2017 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Can Fill Every Team's Biggest Hole

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 13, 2017

2017 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Can Fill Every Team's Biggest Hole

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    When the 2017 NFL draft gets underway in two weeks' time, you'll inevitably hear two particular phrases quite frequently.

    The first is "they took the best player available," which suggests a team chose the top player on its draft board without considering internal needs in a significant way. The second is "they drafted for need," which suggests a team was considering its roster holes when deciding who to take.

    In this exercise, we'll tackle those major needs by listing the ideal candidates to fill the largest hole on every NFL depth chart.

    Of course, we have to be realistic. Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett would qualify as the top hole-filler for a lot of teams, but most won't have a chance to draft him. While he's viewed as the consensus top pick, Garrett isn't listed at all. That's because we anticipate the Cleveland Browns will draft him first overall despite the fact their top need is at quarterback.

    That also means duplicates, which is why we'll list secondary options beyond popular need picks like North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham and Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley.

    Let's get started.

Arizona Cardinals

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Mike Williams, WR, Clemson 

    The Arizona Cardinals need to find a long-term replacement for Larry Fitzgerald, who might be nearing retirement or at least a decline as he approaches his 34th birthday. With Fitzgerald's former sidekick Michael Floyd also gone, the Cards have to bolster the receiving corps in the short term before their championship window closes.

    The big-bodied Williams, who had 98 catches and 11 touchdowns as a redshirt junior in 2016, is widely considered the best all-around receiver in the draft. There's an outside chance he'll be available when Arizona is on the clock with the No. 13 overall pick. If that's the case, the Cardinals would have a very hard time passing in favor of a top-rated player anywhere else (even quarterback).

    Other options: John Ross, Washington; Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Both could be top-15 picks. The former is a speed demon who could give the Arizona offense another element, while the latter put up monster numbers as a four-year starter in the MAC.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

    Interstate 85 notwithstanding, it's hard to find a big hole in Atlanta. The Falcons are stacked coming off a Super Bowl season, and they probably don't need to spend their first-round pick on a replacement for retired guard Chris Chester (that can come later, or elsewhere). Instead, the focus should be on finding support on the edge for reigning NFL sack leader Vic Beasley.

    Beasley accounted for a silly 46 percent of the team's 34 sacks last season, and Atlanta still ranked seventh-last in football in terms of sack rate.

    Top pass-rushers like Garrett, Stanford's Solomon Thomas and Tennessee's Derek Barnett should be long gone before Atlanta is on the clock with the No. 31 overall pick, but several well-reputed rushers should be available late in the first round. The best option for the Falcons might be the polished, 6'6", 277-pound Charlton, who had 10 sacks as a senior in 2016.

    Other options: Charles Harris, Missouri; Haason Reddick, Temple: Harris had 30.5 tackles for loss the last two years in the SEC, while Reddick is a more versatile option who would probably play standing up.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

    The Baltimore Ravens need to reload at linebacker, and they need to replace the departed Ricky Wagner at right tackle, but with star receiver Steve Smith enjoying retirement, the more pressing need for the Ravens is in the receiving corps.

    Top 2015 pick Breshad Perriman hasn't emerged, and 2016 addition Mike Wallace is no longer a No. 1-caliber receiver, so it's imperative that the front office brings in a player with WR1 potential.

    Davis, who had three 1,400-yard seasons in the MAC, appears to have the complete package to fit that profile. He's a refined route-runner who should be able to play a major role immediately, and it helps that he's a big-body target who can complement those burners by making contested catches.

    Other options: Mike Williams, Clemson; John Ross, Washington: That speed could compel general manager Ozzie Newsome to roll the dice on Ross, but it's hard to imagine they'll pass on Williams if he drops to the No. 16 spot.

Buffalo Bills

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

    The Buffalo Bills lost three receivers—Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter—and two cornerbacks—Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman—in March, but they still have Sammy Watkins at wideout, and they didn't sign a corner on the open market.

    While Williams, Davis and Ross would be tempting in the No. 10 spot, the Bills would be hard-pressed to pass on the draft's top cornerback if he falls that far. Coming off a four-pick redshirt sophomore season and ready to play immediately, the 6'0", 193-pound Lattimore would probably start immediately with his sub-4.4 speed.

    Other optionsGareon Conley, Ohio State; Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: There's a good chance Lattimore will be gone, leaving the Bills with a potential decision between these two. Lattimore's teammate is 6'0", 195 pounds and has 4.4 speed, while Humphrey is a physical playmaker coming off a two-year run as a starter with the best defense in the country.

Carolina Panthers

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

    It wouldn't be surprising if the Carolina Panthers felt the need to use their No. 8 overall pick on a corner, offensive lineman or pass-rusher, but they've got pieces in those spots. The Panthers used two early picks on cornerbacks last spring and brought back veteran nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn last month. They spent a trillion dollars on new left tackle Matt Kaili in March, and Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson are old but capable starting defensive ends.

    The team's biggest need might be at running back. Top dog Jonathan Stewart is on the wrong side of 30 now and coming off a season in which he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Neither Fozzy Whittaker nor Cameron Artis-Payne is the answer. Franchise quarterback Cam Newton needs more support from that backfield, and Cook would offer exactly that.

    The two-time first-team All-American ran for over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons with the Seminoles. He disappointed at the combine but made up for that with a pro day that one scout told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller was "f--king special." If he's there at No. 8 and Leonard Fournette is not, this is a no-brainer.

    Other options: Fournette, LSU; Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: Probably too late for Fournette, too early for McCaffrey. But all three would have a chance to transform that offense.

Chicago Bears

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Jamal Adams, S, LSU

    Coming off a three-win campaign, what the Chicago Bears really "need" are good players regardless of position. But they do have a lot of pieces in place on offense, and they do have recent high draft picks Kyle Fuller, Eddie Goldman and Leonard Floyd elsewhere on defense. The safety position might be their biggest weakness, with neither Adrian Amos nor Quintin Demps looking like a long-term solution.

    It works out nicely that Adams will almost certainly be available when they're on the clock with the No. 3 overall pick April 27. A three-year starter in the SEC, Adams has the ability to immediately become a leader on D in Chicago and eventually become a star safety in the mold of a Troy Polamalu.

    Other optionsMalik Hooker, Ohio State; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: Also NFL-ready, Hooker is a ball hawk coming off a seven-interception season. Peppers is a super-athlete who might be able to consistently play inside the box. But the Bears would probably only wind up with one of them if they traded down.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee 

    The Cincinnati Bengals have developed holes along the offensive line as well as in the secondary and the receiving corps, but they do have some young talent at the offensive tackle positions, some experience at defensive back and a guy named A.J. Green at receiver.

    What they could use after a mere 33-sack season is some fresh blood at the defensive end position. While Garrett and Thomas will likely be long gone before they're on the clock with the No. 9 pick on April 27, Barnett might also have a chance to become a star. The first-team All-SEC rusher had 32 sacks in three years with the Volunteers, so I wouldn't be surprised if he beat out Michael Johnson for a starting job right off the bat.

    Other options: Garrett; Thomas; Takkarist McKinley, UCLA: McKinley is coming off a double-digit-sack season in the Pac-12.

Cleveland Browns

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that the Browns are still trying to decide between Garrett and Trubisky, which epitomizes the debate between drafting best available versus need. While I understand why Garrett will likely be the top pick, that doesn't change the fact that quarterback is Cleveland's No. 1 need.

    Thing is, in this draft the Browns can address that need later while adding arguably the best player in the draft on defense with that first pick. But what this team needs more than anything in order to finally start winning is steady play under center, and Trubisky is the best signal-caller in this draft class.

    Yes, Trubisky started just one year at North Carolina, but he threw 30 touchdown passes to only six interceptions for the Tar Heels in 2016, and his passing and footwork have both looked extremely polished during the predraft process. Not only is he the most NFL-ready quarterback up for grabs, but he might have a higher ceiling than his counterparts considering that lack of college experience.

    Other optionsDeshaun Watson, Clemson; Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech; DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame: All three could be first-round picks, but they all have more questions surrounding them—Watson's footwork and accuracy, Mahomes' discipline, Kizer's mechanics—than Trubisky does.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

    The cap-strapped Dallas Cowboys lost regular safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency, leaving them with just Jeff Heath (Who? Exactly...) in support of 2015 first-round pick Byron Jones at that position. While their draft position (28th) won't likely give them a shot at landing Adams or Hooker, getting Peppers—who is projected by many to be a late first-round pick—would be a dream come true.

    The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year can do pretty much anything. He proved that at Michigan, where he came in as a cornerback, dominated at safety and then played linebacker in 2016. He participated in the combine at two positions, putting on a show, and then backed that up with a strong performance at the Michigan pro day.

    Peppers would help a needy defense in multiple ways. Most importantly, he'd immediately fill the proverbial hole next to Jones.

    Other options: Adams; Hooker; Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut: It's possible Peppers will be taken way earlier, leaving Melifonwu as arguably the best safety available. But he wouldn't be a bad consolation prize. The rising UConn product dazzled onlookers at both the Senior Bowl and the combine.

Denver Broncos

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

    The Denver Broncos may or may not have a long-term answer at quarterback, but they at least have options in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. They may not have an elite running back, but they at least have options in C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker. With plenty of interior defensive line talent, several strong options in the receiving corps and a defense that remains one of the best in football at all three levels, that leaves us with the offensive tackle positions.

    With Russell Okung gone and Ryan Clady even longer gone, the top two candidates to protect the blind side in Denver next season are Donald Stephenson and Menelik Watson, both of whom are borderline starters and more natural fits on the right side.

    Based on Denver's approach to the offseason—general manager John Elway let Okung go and only brought in Watson along with guard Ronald Leary on that side of the ball—it seems obvious the front office is planning on drafting a potential cornerstone left tackle early. If that's the case, Ramczyk makes the most sense if he's available.

    "He plays like an NFL guy," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said of Ramczyk at the combine, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. "He's got long arms. He's got great feet. He's tough and smart. He's definitely a guy most teams are looking at. It's going to be tough to acquire a guy like that at 20, probably."

    That's the goal, anyway.

    Other options: Garett Bolles, Utah; Cam Robinson, Alabama: The Broncos can't afford to wait for the much more raw Bolles, and Ramczyk is more of a sure thing than Robinson. He has just one year of FBS football under his belt, but he was dominant against high-quality Big Ten pass-rushers for the entirety of that season.

Detroit Lions

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

    The Detroit Lions have a lot of talent up front and on the back end defensively, but with the DeAndre Levy era officially over there isn't a lot of hope left in between. Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow and Thurston Armbrister are currently projected to start at linebacker, which is enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little bit.

    Enter potential first-round pick Reuben Foster, who certainly has the resume and ability to turn Detroit's biggest weakness into a strength, and quickly.

    Foster was sent home early from the combine after a confrontation with a hospital worker, and that wasn't the first red flag on him, but he's also a unanimous All-American and the reigning Butkus Award winner. He's so good that some mock drafts still have him going in the top five. But he could slide to Detroit at No. 21.

    If that happens, it's unlikely he keeps falling.

    Other optionsZach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; Haason Reddick, Temple: Reddick could be moved into a 4-3 weak-side linebacker role at the NFL level. A lot more on Cunningham to come.

Green Bay Packers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

    Stop screaming, please. And let me explain.

    Yes, of course the Green Bay Packers have to get better on defense. But do you see any glaring holes on that side of the ball? They need to get deeper and create more competition, but Mike Daniels is a stud inside, 2016 first-rounder Kenny Clark is showing a lot of promise at defensive end, former top picks Nick Perry and Clay Matthews have Pro Bowl abilities, safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are solid, and it's too early to give up on talented-but-oft-injured third-year cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.

    What the Packers need most when it comes to players in isolation is another weapon for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Eddie Lacy is gone, and with all due respect to the awesomely versatile Ty Montgomery, he's not an every-down back. Christine Michael and Don Jackson probably can't carry the reins either in the Packers backfield, and Fournette and Cook will be long gone before they're on the clock with the No. 29 overall pick.

    But McCaffrey just might slide far enough for them to grab him near the end of Round 1, giving Rodgers a top-notch back, receiver and return man to work with. He might not be capable of playing a workhorse role right off the bat, if ever, but he and Montgomery would make up one hell of a duo.

    Think of how much fun Rodgers and Mike McCarthy could have!

    Other optionsAlvin Kamara, Tennessee; D'Onta Foreman, Texas: Both should be available when the Packers pick. Kamara is shifty, while Foreman is a workhorse.

Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

    The Houston Texans are basically set on defense, especially now that a unit that rated first in the NFL last season is getting three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt back. But with the Brock Osweiler experiment already over and Tony Romo heading to the broadcast booth, the Texans are still without one key piece to a potential championship puzzle.

    They desperately need a franchise quarterback.

    That might still be the case if/when they bring in a veteran like Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick, both of whom would have been signed somewhere by now if teams felt they had elite stuff still in them.

    A move like that would make Houston less desperate for an NFL-ready signal-caller in the short term. But until that happens, this is their biggest hole, and Trubisky—an accurate and polished passer with superb footwork and instincts—is clearly the best option.

    Other optionsDeshaun Watson, Clemson; Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech; DeShone Kizer, Notre DameThere's a good chance Trubisky won't be available in the No. 25 spot, but if the quarterbacks slide together the way they did when the quarterback class was equally as weak in 2013, you never know. Otherwise, any of these honorable mentions would have to do.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky

    It feels as though the Indianapolis Colts have suffered from the same two problems for the entirety of the Andrew Luck era. They can't get to the opposing quarterback on defense, and they can't protect their own quarterback on offense.

    To their credit, they addressed the defensive front by adding free-agent front-seven defenders Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, John Simon, Sean Spence and Barkevious Mingo in free agency. But an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked dead last in terms of pass-blocking efficiency gained zero new players.

    That means they should be in on offensive tackles and guards to fill holes presently being plugged unsuccessfully by right tackle Joe Haeg and right guard Denzelle Good. But there's probably more hope for the more accomplished Haeg than Good, and Lamp might be the best all-around offensive lineman in the draft anyway.

    Besides, he has experience at tackle too. That's where he spent most of his time as a four-year college starter with a pristine rep before dominating the combine and his pro day.

    Other optionsRyan Ramczyk, Wisconsin; Garett Bolles, Utah; Cam Robinson, Alabama: With the No. 15 overall pick, they might have their pick of the litter at both guard and tackle.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

    I never thought I'd write this, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are without holes on defense. They've spent the last few years loading up on young and/or experienced defensive talent in the draft and free agency and are strong at all three levels. They also have a signal-caller that they're still treating as the potential franchise quarterback of the future, two good receivers and an underrated offensive line that added experienced left tackle Branden Albert in the offseason.

    But the Jags had a mediocre running game that featured two backs (T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory) who averaged a combined 3.7 yards per carry last season. Yeldon has just one 100-yard game in his two years as a pro, and the 29-year-old Ivory probably peaked with the New York Jets a couple of years ago.

    With all of that in mind, it should be nearly impossible for Jacksonville to pass on a back who has been compared to Adrian Peterson with the No. 4 overall pick.

    Other options: Dalvin Cook, Florida State; Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: They only wind up with either of those guys if they trade down at least a few spots. Fournette is built to dominate at the pro level and comes from a program that should have him ready to do so immediately in 2017.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

    Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West don't look as though they'll be effective in full-time roles, so I wouldn't blame the Kansas City Chiefs for thinking that running back is their top need. But they don't have a shot at a stud like Fournette, and high-upside lower-tier backs can be found later.

    Instead, Kansas City might want to use its No. 27 overall pick to fill a need at inside linebacker, where the 34-year-old Derrick Johnson is recovering from a ruptured left Achilles and his projected partner, Ramik Wilson, is probably better suited as a depth guy.

    That's why Cunningham could be the perfect fit. The rangy two-time first-team All-SEC linebacker had 36 tackles for loss during his three seasons at Vanderbilt and looks ready to contribute inside from the get-go. He doesn't stand out on tape like Foster, but it's easy to see why some might prefer Cunningham after taking Foster's character concerns into account.

    Other optionsReuben Foster, Alabama; Haason Reddick, Temple: Even if Foster slides, he's unlikely to be available that late. Reddick might be, though, and could be preferred if they're looking for more pass-rushing presence.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

    It's too soon to call quarterback a major need for the Los Angeles Chargers, who have Philip Rivers under center along with a young recent first-round pick at running back, a locked-in No. 1 receiver, an expensive new left tackle and a still-expensive left guard. They could use boosts in the receiving corps and elsewhere along that line, but the offense isn't riddled with holes.

    Same withe the defense, which contains more talent than a lot of folks realize at all three levels, starting with 2016 first-rounder Joey Bosa up front. Franchise-tagged pass-rusher Melvin Ingram and starting corners Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward aren't bad either, but the Bolts are in major need of a new presence in that defensive backfield.

    Where exactly? How about next to promising strong safety Jahleel Addae, who flashed when healthy last season? Right now, Dwight Lowery is in that spot, but he's 31 and lacks consistency. Hooker, who recorded 74 tackles and seven interceptions while scoring three touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore, would be an immediate upgrade as a rangy free safety.

    Other options: Jamal Adams, LSU; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: While Hooker might not have as high a ceiling overall, he might be a better fit for Los Angeles than the higher-rated Adams, who isn't as rangy over the top. That said, they'd have a tough decision to make if both dropped.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut

    Coincidentally, the Chargers' new L.A. cousin also needs a safety in a big way. The Los Angeles Rams addressed the offensive line, the receiving corps and the cornerback depth chart in free agency, and they already have key pieces in places at running back and in the front seven, again leaving a neglected safety position.

    T.J. McDonald departed in free agency, leaving good-not-great 2014 fourth-round pick Mo Alexander as the only semi-starting-caliber safety on the roster.

    Unfortunately, the Rams won't have a chance to draft a safety in Round 1 unless they trade back in. Their top pick right now falls in the No. 37 spot. But they might not have to trade up to land a good safety, especially if the freakishly athletic Melifonwu slides into Round 2.

    After riding a wave of momentum straight from the Senior Bowl to the combine, Melifonwu checked in as the tallest and heaviest defensive back in Indy and had the second-best broad jump (141 inches) in combine history. He also led all defensive backs with a 44-inch vertical jump and ranked in the top five at his position with a 4.40-second 40.

    Other optionsMarcus Williams, Utah; Marcus Maye, Florida: Williams is a ball hawk who appears to be NFL-ready, while Maye is a better run-stopper. Both should be available.

Miami Dolphins

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

    The Miami Dolphins have an apparent franchise quarterback, a stud running back, a deep receiving corps and a rebuilt offensive line. On defense they have plenty of talent and experience up front and in the secondary. But between those two groups you'll find a linebacker corps that is begging for help. They signed the tired Lawrence Timmons in free agency but lost Jelani Jenkins and are left with Timmons, Kiko Alonso and Koa Misi, none of whom are better than mediocre.

    That explains why they've been linked heavily to Cunningham, who should be available when they're on the clock with the No. 22 overall pick and would immediately become the best linebacker on the roster. He's got great range and superb instincts in coverage and while defending the run, which would come in handy for a Miami team that surrendered a league-high 4.8 yards per carry last season.

    Other optionsReuben Foster, Alabama; Haason Reddick, Temple: Foster won't likely be available this late. Reddick is an option if they want somebody who can also chip in as a pass-rusher, although he could also be gone.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

    Signing Latavius Murray doesn't fill the hole left by Adrian Peterson at running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Murray's rate-base stats have been mediocre ever since his abbreviated first season, indicating he's a platoon option at best. Since the Vikings signed two offensive tackles in free agency and have solid pieces in place at quarterback, interior offensive line and receiver, a team that is stacked on defense can afford to swing the bat on a back who averaged 6.8 yards per carry at Peterson's alma mater.

    Mixon has the look of a first-round pick, but obvious red flags are likely to cause him to drop. That could give the Vikings a chance to land him with their first pick, which falls in the middle of the second round.

    There are clues they're thinking that way. Head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman attended his pro day, according to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout and CBS Sports. Darren Wolfson of KSTP in Minneapolis tweeted that the buzz indicates Zimmer "really likes him." And Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently told the Star Tribune the Vikes are one of four teams most consistently linked to Mixon.

    Mixon is a do-everything back with great receiving ability and All-Pro potential. If he falls to the Vikes, they have to take him and hope that he avoids trouble.

    Other options: Alvin Kamara, Tennessee; D'Onta Foreman, Texas: There's a decent chance Kamara and Foreman won't be available, but they're also good options if Mixon is gone or they'd prefer to avoid a potential PR nightmare.

New England Patriots

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State

    Some rosters look like Bonnie and Clyde's death car, while others hardly have a scratch on them. The New England Patriots don't have any glaring holes, but they could afford to polish some scratches.

    One of those scratches comes up front on defense, where Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins are long gone and they lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency. Trey Flowers has a bright future, and they added Lawrence Guy and Kony Ealy in March, but that defensive end rotation could use another NFL-ready body.

    The problem is the Patriots aren't slated to pick until early in the third round. But they do like to move up and down the draft board, which should give them a shot at Willis—an explosive and relentless rusher who had 20 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss during his final two years with the Wildcats.

    Other options: Carl Lawson, Auburn; Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova: Willis might be tough to land because the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year appears to be gaining momentum. If he's not there when the Patriots finally have a chance to make a pick, Lawson and Kpassagnon are solid alternatives.

New Orleans Saints

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

    Everything changes if the New Orleans Saints trade for cornerback Malcolm Butler, but that's only a rumor right now. Unless or until that changes, their cornerback depth chart contains Sterling Moore, Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams, De'Vante Harris and a few other scrubs you've probably never heard of unless you're a diehard Saints fan.

    They could use another pass-rusher, but they still have Cameron Jordan up front. Cornerback is a bigger need, and landing Conley is probably the best-case scenario if they look to address that need with the 11th pick of the draft.

    The 6'0", 195-pounder has 4.4 speed and enough experience in the Big Ten to play a major role right away. Not only did he intercept four passes for the Buckeyes in 2016, but according to Pro Football Focus he "allowed just 14 receptions for 159 yards, and an NFL passer rating of 14.0, best in the nation, on throws into his coverage."

    Conley is the best corner prospect not named Marshon Lattimore, who should be gone before the Saints are on the clock.

    Other options: Lattimore, Ohio State; Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: Wouldn't fault them for taking either guy instead of Conley, especially Lattimore (who is unlikely to be there). They both have elite size and speed and should be ready to start immediately.

New York Giants

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

    It could be Ryan Ramczyk for the New York Giants if he gets to them in the No. 23 slot, but Robinson has a better chance to do that (I have Denver taking Ramczyk), and it's arguably a toss-up between those two anyway.

    What matters is the Giants need an offensive tackle. They used a first-round pick on Ereck Flowers in 2015, but they might move him from the left side to the right side in 2017. They've invested deeply in the defense, and they might have something with Paul Perkins in the offensive backfield, but they have to give quarterback Eli Manning more support.

    Whether they draft Robinson to take the vacated spot left behind by Flowers or take over for the in-over-his-head Bobby Hart at right tackle, they're doing the right thing.

    Robinson spent the last three years starting in the best conference in college football. He's big, strong, smart and an excellent run-blocker, which would come in handy for a team that had the third-worst running game in the NFL last season.

    Other optionsRamczyk, Wisconsin; Garett Bolles, Utah: The former might be gone, while the latter is a little too raw for a team that should be a contender in 2017.

New York Jets

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

    Hey, that guy again! Trubisky isn't just the best need-filling option for the Browns and Texans, but he also meets that criteria for a New York Jets team that has 37-year-old journeyman Josh McCown penciled in as its starting quarterback.

    Gang Green doesn't like using top picks on quarterbacks—it hasn't since 2009, despite having drafted five quarterbacks since—but it's time for that to change. McCown obviously isn't the long-term answer, and it's not looking good for Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.

    New York is rebuilding across the board, but it does appear quarterback remains the team's weakest position. Trubisky has been heavily linked to the Jets because they should have their pick of the quarterback litter, and Trubisky is the best quarterback in this draft. He has most of the tools needed to become a great one.

    Other options: Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech; DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame: They could also wind up landing Deshaun Watson early, but what about Mahomes or Kizer in Round 2? It's not out of the question at 39.

Oakland Raiders

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

    The Oakland Raiders don't have a lot of holes at this point, but they are down two linebackers—Malcolm Smith, who left in free agency, and Perry Riley, who remains unsigned—who played a combined 1,558 snaps last season, according to PFF.

    I'm sure a lot of folks would like to see them draft a running back to replace Latavius Murray, but Murray was essentially a platoon back anyway, they have talent back there with Jalen Richard, Taiwan Jones and DeAndre Washington, and you can find good backs later.

    Cunningham is the type of player—a big, rangy, versatile and aggressive inside linebacker—that can't be found later. If he's on the board when the Raiders are on the clock with the 24th pick, and if the Raiders are considering their biggest holes, this is a no-brainer.

    Other optionsReuben Foster, Alabama; Jarrad Davis, Florida: Foster won't likely be available, but Davis should be, and he's a tackle machine.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    BRADLEY LEEB/Associated Press

    Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State 

    Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have at least temporarily addressed their wide receiver problems with the addition of former 1,000-yard receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, it's time to turn to the guys responsible for covering Jeffery, Smith and Co. in practice.

    Philadelphia's cornerbacks were terrible last year. Two of their top three cover guys, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, are now gone. The other one, Jalen Mills, was graded by PFF as the worst qualified corner in the NFL. Bringing in first-round bust turned journeyman Patrick Robinson won't fix things. They could use help up front on defense, but there should be no question that their biggest hole comes at corner.

    If they're looking to patch that up with the 14th selection in the draft, they'll hope to get Conley or Marshon Lattimore if either Ohio State stud is available. Lattimore probably won't be, but Conley is a ball hawk who also has the size and speed to be a shutdown corner, and quickly.

    Other options: Lattimore, Ohio State; Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: As I wrote about the Saints (who pick three spots earlier), I wouldn't fault them for taking either guy instead of Conley, especially Lattimore (who is unlikely to be there). All three have elite measurables and superb resumes and should be ready to start immediately.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Haason Reddick, LB, Temple

    The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have to try to fix what ain't broke on offense, and the defense has a lot of young talent at all three levels. But with Lawrence Timmons gone and the 38-year-old James Harrison likely to start looking old sooner or later, Pittsburgh could really use fresh blood to complement Harrison, Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier in the linebacker corps.

    I'm going with Reddick over Zach Cunningham not only because Cunningham should be taken before the 30th pick (maybe by one of the three teams I've already matched him with in this exercise), but also because Reddick had 9.5 sacks as a senior with the Owls. The Steelers need somebody who can help the pass rush, especially if Father Time starts to catch up to Harrison.

    While Reddick projects as an inside linebacker in that 3-4 defense, he could theoretically be used frequently as a rusher on passing downs, making him the perfect fit in Pittsburgh.

    Other options: Taco Charlton, Michigan; Charles Harris, Missouri: Of course, there's a chance Reddick doesn't drop to the 30th spot, in which case I'd go with the best available potential 3-4 outside linebacker. Charlton or Harris should still be kicking when they're on the clock.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

    The San Francisco 49ers need a quarterback as badly as they need a shiny new pass-rusher, but they need great players more than anything else. If Myles Garrett goes No. 1, Thomas will be the greatest player available when San Francisco is on the clock with the No. 2 overall pick.

    Much greater than any of the quarterbacks in this draft, some of whom the 49ers might have a shot at with the No. 34 overall pick anyway.

    That defense ranked 31st in the league at Football Outsiders in terms of pressure rate last year, and the 49ers desperately need an elite defender who can set the edge in their new 4-3 defense while also shutting down the run inside. The versatile Thomas can do it all, which makes him the perfect hole-filling solution for San Francisco.

    Other options: Garrett, Texas A&M: A no-brainer if the Browns do something silly.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

    In terms of pass-blocking efficiency, Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle's offensive line third-last in football last season. And among 20 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 180 times, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ranked second in terms of pressure percentage. Wilson was sacked 41 times, which was tied for the second-highest mark in football.

    All of that might explain why injuries finally caught up to Wilson, who on paper had the worst season of his career.

    While almost everybody else in need of offensive tackle help was splurging in free agency, the Seahawks only brought in bust former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel, who was one of the worst left tackles in football in 2014 and 2015, was moved to guard in 2016 and then almost immediately shredded his left knee.

    Joeckel isn't the long-term answer at left tackle, and George Fant and Garry Gilliam were not acceptable options at either tackle position last season. It's clear the Seahawks need an offensive tackle more than anything else.

    If Cam Robinson or Ryan Ramczyk are available this late, they'll have a big decision to make. But I'm betting they won't be, making Bolles—who dominated the combine and has every physical trait you look for in a cornerstone left tackle—the obvious choice.

    Other options: Robinson, Alabama; Ramczyk, Wisconsin: Robinson has a ton of big-game experience but has lacked consistency and might have benefited from his surroundings at Alabama. Like Bolles, Ramczyk is a more intriguing prospect with an unknown ceiling, but he also has just one year of top-level college football experience under his belt. Both should be gone anyway by the time Seattle picks 26th overall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

    Going from Bradley McDougald to J.J. Wilcox is probably a downgrade at safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Chris Conte was graded by PFF as the league's second-worst qualified safety last season. If they're going to compete in that division, they're going to need to do a lot better than Wilcox, Conte and Keith Tandy at that position.

    The best way to do that would be by adding one of the most unique athletes in the draft in Peppers, who has the versatility and experience to contribute in a major way right off the bat. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year can cover anybody while also shutting down the run inside the box, which is something the Bucs could use after ranking in the bottom 10 defensively last season.

    Other options: Malik Hooker, Ohio State; Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut: The uber-athletic Melifonwu would also be interesting, but it might be too early to pick him 19th. Hooker is a rangy ball hawk with All-Pro potential, but it might be too late.

Tennessee Titans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

    The Tennessee Titans upgraded their secondary in free agency and already have every key piece in place outside of the wide receiver position on offense. They could still use another pass-rusher, but it's time to give young franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota an elite No. 1 receiver.

    They can keep the No. 5 overall pick and draft Williams, who should be available that early.

    Williams, who caught 98 passes and scored 11 touchdowns in 2016, has the ideal combination of size (6'4", 218 pounds), speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash) and experience (two 1,000-yard seasons in the ACC).

    With all due respect to Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe, he'd immediately become the top receiver on the team.

    Other optionsJohn Ross, Washington; Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Same situation as the Cardinals (remember reading about them a few hours ago?). The former is a speed demon who could give Mariota the ultimate home-run threat, while the latter put up monster numbers as a four-year starter in the MAC and might be more polished/less of an injury risk than Williams. Still, it's probably too early for those two.

Washington Redskins

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama

    Some say the Washington Redskins need a safety, but D.J. Swearinger has a bright future, and Su'a Cravens and DeAngelo Hall aren't bad either. Others say they need a running back, but Robert Kelley, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson were all pretty good last season (they had a combined 1,520 yards and 12 touchdowns). Others think wide receiver is their top area of need, but Terrelle Pryor replaces DeSean Jackson, and Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson should both get better.

    The Redskins don't have any large holes. This is an underrated team that survived not having a general manager during free agency and the lead-up to the draft. That said, the closest thing they have to a hole resides up front on defense, where Ziggy Hood, Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain are slated to start.

    Hood was graded 118th among 122 qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF last season. All three veteran defensive tackles who lined up next to Hood—Ricky Jean Francois, Cullen Jenkins and the stout Chris Baker—are gone. They replaced those guys by overpaying should-be-backups McClain and McGee, but hopefully they realize McClain, McGee and even Hood are not long-term options.

    If so, they might want to use that No. 17 overall pick on Allen if the reigning national defensive player of the year falls to them. Allen started for three years as a versatile 3-4 end for arguably the best defense in the country, picking up 22.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss during his final two seasons with the Crimson Tide. He'd start from the get-go, playing a huge role up front.

    Other options: Caleb Brantley, Florida; Malik McDowell, Michigan State: Allen could be a top-10 pick, so if concerns about his shoulders don't cause him to slide, the Redskins could instead go with Brantley (a monster three-year starter who may or may not fit their scheme) or McDowell (who is a better fit but might be a bit of a project).


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