2017 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Nation's Top Prospects Ahead of Super Bowl

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2017

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 19:  Jamal Adams #33 of the LSU Tigers reacts during a game against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Florida won 16-10.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

There’s no stopping a hot-hand quarterback when he’s lighting up a weak pass defense. The 2017 NFL draft will supply three talented safeties, who possess different skill sets capable of significantly upgrading a secondary.

The Carolina Panthers realized the importance of a top-tier coverage defensive back after letting cornerback Josh Norman walk in free agency and ranking No. 29 in passing yards allowed. Should Carolina add another playmaker to expedite its rebuild in the defensive backfield?

After a rough split with veteran safety Eric Weddle, the Los Angeles Chargers decided to start Dwight Lowery, Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips between the cornerbacks in 2016. Addae will become an unrestricted free agent in March, per spotrac.com. Should the front office look for an impact player to strengthen the pass defense with the No. 7 overall pick? 

Which prospects stand out among the rest at safety, and where will they land?

NFL Mock Draft—Round 1
PickNFL TeamSelection
1Cleveland BrownsMyles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2San Francisco 49ersDeshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
3Chicago BearsCam Robinson, OT, Alabama
4Jacksonville JaguarsJonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
5Tennessee Titans (via Rams)Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
6New York JetsRyan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
7Los Angeles ChargersJamal Adams, S, LSU
8Carolina PanthersMalik Hooker, S, Ohio State
9Cincinnati BengalsReuben Foster, LB, Alabama
10Buffalo BillsMitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
11New Orleans SaintsTeez Tabor, CB, Florida
12Cleveland Browns (via Eagles)DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
13Arizona CardinalsZach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
14Indianapolis ColtsLeonard Fournette, RB, LSU
15Philadelphia Eagles (via Vikings)Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
16Baltimore RavensRaekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
17Washington RedskinsMalik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
18Tennessee TitansMarlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
19Tampa Bay BuccaneersJabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan
20Denver BroncosTakkarist McKinley, LB, UCLA
21Detroit LionsDerek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
22Miami DolphinsCarlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
23New York GiantsHaason Reddick, LB, Temple
24Oakland RaidersJarrad Davis, LB, Florida
25Houston TexansCaleb Brantley, DL, Florida
26Seattle SeahawksMarshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
27Kansas City ChiefsSidney Jones, CB, Washington
28Dallas CowboysTaco Charlton, DE, Michigan
29Green Bay PackersTim Williams, LB/DE, Alabama
30Pittsburgh SteelersCorey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
31Atlanta FalconsO.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
32New England PatriotsT.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
NFL.com

 

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7. Los Angeles Chargers, Jamal Adams, S, LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 19: Jamal Adams #33 of the LSU Tigers reacts after breaking up a pass intended for Brandon Powell #4 of the Florida Gators during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

In last year’s draft, general manager Tom Telesco passed on safety Jalen Ramsey for defensive end Joey Bosa with the No. 3 overall pick. Most draft analysts expected the Florida State product to replace Weddle in the secondary as the new playmaking center fielder. 

Ramsey played well during his rookie season for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Bosa’s 10.5 sacks led the Chargers defense. After a public contract negotiation between the organization and Bosa's agent, Telesco’s previous first-round draft selection seems like the correct choice.

In the upcoming draft, it’s imperative to address the secondary with a versatile safety, who can bolster the run defense and backpedal into deep coverage. On some draft boards, LSU’s Jamal Adams ranks as the No. 1 prospect at the position. His ability to take on ball-carriers downhill or blanket the deep threat should catch Telesco’s eye at No. 7. 

Los Angeles fielded a top-10 run defense, but its pass defense ranked No. 20 and hurt the team when attempting to close out games in the fourth quarter. Draftbreakdown.com’s Nicholas McGee posted a GIF illustrating Adams’ ability to track and take down receivers in the short passing attack:

     

8. Carolina Panthers, Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State 

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26:   Malik Hooker #24 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs for a touchdown after intercepting a pass by Wilton Speight #3 (not pictured) of the Michigan Wolverines during the first half of their game at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 201
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Unlike Adams, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker isn’t as sharp with open-field tackles, but he’s a prototype deep safety, who can read the quarterback’s eyes and close on the football for an interception.

As a sophomore, Hooker notched seven interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. His opportunistic approach after forcing turnovers should translate to a ball hawk on the professional level.

In the previous season, the Panthers tied for No. 4 in interceptions with 19, but the secondary still needs an upgrade over Tre Boston. As the young cornerbacks develop on the perimeter, a playmaking deep safety would force opposing quarterbacks to think twice about attempting to push the ball downfield in chunks.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock provided a glimpse into Hooker’s ball instincts and wherewithal after forcing a turnover via Twitter:

      

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan 

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26:   Jabrill Peppers #5 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after a missed field goal by the Ohio State Buckeyes during their game at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan prospect Jabrill Peppers doesn’t specialize in any particular skill, but he’s the jack of many trades on the field. He’s listed as a linebacker-safety hybrid, which indicates his ability to impact the play when lining up closer to the line of scrimmage. He logged three sacks and 13 tackles for a loss during his junior season. 

At 6’0”, 205 pounds with two years; experience as a defensive back, he’ll likely line up as a box safety who can neutralize receiving tight ends. In addition, he could shorten the field for the offense with long kick or punt returns.

Not only do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need help at safety, but they ranked last in punt returns yards (128) and No. 22 in kick return yards during the previous season. Peppers could add production in both phases of the game for the Buccaneers as a rookie.

Due to running back Doug Martin’s uncertain future with the team, Peppers may have an occasional 20-plus-yard carry behind an improving offensive line. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 27 attempts and scored three rushing touchdowns in his final season with Michigan.