With just over two weeks until the start of the NFL Draft, t’s officially the silly season in professional football. Teams are diving deep into pre-draft visits. Agents are spinning yarns to reporters hoping to improve their client’s draft position. And, of course, the NFL media is busy pumping mock drafts faster than Hollywood pumps out Fast and Furious movies. I’m no different.
Now, I’ve never claimed to be a “draft expert.” Instead, I like to think of myself as a “draft enthusiast.” I love studying individual team needs and finding prospects that fill them at good value.
Since I cover the team, my focus is typically on finding options that make sense for the Denver Broncos. A few weeks back, I published my annual Broncos only Mock Draft—assigning a player I love to every one of Denver’s 10 picks.
With the help of the great Ryan Greene, I’ve also been producing draft scouting reports in both video and written form for the last several weeks. So far, we’ve hit Christian McCaffrey, Mitchell Trubisky, Cam Robinson, Zach Cunningham, and O.J. Howard. We hope to do at least a few more between now and draft day.
However, now that we’re just two weeks and a day from the Cleveland Browns officially being on the clock, it’s finally time to put out my first set of thoughts on the first round.
I typically like to put out three to five first round mocks per year. However, time being what it is, I haven’t been able to spend as much time on film as I have in the past. This year, I’ll be doing two first round mocks. The last one will be published the night before the draft begins in Philadelphia.
This initial mock draft is based around my perception of team needs as well as conversations I’ve had with people around football including agents, draft experts, and scouts around the league. I’ll also use my own grades and evaluations of players to decide where they fit best.
Trades are hard to predict. I’m aware of at least a few picks in the top 15 that are for sale. For example, Cleveland’s No. 12 pick may be a prime trade target if they can’t find a quarterback at that spot. However, nothing’s solidified at this point. So, as has been the rule with every mock I’ve ever done, you won’t see any trades pop up in this version of the first round of the draft.
With all that said, let’s dive in and see how the first round of the draft just might play out.
1) CLEVELAND BROWNS: MYLES GARRETT, DE/OLB, TEXAS A&M
This should not be a question. Myles Garrett might be the best prospect I’ve ever studied. He’s a more complete player than Von Miller was coming out of Aggie land. He’s a generational prospect. Yes, he turned down an interview on “Mike and Mike.” That made ESPNers mad, to be sure, but since when does it matter who says yes to interviews?
There’s some talk now that the Browns might be considering taking North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky at No. 1 instead of Garrett. To me, that reeks of Cleveland fishing for a trade partner. However, if it’s legitimate and the Browns pass on Garrett, it would be the Brownsiest move in the history of the Browns.
Garrett said he would punish Cleveland if they didn’t take him No. 1 overall. If I’m Browns’ GM Sashi Brown, I’d take him at his word.
2) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: SOLOMON THOMAS, DE, STANFORD
This pick is interesting to me. Something tells me new ‘Niners GM John Lynch might have a surprise up his sleeve here. As of now, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are the only quarterbacks on the roster. It wouldn’t shock me if they either took a quarterback or traded back from this spot and grabbed one a bit later in the round.
However, assuming they stay put, Thomas is the right pick. San Francisco needs help everywhere. For me, Thomas is the best guy left on the board. He’s a bit of an odd fit size wise, but he’s going to be a really really good player. Malik Hooker might also make sense here to help fill out the back-end of San Francisco’s defense, but Thomas will make for an excellent addition as Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan look to rebuild arguably the worst roster in the NFL.
3) CHICAGO BEARS: MALIK HOOKER, S, OHIO STATE
For whatever reason, the Bears decided that Mike Glennon is their franchise quarterback. That’s bound to get somebody fired in the very near future. However, that move officially put Chicago out of the quarterback market at No. 3. Instead, I expect to upgrade their defense.
They’ve got a few options, but Hooker makes the most sense. He’s been compared to Ed Reed more times than I can count. He has a medical issue that is going to keep him out until training camp, but that won’t keep the Bears from pulling the trigger on him.
4) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, LSU
I’m not as high on Fournette as some are, but the Jags seem intent on adding offensive talent around Blake Bortles. They’ve spent an ungodly amount of money on the defensive side of the ball. Now, they have to add an offensive weapon to take some pressure of their young quarterback.
I’m one of the few in the known universe who still believes in Bortles as a long-term franchise quarterback. But, he’s on a short leash. There’s no doubt Fournette will draw the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. If Bortles can correct some of his issues, both on-field and off, perhaps Jacksonville can finally be the dark horse playoff team I’ve had them pegged as for the last two seasons.
5) TENNESSEE TITANS: MARSHON LATTIMORE, CB, OHIO STATE
The Titans got torched in the secondary last season. They desperately need help there. In this scenario, they wind up with a player most have going in the top three and my top ranked corner in this class. He’s a freaky athlete who can instantly upgrade their defense.
6) NEW YORK JETS: MITCHELL TRUBISKY, QB, NEW YORK JETS
The Jets are in serious trouble. After years of failing to fix their quarterback problem they’ve wound up hoping and praying that Josh McCown can somehow turn the clock back a decade or that either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg works out. I expect them to add another young quarterback to the mix here.
I’ve been told by multiple people that New York is high on Trubisky. So am I. I broke him down in a Broncos Big Board video last month. My comp on him is Andy Dalton, but I think he’s got the talent to be a bit above that. Of course, winding up in New York may stunt his growth.
7) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: JAMAL ADAMS, S, LSU
The Chargers are getting a steal here. Adams is believed to be not just arguably the best safety in this class, but the best leader as well. He’s a top three physical player. Plus, he fits a huge position of need for Los Angeles. He’d be a tremendous addition to new coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense.
8) CAROLINA PANTHERS: CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, STANFORD
Sorry, Broncos fans. Unless Denver is willing to mortgage their entire future, I don’t see them landing the hometown hero.
About a month and a half ago KKFN’s Cecil Lammey was the first to report the Panthers had serious interest in McCaffrey. Since then, that’s been corroborated by several reporters and individual sources. The Panthers would like to add a dynamic offensive weapon alongside Cam Newton and they see McCaffrey as a great choice.
I agree for the most part. I broke him down in the first scouting report I did this season. His talent is obvious and he’ll be a great locker room addition for the Panthers.
9) CINCINNATI BENGALS: JONATHAN ALLEN, DE/DT, ALABAMA
Again, this is an absolute steal. Allen could easily be the No. 3 overall pick. However, a shoulder injury has at least a couple of people I’ve spoken with genuinely concerned.
Here, those concerns have merged with teams drafting for need, resulting in the perfect storm for the Bengals. Allen is a versatile pass rusher who will infuse Cincy’s locker room with both leadership and youth.
10) BUFFALO BILLS: MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, CLEMSON
Sammy Watkins has shown flashes of the all-world skill-set that got him drafted where he was. However, he’s been frustratingly inconsistent. Injuries have obviously played a part in that, but adding another top pass catcher will help Buffalo’s offense enormously.
Rick Dennison, the Bills’ new offensive coordinator, will really enjoy having a tool like Williams. He has prototypical size and could easily be a No. 1 option for several teams. In Buffalo, he’ll be asked to be a big-bodied No. 2 behind Watkins and should excel in that role making plays for himself and opening up opportunities for Watkins.
It’s also been reported by multiple outlets that Williams is Buffalo’s top choice at No. 10.
11) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: DEREK BARNETT, DE, TENNESSEE
The Saints are as desperate for an edge rusher as any team in pro football. Based on my grades, Barnett is the best one left on the board. Sources in New Orleans have also told me they’re very high on Barnett. He’s a polished pass rusher who can start on day one and contribute immediately to defense that has been laughably bad for several years now.
12) CLEVELAND BROWNS: DESHAUN WATSON, QB, CLEMSON
The Browns want Mitchell Trubisky. However, they like Watson as well. They obviously need a quarterback. Heck, they’ve needed one since 1999. However, this sets up as the draft they might actually be able to address that need and add a generational talent at No. 1 overall as well.
Watson is many people’s top ranked quarterback in this class. His measurables at the combine weren’t quite as eye-popping as I thought they were going to be, but they were still excellent. He’s also a great leader with top-flight experience and athleticism who can make every throw. If they get him at No. 12, it’ll be a tremendous pickup.
13) ARIZONA CARDINALS: REUBEN FOSTER, ILB, ALABAMA
Arizona met with Bama’s bruising linebacker earlier this month. That was for good reason. Foster is this draft’s top interior linebacker and would fill that position of need for the Cardinals. There are some questions about his medical evaluations and some have concerns about exactly where he’ll fit in an NFL defense. I don’t really share those concerns. Foster is ferocious backer who would make plays for them right away.
14) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: GAREON CONLEY, CB, OHIO STATE
This is primarily a need pick, but it makes sense. The Eagles need help in the secondary and Conley is the best corner left on the board. He has an ideal frame for the position and can play both corner spots for the Eagles. Dalvin Cook is also a possibility here, but Conley would be a really solid pick.
15) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: TACO CHARLTON, DE, MICHIGAN
With O.J. Howard still on the board, this pick took some serious contemplation. However, need has to take precedence over BPA for the Colts here. Indianapolis needs help at literally every position on the field except quarterback and kicker. However, their most glaring need is at pass rusher.
Charlton has an extraordinarily high ceiling. He has the potential to be an All-Pro caliber pass rusher and would instantly upgrade the Colts’ miserable defense. Plus, his name is “Taco.” Who wouldn’t want that on their team?
16) BALTIMORE RAVENS: O.J. HOWARD, TE, ALABAMA
Ozzie Newsome gets a steal. Somehow O.J. Howard has fell right into the Ravens’ lap. I came into this mock inclined to move Howard’s Alabama teammate Cam Robinson to Baltimore, but at this stage there’s just no way the Ravens will pass up by far the best player on the board.
Howard is the top player in an uber-deep tight end class. I broke him down on the latest edition of the “Broncos Big Board.” At this point, it’d be silly for Newsome to pass on Howard, especially the logjam the Ravens have had at tight end the last two seasons. Crockett Gilmore and Dennis Pitta are good players, but Howard is a great player. If he’s somehow still on the board, the Ravens have to take him.
17) WASHINGTON: DALVIN COOK, RB, FLORIDA STATE
Washington just needs talent. Their top need is probably linebacker and I considered slotting Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham here. However, they could also use a dynamic option on offense and Cook is the best player on the board at this point. He has tons of off-field questions. However, he’s the most well-rounded back in this class and makes good sense for Washington.
18) TENNESSEE TITANS: COREY DAVIS, WR, WESTERN MICHIGAN
Corey Davis is my favorite receiver in this draft. He has outstanding size and length and can absolutely dominate at times. Several people have connected John Ross to Tennessee, but I see Davis as the better player and the better fit to give Marcus Mariota a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
19) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: JABRILL PEPPERS, S, MICHIGAN
Peppers is a tough fit. He’s a jack of all trades and a master of none. Yet, he can fill a lot of holes on the Buccaneers defense and has shown flashes as an outstanding playmaker in the past. He’s far from a pure safety. However, he can fill several holes on the Tampa Bay defense and has the potential to become a dynamic threat in the return game. If Tampa takes him, he’ll be asked to learn to be a genuine safety. I have no doubt he can do that with quality coaching and time to hone in on one position.
20) DENVER BRONCOS: CAM ROBINSON, T, ALABAMA
I wanted to avoid this. I swear. People who follow my work know I’ve been high on Cam Robinson for some time now. He was one of the first people I wanted to do a full scouting report on. However, it seems a bit forced for me to mock him to the Broncos considering how much I’ve talked him up.
I don’t care. The way the board has fallen in this mock, I just can’t help myself. Robinson is my top tackle in this class for a reason. He’s a road grading, powerful, ideally built mauler with three years of experience as the starting left tackle at the best program in the country.
The Broncos are absolutely desperate for a left tackle. He’s not perfect, but he’s better than any of Denver’s other options to start at that position.
General manager John Elway and other members of the Broncos’ staff met with Robinson on a pre-draft visit Wednesday and there seems to be genuine interest in either taking him at 20 or, if possible, trading back and selecting him.
Some prefer Garrett Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk, both of whom are on the Broncos’ radar. However, I think Robinson is ultimately the better option. Bolles is 25-years-old and Ramczyk is dealing with an injury. Both are going to fall. Robinson may fall as well.
This is a bad tackle class, there’s no getting around that. Beggars, however, cannot be choosers. The Broncos must take a potential starting left tackle in this class. With the Colts and Ravens passing on Robinson, he’s the right pick here.
21) DETROIT LIONS: ZACH CUNNINGHAM, ILB, VANDERBILT
Here’s another one of the players I targeted early on in the draft process. I almost slotted him to Denver at No. 20. However, with the Broncos’ glaring need at tackle, I’m going to let the Lions grab one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
I broke Cunningham down in-depth in both the video above and my full scouting report. He’s a poor tackler, but he does just about everything else well. He’s got great closing speed and can cover running backs and tight ends as well as anyone in this class. He’ll be a great fit for a Lions team that could use a real upgrade at linebacker.
22) MIAMI DOLPHINS: FORREST LAMP, G/C, WESTERN KENTUCKY
Forrest Lamp is one of the few bright spots in an abysmal offensive line class. If I thought he could play tackle, I would have been inclined to send him to Denver. Instead, he goes two picks later to a Miami team that’s going to have a huge hole at guard. Lamp can fill it and will even be able to fill it at center if needed. He’s extremely versatile.
23) NEW YORK GIANTS: GARETT BOLLES, T, UTAH
With preferred target Zach Cunningham off the board, the Giants are forced to go to their backup plan and try to address their need at tackle. Ryan Ramczyk is also an option, but people I’ve talked to have re-iterated how concern teams are about Ramczyk’s nagging hip injury.
Bolles is going to be 25 by the team the season starts. That has to be concerning if you’re picturing him as your long-term answer at left tackle, especially considering the fact that he’s probably a two to three year project to build out his frame. He’s athletic as heck, but I have concerns.
24) OAKLAND RAIDERS: ADOREE JACKSON, CB, USC
Adoree Jackson is a freak. He tore apart the PAC-12 last season returning kicks and making plays on the defensive end. He’s an athlete first and foremost who can be a game changing force in all three phases of the game. However, if Jack Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie were to take him with their top pick, they’d be filling a need as well.
Jackson showed rapidly improving coverage skills last season and looks set to develop into a high-quality No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. Combined with that play-making ability, the Raiders would be wise to add Jackson to their roster near the back-end of the first round.
25) HOUSTON TEXANS: PAT MAHOMES, QB, TEXAS TECH
The Texans pretty much don’t have a choice here. They found their way out of the Brock Osweiler disaster and went all in on Tony Romo, who will instead be calling games for CBS this season.
Bill O’Brien has to be at or near the top of the list of coaches that could be fired this season. He desperately needs improved quarterback play to save his job as people around the league have begun to question his competency.
Mahomes is a good prospect, not a great one. He’s got big time arm talent and is mobile, but coaching is going to be the deciding factor in his development.
26) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: RYAN RAMCZYK, T, WISCONSON
The Broncos had a terrible offensive line last season. It wasn’t the worst. That title belonged to the horror show that “protected” Russell Wilson in Seattle. They need to rebuild the line. They get a decent value pick with Ramczyk here. I’m not all that high on him, especially considering his injury, but I think that in time he could become a starting caliber tackle for the Seahawks. That’s certainly an upgrade from what they had last season.
27) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: TAKKARIST MCKINLEY, DE/OLB, UCLA
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston aren’t getting any younger. The Chiefs could use a quality pass rusher to improve and add youth to that unit.
28) DALLAS COWBOYS: DAVID NJOKU, TE, MIAMI
Jerry Jones is going to love this. The second best player in the best tight end class in recent memory has fallen right into his lap. With Jason Witten turning 143-years-old next year, the Cowboys need to address their long term future at this potision. They have glaring needs in the secondary, but there are players like Colorado’s own Ahkello Witherspoon that can solve that problem in later rounds.
Njoku is a great vertical threat from the tight end position who will only add more offensive pop to a Cowboys team that’s suddenly full of dynamic young weapons.
29) GREEN BAY PACKERS: JOHN ROSS, WR, WASHINGTON
“Beware the combine riser.” That’s a lesson I learned from the first scout I ever talked to. It’s probably that bias of mine that sees John Ross, this year’s ultimate combine riser, fall this far.
Ross is a speed demon. He proved that at the combine. However, I worry he might be a one trick pony. The tape shows me an exceptionally fast second or third round pick, not the uber talented game breaker people started describing him as following his breakout performance at the combine.
The Packers have struggled for years to find a legitimate game breaking receiver. When Jordy Nelson sat out with injury two seasons ago it was abundantly clear just how inadequate Aaron Rodgers’ secondary weapons really are. Davante Adams is a really nice piece, but Rodgers and Ross could make for plenty of highlight reel moments.
30) PITTSBURGH STEELERS: T.J. WATT, LB, WISCONSON
I don’t have a first round grade on T.J. Watt. At this point in the draft, with most of the dynamic weapons gone, grabbing someone like Watt who can play inside or outside on your defense and will come to work to compete each and every day makes sense to me.
The image of J.J.’s little brother in a Steelers’ uniform is a pleasing one, and he fills a need.
31) ATLANTA FALCONS: OBI MELIFONWU, S, CONNECTICUT
Dan Quinn can’t get enough secondary help. He showed that in Seattle. Melifonwu is a massive player for his position who can add depth to a defense that could use a little secondary help. They drafted Keanu Neal last year and that worked out well. Melifonwu could be a really nice rotational piece and potential starter down the road. He’s also by far the best player available at this point.
32) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: MARLON HUMPHREY, CB, ALABAMA
Some people see Humphrey as lock to be a top 20 pick. I don’t. He’s enormously inconsistent in coverage, gets beat on the long ball way too often, and I worry about his aggressiveness getting the better of him too often. He’s a good athlete, as are most Alabama players, but he’s going to have problems early on in his NFL career that may not go away anytime soon.
He’ll probably go higher than this, but I have him graded as an early second round pick. Considering the Saints needs at the position, though, I’ll slot him here. It should be noted, however, that New Orleans has some interest in Colorado’s own Chidobe Awuzie as well.