McCaffrey to Bengals at No. 9 in Josh Liskiewitz's first mock draft
Analyst Josh Liskiewitz kicks off Pro Football Focus’ first ever “Mock Week” with his breakdown of Round 1. From April 10–14, look for a new analyst mock each day for a unique perspective on the 2017 NFL Draft from our analysis team.
Before diving into this mock, the following disclaimer needs to be understood: This is not in any way a prediction of what will happen April 27. This mock is working strictly off my personal board, which is unlikely to even match the final collective board at Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, I am making each pick from the perspective of being a new general manager to each franchise, thus I am not necessarily constrained by the pre-existing depth chart of each roster.
The value of this approach is that it presents a unique point of view, which is more realistic in terms of how varying NFL teams will view prospects. All 32 teams are sure to have very different draft board, based on need, scheme, and even evaluation. There is no such thing as a universal draft board off which the entire league works.
While I encourage you to have an open mind with this mock and take note of the context I’ve provided above, feel free to rip me apart and tell me it’s the “worst mock yet.”
1. Cleveland Browns
Garrett is the only truly elite prospect at a premium position in this draft class, and I don’t personally view any of the quarterbacks as being worthy of a top-10 selection. He has been a top performer for each of the past three seasons, totaling 31 sacks and 164 total pressures at Texas A&M. The Browns obviously have holes everywhere on the roster, so barring a trade, Garrett is the obvious choice.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, Foster has the incident at the combine to answer for. That being said, he was an outstanding performer on all three downs for the Crimson Tide, and would help take some of the still-lingering sting off of the back-to-back early retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland in 2015. Foster led all FBS linebackers in run stop percentage in 2016, accumulating 52 while missing just five tackles on run plays.
3. Chicago Bears
Allen might not have eye-popping athletic measurables, but he terrified opposing backfields throughout the 2016 season on his way to earning PFF’s award for best player in all of college football. His ability to rush the passer inside for the Bears would make the duo of Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd even more dangerous coming off the edge.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Like Allen, Barnett wasn’t overly impressive at last month’s combine. Also like Allen, he did his impressing on the field, as he put together three full years of outstanding film. He was even more productive than Garrett over the past three years, as he totaled 34 sacks, 187 total pressures and 117 total defensive stops between 2014 and 2015. The Jaguars defense is now stocked with talent on every level, but the addition of a pass-rushing stud like Barnett may be the final piece the unit needs to reach full potential.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
This was the easiest pick for me in this mock outside of Garrett going to Cleveland. The Titans are closer to being a playoff team than many may realize, but in order to take the next step their young QB, Marcus Mariota, needs legitimate weapons outside. Western Michigan quarterbacks had a rating of 141.2 when throwing to Davis in 2016, as he was again a terror in terms of his route-running, ability to win the contested ball and with yards after the catch. He scored 46 touchdowns between 2014 and 2016, and rounds out his skill set by being a hyper-competitive blocker.
6. New York Jets
This may be the first major surprise of my mock, but Reddick is the most explosive edge talent in this class not named Myles Garrett, which is something the Jets defense has lacked for several years. No one in college football was more dangerous rushing from the left side of the line of scrimmage in 2016, as Reddick posted the top pass-rush productivity score by accumulating 31 total pressures in just 127 rushes from that side.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Ohio State’s Malik Hooker appears a natural fit at free safety for the Chargers, but with Adams somehow still on the board he’d be my pick over the Buckeye standout. Adams is a versatile piece capable of playing at an elite level at either safety positon, slot cornerback or even as an outside corner. Opposing QBs had a QB rating of just 54.7 when throwing into his coverage this past season, and he gave up just one total touchdown as the primary coverage defender over the past three years.
8. Carolina Panthers
If you follow me on Twitter or have read my writing throughout this offseason, you already know I’m as big a believer in Melifonwu the football player as I am in Melifonwu the athlete. Obviously he’d bring a level of athleticism currently lacking in Carolina’s secondary, but it’s his versatility in coverage and ability against the run that makes him a perfect fit in the Panthers defense, which features two high safeties more than most teams in the league. There could be as many as a dozen safeties taken within the first 100 picks of this year’s draft, and among that group last year Melifonwu ranked second in run-stop percentage and third in tackling efficiency.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
This is certainly not one of the more talented Bengals rosters in recent memory, as there are significant holes on both sides of the ball. McCaffrey is the most dangerous and versatile offensive weapon in this draft class, and would be an immediate performer in Cincinnati not just running the ball, but catching it out of the backfield and the slot, as well as on returns. Adding a talent with elite elusiveness as both a runner and receiver (McCaffrey forced 150 total missed tackles in 2015 and 2016) would give the Bengals their best change to remain competitive in the AFC North.
10. Buffalo Bills
I considered going CB for the Bills here, but with such a deep class and a huge need for offensive playmakers as well, Howard makes a ton of sense. He’s an excellent blocker, but more importantly a dangerous mismatch against linebackers up the seams. Having a security blanket the caliber for Howard, who had the third-lowest drop rate among FBS tight ends last season, would go long way toward helping QB Tyrod Taylor elevate his game and earn a long-term contract from the club.
11. New Orleans Saints
Cornerback is likely the biggest need on the Saints roster, and with the best one in the class still on the board, the fit is natural. Lattimore almost unbeatable for the Buckeyes in 2016, as he gave up a completion percentage of just 45.9 on throws into his coverage, and opposing QBs had a rating of just 31.9 when challenging him.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
I’m still not in love with a QB enough to take a leap of faith here, thus Cleveland gets the top remaining player on my board. Cunningham is a dominant, physical presence in the run game, and has the speed and aggressiveness to challenge tight ends in man coverage. He finished fourth among all inside linebackers in 2016 in run stop percentage, and was second with 56 total run stops.
13. Arizona Cardinals
While I’m not as crazy-in-love with Thomas as some, I love the concept of him going to a place like Arizona that will move him all over the defensive line to create mismatches and free up other defenders. Thomas earned 44 total pressures last season, and is capable of rushing from the edge just as competently as he can from inside.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
The Eagles actively upgraded their WR corps in the offseason by signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but Jeffery is on just a one-year deal, and Smith has not performed well since leaving Baltimore. Williams is the smart long-play here, as not only can he rack up catches and scores on jump balls, but he also forced the seventh-most missed tackles among all FBS receivers last season.
15. Indianapolis Colts
We’ve now reached the part of this draft class where the difference in talent over the next 50 picks will be marginal. Tankersley is the next corner on my list, which is a critical need in Indianapolis after the departure of Patrick Robinson. Tankersley’s physicality and playmaking ability in coverage is outstanding, as he defended a total of 13 passes in 2016 while giving up just one score, and opposing QBs completed just 47.6 percent of throws into his coverage.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s pass rush simply isn’t anywhere near the level it was when the defense was annually among the top five of the league, but the Ravens are sitting in a great spot in the first round to be able to pick up an impact player. Lawson racked up 69 total pressures for Auburn last season, and brings a level of athleticism currently lacking at outside linebacker in Baltimore.
17. Washington Redskins
With Su’a Cravens expected to move to strong safety, the Redskins would do well to find a long-term option next to him at the free position. Hooker’s play against the run is worrisome, but his athleticism, range and ball skills are as good as any we’ve seen in recent memory at his position. Hooker picked off seven balls in 2016, his first year as a starter for the Buckeyes, and would be an excellent long-term option over DeAngelo Hall, who is currently 33 and coming off an ACL tear.
18. Tennessee Titans
This is likely to be my most controversial pick, especially considering I’ve already sent a receiver to Tennessee, but I love the all-around utility in Samuel’s game. He posted 1,635 yards from scrimmage last year, as he was equally dangerous as a running back and wide receiver. I love the concept of giving Marcus Mariota a chess piece like Samuel who has the game-breaking speed to score from a wide variety of alignments.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s defense was a pleasant surprise last season, and drafting an every-down player the caliber of Charlton would allow the defense to continue its upward trend, and set it up well for the future. Charlton was a strong run defender for the Wolverines, but it’s his 14 sacks and 114 total pressures in just 480 combined reps in 2015 and 2016 that has him so high on my board.
20. Denver Broncos
Obviously, the Broncos have major question marks at the quarterback position, but part of the struggles of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch last season were the equally terrible play at offensive tackle. Rarely is an offensive lineman the caliber of Ramczyk still available at this stage of the draft, and I’d be willing to take him in the top 10 if I had strong, positive news on his surgically repaired hip. He did not give up a sack until the conference championship game against Penn State last season, and for the season yielded just the one to go with three QB hits.
21. Detroit Lions
Detroit is another team that I think would do well to wait for a corner on Day 2, but with the top front-seven players off the board, White is a strong selection. He excels in both zone and man coverage, making him a great fit in a defense that loves to mix up coverages. White defended an impressive 14 passes last season, and gave up just five receptions for longer than 20 yards on 113 targets the past two seasons.
22. Miami Dolphins
Even if second-year player Xavien Howard turns out to be a solid starter opposite Byron Maxwell, Awuzie would still be able to make a critical impact on Miami’s defense from the slot. Awuzie had 200 snaps from the slot for Colorado last season, and was effective there not just in coverage, but against the run as well. His 13.6 snaps per reception allowed from the slot was ninth-best in FBS last season.
23. New York Giants
Ideally for the Giants, Zach Cunningham would still be on the board, but with him long gone in my mock, Njoku makes a ton of sense in this offense. His ability to make tight cuts out of his breaks is unrivaled at the position despite this being such a deep class. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch on 64 career grabs at Miami, and forced a total of 20 missed tackles after the catch.
24. Oakland Raiders
Marshawn Lynch looking likely to come out of retirement to join the Raiders takes the possibility of drafting LSU RB Leonard Fournette off the table. Play him from the slot or outside, I don’t really care; Lewis would be the best CB on Oakland’s roster in very short order. He had a rough outing in his final college game against the Seminoles, but in his previous 25 games gave up just one score compared to four interceptions and 23 pass break-ups. It’s worth noting that while he does a pending misdemeanor domestic violence charge against him (to which he pleaded not guilty), the detective assigned to the case stated “it wasn’t clear to the officers if there was an assault, or who the aggressor was.” Unless new information comes to light, I’m not likely to drop Lewis on my board, as I have with other blue-chip prospects like Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon.
25. Houston Texans
Finally, a QB off the board! The Texans are unfortunately this position away from being real Super Bowl contenders, and while I wouldn’t bank on Trubisky entering as a rookie and duplicating what Dallas Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott did in 2016, he would be walking into an excellent situation both in terms of potential playing time and roster composition. Trubisky’s intermediate passing stands out from last season, as he completed 75 of 114 throws that traveled between 10 and 19 yards through the air for 1,330 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
26. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks still need help just about everywhere on the offensive line, and Lamp might actually be a viable starter at any of the five positions. I’d start him out at left tackle first, and make him prove his arm length is too big an issue to overcome before just assuming he can’t handle the most important position on the line at the next level. Lamp did not give up a sack last season for the Hilltoppers, and yielded just four total pressures on the year.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
I have real concerns with Fournette if he goes to a team that likes to run a heavy amount of outside zone or lacks a strong line, but have a passable line and scheme-wise are more compatible with Fournette’s downhill running preference. Fournette is unlikely to contribute much in the passing game (at least early in his career), but his power and speed at the second level allowed him to score 30 touchdowns and force 106 missed tackles on the ground on 429 carries between 2015 and 2016.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Although his huge combine numbers suggest he’s worthy of a first-round selection, Witherspoon is likely to be a victim of the depth at his position and not be selected until day two of the real draft. I like him at this stage, however, because his productivity in 2016 complements his size and athleticism nicely. He gave up just 28 receptions on 88 targets last season, defending a total of 14 while giving up a QB rating against of just 50.9.
29. Green Bay Packers
With Clay Matthews not offering as much in terms of pass-rush ability as he did earlier in his career, I like the idea of keeping him inside and drafting an explosive edge talent like McKinley. McKinley posted 57 total pressures last season for the Bruins, and had a three-game stretch against Washington State, Utah, and Colorado that saw him rack up six sacks and 20 total QB pressures.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
After showing some signs of promise as a pass-rusher at the end of the regular season, Bud Dupree disappeared in Pittsburgh’s final two playoff games, as he posted just two total pressures in Pittsburgh’s final two games against Kansas City and New England. Regardless of his development, the Steelers clearly need another long-term pass-rushing threat, and they should be able to find help in this class. Watt certainly looked the part in his first season as a full-time starter for the Badgers, as he posted 10 sacks and 16 hits, and ended the season with four straight games with at least one sack (five total during the stretch).
31. Atlanta Falcons
Harris’ development in the run game has been a bit disappointing, but he is a dangerous edge-rusher with a lethal spin move, and Atlanta would be an ideal situation for him to walk into. The Falcons could use another athletic outside rusher, and with the depth of the current front seven he’d be able to step in as a rookie in a situational role while working on developing his full skillset.
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England)
Westbrook was outstanding for the Sooners in 2016, and would make an immediate impact catching balls from Drew Brees. He totaled 1518 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016, and had catches of at least 40 yards in every Big 12 contest.