2017 NFL Mock Draft: Projections for Top Prospects as Free Agency Continues

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Running back Leonard Fournette of LSU runs with the ball during a drill on day three of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2017 edition of NFL free agency is in full swing, which means teams already look quite a bit different than they did just a few days ago.

Some teams have been busy strengthening their rosters; others have been hard at work filling the holes left by the departures of their free agents. There are also those simply focused on maintaining the rosters they have. As the pool of available free agents begins to thin, we're starting to get a better idea of what teams' needs might be heading into the draft.

We're going to use what we've seen and learned through free agency so far and apply it to our updated mock draft. We'll run down the first-round draft order—which no longer includes the New England Patriots—and make our projections for each pick.

Our projections are based on factors like player potential, team needs and team fit. We'll also examine the latest storylines that could directly or indirectly affect the 2017 draft.


2017 NFL Mock Draft

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Round 1
PickNFL TeamProj. Selection
1Cleveland BrownsMyles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2San Francisco 49ersSolomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
3Chicago BearsJamal Adams, S, LSU
4Jacksonville JaguarsLeonard Fournette, RB, LSU
5Tennessee Titans (from LAR)Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
6New York JetsMalik Hooker, S, Ohio State
7Los Angeles RamsJonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
8Carolina PanthersMarshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
9Cincinnati BengalsHaason Reddick, LB, Temple
10Buffalo BillsDeshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
11New Orleans SaintsDerek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
12Cleveland BrownsMitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
13Arizona CardinalsMike Williams, WR, Clemson
14Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN)O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
15Indianapolis ColtsReuben Foster, LB, Alabama
16Baltimore RavensDalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
17Washington RedskinsChris Wormley, DL, Michigan
18Tennessee TitansGareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
19Tampa Bay BuccaneersCharles Harris, OLB, Missouri
20Denver BroncosForrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky
21Detroit LionsJabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan
22Miami DolphinsTeez Tabor, CB, Florida
23New York GiantsDavid Njoku, TE, Miami
24Oakland RaidersChristian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
25Houston TexansMarlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
26Seattle SeahawksRyan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
27Kansas City ChiefsJohn Ross, WR, Washington
28Dallas CowboysTaco Charlton, DE, Michigan
29Green Bay PackersTre'Davious White, CB, LSU
30Pittsburgh SteelersT.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
31Atlanta FalconsDan Feeney, OG, Indiana
32New Orleans Saints (from NE)Budda Baker, S, Washington


Latest Buzz

Patriots Acquire Cooks

We mentioned that the Patriots are no longer part of the first round. This is because the team sent the 32nd overall pick and the 103rd overall selection to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a fourth-round pick and wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

The Saints now have two first-round picks, while the Patriots pick up a dangerous deep threat for quarterback Tom Brady. Given New England's recent history of acquiring veteran receivers, the move isn't entirely surprising.

The Patriots brought in Danny Amendola a couple of years ago to complement Julian Edelman. Last year, the team snagged Chris Hogan away from the Buffalo Bills as a restricted free agent. With Malcolm Mitchell's emergence as a rookie this past season (32 receptions, 401 yards), the Patriots may be saying goodbye to Amendola and rolling with Mitchell, Edelman, Hogan and Cooks as the top four.

Given the variety of skill sets involved, New England could have a dangerous receiving corps in 2017. The Saints get another first-round opportunity to bolster their 27th-ranked defense (375.4 yards per game allowed).

One interesting side note here is that the fourth-rounder sent from New Orleans in the trade will be taken by the NFL. This is because the Patriots owe a fourth-round pick as punishment for the Deflategate scandal, and the league is set to take the highest fourth-round pick New England owns.

According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, the Patriots did the deal "fully knowing" that the pick would be forfeited while the Patriots would get their own 132nd pick back.


Jaguars Thinking Offense in Draft?

Up until now, I've had the Jacksonville Jaguars taking one of the top defensive prospects in almost every mock draft. However, I'm beginning to believe the Jaguars are thinking of addressing the offensive side of the football.

The team has made some pretty significant free-agent moves this offseason, primarily focused on the defense.

So far this offseason, Jacksonville has added defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church. These players join a large group of defenders that the team added last offseason, as pointed out by ProFootballTalk:

This doesn't necessarily mean Jacksonville won't simply add another potential elite defender to the mix at the top of Round 1, but it makes it seem more likely that the team will not. The team can now justify trading down in order to acquire more picks without feeling too bad about missing out on a top defender.

With the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers signing quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer respectively, the top four spots could be open to trade for teams looking to draft a quarterback.


Is Criticism of Fournette Warranted?

Since trades aren't being mocked here, I have the Jaguars pulling the trigger on former LSU running back Leonard Fournette. This move would give Jacksonville a true grinder who could help take pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles' shoulders.

The question the Jaguars might have to ask is whether Fournette is good enough overall to warrant the No. 4 selection. The former LSU star drew some criticism at the scouting combine by refusing to participate in the broad jump and then by producing a disappointing 28.5-inch vertical jump.

While jumping has little real-world application in football, these drills can be a good indicator of a players' athletic explosion. So does this mean Fournette isn't explosive enough to excel at the NFL level? According to one scout, no.

Here's what that talent spotter had to say, per NFL Media's Lance Zierlein:

It's interesting to talk to other scouts and find out where their priorities are. I was talking to a guy from another team who kept talking about Fournette's vertical jump. Here is a guy who ran a 4.51 [40-yard dash] at 240 pounds and this guy was worried about his vertical. I guess he won't win the team slam dunk championship, but he will run over you.

If we're being honest, injuries are probably a bigger concern with Fournette than his lack of vertical prowess. When healthy, he rushed for a whopping 1,953 yards in 2015. However, an ankle injury limited him to just 843 yards last season.

The good news is that Fournette maintained his 6.5 yards-per-carry average in both 2015 and 2016. If healthy, he could completely change the identity of the Jaguars (or any other team's) offense.