2017 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions with 1 Month Remaining

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 27, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions with 1 Month Remaining

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    T-minus one month and counting.

    With the calendar about to turn to April, we're but one month away from the 2017 NFL draft. Free agency is several weeks old, so many teams have plugged holes on their respective rosters with veteran options.

    The predraft process is winding down as well. The NFL Scouting Combine has long been in the rearview mirror. College pro days are in the homestretch. And now college football's top young players are crisscrossing the country as they participate in private visits and workouts with NFL suitors.

    The month of April also brings with it the height of mock draft season, as pundits far and wide take their best educated guess as to how the first round will play out in Philadelphia on April 27.

    Who will the Cleveland Browns make the No. 1 overall pick? What will San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch do at No. 2 after an aggressive period of free-agency acquisitions? Who will be the first quarterback off the board, and where will he land?

    Let's answer those questions with this batch of predictions for Round 1 of the 2017 NFL draft.

1. Cleveland Browns

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    The Pick: Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M

    Draftniks agree on prospects about as often as Congress. Show me 10 mock drafts (including this one), and I'll show you 10 wildly different first rounds.

    With one glaring exception in 2017.

    The overwhelming majority of pundits agree Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett should be the No. 1 pick when the Cleveland Browns step to the podium. As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote back in February, the tea leaves have been pointing in Garrett's direction for a while.

    "Passing on Garrett is like passing on a young Bruce Smith," one NFL director of player personnel told Miller. "You don't pass on a kid like that."

    Per Robert Klemko of The MMQB, the 6'4", 272-pounder's display of athleticism at the combine left one defensive coordinator's jaw on the floor.

    "I don't have a player comparison for what I just saw. He looked like Wolverine," the coordinator said. "Assuming the medical is good and he doesn't tell the Browns he wants to be a Cowboy when they interview him, he's it."

    Not only is Garrett the no-brainer top overall prospect in 2017, but with the Browns making the switch to a four-man front, the team needs an end to anchor its new pass rush.

    In (nearly) everyone's mind, Garrett is that anchor.

2. San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Pick: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford 

    The Cleveland Browns aren't the only team at the top of the draft moving to the 4-3 in 2017. Under new head coach Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers are pulling the old "if you can't beat them, join them," adopting a scheme similar to the "4-3 under" their NFC West rivals in Seattle employ.

    As Cam Inman wrote for the San Jose Mercury News, Stanford's Solomon Thomas doesn't care what scheme he winds up in. The 6'3", 273-pounder is confident he can be successful either standing up or with his hand in the dirt.

    "My versatility, my toughness, that I can fit any system, that there's no better guy than me in this draft," Thomas said. "... It's a blessing to be a tweener. It's an advantage to be versatile. It's an advantage to play in any system. I can play in any system. I can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 [front]."

    Thomas might not have Garrett's otherworldly athleticism, but as he showed with eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss for the Cardinal last year, he has plenty of aptitude at making quarterbacks miserable.

    When making player comparisons at NFL.com, Lance Zierlein compared Thomas to longtime 49er Justin Smith, writing, "Thomas has the potential to become the best defender from this draft class and a future All-Pro."

    If you asked John Lynch if he'd like to have "Cowboy 2.0," I'm guessing the answer would be yes. Possibly preceded by a word I can't type here without getting in trouble.

3. Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The Pick: Jamal Adams, S, LSU

    The Chicago Bears, much like the two teams picking before them in the 2017 draft, need help all over the field. They need pass-rushers, help in the secondary, offensive linemen, wide receivers, nacho vendors and a quarterback. Unless, of course, you think Mike Glennon is their long-term answer under center.

    Given that, it's critical the Bears hit on the third overall pick.

    ESPN.com's Matt Bowen believes Chicago would do just that with the selection of LSU safety Jamal Adams.

    "Love the way he plays the game," Bowen wrote. "Natural instincts on the field. High football IQ. Tough. And he leads by example. Adams plays much faster than his stopwatch speed [4.56-second 40-yard dash]."

    Safety play was a weakness for the Bears in 2016, and while the team added veteran Quintin Demps, he's a short-term upgrade. Adams, on the other hand, could anchor the back end for years.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Pick: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

    Last year, players from The Ohio State University went both No. 3 and No. 4 overall in the NFL draft, as the Chargers picked defensive end Joey Bosa and the Cowboys selected tailback Ezekiel Elliott. Those players went on to be the Defensive and Offensive Rookies of the Year, respectively.

    If things play out on April 27 as predicted here, the Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars will be hoping it's deja vu all over again for LSU.

    At the NFL combine, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette said he's ready to follow in Elliott's footsteps as a workhorse right out of the gate, according to Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today.

    "That's just the job of the running back," Fournette said. "No matter how many times you get the ball, just make the best opportunity out of it."

    The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't hidden their unhappiness with the current state of their ground game after Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon both underwhelmed in 2016. Per ESPN.com's Mike Clay, Jags beat writer Mike DiRocco expects the team to go tailback early, and he mentioned the 6'0", 240-pounder by name.

    If you want to make a real change, sometimes you have to go big or go home. And at running back in 2017, they don't come any bigger than Fournette.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pick: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State 

    What a difference a year makes.

    At this time in 2016, Mailk Hooker was a relatively unknown young safety preparing to step into the starting lineup at Ohio State. Now, after a phenomenal season in which the 6'1", 206-pounder tallied 74 tackles and picked off seven passes en route to winning first-team All-American honors, the young ball hawk is a potential top-five pick.

    One AFC personnel director told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com that he loves Hooker's nose for the football, even though the young defensive back is a bit raw.

    "Hook(er) is still so raw and you see him making all of those plays," he said. "He's a player who will come in and look bad his first year and then be an All-Pro by his third year. I think that's his arc. No shortcut for experience."

    With only one year of starting experience, Hooker still has a lot to learn. But there are also things that can't be taught, like Hooker's incredible instincts. Those instincts always have him near the football, whether it's chipping in against the run or covering slot receivers.

    The Tennessee Titans already added one safety this year, signing run-stuffer Johnathan Cyprien in free agency. Paired with Hooker, the back end of the defense for a Titans team on the rise would be exponentially better in 2017 (on paper, at least).

6. New York Jets

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    The Pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

    I'm about to drop some knowledge on you. Are you ready?

    The New York Jets need quarterback help.

    I know. It's a stunner.

    According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, the Jets are interested in North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, one of this year's top prospects at football's most important position.

    "It would be a bold move to pick one at No. 6 overall," Cimini said, "but the Jets are very intrigued by North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, widely regarded as the top QB prospect. They will be present at his pro day and could return to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a private workout. This is something to watch."

    According to USA Today's Lorenzo Reyes, Trubisky did nothing to damage his stock at that pro day:

    Trubisky completed 54 of 63 passes in a crisp workout that showcased his arm strength, accuracy and mobility. Four of Trubisky’s nine incompletions were drops, three of which were catchable but thrown behind the targets. The other five incompletions were overthrown. One was on a short pass to a running back in the flat, two came on intermediate wheel routes and two were on deep passes.

    Trubisky doesn't have Deshaun Watson's collegiate resume or DeShone Kizer's arm strength, but he's the closest to being a prototypical NFL passer of the three.

    Will he be the long-sought-after answer under center for Gang Green? It would be fascinating to find out.

7. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

    The Los Angeles Chargers made perhaps the best free-agent signing of 2016 when they added cornerback Casey Hayward on a modest deal. Hayward went on to lead the NFL in interceptions.

    However, as the Bolts move up the coast to La-La Land, the secondary remains a work in progress.

    Given the success the Bolts had in selecting Ohio State's Joey Bosa at No. 3 last year, perhaps the wise idea for the Chargers in their new home is to look toward an old place for their first-round pick. Say, right back in Columbus, Ohio.

    Per Pro Football Focus, Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore offers everything the Chargers could want at corner opposite Hayward:

    Lattimore has received a lot of praise nationally recently, and it’s not difficult to see why. He has it all, from range to ball skills, and routinely made opposing quarterbacks regret throwing the ball into his coverage in 2016. He has the size, athleticism and production to go early in the draft while fitting multiple schemes as an outside corner.

    Simply put, Lattimore looks and plays like "DB U" (the moniker given to OSU after they've cranked out high-end defensive backs in droves in recent years) built him in a lab. Size. Speed. Agility. Ball skills. Lattimore appears to have no real weaknesses.

    Paired with Hayward and Jason Verrett (if he can stay healthy), the addition of Lattimore could give the Chargers one of the most talented trios of cover men in the NFL.

8. Carolina Panthers

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    The Pick: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

    The Carolina Panthers have been busy on the defensive front in 2017. They re-signed Wes Horton, Mario Addison and Charles Johnson, placed the franchise tag on Kawann Short and added veteran Julius Peppers.

    However, with the exception of Short, those pass-rushers are all either old, middling talents or both. The Panthers could use an infusion of both youth and talent at the position in a division where if you can't pressure the passer, you're going to get shredded on a weekly basis.

    Enter Tennessee's Derek Barnett, one of the most productive sack-artists in college football over the past three seasons.

    In fact, as Jim Wyatt of the Tennessee Titans website wrote, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com isn't ready to concede that Myles Garrett is a better prospect than the 6'3", 259-pound Barnett:

    When I study tape, I see a relentless pass rusher with an outstanding combination of skill and technique. He is one of the best hand-to-hand combat fighters that I've watched in years, and his ability to win with a variety of slick maneuvers makes him nearly impossible to slow down off the edge. In addition to his superior hand skills, Barnett has the rare ability to win with finesse or power off the edge.

    It's been many years since the Panthers used a top-10 pick on a pass-rusher—15, to be exact. That pass-rusher was Julius Peppers in 2002.

    That seemed to work out OK.

9. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Pick: Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

    The Cincinnati Bengals have a few needs after a disappointing 2016 season. It wouldn't be a stunner to see the Bengals take a receiver here. If Leonard Fournette or Derek Barnett are still available in this spot, both players could fill spots for Cincy that are weak but not glaringly so.

    Sine those players are gone in this scenario, however, Bengals president Mike Brown will go the "best available player" route by taking a player who is widely considered head and shoulders above all others at his position in this year's draft.

    Among inside linebackers, that's Alabama's Reuben Foster.

    Do the Bengals need Foster? Not really. When Vontaze Burfict is healthy and has his head on straight, he's one of the better "Will" linebackers in the NFL. And the Bengals just inked Kevin Minter to shore up their defense up the middle. But Burfict's attitude and durability are constant concerns, and Minter isn't on Foster's level talentwise.

    Smart teams don't let perceived needs dictate draft strategy. Wherever possible, they worry less about what position a player mans and more about how well he does it. In that respect, Foster is a smart pick at No. 9.

10. Buffalo Bills

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    The Pick: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

    Clemson University has put more than a few wide receivers in the NFL in recent years, including a pair of stars in DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

    However, in the opinion of head coach Dabo Swinney, (per Jonathan Jones of Sports Illustrated) the best of the bunch is about to enter the NFL in Mike Williams:

    He's the complete package. He's the great combination of everything we've had come through here. He's the most complete. We had the Mike Williams rule: If there's only one [defender] on him, he's wide open. If there's two, they better be real tight on him. He's a handful and definitely NFL-ready the minute he gets there.

    Now, Swinney may be prone to the occasional bout of hyperbole (see Jordan, Michael), but after a season in which the 6'4", 218-pound Williams neared 100 catches for over 1,300 yards for the Tigers, he looks the part of a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He also allayed doubts about his speed with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at Clemson's pro day, per NFL.com's Gil Brandt.

    Yes, the Bills have had their share of ups and downs with Watkins since selecting him fourth overall in 2014, mostly due to injuries. But Williams is the best wideout in this class and is just the sort of big-bodied pass-catcher who would complement Watkins' ability to do damage in the slot.

    He'd make Bills fans forget about Robert Woods pretty damn quick...assuming anyone still remembers him. 

11. New Orleans Saints

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The Pick: Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

    It's not a state secret that the New Orleans Saints want to overhaul their faltering defense in 2017. Most of the team's signings in free agency were on that side of the ball, and the general belief is defense will be the team's focus early in this year's draft.

    If that's the case, general manager Mickey Loomis will be hoping the first 10 picks go nothing like the predictions here. Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Derek Barnett would all likely be easy calls for New Orleans at No. 11. In this scenario, all three are already off the board.

    Just because Lattimore isn't available here doesn't mean that the Saints can't improve in the secondary in Round 1, though.

    I will openly admit to being higher on LSU's Tre'Davious White than many draftniks. At 5'11", he isn't the biggest cornerback in this year's draft class. Nor is he the fastest, at least in a straight line.

    But pop in tape of the four-year starter for the Tigers, and he won't be hard to find. Just look for the opposing team's best wide receiver, and White will be in his hip pocket.

    White spent the better part of the last four seasons on an island for LSU, both outside and in the slot. The first-team All-American's instincts and agility in coverage are as good as any cornerback in this year's crop.

    And as to the criticisms that he's soft? Yeah, that's rough, since we all know how hard Deion Sanders and Darrelle Revis hit people.

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)

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    The Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

    There is no chance this will happen. None. Zero.

    Because pairing Myles Garrett with Deshaun Watson would be the perfect haul for a Browns team that has turned blowing first-round picks into a perverse art form.

    As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk reported, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney didn't mince words when discussing his star quarterback:

    He's humble, the same guy every day, and always ready. He comes to every meeting prepared. That's how you change things, you change the culture, through — for me it's through discipline and recruiting, staffing and all that stuff. For them, it's decision-making, it's who you pick. And I'm just telling you: They pass on Deshaun Watson, they're passing on Michael Jordan. I mean, I don’t know what the heck I'm talking about, I'm just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot.

    Watson doesn't have DeShone Kizer's cannon of an arm or athletic upside. He wasn't as accurate in 2016 as Mitchell Trubisky. He threw too many interceptions last year and didn't post the gaudy passing numbers of Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

    Blah blah blah.

    You know what Watson is? He's a winner. He led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff championship game twice. A few months ago, he guided Clemson to a last-second win over Alabama to secure the national title.

    If Watson is still on the board at No. 12 and the Browns pass, they will grow to regret it.

13. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Pick: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

    If everything plays out the right way, we may look back on the 2017 NFL draft and shake our collective heads that Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer wasn't drafted in the top five.

    Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel believes that will be the case. After Kizer bounced back from a sketchy combine with a better outing throwing the ball at Notre Dame's pro day, Gabriel tweeted: "DeShone Kizer won't be the first quarterback drafted, maybe not the second, but in three years he will be the best quarterback to come out of this class. Book it!"

    If only it were that simple.

    No one is questioning Kizer's athleticism or the 6'4", 233-pounder's arm—easily the strongest of this year's top prospects under center. The problem is that for every throw he puts right on the numbers, there's one he one-hops or sails.

    Kizer's decision-making with the ball can leave one scratching their head. He completed less than 59 percent of his passes for a bad Notre Dame team in 2016, and he struggled so badly last season he was benched for a time. Make no mistakethere isn't a bigger gamble in the first round.

    However, the reality in Arizona is that Carson Palmer is either already past his point of expiration or soon will be. The Redbirds have very little behind him. And Kizer's ceiling is higher than any quarterback in the 2017 draft.

    Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, cross your fingers, pull the trigger and hope.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)

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    The Pick: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

    The Philadelphia Eagles need cornerbacks like an octopus needs water. In 2016, the Philly secondary shriveled up and didn't smell so good.

    Given where the Eagles are picking in Round 1 after their three-team game of "hide the draft pick" with the Browns and Minnesota Vikings in 2016, Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media wrote Alabama's Marlon Humphrey could make a lot of sense for the team:

    Humphrey is the kind of big, long and physical cornerback that the Eagles seem to prefer in Jim Schwartz's defense and is a punishing hitter both in the open field as well as in run support. ... In Schwartz's scheme, cornerbacks are frequently left on an island and play a key role in pressuring the quarterback by creating coverage sacks because of the onus within the scheme coming from the defensive line alone generating pressure rather than blitzing.

    Humphrey isn't a flawless prospect. He sometimes relies too much on his athletic gifts and allows his technique to be spotty, which occasionally left him open to big plays in Tuscaloosa.

    But his flaws can be coached up. What can't be taught is his size, 4.4 speed and willingness (even eagerness) to drop a shoulder and punish running backs or receivers.

    From the moment he got off the plane in the City of Brotherly Love, Humphrey would be the most talented cornerback on the Eagles roster, warts and all.

15: Indianapolis Colts

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    The Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

    Sometimes, a pick makes almost too much sense.

    Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore defied the odds a year ago, topping 1,000 yards on the ground in his age-33 season. But the odds are against Gore repeating that feat in 2017, which is why a number of mock drafts, including this one from USA Today's Nate Davis, have the Colts targeting Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook in Round 1.

    "Frank Gore gave a heroic effort last season at age 33," Davis wrote, "but it's time to give QB Andrew Luck a young, dynamic threat for the future. Cook is a fierce competitor and every-down back who would be a boon to Luck by virtue of his running, blocking and capability as an outlet receiver when all else fails."

    It's hard logic to argue. Cook, whom Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared to former Colts great Edgerrin James, is in some ways a faster version of Gore (who, like James, attended school at "The U"). The 5'10", 210-pounder topped 1,600 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons, and he's the most complete back in this year's class.

    Cook isn't a between-the-tackles pounder, but that's fine, as the Colts under Luck are hardly a "three yards and a cloud of dust" team anyway. He could take pressure off Gore in the running game and Luck in the passing game.

    Tailback might not the team's greatest need, but at No. 15, Cook might be the best fit.

16. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Pick: John Ross, Washington 

    If at first you don't succeed...

    Back in 2015, Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome drafted Central Florida speedster Breshad Perriman in the first round, hoping he would serve as a successor to Steve Smith as the Ravens' top wideout.

    So far, not so much.

    However, as Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller wrote, there's one important difference between Perriman and Washington's John Ross, who broke the combine 40 record with a jaw-dropping 4.22-second time: He can catch.

    "A clean Tyreek Hill" is how one NFL wide receiver coach described Ross to Miller. Others were even more effusive with their praise.

    "Ross, according to one scout I spoke with after the receiver's 40," Miller wrote, "could go ahead of Williams due to concerns about the Clemson man's deep speed and separation. It will vary team by team due to offensive system and needs, but Ross is already thought of as a better receiver than any player drafted in the 2016 first round by one scout I spoke with."

    Imagining that speed catching passes from the NFL quarterback perhaps best equipped to take advantage of itJoe Flacco's arm strength is second to noneis enough to make fans forget about the Perriman gaffe.

17. Washington Redskins

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    The Pick: Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

    It's been a rocky offseason in the nation's capital. Player losses and behind-the-scenes drama have the Redskins badly in need of a win in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft.

    Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen would qualify.

    Much like Washington, it's been a rocky few months for the 6'3", 286-pound Allen, who had 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide last year. Allen's performance at the scouting combine left much to be desired, and per B/R's Matt Miller, concerns about Allen's shoulders could portend a draft-day slide.

    "Talking to scouts about Jonathan Allen," Miller tweeted in early March. "Definite concerns about shoulders. Feeling he'll drop to 12-17 range."

    Those worries could be a blessing in disguise for a Redskins team badly in need of help on the defensive front. Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com believes Allen could thrive in the right NFL environment.

    "Allen has scheme-diverse ability," he wrote, "and will benefit from a creative defensive coordinator who moves him around and doesn't just leave him on the edge."

    He's a little short for a 3-4 end, and the fears about his shoulders shouldn't be dismissed outright. But if a player whom many view as a top-five prospect drops into your lap, you don't overthink it.

18. Tennessee Titans

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    The Pick: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan 

    As one AFC North scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, there's only so much that can be gleaned from watching tape of Corey Davis dominating the Mid-American Conference in 2016.

    "Man, he breaks them off with those routes," the scout said. "It wasn't even fair the way he did those corners in that conference. A man among boys."

    Davis destroyed the MAC in 2016, racking up 97 catches for 1,500 yards and an FBS-leading 19 scores en route to being named a first-team All-American. And while Davis' numbers in the Broncos' bowl game against higher-echelon competition weren't as gaudy as his regular-season numbers, he still caught six passes for 73 yards and a score against a Wisconsin team that doubled him all day long.

    There's been a lot of Davis nitpicking this spring. After not running the 40 in Indy or at his pro day, some have questioned his top-end speed, just as others have groused that his production was skewed by playing in a lesser conference.

    But Davis is a long-striding, big-bodied receiver who topped 1,400 yards three times at Western Michigan. His route tree and ability to high-point the football are as good or better than any wideout in this class. And as his eye-popping 46 touchdowns over the last three years indicate, he's money in the red zone.

    Simply put, Davis has all the makings of a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota badly needs one of those.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Pick: Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan 

    There's been a ton of buzz surrounding Jabrill Peppers in recent months—both good and bad.

    Supporters point to Peppers' dazzling combination of speed and athleticism. Detractors point out that Peppers is too small to be a linebacker but didn't make the big plays at Michigan teams look for at safety.

    Peppers' college coach, Jim Harbaugh, believes NFL teams would be nuts to pass on the 5'11", 213-pounder's talent and versatility, as Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press relayed:

    He can definitely cover, he can cover like a nickel, he's played corner. He can play the deep part, he can play up near the line of scrimmage, he can tackle, there can't be a better tackler in college football. The other thing, he is one of the fastest people in a football uniform that I've ever seen. When he's got the football uniform on, that's what a 4.3/4.4 looks like. Some guys run 4.3 in the shorts and they put the uniform on and that's what a 4.7 is like. He's fast and he can get into the line of scrimmage, he can blitz, he can play linebacker, he also can play safety he can play nickel. Teams have a lot they find they can do with him.

    After the show Peppers put on Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, it's a pretty safe bet that more than one NFL team went back to figure out some way to fit Peppers into that scheme.

    For the Buccaneers, finding that fit isn't hard. They lost one of their starting safeties to free agency, and the other, Chris Conte, is a replacement-level talent.

    The Buccaneers made strides in 2016, but the team could use some more playmakers on defense. Peppers fits that bill to a T.

20. Denver Broncos

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    The Pick: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

    The dominant storyline swirling around the Denver Broncos over recent weeks has centered on a free-agent quarterback who isn't even a free agent...yet.

    Whether it's Tony Romo, Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch under center for the Broncos in 2017, there's a constant: Denver needs to improve the protection in front of them.

    The fact we're 20 picks in before discussing an offensive lineman doesn't bode well for this year's crop of tackles. In the opinion of one NFC scout, the best of the bunch is Utah's Garett Bolles (via Lance Zierlein of NFL.com):

    Most athletic offensive lineman I've done since I took over this area of the country. He's also mean on the field, which you love. I'm projecting him to get stronger once he locks into an NFL strength-and-conditioning program. He's underdeveloped right now. What you see isn't what you are going to ultimately get, in my opinion.

    That "underdeveloped" tag might not appeal to a Denver team looking for immediate tackle help. But B/R's Matt Miller is on board with that scout in believing Bolles is the best of the bunch.

    "The 24-year-old left tackle is mean and athletic and became a starter at Utah after arriving on campus in early August," Miller wrote. "NFL scouts would love him to be 21 instead of 24—he served an LDS [Latter-Day Saints] mission and played at Snow College before enrolling at Utah—but the tools Bolles brings to the table have everyone in the league talking. Like one scout told me last week, Bolles is the tackle in this class."

    Sometimes you have to be willing to play the long game—especially at the NFL draft. 

21. Detroit Lions

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    The Pick: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

    The Detroit Lions have one of the NFL's better young defensive ends in Ezekiel Ansah, but with Ansah battling through injuries last year and no one thriving opposite him, the Lions tallied the second-fewest sacks in the league.

    Michigan's Taco Charlton fought through an injury of his own in 2016, racking up 9.5 sacks despite a high ankle sprain. And after meeting with Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, Charlton told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press he'd love to opportunity to help Detroit improve on those numbers in 2017:

    We've talked a lot, what he likes to do, different schemes and everything like that. So definitely (getting) good feedback and he's definitely a coach I could definitely play for. He's a coach who's going to get after me and push me to be the best and that's what I want to be, so that's something that I'd love a place like that to play in.

    A 6'6", 277-pounder who has the size, athleticism and length that NFL teams covet in their defensive ends, Charlton's production in Ann Arbor didn't always match his potential. But with some coaching and weight room work, Charlton has the potential to become an excellent complement to Ansah up front, giving the team a pair of bookends that could anchor the pass rush for years to come.

22. Miami Dolphins

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    The Pick: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama 

    When a 6'6", 251-pound tight end with 4.5 speed enters the NFL draft, you can bet teams will take notice. Sure enough, one AFC head coach told Bucky Brooks of NFL.com he'd love to get Alabama's O.J. Howard on his roster.

    "He's special," the coach said. "He has the tools to be a dominant player from the first time that he steps into the building. He's big, fast and athletic. He can catch the pill, and he's learned how to block. I love the kid!"

    Another AFC scout is sold on Howard as well, telling Brooks, "He's a 'right now' player. He's an explosive athlete with good hands and route-running ability. Plus, he's improved a lot as a blocker. ... He's about as complete as they come at that position."

    Given those glowing reviews, you might be wondering why Howard is still on the board at No. 22. During some of his games at Alabama, Howard was uncoverable and did as he pleased. But there were also multiple occasions where he spent entire contests on a milk carton.

    Some have attributed Howard's inconsistent production to the Crimson Tide's play-calling, but others question Howard's work ethic. If that latter camp wins out on April 27, he could slip into the back end of Round 1.

    If he does, a Dolphins team in need of an upgrade at tight end would be well-served to make the call. 

23. New York Giants

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

    In news that should surprise no one, the New York Giants need help on the offensive line.

    The Giants added D.J. Fluker in free agency, but while the former first-rounder may help them out inside, he won't do anything to address the team's issues at tackle.

    Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk would be another story.

    Were it not for a recent hip surgery, the 6'6", 310-pounder would more than likely be the first offensive lineman off the board in this year's draft. Just the latest high-end O-lineman to come through the pipeline that is the University of Wisconsin, Ramczyk has drawn comparisons to Pro Bowlers Nate Solder and Joe Staley.

    Considering the Giants' need at the position and Ramczyk's likely availability in this spot, a number of mocks have linked the two, including Rob Rang's at CBSSports.com:

    The Giants struggled to protect Eli Manning and rushed for a miniscule 3.5 yards per carry in 2016, scoring a league-low six touchdowns on the ground. Ramczyk has the feet to handle blindside duties and at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, possesses the girth to move people in the running game, as well. He is a clear athletic upgrade than current Giants' left tackle Ereck Flowers, who projects better on the right side.

    You can add this mock to that pile.

24. Oakland Raiders

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Pick: Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple

    The general consensus among draftniks is that Reuben Foster of Alabama is the clear-cut top prospect among inside linebackers in 2017. However, one NFC pro personnel director told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com that a surprise could be coming in Philadelphia.

    It won't surprise me if (Temple LB Haason) Reddick comes off the board before (Alabama LB Reuben) Foster. I like Foster a lot and I think he's the better player of the two, but Reddick is bigger than Foster and is a legit rusher on the edge, too. Any time you have someone who can rush the quarterback, they get pushed up the board.

    The 6'1", 237-pound Reddick was a force for the Owls in 2016, piling up 65 tackles, 10.5 sacks and an eye-popping 22.5 tackles for loss. The Raiders are set to utilize 3-4 looks in 2017, and with Malcolm Smith gone and Perry Riley still unsigned, their biggest defensive question mark at present is who will man the two inside linebacker spots.

    Reddick appears more than capable of doing just that, with the strength to hold his own at the point of attack and the speed to hold his own in pass coverage. Throw in his pass-rushing chops, and he could be a great get for the Silver and Black.

    Combined with superstar Khalil Mack and safety Karl Joseph, the Raiders would have young building blocks at all three levels of the defense.

25. Houston Texans

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    David K Purdy/Getty Images

    The Pick: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

    As you may have heard, the Houston Texans need a quarterback. The Brock Osweiler era didn't quite work out like Houston had planned.

    Plenty of reports have linked Tony Romo to the Texans, but as of now, he's still a Dallas Cowboy. Even if the Texans do acquire the soon-to-be 37-year-old, he's a short-term fix.

    Texas Tech signal-caller Patrick Mahomes isn't averse to the idea of beginning his NFL career in Houston.

    "I mean, it's definitely appealing," he told Derek Fogel of CBS Houston. "I mean, it's definitely something where you know that you're going to have to go in and just protect the ball and if you score a couple touchdowns, you're going to win football games. The Texans have a great team. Also, I'm from Texas. I'm from Tyler, Texas, so it helps out a lot."

    Despite gaudy stats with the Red Raiders, Mahomes is generally thought of being just behind the Big Three prospects at the position this year. He told Fogel he's eager to dispel the notion he's a "system" quarterback:

    I think the thing that's going to wow people is the accuracy. I feel like I'm really accurate, especially when my feet are under me and I can throw on the run really accurate. I feel like that's what's really going to wow people. The arm strength I think everybody knows about, but for me it's about the accuracy and putting those balls exactly where I want them.

    Much like Paxton Lynch a year ago, Mahomes might not be the most talented prospect under center in 2017, but he could wind up landing in the best situation for his chances of success.

26. Seattle Seahawks

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Pick: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

    There isn't a team in the NFL with less financial resources committed to the offensive line than the Seattle Seahawks. It showed in 2016.

    And the acquisition of Luke Joeckel doesn't exactly solve that problem.

    This year's draft class on the offensive front isn't great. But in a way, that could be a blessing for Seattle, as it increases the possibility that a young tackle like Cam Robinson of Alabama could be available toward the back end of Round 1.

    As Chis Burke of Sports Illustrated reports, the 6'6", 322-pound Robinson isn't a surefire star. But Burke believes the potential is there for Robinson to be a force on Russell Wilson's blind side:

    Robinson may never be a blocker on the move like a Ryan Ramcyzk or a Garrett Bolles—his game best translates to a man-blocking system, with an emphasis on the power game. Nothing else in his body of work is beyond repair. And the starting point is encouraging, if perhaps a bit below the top tackles of past drafts. Robinson has the length to play the blindside in the NFL, as well as the strength to be a plus-run blocker and the footwork to drop and protect his QB.

    Honestly, Robinson doesn't have to be a game-changer at the NFL level for this pick to be a sound move by the Seahawks.

    Even if he's just a capable NFL lineman, Robinson would give the Seattle line a big boost.

27. Kansas City Chiefs

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    David Madison/Getty Images

    The Pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

    With Jamaal Charles gone, the Kansas City Chiefs are turning the page to a new era at tailback.

    And with due respect to Spencer Ware as they do so, the Chiefs would be wise to consider adding a talented and versatile young back like Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.

    Just as he did for the Cardinal, the 5'11", 202-pound McCaffrey has done a little bit of everything this draft season. After working out with the running backs (and shining in doing so) at February's NFL Scouting Combine, McCaffrey spent Stanford's pro day showing off his skills as a receiver.

    McCaffrey told Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post he feels his ability to do a bit of everything is his greatest asset to NFL teams.

    "It's something I pride myself on, being extremely versatile and I feel like I can do that stuff," he said. "To show coaches I can play running back, I can play receiver, I can do all the return game stuff—that's important to me."

    It isn't just that McCaffrey can pick up yardage on the ground, through the air and in the return game. He does all those things well, to the tune of 3,864 all-purpose yards his sophomore year at Stanford, an NCAA record.

    That Swiss army knifeability (or is it knifeitude?) would be a fantastic addition to the Kansas City offense. The presence of Ware would allow the Chiefs to ease McCaffrey in as a complementary and third-down back in the beginning.

    He has the potential, however, to be much more.

    Never mind what pairing McCaffrey and Tyreek Hill would mean in the return game.

28. Dallas Cowboys

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    The Pick: Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut

    The Dallas Cowboys had a very successful season in 2016. The offseason?

    Not so much.

    With the Cowboys knee-deep in their annual cap-strapped status, Dallas wasn't in a position to be active in free agency. No fewer than four defensive backs who started games for Dallas in 2016 are now playing elsewhere. Both cornerback and safety are now areas of sizable need for the team.

    So why not add a young player who can do both?

    As NFL Network's Mike Mayock told Peter King of The MMQB, some NFL teams believe that UConn safety Obi Melifonwu might be a better fit at cornerback after he peeled off a blistering 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine.

    "I know NFL guys who think, 'I'd love to try him [at corner]. Let's see if he fails.' That's where the NFL is going," Mayock said. "A big, very athletic guy, and instead of thinking him automatically as a safety who may be able to play linebacker, now we’re thinking of him as a safety who just might be able to play cornerback."

    The 6'4", 224-pound Melifonwu, for his part, told Joel A. Erickson of the Baton Rouge Advocate he can do it all defensively.

    "Being a versatile safety definitely helps because you can cover the slot, you can cover the tight end, you can play in the post," Melifonwu said. "It's something that I pride myself on; I feel like I can do all of it."

    It wasn't that long ago that Melifonwu was considered a Day 3 pick. But a defender who can play everything from cornerback to nickel linebacker is highly coveted in today's NFL.

    The team that drafts Melifonwu isn't going to regret it. He's the real deal.

29. Green Bay Packers

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Pick: Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky

    At Western Kentucky, Forrest Lamp played tackle. But the belief is he's best suited to playing guard at the NFL level.

    He's expected to play it well.

    So well, in fact, that some pundits consider the 6'4", 309-pounder the best overall offensive line prospect in this year's draft.

    As Dane Brugler wrote for CBSSports.com, Lamp's tape reveals a player who doesn't have many weaknesses:

    Against power rushers, Lamp can anchor at shallow depth and control the point of attack. Against speed rushers, Lamp has the quick feet and contact balance to mirror and keep rushers in front of him. And as a run blocker, Lamp flashes a nasty demeanor, rolling his hips at contact to create movement. Simply put, there aren't many weaknesses on his film.

    Lamp put on a clinic at the Senior Bowl and shined at the combine. Were he not projected as a guard in the NFL, there's no chance a player with his skill set would even be available this late in Round 1.

    If Pick No. 29 rolls around and Lamp is still on the board, a Green Bay Packers team that lost two starters on the offensive line in free agency should sprint to the podium to call his name.

    Get your sneakers on, Ted Thompson.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    The Pick: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have seemingly been searching for edge-rusher help since James Harrison was a wet-behind-the-ears 25-year-old.

    Given that he's now 57 years old (approximately), it shows how little success Pittsburgh has had in that regard.

    See Jones, Jarvis.

    Luckily for the Steelers, the class of 2017 is deep in this particular area. Even with a handful of prospects already off the board, potential difference-makers are still available.

    Difference-makers like UCLA's Takkarist McKinley.

    The 6'2", 250-pound McKinley, who tallied 10 sacks for the Bruins in 2016, is a raw prospect who needs to work on his pass-rushing moves. He admitted as much while speaking to Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated.

    "I'm young and I feel like I got a motor that's probably the best in the class right now," McKinley said. "I'm hungry. I've got a lot to improve on, technique-wise. But once I improve on my technique, with my motor and my hunger of the game, I feel I'll be unstoppable."

    However, as Burke also said, he's a high-motor player with quickness off the edge that can't be taught. It may take a year or two of seasoning before McKinley's an every-down player, but Pittsburgh could do worse for an apprentice to the ageless Harrison.

    And McKinley could certainly do worse than Harrison as his pass-rushing sensei.

31. Atlanta Falcons

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Pick: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

    At first glance, this might seem a curious pick. If you list the defending NFC champions' biggest needs, cornerback doesn't rank at (or near) the top of the list.

    However, if a team's picking near the bottom of Round 1, it probably means it doesn't have any glaring holes. If they did, they wouldn't have enjoyed such success the previous season.

    That frees the Falcons up to pursue a "best player available" philosophy. And a strong argument can be made that at this point in this hypothetical draft, this Ohio State cornerback is that best player available.

    It got lost in the phenomenal seasons turned in by Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker, but entering the 2016 season, the 6'0" 195-pound Conley was considered the Buckeyes' top defensive back.

    As Bill Landis of Cleveland.com reported, Lattimore cautioned at the NFL combine not to sleep on his teammate.

    "If anybody overlooks Gareon, they're gonna regret it," Lattimore said. "I learned from Gareon. I don't know why he's being overlooked, but whoever gets him is gonna get a great player."

    A lanky press corner capable of playing a number of spots, the notion of a Conley/Desmond Trufant combo could give the Falcons one of the best one-two punches at one of the NFL's most important positions.

32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Pick: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

    We've reached the end of Round 1, and the New Orleans Saints' second first-round pick—the pick obtained when they shipped wideout Brandin Cooks to New England.

    It's not a pick many expect will be spent on a replacement for Cooks, though. In fact, how this pick plays out depends greatly on what happens at No. 11.

    Most draftniks tend to have the Saints following one of two scripts: either an edge-rusher at No. 11 and a defensive back at the end of the round or vice versa.

    With the Saints securing a cornerback with their first pick here, that means it's time to upgrade the pass rush as Round 1 comes to a close.

    Charles Harris of Missouri is a scheme-versatile, 253-pound pass-rusher who tallied 16 sacks over the past two seasons. He could stand to add a few pounds (especially if he's going to play with a hand in the dirt), and as with most young edge-defenders, his technique needs development.

    However, he told reporters at Mizzou's pro day, per the Dallas Cowboys website, that in his opinion he's a first-round prospect.

    "I feel like first round for sure," he said. "There's no doubt in my game. I feel like I came out here and showed the coaches my speed, that I can get around the corner and can be smooth and fluid while dropping into coverage.”

    Given his athleticism and upside, I'm inclined to agree.

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