Way-too-early 2017 NFL mock draft
DE Myles Garrett, RB Leonard Fournette and QB Deshaun Watson have a chance to be high picks in the 2017 NFL draft if they put together another solid season. ESPN Illustration
Let's start by emphasizing the first part of the headline above: way-too-early. There's a reason we use that terminology for this piece. I have not studied tape on most of these players. I've simply done my best to match up many of the top players on my preliminary list with teams that make sense.
A few more important notes:
Most of my evaluations below came from what I've been able to see watching them in person or on TV. We still have a ton of work to do on everyone in the 2017 class.
Last year, 15 players who were featured in my way-too-early mock draft ended up going in the 2016 first round. As we saw with Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, injuries are impossible to predict and certainly impact a player's draft stock.
The draft order below was generated by Football Outsiders, using its early projected records for the 2016 season.
Here is my way-too-early NFL mock draft for 2017. Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.
1. Cleveland Browns
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson*
We have limited information on Watson's intangibles, measurables and medical information, but by all accounts, he has outstanding personal and football character. While I still need to study his reads and true accuracy more, he has a good arm and flashes anticipation as a passer. Watson put up 40 points in the College Football Playoff National Championship against an Alabama defense that had four players drafted in the top 60 and has another three featured here.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami (FL)*
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Kaaya will have to bulk up to withstand the pounding in the NFL, but he's a tough competitor. You can tell watching him play that he's very smart and processes information quickly. He has the tools to develop and shows good touch/timing as a passer. If the 49ers are picking this high -- remember: I didn't set the order -- they're likely still in need of a quarterback upgrade.
3. New York Giants
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M*
Ranked as the fourth overall recruit by ESPN in 2014, Garrett has lived up to the hype in his first two seasons in College Station. It's hard to watch much of a Texas A&M game without seeing him in the backfield. In total, he has posted an incredible 33.5 tackles for loss (including 24.0 sacks) in 25 college games. That's the kind of production you're looking for from a potential top-five pick.
4. Miami Dolphins
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU*
Fournette has averaged 6.13 yards per carry in his first two college seasons, scoring 32 rushing touchdowns. If there's a concern, it's that he'll put too much wear on his tires before getting to the NFL -- he had 300 carries in 2015 and has totaled 487 for his career. But you just don't see this kind of game-breaking ability very often.
5. Oakland Raiders
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida*
Listed at 6-foot, 191 pounds, Tabor has good length and flashed great ball skills/playmaking ability in his first two seasons. Tabor made an incredible touchdown-saving interception as a freshman and followed that up with four picks -- two of which he took to the house -- in 2015. Florida coach Jim McElwain has a ready-made replacement for cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was drafted No. 11 overall last weekend.
6. Cleveland Browns*
Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
Browns fans will spend much of the 2016 season cheering against the Eagles, as they own Philly's first-round pick in 2017 as part of the Carson Wentz trade. Williams decided to return to school after racking up 10.5 sacks in 15 games as a junior. He wins with power, relentlessness and first-step quickness off the edge.
* Acquired in trade with Eagles
7. Washington Redskins
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen played limited snaps last season along Alabama's stacked defensive front, but when he was in the game, opponents sure noticed -- 14.5 tackles for loss (including 12.0 sacks) and two forced fumbles. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with more playing time in 2016.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC*
The Buccaneers didn't draft a wide receiver this year, but with Vincent Jackson now 33, they should be looking to develop a young pass-catcher opposite Mike Evans. Smith-Schuster has the speed to run past defensive backs, the size to go up and get the ball (he's listed at 6-2) and the instincts in the open field to turn a short pass into a big play.
9. New York Jets
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama*
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 327 pounds, Robinson is a mountain of a man to get around at left tackle. He has plenty of potential to be a road grader in the running game, and he showed great toughness the past two seasons, playing through multiple injuries.
10. Tennessee Titans
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU*
Kendall Wright is set to hit free agency in 2017, and by that point, Marcus Mariota could be in need of some more weapons. Dupre has dropped a few pivotal passes, but there's a lot to like about his size (he's listed at 6-3), speed and raw ability.
11. Chicago Bears
Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State*
The Bears spent five of their first six picks on the defensive side of the ball in 2016. Second-rounder Cody Whitehair has the skill set to contribute at guard from day one, but their long-term plan at tackle is still a little cloudy. The 6-foot-7, 307-pound Johnson is your prototypical left tackle prospect. He has been pretty consistent in his first season and a half as a starter in Tallahassee.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jamal Adams, S, LSU*
The son of George Adams, whom the Giants selected in the 1985 first round, Jamal came on strong during his sophomore season. He picked off a team-high four passes and flashed the ability to get downhill in a hurry and make plays in the running game (47 solo tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss). Defensive tackle and offensive tackle could be options for the Jaguars, as well; they declined to pick up OT Luke Joeckel's fifth-year option earlier this week.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee*
Trent Cole, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis are all set to be free agents after the 2016 season, so Indianapolis will be looking to beef up their pass rush. Barnett, who racked up 10 sacks last season, would be an outside linebacker in the Colts' scheme. He has shown the power to push the pocket off the edge.
14. Denver Broncos
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri*
A college defensive end who could convert to outside linebacker, Harris has speed to burn off the edge. He had seven sacks and finished second in the SEC behind Myles Garrett with 18.5 tackles for loss last season.
15. Atlanta Falcons
Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State*
Jonathan Babineaux is 34 and a free agent after next season, so Atlanta will be looking to beef up the interior of its defensive line. At 6-foot-6, McDowell is a unique talent at defensive tackle. He uses his excellent length to keep blockers off his pads.
16. Tennessee Titans*
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Continuing with the theme of putting Mariota in the best position to succeed, Howard has a rare skill set for the tight end position, with the size (6-6) and speed to create mismatches down the seam. Delanie Walker and Anthony Fasano, who are in their 30s, both become free agents after next season.
*Acquired in trade with Rams
17. New Orleans Saints
Jarrad Davis, OLB, Florida
Davis (6-2, 230) projects as an off-the-line linebacker with speed and athleticism who can hold up in coverage and get sideline to sideline in a hurry. He tied for second on the Gators last season in solo tackles (46) and finished third with 11.0 tackles for loss.
18. San Diego Chargers
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame*
McGlinchey, who's the cousin of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, thrived in his first full-time season as a starter at right tackle last year. And with Ronnie Stanley gone, he'll take over the left tackle role in 2016, putting his natural athleticism and 6-foot-7½ frame to good use.
19. Detroit Lions
Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Foster made his mark initially as a heavy hitter on Alabama's special-teams units, but he transitioned into a full-time starting role on defense last season, playing next to Reggie Ragland. The instincts, speed and tackling ability Foster showed in 2015 bode well for his NFL prospects.
20. Buffalo Bills
Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU
I thought White had the potential to be a first-round pick in 2016 had he left school early. He has started 34 of a possible 36 games in his career, tallying four interceptions. White played really well in a 2014 matchup against current Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper.
21. Houston Texans
Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah*
Another Lotulelei stud at Utah. Lowell's brother Star was an All-American for the Utes and a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2012. At 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds, Lowell is in the mold of his brother. He's tough to move off the ball, especially in the run game, and he frees up linebackers to make plays behind him.
22. Minnesota Vikings
Zach Banner, OT, USC
Banner gets his 6-foot-9, 360-pound frame from his biological father, Lincoln Kennedy, an 11-year NFL veteran and three-time Pro Bowler. Banner -- who was recruited to play both football and basketball -- will transition from right to left tackle this upcoming season. His size and athleticism could be appealing to a team like the Vikings, who will have both of their starting offensive tackles hit the free-agent market next year.
23. Carolina Panthers
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan*
Peppers has the versatility NFL teams crave from their defensive backs. He's physical enough to make plays as a run defender, fluid enough in coverage to match up with wide receivers one-on-one, and rangy enough to cover a lot of ground as a deep safety in the middle of the field.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford*
McCaffrey ranked second among running backs last season in rushing yards (2,019) and receiving yards (645), while also finishing third overall in kickoff-return yardage (1,070). That's a long way of saying McCaffrey literally did a little bit of everything for Stanford in 2015. His all-around game gives him a lot of value as an NFL prospect.
25. Dallas Cowboys
Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota
Leidner shows some upside as a passer, but I'll be looking to see if he can improve his accuracy (59.5 completion rate and 14-11 TD-INT ratio in 2015). Listed at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Leidner has ideal size and has shown the ability to make plays with his legs off designed runs and scrambles. He's a late riser to keep an eye on, similar to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State*
Cook has the lateral quickness to make guys miss in the hole and the breakaway speed to pull away from the defense. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, he's a little undersized -- not unlike current Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who's set to hit free agency after next season.
27. New England Patriots
Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA
There are a bunch of massive offensive tackle prospects in this class; McDermott is listed at 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds. A good athlete for his size, McDermott earned Mr. Basketball honors in Tennessee as a high school senior.
28. Seattle Seahawks
Deatrich Wise Jr., DE, Arkansas
All eight of Wise's sacks last season came in SEC play. He caught a lot of attention late in the season, finishing with six sacks in his final three games (LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri). If he strings together some similarly dominant games again, Wise will be in the first-round conversation.
29. Kansas City Chiefs
Marquis Haynes, LB, Mississippi*
Haynes plays some defensive end for Ole Miss, but he projects as an off-the-line linebacker at the next level because of his smaller frame (listed at 6-3, 220). He has been incredibly productive so far in Oxford -- 25.5 tackles for loss (including 17.5 sacks) in 26 career games.
30. Green Bay Packers
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia*
Chubb suffered a brutal knee injury last October, so his 2017 draft stock -- and whether he leaves school early -- will be affected by how that progresses. When healthy, he has excellent vision and shows the ability to explode through the hole (7.38 yards per carry in 19 college games). One side note: At the moment, this looks like a really good RB class, with four making my initial mock. The last draft in which we had at least four running backs go in the first round was 2008 (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson).
31. Pittsburgh Steelers
Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State*
Part of a loaded Buckeyes linebacker corps that featured 2016 draftees Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, McMillan led Ohio State in solo tackles with 57 last season. McMillan (6-2, 240) flies to the ball and drops the hammer when he gets there.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Williams missed pretty much the entire 2015 season with a scary neck injury suffered in Clemson's first game. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Williams has the size, speed and big-play ability (18.1 yards per catch in 2014) teams look for in a wide receiver. Both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are set to be free agents after next season.
Players also considered (alphabetical order)
Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Da'Shawn Hand, DT, Alabama*
Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC*
Desmond King, CB, Iowa
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn*
Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson