Foxworth’s mock draft: Send these first-round picks to your team’s GM
Drafting the right football talent is the only NFL game this time of year
The draft is the most important event on the NFL calendar. Starting Thursday, the decisions your team makes in the seven rounds will have more impact on your team’s Super Bowl prospects than any others. In a salary-capped league, teams can’t remain competitive and go after big free agents, retain their star players or pay the franchise quarterback if the players they draft can’t contribute at a high level under their rookie contract. If the drafted players don’t outplay their rookie contracts for their full four-year duration, the team will fail. So your team can’t afford too many mistakes.
Don’t panic. I am here to help. Please feel free to forward this to your team’s front office. This is not my prediction of how the first round will go — this is how it should go.
Welcome to my mock draft.
1. Cleveland Browns
Apparently, the Browns are considering using the No. 1 overall pick on someone other than Myles Garrett. At 6-foot-4, 272 pounds, Garrett ran 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, cementing himself in the minds of most as the best player available. So why isn’t the decision as obvious to the Browns as it is to everyone else?
Maybe the Browns have good reason to be wary. Maybe Cleveland sees Courtney Brown when they look at Garrett. They need only to think back to the 2000 draft, the last time they had the No. 1 overall pick. This situation is eerily similar. With no highly regarded quarterbacks available in 2000, consensus formed in the football world. The can’t-miss No. 1 overall pick was Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown. Almost identical to Garrett, Brown was uncommonly athletic at nearly 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds. Brown was hampered by injuries, though, so his production never reached the hype.
No one can predict injury, so the Browns shouldn’t let the ghost of the 2000 draft scare them away from making the prudent choice. Adding Garrett to a surprisingly talented and unheralded defense is the right move. While opposing fans may look forward to the Browns on the schedule, I can assure you that offenses won’t. Gregg Williams will be taking over defensive coordinating responsibilities. Yes, “Bountygate” Gregg Williams. Despite ranking near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories, the Browns have several really good defensive players. Nose tackle Danny Shelton is one of the most effective at his position and should thrive in Williams’ 4-3 defense. The blitz-happy Williams inherited two really good corners in Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor. And they acquired the versatile Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots last season. With three more picks in the first two rounds, this draft could be the pivotal one for the Browns.
2. San Francisco 49ers
General manager John Lynch inherited a roster with lots of holes to fill. Despite being an inexperienced executive, he has made sound, low-risk moves this offseason. Signing reliable free-agent veterans, such as center Jeremy Zuttah and wide receiver Pierre Andre Garçon, shows that Lynch is on the right track.
Continuing with the defensive trend, Lynch should use the first pick on fellow Stanford Cardinal Solomon Thomas. A 3-4 defensive end in college, Thomas has the versatility to play on the interior or edge in the 4-3 scheme to which the 49ers are transitioning. Playing behind a dominant defensive line in Tampa Bay, Lynch won a Super Bowl. Adding Thomas to last year’s first pick, defensive lineman Deforest Buckner, makes that unit much stronger.
3. Chicago Bears
The Bears signed Mike Glennon, so they have their quarterback of the future … right? Only time will tell whether Glennon is the answer under center in Chicago, but we do know that the Bears aren’t looking to use this pick on a quarterback. They probably want to bring in a player to support Glennon, but there are no offensive linemen or receivers deserving of the No. 3 pick in this draft.
I would look to bolster the defense and draft 6-foot, 193-pound Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore. At the combine, Lattimore ran 4.36 in the 40-yard dash. His film shows him dominating, but drafting corners is risky. Projecting success for cornerbacks in the NFL is challenging because most college quarterbacks don’t have the accuracy to challenge them. And cornerback is much easier to play with a big lead and when surrounded by NFL talent. That was certainly the case for Lattimore, but it is worth the risk because he has shutdown corner potential that the Bears badly need, facing Aaron Rodgers twice each season.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ big offseason move was signing 70-year-old Tom Coughlin. By bringing in Coughlin, the Jags are returning to their roots. Coughlin was the head coach in Jacksonville from 1995 to 2002, but this time he won’t be on the sidelines. He is vice president of football operations and will have a major influence on whom they draft.
LSU’s bruising running back Leonard Fournette is an attractive pick for the Jags, who were inconsistent running the ball last season. But I think they should pick O.J. Howard, tight end from Alabama. This will be viewed as a reach. But Howard is the type of player whom a creative offensive coordinator can build an offense around because he is an elite “receiving” tight end who can run block. At 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Howard is a sure-handed, smooth route runner who is comfortable split out like a wide receiver. Combining those skills with the potential to be a good NFL run blocker is what will create dilemmas for NFL defenses.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
In the 2015 draft, the Titans chose Marcus Mariota with their first pick. Mariota has become a franchise quarterback and the leader of their offense. Tennessee has a chance to select the same kind of player for its defense.
Reuben Foster’s stock has been dropping since the combine, where he submitted a diluted drug test sample and had a “heated argument” with a medical worker. These incidents have teams questioning his decision-making, but there are no questions around him as a player. He is the prototypical modern NFL linebacker. Foster can stop the run and covers well on passing downs. And he was the unquestioned emotional leader of the Alabama defense. He appears to be a can’t-miss pick, assuming that his issues at the combine are an anomaly.
6. New York Jets
Based on the Jets’ offseason moves, it appears that they are already angling for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. They have parted ways with Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis. There go 20 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro selections. But they did sign QB Josh McCown to a one-year deal. He is a placeholder for the quarterback they will draft in the first round of the 2018 draft.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This year, the Jets should add do-it-all safety Jamal Adams. He has real man coverage ability, which is uncommon for a safety. If he can cover NFL-level slot receivers reasonably well he will be a gem for defensive coordinators, who have to shuttle in myriad personnel groupings in an attempt to keep pace with flexible offensive weapons.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Moving from San Diego to Los Angeles isn’t the only change for the Chargers. They also have a new coach, Anthony Lynn. In 2005, Lynn was crossing a street in Texas when he was hit by a drunken driver. Lynn flew 50 feet and sustained two collapsed lungs, three broken ribs and damage to his face and shoulder. “The doctors didn’t understand how I survived,” said Lynn. That has nothing to do with the draft, but you needed to know that about him.
Lynn hired Gus Bradley to coordinate the defense, which brings a schematic change from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The Chargers should choose Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. He is a skilled tactician who would fit well opposite Joey Bosa at defensive end. But what makes Allen a good fit for the Chargers is his ability to rush the passer from the tackle spot on passing downs, which will allow outside linebacker Melvin Ingram to continue rushing from the edge.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a promising team despite not meeting expectations last season. Of the teams mentioned to this point, the Panthers are by far the best. They have realistic Super Bowl aspirations, no matter whom they pick in the first round.
They should draft a running back, but not the one who fits their style perfectly: Fournette. The Panthers’ power running scheme would be great for Fournette and beneficial to the Panthers. However, Dalvin Cook has the potential to change the Panthers’ offense for the better. Le’Veon Bell is the perfect modern NFL running back, and Cook has similar skills. He is a patient runner with explosive acceleration, as well as 4.5-second speed (Bell ran 4.6). In college, he eluded more tacklers than any other back. The big Bell similarity that has me high on Cook is his talent as a receiver. Cook would occasionally line up as a receiver at Florida State. I was most impressed by his route running and aggressiveness attacking the ball. There is one big red flag: ball security. But for all that he brings to the offense, he’s worth a fumble or two. He immediately improves both the passing and running game, and his positional flexibility makes pre-snap reads clearer for Cam Newton.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are another talented team that didn’t expect to be drafting this high. They are set at most of the marquee positions, but they lost some important players: offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth.
But this year’s college offensive linemen aren’t worth a ninth overall pick, so Cincinnati won’t be filling those voids just yet. They should add Derek Barnett, defensive end from Tennessee, to their defensive line. Barnett is not the athlete that Garrett is, but he is a smart and highly productive player. At 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds, Barnett’s size may make him more of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but his skill set is that of a 4-3 defensive end. The Bengals, a 4-3 team, should pick him to play defensive end. He uses his hands and leverage well, so size won’t be a problem.
10. Buffalo Bills
In last year’s draft, the Bills’ first three picks were defensive players. QB Tyrod Taylor is probably lobbying for this pick to be used on the offense. The Bills have a great running back in LeSean McCoy and a good offensive line, so receiver might be a position worth considering. Corey Davis, the wide receiver from Western Michigan, is the right choice. Davis is a polished route runner who adjusts well to deep balls. He was incredibly productive in college, especially in the red zone. If Sammy Watkins is healthy, adding Davis will make the Bills’ offense scary. Taylor will be positioned to take the leap for which Buffalo has been waiting.
11. New Orleans Saints
The Saints need help on defense. A lot of help. If Ohio State safety Malik Hooker is still available at this point, the Saints’ front office should start a parade down Bourbon Street (but don’t forget to call in the pick first.) Hooker is the type of defensive player for whom opposing offenses cannot devise a game plan. He is a deep-middle free safety with a sharp IQ and cornerback speed. Hooker will be around more plays than not and create turnovers, giving the ball back to Drew Brees.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)
The Browns are back on the clock and still have plenty of needs. And the most significant need, quarterback, has yet to be addressed. It will be tough for Cleveland to pass on a quarterback now. I think they should pass on Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky again and opt for Christian McCaffrey, the Stanford running back. Running back is too limiting a title for McCaffrey. In the NFL, he will be more like a flex player. McCaffrey has elite quickness, just like his soccer-star mother, and hands like his NFL receiver father. He will be a quarterback’s best friend whether he is in the backfield or the slot.
13. Arizona Cardinals
In 2015, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had the best year of his career, reaching career highs in passing yards, touchdowns and wins. Last season, however, he and the Cardinals underachieved. Even if he can return to his 2015 form, he is 37 and can’t be the quarterback of the future — but Trubisky, UNC’s one-year starter, could be. Trubisky, a college junior, showed glimpses of a first-round quarterback skill set. He needs some polishing, which is why Arizona is the best place for him. He can learn under Kangoled coach Bruce Arians for a year or two before taking control of the team from Palmer as he closes in on 40.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)
Carson Wentz’s early-season success shocked the football world. Though his performance declined late in the season, Philly fans should be excited about their offense next season. They have one of the more reliable offensive lines, and they added receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
Their defensive personnel are solid in all areas except cornerback. Tre’Davious White from LSU should be their pick. He will start for the Eagles immediately. His punt return skills might be wasted in Philly, as Darren Sproles normally handles those duties.
15. Indianapolis Colts
With Fournette still on the board, the Colts may be tempted to draft him and replace the aging Frank Gore. Don’t! Protect Andrew Luck! Now that former general manager Ryan Grigson is gone, do the right thing. Draft a tackle. Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin is the best pass blocker in the draft. He is exceptionally athletic for his size and will increase Luck’s chances of not ending next season broken up.
16. Baltimore Ravens
General manager Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore’s draft wizard, has had a knack for drafting great defensive players. This year he should go with offense and take Fournette. The LSU running back has power and speed that have drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. His physical running style fits perfectly with the way the Ravens want to play. He may not still be on the board at this point, but if he is, he won’t make it past Baltimore.
17. Washington Redskins
So far, Washington’s offseason has been sad. The team awkwardly parted ways with general manager Scot McCloughan and managed to overpay Kirk Cousins again, without locking him into a long-term deal. Once he becomes a free agent after this season, I don’t think he will choose to come back to D.C. He will go where he feels valued; my guess is San Francisco. So the Redskins should accept that they mishandled the Cousins situation and draft Clemson’s national champion quarterback Deshaun Watson. Though he didn’t play in a pro-style offense in college, he was an outstanding college player. Washington fans may be reminded of Robert Griffin III when he comes to town, but I think he is more Marcus Mariota than Griffin.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Titans were good on offense last season, but they lacked a coverage-busting receiver. They’d better get John Ross, the Washington Huskies receiver. He ran a 4.22-second 40 at the combine. Need I say more? As a former cornerback, just seeing that time gives me chills like the hyenas from The Lion King. In the right situation, he has a chance to be a superstar. Obviously, his straight-line speed makes him an intimidating deep threat, but he is more than that. He has good hands and runs routes well. With him, Tennessee’s offense is sure to cause insomnia for defensive coordinators.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Expectations for the Buccaneers’ 2017 season should be high. They have a punishing defense and, most importantly, they have Jameis Winston. If they can protect Winston, the Bucs have a realistic chance to win the big one next season, so they should draft offensive tackle Cam Robinson from Alabama. He is a solid starter with the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber pass protector. He isn’t the type of pick who will get the fan base excited, but he will be reliable, which could result in a more consistent Winston.
20. Denver Broncos
The Broncos needs to find out whether Trevor Siemian is the long-term answer at quarterback. To give him a chance to succeed, they need to protect him better. Sorry, Trevor, life is not fair. This team is only going as far as its defense can take it, so Denver should draft Taco Charlton. At 6-foot-6 and 277 pounds, the Michigan Wolverine will be a powerful defensive end for the Broncos. He will be more impactful than any offensive lineman available.
21. Detroit Lions
The Lions made the playoffs last year, which could give them an unrealistic perception for the level of talent on their roster. Most urgently, they need to upgrade their front seven on defense. If Mike Williams is still available, they should take him here. Golden Tate was a good No. 1 receiver, but the ghost of Megatron still haunts this franchise. Williams isn’t Calvin Johnson, but he will be a big, reliable weapon for Matt Stafford. Williams has talents that are rarely found this late in the first round.
22. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins should be delighted to see so many good cornerbacks still available. It feels like they can’t go wrong choosing just about any one of them. Just to be sure, I suggest they go with Jourdan Lewis from Michigan. He is good enough to start. His quickness makes him an ideal corner to cover the slot, which is priceless when you share a division with the Patriots. Lewis will be able to hold his own on the outside and in substitution situations.
23. New York Giants
During last offseason, the Giants signed offensive tackle Ereck Flowers to help protect Eli Manning. But he wasn’t enough. The Giants should pick Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles. He probably isn’t ready to be a left tackle on day one, but he will instantly improve the Giants’ line, affording Manning the time needed to get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr.
Oakland Las Vegas Raiders
With Derek Carr returning from injury, the Raiders will be one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, so they need a player who will contribute right away. That player is Temple linebacker Haason Reddick. He was an outside backer in college, but he has the body and athleticism to play inside in the NFL. In pass-rushing situations, he could move back outside and pressure NFL quarterbacks opposite Khalil Mack.
25. Houston Texans
Tony Romo has decided to replace Phil Simms in the CBS broadcast booth, rather than replace Brock Osweiler as Texans quarterback. However, the Texans shouldn’t give up on the idea of getting a Texas gunslinger on the roster. Houston should draft Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Tom Savage will likely be the Texans’ signal-caller in Week 1, but he may not survive the season if the Texans draft Mahomes. He has the type of arm most quarterbacks would kill for. With deep threats such as Andre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Mahomes could really test his arm strength on Sundays.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman is at his best playing cornerback for the Seahawks. And the Seahawks are at their best with Sherman on the field. So all the trade talk is unfortunate. As every NFL player will tell you, this is a business. The Seahawks need to do some succession planning for the eventual departure of their cerebral cornerback. Fortunately for them, Marlon Humphrey from Alabama is a perfect fit. He is aggressive and big for a cornerback. He recognizes route combinations well and excels in zone coverage. He is no Sherman, but he is as close as they can get.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
Once the strength of the team, the Chiefs’ defensive front seven needs revamping. Dontari Poe exited via free agency, and Father Time has taken a toll on Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali. Kansas City can’t overhaul its front with one pick, but drafting Malik McDowell out of Michigan State is a good first step. At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, he is lean and explosive. He might not be an ideal fit for the Chiefs’ scheme, but his big-play ability will take pressure off Kansas City’s linebackers.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Dak, Dez and Zeke, your offense is in good shape when all of America is on a nickname basis with your big three. Unfortunately, the defensive side of the roster is less heralded. Its most urgent needs are pass rusher and cornerback. Fortuitously, this draft is rich in those positions. Unless Jerry Jones can pull some strings, they can only choose one at this point. That one should be Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson. He alone isn’t the solution. The Cowboys should add a few more defenders in later rounds, but he is an upgrade from what they currently have.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Packers were thin at cornerback before they released Sam Shields, who will likely retire because of concussions. They should address cornerbacks with this pick. Gareon Conley out of Ohio State is the type of pure cover corner the Packers need, but they can’t draft him two days after we all learned that he has been accused of sexual assault. Conley maintains he did not commit the crime, but Green Bay should stay away from him in the first round. That leaves the Packers with a choice between Adoree’ Jackson from USC and Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley. Jackson is an intoxicating athlete who made major contributions for the Trojans on both sides of the ball and as a returner. His highlights may be the best in the draft, at any position. But Tankersley is a force in press coverage. His physicality in coverage may draw penalties in the NFL, but the receivers he lines up across from will be in for a long day.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
It seems like the Steelers have always had great linebackers, so it feels odd that they need backers. James Harrison can’t play outside backer forever, no matter what he thinks. And when Lawrence Timmons took his talents to South Beach, suddenly the Steelers were left with just Ryan Shazier. He is good but would be better if joined by Jarrad Davis from Florida. The Gators inside backer has the speed and athleticism to cover in space, a skill that’s becoming a necessity and not just a luxury for linebackers. He can play a bit out of control at times. Yet, he’s physical and aggressive and ran a 4.56-second 40 at the combine. The Pittsburgh system will allow him to shine.
31. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons’ offense was historically great last season. I doubt they’ll be looking to use this pick to upgrade that side of the ball. Their defensive personnel are solid, especially after the addition of defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the middle of the defense. Their style of defense is predicated on having two relentless pass rushers. Vic Beasley is one, but they haven’t found the answer on the other side. Alabama’s Tim Williams might be the guy they are looking for. He may not be an every-down player, but if he can bring his ability to get after the quarterback to third downs, the Falcons’ defense could make a huge leap on third-down conversions. That means the offense can get back out on the field sooner. Then, maybe Julio Jones can get 400 receiving yards in a game. He had 300 last season, so it could happen.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots)
In my draft, the Saints have already picked up safety Malik Hooker. They shouldn’t be done with their secondary yet. The Washington Huskies had a pair of first-round-caliber cornerbacks in Sidney Jones and Kevin King. Jones is probably better than King, but Jones tore his Achilles at his pro day, so the Saints should select King. He actually might be a better fit in the NFC South, where all the teams have enormous receivers. At 6-foot-3, King is a big corner who ran a 4.43-second 40 at the combine. He is going to need all that speed and size to face Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers), Mike Evans (Bucs) and Jones twice a year.