The four teams eliminated from the postseason in the divisional round could write lengthy postmortems—but it is better to start looking ahead to a loaded draft class.
Fans can handle the regrets and analysis. Yes, the Dallas Cowboys came in too confident and blitzed Aaron Rodgers too often. No, the Seattle Seahawks didn’t handle a much-deserved loss very well.
But the upcoming class provides reassurances, even for fans. The past few offerings have been deep, and the 2017 class makes the trend look more like a norm than an exception. Even teams with finalized slots near the end of the first round can pick up a high-impact contributor.
Let’s take a look at the updated draft order and mock the first round based on team need and prospect value.
2017 NFL Mock Draft
|1||Cleveland Browns||Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina|
|3||Chicago Bears||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama|
|5||Tennessee Titans (from LA)||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson|
|6||New York Jets||Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan|
|7||San Diego Chargers||Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin|
|8||Carolina Panthers||Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State|
|10||Buffalo Bills||Jamal Adams, S, LSU|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama|
|12||Cleveland Browns (from PHI)||Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State|
|14||Indianapolis Colts||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State|
|15||Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN)||John Ross, WR, Washington|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan|
|17||Washington Redskins||Tim Williams, LB/DE, Alabama|
|18||Tennessee Titans||Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Marlon Humphrey, CB , Alabama|
|20||Denver Broncos||Teez Tabor, CB, Florida|
|21||Detroit Lions||Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan|
|22||Miami Dolphins||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee|
|23||New York Giants||Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford|
|24||Oakland Raiders||Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida|
|25||Houston Texans||Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana|
|28||Dallas Cowboys||Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC|
|29||Pittsburgh Steelers||O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama|
|30||Atlanta Falcons||Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida|
|31||Green Bay Packers||Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State|
|32||New England Patriots||Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford|
Philadelphia and Indianapolis will flip a coin for No. 14 and No. 15 at the NFL combine.
5. Tennessee Titans (from LA): Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Look, the Tennessee Titans didn’t finish the year like most would have hoped. But a 9-7 campaign that nearly won the AFC South was a huge step for the young team led by Marcus Mariota.
As a bonus, everyone knew the team would clutch a top-five pick thanks to a prior deal with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Titans need to use that pick to get Mariota some help. Narrowing down the “where” isn’t hard—he only suffered 23 sacks on the year and DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry form a great one-two combo in the backfield. Plus, Tennesse’s defense grabbed 40 sacks, allowed just 23.6 points per game and ranked second against the run, permitting 88.3 yards per game.
Now look at what Mariota’s pass-catchers did:
Tennessee can’t keep dancing around that hole. Mariota is already one of the league’s better passers, yet look at the catch-to-target ratio for those players.
Clemson’s Mike Williams could fix many of these problems. Opposing defenses won’t have a choice but to respect the 6’3″, 225-pound receiver on the boundary. He just posted 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, and he encountered few who could line up with him. That culminated in 90-plus-yard performances in each of Clemson’s College Football Playoff matchups (Ohio State and Alabama).
Williams could stretch defenses thin for Mariota in a way current members of the roster can’t. This pick would be great value for the Titans.
12. Cleveland Browns (from PHI): Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
One doesn’t need to follow the Cleveland Browns closely to know there is a new culture and actual blueprint to success engulfing the organization.
Cleveland only won a single game this past year, yet new head coach Hue Jackson remains. The Browns seem committed to the current path and have a nice talent base to build around, provided guys like Terrelle Pryor Sr. stick.
In the infancy stages of a rebuild, a team like Cleveland needs to understand the balance between drafting for need versus targeting the best player available. Few rebuilding clubs get a pair of picks in the top 12, though, so the Browns sit in a unique position to check both boxes.
Myles Garrett is the best player in the draft at No. 1, and he would provide another foundation block for the defense. At No. 12, Miami’s Brad Kaaya could be a potential franchise quarterback.
Kaaya will have a hard time standing out from prospects like DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes II, but that’s more a nod to the QB depth of the class than a knock on the former Hurricanes star.
At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, Kaaya looks like a prototypical pro quarterback and boasts three years of starting experience, including 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions as a junior.
Kaaya‘s allure (unless he tanks on the path to the draft) comes from his years of experience and moldable upside. Dating back to his tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton, Jackson likes guys with proven experience and realistic upside.
Kaaya wouldn’t have to start as a rookie, increasing his shot at long-term success and perhaps making him the player who could break Cleaveland’s quarterback curse.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
It’s not hard to see where the Seahawks went wrong.
The defense played up to its reputation for most of 2016. But the offense sputtered and Russell Wilson was hobbled at times while suffering 41 sacks. Against the Atlanta Falcons, the season-ending 36-20 loss, Wilson was under constant fire and took three sacks while going 17-of-30 with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.
Sometimes it is best to follow the money in football. ESPN Stats & Info proved this theory well:
The Seahawks spent a league-low $6.5 million on their offensive line (cap value). The Giants were 31st at $13.6 million.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2017
Drafting an offensive tackle in the first round doesn’t wildly up the money value of the unit, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It’s hard to go wrong with Alabama product Cam Robinson, both because of where and how he played and the fact he comes in at 6’6″ and 310 pounds.
As CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang pointed out, issues surrounding Robinson might cause a drop on draft day: “Scouts will have to do their homework on Robinson’s off-field issues, but on the field, he’s shown toughness, strength and athleticism—attributes which will help him quickly earn a starting role early in his NFL career, though not necessarily on the blindside.”
Seattle will happily scoop Robinson out of his fall if everything checks out and it means a notable improvement in the trenches.
Maybe some consider grabbing an offensive lineman boring, but it’s better to be boring with smart roster building than make flashy picks and stutter for years while wasting a guy like Wilson.
Stats courtesy of NFL.com. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Follow Chris Roling (@Chris_Roling) on Twitter.