2017 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Combine Update
Everything is about to change for those who follow the NFL draft process. The 2017 combine is coming, and mock drafts will reflect the league's changing landscape.
The NFL will hold its annual talent showcase in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium from Feb. 28-March 6. During the week, how teams view a prospect can change based on numerous factors.
What they see on the field during workouts isn't even the most important part of the combine. Medical testings and team interviews aren't televised, but they can have a drastic impact on a prospect's status.
Failed drug tests eventually come to the forefront too.
The combine is a thorough evaluation for those young men in attendance, but it's only a portion of the process.
Before those individuals are poked, prodded, eyeballed and tested, Bleacher Report's latest mock draft assesses the best available talent and possible landing spots after the completion of in-season assessments and all-star games.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
More than a handful of Cleveland Browns fans freaked out when a video surfaced of Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett pleading for the Dallas Cowboys to trade up and draft him, via ESPN.com.
Four things must be understood before anyone thinks this is an issue.
First, ESPN stated the video is from December. Second, the draft's No. 1 talent is from Arlington, Texas, and grew up a Cowboys fan. Third, the young man said his comments were in jest, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon. Finally, Garrett doesn't have an issue playing for the Browns, via Fox 26 KRIV's Mark Berman.
There's no reason to turn his previous comments into some sort of indictment regarding the Browns organization. The native Texan is still the top prospect in this year's draft class and a rare talent at a premium position.
The Browns can't pass on a potential franchise building block because he might prefer to play for the Cowboys or "not to go anywhere cold," per the Houston Chronicle's Brent Zwerneman. Those things don't matter.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
If the first overall pick is a slam dunk, the second overall selection is where the 2017 NFL draft truly begins. Quarterback is the popular pick at this point, but it's hard to imagine the San Francisco 49ers will invest heavily in the position here.
Two facts point toward the selection of Ohio State safety Malik Hooker instead of a signal-caller.
First, a developmental quarterback prospect may have trouble adjusting to the complicated scheme of first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan.
"You get in Kyle Shanahan's system, and you've got 15-word plays," new general manager John Lynch said, per the Mercury News' Cam Inman. "The coach is in your ear, but you still have to replicate that with confidence and authority. It's a big challenge."
The type of defensive scheme the franchise hopes to employ could come into play too.
Early in the hiring process, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was linked to Shanahan, according to Peter Panacy of FanSided's Niner Noise, but he joined the Los Angeles Chargers. Robert Saleh, Bradley's linebackers coach at Jacksonville, is expected to become the 49ers' next defensive coordinator, per ESPN's Adam Caplan.
Both came from the Seattle Seahawks coaching tree where a heavy emphasis on the secondary exists, especially free safety.
Hooker displays rare instincts, ball skills and sideline-to-sideline range. If a team is searching for the next Earl Thomas, the Ohio State product is the closest thing to the All-Pro safety.
3. Chicago Bears
The Pick: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
The Chicago Bears need stars. Their quarterback situation is a mess. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, the team's most recognizable player, is a free agent, and other organizations will be interested in his services.
As such, the selection of Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen isn't sexy. He won't get the fanbase excited about the future or have everyone rushing out to buy his jersey. But he's a safe, sensible choice.
Some might construe this pick's description as less than favorable. It's the opposite. Allen is a legitimate top-three talent in this year's draft class. He's a versatile defender who can play 5-technique in a base front or 3-technique in sub-packages.
His ability to rush the passer from the interior is rare. According Pro Football Focus, Allen registered a sack, quarterback hit or hurry once every 7.2 pass-rushing attempts. For comparison, the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, who is football's best defensive tackle, averaged a pressure or sack once every 9.9 pass-rushing attempts this past season.
Pass-rusher is still a premium position, even if an individual doesn't make his living off the edge. As such, Allen has the potential to develop into a defensive star.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: S Jamal Adams, LSU
The Jacksonville Jaguars greatly disappointed last season based on the amount of talent on their roster.
With Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr., Yannick Ngakoue, Chris Ivory, Kelvin Beachum, Malik Jackson and Telvin Smith, the team shouldn't have finished 3-13 during the 2016 campaign. As a result, owner Shahid Khan overhauled the front office and coaching staff.
New head coach Doug Marrone is tasked with developing the existing talent, while the team adds more via free agency and the draft.
Because of the organization's investments in recent years, an obvious choice doesn't exist for the fourth overall selection. Although, LSU safety Jamal Adams makes sense on two levels.
You could make the argument he's the best available player. Adams is a well-rounded safety who can be an impact performer from day one. The team may also lose its third-leading tackler, Johnathan Cyprien, in free agency. If the Jags re-sign the former second-round pick, Adams' selection is far less likely.
But that's not the case at the moment.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
The Pick: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
In order for the Tennessee Titans to take the next step toward the playoffs, the organization must add more weapons around franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Wide receiver is a popular pick at this slot because the Titans lack a true top target. Which prospect should the team prefer, though? Both Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis can make cases to be the first wide receiver selected.
"I know they're going to being somebody in they feel like can take the top off [sic]," Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton said told ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky.
Williams (6'3", 225 lbs) is a bigger target who consistently wins with his ability to body defenders and his tremendous catch radius. Davis (6'2", 205 lbs) is the more explosive option to fit the mold Lofton discussed.
Not only did Davis produce more during his career, but Pro Football Focus gave him a higher wide receiver rating in 2016. He also averaged more yards per pass route, though Williams proved to be a better deep threat with a slightly better catch rate on passes over 20 yards.
6. New York Jets
The Pick: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
A consensus seems to be forming around North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky as the top available quarterback prospect.
"I'll be shocked if Trubisky's not the first one off the board," an anonymous AFC executive told The MMQB's Albert Breer.
Another scout added, "You're gonna see the ascension of the Carolina quarterback. He's the guy, a top-two or -three pick. He's the guy. A lot of teams like him up there."
Trubisky continues to trend in the right direction. As such, the question remains: Will he be available to the New York Jets with the sixth overall pick?
The 22-year-old signal-caller still has questions to answer at the combine. Namely, how tall is he? North Carolina's official site lists the quarterback at 6'3" and 220 pounds. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock mentioned during a Reese's Senior Bowl practice telecast that Trubisky might be closer to 6'1" (via SB Nation's Dan Kadar).
This may not seem like a big difference, but teams are wary of prospects who don't fit prototypical standards, especially when they're being considered among the draft's top picks.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The Pick: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
Wide receiver isn't an obvious pick for the newly christened Los Angeles Chargers, but the addition of Clemson's Mike Williams is an exciting possibility.
The Chargers already have plenty of talent at wide receiver. Even so, concerns persist throughout the unit.
Keenan Allen is one of the league's best young targets, but he experienced significant injuries in each of the last three campaigns. The organization signed Travis Benjamin as a free agent last offseason. His skill set is limited, though, as a complementary target with the speed to take the top off a defense (4.36 40-yard dash). Finally, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman finished first and second on the team in receiving yardage. Did these two benefit from the void Allen left?
All four of those targets are 27 years old or younger. The addition of Mike Williams has the potential to make the Chargers into the league's most dynamic wide receiver corps. Pairing the 6'3", 225-pound target opposite the 6'4" Tyrell Williams provides the Chargers with mismatches on both sides of the formation. If Allen can return to form, the team's passing attack, along with Benjamin's speed, could be deadly.
Quarterback Philip Rivers turns 36 years old in December. His time is limited, and the franchise needs to maximize what he has left. A robust set of receivers will allow the veteran to play at a high level even as his career nears its twilight.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Jonathan Stewart may or may not be with the Carolina Panthers this fall. Even if he is, it's unlikely the team's leading rusher—who turns 30 years old in March—remains with the franchise beyond the 2017 campaign.
While running back isn't Carolina's most pressing need, a strong running attack is vital to secure quarterback Cam Newton's long-term viability.
"The biggest thing, our realization is that our primary runner cannot be our quarterback," head coach Ron Rivera said, per ESPN.com's David Newton. "We’re going to look to do a little more backfield sets in terms of two backs and 12 personnel with the extra tight end as the lead blocker."
Rivera also mentioned Stewart by name, but the former first-round pick's value decreases with each passing season. The nine-year veteran has never carried the ball more than 242 times in a campaign and only eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards one time (2009).
Assuming he's healthy, LSU's Leonard Fournette can be an instant upgrade and serve as the workhorse Newton needs to lessen his role in the team's rushing attack. Carolina game-plans its ground game as well or better than any other team in the league. But the scheme is only effective if another threat exists besides its quarterback.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Stanford's Solomon Thomas is this year's Aaron Donald. First, let's get the notion out of our heads that Thomas will be the next Donald. That's unfair to the young man coming into the league. But it's fair to compare their situations.
Both were disruptive players for their respective collegiate programs. Donald terrorized opponents' backfields, yet he fell to the 13th overall pick because he didn't fit prototypical standards. Teams considered him undersized at 6'1" and 285 pounds. Size concerns now follow Thomas.
"He's damn good," an anonymous AFC director of scouting told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "Now, I don't [have him ranked as high] as [NFL.com does] because he's not big enough for inside, and he's not as long as you like on the outside. You have to figure out where you will play him, but he won't stop. He's going to be really productive."
Thomas is 6'3" and 273 pounds. If a team expects him to be "really productive," why would it pass on him? The Stanford product could go as high as No. 2 overall if he blows away the combine process like Donald once did.
Thus, he presents exceptional value with the ninth overall pick. His inclusion to the Bengals defensive front can help a unit that doesn't feature a reliable bookend to Carlos Dunlap.
10. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
The Buffalo Bills are in a difficult position regarding their quarterback options.
ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen previously reported the franchise has no intention of picking up Tyrod Taylor's upcoming $15.5 million option. His departure isn't imminent, though. Taylor could remain in Buffalo if the two sides find a way to restructure his deal without involving a pay cut, according NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
If the two parties don't resolve his contract status, the team doesn't have a better option than selecting a quarterback early in the draft.
The free-agent market lacks starters, and multiple quarterback-needy teams will select between the Bills' 10th overall pick and their second-round choice. If Buffalo doesn't pull the trigger on a quarterback at this point, the franchise will be in bad shape at the game's most important position.
During his time with the Carolina Panthers, new Bills head coach Sean McDermott saw the value of having a signal-caller who stresses opposing defenses as both a passer and a runner. Deshaun Watson isn't the same physical specimen as Cam Newton, but he can bring many of the same intangibles to the Bills franchise.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Pre-combine injuries and offseason surgeries can give teams pause. Other organizations might look at these setbacks as opportunities.
For example, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster is one of this year's top rated prospects. According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, Foster is not going to participate in combine drills after requiring rotator cuff surgery. His recovery is expected to take four months.
Teams considering Foster at the top of the draft now have to weigh the pros and cons of his selection based on their medical teams' advice. For some, the injury won't be a problem at all. Others might feel differently.
New Orleans Saints desperately need defensive upgrades, so Foster is the type of talent the organization shouldn't think twice about selecting.
Instead of relying on aging veterans such as Dannell Ellerbe and James Laurinaitis, coordinator Dennis Allen can pair Foster with Stephone Anthony to build the linebackers as the defense's biggest strength.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
The Pick: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
The Cleveland Browns' best path is to let the draft come to them. With five picks among the first 65 selections, the team has the potential to land some difference-makers.
After adding Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, Cleveland can add another prospect at a premium position in Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore.
The Browns secondary needs an overhaul. The team's starting safeties were among the league's worst last season, and Joe Haden never returned to form after dealing with injuries during the last two campaigns. The play of fellow cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun provided bright spots, but they're both solid complementary pieces.
With Haden's contractual value being far more than his on-field production, the Browns should welcome the pure coverage ability and raw athleticism of Lattimore.
Yes, an upgrade at the game's most important position remains the primary goal. But taking a quarterback with a first-round pick isn't a guarantee. Instead, the pursuit of Jimmy Garoppolo or Tyrod Taylor could develop into a legitimate possibility in the coming months.
13. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
After the 2016 campaign, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer took time to decide if he'll play another season, and that should propel the Arizona Cardinals toward selecting his replacement. The franchise can't rely on him beyond 2017.
"My intent was to take some time after the season to get away and see where I was physically and mentally," the quarterback announced last week, per Darren Urban of the Cardinals' official site. "On both fronts, I can say I'm ready to get back to work and prepare for the 2017 season. This is a phenomenal group with a very special opportunity in front of it. I know how rare that is, and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of it."
Palmer turns 38 years old by the end of the year, and his play started to slip last season.
If the Cardinals decide to select a quarterback at this juncture and move past Palmer a year from now, the team can open up approximately $11 million in cap space it can pump back into the roster.
Finding a quarterback in this draft is important because it will provide head coach Bruce Arians and his staff with a year to develop the young man as he adjusts to the pro game behind a competent veteran. Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer is an ideal fit because of his prototypical measurements (6'4 ½", 230 lbs) and his penchant for explosive downfield plays.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
The Pick: CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin combined to start 28 games last season for the Philadelphia Eagles. But Carroll is a free agent, and the franchise released McKelvin last week.
The Eagles' cornerback stable consists of Jalen Mills and Ron Brooks—the only two corners on the 2017 roster to play any snaps last season—as the projected starters.
General manager Howie Roseman has a decision to make early in the draft. He can either try to build around quarterback Carson Wentz with more weapons at wide receiver or attempt to overhaul the team's secondary.
Both positions are considered deep for this class, yet in this scenario, only one has a top prospect remaining. With Corey Davis and Mike Williams off the board, selecting Florida's Quincy Wilson is an easy choice.
Wilson is in the conversation as the class' top cornerback because of his size (6'1", 213 lbs), his length, his fluidity and his outstanding junior campaign in 2016.
15. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Some Indianapolis Colts fans are probably getting a little bored with seeing Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in this position. But his acquisition makes sense for a team that struggles to establish the run and relied far too heavily last season on a 33-year-old running back in Frank Gore.
Since the Colts selected quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Trent Richardson and an aging Gore have comprised the team's list of leading rushers.
Cook falls on the opposite side of the spectrum of every one of those backs. The 21-year-old is a threat to score every time he touches the football. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry during his collegiate career and scored 46 rushing touchdowns.
According to Pro Football Focus, 62.9 percent of Cook's rushing yardage came from gains of 15 or more yards to lead the FBS.
The Miami native's speed adds a different dynamic to any offense, but his ability to make defenders miss sets up those big runs. He has tremendous agility and football quickness. Cook also finished top five in PFF's elusive rating—which calculates how hard it is to bring the runner down.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Fourteen years ago, the Baltimore Ravens stood pat at the 10th overall pick, and college's football best pass-rusher fell to them because of concerns about his athleticism.
Derek Barnett may not be the next Terrell Suggs, but the logic of selecting the Tennessee product remains the same. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome apparently believes a pass-rusher who dominates at the collegiate level should be able to do the same as a professional.
Barnett left Tennessee after setting a school record with 33 sacks. He also finished second on the Vols' career list with 52 tackles for loss. But concerns persist about his ability to beat offensive tackles at the next level. Teams will be closely watching how he performs at the combine—specifically in the 10-yard split, short shuttle and three-cone drill.
Meanwhile, Suggs and his bookend, Elvis Dumervil, need reinforcements. Both are at least 33 years old. Each dealt with multiple injuries during their careers. Last season, the duo combined for only 11 sacks, and the team finished 24th overall in the category.
Barnett may not display top-end physical traits, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. It's a quality the Ravens need.
17. Washington Redskins
The Pick: TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
The Washington Redskins need help throughout their defense. As such, a tight end doesn't appear to be the most logical option based on the team's needs. However, a few things must be taken into consideration.
Jordan Reed is extremely talented, but he's never played a full 16-game season, nor is he considered a traditional tight end. In fact, veteran Vernon Davis started 14 games last season, but he's set to enter free agency.
If the organization plans to re-sign and build around quarterback Kirk Cousins, it will need offensive weapons.
Alabama's O.J. Howard is the top available tight end prospect. Howard can serve as the perfect complementary piece to Reed—which makes him an intriguing fit for Washington. Reed is a move tight end who excels when detached from the line of scrimmage. Howard, on the other hand, is a traditional in-line tight end. The Crimson Tide product is a capable blocker and a top athlete.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: CB Sidney Jones, Washington
During Jon Robinson's first year as the Tennessee Titans' general manager, he made a concerted effort to mold the team into a bigger and more physical group. Now in his second offseason, Robinson's goals should include adding talent to the skill positions.
Earlier in the draft, the Titans selected Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. It's now time to turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball.
Tennessee stumbled through the 2016 campaign with a combination of Perrish Cox, Brice McCain and LeShaun Sims starting opposite Jason McCourty. The musical chairs can't continue. The organization must find a reliable option as the team's second cornerback.
Washington's Sidney Jones proved to be one of college football's premier cover corners in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus' Jordan Plocher, opponents threw in Jones' direction just 48 times all season.
While there may be no such thing as a lockdown corner in today's NFL, Jones has the length, fluidity and ball skills to shine in coverage at the next level.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: OT Garett Bolles, Utah
Utah's Garett Bolles isn't a likely candidate to be the top offensive line prospect, but here we are with him as the first blocker off the board.
Either his age (24) and history will bother a team, or it won't. There's nothing Bolles or the organization that drafts him can do about the situation.
What teams won't overlook is his athleticism and nasty attitude. Bolles is a fluid pass protector who mirrors talented pass-rushers and loves to finish blocks in the running game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't pressed to upgrade at offensive tackle, but they should consider adding the top blind-side blocker. The franchise can decide to go into next season with Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson as its starters, but Smith did not play well in 2016.
The second-year left tackle tied for the second-most penalties among offensive tackles and surrendered 13 quarterback hits last season, per Pro Football Focus. He also allowed 41 quarterback hurries. With the Bucs trying to build around Jameis Winston, the young signal-caller needs to remain upright for the offense to succeed.
20. Denver Broncos
The Pick: TE David Njoku, Miami
Tight end Virgil Green signed a three-year, $8.4 million contract extension with the Denver Broncos prior to the 2015 campaign. Since that point, the 2011 seventh-round pick has provided 34 catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns.
A.J. Derby, Jeff Heuerman and Henry Krieger-Coble fill out the rest of the Broncos' tight end room. Last season, the trio provided 26 receptions for 314 yards.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders form a dynamic duo on the outside, but the team has lacked a presence over the middle since Julius Thomas left via free agency.
Miami's David Njoku is an athletic move tight end who can provide a vertical threat down the seam. As a redshirt freshman and sophomore, he averaged 16.6 yards per reception.
Njoku has only scratched the surface of what he can become, but he can provide another weapon in an offense that struggled to find an identity with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch behind center. A reliable tight end can be a young quarterback's best friend as a security blanket who works the middle of the field.
21. Detroit Lions
The Pick: RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
This may be viewed as a luxury pick. Maybe it is. But the Detroit Lions need to add a legitimate presence in their backfield after finishing 30th in rush offense.
2015 second-round pick Ameer Abdullah is talented, but he's coming off a season-ending foot injury. Theo Riddick is a talented back, too. His real value resides in his ability as a pass-catcher, though. And Zach Zenner is limited.
As a part-time performer in a crowded backfield, Alvin Kamara still managed 988 total yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior before declaring for the draft. Of course, his inclusion this high in the draft will be questioned because he lacks a large body of work.
However, the Georgia native displays the traits teams want at the position. Kamara has exceptional balance, lateral agility, acceleration and versatility. Over the last two seasons, he caught 74 passes even in a limited role.
The Lions need more weapons around quarterback Matthew Stafford. The addition of Kamara alongside Abdullah, Riddick, Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron has plenty of potential.
22. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Traditional linebackers aren't valued to the same degree today as they once were. Linebackers who can rush the passer tend to be selected much higher in the draft.
But organizations are looking for playmakers of all shapes and sizes. Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham amassed 295 total tackles and 39.5 tackles for loss during his two-and-a-half seasons as a starter. Even on a bad team, Cunningham showed he deserved to be counted among the SEC's best defenders.
"He needs to be uncovered so he can fly around and just go get the ball," an AFC East regional scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He didn't have much help over there, and he took it upon himself to make as many plays as possible. I love that mindset."
The Miami Dolphins can provide Cunningham with far more help with their talented defensive line. The linebacker corps is devoid of talent, though. The organization must retool its second line of defense, since Jelani Jenkins and Spencer Paysinger are set to test free agency. Meanwhile, Kiko Alonso is a restricted free agent.
Re-signing Alonso along with the addition of Cunningham would be a good start for the Dolphins' linebacker overhaul.
23. New York Giants
The Pick: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
New York Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers should be worried. If an opportunity presents itself to upgrade Eli Manning's blind side, the Giants should take it and not look back.
Flowers' skill set is far more suited to right tackle or even guard. He doesn't have the technique, patience or athleticism to start another campaign at left tackle. Last season, the ninth overall pick from 2015 finished among the 10 worst offensive tackles in penalties (13), quarterback hits (eight) and hurries (47), per Pro Football Focus.
Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk is still in consideration as the draft class' top offensive line prospect. Two things could hold him back, though. First, the Badgers blocker was set to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his hip after the season, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn. Also, his length may be less than ideal for the position. His athleticism isn't.
"He matches up with people stride for stride athletically," an anonymous scout told McGinn. "I was shocked."
What makes Wisconsin linemen special is that they're well-coached and develop in a pro-style system. The same couldn't be said of Flowers when he came into the league. His issues have only been magnified and exploited. The Giants need to find a far more reliable option to protect Manning.
24. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State
During his time as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and now the Oakland Raiders, Jack Del Rio preferred to use a pair of massive run-stuffers at defensive tackle. Whether it was Marcus Stroud and John Henderson or Dan Williams and Justin Ellis, plenty of beef has resided along the interior of Del Rio's defenses.
The coach reassessed his approach, though.
"Interior pass rush is critical for us to get that going," Del Rio said, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez. "We were not nearly effective enough. ... I didn't feel like we got enough inside push."
The Raiders finished dead last in the league in 2016 with only 25 sacks. This is astounding since Oakland's defense featured the Defensive Player of the Year in Khalil Mack. But one exceptional defender can't provide a team's entire pressure package. The defensive interior must be able to collapse the pocket, too.
Malik McDowell didn't post overwhelming pass-rushing numbers at Michigan State, but he did display traits—such as upfield explosion, flexibility to turn the edge and strength to work through double-teams—that indicate he's a prospect who can be productive at the professional level. Plus, his combination of size (6'6", 276 lbs) and athleticism will offer system flexibility alongside former second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr., who is 280 pounds.
25. Houston Texans
The Pick: QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech
It seems improbable four quarterbacks will be selected in the first round because of the narrative that this is a poor quarterback class. There are certainly reasons for pause in regards to the young signal-callers coming into the league, but the value of the position shouldn't be overlooked.
Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes II has all the physical traits needed to play the position. He's 6'3", 230 pounds and athletic with a live arm. He produced at a high level during his time in Lubbock, Texas, with 9,705 passing yards, 77 passing touchdowns, 741 rushing yards and 22 rushing scores during the last two seasons.
The overriding concern with Mahomes is his understanding of pro-style passing concepts and how he'll adjust to a professional offense. This may be less of an issue if he's drafted by a team that has no expectations for him to play in 2017 and a head coach in place who can teach the nuances of the position.
The Houston Texans can't go into next season without a fallback option behind Brock Osweiler. The franchise is stuck with the 26-year-old signal-caller for at least one more season because of his contract, but it can get out from under the deal in 2018 and have a replacement ready.
Mahomes is arguably the most gifted quarterback available in the 2017 draft. An argument can be made he's the most raw, too. Some team will take a chance on him sooner rather than later and could end up with the best quarterback in the draft if he's properly developed.
26. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
The Seattle Seahawks' famed Legion of Boom secondary took a step back in 2016. The group finished eighth overall in pass defense. Most teams would be happy with that level of play, but Seattle surrendered 15.5 more yards per contest compared to the previous campaign and 40.1 more yards per game than it did in 2014.
Richard Sherman isn't going anywhere, and DeShawn Shead played well during his first season in a starting role. There are certain talents that are perfect fits for a team's scheme, though. Alabama's Marlon Humphrey and the Seahawks is a great example.
Humphrey has the physical requirements and aggressive attitude the organization wants in its cornerbacks. The Alabama product stands 6'1", and he's been asked to play press coverage during his time with the Crimson Tide. Humphrey's jam is the best in the class.
The offensive line remains a major concern, but Seattle's identity is built around its defense. Humphrey would add to a talented group and can be worked slowly into the lineup or replace someone who isn't performing.
Even with all the team's success under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the franchise has spent only one first-round pick on a defensive back (Earl Thomas in 2010). Humphrey's talent will place him in the conversation to become the second.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: CB Teez Tabor, Florida
Florida's Teez Tabor is the best cornerback in the upcoming draft class. Just ask him.
There's some truth in what the Washington, D.C., native proclaimed on Twitter. Tabor is counted among the top cornerbacks in the draft, and he flashed first-round potential during his collegiate career.
But his confident—some might say cocky—attitude is what may drop him out of consideration as the top prospect at his position. This is a young man who was suspended thrice during the last two seasons.
The Kansas City Chiefs don't shy away from these types of prospects. Instead, the organization gets to know them to see if they fit into its locker room.
Two years ago, the team spent a first-round pick on a cornerback who had been dismissed from his team during his final season on campus. Marcus Peters has since made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the Chiefs. He needs a running mate, though. The Chiefs locker room can assimilate Tabor, and he can then prove he really is the best cornerback in this year's draft.
28. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Every year there are prospects who benefit or suffer based on extended draft evaluations. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers falls in the latter category. Once considered a top-10 talent, his game has been picked apart since the Wolverines' regular season came to a close.
The biggest knock on him is poor pass coverage. Peppers entered college as a cornerback, so this may come as a bit of a surprise. Once he moved to linebacker in 2016, he didn't display the type of coverage skills expected from an athlete of his caliber.
"Jabrill Peppers gave up 58 receptions with 0 INTs and just 6 pass breakups when the primary defender during his college career," PFF College Football tweeted.
Peppers' value isn't rooted purely in his coverage abilities, though. Yes, he's a hybrid linebacker whose best position in the NFL may be safety, but his versatility presents value in a league in which defensive sub-packages dominate and limited rosters mean players are asked to do more.
For the Dallas Cowboys, an overhaul to the secondary is coming. They are currently over the projected salary cap with Barry Church, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne about to enter free agency. Eventually, the team is going to create some space to address this issue, but it's unlikely it can re-sign all four players. Instead, Peppers' addition would create some flexibility.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
Secondary help is coming for the Green Bay Packers. An upgrade at cornerback is the team's primary objective. When Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline asked a Packers source about the team's offseason direction, he responded, "Corners—lots of them."
The Packers finished 31st in pass defense in 2016, and the organization might lose its most versatile piece, Micah Hyde, in free agency. Also, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins haven't developed to the level the team expected when it spent first- and second-round picks on them in the 2015 draft.
The organization already started its overhaul by cutting veteran Sam Shields last week.
In order to upgrade, the franchise will need to add more pieces. Since it rarely dips into the free agency, help isn't coming via that avenue. Instead, the draft will provide what the Packers need.
LSU's Tre'Davious White provides flexibility. He can cover outside the numbers or the slot, which allows him to fit into most situations. In Green Bay, White could supplant either of the starting corners, or he might join LaDarius Gunter in the slot against multiple-receiver sets.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
UCLA's Takkarist McKinley is another prospect whose status is in question because of a lingering injury. Inside the Pylon's Jon Ledyard originally reported McKinley opted out of the Senior Bowl with a torn right labrum. However, the former Bruin may not need surgery to fix the issue.
"I was told yesterday there's been no decision made on whether or not Takkarist McKinley of UCLA will have surgery on his injured shoulder," Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline wrote. "In fact, it's still to be determined if surgery is necessary."
If McKinley proves to be healthy and tests well at the combine, his potential as an edge defender could push him much higher into the first round. He is a fluid pass-rusher who finished with 14.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss during his last two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers' late-season success was predicated on an improving defense that found ways to pressure quarterbacks. 2015 first-round pick Bud Dupree started to flash, and James Harrison continued to play at a level a man his age (38 years old) shouldn't be able to reach.
With a consistent pass rush, the entire defense improved. But even if it re-signs Harrison, the organization can't go into another season relying on him as its top pass-rusher.
31. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney was a big reason why the Atlanta Falcons built a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI before the team faltered and lost to the New England Patriots.
Freeney came up big when his team needed him most, but the organization can't rely on a 37-year-old pass-rusher going into the 2017 campaign. Freeney is a free agent, and he hasn't provided any indication about whether he plans to play another year.
"It usually happens a month or two after the season," he said in early January, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "I sit there, feel this leg, feel this arm, feel this knee and see where I'm at mentally."
Freeney's play signaled a desperate need for the Falcons to find a long-term option opposite Vic Beasley, though. Without that presence, teams can game-plan for the NFL's leading sack artist by sliding protection his way, chipping the edge or keeping an extra blocker on his side.
Michigan's Taco Charlton can start as the team's base end with the physical tools to develop into a top-notch pass-rusher. The 6'6", 272-pound defender flashed during his collegiate career with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a senior. Charlton can make offenses pay if they decide to provide Beasley with extra attention.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
James White may not have been named Super Bowl LI MVP, but the New England Patriots couldn't have orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL history without the running back. White set Super Bowl records with 14 receptions and 20 points scored.
White is talented and rose to the occasion, but imagine what head coach Bill Belichick could do with a versatile talent like Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in his backfield.
"Belichick never trades up," an anonymous NFC executive told MMQB.com's Albert Breer. "Bill may trade up for this kid."
McCaffrey can be a dynamic weapon if a coaching staff has a plan to maximize all of his skills. Over the last two seasons, the running back amassed 3,622 rushing yards, 955 receiving yards, 1,614 return yards and 31 total touchdowns. The combination of White and McCaffrey has the potential to place a tremendous amount of stress on opposing defenses.
Plus, the Patriots could lose free-agent running running back LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL is rushing touchdowns. McCaffrey can't fill Blount's role as a power runner, but he has a chance to create even more mismatches in an offense that already features Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell.