» This is Part One of a 5-part series. Part One covers teams 1–5, in order of the 2017 NFL Draft. Part Two will cover teams 6–10. Part Three covers teams 11–15. Part Four covers teams 16–20, and Part Five rounds up the teams picking 21–32.
In many ways, the game of life is symbolic to the game of football. In both games, the players involved are faced with several challenges along the way: Ups and downs, twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs. In both games, the players involved routinely get hit — often very hard — and knocked to the ground. Most get up on their own, others require the help of teammates to do so. Some are hit so hard that they question whether or not they have the desire to play again. That was me.
It was just five months ago that I experienced my biggest hit to date. It was an absolute soul-crusher of a hit that took the wind right out of me. It knocked me down on my ass. It kept on the sidelines. For a while I doubted everything. I even questioned my love for the game. Now that I’ve had some time to navigate through the twists and the turns, I decided to step back onto the field and give it another shot. I got my pads and cleats on again, now I’m ready to turn tragedy into triumph.
Okay, I’m done trying to be writer now. I promise.
But the life-to-football metaphor, to me, is accurate. As we all know, in the NFL only 2 out of 32 teams get to play for all of the marbles at season’s end. Meanwhile, the rest of the league prepares to navigate their way through a long and tedious offseason, one that begins with free agency then quickly shifts its attention towards the NFL Draft.
In a process that’s long on talent and short on time, the 2017 NFL Draft will present navigational challenges to nearly all 32 NFL teams involved. Is your team preparing for a steep, upward, championship climb, or are they sliding down a muddy hill of failure?
Speaking of mud (and failure) … The Cleveland Browns are now on the clock.
TEAM NEEDS: Quarterback, cornerback, pass-rusher
Yes, the Brownies are an easy target for, well … everyone, and have been for decades — eons, even. But, for the record, I’m on board with the current regime’s plan. I think I am, at least.
Roughly a year ago at this point I was crushing Cleveland’s Executive VP of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, and his crew for their inconceivable offseason wheeling and dealings. Despite the organization being in desperate need for a Franchise quarterback, Brown and Paul DePodesta (Cleveland’s Chief Strategy Officer) struck a deal with Philadelphia in the weeks leading up to the draft, moving down the board from #2 overall to #8 overall, accumulating extra picks while passing on Carson Wentz in the process. It’s a move that I still disagree with. It was a deliberate and nonsensical move, in my opinion, conceived through the Moneyball train of thought.
The trade, however — along with several additional trades — were not for nothing; they did provide Cleveland with plenty of “assets,” both present and future in nature.
So the Browns competed really hard last year, and despite their efforts, they managed to secure the 2017 #1 overall pick in the process — which was a surprise to no one, considering the structure of the roster. And because the Browns were so far under the cap when Free Agency opened up this year, they were able to purchase a 2018 2nd round pick from the Texans by taking on Brock Osweiler’s contract, a move that cost them $16-$17 million dollars. But they could afford it, so fuck it!
(Side note: I happen to love the Brock deal. I really do.)
Despite passing on Wentz, the Browns did come away with a few good pieces in last year’s Draft, landing an electric wide receiver (Corey Coleman), as well as an athletically gifted pass-rushing talent (Emmanuel Ogbah) with their first two picks. They hit on some of their mid-round picks as well. Effort players like Joe Schobert (linebacker) and Carl Nassib (D-line) aid the Browns defensively where they needed it the most — pass rush, depth, and versatility.
So by my count, Cleveland’s sabermetric-brass came away with four players from the 2016 Draft that they can count on. If you include Hue Jackson’s pet project at Qb, Kody Kessler, 3rd Round pick (which I do not but he was starting to look really good before taking one too many concussions), then he makes for the 5th player on the 2016 Draft tally sheet.
Way to go, Brad and Jonah!
Now, unless the Moneyball crew can land at least three impact players in this year’s draft, then all of the trading and the acquiring of assets will amount to nothing more than L’s on the 2017 Wins/Losses tally sheet — which is likely the exact expectation from the Cleveland fanbase at this point … no pressure.
What this limp-dick organization needs is a Viagra. So where do they find one? With the 1st and the 12th overall picks in their pocket, who do the Brownies target in this year’s draft? That’s a good question.
Being that this is a 5-part series, let’s focus on #1.
And with the 1st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select …
» Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Texas A&M
Yeah — no surprises here. When you have yet to land your Franchise quarterback, acquiring gifted pass-rushers is a thought process that I personally subscribe to. Teaming up Garrett with Ogbah gives the Browns a fighting chance on Sundays (and Thursdays … and Mondays. Saturdays, too).
Myles Garrett has been compared to everyone from Julius Peppers to DeMarcus Ware, both of which are good comparisons. I happen to like the Jevon Kearse comp from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
Like Kearse, Myles Garrett is a tall, long and freakishly athletic Edge player that rushes with mostly a finesse game. Garrett can bend the edge with unique speed, explosion and agility. His counter to his outside speed rush is a devastating inside spin move. Like most draftees, Myles is somewhat raw and in need of next level coaching, but he offers a good piece of clay to work with. He’s a good kid — a good teammate — one that’ll take to some hard coaching like good soldier in bootcamp. And hard coaching is exactly what Garrett will get from Cleveland’s newly hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The bottom line is, the Browns need a quarterback. More specifically, they need a Face of the Franchise quarterback, and that guy — that quarterback — he’s in Philadelphia wearing the #11 jersey. The Browns may forever regret their decision to trade away the #2 pick in the 2016 draft, unless they find their Qb this year. They won’t find him with their 1st pick, and they may not find him with their 12th pick, either. But with two 2nd round picks and one 3rd round pick this year (as well as future assets on the table), perhaps they find their future quarterback at some point in April’s draft.
Whether the Browns strike a deal with the Patriots for Jimmy Garappolo or they draft and groom the talented Mitch Trubisky (Mitchell for short), I’m betting that they do find their Franchise quarterback … finally.
2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
TEAM NEEDS: At this point, everything
The San Francisco 49ers decided to begin anew this offseason. Although the saying “its better late than never” comes to mind, Niners CEO Jed York finally decided that it was time to part ways with Trent Baalke, San Fran’s long time G.M., who’s perception of being a bastard and a malcontent finally outweighed his uncanny ability to overdraft offensive and defensive linemen on an annual basis.
Now that the organization is “officially” in rebuild mode, which direction will they choose to go in April’s Draft?
Well, this brand new 49ers staff is as green as it gets; like a toddler standing up and walking for the first time kind of green — which isn’t condemning in any way, it’s just a fact. There’s a lot of first-timers on this staff: a first time head coach in Kyle Shanahan, a first time general manager in John Lynch, and a first time defensive coordinator in Robert Saleh.
You see what I mean?
As I look at the current construct of the 49ers roster, I see more questions than I do answers. Kyle Shanahan runs a zone-based West Coast offense that’s built on play-action passing. The only gem that I see on this side of the ball is the talented but oft-injured Carlos Hyde at running back.
Frisco did sign a couple of receivers in Free Agency, adding a much needed veteran in Pierre Garçon — who’s toughness and experience in Shanahan’s West Coast offense brings added value to the position — and Olympic sprinter Marquise Goodwin, who adds a much needed speed element to the offense.
Turning 33 years old come August is veteran left tackle Joe Staley who, despite being long in the tooth, is still as dependable as they come.
The only gem that I see on the defensive side of the ball is last year’s first round pick, defensive end, DeForest Buckner. I see others as well, but like I said earlier — there’s more questions than there are answers.
Questions like …
Will Erik Armstead (their other 6-foot-7-inch defensive lineman) produce this year in a new scheme that will likely have him fighting off interior lineman as he shifts from End in 34 front to Tackle in 43 front?
How about the heart and soul of their defensive unit, Navorro Bowman, the team’s veteran linebacker? He’s faced with overcoming another incredibly difficult injury — an Achilles tear that ended his 2016 season. He’ll be 29 in May. Given his injury history, how can John Lynch and crew honestly form a 2017 Draft plan with Bowman in mind this year? And that’s without considering the $42 million dollar contract extension (4-years, $22 million guaranteed) that he signed last August?
As a pass-rushing presence, defensive end Aaron Lynch has definitely shown the organization some promise. But a 4-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy will initially stunt his 2017 season, and offseason rumors stating that he’s added 30-pounds of fat to his 270 pound frame has placed the “unreliable” label on Lynch. And until he proves otherwise, that’s exactly what he is as of this moment.
The secondary has talent but, by and large, they have yet to live up to expectations. Safeties Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt have flashed at times, but are overwhelmingly inconsistent players at this point in their careers. And although a versatile player, corner/safety tweener Jimmy Ward is largely a question mark, leaving the group in dire need of a difference-maker at DB.
So who do I think the Niners should draft with #2 overall pick?
With the 2nd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select …
» Solomon Thomas, Defensive End, Stanford
I know — I was kind of looking forward to playing devil’s advocate myself. But with so many questions and so few answers, choosing a safe, low floor player here is imperative to this organization— especially for a first time G.M.
Solomon Thomas to the Niners at #2 is a pretty common link at this point — just look at any mock draft. I didn’t necessarily agree with the pick at first. But upon properly evaluating Thomas, I finally came around to liking it.
Some evaluators see Thomas as a D-end/D-tackle tweener. Some have comp’d him to the Rams Aaron Donald — a comparison that I simply do not see.
What I do see from Thomas, however, I like. I don’t see a bonafide stud that’s capable of dominating games and wrecking game-plans, a la Aaron Donald. I do, however, see a guy that brings immediate and long-term value to the organization. From my point of view, Solomon Thomas is purely a defensive end — in any scheme — one who’s hand belongs in the dirt in a 3-point stance, attacking Qb’s and backs alike. In my eyes, Thomas is a cross between Olivier Vernon of the Giants and Everson Griffen of the Vikings.
Maybe, eventually, Thomas could prove to be versatile enough to play standup linebacker in an attacking 34 scheme — but that’s not the scheme that he’ll be playing in. Not in his rookie season, at least. They run an attacking 43 front in San Fran under 1st time DC Robert Saleh, who hails from the Peter Carroll/Monte Kiffin philosophy on defense. With a rotation of Aaron Lynch and Thomas on one end and the gargantuan DeForest Buckner at the other, Saleh has a lot to work with in Year One, which in turn helps out the secondary — if they can generate pressure on a consistent basis.
There’s also the Stanford connection between Thomas and John Lynch, which the more I thought about it, the more this pick just makes a whole lot of sense to me. When I factor in Thomas’ relentless motor and his 5-star intangibles, this pick is nearly a no-brainer. Perhaps, given the need for a true lockdown corner, the idea of drafting Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore is just too tantalizing for Lynch to pass on. Maybe they move down the board a little and draft Lattimore, acquiring more picks in the process. Who really knows these things? Not I. Check out my Mock Draft history if you like. But what I do know is the Niners cannot afford to miss with this pick — which is why I’m going safe here with the selection of Solomon Thomas.
3. CHICAGO BEARS
TEAM NEEDS: Quarterback, cornerback, safety
I want to start off by saying that this Chicago Bears organization, led by General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach John Fox, is a team that I can root for — a team that I want to root for.
I know that moral victories and narrow defeats don’t change the optics of the wins and losses column, as the Bears finished their 2016 season licking their wounds behind a 3–13 record. But despite being absolutely ravaged by injuries, the Chicago Bears certainly showed a whole lot of fight in them, collecting a handful of moral victories along the way.
In fact, 7 out of their 13 losses were by 10 points or less. And out of those 7 losses, 6 of them were by 6 points or less … and out of those 6 losses, 3 of them were by a margin of 3 points or less.
What am I getting at here?
The Chicago Bears are a much better team than their 2016 record suggests. The thing that’s most interesting about that is, the Bears were able to fight through seven narrow defeats despite the likes of Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley playing quarterback for them — which is why I personally endorse John Fox and Ryan Pace.
Pace did a standup job of assembling a tough, competitive roster, and Fox did a hell of a job leading them through battle despite being hamstrung at quarterback. It was a foregone conclusion that both Pace and Fox would move on from Jay Cutler, so the signing of Mike Glennon, to me, is quite the upgrade. I even like the contract — a deal that was nested to protect them in the longterm, as it’s essentially a one-year deal.
The Bears have some good, young building blocks on the team, and more importantly, they have an identity under John Fox. Obviously they would love to identify a quarterback in this year’s draft that they can develop for the future, but that guy isn’t here at #3 overall. So without further ado,
With the 3rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select …
» Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU
Usually I love to disagree with the TV scouts. But, again, I just can’t make a good argument against the selection of Jamal Adams here. I’m gonna go on record and say that this year’s safety class is the best that I’ve ever evaluated. It’s a deep class of safeties, too, but top-heavy with game-changing talent. Between Jamal Adams, Malik Hooker, Budda Baker and Jabrill Peppers, this group brings a rare variety of versatility and playmaking skills to the table.
Jamal Adams is, without question, the most complete safety in his class. He brings it all to the field: speed, power, explosion, aggressiveness, ball skills, intelligence, man/zone cover skills, sure tackling, leadership, toughness. Adams is so good, so clean a safety prospect, that criticizing him is difficult-slash-next-to-impossible to do.
The player comparison that I would make with Adams is Harrison Smith of the Vikings: a do-it-all safety that consistently leads and make plays. Smith is taller and has better ball skills than Adams, where Adams is more compact and strikes with bad intentions. But to me, I see two very similar players. Every team needs a Jamal Adams, so I would be surprised to see the Bears pass on him here at three. He’s a safe, yet high ceiling playmaker who instantly improves their defense — and he’ll be their leader come Day 1.
4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
TEAM NEEDS: Offensive line, running back, tight end
Let’s just call this team the Chicago Bears of the AFC. Why, you ask? Because this Jacksonville football team is another example of a team that is much better than their record suggests.
The Jaguars finished the 2016 season with 3–13 record, just like the Chicago Bears. But wait, there’s more … the most evident parallel that I can make between the Bears and the Jags is through the way that they competed in many of those 13 losses. Of the 13 recorded Jaguars defeats, 10 losses were by a margin of two scores or less. And of those 10 losses, 6 of them came by a margin of 6 points or less … and of those 6 losses, 3 of them were by a margin of 3 points or less.
Again, the idea isn’t to credit the Jags for moral victories, it’s to identify a young and competitive team that just hasn’t peaked yet.
Gus Bradley — for as good of a guy and as good of coach that he is — just wasn’t the right man for the job. Not for the job of winning ball games, at least. The Jags are a young team with a young quarterback that just need time to mature. And like those green bananas from the grocery, the Jags need three or four days to ripen — well, three or four years in football time.
Another Jags/Bears parallel exists at the quarterback position; a belief system that the fans and the media seem to subscribe to. Not I. Now I’m not saying that Blake Bortles is great and nobody else sees it. What I am saying is that Blake has a lot of talent, a lot of drive, and a whole lot of confidence — all of which are things that I love in a quarterback.
I know that he’s struggled with turnovers (at an alarming rate I add), which is largely due to mechanical flaws. I just wouldn’t bet against Blake looking sharp this year. I’ll leave it at that.
So with another offseason of good free agent acquisitions, the Jaguars are primed to win a lot more games in 2017. Despite firing their head coach, the Jags managed to keep the rest of their coaching staff in place. They promoted Doug Marrone, last year’s Assistant HC, to take over Bradley’s role as the leader of their franchise — a move that I feel was brilliant, as Marrone was able to retain both the offensive and defensive coordinators from the Bradley regime. Now Bortles has only one thing to focus on this offseason — his mechanics.
So with an offense that has playmaking wide-outs and a defense that is stacked with young, athletic talent, the Jaguars need to hit on at least two impact players from this year’s draft in order for them to be a threat in 2017.
With the 4th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select …
» Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU
Looks like I’m 4-for-4 so far. The Fournette to Jags connection is a popular choice in the Mock Draft world, but it’s a connection that fits like glove. Perhaps the biggest change that Jaguars made this offseason had more to do with the front office than their coaching staff.
Having Tom Coughlin oversee football operations changes how the organization builds on the foundation that’s already in place. Coughlin, as we all know, prides himself on toughness, amongst other things. And toughness begins and ends with the ability to run the football with authority. No other running back from this year’s class defines authority quite like Leonard Fournette. The scouting community is way too caught up on whether or not Fournette is a “3-down Back.” That should not matter, in my opinion, as Fournette offers teams a special set of skills.
To a degree, Leonard Fournette is a running back unicorn. For starters, he’s the size of a linebacker. Secondly, he has the burst, agility, and the breakaway speed of a much smaller back. And lastly, Fournette runs with rare power for the position. He can get skinny in the hole, but can lower his shoulder and deliver blows to second level defenders like few backs can.
Having a back like Leonard Fournette allows your team to dictate the terms of a game. He sets the tempo. He wears a defense down and forces them to eventually surrender. After defenders get a taste of just how fast and powerful Fournette is — once they get a taste of his shoulder pads when he lowers his head and smites them — he’ll have crept into their minds, which is half of the battle in football.
Leonard Fournette is exactly what this team needs — he’s exactly what Blake Bortles needs — in order to compete for the AFC South.
Fournette just makes everyone, and everything, better.
5. TENNESSEE TITANS
TEAM NEEDS: Guard, playmaking pass-catcher, middle linebacker
Clearly the Tennessee Titans are a much better team than the one that should be drafting here at #5 — which belonged to the LA Rams. The Titans acquired the Rams pick in last year’s Jared Goff trade, giving them two selections in round 1 of the Draft — this pick, and the pick that they earned at #18.
When skimming over their roster I see very few holes, if any at all — nothing glaring, at least. The Titans are a well constructed team, and they’re a team with an identity. Now, they are still a young team with plenty of more room for growth, but I think they could control the AFC South in 2017 with another good draft from GM John Robinson, who’s A+ Draft from last year supplied the Titans roster with a handful of good players.
What I love about the Titans:
- They have a really good quarterback.
- They have a phenomenal ground game.
- They have two really good offensive tackles.
- They have a well rounded defense.
- They have good organizational structure.
I’m choosing not to spend too much time here with this team, as time is not my side. I spent too much time blabbing over teams 1–4 that, as usual, that I’m now needing to trim the fat. I do this to myself every year. My writing is similar to Andy Reid’s play calling: it’s slow and methodical and is always distracted by thoughts of food.
Yup — it’s true. I cannot deny it. So,
With the 5th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans select …
» O.J. Howard, Tight End, Alabama
Now, it’s quite possible that Jon Robinson fields a call and takes an offer here at #5. It all depends on who he’s targeting. Since this isn’t really a traditional mock draft that I’m doing here, I decided to stay put and grab a true difference maker for their offense.
Many evaluators have the Titans going in the same direction with the pick but have them taking a receiver instead. Although I like this year’s crop of wide outs, there just isn’t a receiver that I would personally feel comfortable taking this early. With Howard, the Titans add an instant playmaking threat to the offense, one that forces opposing coaches to create an entire game-plan for. Howard is the definition of the term “mismatch.” He’s too big for corners and he’s too fast for linebackers and safeties.
Howard comes equipped with all of the desired measurables, but what I love most about Howard’s game is his blocking effort. He’s not some specialist that can only play split out wide or in the slot. Nope. Howard looks to finish defenders in the run game. He works hard to clear a path and maintain his blocks — an effort that was evident in every film session that I watched.
O.J. Howard is exactly what this Tennessee offense needs. He’s pretty much a two-for-one player, if you think about it: He provides a wide out’s services at the tight end position but he plays like a tight end when you need him to.
With Delani Walker (who turns 33 in August) there to teach him what it takes to be a pro, the two instantly form one of league’s best tight end duo’s.
Well, that’s it for Part One. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed working on it. Part Two is currently in the making … stay tuned. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to click on the like button if you enjoyed it.
Oh, and one more thing … definitely comment if you enjoyed it. Don’t be lazy.