit into any defense.
25. Houston Texans
The Pick: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Brock Osweiler is officially on notice.
The Houston Texans showed their willingness to admit a mistake when head coach Bill O'Brien benched Osweiler in favor of Tom Savage.
The organization can't completely absolve itself from the decision to sign Osweiler since his release would cost the team an extra $6 million against the 2017 salary cap, per Spotrac.com.
But the addition of a promising young quarterback creates a replacement plan if/when Osweiler fails next fall.
Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer appears to be the perfect project. He fits prototypical standards for the position with a 6'4", 230-pound frame, a strong arm and above-average athleticism.
Concerns stem from inconsistencies in his accuracy and decision-making. Kizer's maturation at the game's most important position is still in the early stages. As a result, he's considered a developmental prospect with an enormous amount of upside.
O'Brien will have time to mold Kizer while finding out what he has in his current starter. The franchise can easily move on from Osweiler in 2018 with his replacement on the roster.
The rest of the Texans squad is too talented to have its fate held hostage by poor quarterback play.
26. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: OT Garett Bolles, Utah
The Seattle Seahawks must leave the 2017 NFL draft with a top-notch offensive line prospect. The franchise has run out of excuses for why it fielded one of the worst offensive fronts in professional football last season.
The team can sit back and see who falls into its lap. In this case, Utah's Garett Bolles does, and he can take over Russell Wilson's blind side.
His addition would be a massive upgrade to one of the game's most important positions. Last year, the Seahawks relied too heavily on the likes of Bradley Sowell and George Fant. Both graded among the league's worst, per Pro Football Focus.
Although the offensive line class is considered weak, Bolles is in the conversation as the top blocker.
"Most athletic offensive lineman I've scouted since I took over this area of the country," an anonymous scout told Zierlein. "He's also mean on the field, which you love. ... He's underdeveloped right now. What you see isn't what you are going to ultimately get, in my opinion."
At this point, the only thing holding the left tackle back is the fact he's 24 years old, and he'll turn 25 less than a month after being drafted.
If he can step in from Day 1, it's not as much of a concern. The Seahawks can overlook his age in an attempt to rebuild a porous offensive line.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: CB Teez Tabor, Florida
The Kansas City Chiefs own one of the league's best defenses.
Or do they?
Andy Reid's bunch is the most opportunistic in the league. It creates turnovers and scoring opportunities. Yet the Chiefs finished 24th overall in total defense.
Cornerback, in particular, is an area of concern after the combination of Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson and Terrance Mitchell failed to replace veteran Sean Smith when he left via free agency.
Marcus Peters is an All-Pro performer, but he needs a bookend.
The Chiefs may be forced to look at another position if Eric Berry or Dontari Poe leaves this offseason, but a cornerback of Teez Tabor's natural ability doesn't always fall to the end of the first round. Kansas City can capitalize on the talent-rich defensive back class and grab another top prospect who struggled with attitude concerns.
Any franchise that considers Tabor must thoroughly investigate the fact he was suspended twice at the University of Florida. This seems to be less of a concern in Kansas City, where the organization gambled big with both Peters and Tyreek Hill to the team's benefit.
Tabor and Peters seem like a combustible duo, but the potential reward with these two in coverage would make the Chiefs defense more dangerous than ever.
28. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: TE David Njoku, Miami
Tight end Jay Novacek served as a vital yet overlooked part of the Dallas Cowboys' Super Bowl success in the 1990s. All the attention went to the team's triplets: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
The current Cowboys are built in a similar fashion. Quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Dez Bryant are the team's core.
Veteran Jason Witten is still a big part of the Cowboys offense, but his time is coming to an end. Witten turns 35 years old in May. He's not a long-term solution at tight end.
Instead, the Cowboys need a new version of Novacek.
Miami tight end David Njoku has just started to scratch the surface of his potential. He's a tremendous athlete at 6'4" and 245 pounds. He captured a national championship in boys' high jump in 2014. As a redshirt sophomore, Njoku finished third on the Hurricanes with 43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns.
With Witten's inevitable decline and backup Gavin Escobar about to enter free agency, the Cowboys could add another big-time weapon to a potent offense to pair with last year's rookies—Prescott and Elliott—for the next decade.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: OT Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Every year, scouts are eager to see certain players at the Reese's Senior Bowl. Western Kentucky offensive tackle Forrest Lamp topped the list this year, but an injury limited him to Tuesday's practice.
Even so, Lamp impressed with his toughness, completing the practice despite a high-ankle sprain.
Prior to the Senior Bowl, the Florida native proved his worth as one of college football's premier offensive tackles. According to Pro Football Focus' Josh Liskiewitz, Lamp surrendered a quarterback hurry on only 1 percent of Western Kentucky's pass plays.
His lack of length will likely push Lamp to guard, though. In Mobile, the blocker's arms barely measured over 31 inches long, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline. This shouldn't be a problem for the Green Bay Packers.
Lamp can be a Day 1 starter along the Packers' offensive interior if T.J. Lang leaves via free agency. Center JC Tretter is also scheduled to test the market. Lamp was expected to play some center during the week, but his injury prevented him from doing so.
Aaron Rodgers dominated this past year, but plenty of credit should be given to his offensive line since it provided time in the pocket. By maintaining a strong front with Lamp's addition, the Packers would ensure Rodgers' longevity.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Michigan's Jabrill Peppers is, by far, the hardest talent to project in the 2017 NFL draft.
His natural gifts make him an enticing player with legitimate top-10 ability. Yet concerns persist about where he fits at the next level and his production at the collegiate level.
Make no mistake: Peppers is dynamic. How he's used in the NFL will determine how effective he can be.
At first glance, the Pittsburgh Steelers may not be the best fit. They're loaded at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. The team found something at strong safety with last year's second-round pick, Sean Davis.
But today's NFL is about being multiple on defense, having versatile performers and getting the best athletes on the field against heavy passing attacks.
First, Timmons is a free agent. Peppers can slide into the nickel linebacker role. The team can look at the possibility of a three-man front with Shazier, Peppers and a re-signed Timmons behind the big boys.
Also, Peppers can play safety alongside Mike Mitchell, which could move Davis back to cornerback. Or the team could decide to move on from Mitchell and feature a safety combination of Davis and Peppers.
There are a lot of ways defensive coordinator Keith Butler could utilize Peppers. One thing is certain: The Steelers defense needs to be far more creative after getting shredded by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
31. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
The Atlanta Falcons are flying high with a berth in Super Bowl LI. Unlike most NFL coaches who have been hunkered down in Mobile, the Falcons staff used this past week to prepare for the New England Patriots.
There's nothing better than being forced to miss the Reese's Senior Bowl because your team is still competing.
UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley also bypassed last week's festivities, albeit for different reasons. A torn labrum kept the defender out of the event, according to Inside the Pylon's Jon Ledyard. The severity of the injury has yet to be determined, but it could have an effect on his draft status depending on expected recovery time.
Even so, McKinley is one of the draft's top pass-rushers. The defensive end flashed throughout his collegiate career, but everything came together during his senior campaign. McKinley registered 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2016.
Despite the Falcons' success, their defense needs a complement to Vic Beasley. Dwight Freeney provided a steadying veteran presence and Adrian Clayborn finished second on the team in sacks, but the two only combined for 7.5 sacks.
McKinley would add length, athleticism and upside to a team prepared to compete for multiple conference championships and Super Bowls.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: DE Haason Reddick, Temple
Only certain individuals fit Bill Belichick's mold as part of the New England Patriots. An individual needs to be smart, hardworking and versatile to mesh with the franchise's well-established culture.
Temple defensive end Haason Reddick has all three traits.
The former walk-on finished his senior campaign with 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. On top of Reddick's high level of production, his performance at the Reese's Senior Bowl helped solidify his status as an early-round option.
Throughout the week, Reddick dominated as an edge defender and Sam linebacker. After playing with his hand in the dirt for most of his career, the defensive end didn't look out of place at linebacker. Instead, he excelled.
The Temple product is only 6'1" and 237 pounds. He can't survive as a full-time defensive end in the NFL, but the versatility to play linebacker on early downs and serve as a pass-rush specialist on passing downs makes him extremely valuable.
New England thought it had that type of player when it added Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo. Neither quite fit the role.
With Mingo, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long set to become free agents, Reddick can develop into the versatile piece Belichick loves to utilize.