After a brilliant college career, sterling performances in back-to-back national championship games, and an impressive combine, Deshaun Watson has all the narrative markers of a top selection come April. Just about every mock draft pegs the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist as a first-round pick, and many expect he’ll be the first quarterback off the board.
Except for this one.
While Watson is a proven winner with all the intangibles of a leader and big-time gamer that scouts look for, too much of his non-Alabama game tape doesn’t project well to the pros. He’s thrown 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, and defenses in the NFL are only going to be more opportunistic. His deep-ball accuracy has been inconsistent, and that will allow opposing secondaries to creep toward the line of scrimmage. Plus, there’s bound to be added concern about arm strength after he registered by far the lowest velocity on his throws at the combine. On top of all that, there’s his inexperience in a pro-style system taking snaps from under center.
Most of the teams picking early need a quarterback, but missing with a top-10 quarterback selection is the easiest way to get fired in the NFL. This isn’t a good draft for quarterbacks, and I think teams at the top of the draft are going to pass on signal-callers in favor of safer picks at other premium positions. Once you get into the teens, though, you start talking about teams that have a capable starter and can let a quarterback sit for a year or two to develop — and both DeShone Kizer and Mitchell Trubisky have more projectable tools and higher upsides than Watson. And as you get into the 20s and 30s, it’s mostly teams that have an entrenched starter and are looking for players to help them win now.
This isn’t to say that Watson has no chance of being a good pro. Projecting quarterback performance at the NFL level is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports, and there’s a reason Derek Carr was a second-rounder, Russell Wilson went in the third, and Dak Prescott fell to the fourth: Teams get this position wrong all the time.
Almost every mock draft gets a lot wrong, too, and there are plenty of realistic future timelines for how the first round will play out. But right now, considering the distribution of QB talent throughout the league, how stocked other positions in this class are, and the upside offered by Watson’s competitors, there’s a chance he’ll fall into Round 2 — unless someone trades up at the end of the first.
But we’re not doing trades in this mock, so let’s take a look at how Round 1 might play out.
1. Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Garrett’s outstanding performance at the combine only confirmed what we already knew: The 6-foot-4, 272-pound pass rusher who racked up 31 sacks in three seasons in College Station is worthy of the top pick. With blitz-happy defensive coordinator Gregg Williams now in the fold, the Browns will likely send extra men to get pressure, but with Garrett, they’ll also be able to terrify opposing quarterbacks without sacrificing any numbers in coverage.
2. San Francisco 49ers: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
The Niners are making the switch to the Seahawks-style 4–3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a former Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley assistant, and the linchpin of that system is a free safety who can shut down the entire middle of the field on his own. (Look at Seattle’s stats last year with Earl Thomas and without him.) Former safety John Lynch nabs Hooker with his first pick as a GM, locking in a playmaking ballhawk to do just that. Hooker is like Garrett in reverse: He’ll give San Francisco the opportunity to play eight in the box and stop the run without sacrificing the ability to cover on the back end.
3. Chicago Bears: CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
The Bears have a nice foundation in their front seven with pass rushers Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, and Leonard Floyd, and middle linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, but their secondary was a major liability in 2016. Adding cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (one-year deal) and Marcus Cooper (three-year deal) and safety Quintin Demps (three-year deal) in free agency was a big step toward fixing that issue, but it shouldn’t stop the Bears from grabbing the top cornerback in the draft. Lattimore could be a day-one starter with potential to become a shutdown corner.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Adding defensive lineman Calais Campbell was a free-agency coup for the Jaguars, and he’ll pair with Malik Jackson to form a dynamic and talented duo on the interior of the defensive line. By grabbing Thomas here, Jacksonville bolsters its ability to also get after the quarterback on the edge. You can never have too many pass rushers, and the 6-foot-3, 273-pound Stanford star has athleticism and the play-to-the-whistle effort to be a disruptor wherever he lines up, whether it’s on the weak side in base looks, the strong side on passing downs, or even occasionally on the inside.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams): WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
GM Jon Robinson nabs Marcus Mariota a playmaker here by selecting Davis, a big, fast, competitive pass catcher with potential as a true no. 1 on the outside. As a master on slants over the middle, he’ll be a top target for Mariota on third downs, and he has the potential to become a top-tier red zone threat due to his length, talent for tracking the ball in the air, and ability to box out defenders with his frame.
6. New York Jets: S Jamal Adams, LSU
Adding Adams to the defensive secondary not only gives the Jets a tone-setting hitter over the middle of the field, but also a potential culture-changer in the locker room due to the former LSU standout’s intensity and leadership both on and off the field. He’ll be a day-one contributor at both the free safety and strong safety spots in Todd Bowles’s defense.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Concerns about the long-term health of Allen’s shoulder cause him to drop, but he doesn’t fall far, and the Chargers add another piece in a talented and disruptive front that already got great value by adding Joey Bosa with the third pick last year. With Los Angeles moving to a 4–3 system under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Allen can play at the 3-technique position across from guards in passing situations or bump out to the strong-side end spot against the run. Bradley likes to keep his defensive linemen fresh by rotating them often, and Allen’s versatility up and down the line makes this a whole lot easier.
8. Carolina Panthers: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Head coach Ron Rivera has expressed the desire to call fewer run plays for Cam Newton in 2017, and what better way to ease the quarterback’s load than by having him hand the ball to Fournette 15 to 20 times a game? The bruising LSU product fits Carolina’s downhill running, kick-you-in-the-teeth identity like a glove, and he will pair nicely with Jonathan Stewart to give Carolina a one-two punch in the backfield.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: WR John Ross, Washington
Losing receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency last year hurt Cincinnati’s passing game. The Bengals bolster that position with the über-fast receiver out of Washington. After setting the NFL combine record with a 4.22 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, Ross proved that his penchant for the big play at Washington was no fluke. The former Husky had 28 touchdowns in three seasons, and he gives Andy Dalton a field-stretching home run threat on the outside, a speedy chains-mover in the slot, and thanks to the added bonus of Ross’s explosive kick-return capability, the potential for a lot more short fields.
10. Buffalo Bills: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
With Marquise Goodwin, Robert Woods, and Justin Hunter gone via free agency, the Bills need a big-bodied threat opposite Sammy Watkins and get one from the same collegiate pipeline that brought them Watkins. Williams gives Tyrod Taylor a playmaker in the red zone — he was one of country’s most dangerous receivers in the air on closely contested throws — and a reliable target on third downs.
11. New Orleans Saints: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
The Saints were exposed in the secondary last season after losing Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams to injury, so upgrading the talent and depth in that position group is a must. With Humphrey, New Orleans gets a big and aggressive cover corner who won’t back down from the NFC South’s top receivers like Julio Jones, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Kelvin Benjamin.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles): TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
Head coach Hue Jackson recently spoke on the importance of building a strong foundation on offense for a young quarterback, and instead of gambling on that position here, the Browns invest in this year’s top tight end. Tyler Eifert caught 13 touchdowns in Jackson’s offense in Cincinnati in 2015, and with Howard, Cleveland gets a similar receiving threat. The Alabama product is an elite athlete who possesses incredible body control and breakaway speed, and he gives the Browns a movable chess piece in the passing game, able to line up in the slot or on the outside to create mismatches with smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers.
13. Arizona Cardinals: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Carson Palmer took his time before announcing he’d be back in 2017 — a sign, along with his declining play, that Arizona can’t depend on its incumbent signal-caller forever. Arizona has pressing needs for the short-term at linebacker, offensive line, and in the secondary, but here the Cardinals decide to not pass up on the opportunity to add an integral piece for the future. With Kizer, they get a big-armed passer who fits Bruce Arians’s aggressive downfield scheme and a dual-threat runner with outstanding athleticism. What’s most important with this pick is that they get a year or two to develop him as Palmer’s backup. As Arians has repeatedly said about rushing rookies into action, “Once they fail, it’s hard to get those scars off.”
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings): CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
The Eagles may be high on last year’s seventh-round corner Jalen Mills, who played in 16 games and started two last year, but after cutting Leodis McKelvin and letting Nolan Carroll walk in free agency, Philly’s top priority needs to be addressing depth at the position. Picking White here is a nice start. The LSU product drew praise from Philadelphia vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas at the Senior Bowl, and he has the size, speed, and confidence to start from day one. He could factor into the Eagles’ return game early on, too.
15. Indianapolis Colts: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
New GM Chris Ballard addressed outside linebacker spot in free agency, adding Barkevious Mingo, John Simon, and Jabaal Sheard, but he still needs to add a playmaker on the inside. Foster fills that role from day one: He’s a ferocious hitter with range to play sideline-to-sideline who Ballard can build his new defense around.
16. Baltimore Ravens: OLB/DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Elvis Dumervil is gone and Terrell Suggs isn’t getting any younger, making outside linebacker one of Baltimore’s top needs on defense. The Ravens address that here with Barnett, a 6-foot-3, 259-pound pass rusher out of Tennessee who racked up 32 sacks in three seasons with the Vols. Barnett failed to impress at the combine, running a pedestrian 4.88 in the 40 and posting a 31-inch vertical jump, but Baltimore’s track record with highly productive college rushers who were combine flops (see: Suggs) might ease some front-office concerns. Plus, Barnett fits the Ravens’ defensive identity as a tough, physical, high-effort player.
17. Washington Redskins: QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina
By slapping the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins a second time, it’s clear that Washington is not completely sold on him as a long-term answer at quarterback, and Cousins may not even want to be there anyway. If either side of that coin is true, the Redskins need a backup plan at the position, and by grabbing the mobile, big-armed, and accurate Trubisky here, they give head coach Jay Gruden a year to develop him as Cousins’s backup before asking him to carry the offense.
18. Tennessee Titans: CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Adding Logan Ryan in free agency is a nice start for a team that needed to upgrade its cornerback group, but Ryan’s best spot is in the slot, where his lack of top-end speed is hidden and his elite ability as a tackler is a bigger factor. By grabbing Conley here, the Titans can bump Ryan inside on nickel downs and throw Conley out there on the outside opposite Jason McCourty — similar to what the Patriots did with Ryan and Eric Rowe late last season.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Budda Baker, Washington
With both of their starters at safety spot hitting free agency, the Buccaneers came into the offseason with a couple of big roles to fill. Snagging strong safety J.J. Wilcox in free agency last week was a good start, but even after re-signing Chris Conte, who had more missed tackles than stops in 2016, the free safety spot remains a liability. That’s where Baker comes in: The Washington product relies on springy athleticism and instincts, and he’s capable of playing deep in the middle of the field or up in the slot against tight ends and slot receivers.
20. Denver Broncos: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
The Broncos upgraded the guard spot by signing Ronald Leary and addressed their need at right tackle by adding Menelik Watson, but there’s still a huge hole on the blindside after the departure of Russell Okung. That need sends the first offensive lineman off the board — four were gone by this point last year — and Ramczyk is easily the most game-ready in a weak tackle class. The Wisconsin product is a technically proficient pass protector who plays with smooth athleticism in the run game and gives Denver the chance to jump-start its offense in 2017.
21. Detroit Lions: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
The Lions finished with just 26 sacks in 2016, tied for 30th in the league, so upgrading the pass rush should be one of GM Bob Quinn’s top priorities. Charlton has got prototypical size and athleticism for a defensive end, but he hasn’t been consistent. But even if the Michigan product can’t provide constant production, the flashes of his natural talent will upgrade Detroit’s pass rush.
22. Miami Dolphins: DE/LB Haason Reddick
With Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, William Hayes, and Cameron Wake eating up blocks on base downs and keeping linemen off of him, Reddick should be free to tap into his explosive athleticism and fly around making tackles in space. On passing downs, new defensive coordinator Matt Burke could throw him on the edge to rush the passer or have him blitz from a variety of angles.
23. New York Giants: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
The Giants added a big-time red zone weapon for Eli Manning in free agency by signing receiver Brandon Marshall, but a sputtering, ineffective run game from 2016 needs to add some juice, too. They get that with Cook, a creative home run hitter for Florida State who ranked second in yards after contact per attempt and first in missed tackles per attempt among college backs with at least 149 totes last year.
24. Oakland Raiders: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida
With Malcolm Smith and Daren Bates gone in free agency and Perry Riley out of contract, Oakland needs an infusion of talent at the linebacker position. Davis is an explosive run-and-chase hitter who lays the wood in the run game and is athletic enough to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. He adds physicality and range to Oakland’s defense.
25. Houston Texans: OL Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Xavier Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen were liabilities for Houston last year, so the Texans address the interior offensive line with the barrel-chested Lamp. The former Hilltopper brings the potential to play either interior spot, and because of his Go-Go Gadget arm growth from the Senior Bowl to the combine, could even compete for a spot at right tackle opposite Duane Brown.
26. Seattle Seahawks: OT Garett Bolles, Utah
The Seahawks signed former second overall pick Luke Joeckel in free agency, but that’s not enough to stop them from investing their top pick on the offensive line for a second straight year after selecting Texas A&M lineman Germain Ifedi last season. Bolles could line up at either tackle spot for the Seahawks and has the versatility to play inside, too.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Caleb Brantley, Florida
With Dontari Poe out of contract, the Chiefs add some beef to their defensive front to go with the one-year deal they gave defensive tackle Bennie Logan. The Florida product is a stout, physical, and disruptive defender against the run, and he can also be a penetrating interior rusher on passing downs.
28. Dallas Cowboys: DE Charles Harris, Missouri
With Randy Gregory’s future in the league in doubt and Demarcus Lawrence set to have his second back surgery this offseason, the Cowboys need to look to the pass rush early in the draft once again. With Harris, they get a productive player (34.5 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks in three seasons at Missouri) with an explosive first step and the ability to play on either side of the line.
29. Green Bay Packers: DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Green Bay hung onto Nick Perry with a five-year, $60 million contract, but after losing Julius Peppers to the Panthers in free agency, the Packers still need to add talent on the edge. McKinley’s raw as a pass rusher but has the size, speed, and motor to be a situational contributor early in his career.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: TE David Njoku, Miami
Due to a serious concussion that caused him to miss the final five games of the season, tight end Ladarius Green’s future in the league remains a question mark. Grabbing the physically gifted Njoku here gives Ben Roethlisberger the athletic seam-running threat that Green was supposed to be. If Green does recover and play in 2017, having two athletic matchup nightmares won’t be a bad thing for a team that struggled in the red zone late last season.
31. Atlanta Falcons: DE Tim Williams, Alabama
Dwight Freeney’s a free agent, and even if the Falcons bring the legendary pass rusher back for an encore in 2017, they can’t rely on him forever. Alabama defensive end Tim Williams may have a limited skill set as a rush-only specialist, but if the Falcons pair him with 2016 sack-champion Vic Beasley in obvious passing situations, a part-time player with double-digit-sack potential is valuable at this spot.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots): DE T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
After adding a cornerback with their first first-round pick, the Saints use their second pick in the round to grab a productive college pass rusher and excellent run defender in T.J. Watt. J.J.’s younger brother posted outstanding explosion and agility numbers at the combine, recording a 37-inch vert (tied for second among linebackers), a 10-foot-8 broad jump (tied for first), a 6.79-second three-cone drill (second), and a 4.13 second-short shuttle (tied for first). With just one year of starting experience on defense (he made the switch after being recruited as a tight end), he’s still an ascending player with upside through the roof if he’s able to master the techniques required of a consistent NFL pass rusher.
(All images Getty Images/Ringer illustrations.)
An earlier version of this story mistakenly swapped the order of two teams’ first-round picks. Philadelphia will pick 14th and Indianapolis 15th, not the other way around.