It won’t even take a gas-mask-bong incident for the 2017 NFL draft to get weird. It’s unusual for a number of reasons, but principal among them is the lack of a clear consensus on the best quarterback. Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II has seen his stock skyrocket into the top 10 discussion, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky has vacillated between potential no. 1 overall pick and the third or fourth passer off the board, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson seems just as likely to be the first quarterback selected as he is to fall out of the first round, like we outlined in Version 1.0 of the mock draft.
This year’s much-hyped running back class creates just as much uncertainty. Will Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette break into the top 10? Will Florida State’s Dalvin Cook be far behind? Or, as the value of the position seems to decline, will no running backs be selected in the first round? It happened in the 2013 and 2014 drafts, and that’s the possibility we laid out in Version 2.0 of the mock.
Then there’s the talented safety class: LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker are both expected to come off the board in the top 10, but it’s rare to see players from that position go that high. Despite their talent, will they get leapfrogged by lesser prospects at more premium positions? That’s the question we asked in Version 3.0.
Among the positions that typically go in the top 10, the 2017 class is extra thin. It’s one of the worst years to grab an offensive lineman in more than a decade, and it’s a shallow group of edge rushers and receivers. There’s really no telling what could happen in the first 10 picks, let alone from 11 to 32.
Still, there are plenty of stats to interpret, needs to consider, rumors to heed, and tea leaves to read. With all of this year’s variables in mind, here’s our final look at how we think the first round will play out.
1. Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The Browns don’t need to overthink things, and with Garrett, they get the best player in the draft. Some scouts are concerned about a lack of effort on a few plays, but he possesses a rare combination of size, explosiveness, and agility. Plus, the athleticism is all backed up by production: 31 sacks and 47 tackles for a loss over three years at Texas A&M. He’s a high-floor starter in year one for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and with more refined technique and a more consistent motor, he still has plenty of upside to become an All-Pro. On top of Garrett’s bona fides, he fills a need for the Browns, who finished last season 21st in adjusted sack rate, 28th in pressure rate, and tied for 30th in sacks (26).
2. San Francisco 49ers: S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
General manager John Lynch wants a “cornerstone” player at no. 2, and he gets one for his defense with Hooker. Safeties don’t traditionally go this high in the draft, but Lynch, a former All-Pro safety himself, knows that the deep center-field spot is the linchpin for new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Cover 3 scheme. Without a player with the instincts and range that Hooker possesses, that kind of defense falls apart — just look at last year’s Seahawks, whose performance fell off a cliff after Earl Thomas suffered a broken leg. Adding Hooker gives San Francisco the ability to run eight in the box and stuff the run without sacrificing its ability to cover deep passes over the middle of the field.
3. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
GM Ryan Pace and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have visions of a Justin Smith–style player with the selection of Allen at no. 3. Like Smith, who anchored the defensive line for Fangio’s defenses in San Francisco for years, Allen is a disruptive force who could play the 3–4 defensive end spot on early downs, then kick inside to the nose tackle spot in passing situations. Allen notched 11 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and 41 hurries last season, tops among all interior college defenders.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Most people expect the Jags to go with running back Leonard Fournette here, but I think the reported interest is a smoke screen for the player they really want. Blake Bortles isn’t the long-term answer in Jacksonville; he not only regressed as a passer last year, but he reportedly struggled with confidence and lost the locker room. With Watson, the Jaguars get a leader and clutch performer who shined in the past two national championship games. If he can cut down on his interceptions, Watson’s dual-threat ability could finally make Jacksonville a contender in the AFC South.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams): CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Lattimore has a history of nagging hamstring injuries, but his elite playmaking ability — four picks and nine pass breakups last year — is too enticing for GM Jon Robinson. Lattimore gives the Titans a day-one starter opposite free-agent acquisition Logan Ryan, helping shore up a secondary that surrendered the third-most passing yards of any team last year and finished with the 26th-ranked pass defense per Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
6. New York Jets: S Jamal Adams, LSU
The Jets’ roster is a mess, so they could go in pretty much any direction. Adding a physical tone-setter and playmaker like Adams not only shores up a leaky defensive secondary, but gives New York a potential culture-changing leader in a locker room that doesn’t appear to have many after the offseason purge of veterans like Nick Mangold and Brandon Marshall. Adams is an explosive hitter against the run and he’s fluid and instinctive against the pass.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: DT/DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
By grabbing Thomas, Los Angeles gives new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley a key component in the switch to the 4–3 scheme: a movable pass-rushing chess piece in the mold of Seattle’s Michael Bennett. Thomas can align wide in base looks and stop the run, then bump inside to the 3-technique spot in obvious passing situations. The versatile pass rusher notched 10 sacks, 12 hits, and 22 hurries on 394 pass-rush snaps last year for the Cardinal, and on a line with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, he should get plenty of one-on-one rushing opportunities.
8. Carolina Panthers: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey ran a bunch of power-run concepts in his Cardinal career, which should make the transition to the Panthers’ run game a smooth one, but it’s his utility in the passing game that could make him worth picking eighth overall. Cam Newton struggled with a homogeneous set of big, tall, and slow receiving weapons in Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, and Devin Funchess in 2016. The lack of quickness this group presents in and out of their route breaks meant that almost one-quarter of Newton’s pass attempts in 2016 were to a receiver who had less than 1 yard of separation, a higher percentage than any other quarterback in the league. Split out into the wing, McCaffrey gives Newton a shifty, explosive space player who can create room and give Newton easy-win throws on short slants, hook routes, and quick outs.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: DE/LB Haason Reddick, Temple
The Bengals need to get more explosive on defense, and the versatile Reddick helps them achieve that on two levels and on all three downs. The former Owl, who tested in the 94th percentile among NFL edge players, can line up as an off-ball linebacker on first and second down, running in coverage or stopping the run. Then on third down, he can line up opposite Carlos Dunlap, put his hand in the dirt, and get after the quarterback.
10. Buffalo Bills: WR Mike Williams, Clemson
The Bills brought Tyrod Taylor back for 2017 on a renegotiated deal, but now they need to give him some big-play targets in the passing game. Buffalo lost 167 targets, 90 catches, 1,233 receiving yards, and eight touchdown catches from last year’s passing offense when Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Justin Hunter walked in free agency. Williams is a contested-pass playmaker in the red zone and a chains-moving target on third down. He gives Taylor another reliable pass catcher opposite Sammy Watkins.
11. New Orleans Saints: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
An injury-depleted Saints secondary gave up an NFL-worst 273.8 passing yards per game while surrendering a 98.1 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (29th) last season. Adding Humphrey builds the depth and talent at the cornerback spot: He is a big, physical, and aggressive outside cover corner who can function in man or zone schemes and play the run with physicality.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles): TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
When head coach Hue Jackson spoke at the combine on the importance of building a strong offensive foundation before throwing a young quarterback into the fire, I believed him. Instead of picking Trubisky or Mahomes, the Browns go with the top tight end on the board. Jackson was the coordinator of the Bengals offense when Tyler Eifert caught 13 touchdowns in 2015, and with Howard, Cleveland gets a similar seam-stretching threat of its own. After four years as a secondary option for the Crimson Tide, Howard is just scratching the surface of his potential and could become the NFL’s next touchdown-scoring matchup nightmare.
13. Arizona Cardinals: QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech
Head coach Bruce Arians has a saying that’s become an unofficial motto for Arizona: “No risk it, no biscuit.” There’s no better philosophical and personal fit in Arizona than the rifle-armed, fearless Mahomes. Arians loves to air it out early and often, and Mahomes has the ideal tool set to carry out that style of play. He just needs a few years to refine his game and develop some discipline, and backing up Carson Palmer for a season or two would allow him to do just that.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings): CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
With Leodis McKelvin released and Nolan Carroll gone in free agency, the Eagles still need to fill holes at both of their starting cornerback spots for 2017. White, who drew praise from Philadelphia vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas at the Senior Bowl, gives Philly an instant-impact playmaker on the outside or in the slot, and he could factor into the Eagles’ return game early on, too. The former Tiger is an excellent athlete with a nose for the ball; he picked off two passes last year and finished tied for third in the nation with 12 pass breakups.
15. Indianapolis Colts: DE/OLB Derek Barnett, Tennessee
The additions of Jabaal Sheard and John Simon in free agency don’t stop GM Chris Ballard from selecting one of the top pass rushers in this class. Barnett racked up 75 total pressures in 2016, fourth most in all of college football, and while he’s not an elite athlete (he ran a 4.88 40 and notched a 31-inch vert at the combine), Barnett has a quick first step and powerful hands, and can bend around the edge of an offensive tackle to get to the quarterback. As a tough, physical, high-effort player, he’ll help change the Colts’ defensive identity.
16. Baltimore Ravens: OLB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Baltimore finished tied for 24th in the NFL in sacks (31) and 22nd in adjusted sack rate in 2016, and after releasing Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens will be relying far too heavily on the soon-to-be-35-year-old Terrell Suggs to bring the quarterback down. McKinley is raw as a pass rusher but has an explosive first step and a nonstop motor, and can rush from both sides of the line. He finished first in the Pac-12 with 16 combined sacks and hits, per Pro Football Focus.
17. Washington Redskins: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Fournette is a physical, punch-you-in-the-teeth counter to Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ dominant run game in the NFC East. Running behind an offensive line that finished sixth in the NFL in adjusted line yards last year, he’ll be a home run threat every time he takes a handoff from Kirk Cousins. Plus, he gives Washington the ability to wear out opponents and put games away in the fourth quarter. The former LSU bruiser runs best in a downhill style with the quarterback starting under center, and he fits well in Washington’s offense, which ran 45 percent of its plays from that look in 2016.
18. Tennessee Titans: WR John Ross, Washington
Marcus Mariota emerged last season as one of the league’s most efficient deep-ball passers, and adding Ross and his 4.22 speed is only going to make the Titans offense more potent downfield. Ross was a big-play machine for the Huskies, scoring 24 touchdowns in three seasons, but he’s not just a one-dimensional deep threat. Due to his elite speed, cornerbacks are going to give him plenty of cushion, meaning he’ll be able to capitalize on short slants, hook routes, and quick outs. Ross’s explosive kick return capability is a nice bonus, too.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE David Njoku, Miami
Jameis Winston is fearless throwing over the middle of the field, and that helped tight end Cameron Brate quietly tie for the league lead in touchdowns last year (eight) at his position. With Brate, Mike Evans, and DeSean Jackson in tow, the Bucs could make an already-dangerous passing game nearly unstoppable by grabbing the physically gifted Njoku at no. 19. With 35-plus-inch arms on a 6-foot-4 frame and a 37.5-inch vertical jump, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy with a bigger catch radius. All Winston has to do is throw it in his general direction.
20. Denver Broncos: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
The Broncos surrendered the ninth-most sacks (40) and finished 27th in adjusted sack rate last year. While adding guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Menelik Watson in free agency helps, GM John Elway is still without a viable starting left tackle for 2017. Ramczyk is the best option to fill that role, and although his lack of experience (just one year starting at Wisconsin) is a red flag, he exhibits physicality in the run game and he’s technically sound in pass protection, allowing just one sack, three hits, and 11 hurries on 348 pass-blocking snaps in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
21. Detroit Lions: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
Detroit finished 25th in adjusted sack rate, 26th in pressure rate, tied for 30th in sacks, and dead last against the pass last year, per DVOA. The Lions need to add disruptors on the defensive line who can move and sack opposing quarterbacks, and Charlton fits the bill. The former Wolverine notched 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last year, displays an explosive first step, and has an intriguing spin move that could be developed into a go-to move in the NFL. He’s got prototypical size (6-foot-6, 277 pounds) and length (34-inch arms), and he’ll be a great fit on the Lions’ line opposite Ezekiel Ansah.
22. Miami Dolphins: OL Cam Robinson, Alabama
With Laremy Tunsil’s expected move out to left tackle, Miami needs help at the left guard spot. A college left tackle whose mauling style and aggressive demeanor should make him a great guard, Robinson should start from Week 1. Last year, the Dolphins leaned hard on a breakout performance by Jay Ajayi — the team finished tied for seventh in the league in yards per carry (4.5) and ninth in yards per game (114) — and an injection of talent on the offensive line could make the run game even more effective in 2017.
23. New York Giants: RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
The Giants need another big-play threat to take some pressure off of Odell Beckham Jr. Signing Brandon Marshall in free agency is a start, but adding Cook could give the run game the boost it badly needs after the team finished 25th in rushing efficiency last year, per DVOA. At Florida State, Cook showcased vision, patience, and explosive acceleration that allowed him to make one cut and get downfield, and his impressive tape outshines his lackluster combine performance. Among college backs with at least 149 totes last year, Cook ranked second in yards after contact per attempt and first in missed tackles per attempt.
24. Oakland Raiders: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Foster’s disastrous offseason — which saw him get kicked out of the combine for an altercation with a hospital worker, then later fail a drug test — makes him fall into the 20s, but head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., both former pro linebackers, are too intrigued by what Foster brings to the field. He’s an explosive run-and-chase hitter who lays the wood in the run game and is fluid in coverage in the passing game. Also important: Oakland lost 1,560 linebacker snaps from last season when Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley departed in free agency.
25. Houston Texans: QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina
The Texans are working with a blank slate at quarterback after dumping Brock Osweiler and his terrible contract to the Browns, so they pounce on a high-upside signal-caller after watching Trubisky fall. With just 13 starts under his belt, Trubisky is inexperienced, but he has the tools — a strong arm, accuracy, and mobility — that head coach Bill O’Brien can work with. Plus, the Texans are a soft landing spot, with a true no. 1 on the outside in DeAndre Hopkins, a field-stretcher in Will Fuller, and an explosive running back in Lamar Miller.
26. Seattle Seahawks: CB Kevin King, Washington
The Seahawks have never taken a corner this high under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, but the combination of the lack of depth at the position and the uncertain future of Richard Sherman means that Seattle’s willing to break that mold. King didn’t give up a touchdown in 2016, and he seems made for the Seahawks Cover 3 defense. With plenty of size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and athleticism (4.43 40, 39.5-inch vertical), he has the tools Seattle looks for at that spot.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Jarrad Davis, Florida
Davis didn’t test at the combine, but at his pro day he impressed with a 4.56 40 and a 38.5-inch vertical jump, both of which are key factors for the SPARQ-minded Chiefs. Kansas City has to start planning for life after Derrick Johnson, and the athletic, big-hitting Davis is a great fit. He needs to cut down on missed tackles, but he has the explosiveness and speed to play on all three downs and make an early impact on special teams.
28. Dallas Cowboys: CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC
With the losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to free agency, the former Trojan Swiss army knife slots in right away as a three-down cornerback for the Cowboys opposite promising second-year pro Anthony Brown. Jackson also returned four punts and four kick returns for touchdowns in his college career, so he could factor in on special teams for Dallas. And if that’s not enough, why not throw him out on offense a few times a game and see what he can do? In three years at USC, Jackson caught 39 passes for 628 yards and six touchdowns and ran the ball 15 times for 92 yards.
29. Green Bay Packers: DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Inconsistency is the biggest concern when it comes to the 6-foot-6, 295-pound McDowell, but when he’s on, he’s damn-near unblockable. Putting him on Green Bay’s defensive line next to Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark would give the Packers the potential to field one of the most dominant run-stuffing fronts in football, and against the pass, the athletic penetrator can play the five-technique spot or bump inside to provide some push from the nose tackle position.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
The Steelers have amassed a collection of deep threats in Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Justin Hunter, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. But while he has Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still needs another reliable short- and intermediate-area target who can beat coverage underneath. In our last mock, JuJu Smith-Schuster was the answer to that dilemma at this spot, but with Davis falling this far, he’s too good to pass up. Davis profiles as a true no. 1 on the outside at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, but he possesses incredible agility and burst that makes him a strong route-runner and yards-after-the-catch creator from the slot, too.
31. Atlanta Falcons: OL Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
The Falcons fielded one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history last year, but that doesn’t mean Atlanta should pass up the opportunity to get better on the offensive line. The physical and athletic Lamp slides right into the role of now-retired guard Chris Chester. Lamp gave up just 31 pressures over 1,620 snaps at Western Kentucky, per Pro Football Focus — and while many of those plays came against inferior competition, he shined on the big stage in games against Alabama last year and LSU in 2015.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots): DE Charles Harris, Missouri
After grabbing a cornerback to bolster depth in their secondary with their first pick, the Saints add a sack-maker to put opposite Cameron Jordan on the defensive line. Harris put together a productive career for the Tigers (34.5 tackles for a loss and 18.0 sacks in three seasons). He possesses an explosive first step and a killer spin move, and he has the ability to play on either side of the line. He struggles against the run, but even if he’s just a rotational pass-rush specialist early on, he could shine in that role: Per PFF, Harris averaged a sack, hit, or hurry once in every six pass-rushing attempts in 2016.