Projecting Every 1st-Round Pick's Year 1 Impact
The NFL draft provides every team and fanbase with hope, but it's fleeting. It's a false narrative based on the unknown. Once the season arrives, reality strikes.
Not every draft pick is going to be successful, and multiple first-round selections will fail.
"The miss rate is really scary," Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said prior to this year's draft in Philadelphia, per ESPN.com's David Newton. "When you look at these first-rounders and the failure rate, it gets scary."
While no definitive bust rate has been determined because the process is somewhat subjective, every draft provides annual reminders that talent evaluation is an inexact science.
A player's situation becomes the most overlooked aspect of the draft process. Talent doesn't always supersede where an individual lands. How his talent fits into a team's scheme and blends with his teammates and his coaching staff has as much to do with any potential success than his natural ability.
No one should assume a player is going succeed just because he was the No. 1 overall pick or a great "value selection." Instead, look at what team the incoming talent is paired with and if the situation provides the best opportunity for him to be successful.
Some will be natural fits and provide instant impact. Others will need more time. And a few will be busts. With rookie minicamps providing an initial glimpse, Bleacher Report decided to look at each first-round fit.
1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
People often place unrealistic expectations on first-round picks. This is especially true for No. 1 overall selections, as a learning curve and transition period still exist.
Myles Garrett became the fourth defensive end to be selected No. 1 overall since 2000, and he's expected to redefine the Cleveland Browns defense and become a pass-rushing terror. It takes time to become a true sack artist, though. None of the previous three defensive ends selected with the first pick—Courtney Brown, Mario Williams and Jadeveon Clowney—managed more than 4.5 sacks during his rookie campaign.
Garrett is talented, but he has areas where he needs to improve. His mentor, Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, already pinpointed a problem spot.
"[H]e said I was slow off the ball, but that is coming from the very best,” Garrett said Saturday, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "He is just trying to teach me the tricks that I can get off the ball faster and do it even better. If I learn that and keep on practicing that, then I will perform at a high level."
Even if the Texas A&M product doesn't provide a 10-sack season to start his career, the Browns will likely feel his impact through the improved defense overall. Cleveland now has a defender every opponent must account for on a down-by-down basis.
Garrett will take away attention from others along the defensive front. Thus, his presence is an instant improvement to a squad that finished 31st in total defense last season.
2. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Mitchell Trubisky is the Chicago Bears' franchise quarterback. Whether he takes the reins of the offense as a Week 1 starter or later in the season, the 2017 second overall pick will see the field sooner rather than later even though he started only 13 collegiate games.
The Bears have said otherwise, but a team doesn't aggressively trade up the way Chicago did without a plan to get the new QB on the field.
"In regards to Mike Glennon, Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback," general manager Ryan Pace said after selecting Trubisky, per the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer. "There's no quarterback competition when Mitch gets here. Glennon is our starting quarterback."
The aforementioned approach is fine. Ideal, even. The team signed the veteran signal-caller to a three-year, $45 million contract—which could be a one-year deal since there's an out—to serve as a bridge. But injuries happen. Bad play occurs. If Chicago starts to lose, the outcry for the rookie to play will be deafening.
Trubisky is talented. He deserved to be the first quarterback off the board. By making the deal to select him with the second overall pick—the Bears gave up the 2017 No. 3 overall selection, 2017 third- and fourth-round picks and a 2018 third-rounder—the organization placed itself in a position where Trubisky will likely be forced to play sooner than the plan indicates.
3. Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
Solomon Thomas' talent wasn't in question when the San Francisco 49ers selected him with the third overall pick in April's draft. But with 2015 and 2016 first-round picks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner already on the roster, Thomas didn't have a clear fit.
The initial answer came during 49ers rookie minicamp.
According to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, the Stanford product lined up as the "big end" and is expected to move inside to defensive tackle during certain sub-packages in coordinator Robert Saleh's new scheme.
With Thomas as the strong-side end, Armstead and Buckner will likely form the team's defensive tackle duo, and Aaron Lynch will play rush end (or Leo). Saleh will likely move them around quite a bit, though.
"Kind of lining up in the end position and stuff so I can move down to that 3-tech and be able to rush with DeForest or Arik in there," Thomas said about his role after being drafted, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner (via ABC 7 Chicago). "So, you know, that's really what we talked about [with defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina], and I'm excited to figure out and learn more about the system."
Thomas is a versatile and disruptive piece Saleh can use similarly to how the Seattle Seahawks employ Michael Bennett. His power at end and his athleticism as an interior pass-rusher provide the 49ers with the perfect chess piece along an up-and-coming defensive line.
4. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coachspeak can be hilarious. Take, for example, when a coach says a top-10 draft pick has to "earn his position." Reality tells a different story. Teams don't select elite prospects with the intention of sitting them.
So, there must have been a little bit of snickering when Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said Leonard Fournette must earn a spot as the team's top running back.
"Obviously, when we made the pick, we were thinking about [how] he can be someone like that [a workhorse]," Marrone said at minicamp, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco. "Obviously he's shown that ability, but at the same sense, when you have the team, the one thing about a team is you have to earn that. So he's going to have to go and show that he has to do that."
Fournette is a game-changer when he starts to physically overwhelm defenders. He also changes the math within the Jaguars offense. Last season, Jacksonville finished 24th in the league with 392 rushing attempts. That number should dramatically rise with the team's new 6'0", 240-pound workhorse as its focal point.
A run-heavy approach can create more space for the team's talented wide receivers to operate courtesy of an effective play-action game—which should also benefit quarterback Blake Bortles.
5. Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis is now the Tennessee Titans' No. 1 target. He has yet to fully practice or even nab a pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota, but the team didn't draft him fifth overall to not be a primary option in its passing attack.
The FBS all-time receiving yards leader (5,278 yards) has all the tools necessary to dramatically improve the Titans wide receiver corps. He has the size (6'3", 209 lbs) to make difficult catches, the quickness to separate at the top of his stem and the speed to run away from defenders once the ball is in his hands. His route running was some of the best in this year's class. Plus, he worked from both the slot and outside the numbers.
"I bring whatever they need—I'm happy to be here, happy to do whatever they need me to do, play inside, outside," Davis said, per ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky. "My job is to get open and catch the ball."
Prior to Davis' arrival, the Titans didn't have the most talented group of targets. Rishard Matthews is a good slot receiver. Tajae Sharpe is a solid possession receiver. And tight end Delanie Walker proved to be a reliable option. None of them eclipsed 65 receptions or 950 receiving yards last season.
Davis is the complete package, although he's recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during predraft training.
"He is a good-looking athlete," head coach Mike Mularkey said of Davis, per Jim Wyatt of the team's official site. "We are monitoring what we are doing with him right now, still making sure that he is recovering from his injury. He is on schedule."
Davis will provide a more consistent option at wide receiver while deepening the team's rotation alongside Matthews, Sharpe and fellow rookie Taywan Taylor.
6. Jamal Adams, New York Jets
The New York Jets had a choice with the sixth overall pick. They could have invested in a quarterback with all the signal-callers except Trubisky available. Instead, the organization invested in a new defensive quarterback with the selection of safety Jamal Adams.
Adams was lauded throughout the draft process for his leadership at LSU. While the Jets still feature veteran defenders such as David Harris, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, the rookie plans to earn their respect and play the game with the same demeanor that made him a top pick.
"When you just come in and you work as hard as you can, you gain the respect of the coaching staff and your teammates," Adams said, per 247Sports' James Parks. "When they see that you're one of those guys who just wants to do the right things, who wants to come in and get W's for the organization, they're going to respect you. Once you get that respect, the rest follows."
The Jets didn't just draft the first-team All-SEC performer for his leadership qualities. Adams is a skilled safety with the ability to play near the line of scrimmage, over the slot or deep in coverage. He's all but guaranteed one starting spot after the organization cut veteran Marcus Gilchrist. Calvin Pryor is still on the roster, but his time appears limited after the team turned down the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
7. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
No drama ensued after the Los Angeles Chargers used their top-10 pick on Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, unlike last year's contract squabble with Joey Bosa.
But the opposite could occur when it comes to impact on the field.
Bosa dominated from the moment he entered the lineup in Week 5. Williams will have a tougher time cracking the wide receiver rotation due to the team's depth at the position.
When healthy, Keenan Allen is a legit top target and one of the NFL's best. But he only played nine games over the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Tyrell Williams developed into a 1,000-yard wide receiver in 2016. With the speedy Travis Benjamin also in the mix, the Chargers don't need to thrust Mike Williams into the lineup. General manager Tom Telesco even intimated Williams and his fellow rookies have a lot to learn in a short time.
"Right now, they're weeks behind our veterans as far as this offseason program is concerned," Telesco said prior to rookie minicamp, per the Orange County Register's Jack Wang. "They have a lot of catching up to do."
At 6'4" and 218 pounds, Williams does present an immediate red-zone threat and a big body on crucial downs. He doesn't need to be the team's top option, though. He just provides another target for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers when the offense offers different looks with its multi-receiver sets.
8. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers' pick of Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 overall was intriguing, but any discussion regarding the Stanford product can't be complete without including the team's overall approach to this year's draft.
McCaffrey will pair with Curtis Samuel, Carolina's second-round choice in 2017, to form one of the NFL's most exciting skill groups. You can't discuss one without the other because the plan is to use both to their fullest in an offense that wasn't explosive last season.
"In my opinion, you can't just say, 'well, Christian's a smaller guy, he's a good outside and receiver out of the backfield.' No, he's a lot more than that," offensive coordinator Mike Shula told The MMQB's Albert Breer. "And you can’t say Curtis is just a screen guy. No, he's a good route-runner, he's gonna get better, and he's proven he can carry the football as a runner."
Their combined impact based on versatility and overall usage will redefine the Panthers offense.
McCaffrey will obviously start out of the backfield, splitting time with veteran Jonathan Stewart. He'll be defined as a running back, yet he can line up on the wing, in the slot, out wide and provide a big presence on special teams too.
When Shula starts to dabble with Cam Newton, McCaffrey and Samuel all in the backfield at the same time, a defense won't be able to key in on any of the three, and the Panthers offense will benefit from that unpredictably.
9. John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
New Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross may forever defined by his record-setting 4.22-second 40-yard dash at this year's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. But that's not a bad thing. The Washington product's speed makes him an tremendous complement opposite A.J. Green.
Green's length (6'4"), his ability to high-point the football and route running that's comparable to a much smaller target make him nearly impossible to cover. He's averaged 14.6 yards per catch or more in five of his six seasons. He's one of the NFL's premier receivers. But he's dealt with injuries throughout his career, and Cincinnati didn't have much of a second option last year after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency.
Veteran Brandon LaFell put together a solid campaign in 2016 as Cincinnati's No. 2 target with 64 receptions for 862 yards. His 11 receptions of 20 or more yards tied for 36th in the league, though. At 6'3", 210 pounds, he's a bid-bodied possession receiver.
Ross is a blur. Because he's an instant vertical threat, not only will defenses be concerned about which way to roll the coverage with both him and Green on the field, but the 5'11', 188-pound target is also a legit threat after the catch and in the red zone.
The Bengals can threaten every inch of the field with Ross, Green and tight end Tyler Eifert down the seam. It falls on quarterback Andy Dalton to take advantage on a consistent basis.
10. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone knew Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes was an immensely talented yet rough-around-the-edges quarterback prospect going into the draft. Many still seemed surprised when he said he wasn't ready for an NFL playbook during the Kansas City Chiefs rookie minicamp.
"But whenever I got out there and called [the cadence], I had to look out, see the guys and make sure everyone was in the right position," Mahomes said, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "That was the process which was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be."
With Alex Smith already on the roster, Mahomes will have an opportunity to absorb all of the nuances in head coach Andy Reid's playbook without being thrown into the proverbial fire. The Texas native is a gifted thrower, but he'll need time to learn and work within the structure of a professional offense.
Aside from an injury to Smith or a few garbage-time snaps, there's no reason for Mahomes to see the field this season. He can become the team's franchise quarterback in 2018 or 2019 when he's ready.
11. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Last season, the New Orleans Saints finished 32nd overall in pass defense. In order to improve upon its woeful secondary, the franchise chose one of the top-rated cornerback prospects on Matt Miller's big board for Bleacher Report with the 11th overall selection.
Marshon Lattimore displayed the tools necessary to be a top cover corner at the next level. At 6'0" and 193 pounds, the defensive back ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. More importantly, his Ohio State tape and workouts showed top-notch lower-body flexibility. Every team wants a cornerback who has top-end speed, but that can't come at the expense of the fluidity needed to quickly change directions and break on the ball.
Lattimore is a natural because he can turn and run with any receiver he faces. He still needs to pick up the nuances of the position, but he's already started his path during rookie minicamp.
"Listen he [Lattimore] is doing well like the rest of these guys," head coach Sean Payton said after the second day of rookie minicamp, per WWL-TV (via the Shreveport Times). "He's going out there and getting the calls. They're getting a lot installed right now, but he's a quick study, and he's picked it up."
Payton's quote seems benign considering the time of year, but it's important for the rookie cornerback to be picking up these little things since Lattimore primarily operated on the right side and in bail coverage during his one year as a Buckeyes starter.
His natural talent should make him a starter opposite Delvin Breaux and an immediate upgrade over last year's defensive backs.
12. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans, in desperate need of a starting quarterback, made a bold move when they traded up 13 spots in the first round to claim Deshaun Watson.
Despite the team's predicament, head coach Bill O'Brien said a rookie signal-caller would need time to take over the starting role.
"I think that there's no substitute for experience," O'Brien said prior to the draft, per ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop. "So, I think it's hard to ask a guy to come in straight from college and day one he's a starter on your team."
The coach is correct to a degree. Every young quarterback requires an acclimation period to the pro game. Some may be further behind on the learning curve, but it's culture shock for all of them. Even so, a successful quarterback like Watson has an opportunity to be a day one starter. All he has to do is beat out 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage.
"Every minute of the day when they walk in the building here, it's a competition," O'Brien said, per USA Today's Jarrett Bell.
The only way Watson loses this competition after the team dumped Brock Osweiler and traded up to acquire his services is if he falls flat during training camp and shows little or no understanding of the offense during the preseason. Otherwise, it's the rookie's job to lose.
13. Haason Reddick, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals continued to build the league's most versatile and schematically flexible defense during the draft. With Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon already on the roster, the team added Haason Reddick in the first round at No. 13 overall.
Reddick joined Temple's program as a walk-on defensive back before converting to defensive end and then transitioning to linebacker during the predraft process.
"We love two-for-one players," Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. "When we get a guy who can play two positions equally great, that's a great situation for us. ... He will have a huge impact in a lot of different positions. He gives us tremendous flexibility in our sub-defense."
The coach is pointing toward the fact the rookie is expected to rotate at inside linebacker and serve as a pass-rusher in certain sub-packages.
"We've talked before that what we try to do with our defense is build hybrid players who scheme fit into different spots," general manager Steve Keim said. "This guy can play inside, he can play outside. ... He's explosive."
With Reddick and second-round pick Budda Baker, the Cardinals defense can provide numerous looks to confuse opposing offense. Arizona will use both in multiple ways despite having veterans ahead of them on the depth chart.
14. Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles
For three years, Derek Barnett terrorized the best college football had to offer at Tennessee. But he did so primarily as a right defensive end. If he's going to crack the Philadelphia Eagles' starting lineup, he'll have to switch sides and get used to rushing the quarterback from the strong side.
"Right now, it's a matter of getting him out there and seeing which side he's comfortable on," head coach Doug Pederson said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Sielski. "We want to work him on both sides of the defensive front, right and left."
During his time with the Volunteers, Barnett proved he can get after opposing signal-callers. He displayed the flexibility to shorten the edge, along with the strength to be a solid run defender.
"So when the D-lineman gets to the top, he is excellent—excellent ankle flexion, excellent ability to bend at the top and finish," Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas told reporters after Philly drafted Barnett. "He can close, and he uses a variety of moves. He uses the speed rush. He can use power."
Despite his immense collegiate production—52 tackles for loss and a Tennessee career-sacks record of 33—Barnett isn't a top athlete for his position. Fellow Eagle Brandon Graham is a far more explosive option coming off the blind side. Thus, the rookie will have to become comfortable on the left side, or he won't find himself in the starting lineup. He might not anyhow with veterans Vinny Curry and Chris Long competing for playing time.
15. Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts
Safety Malik Hooker is a ball hawk in the truest sense of the description. He's the type of playmaker who can redefine a defense with his sideline-to-sideline range, natural instincts and balls skills. Last season, the Indianapolis Colts tied for 29th in the league with only eight interceptions.
Hooker's ability to play the deep third will also allow the Colts to play strong safety Clayton Geathers closer to the line of scrimmage or more at nickel linebacker.
The Ohio State product was available to the Colts with the 15th overall pick because he couldn't work out for teams prior to the NFL draft after needing offseason labrum and sports hernia surgery, however. The rookie will eventually get an opportunity to take over as Indianapolis' starting free safety, but he's still recuperating from his previous surgery while trying to absorb the defense's playbook.
"I think that what we can expect mentally from Malik is to dive in with both feet and go full speed with the install and see how far he can get down the road in terms of film study and becoming a better pro," defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said, per George Bremer of CNHI Sports Indiana (via the Tribune Star). "I think that once he does start to go out and compete on the field, I think that we can expect great things."
The first-team All-American said he expects to be ready for training camp, per WISH-TV's Charlie Clifford. Along with T.J. Green, a second-round pick last year, the Colts have three young and talented safeties who can perform in multiple roles and provide far more flexibility along the team's back line.
16. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens finished ninth in pass defense last season, and the unit will be even better in 2017 with the additions of safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr and first-round defensive back Marlon Humphrey.
"We've gone after a portion of our team in the back end with our secondary with a vengeance," head coach John Harbaugh said after the first round of the draft, per ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "We are going to be darn tough to throw the ball against."
Humphrey became the second cornerback off the board after the Saints chose Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall selection. Lattimore may be more fluid in coverage, but Humphrey is a bigger (6'0", 197 lbs) and more physical corner with plenty of experience playing on an island in Alabama head coach Nick Saban's offense.
During a draft loaded with defensive backs, the Ravens weren't going to pass on a talent like Humphrey.
"He was by far the best player that we were going to take," general manager Ozzie Newsome said, per Hensley. "The only way we were not going to take him was someone was going to have to offer us something really good to trade back."
Carr and Jimmy Smith are established starters, and they'll likely remain so. But the Ravens can slide Carr inside in their nickel package with Humphrey taking over as one of Baltimore's outside corners.
17. Jonathan Allen, Washington Redskins
Jonathan Allen's draft-day slide became one of the most surprising first-round stories in this year's draft. Concerns existed regarding previous shoulder injuries, but he was still generally considered a first-round talent. He fell to the 17th pick, where the Washington Redskins gladly selected the highly decorated defender.
"He's got all the tools to be a great defensive lineman, without a doubt," head coach Jay Gruden said after seeing Allen at minicamp, per ESPN.com's John Keim. "I think there are some things he can clean up, as all of these young guys have issues they need to clean up. As far as skill set is concerned, Jonathan has everything you're looking for in a defensive lineman."
Allen is expected to start in a revamped Washington defensive front. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year dominated at the collegiate level, but he truly excelled as an interior pass-rusher. It's an area where Washington's defensive line struggled last season. Chris Baker led the team's interior defenders with 3.5 sacks last season, but he's no longer with the team.
The Alabama product's ability to collapse the pocket should make life easier for Washington's talented edge-rushers. Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson and Trent Murphy—once he returns from his four-game league suspension—will be better with a legit presence along the defensive line.
18. Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans
The term "athlete" is often used to reference high school recruits who don't have established positions. The NFL used to downgrade players who didn't fit a specific role.
As the game changes, these perceptions start to disappear. Much like Christian McCaffrey earlier in the draft or Jabrill Peppers later in the first round, Adoree' Jackson is a versatile athlete who can contribute in a multitude of ways.
"He is going to help us in a lot of areas on defense and on special teams, and with the brain coach [Mike] Mularkey has, I am sure he'll find a way to use him on offense too," Titans secondary coach Deshea Townsend told Jim Wyatt of the team's official site. "He was a good pick for us, and he is going to help our defense."
Jackson is a cornerback. Granted, he's still raw after playing both ways at times for the USC Trojans, but he displayed the ability and movement skills to develop into a top cover corner. Although, receivers took advantage of his inexperience at times. Jackson has the ability to shut down a target; he'll also make simple mistakes such as biting on a double move.
His success depends on how the coaching staff brings him along and plays to his strengths. Outside of taking advantage of his ball skills on special teams and maybe even offense, Jackson is expected to start opposite veteran cornerback Logan Ryan. Mularkey plans to line him up over the slot at times too, per Wyatt.
Considering the Titans finished 30th in pass defense last year, an athletic upgrade to the secondary is a big step in the right direction even if Jackson has yet to master some of the nuances of the position.
19. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
O.J. Howard is a rare type of player. The first-round tight end is one of the few players at his position who entered the league with the athleticism to be a mismatch in the passing game and a legitimate in-line option as a blocker.
"The true Y tight ends are a dying breed in college football," Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said, per ESPN.com's Jenna Laine. "There's not that many teams left that utilize a player like O.J. while in the NFL. I think it's still one of the best weapons that you can have."
The Buccaneers spend the 19th overall pick to acquire the draft's top tight end prospect, according to B/R's Matt Miller. His presence on the roster changes the dynamic of what the Buccaneers can do.
Cameron Brate, who tied for the league lead among tight ends with eight touchdown receptions in 2016, will be used in a more versatile role, while Howard can be the traditional option. Howard's presence also gives quarterback Jameis Winston another option in the passing game. With Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Brate and Howard, the signal-caller should thrive in his third season.
Meanwhile, the team's running backs will benefit from improved blocking from the tight end position. Why? Because Howard can do it all.
20. Garett Bolles, Denver Broncos
When a player enters the NFL at the ripe age of 24 years old—with a birthday later this month—there's no time to dillydally. Offensive tackle Garett Bolles, the Denver Broncos' first-round pick, understands this and accordingly approached the experience.
"The foundation that he has set and all these coaches here, they gave me a chance," Bolles said, per BSN Denver's Ryan Koenigsberg. "... I just want to continue to work hard, show those vets I'm ready to play and get to their level."
Bolles must establish himself early because he's expected to be the team's starting left tackle. The Broncos didn't make him the first offensive lineman selected to sit him on the bench at the start of the season. He will man the blind side for whomever the coaching staff selects as its starting quarterback.
"I feel like I have the capability to do that," Bolles said about becoming a team leader, particularly among this year's rookies, per the Denver Post's Cameron Wolfe. "One person needs to step up. If that's me, then that's awesome."
The Utah product is the focal point of an offensive line overhaul, particularly the left side. His play will cause a ripple effect throughout the entire offense. As long as he proves he can handle his new responsibilities, the Broncos will have taken a massive step in the right direction after dealing with last year's makeshift front five.
21. Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions
Sometimes a coach will let a little nugget of truth slip when he's discussing his team. The Detroit Lions' Jim Caldwell did just that when asked about the team's first-round pick, Jarrad Davis.
"We expect him to be a factor for us," Caldwell said, per ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein. "Smart guy. Has got ability. Can run, hit, et cetera. I think he'll help us, help us quickly."
Most coaches would say their first-round pick must earn his position. But Caldwell went the other way with Davis.
The Lions needed help at linebacker, and it was obvious. Where the Florida product will line up is still in question, though.
"It's like anything else, you try to put them in the best spot possible that you think where they could fit," Caldwell said. "Nowadays, when you have so much nickel in the ballgame, those guys are really flexible in terms of the position they are going to play."
Davis is a natural middle linebacker even in nickel. He's athletic with the ability to track the football from sideline to sideline while dropping in space with ease. The coaching staff can fill the spaces around the first-round linebacker, but Davis will be the new heart of Detroit's defense.
22. Charles Harris, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are already set at defensive end with Cameron Wake and Andre Branch coming off the edge, but a team can never have too many talented pass-rushers.
The organization drafted Missouri defensive end Charles Harris to be Wake's heir apparent. Over the last two seasons, Harris registered 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks despite a scheme change between the campaigns.
Since the Kansas City native is expected to replace the 35-year-old Wake, he plans to learn everything he can from the five-time Pro Bowler.
"You can't get away from me, the little brother that mom tells you, 'He has to go with you up the street,'" Harris said about this year's approach by following everything Wake does, per 247Sports' James Parks. "That’s what I'm going to be. In every way, shape or form, I’m going to make sure I take after him."
Early in his career, Harris will serve in a pass-rushing specialist in Miami's defensive line rotation. The coaching staff is interested in using him as a interior rusher too.
"On third down, you will see him go inside because he has that explosive first step and quickness," general manager Chris Grier said, per Parks. "He can be a disruptive player."
The Dolphins needed someone to supplement a pass rush that tied for 19th last season with 33 sacks. Harris can team with Wake and Branch to really get after quarterbacks on third down.
23. Evan Engram, New York Giants
Even with the New York Giants' free-agent addition of Brandon Marshall, the team had a gaping hole in its offense. But this year's first-round pick, Evan Engram, is everything head coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan want from a tight end.
"This is a legitimate vertical threat," Sullivan said, per the New York Post's Paul Schwartz. "But he's not just a receiver. When you talk about first impressions, when I met him, seeing him up close and personal [Thursday night], this is a big, strong guy.'"
During his time at Ole Miss, Engram served as a move tight end who rarely lined up as an in-line option. As the top target in the team's offense last year, the first-team All-American led all FBS tight ends with 926 receiving yards. The Giants will use him differently in their offense, though.
"I love it," the first-round rookie said during rookie minicamp, per Schwartz. "Especially my position, the Y, and how much we move around and stuff, puts defense in binds and finding holes on the defense. I can't wait to really learn it."
The 6'3", 234-pound tight end is an instant mismatch against linebackers or safeties. With a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and a 36-inch vertical jump, he has the speed to stretch the seam and the athleticism to shake defenders over the middle of the field. Quarterback Eli Manning has a new security blanket in Engram.
24. Gareon Conley, Oakland Raiders
When the Oakland Raiders chose Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the 24th overall selection, many were surprised.
The pick made sense purely from a football perspective. Conley was an early-first-round talent with the size (6'0", 195 lbs), athleticism and coverage skills to warrant a much higher draft pick.
But he entered the draft with with an open investigation into a rape accusation from April, per TMZ Sports. Before making their selection, the Raiders conducted their own research.
"I don't want to get into all the details about who we talked to, all of that stuff," general manager Reggie McKenzie said after the draft, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez. "But the bottom line is we've done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were."
Conley has continued to deny the accusation and voluntarily submitted a DNA test and statement to the Cleveland police.
The Raiders already have a pair of established starters in Sean Smith and David Amerson. But the team lost its top nickel corner in D.J. Hayden during free agency. Conley didn't play much nickel corner at Ohio State, but if he is cleared of wrongdoing, he should be a big part of the team's sub-packages this fall.
25. Jabrill Peppers, Cleveland Browns
Even though the Cleveland Browns opened the 2017 draft with the selection of Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, the team's second pick of Michigan product Jabrill Peppers may be more important to its defense under the direction of coordinator Gregg Williams.
Williams employs an extensive defensive playbook with numerous exotic alignments and blitzes and can use Peppers in various ways thanks to his athleticism and natural skill set.
The Browns will list him as a strong safety, yet he'll be seen as the team's top force player, an option to cover the slot, rotating to defend the deep third. He'll be used as an option to blitz the quarterback and may even see some time at nickel linebacker.
After trading down with the Houston Texans and selecting Peppers with the 25th overall pick, Browns executive vice president of player personnel Sashi Brown said the 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist is "probably the most dynamic athlete to play this position that Gregg [Williams] has had," per 92.3 The Fan's Keith Britton.
The hybrid defender's versatility makes him the most valuable piece of the Browns' draft class.
26. Takkarist McKinley, Atlanta Falcons
As the NFL season commenced, the Atlanta Falcons defense improved as young players emerged as stars. 2016 first-round pick Keanu Neal set a physical tone. Linebacker Deion Jones displayed tremendous range. And Vic Beasley Jr. developed into the league's top sack artist.
Despite all the talent on that side of the ball, the defense was still incomplete heading into the offseason. Excluding Beasley, the Falcons defense only generated 18.5 sacks—only three more than Beasley himself.
Takkarist McKinley's addition with the 26th overall pick served as an attempt to balance the team's pass rush.
"He's got an edge to him, which we like, which we think is going to be really a nice complement to Vic Beasley," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said during an interview on Good Morning Football. "So I think there's a nice dichotomy there. ... He's a really fast, explosive guy off the mark. Once he gets around the corner, his ability to close to the quarterback, his ability to speed-to-power rushes is very impressive for us."
The Falcons will have to wait before the duo can realize the team's vision since McKinley required surgery in early March that will keep him off the field for four to six months, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legworld. If there are any setbacks, McKinley might miss training camp, which will prevent him from contributing early in the regular season.
27. Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills
A near-complete overhaul of the Buffalo Bills secondary commenced after last season. According to Pro Football Focus, four of the team's top six defensive backs in snaps played in 2016 are no longer on the roster. Only Ronald Darby remains.
Darby needs a running mate, though. The team signed Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde to serve as the team's new starting safeties. After trading down in the first round, the Bills chose Tre'Davious White to complete the foursome.
At 5'11" and 192 pounds, White isn't the biggest corner, which can be both a positive and a negative. The LSU product is equally adept at playing outside the numbers as he is covering the slot. His fluidity in coverage ranked among the best in the class. But he'll need to improve as a tackler in head coach Sean McDermott's system.
"Our corners are going to tackle, and Tre'Davious no different," the McDermott said, per the Buffalo News' Vic Carucci. "That was part of the evaluation process. We were able to check that box, and that's an identity that will be shaped as we continue to move forward as a defense and as a football team."
Even with all these additions, the Bills need to decide which defensive backs can enter their sub-packages to join Darby and White in coverage.
28. Taco Charlton, Dallas Cowboys
At 6'6" and 273 pounds, Taco Charlton is an ideal NFL defensive end. The Dallas Cowboys desperately wanted to add an edge presence during the draft and did with Charlton available at the 28th overall pick.
"He's a really good athlete, very good athlete," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer. "And then he's got length. He's long and lean, and he's just going to get stronger."
The defense needed help at defensive end after Tyrone Crawford was forced to play out of position last season. With Randy Gregory's ongoing suspension, the Cowboys lacked depth too.
More importantly, Marinelli's defensive scheme is predicated on the front four applying pressure without the need to regularly blitz. Charlton improved each year as a pass-rusher and registered 10 sacks as a senior at Michigan.
"He has prototypical size, and he can play all over the place," assistant director of player personnel and senior director of college and pro scouting Will McClay said of Charlton, per the Cowboys' official site (h/t 247Sports' Patrik Walker). "When I turn on the tape to watch him, I saw him do athletic things that guys who are 6'5", 270 pounds with 34-inch arms shouldn't be able to do."
With Charlton, DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, the Cowboys' defensive end rotation should be far more effective this fall than it was a year ago.
29. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
Of Cleveland's three first-round picks, the least is expected from tight end David Njoku. Since he was the third selected, that seems natural, and he's also the biggest project out of the trio.
At 20 years old, Njoku became the youngest tight end ever selected in the first round, per the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro. He's a talented yet raw prospect. The Miami product led all tight ends in major college football last season with an average of 11.2 yards after the catch, per Pro Football Focus' Jeff Deeney.
"He's a freak," new Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer said of Njoku at Browns minicamp, per Andrew Gribble of the team's official site.
However, the 6'4", 246-pound target is still a work in progress. He needs to improve his route running, his blocking and his consistency as a pass-catcher. His talent is obvious, but so is the fact he needs to be molded by a patient coaching staff.
Since the organization decided to release veteran tight end Gary Barnidge after Round 1, the process could be expedited to a degree. Njoku will pair with 2016 fourth-rounder Seth DeValve to form a highly athletic duo as move tight ends/slot receivers.
30. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker factory hasn't produced many new faces in recent years. Outside of Bud Dupree's emergence last season, the team hadn't developed an edge defender in quite some time despite a long history of previously doing so.
James Harrison is still one of the team's best defenders, but he's 39 years old.
As a result, the franchise invested in T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick. It's an ideal fit for the Wisconsin product after only starting one season. With Dupree and Harrison established as starters, Watt can rotate among them, especially in pass-rushing situations.
In his one season as a starting linebacker, Watt registered 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. The fact he's as developed as he is after converting from tight end is impressive.
"He beats people with [his] upper body just as much as his lower body, and usually you don't see that type of hand usage and that type of know-how in a one-year player," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
Watt's first year should be a learning experience and allow his natural athleticism to take over when he's on the field. He can then replace Harrison once the Steelers' all-time leading sack artist decides to retire.
31. Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers organization, particularly general manager John Lynch, was downright giddy to obtain linebacker Reuben Foster at the back end of the first round.
His free fall stemmed from concerns over a repaired shoulder and that his potential impact could be limited.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Foster's previous shoulder surgery "didn't take" and that his rookie season could be in jeopardy if he needed a second surgery. A day later, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said on KNBR that Foster may not be able available to open the season in a "worst-case scenario,"per the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch.
Six days after Schefter's original report, Lynch said he expects Foster to be "full go" for 49ers training camp, per SiriusXM NFL Radio.
At this point, Foster's health is the priority. His play cannot be questioned based on his 2016 performance. The Alabama product displayed tremendous sideline-to-sideline range and an aggressiveness to become the alpha dog in the 49ers defense.
Lynch revealed Foster ranked among the team's three highest-rated prospects, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner.
If Foster is on the field and starting at middle linebacker, the 49ers landed the steal of the draft. But that's a pretty big if considering his injury history.
32. Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints
When the New Orleans Saints used the 32nd overall pick to select Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk, the organization did so knowing he may be the class' best offensive line prospect while simultaneously acknowledging his injury history and the fact he may not start this fall.
Ramczyk required offseason hip surgery to fix a torn labrum and hasn't been able to participate in the on-field portions of the team's minicamp. His prognosis looks good, though.
"He probably is three to four weeks out with his labrum, but he's picking things up very quickly," head coach Sean Payton said Saturday, per the Times-Picayune's Herbie Teope. "He's in good shape and much further along than really we anticipated, even with his surgery."
Once healthy, Ramczyk will have a chance to compete with Zach Strief to start at right tackle. However, it'll be difficult to displace the veteran blocker. The 33-year-old only missed two starts in the last four seasons, and he was NFL's second-best right tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The primary objective in New Orleans is to keep Drew Brees upright. Unless Strief starts to show signs of age or gets injured, he'll likely continue in his starting role unless Ramczyk blows away the coaching staff. According to Spotrac, Strief has an option in his contract after this season, which means it's likely his last in the Big Easy.