The start of the college football season also signals the start of NFL mock draft season. Although it’s way too early in the year, it’s interesting to see who many “draft experts” see as first-round talents, before their guy crumbles during the year, draft stock dropping in the process. With other players, there’s those one-of-a-kind talents that you’ll never see for another decade. These guys are the ones worth watching. There are also players who are quiet during the season, but yet come out of nowhere to become a first-round pick. Take Carson Wentz for example. An FCS star for North Dakota State, his draft stock skyrocketed thanks to an impressive pre-draft process.
After Week 1, who do I feel will be the top pick in the draft? Will we see quarterbacks taken 1 and 2 for the third successive year? What about the running back class that’s set to take over next year? Here’s my first mock draft of the season, with the draft order taken from the Super Bowl odds from FootballLocks.com
1) Cleveland Browns – Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
The Browns went after many needs in the 2016 draft, but still lack that franchise player at QB. Robert Griffin III is not the long-term solution, but Deshaun Watson certainly is. Arguably the best player in college football, Watson has the dual-threat ability that makes any defence think twice. He’s able to make plays with his arm – especially when throwing deep – and his legs.
2) San Francisco 49ers – DeShone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
Despite being the talk of the NFL world with his off-field protests, it’s time for the Niners to move on from Colin Kaepernick. It’s amazing that only a few years ago, Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. Now it’s time to find a new QB under Chip Kelly’s system and Kizer fits this bill. His stock rose with an impressive outing in a loss against Texas. His arm talent, poise and athleticism should make him a top pick come next year.
3) Tennessee Titans – Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M)
The Titans have found their franchise QB in Marcus Mariota, but now it’s time to find a franchise player on the other side of the ball. Myles Garrett is the best defensive talent, terrorising offensive lines during his time at A&M. Garrett has a chance to be a #1 overall pick, but the last defensive end to be taken first overall hasn’t lived up to expectations yet.
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
The Bucs could use a jack-of-all-trades like Peppers, who can play anywhere from safety to cornerback to linebacker or even on the offensive side of the ball. His versatility can help this Bucs defence and he can be a Deone Buchanon-type defender.
5) San Diego Chargers – Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
Safety has become a big need for the Chargers, especially after they let Eric Weddle leave in the offseason. Jabrill Peppers could also be an option here, but I’d settle with a stout safety like Adams. He can play both in coverage and roam around the line of scrimmage.
6) Detroit Lions – Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
A talent like Fournette should not have to wait this long to be taken. If I’m the Lions, I take this one of a kind RB. His blend of power and breakaway speed is unmatched by any other running back. Ameer Abdullah is a great speedy return man, but probably a backup at best.
7) Buffalo Bills – Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
The Bills’ top two draft picks, defenders Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland are on injured reserve, but this draft pick focuses on finding a new target alongside Sammy Watkins. Had Williams not suffered a neck injury in Week 1 last season, he could’ve been the top wide receiver taken in the 2016 draft. Instead, he starts this season as the top WR prospect and has the talent to be taken in the top 10.
8) Cleveland Browns – Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
The Browns take a stout defensive lineman in Allen with their second pick. Alongside Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah, the Browns form a strong foundation for their defence which has been worrying over the past few seasons.
9) Miami Dolphins – Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
I had the Dolphins taking a running back last year before the Cowboys ruined that prediction, taking Ezekiel Elliot #4 overall. This year, I have the same concern for Miami, despite signing Arian Foster in the offseason. Cook may not be as talented as Leonard Fournette, but he’s definitely a close second.
10) Atlanta Falcons – Cam Robinson (OT, Alabama)
The Falcons can look at a pass rusher here, but I feel that Matt Ryan needs better pass protection and Cam Robinson is the best tackle prospect in this draft. It’s hard to rely on O-lineman taken in the top 10 nowadays, with many not living up to their billing, but I feel Robinson can buck this trend.
11) New Orleans Saints – Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
A great pass rusher has been lacking in New Orleans for some time and I’m high on Carl Lawson as an edge defender. This would help a defense that is currently one of the worst in the NFL.
12) Tennessee Titans – Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
After taking Myles Garrett with the #3 overall pick, the Titans look to add to a secondary that’s struggling to find its identity. Tabor is the top true cornerback prospect here with spectacular man-coverage ability and physicality off the line of scrimmage. He does have off-field issues, but Tabor is too talented to pass up.
13) New York Jets – Brad Kaaya (QB, Miami)
The Jets took Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he has major struggles this pre-season and doesn’t look to be the answer. Ryan Fitzpatrick provided some off-season drama but taking a while to re-sign with the team, while Geno Smith’s rookie deal expires after this season. Brad Kaaya has a ton of potential and a high IQ. However, he takes on a new offence under Mark Richt this season and unlike top QBs Watson and Kizer, doesn’t have a strong cast at Miami.
14) Houston Texans – Raekwon McMillan (LB, Ohio State)
With Brian Cushing getting older, the Texans need to look for a replacement. McMillan has rare linebacker qualities, with great athleticism and instincts. A young linebacker behind one of the best defensive lines in the NFL makes for a scary thought.
15) Chicago Bears – Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
King led the FBS in most interceptions and could’ve been a first round pick last year. This year, he returns to Iowa as the best ball hawk in college football. The Bears failed to address their secondary issues this offseason and King will fit an immediate hole in the defense.
16) Washington Redskins – Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
I’m not entirely sold on McCaffrey as a running back at the next level but he will provide a change of speed in the Washington running game, as well as being a return specialist.
17) Jacksonville Jaguars – Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
The Jaguars can add to an already strong defense on paper by adding McDowell in the middle. He can easily complement former Denver Bronco Malik Jackson and former 1st round pick Dante Fowler Jr on the defensive line.
18) Baltimore Ravens – Tim Williams (LB, Alabama)
Williams is another one of Alabama’s solid linebackers and joins a long line of Crimson Tide products. With Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs nearing the end of their careers, the Ravens will look for a new linebacker to pair with former Bama product CJ Mosley.
19) Oakland Raiders – Reuben Foster (MLB, Alabama)
As mentioned earlier, Foster joins a line of great Alabama linebackers. The Raiders lack a linebacker to plug the middle of their defence. Foster fills a need with his great instincts and ability to read and react.
20) Dallas Cowboys – Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
The Cowboys have struggled to find a consistent pass rusher since Demarcus Ware left. Despite having on field talents Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, their off-field troubles has many questioning if they’re the long-term answer. Enter Demarcus Walker, who has already had a strong start to the college season.
21) New York Giants – Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
The offence of the Giants has become dynamic with the draft pick of Sterling Shepherd in the second round in 2016. But they still lack a strong option at running back who can open up the passing game for the Giants. Chubb is one of the most consistent backs in college football. Despite a gruesome injury last year, Chubb has picked up where he’s left off, terrorising defenses with his patience and vision.
22) Indianapolis Colts – Jarrod Davis (LB, Florida)
Robert Mathis and Trent Cole are nearing the end of their careers and there isn’t a better replacement than Davis, who at times stole the show on a Florida defence which had NFL talent in Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal and Jonathan Bullard.
23) Kansas City Chiefs – Juju Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
The Chiefs can provide another option for Alex Smith in Smith-Schuster, who is a polished route-runner and great blocker. Despite the failed history of past USC receivers in the NFL, Juju’s has more talent than those before him.
24) Cincinnati Bengals- Jourdan Lewis (CB, Michigan)
Lewis can add to a secondary that has been the worst aspect of the Bengals defence in recent years. Even though they added William Jackson III in the first round, Lewis could end up being a great nickel corner with skills in both man and zone coverage, which is needed against an offence like their rivals from Pittsburgh.
25) Philadelphia Eagles – Adoree Jackson (CB, USC)
The Eagles need to find a fit at cornerback. Jackson is one of the top athletes in this draft class and can provide a spark on both sides of the ball. Many will question whether his athleticism makes up for a lack of technique, but the talent is certainly there.
26) Denver Broncos – Mike McGlinchey (OT, Notre Dame)
Broncos could fill a need left by linebacker Danny Trevathan, but I’ve gone with a pass protector. Despite off-season signing Russell Okung being at tackle, he’s not a long-term option. McGlinchey impressed in the season-opener against Texas and could slot in as a starter at the next level.
27) Arizona Cardinals – Chad Kelly (QB, Ole Miss)
Bruce Arians has a history of dealing with players who have off-field issues, as demonstrated in the 2016 draft when the Cards picked Robert Nkemdiche out of Ole Miss. In 2017, another Ole Miss star will become Carson Palmer’s replacement when he eventually retires. Despite his off-field concerns which led to his dismissal from Clemson, the Cardinals select Chad Kelly, who possesses all the tools of a pro quarterback.
28) Carolina Panthers – Roderick Johnson (OT, Florida State)
The Panthers need to protect Cam Newton. Simple as that. He took 17 hits during the NFL season-opener against the Broncos and the front office would want to prevent their franchise QB from getting hurt.
29) Seattle Seahawks – OJ Howard (TE, Alabama)
Jimmy Graham has had trouble staying healthy ever since he arrived in Seattle. It would make sense to find a new tight end and leave a lot of money left over. Howard has shown flashes of his potential, especially in the National Championship game against Clemson. He stayed for one more year at Alabama in order to be a vocal point of the offense and can prove he is the top tight end in this draft class
30) Pittsburgh Steelers – Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
Pittsburgh selects Jake Butt, who comes in to replace the recently retired Heath Miller. He is a great pro-style tight end and his third-down ability makes him an intriguing option. Butt is added to one of the best offenses in the NFL.
31) Green Bay Packers – Pat Elfein (G/C, Ohio State)
The Packers releasing guard Josh Sitton was one of the big surprises this off-season, so you would think drafting a lineman is a bigger priority. Elfein can come in as Sitton’s replacement and can also cover as a center.
32) New England Patriots – Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
Although I’m not high on Barnett, his talent as a pass rusher is unquestionable and it would be a shame if he fell to the second round. The Pats take the best player available in this situation.