With the 2017 NFL Draft is less than a week away, these are the first-round picks that I would project based on speculation and research.
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett (DE)
He’s the No. 1 overall player for a reason. He has fantastic measurables and elite traits that give him a rare ceiling as an edge rusher. Garrett is a freak athlete who converts his explosive speed to power when bull-rushing lineman. His great bend allows him to play loose and get underneath taller lineman. Whether it’s speed or power, he’ll be a mismatch for most linemen in the NFL. He’s an elite talent.
Top needs: QB, DE, WR
2. San Fransisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas (DE)
Thomas is a rare athlete who can flourish as both an edge rusher or interior lineman. He’s a big, physical, nasty pass rusher who has exceptional closing speed, and uses his hands to disengage blockers quickly. He’ll require a double team for most of the game, once he becomes polished as a pass rusher. His elite first step allows him to blow past lineman before they can get their feet set. He’ll be a nightmare for offenses at the next level. The 49ers are one of the teams that seem likely to trade back if given the opportunity.
Top needs: QB, WR, DE
3. Chicago Bears: Marshon Lattimore (CB)
Lattimore is the top cornerback in the class, with exceptional cover skills and athleticism. He’s fast, long, fluid and disciplined, and possesses traits to be an elite cornerback in the NFL. His terrific ball skills and recovery speed are exactly what a team looks for when drafting a corner. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than Jalen Ramsey does.
Top needs: WR, DL, CB
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jamal Adams (S)
Adams is one of the safest picks in the draft. His outstanding read-and-react skills, speed and acceleration lead to crushing hits. Adams is a playmaker with the ability to force turnovers, rather than wait for the ball to come to him, and has good hands that will translate to interceptions at the next level. He impressed me with his ability to knock the ball loose from a player’s hands. He’s more quick than fast, and his recovery speed is a bit of a concern. He may be better suited to play strong safety, where he has the potential to be a star.
Top needs: DL, S, TE
5. Tennessee Titans: Mike Williams (WR)
The Titans find themselves in a bit of a predicament in the first round. They have needs, but once Marshon Lattimore is off the board, the pick at No. 5 becomes a difficult decision. A trade-back scenario is possible, but can Tennessee find a trade partner? It seems likely to be a team who wants a quarterback. Mike Williams seems like a reach at No. 5, but teams reach for players they need. Williams used his big upper body frame to show he was the best 50-50 ball receiver in college football last year. He shields his body and attacks throws with his huge hands at an angle that defenders can’t reach, using outstanding ball tracking skills. Williams is a hands-catcher who made terrific receptions over his career, but inexplicably dropped a few passes this past season. He needs to improve his route running and separation skills, especially with press corners who jab from the snap. He has the tools to be a great receiver in the NFL.
Top needs: WR, CB, TE
6. New York Jets: Mitchell Trubisky (QB)
The New York Jets love making splash moves in the draft, especially choosing a quarterback. There has been rumored interest in Trubisky, per Pro Football Talk.
He shouldn’t start right away, sitting and learning could really benefit him since he’s only started one full season at North Carolina. He has great arm strength with the ability to throw darts to all parts of the field. He doesn’t throw an elite deep ball, but all his throws have enough velocity on them to squeeze into tight windows. He has good mechanics and footwork, but will occasionally throw with a bit of a wind-up release. He’s a good decision maker, and throws for a high completion percentage, but must learn to read the field and go through his progressions quicker.
Top needs: QB, CB, OL
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker (S)
Hooker is a true ball hawk, who plays like a running back with the ball in his hands. He made some phenomenal plays during his career at Ohio State, showing outstanding athleticism and hands for a safety. With rare quickness, instincts, closing speed and range, Hooker’s ceiling is through the roof. He must improve tackling technique and physicality, but I’m confident he has the desire to improve based off of his work ethic. He had seven interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. Big-time player.
Top needs: OT, WR, S
8. Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette (RB)
Fournette is one of the best talents in the draft. He had a couple of injury concerns during his time at LSU, and he had an underwhelming combine, but he’s an outstanding talent. He played like a man among boys for most of his career in college, even without a supportive passing game. His outstanding strength, size and speed make him one of the most complete backs to come out in the past few draft classes, but he needs to be more effective when catching the ball.
Top needs: CB, RB, T
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster (LB)
The off-field negative press for Foster has caused a stir leading up to draft day. I don’t think it’ll be enough to derail his stock, but Laremy Tunsil’s situation last year proved anything is possible. Foster is a franchise linebacker who can be the leader of your defense. His ability to bully his way into the backfield and game-changing make plays is incredible. There aren’t many holes in his game, and Cincinnati could use youth at linebacker. He’s strong, fast and an exceptional tackler who can play all three downs in the NFL.
Top needs: LB, DE, WR
10. Buffalo Bills: O.J. Howard (TE)
With the injuries to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, an offensive player for Buffalo seems like a good fit at No. 10. O.J. Howard has one of the highest ceilings out of anyone in the draft. He’s a complete package who possesses all the traits you look for in a star tight end. He blocks better than some lineman coming into the draft, and he’s a smooth, fast athlete who can catch the ball and make a play in space. He’s still raw as a player, but he has an elite ceiling he can reach if he’s coached well. Defenses will struggle to cover him.
Top needs: CB, WR, TE
11. New Orleans Saints: Haason Reddick (LB)
Reddick is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft. His versatility of playing linebacker and defensive end is impressive, but his motor, closing speed, range and agility is what makes him a nightmare. He’s a bit of a between player right now, and doesn’t fit one position perfectly yet, but he’s too physically and athletically gifted to not succeed at the next level — whatever position that may be.
Top needs: CB, LB, WR
12. Cleveland Browns: DeShaun Watson (QB)
There’s a good chance Watson may not make it to the No. 12 pick, and Cleveland will walk a fine line of missing out on a quarterback if both Watson and Trubisky are taken. A lot can change before draft day, but Watson should be available here. He throws the ball with good velocity and accuracy, though he’ll need to improve his deep ball accuracy to be successful in the NFL. His poise, leadership, intangibles and maturity are all exceptionally high, and his athleticism shows his dual-threat capability when extending the play, or rushing for a first down. He needs polishing, but he has the potential to be a very good quarterback.
Top needs: QB, DE, WR
13. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes (QB)
With Carson Palmer’s declining level of play last season, it may be time to draft the next Cardinals quarterback. Mahomes is very far away from being ready to start in the NFL, but with coaching and patience, he has a chance to be good. He has an incredible arm, and made some throws on tape that can really wow teams. Coming out of the Air Raid offense, which has produced zero successful starting quarterbacks, the odds are stacked against Mahomes’ success. He’s not comfortable throwing in the pocket, and he falls in love with his fastball too much. His accuracy is inconsistent on certain throws, and the mental part of his game is far from adequate right now. On the contrary, there’s no denying his athleticism, arm strength, pocket escapability and playmaking skills. He’s a typical gunslinger. A first-round pick on him is too rich for me, but teams are desperate for quarterbacks.
Top needs: CB, LB, QB
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Christian McCaffrey (RB)
McCaffrey is a complete offensive weapon that can become Carson Wentz’s safety-blanket. McCaffrey is fast, strong and patient in his running, and shows deadly cutback and change of direction speed. His value as a pass catcher out of the backfield or in the slot is what makes him special. He’s one of the most dynamic and versatile football players in the draft. Running backs are replaceable in today’s NFL, and the cornerback class is deep. I would’ve liked to see Philadelphia choose a cornerback at No. 14, but sometimes a franchise must choose the best player available over what a team needs. This is one of those times. McCaffrey is too good to pass up.
Top needs: DE, CB, RB
15. Indianpolis Colts: Derek Barnett (DE)
The Colts needs to improve their defense, and Derek Barnett can help them. He shows good quickness and timing off the snap, using impressive power to push defenders out of the way. His balance and flexibility to win the edge is impressive for someone who carries a wide frame like he does. He’s very refined as a pass rusher and incorporates counter moves with power. He’s one of the most powerful athletes in the draft. His motor runs high, but his passion runs even higher – he’s a guy who can ignite your team by example of never giving up on a play. He’s not as fast off the edge as you’d like him to be, and he doesn’t know how to counter inside. He isn’t an overwhelmingly explosive athlete, but he possesses traits that translate into a successful edge rusher at the next level.
Top needs: DE, OT, RB
16. Baltimore Ravens: Takkarist McKinley (DE)
The Ravens need to get younger athletes to rush the quarterback. McKinley would be a perfect fit to learn under the veteran pass rushers on the roster. He’s freak athlete who is one of the fastest edge rushers in the draft. He can rush by standing up or by using his hand in the dirt, showing he’s scheme versatile. McKinley’s quick-twitch movement off the snap allows him to win with speed and bend around the edge. In addition to rushing the edge, he also is a good blitzer from the inside as a linebacker too. He finds ways to stay skinny on blitzes in disguised coverages, showing off the type of athlete he is. He still needs to polish his counter moves to disengage off blocks in pass rushing, and must keep his pad level low to do a better job of converting speed to power. Medical issues are a bit of a concern.
Top needs: WR, DE, CB
17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen (DT)
Allen wins battles using a plethora of moves, using an outstanding motor to hunt his target. Some of the highlight reel plays he made shows he can register 10+ sacks a year as a 3-4 DE, or a 4-3 DT. He has a powerful lower half, and an even stronger upper half that makes him nearly unguardable at the point of attack. He’s a menace in the backfield, disrupting play after play by using his strong hands to rip defenders out of the way. Allen may be one of the fastest lineman in the draft, using incredible closing speed to bring his target down in the blink of an eye. This would be great value for the No. 17 pick.
Top needs: DL, LB, RB
18. Tennessee Titans: Gareon Conley (CB)
If the Titans can select Williams and Conley in the first round, they’ll be the biggest winners of the draft. Conley has size and blazing speed that is desired in an NFL cornerback. He turns and runs smoothly with loose hips and good bend. He has good ball skills, with four interceptions and seven pass breakups from just 42 passes thrown into his coverage in 2016, per Pro Football Focus. He’s an immediate upgrade for Tennessee’s secondary.
Top needs: WR, CB, TE
19. Tampa Bay: Dalvin Cook (RB)
It makes perfect sense to reunite the duo of Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook in Tampa Bay. Cook was one of the most explosive weapons in college football during his time at FSU. Game after game, FSU would feed him the ball as a focal point of their offense, and he would pack the stat sheet every time. His arsenal of moves are devastating for defenders, and he’s one of the most difficult athletes to tackle in open space. A well-rounded, dynamic running back who has some off the field issues, but not enough to jeopardize his career.
Top needs: RB, CB, S
20. Denver Broncos: Garrett Bolles (OT)
The Denver Broncos have young quarterbacks on the roster who need protection. Bolles isn’t an elite prospect, but he can solidify the edge of the offensive line for the Broncos. He’s not going to overwhelm you with power, especially in his lower half, but he has elite athleticism. He has the best footwork out of any tackle in the draft, and can reach any blocking angle possible. He does an excellent job using his lateral quickness to block backside or play-side defenders in the run game. Despite not having a fully filled frame, he loves to get physical and put defenders on their backs. He does a nice job of keeping himself balanced in pass protection, forcing the defender to stay squared. The best way to be patient with a quarterback is to see what he can do with time to pass. Bolles can give you that.
Top needs: G, OT, TE
21. Detroit Lions: David Njoku (TE)
It’s never easy to lose a hall of fame wide receiver, but the Lions still are looking to ease Calvin Johnson’s absence. David Njoku could help ease that absence. He’s got great hands, speed, strength and athleticism to cause a mismatch against defenders. His exceptional body control when readjusting to the ball in the air is impressive for a tight end, and he has the ability to out-leap many defenders. Despite his physicality, he’ll need to improve his blocking technique. He has elite potential.
Top needs: CB, DE, TE
22. Miami Dolphins: Jarrad Davis (LB)
Miami has been desperate for a inside linebacker who can be the alpha male of a defense. Jarrad Davis is that guy if he can stay healthy. His instincts and short area quickness are among the best defenders in the class. His reaction time and awareness combined with excellent closing speed gives him game-changing ability. Davis is an outstanding blitzer, and shows a feel for finding small gaps and staying skinny when passing through it. He’s a loose, agile athlete who plays sideline to sideline and changes direction seamlessly. He’s a great tackler, but can become even better in refining his technique. His athleticism, tackling and coverage ability make him a perfect fit for Miami. The pick at No. 22 may be a bit of a reach — especially with the injury concerns — but he’s one of the most talented linebackers in the draft. Davis has a huge ceiling if he can stay healthy enough to reach it. The linebacker class lacks top-end talent, and Miami needs to strike early to avoid missing out.
Top needs: G, LB, DT
23. New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk (OT)
The Giants continue to shore up the offensive line, but still have work to do. Selecting Ramczyk at No. 23 seems like a smart pick. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, driving through defenders in a technically-sound way. He has good athleticism, balance and strength in his blocks, using good pace from the snap. Ramczyk rarely abandons his technique, keeping his head back and pad level squared. He had impressive efforts in pass protection against elite edge rushers, adjusting well to any moves thrown at him. Edge rushers with length could be a problem for him, since he lacks length. Despite his good technique, he needs to play looser at times – especially in pass protection. Ramczyk isn’t the fastest guy, but has enough speed to solidify the edge. He isn’t an elite talent, but can be counted on to be a key piece to a team’s offensive line. The Giants could go edge rusher or linebacker here, but I think solidifying the offensive line to give Eli Manning more time and less pressure is important.
Top needs: OT, TE, DE
24. Oakland Raiders: Zach Cunningham (LB)
After missing out on Zach Brown in free agency, the Raiders are still looking for linebacker help. Zach Cunningham would be a great choice at 24, and would fill a hole at linebacker. He’s a talented athlete who has great upside, but he’s very raw. Some of his tackling angles are atrocious, and he’s still learning how to play the position. Can that be fixed? Absolutely. He’ll need to avoid a finesse style of play, and wrap up when tackling to be reach his ceiling at the next level.
Top needs: CB, DT, LB
25. Houston Texans: Forrest Lamp (G)
He’s still raw with his technique, but his athleticism, strength and foot work allow him to mirror pass rushers very well. He uses a strong punch and keeps a technical base to stay disciplined in run blocking — he rarely looks sloppy or off balance. Despite not being the best lineman to come into the draft, one could argue he has the highest potential.
Top needs: QB, OL, DT
26. Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King (CB)
After watching teammate Sidney Jones sustain a significant injury, King saw his stock soar after posting impressive pre-draft workout performances. He has quick feet and is an explosive runner, but lacks twitch and quickness with short area bursts. King displays good ball skills and recovery speed to keep receivers from making any big plays. He needs polishing, but he has a bright future. Seattle’s coaching staff can polish him into a great starting cornerback.
Top needs: CB, OT, DT
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Corey Davis (WR)
There’s a number of directions Kansas City can go in the first round, and it’s difficult to see a running back selected here with Cook off the board. With the drop in Davis’ stock— his ankle injury forced him to miss pre-draft workouts — it becomes a valuable for the Chiefs to select the second best wide receiver in the draft at 27. His route running is more polished than most receivers coming out of college, and he has the desired size, speed and athleticism teams want in a receiver. Davis can contort his body and make some outstanding catches, though he must work on focus-drops. He dropped a few routine catches that were head-scratching.
Top needs: RB, WR, LB
28. Dallas Cowboys: Jabrill Peppers (S)
Peppers is the most versatile athlete in the draft, and the Cowboys love to grab headlines. Dallas needs help on defense, and Peppers’ exceptional athleticism can help. He’s not an outstanding tackler, but he uses good technique and attacks aggressively. He’s quick-twitched, explosive, and has outstanding acceleration. His 4.46 40-yard dash time proved he’s fast enough to play cornerback, linebacker and safety, though I would argue his ceiling is at box-safety. If he can get his hands on the ball, he’s a threat to score. Regardless of where you put him on the field, Peppers will improve the defense.
Top needs: DE, S, LB
29. Green Bay Packers: T.J. Watt (LB)
Watt, a Wisconsin native, lives up to his family’s name by having an endless motor that will outwork most players in the league. As a 3-4 OLB for Wisconsin, he comes off the edge as a blitzer more than a natural pass rusher. He stays low while keeping his body stationary, and engages/disengages blockers without lunging. He is always balanced and squared when attacking his assignment. As successful as he was pass rushing (11.5 sacks in 2016), he’s an even bigger success in run defense. He disengages and explodes into the backfield to make the tackle for loss. He’s a strong, tough guy who makes your defense nastier. The fit between the Packers and Watt seems perfect.
Top needs: G, CB, LB
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taco Charlton (DE)
Charlton has rare size, strength and length that make him a matchup nightmare. He frequently bull-rushes lineman into the quarterback, blowing up pass plays before they even develop. His motor is inconsistent, but when he gives a full effort, he plays with a relentless hunt for the quarterback. He takes on double teams well, though there is area for improvement to use his counter moves more efficiently. Charlton has great waist bend and athletic ability that allows him to dip around the edge very smoothly without wasted motion. There were a lot of good games where he dominated – the game against Ohio State was impressive – but there were few games where he was inactive and stuck on blocks. His pass-rushing repertoire is still a bit raw, and he needs to avoid only relying on power to win battles. Pittsburgh’s coaching staff can bring the best out of him.
Top needs: DE, QB, LB
31. Atlanta Falcons: Charles Harris (DE)
Harris has an elite first step and times the snap flawlessly. He shows a nice arsenal of moves – especially a fantastic spin move to get off blocks, but he needs to use his hands for affectively. He’s not the fastest athlete, but has quickness that can win inside and outside. Harris needs to convert speed to power more often, and avoid only using the snap count as an advantage. He has the frame and arsenal to be a very successful defensive end, but he won’t come in and dominate from the start. His combination of size, strength and quickness gives him a huge ceiling – if he’s polished in run defense, there’s no telling how good he can be.
Top needs: DE, G, TE
32. New Orleans Saints: John Ross (WR)
The Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the No. 32 pick. It would be perfect for New Orleans to replace Cooks with an identical talent in John Ross. Ross possesses similar height, length and size, and may be even faster than Cooks is. Ross has great hands, and made some outstanding catches during his career at Washington. Ross shows excellent balls skills and awareness on the boundaries, but he’ll need to win more battles against defenders over the middle in the NFL than he did in college.
Top needs: WR, CB, LB