The NFL’s annual scouting combine begins this week in Indianapolis. Hundreds of prospects will compete, some separating themselves from the pre-draft pack, others raising red flags on the field, in the interview room and/or medically. Heading into the “underwear Olympics,” here’s mock draft 2.0 for 2017:
1. Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: He’s drawn favorable comparisons to fellow Aggie Von Miller as well as Julius Peppers. Both of those all-pro pass rushers were merely selected second overall in their respective drafts. Garrett is almost universally regarded as this year’s premier incoming player, and there’s no reason for the Browns to overthink the pick — even if Garrett has a soft spot for the Cowboys — given they’ve got another first rounder and plenty of ammunition to get the quarterbacking project of their choice down the board if they so choose.
2. San Francisco 49ers — Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: Let’s see what happens once free agency starts before we begin slotting quarterback prospects to the Niners. With this selection, new coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch will want to ensure their regime begins with an impact player. Hooker should be exactly that for a defense that ranked last in both yards and points surrendered in 2016. His range and instincts would serve this team well in a division where Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu have illustrated the value of a game-changing safety.
3. Chicago Bears — Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: Another team that may have to consider one of this draft’s questionable QB prospects if it can’t find a long-term replacement for Jay Cutler over the next few weeks. Putting that issue aside for now, Allen looks like an ideal addition to a defense that was better than the numbers indicate. He and the Bears’ 2016 first-round pick, fellow SEC alum Leonard Floyd, would make a nice inside-outside tandem along Chicago’s front for years to come.
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4. Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: New front office czar Tom Coughlin exclaimed last week that the Jags must run the ball more effectively to support third-year QB Blake Bortles, who has yet to play with an 800-yard rusher. Fournette is surely capable of remedying the situation for a club that could make a nice leap if the offense gets back onto its promising track from 2015.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams) — Jamal Adams, S, LSU: He’s a heat seeker when coming up to make tackles and no slouch in coverage, either. Adams would fill an immediate need for the team and could be the best safety coordinator Dick LeBeau has had to deploy since Troy Polamalu starred for him in Pittsburgh.
6. New York Jets — Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: They could certainly go the “best player on the board” route and capably fill needs at corner, running back or maybe linebacker. But the Jets’ offseason moves indicate they’re ready to tear this roster down. Yet two years into their tenure, coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Mike Maccagnan might be best served to get a quarterback (and natural leader like Watson) to build around now — neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg seem to have won the franchise’s trust — rather than hope a quality passer falls to them in 2018 or 2019. And if Watson were to be pressed into service, his athleticism would be a needed asset behind an offensive line suddenly in tatters.
7. Los Angeles Chargers — Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: New coordinator Gus Bradley will be imprinting his philosophy on this defense, and Lattimore is the type of athletic corner that should be able to handle his assignments while allowing Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and the rest of the front seven to create chaos. Offensive line could also be a strong consideration, but the Bolts might be able to trade down first if they opt to focus on blocking.
8. Carolina Panthers — Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: He’s a three-down back, whose speed and abilities as a receiver could make him an ideal successor to Jonathan Stewart, who has durability issues and has become a liability on passing downs. Cook would give Cam Newton a nice outlet if he can’t wait on some of Carolina’s later-developing routes while providing a nice complement to the quarterback on the ground.
9. Cincinnati Bengals — Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: Cincy could certainly go defense if the right value is there, but Williams’ size (6-3, 225) would give them a really nice mix at receiver after the position was decimated behind A.J. Green last year. Williams should provide a nice red-zone and intermediate option for QB Andy Dalton, who could still rely on Green outside and Tyler Boyd in the slot for an offense that needs to be more explosive.
10. Buffalo Bills — Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: This pick could obviously hinge on whatever decision Buffalo makes on QB Tyrod Taylor. But the defense will also doubtless get a facelift from new coach Sean McDermott, who favors a 4-3 scheme that differs from what the Ryan brothers used. Thomas should bring versatility, lining up inside or out based on the down and distance, but projects as a better fit than the edge players the Bills have been using.
11. New Orleans Saints — Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: He’s a thunderous hitter who has the mobility to be a three-down player, though he’ll probably have to show refinement in pass coverage and prove he can be effective without the benefit of a dominant line in front of him. Despite that and his recent shoulder surgery, he’s a playmaker the Saints desperately need on this side of the ball.
12. Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles) — DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: He might be the most gifted passer in this draft, and his build (6-4, 230) and mobility only add to the intrigue. Kizer’s Ohio roots might be another benefit for a fan base dying for a messiah. If Hue Jackson and Co. use the draft (rather than free agency) to find their quarterback of the future, Kizer is the type of prospect who will need time to develop and should maybe redshirt in 2017.
13. Arizona Cardinals — Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Larry Fitzgerald isn’t going to be around much longer, and though Davis is a different kind of receiver, he seems to have the skill set to develop into a decent replacement. That process should only be hastened by playing for a year or two under Fitzgerald’s tutelage.
*14. Indianapolis Colts — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: New Colts GM Chris Ballard needs to find ways to help QB Andrew Luck — on both sides of the ball. But with Coby Fleener long gone and Jack Doyle poised to follow him out the free agent door, adding an effective receiving tight end like Howard — a more gifted player than Fleener or Doyle — makes plenty of sense as a means to take advantage of defenses that roll coverage toward WR T.Y. Hilton.
*15. Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings) — Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: The ball’s in the air quite a bit in the NFC East, and the Eagles badly need help at corner to combat players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Jones’ 6-1 frame will help against such big-time targets, but the slender defender will have to hit the weights hard.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: Terrell Suggs is 34, and Elvis Dumervil is 33, so it’s obvious the Ravens need to restock at pass rusher. Barnett had 32 sacks during three seasons in the Southeastern Conference. Asking a 6-3, 265-pounder to drop into coverage might be a reach, but Suggs and Dumervil never do it much.
17. Washington Redskins — Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: He may be a better physical specimen than player at this point, and many Tide corners have struggled to transition to the NFL. Still, Humphrey is big (6-1, 196), strong and fast and could have an easier time adapting in Washington if Josh Norman remains predominantly assigned to cover No. 1 receivers.
18. Titans — John Ross, WR, Washington: He could have a DeSean Jackson-type impact, meaning he provides the deep threat for the passing game as well as home-run potential as a returner. Adding Ross’ brand of speed would only make the Titans’ already potent ground game more effective.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee: The Bucs stand to lose Jacquizz Rodgers to free agency, and Doug Martin’s salary and off-field issues likely spell an exit for him. Kamara averaged 7 yards per touch in two years for the Vols but only had 284 combined carries and catches in that span. He should be an impact player, but there’s no evidence yet he can handle a huge workload.
20. Denver Broncos — David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla.): WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for more than 54% of Denver’s receiving yardage in 2016, so it’s pretty clear a capable third option is needed for whomever is under center this year. Njoku could be the second coming of Julius Thomas with the size (6-4, 245) and speed to make defenses pay … even though his blocking (like Thomas’) still needs plenty of work.
21. Detroit Lions — Ryan Ramczyk, T, Wisconsin: He’s long on natural ability if short on experience after just one season with the Badgers. But the Lions stand to take a hit to their O-line in free agency and also need to run the ball better, so adding Ramczyk could potentially solve two problems simultaneously.
22. Miami Dolphins — Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky: He’ll likely switch from tackle to guard in the NFL, and that’s perfect for a Miami club that values strong offensive line play but suddenly needs help at guard with Jermon Bushrod headed for the open market and Laremy Tunsil ticketed for a move to left tackle with Branden Albert now on his way to Jacksonville.
23. New York Giants — Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: Olivier Vernon proved a wise investment for the Giants last year, and it now appears fellow DE Jason Pierre-Paul will be around for at least one more season. But Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is at its best when it can employ the “NASCAR” package that typically features at least a trio of effective pass rushers. The freaky athletic Charlton could be the missing piece to that equation on passing downs and would enjoy added time to develop into an all-around player who might eventually supplant JPP.
24. Oakland Raiders — Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State: NFL defensive player of the year Khalil Mack had 11 sacks in 2016. His teammates combined for 14 more, giving the Raiders a league-low total of 25. OLB Bruce Irvin (7 sacks) said after the season that he and Mack would greatly benefit from added disruption created from the defensive line’s interior. Enter McDowell.
25. Houston Texans — Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: He’s an intriguing prospect who isn’t ready to play at the pro level. But joining an otherwise talented team — and one whose financial commitment to Brock Osweiler essentially ends after the 2017 season — could be the ideal situation to allow Trubisky to develop into the star coach Bill O’Brien has been seeking at the position.
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26. Seattle Seahawks — Garett Bolles, T, Utah: A gifted player, who would fill a glaring need and should also flourish under the tutelage of O-line guru Tom Cable. Given their struggles to run the ball in 2016 and the punishment QB Russell Wilson absorbed, the Seahawks could feasibly use their first three picks on blockers.
27. Kansas City Chiefs — Teez Tabor, CB, Florida: Marcus Peters is fast developing into the type of corner other teams will avoid testing. That means Kansas City needs to find counterparts like Tabor who can withstand the deluge of passes they’ll consequently see headed in their direction.
28. Dallas Cowboys — Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: Both of Dallas’ starting corners (Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr) are currently headed for free agency, and nickelback Orlando Scandrick is 30. The Cowboys obviously need to reload and turning to LSU’s proud pipeline of corners only makes sense. White was a four-year starter for the Tigers.
29. Green Bay Packers — Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Max McCaffrey is already a wideout on Green Bay’s roster. But younger brother Christian promises to be a far more dangerous and versatile threat for Aaron Rodgers and Co. Christian McCaffrey has proven effective on the ground (3,622 rushing yards during his final two seasons for the Cardinal) but offers extra dimensions as a receiver and returner. Imagine the chunks he could gain while overly spread defenses are taxed trying to defend Rodgers’ arm.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers — Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: Team sack leader James Harrison, 38, won’t be around forever. Probably. Regardless, Pittsburgh could use another youngster to pair with OLB Bud Dupree and set the edge of this defense for another decade.
31. Atlanta Falcons — Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida: As raw and exciting as the NFC champs’ defense is, the one area they could probably use a bit more youth and depth is the defensive line after allowing 4.5 yards per rush in 2016.
32. New England Patriots — Haason Reddick, LB, Temple: The star of the Senior Bowl has a varied skill set that could allow him to eliminate the void left after last year’s midseason trade of Jamie Collins. Reddick’s athleticism could allow him to cover and chase effectively in base packages, but his experience as a pass rusher for the Owls could also translate into making him a disruptive force off the edge on passing downs. Seems like the kind of guy the Patriots typically like.