This is the second of four first-round NFL Draft projections from The Star, which also will have a pre-draft mock on April 23 and a day-of mock draft on April 28. You can find version 1.0, which was released in early March, here.
A quick disclaimer: Each mock draft is based on individual film work, research and recent transactions.
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1. Cleveland Browns
OLB/DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: The Browns need a quarterback, and there’s been some recent chatter about the building being split between Garrett and Mitchell Trubisky. But Garrett remains the pick for now.
2. San Francisco 49ers
DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford: If the Browns don’t take a swing at Trubisky, perhaps the 49ers will. He’s a risk this high, though, and new coach Kyle Shanahan can get a promising signal-caller with better value in the second round. Thomas could give the 49ers a nasty, young defensive front with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.
3. Chicago Bears
DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama: A safety like LSU’s Jamal Adams would be a nice fit, especially after he ran a blazing 4.38-second 40 at his pro day. But Allen is a safe pick who will help the Bears win up front from day one.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
RB Leonard Fournette, Louisiana State: Still like the Jaguars to take Fournette, a strong, fast back who could boost the running game and take some of the pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles. But a tight end like Alabama’s do-it-all stud, O.J. Howard, might not be a bad pick, either.
5. Tennessee Titans
CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State: Receiver is also a need, but this feels a little early for any of the top guys at the pass-catching position. Lattimore is an outstanding cover man at a position of need and represents really good value for the pick, provided his hamstrings check out. Besides, the Titans just released one of their best corners, Jason McCourty.
6. New York Jets
S Jamal Adams, Louisiana State: The Jets’ quarterback situation is a train wreck, and while someone like Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky could still be the choice, Adams is a do-it-all safety with off-the-charts intangibles that have drawn comparisons to Chiefs star Eric Berry.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
S Malik Hooker, Ohio State: This pick is a bit of a gamble, because Hooker hasn’t been able to work out for teams as he recovers from labrum and hernia surgeries. But his tape is fantastic — he’s drawing comparisons to Ed Reed — and he could be the missing piece to new coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense as a roving, centerfield type playing the Earl Thomas role.
8. Carolina Panthers
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama: The Panthers could also swing for a running back — and boy, Fournette or even Dalvin Cook would be an ideal fit — but Howard is one of the draft’s safest prospects, a catcher and blocker who can add dynamism to their plethora of two-tight end sets while also locking down the position for the foreseeable future.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee: 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
WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan: With a new coach on board and a lack of picks (only six), the Bills could — and perhaps should — entertain a trade down, especially with Trubisky and Watson still on the board. But if they’re forced to stay, they could opt to take Davis, who profiles as a No. 1 receiver (provided he can make the jump from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL) in an attempt to make teams pay for doubling Sammy Watkins and give Tyrod Taylor as many weapons as possible.
11. New Orleans Saints
DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA: The Saints’ edge rush was terrible last season, and they absolutely have to improve the defense if they want to do anything this year. McKinley is talented.
12. Cleveland Browns
QB Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina: A stud edge rusher and a franchise quarterback in the first round — two premium positions — is a home run for the Browns, provided coach Hue Jackson believes in Trubisky.
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 Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: A classic back for the West Coast Offense, so you just know coach Doug Pederson — a disciple of Andy Reid — would love to get his hands on this guy. Also keep an eye on OU’s Joe Mixon, a legit top-15 talent who could help elevate the Eagles’ offense if they can handle the public-relations hit.
15. Indianapolis Colts
ILB/DE Haason Reddick, Temple: The Colts need to do whatever it takes to provide Andrew Luck with more support, which means taking a hard look at a running back like Mixon or Cook, or even a guard like Forrest Lamp. But this is a deep running back class, and the Chiefs’ history the last four years in Kansas City — where Ballard was general manager John Dorsey’s right-hand man — suggests he might not view guard as a premium position worthy of this pick. If that’s the case, someone like Reddick, an inside linebacker with edge-rush potential, could be a plug-and-play starter on a defensive front that was one of the NFL’s worst a year ago.
16. Baltimore Ravens
WR John Ross, Washington: Yes, the Ravens signed Mike Wallace to a two-year deal this offseason. But Ross blazed a 4.22 40-yard dash at the Combine, the Ravens have a need here, and the thought of either Wallace or Ross having single coverage on go-routes and posts with Joe Flacco unleashing his deep ball to Ross will be extremely tempting for general manager Ozzie Newsome.
RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State: Washington has been taking a hard look at running backs, with McCaffrey and Cook reportedly making visits. Mixon has Pro Bowl potential, but so does Cook. It’s a toss-up, but the pick for now is Cook, since it’s known he visited with the club.
18. Tennessee Titans
TE David Njoku, Miami (Fla.): The Titans have a need at receiver, but none of the top guys remain on the board, so they could take the next best thing: a tight end. Tennessee already has a Pro Bowl tight end in Delanie Walker, but he’s 32 and they use a ton of two-tight end sets. Njoku is raw, but he’s a big, athletic dude with Pro Bowl potential.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: Sticking with running back, but a different one. Instead of Cook, someone like Mixon — a supremely gifted back — would give the Bucs their own version of the Dallas “triplets” alongside quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans.
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 could also be the pick here.
21. Detroit Lions
ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama: The Lions really need pass rushers, but neither of the best guys remaining — Mizzou’s Charles Harris or Michigan’s Taco Charlton — quite offer the value that Foster does. If he checks out medically, the Lions would use a ferocious sideline-to-sideline, three-down thumper like this guy.
22. Miami Dolphins
G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky: No change here, 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.
23. New York Giants
OT Cam Robinson, Alabama: Still like an offensive tackle here, albeit a different one. 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
ILB Jarrad Davis, Florida: There are some quarterbacks on the board — Watson, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer — and Oakland could be a trade-down candidate if a desperate team wants to leapfrog Houston. But if that doesn’t happen, don’t sleep on a boom-or-bust defensive tackle like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. Florida’s Davis, a confident, rangy inside ’backer at a position of need, would be a really nice pick here, too.
25. Houston Texans
QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson: The Texans might not want to go into the season with only Brandon Weeden and Tom Savage as their top options. Enter Watson, whose combination of poise and name recognition could go over well in Houston.
26. Seattle Seahawks
CB Kevin King, Washington: The Seahawks’ offensive line isn’t great, so someone like Ramcyzk might be a nice pick, especially if his medicals check out. But all the recent trade talk surrounding Richard Sherman could be taken as a sign the Seahawks plan to move on from him this year or next, so 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.
Tom Cable is one of the league’s best offensive-line coaches, but he hasn’t had a ton to work with in recent years. The Seahawks signed Luke Joeckel, the former No. 2 overall pick, but it was only for a one-year deal. Joeckel also has experience at guard, so don’t rule out the possibility of Seattle selecting the immensely talented Robinson, who checks the athletic boxes but needs to brush up his technique.
27. Kansas City Chiefs
CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State: So Mahomes is still on the board for the Chiefs, and so is Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. But I picked a quarterback in my first mock draft, and it’s no fun to do it again.
Besides, there’s always a chance the Chiefs could pass on one any of the top four quarterbacks still left on the board — something I believe could happen — and I probably should prepare you guys for that possibility (not to mention the social-media meltdown that would ensue).
So let’s go with a position I expect the Chiefs to address somewhere, likely early, in this draft: cornerback. Marcus Peters is a legit stud, and Steven Nelson proved himself to be a capable nickel back, at the very least, in his first year as a starter in 2016. But you can never have too many corners in today’s NFL, and the good ones often get taken early.
So while Terrance Mitchell was a revelation last year and Phillip Gaines is set to return from injury (second-year corner D.J. White is also in the mix), don’t be surprised if the Chiefs attempt to lock up a position that, if everything breaks right, would allow them to bring more pressure in 2017.
Washington’s Kevin King would be my pick here, but I’ve got him going a pick earlier, to Seattle. Conley isn’t a bad consolation prize. I even had him going to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 14 in my first mock, but his drop in this iteration has less to do with his skills than my improved understanding of what the teams picking ahead of the Chiefs might be looking for.
Conley has good size for a corner, at 6 feet and 195 pounds, and he checks the physical boxes the Chiefs look for with arm length (33 inches) and hand size (9 1/2 inches). His lateral agility is very good, as is his 6.68-second time in the three-cone drill (fourth among corners at the Combine).
A redshirt junior and two-year starter, he recorded four interceptions and eight pass breakups last season and has shown instincts in off-man and press-man, both of which the Chiefs use a lot.
If the Chiefs don’t go for Conley, or he’s already off the board, keep an eye on 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) as Conley.
The Chiefs could also use a defensive tackle, and someone like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell — whose motor runs hot and cold but has all-pro physical ability — could be an option. But Andy Reid’s history of reaching difficult-to-manage personalities with big talent notwithstanding, some would argue (me!) the Chiefs probably have enough of those guys already.
Also keep an eye on an ascending edge rusher like Tyus Bowser, especially with Justin Houston’s knee issues a year ago (though the Chiefs say he’s fine), Tamba Hali’s age (33) and Dee Ford’s fifth-year option decision coming up (May 3). Missouri’s Charles Harris or Michigan’s Taco Charlton could also be intriguing.
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 Tyus Bowser, Houston: He’s productive, with 8 1/2 sacks in just eight games in 2016. He has the physical traits — he’s 6-3, 247 pounds with long arms (33 1/4 inches), big hands (10 1/8 inches) and plus athletic traits (he was among the Combine’s top testers in the 40, vertical, broad jump and three-cone). These attributes should make him an easy pick for Packers general manager Ted Thompson. It would not be a shock to see Bowser go higher than this, by the way.
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
CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado: 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, someone like Awuzie or Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey could be the pick.
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
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ILB: Story | rankings, to come
CB: Story | rankings, to come
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