John Ross to Titans at No. 5 in Jordan Plocher's first mock draft
Pro Football Focus’ first ever “Mock Week” continues with Jordan Plocher’s breakdown of Round 1. From April 10–14, look for a new mock each day for a unique perspective on the 2017 NFL Draft from our analysis team.
I have the tremendous opportunity to anchor PFF’s Mock Week. My unorthodox mock draft should take the pressure off my colleagues for their own contributions, and also has the potential to ruin your weekend.
For this mock, I used the PFF Draft Board as my framework for each selection, but deviated wildly from it at times, as this is what I would do at each pick given my view of how the league is trending. If you have an old-school, run-first mentality about the NFL, then chances are you’ll disagree with many of my selections.
In a league where 11-personnel is now much more “regular” than 21-personnel and nickel is the new base defense, my emphasis with each selection is on how much a prospect can impact the passing game, with special consideration for versatility and mismatch players. Now, in the NFL, teams need to have different styles of pass-catchers, coverage defenders, and pass-rushers in order to have a better chance of finding highly-coveted personnel mismatches on a weekly basis.
1. Cleveland Browns
Garrett’s edge-rush ability and freaky athleticism make him the top pick in my mock, as he will be able to make game-changing defensive plays to negatively impact the opposition’s passing game. Garrett has racked up 31 sacks, 35 QB hits, 98 total pressures, and three batted passes on 976 pass-rushing snaps over the past three seasons, despite being the focus of opposing teams’ game plans.
2. San Francisco 49ers
McCaffrey is arguably the best offensive player in the draft class, and pairing his versatility with a creative offensive mind like Kyle Shanahan is too much to pass up. Historically speaking, the tree that Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner come from would prefer to find a RB late and have Turner mold him, but this is an exception, as McCaffrey is more than just a running back — he can also play the wide receiver position just as well as a true WR. McCaffrey becomes a deadly open-field runner after the catch, and forced 21 missed tackles as a receiver on 38 receptions in 2016. He is a four-down player, as he can make a nice punt return and then stay on the field with the offense for all three-downs, play multiple positions, and be a mismatch player in the passing game. The return on investment with this selection would be high.
3. Chicago Bears
Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo also had this pairing in his recent three-round mock draft. Quarterback needs to be strongly considered here, but I’m giving new GM Ryan Pace the benefit of the doubt on free-agent signee Mike Glennon. The Bears take the best available non-quarterback in Jonathan Allen. Allen can provide a three-down inside player and a valuable inside pass-rush presence for the Bears. In 2016, Allen generated 13 sacks, 13 hits, and 41 hurries on 463 pass-rush snaps; any NFL team would love that type of pass-rush production coming from the interior of its defensive line.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have had up-and-down performances from quarterback Blake Bortles, and inconsistency at the position is hindering a young team from reaching the next level. Deshaun Watson will bring instant competition to the roster, and either propel Bortles to play at high level consistently, or Watson will take the job and possibly provide the stability the team needs. Watson is a much more experienced and polished passer than Bortles was as a prospect, and he’s highly accurate, with an adjusted completion percentage of 76.1. The two are stylistically different, which should make for an interesting competition. Best-case scenario: The Jaguars quickly determine one of the QBs is their guy, and trade the other for some form of compensation.
5. Tennessee Titans
John Ross is so explosive and deadly that he would bring a fantastic weapon for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Ross would also bring a different element to the Titans’ offense, which is designed for the “exotic smashmouth” approach, but could use a little more exotic. Ross generated 17 touchdowns and 386 yards after the catch in 2016. Furthermore, Mariota and Ross have good personal chemistry already, and Ross could make an impact from Day 1 with the Titans.
6. New York Jets
Our analysts were not high on the Christian Hackenberg selection in the second round of last year’s draft, and although I was tempted to take a quarterback here for the Jets, I decided to give them another year to see what they have at the position. Safety Jamal Adams has the coverage ability to play on the back end, in the slot, or even at cornerback, if needed. Adams is a fluid and versatile coverage player with 251 of his 802 coverage snaps last year coming from the slot. His ability to impact the passing game in so many ways makes him a valuable pick here.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Obviously a replacement for Philip Rivers needs to be found, and this selection of Patrick Mahomes gives the Chargers long-term stability at the quarterback position. Mahomes reminds me a great deal of Brett Favre between the lines, as he is willing to take risks to make plays and has the arm to back them up. Mahomes can push the ball deep, and in 2016, he threw 15 touchdown passes on deep passes (throws targeted 20 or more yards downfield). The talented-but-unorthodox Mahomes can learn behind the talented-but-unorthodox Rivers for a year or two and then give the city of Los Angeles a young face of the franchise.
8. Carolina Panthers
The chance to pair an outstanding tight end prospect with Cam Newton long-term is too much to pass up. Greg Olsen is still a productive player, so the Panthers can use two-tight end personnel groupings more frequently until Olsen begins to decline (if that in fact ever becomes the case). Howard can be used in a variety of ways much like Olsen, as they can both be split out wide, line up in the slot, or in a traditional in-line role. Howard can get open downfield, as well, and his four deep receptions (20 or more yards downfield) rank fifth in the draft class. Newton to Howard for years would be a scary combination
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Derek Barnett is the best pass-rusher not named Myles Garrett in this draft class, and the Bengals would love to add his pass-rushing production to their defense. Barnett consistently generates pressure at a higher rate than other edge-rushers, as he generated pressure on the QB on 20.0 percent of his rushes (the NCAA average was 10.0 percent). Barnett generated 34 sacks, 43 QB hits, 110 hurries, and two batted passes on 1,126 pass-rush snaps over the last three seasons. He is a technically-sound pass-rusher, and 45 of his 78 pressures came to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle in 2016.
10. Buffalo Bills
Trubisky’s small sample size scares me, but he is a talented passer. The Bills get another quarterback for the same reason Jacksonville selected one, hopefully coming to a long-term conclusion about either their incumbent or the newcomer. The big concern with Trubisky is sample size, but he has shown he can handle pressure well in his time on the field. In 2016, Trubisky’s adjusted completion percentage was 75.1 with no pressure; it only dropped to 66.7 under pressure, which ranks fifth-best in the draft class. His 76.9 adjusted completion percentage against the blitz ranks third in the draft class.
11. New Orleans Saints
Colleague Josh Liskiewitz also had this same selection in his Mock Week draft. The Saints are thrilled that the best cornerback in the draft falls to them. Lattimore has the size, speed, athleticism, and ball skills that teams want in their top cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks only recorded a 30.2 QB rating when throwing into Lattimore’s coverage in 2016. He can make an instant impact for the Saints.
12. Cleveland Browns
Three quarterbacks are gone, so the Browns get a leader for their defense instead with Malik Hooker. He represents production in the way of disrupting the passing game of opponents both in the slot and as a centerfielder. Hooker has the range, instincts, and ball skills one would want if they were creating a free safety in a video game, as evidenced by his seven interceptions in 2016. He can also clamp down on slot receivers, surrendering only 73 yards for the season when covering a receiver in the slot.
13. Arizona Cardinals
Adding another CB that can play man coverage opposite of Patrick Peterson is the biggest impact the Cardinals can make with this selection. It instantly makes the entire defense more effective, as they can blitz as often as they like when they know their two starting cornerbacks can handle the opposition’s best two wide receivers without any help. Opposing quarterbacks only recorded a 60.6 QB rating when throwing into White’s coverage in 2016, and his 12 pass breakups tied for third-most in the FBS.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
Building around Carson Wentz is of the utmost importance for the Eagles, especially as young quarterbacks can be streaky their first few years. Corey Davis has averaged 8.1 yards after the catch per completion over the last three seasons, and will make plays for the young Wentz both after the catch and on contested passes.
15. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck has the aggressiveness as a passer to target Mike Williams consistently, and Williams has the size and skill-set to make spectacular plays routinely for Luck. Williams caught 14 deep passes in 2016 (targets 20 or more yards downfield) and can help open up the offense and move the chains.
16. Baltimore Ravens
One of the better defensive players in all of college football gets plugged into the middle of the Ravens’ defense. Foster can play on all three downs, making a passing-game impact. A player this good is too much to pass up, even though Baltimore needs a pass-rusher. Foster finished the season with an 86.5 coverage grade and didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage all season.
17. Washington Redskins
Thomas represents the best pass-rushing value here, as he can rush from the DE position in base defense and DT in nickel. Thomas recorded 10 sacks, 12 hits, and 22 hurries on 394 pass-rushing snaps in the 2016 season, and only appears to be getting better as a pass-rusher.
18. Tennessee Titans
I first had a cornerback in mind, but Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s scheme places a lot of emphasis on having versatile outside linebackers who can rush the passer at a high-level. Lawson has multiple pass-rush moves at his disposal, and generated nine sacks, 13 QB hits, and 45 hurries on 364 pass-rush snaps in 2016. Lawson is one of the better pure edge-rushers in the draft class, and will help make people around him better.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Njoku is a big, long, rangy mismatch player in the passing game, and can provide another big target for QB Jameis Winston. Njoku has the size and receiving chops to line up in the slot, where he caught 31 passes in 2016, or to split out wide to exploit mismatch advantages. Njoku will dwarf safeties when he is running down the seam, and hauled in four deep passes (targets 20 or more yards downfield) last season. Winston has confidence in his arm and doesn’t mind fitting passes into tight windows to let his man get the ball — Njoku’s big frame gives him another option.
20. Denver Broncos
The Broncos could use some help protecting their two young quarterbacks long enough to figure out which one is their long-term answer at the position. Senior Analyst Mike Renner called this pick the “best possible scenario” for the Broncos in his recent Mock Week draft. Ramczyk can help in the pass protection department, as he only allowed one sack, three QB hits, and eight hurries on 373 pass-blocking snaps in 2016. Ramcyzk was PFF’s highest-graded offensive tackle, and the top tackle on our draft board, so this is a natural fit.
21. Detroit Lions
King has tremendous length for the position at 6-foot-3 with 32-inch arms and explosive athleticism, which was on display at the combine. King did not allow a touchdown in coverage in 2016, but intercepted two passes and broke up another four. Opposing quarterbacks only recorded a 55.6 QB rating when targeting King in coverage in the 2016 season.
22. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins add the best all-around offensive linemen in the class. Although Lamp played tackle at a high-level in college, he might be an even better fit at guard, and could also play center. Lamp’s versatility will give the Dolphins options to get their best offensive linemen on the field. At tackle in 2016, Lamp didn’t allow a sack, with only three QB hits and two hurries surrendered on 415 pass-blocking snaps.
23. New York Giants
The Giants could use some help at left tackle to keep the aging Eli Manning upright and functional. Bolles gets pushed up here due to lack of depth in the offensive line class. He is difficult to bull-rush and athletic enough to protect the corner. Bolles allowed three sacks, one QB hit, and 16 hurries on 472 pass-blocking snaps in 2016.
24. Oakland Raiders
The selection of the athletic and versatile Reddick not only fills a void at inside linebacker, but his pass-rushing ability makes him a chess piece in the Raiders’ defense that could blitz or rush off the edge on third downs. Reddick recorded 10 sacks, four QB hits, 29 hurries, and one batted pass on 248 pass-rushing snaps in 2016.
25. Houston Texans
The Texans get some competition for Tom Savage, and possibly their long-term answer at quarterback. DeShone Kizer has ideal size and strength for the position, and has shown an ability to respond well to pressure, as his adjusted completion percentage only drops from 68.0 with no pressure to 59.5 with the heat on.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Ahkello Witherspoon is an outside press corner with impressive measurables, explosive athleticism, and high football IQ. At 6-foot-3 with 33-inch arms, Witherspoon has rare length at the position that allows him to make plays other cornerbacks simply cannot. His length reduces the size of passing windows and allows him to still wrap his arm around and break up slants where he has already given up inside leverage. Opposing QBs recorded just a 50.9 passer rating when throwing into Witherspoon’s coverage in 2016; he allowed 28 receptions on the year and broke up 13 passes. Witherspoon’s ability to recognize route combinations or releases pre-snap and effectively communicate that to this teammates is impressive, and indicates that he spends time in the film room. Witherspoon fits exactly what the Seahawks like to do on defense, and could quickly emerge as a starter in Seattle.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs could use another good young cornerback, because every team can actually use another good young cornerback. Tankersley only allowed one TD in coverage in 2016, but also intercepted four passes and broke up another nine. Opposing QBs recorded just a 40.6 passer rating when throwing into Tankersley’s coverage. He should immediately contend for playing time opposite of Marcus Peters.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Simply put, Adoree’ Jackson is a freak. His long speed is ridiculous, and he can make touchdown-saving tackles on the far side of the field look routine. Jackson is an elite athlete who can make an impact as a cover corner, a punt and kick returner, and even a wide receiver. He has very good ball skills, and has recorded six interceptions and 19 pass breakups over the last three seasons. Jerry Jones has to consider the Deion Sanders-type impact that Jackson’s skill-set would bring back to the Cowboys.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Packers are a team that can use more than one defensive back, so in this case, they get a DB that can play multiple positions. Chidobe Awuzie can line up outside at corner, at safety, or in the slot. He is also a highly-effective blitzer who has collected eight sacks, six hits, and 17 hurries over the past two seasons.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers could use some edge-rush production, and McKinley excels at that very task. He can rush from either side successfully, with 32 pressures from the right and 24 from the left in 2016. McKinley has very long arms and can win with that length or with athleticism off the edge. The former Bruin generated 15 sacks, 24 QB hits, 72 hurries, and three batted passes on 758 pass-rushing snaps over the past three seasons.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Willis provides more of a base-end-type physical presence opposite of the very athletic Vic Beasley. Willis has been super productive as a pass-rusher. In 2016, Willis had 15 sacks, eight QB hits, 57 hurries, and three batted passes on 524 pass-rushing snaps. Willis is also stylistically very different from Beasley, relying more on strength and technique than Beasley’s agility and burst. That style difference will make it difficult on opposing offensive tackles that have to block one after the other.
32. New Orleans Saints
All credit due to colleague Gordon McGuinness for calling this one first in his Mock Week draft on Tuesday. Engram is one of the premier mismatch weapons in the passing game in this draft class, as he is too big for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers. Engram’s 2.59 yards per route run ranks first among all tight ends in the class. He would be a fun weapon to hand Sean Payton. as he can be used to stretch the ball deep — his seven deep receptions (targets 20 or more yards downfield) top the draft class. Engram is also a dynamic option in the slot, where his 44 receptions for 685 total yards both rank first in the draft class among tight ends.