This is the third of four first-round NFL Draft projections from The Star, which also will have a day-of mock draft on April 27. You can find version 1.0, which was released in early March, here and version 2.0, which was released a week ago, here.
A quick disclaimer: Each mock draft is based on individual film work, research and recent transactions.
1. Cleveland Browns
OLB/DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Still the clear-cut No. 1 pick, unless the Browns overthink this.
2. San Francisco 49ers
DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford: There’s been some talk about the 49ers taking a quarterback, but this might be too high for any of them. Thomas would give the 49ers a nasty, young defensive front with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.
3. Chicago Bears
CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State: A safety like LSU’s Jamal Adams or Ohio State’s Malik Hooker could be the pick, but Hooker has injury issues while Adams isn’t quite the ballhawk you’d seek in a No. 3 overall pick. Hence Lattimore, who fills a need at a premium position and boasts good tape and excellent athleticism ... provided the Bears are comfortable with his hamstring issues.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama: LSU running Leonard Fournette had been the pick, but Allen wasn’t on the board then. He’s a safe, polished prospect with leadership ability who fits into the culture new boss Tom Coughlin probably wants.
5. Tennessee Titans
S Jamal Adams, Louisiana State: Adams is another clean player, a do-it-all safety with off-the-charts intangibles that have drawn comparisons to Chiefs star Eric Berry.
6. New York Jets
QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina: The Jets don’t have much at quarterback, and the selection of Trubisky — who is talented but inexperienced — could buy everyone involved more time at the helm in New York.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
S Malik Hooker, Ohio State: Hooker hasn’t been able to work out for teams, but his tape is fantastic — he’s drawing comparisons to Ed Reed — and he might be the first safety taken despite the injury issues that have prevented him from workout out for teams.
8. Carolina Panthers
RB Leonard Fournette, Louisiana State: There’s some questions about Fournette’s ability to translate his immense ability into a shotgun-heavy scheme, but as a physical runner, he’ll fit right into the Panthers’ smashmouth style.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee: For the third straight mock, I still like Barnett for the Bengals as a complementary edge rusher to Carlos Dunlap. Barnett was productive and has the physicality to play in the rough-and-tumble AFC North.
10. Buffalo Bills
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama: The Bills could go with a receiver here, but Howard is a rare do-it-all tight end who provides value at this pick and could give quarterback Tyrod Taylor additional help.
11. New Orleans Saints
DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA: Still like McKinley for the Saints, who had a terrible edge rush last season and must improve the defense if they want to do anything this year.
12. Cleveland Browns
QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech: In a perfect world, the Browns — who possess a cadre of picks — could either trade up to grab Trubisky or have him fall to this spot. But trades aren’t included in this mock, so if that were to happen, let’s assume they get their quarterback of the future in the talented Mahomes, who could be a star (in time) with coach Hue Jackson.
13. Arizona Cardinals
WR Mike Williams, Clemson: So many intriguing options for the Cardinals, who could go in so many different directions. But for the time being, let’s ride with Williams, a big-bodied receiver with ball skills and range who ran fast enough at his pro day to make himself worthy of this pick.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: Mixon continues to rise in my mock draft. McCaffrey was the pick in my last mock, but Mixon is bigger, just as fast and has a Pro Bowl ceiling. Perhaps Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie saw how the Chiefs’ gamble on Tyreek Hill worked out last season, and wants to catch lightning in a bottle with Mixon.
15. Indianapolis Colts
ILB/DE Haason Reddick, Temple: Still like Reddick for the Colts, who can boost a sagging inside linebacking corps and help the edge rush on one of the NFL’s worst from sevens a year ago.
16. Baltimore Ravens
WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Nice situation to be in for the Ravens, who need a receiver and have two of the best three — Davis and Washington’s John Ross — still on the board. Ross is more explosive, but Davis is bigger and profiles as a No. 1 receiver.
RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: Washington has been taking a hard look at running backs, with McCaffrey and Cook reportedly making visits. Cook was the pick in 2.0, but McCaffrey is a safer pick and he wasn’t on the board then.
18. Tennessee Titans
WR John Ross, Washington: The Titans need a receiver badly, and the dynamic Ross — who blazed a 4.22 at the Combine — fits the bill. He’d go even higher than this without his injury history, and still might.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State: The Bucs can add some serious juice to their offense by selecting Cook, who could team with quarterback Jameis Winston and Mike Evans to form their own version of Dallas’ mid-90s “triplets.”
20. Denver Broncos
LT Garett Bolles, Utah: The Broncos could really use some offensive-tackle help, even though they’ve added Menelik Watson to the mix. Enter Bolles, a nasty player who tested off the charts at the Combine and has massive potential in a zone scheme. Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk or Alabama’s Cam Robinson could also be the pick here.
21. Detroit Lions
TE David Njoku, Miami (Fla.): Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster had been the pick here, but his recently-revealed diluted urine sample could cause his stop to drop. So the Lions, in their neverending quest to provide Matthew Stafford with help, add a raw tight end with Pro Bowl potential. Also keep an eye on an edge rusher.
22. Miami Dolphins
G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky: No change here for the third straight mock, as the Dolphins continue to focus on building a strong line for running back Jay Ajayi and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamp is a plug-and-play guy with good strength, though the Dolphins — who need front-seven help — could spring for a boom-or-bust guy like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell.
23. New York Giants
OT Cam Robinson, Alabama: Robinson visited the Giants recently, and if he ever gets his technique down, he could be a Pro Bowler. Ramcyzk could also be an option, but he hasn’t worked out as he recovers from a torn labrum. And that could drop his stock some.
24. Oakland Raiders
CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State: The Raiders have to think about Foster here, but Conley fits the profile of the type of corner the Raiders (and Chiefs) like; long, super athletic and productive, and represents outstanding value.
25. Houston Texans
QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson: The Texans need a quarterback, and Watson — a winner with name recognition who has visited the Texans — could be a nice fit.
26. Seattle Seahawks
CB Kevin King, Washington: The Seahawks need a corner, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them go right down the road and select King, a rangy (6-3), super-athletic corner who fits their Cover 3/Cover 1 style.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
OLB Tyus Bowser, Houston: Yep. Edge rusher. Dead serious.
Let’s think about this critically. One thing we know about John Dorsey — something that has been proven over the last four years — is that the Chiefs love to draft one year ahead of need in the first round. The Chiefs could essentially do that by taking an edge rusher in the first round. Stay with me here.
Yes, Justin Houston is still a stud, and he isn’t going anywhere. And yes, Dee Ford is coming off a 10-sack season. And yes, Tamba Hali wants to play four more years. But the reality is, the Chiefs — who could be cash-strapped again in 2018 — can create $7 million in cap space by releasing Hali after this season, leaving only Houston — who has had knee issues the last few years — and Ford — who will be a free agent next March if the Chiefs don’t pick up his fifth-year option — as premium talents at the position. And while some remain high on 2016 sixth-round Dadi Nicolas, he’s coming off a torn patellar tendon.
So in 2018, edge rush could easily be a need. So why not get ahead of the curve in what stands to be the best edge rusher draft in years? In this scenario, the Chiefs will have several high-potential edge rusher to choose from, including Bowser, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt and Michigan’s Taco Charlton.
That’s a hell of a group, and to be honest, the Chiefs would get excellent value by taking any of them. But don’t sleep on Bowser, who was productive (8 1/2 sacks in eight games) and tested out of his mind at the Combine, as 6-foot-3, 247-pounder boasted long arms (33 1/4 inches), big hands (10 1/8 inches) and plus athletic traits as he was among the Combine’s top testers in the 40, vertical, broad jump and three-cone). Another to keep an eye on is Watt, a worker bee who was productive and tested out well, too.
Another option to consider: If inside linebacker Reuben Foster is on the board, they’d have to think long and hard about him, too. But his diluted urine sample from the Combine — which just came out this week — won’t help his cause, as he also has had some injury issues and happens to play a position the Chiefs don’t value as much as other teams. So they do pass on Foster or Florida’s Jarrad Davis, this why.
Quarterback, of course, remains an option. But the top three guys are gone, and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer seems to be falling some due to character concerns, though I like his potential as a prospect, would be on board with his selection and wouldn’t be stunned if they took him. But hey, I picked a quarterback (Mahomes) in my first mock draft, and again, it’s no fun to do it again before my final mock.
A few more options to consider: a cornerback like Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie, a big (6-0, 202) athlete with good production who could also start on the outside, though he’s not quite as long (30 5/8 -inch arms), or a defensive tackle like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, a rangy athlete whose motor runs hot and cold but has all-pro physical ability.
28. Dallas Cowboys
DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State: The Cowboys need defense, and they have the good fortune of picking between three really intriguing 4-3 ends in Willis, Missouri’s Charles Harris and Michigan’s Charlton. Willis, however, will get the nod here because he tested much better than the other two, played his tail off and has an array of pass-rush moves. He might go even higher than this.
29. Green Bay Packers
OLB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin: The Packers need to improve their edge rush, and general manager Ted Thompson could do worse than the homegrown Watt, who actually tested very well at the Combine and could be an intriguing pick here.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
OLB Charles Harris, Missouri: Harris is a productive edge rusher from “D-Line Zou” who is confident, plays with an edge and would be intriguing understudy for the ageless James Harrison.
31. Atlanta Falcons
DE Taco Charlton, Michigan: After adding former Chiefs Pro Bowler Dontari Poe, the Falcons continue to build up their front seven with an intriguing edge rusher who can rotate in with Ra’Shede Hageman and Brooks Reed.
32. New Orleans Saints
ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama: The Saints traded star receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots for this pick, and the guess here is that they’re serious about improving a weak defense. If so, a corner like Awuzie or Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey could be the pick, but Foster — a run-and-hit stud — would be unreal value at this point.
2017 NFL Draft
Round 1: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 27
Rounds 2-3: 6 p.m. Friday, April 28
Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29
THE STAR’S 2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW
OL: Story | rankings, to come
EDGE: Story | rankings, to come
ILB: Story | rankings, to come
CB: Story | rankings, to come
S: Story | rankings, to come
Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org