For football addicts, April represents the miserable depths of the off-season, we’re almost five months out from the regular season. With the opening of the baseball season, and the NBA and NHL finals upon us, the NFL will still remain firmly entrenched in the sporting headlines, with the 2017 NFL Draft at the end of this month.
Draft weekend is the culmination of months and months of speculation, workouts, interviews, meetings and mock drafts. After all the preamble, the draft itself can sometimes fail to live up to the hype.
Still, there’s no denying the positive impact this event can have even on the most dilapidated franchise. For at least a week, fans can feel hopeful that their beloved team has been rejuvenated by the addition of a blue-chip talent that could transform a soft defence or a stagnant offence.
Who could forget the Browns’ 2014 Draft class, featuring two high profile first round picks, quarterback, Johnny Manziel and cornerback, Justin Gilbert. Browns fans rejoiced, but here we sit three years later, with both long forgotten in Brown Town.
Once again, similar to 2014, the Browns hold two first round picks, the first and twelfth overall picks. The new football management team in Cleveland will be out to make absolute sure that their picks this year count to the good.
For the first time since 1961, the draft will return to Philadelphia, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the selections being announced outside, the first time the NFL has done this in its history. After a two-year run in Chicago, the NFL has continued to spread the wealth around as they take the draft to as many cities as possible with, Denver, Atlanta and LA on the possible future agenda.
Looking ahead to the draft itself, this year’s class appears to be a promising one. The quality and depth of players, especially on the defensive side of the ball is exceptional, as teams look to combat the aerial offences that have taken over the league.
Those positions with the most depth include, edge rusher, cornerback, safety, inside linebacker, tight end and running back. Alternatively, the quarterback and offensive line positions are not considered to be especially top heavy or deep this year, which will have franchises in need of a quarterback worried.
Much of the way the first round will fall depends on where quarterbacks are taken. The Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jets, Texans and possibly the Cardinals and Bills are considered the franchises who are a chance of snagging a qb in the first round. The insatiable need at the quarterback position, always ensures that these men are often drafted far higher than their graded positions (see Jared Goff last year).
Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are the top quarterback prospects. None are believed to be day 1 starters, but all are talented developmental starters, who could go in the first round should certain wish to pull the trigger.
Sticking on offence, the running back class is one of the strongest classes the draft has ever seen. Leonard Fournette is a pure power runner who breaks tackles and can carry an offence, Dalvin Cook is an elusive, electric, long range playmaker who can score from anywhere, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is a brilliant runner, who excels in the passing game and as a returner on special teams. Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman from Texas and the controversial Joe Mixon are other backs with high draft grades.
Wide receiver, now a highly coveted position in the draft is a little barren in 2017. Clemson’s Mike Williams is the top talent, a large, physical outside receiver who can make plays outside the hash marks, down the field. Corey Davis from Western Michigan has similar traits, and arguably a higher ceiling, but played against far inferior opposition thus far. John Ross wowed the combine with his 40-yard time ( a record setting 4.22), and he’ll be looking to utilise that unreal speed at the next level.
Tight end, OJ Howard’s prospects at the next level are extremely promising, he looks every bit the all round tight end, with positive blocking and receiving grades. He’s a certainty to go inside the top half of the first round. Miami’s David Njoku is a freakish athletic talent, with first round potential and would be an excellent addition to any passing attack.
Offensive lineman are one of the most sought after positions in the league presently, and this draft class is unlikely to satisfy teams requirements. There are no top 10 talents available, but there a few men who could certainly go in the first round and start in a pinch for a franchise in need. Alabama’s, Cam Robinson has a high ceiling as a starting tackle, but he is still raw and unrefined. Wisconsin’s, Ryan Ramczyk is an athletic monster who could start week 1, but injury history and a lack of quality opponents is a concern. Utah’s Garett Bolles and Western Kentucky’s Forest Lamp are two other highly rated prospects who are likely be taken on day 1.
Switching sides of the ball now, there are some reasonable interior defensive lineman available. The most promising is Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, who is dominant against the run and pass either as a tackle or an end. Malik McDowell out of Michigan State, is a powerful, athletic lineman with a high ceiling, although he has a worrying injury history. Defensive tackle, Caleb Brantley is a powerful interior figure who’s built in the style and mould of Aaron Donald. The game’s best interior lineman will likely be a step above Brantley, but the projections are certainly positive for the Florida State product.
Edge rusher is arguably the strongest position class in this draft. This group also has the draft’s number one player, Myles Garrett. Garrett is a supreme athlete, a brilliant pass rusher on both the inside and outside. It would be a stunning shock if Garrett wasn’t taken at number 1 overall. Derek Barnett is another powerful and elusive pass rusher, although not at Garrett’s level, he is better against the run. Solomon Thomas’ versatility and speed allows him to line up as a pure pass rusher at defensive end or outside linebacker. Alabama’s Tim Williams is fast off the edge and could be the best rusher of the entire class, but he off field red flags, that will see him drop towards the bottom of the first round at best. Taco Charlton, Takkarist McKinley, Carl Lawson and Charles Harris are other possible first round selections.
The inside linebacker position has been devalued in recent years, as teams stack up on pass rushers and coverage players in the secondary. Reuben Foster however, is an elite talent at the position, who warrants top ten consideration. A smart, physical, fast gap hitter, Foster’s presence in the middle of a defence makes teams think twice before throwing or running over the middle. He’s a stud. Vanderbilt’s, Zach Cunningham is another highly reputable inside linebacker, who plays the run extremely well and isn’t a liability in pass coverage either.
Marshon Lattimore is the top cornerback in this year’s draft and a surefire top 10 pick. He’s a physical outside corner, that matches well with any type of receiver and tackles as well as any corner in the draft. Sidney Jones looked set to be a certainty in the first round, before a devastating achilles injury on his pro day effectively ending any chance of Jones getting on the field for his rookie season. Florida State’s Teez Tabor is a mixed prospect, some regard him as a first rounder, others not so. Slow 40-yard times have affected his stock, but his coverage and his turnover ability can’t be overlooked.
The top tier quality at the safety position has to be admired. Jamaal Adams out of LSU is probably the most pro ready player in the entire draft class. Extreme versatility, ability to play man coverage, brilliant at diagnosing run and pass plays, Adams can do it all and more. A possible future All-Pro. Malik Hooker is more of a project, but his physical traits are off the chart; speed, athleticism, range, hitting, big plays. A slightly riskier pick than Adams, Hooker should be an elite playmaker for the franchise lucky enough to nab him. The extremely versatile Jabrill Peppers is the final guy, a hybrid linebacker/strong safety, the draft grades on Peppers greatly varies, some project him as high as 10, others say he could slide down to the bottom of the second round.