I’ve gotten a chance to go over and review some film from last season in the past couple of weeks. I chose to focus on the SEC, since the SEC usually has the best talent in the nation. My big takeaway? Although the conference loses a lot of players to the NFL, there are even better players waiting in the wings to take over. Some of the best players in the SEC last year were underclassmen and they’ll be getting a lot of preseason hype over the summer.
Several SEC players made their way into my newest 2017 mock draft, including several linebackers who impressed me. Linebacker is one of the most intruiging positions in the draft next year and I definitely think it will hold the most top-tier talent.
Note: The draft order is based on the current Super Bowl 51 odds.
1. Cleveland Browns – Deshaun Watson/QB/6-2/210/Clemson – Will Deshaun Watson be the best player in the draft next year? Probably not. There are legitimate concerns surrounding his size, college system and knee health. However, we just came off of a draft where Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were the first two players taken so Watson isn’t the biggest stretch given that he’s probably a better player than either of those two. Robert Griffin III has been a bust and Cody Kessler isn’t likely to have some awe-inspiring rookie season that will prevent the Browns from taking the best quarterback in the draft.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Brad Kaaya/QB/6-4/210/Miami (FL) – Again, quarterbacks make teams do crazy things. Do I think Brad Kaaya is worthy of the second overall pick? No. But I didn’t think Carson Wentz was either and he was picked second overall. The 49ers have Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick penciled in as 1A and 1B right so Chip Kelly will likely want to start over with a new quarterback to build around. Kaaya has displayed some potential while at Miami, but the talent around him has largely held him back. A season under Mark Richt should do him a world of good.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Myles Garrett/DE/6-5/262/Texas A&M – The Bucs spent a second round pick on Noah Spence, but it won’t stop them from drafting the best pass rusher in the draft. I personally believe Garrett is the best overall player in the draft. He is a monster off of the edge and has the highest ceiling out of any player in next year’s class.
4. Tennessee Titans – Carl Lawson/DE-OLB/6-2/257/Auburn – For what it’s worth, Laremy Tunsil said that Lawson gave him a harder time that Myles Garrett last year. Tennessee is in desperate need of an elite pass rusher and Lawson would be a perfect fit as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. He has been hampered by injury throughout his college career, but is a menacing force off of the edge when healthy.
5. New Orleans Saints – Leonard Fournette/RB/6-1/230/LSU – The best way to help an aging quarterback? Give him a workhorse running back to hand off to. Drew Brees will be 38 years old by the time the 2017 draft rolls around and you don’t want him throwing the ball 30-40 times every game because the running game sucks. Leonard Fournette is a player that you can count on to win games by himself, because he essentially does that at LSU on a week to week basis. Opposing defenses knew that Fournette was the entire LSU offense last year and he still ran for nearly 2,000 yards. This kid is good.
6. San Diego Chargers – Jalen Tabor/CB/6-1/205/Florida – Vernon Hargreaves got all of the hype last year, but Jalen Tabor quietly had a very impressive sophomore season. Tabor also has better measurements, a trait that the NFL values these days with more teams trying to build in the Richard Sherman-mold of cornerbacks. He would be a great option to pair opposite of Jason Verrett.
7. Detroit Lions – Juju Smith-Schuster/WR/6-2/215/USC – With Megatron lost to retirement, the Lions have to focus on acquiring a No. 1 receiver for Matt Stafford. Enter Juju Smith-Schuster, a player that will draw a lot of Dez Bryant comparisons for his physical style of play. Just ask that poor cornerback from Utah.
8. Miami Dolphins – Dalvin Cook/RB/5-11/206/Florida State – The Dolphins lost Lamar Miller to free agency then failed in their attempts to move up to get Zeke in the draft. No worries, as they can grab Dalvin Cook as running back to build around. Cook is perhaps the most explosive player in college football and gets to return to his hometown of Miami.
9. Tennessee Titans – Mike Williams/WR/6-4/220/Clemson – With their second pick in the top ten, the Titans grab an elite receiver for Marcus Mariota to throw to. Mike Williams missed all of last season with a neck injury, but was dominant for Clemson as a sophomore.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jabrill Peppers/S-LB/6-1/205/Michigan – Honestly, the Jaguars don’t have a lot of holes in their roster. As such, they can focus on best player available and grab Jabrill Peppers. With Jalen Ramsey likely playing more of an outside cornerback role, Peppers can pair alongside Tashaun Gibson at safety.
11. Chicago Bears – Raekwon McMillan/ILB/6-2/240/Ohio State – Much like Jalen Tabor, Raekwon McMillan was overshadowed by his draft-eligible teammates. He was quietly dominant for the Buckeyes in 2015 and should continue to show the nation that he is an elite linebacker as a junior.
12. Cleveland Browns – Desmond King/CB/5-11/200/Iowa – The Browns use their second pick in the first round to fix their terrible secondary. King is the reigning Thorpe award winner, awarded to the best defensive back in college football, and would have likely been a first round pick had he declared as a junior.
13. Atlanta Falcons – O.J. Howard/TE/6-5/248/Alabama – Tight end is a big position of need for the Falcons, who have been without a true threat at the position ever since Tony Gonzalez retired. Luckily for them, O.J. Howard might be the transcendent talent at tight end. He is a freakish athlete and also developed nicely as a blocker last season for the Crimson Tide.
14. New York Jets – Tim Williams/DE-OLB/6-4/230/Alabama – I was hesitant to pencil in Tim Williams as a top five pick, like most draft analysts are, because he has yet to play starter snaps for Alabama. Yes, he was very efficient as a junior, but was only asked to play on passing downs. How well will he play against the run? How will he hold up for 70-80 snaps a game? For now, I’m sure the Jets would be happy to add a great pass rusher to their already-stacked defensive line.
15. Buffalo Bills – Jamal Adams/S/6-1/211/LSU – One player that stood out to me while watching film? Jamal Adams. The dude is all over the place. LSU asked him to play a traditional free safety role, but he was constantly tackling running backs and bursting into the backfield for tackles for loss. He is an elite talent.
16. Washington Redskins – Jonathan Allen/DE-DT/6-3/283/Alabama – Want to hear a hot take? I think Jon Allen is actually better than A’Shawn Robinson or Jarran Reed. That’s why I have no problem slotting him here to the Redskins despite the fact that Robinson and Reed fell in the draft.
17. Baltimore Ravens – Marlon Humphrey/CB/6-1/198/Alabama – Who is Marlon Humphrey, you ask? Well, he is an elite cornerback for the Crimson Tide who was quietly one of the better cornerbacks in the SEC. Humphrey redshirted as a true freshman, but stole the cornerback job away from several upperclassmen in 2015. He is an all-world track athlete who possesses all the tools to be an elite cover corner in the league. Plus, we just saw Eli Apple drafted in the top ten so anything is possible, I guess.
18. Houston Texans – Kendell Beckwith/ILB/6-2/252/LSU – The Texans already have a stacked defense, but could use some help at linebacker. Kendell Beckwith is a player that jumped off the film to me. He likes to hurt people. Enough said.
19. Oakland Raiders – Samaje Perine/RB/5-10/230/Oklahoma – Adding Samaje Perine to an offense that already features Derek Carr and Amari Cooper? Good luck, AFC West defensive coordinators.
20. New York Giants – Jalen Reeves-Maybin/OLB/6-0/225/Tennessee – Jalen Reeves-Maybin may not possess elite physical measurements for a linebacker, but plays like a man possessed. Sometimes this comes back to bite him, but he more than makes up for it by making tackle for loss after tackle for loss.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Malachi Dupre/WR/6-3/190/LSU – We’d be talking about Malachi Dupre more if not for poor quarterback play at LSU. Pair him with Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, and suddenly the Chiefs have a very dangerous receiving corps for Alex Smith to throw to (short passes only, of course).
22. Indianapolis Colts – Nick Chubb/RB/5-10/220/Georgia – One of the problems that has been holding back the Colts has been the lack of any sort of running game. As such, the Colts can grab an elite running back like Nick Chubb to ease some of the pressure of off Andrew Luck. We don’t yet know the timetable for Chubb’s injury recovery, but he seemed to be a full participant in spring practice so that is an encouraging sign.
23. Dallas Cowboys – Sidney Jones/CB/6-0/180/Washington – The one area that the Cowboys failed to address in the draft was their secondary. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will likely not be on the roster in 2017, so Dallas grabs a talented cornerback in Sidney Jones to start opposite of Orlando Scandrick.
24. Minnesota Vikings – Ethan Pocic/C/6-7/309/LSU – The Vikings have two problems to address. They need to get more protection for Teddy Bridgewater while also help Adrian Peterson in the ground game. The solution: Ethan Pocic, a monstrous center who is a beast in pass protection and mauler in the run game.
25. Cincinnati Bengals – Allen Lazard/WR/6-5/223/Iowa State – Receiver is still a big need for the Bengals despite spending a second round pick on Tyler Boyd. Seeing as Boyd is likely a slot receiver at the next level, they can grab Lazard to be a true No. 2 target across from A.J. Green.
26. Denver Broncos – Jake Butt/TE/6-6/242/Michigan – The best way to help a young quarterback is to give him a dependable tight end to throw to. Laugh if you want at his last name, but Butt would have likely been the first tight end off the board if he had declared as a junior.
27. Arizona Cardinals – Roderick Johnson/OT/6-7/323/Florida State – “Big Rod” Johnson is not the perfect prospect at left tackle, but can be an immediate contributor for a playoff team like the Cardinals. If the Cardinals think their Super Bowl window depends on the play of Carson Palmer, the best way to help him is to grab more protection on the offensive line.
28. Carolina Panthers – Adoree Jackson/CB-WR/5-11/185/USC – The Panther spent several picks on cornerback this year, but have proven that they are not above grabbing the best player available at a position that doesn’t necessarily need an upgrade. Jackson is an elite track athlete who should blow up the Combine and pre-draft circuit.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers – Malik McDowell/DT/6-6/275/Michigan State – The Steelers did not address their defensive line early this year, but can come back and take an elite defensive tackle like McDowell next year. He is a little undersized, but more than makes up for it with his length, speed and power.
30. Green Bay Packers – Jarrad Davis/OLB/6-2/240/Florida – Grabbing a linebacker like Jarrad Davis will allow the Packers to move Clay Matthews back to more of a traditional pass rusher role that he has flourished at.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Derek Barnett/DE/6-3/257/Tennessee – Do the Seahawks need immediate help on their defensive line? No, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past. Barnett isn’t an elite pass rusher (yet), but has all the tools to be a potential stud.
32. New England Patriots – Caleb Brantley/DT/6-2/314/Florida – I was almost going to pencil in a running back here, but then I remembered that New England doesn’t value running backs like the rest of the league. Instead, they grab a Florida defensive tackle in Caleb Brantley to replace the Florida defensive tackle they just released.