The grades for the NFL class of 2017 are in, and while there are no “F’s” there aren’t any A+ either.
Cleveland did as expected and picked star DE Myles Garrett no. 1. Then, like the Eagles last year, the Chicago Bears traded up to no. 2 to select project quarterback Mitch Trubisky at no. 2. San Francisco followed suit and traded up to no. 3, grabbing DE Solomon Thomas from Stanford.
Otherwise, there were 10 other first round deals, some good, some dubious, that saw teams either exit the first round (like Green Bay and Seattle) or make multiple picks.
This draft was for the defences, for sure. Of the 32 players taken in the first round, 19 were defensive players. Alabama had the most players selected in the top 32 with four and LSU running a close second with three players taken.
Winners and losers are very hard to predict, in that future performance can’t accurately be assessed based on collegiate exploits. However, we think the following 10 teams made the most of their picks, filling the holes they needed with what the draft gave them.
10. San Francisco 49ers
The Niners, who suffered through Annus Horribilis in 2016, had a lot of holes to fill and did a pretty good job of it from Rounds 1 through 7. They made a great deal with the no. 2 pick, dealing it to the Chicago Bears (who picked QB Mitch Trubisky) and then picked DE Solomon Thomas, the no. 2 rated prospect in the nation, at no. 3 with Chicago’s selection. Their finest selection, however, could be at no. 31, as they dealt their 34th and 111th selections to Seattle to move up. With that pick, they got 10th rated player Reuben Foster, a star linebacker out of Alabama. Yes, he’s had a couple of issues off the field, but he’s an elite hitter and playmaker the Niners can team with NaVorro Bowman for a devastating one-two punch from the defensive middle. The selection of CB Akhello Witherspoon at no. 66 gives the Niners a potential impact player at ever level of their base 4-3 defence. Otherwise their fourth round pick, RB Joe Williams of Utah, looks like a good one down the road, as he ran for 1,407 yards and 10 TDs in just nine games of Pac-12 play.
9. Buffalo Bills
The Bills, rather than roll the dice with the 10th overall pick and take stud Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II, traded well down with Kansas City to allow the chiefs to draft Mahomes, receiving the 27th overall pick, a 2017 third rounder and a first round selection in 2018. With that 27th pick, the Bills found their replacement for departed free agent CB Stephon Gilmore in LSU CB Tre’Davious White. He was ranked as a second rounder and should be able to fill Gilmore’s shoes at left cornerback. The Bills also hit a provisional home run with their second pick, he being East Carolina WR Zay Jones, who rolled up a massive 1,746 yards and eight TDs in his senior year at East Carolina. We believe their steal of the draft, however, was getting Pitt QB Nathan Peterman with the 171st overall selection (fifth round). He was originally flagged as a third round pick and the Bills got a gamer who threw for over 5,000 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 47/15 in his final two years with the Panthers.
8. Indianapolis Colts
We didn’t say this was a defensive oriented draft for nothing. The Colts, who had one of the worst defences in the league last year, especially where passing yardage was concerned, made good selections to augment their significant activity in free agency. They took a bit of a gamble on Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who is short on experience but long on all-Pro potential. However, they got him at no. 15, which is great considering he was the eighth rated prospect headed into last Thursday’s first round dog and pony show. In the second round, the Colts buttressed the defensive backfield further, taking Florida Gators CB Quincy Wilson 46th. Indy especially needed depth at corner and Wilson was a gamer in his junior year, recording 33 tackles and three interceptions, one for a pick six, in 13 games. The sleeper of the Colts draft, though, could be RB Marlon Mack of South Florida, who they got in the fourth round at no. 143.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
It still feels awkward saying “Los Angeles” before “Chargers” instead of “San Diego.” But, the Chargers did do fairly well at the draft, filling some glaring needs. Sure they took Clemson WR Mike Williams a little too high at no. 7 (he was rated 21st) but giving Philip Rivers another big and speedy target downfield is hardly a bad thing. The Chargers most astute pick, however, was offensive lineman Forrest Lamp from Western Kentucky. At 6’4″ and 309 lbs. he has the size and experience to compete for a job in camp, as well as provide better protection for Rivers, who was sacked 36 times in 2016. Defensively, the Chargers did a good job in the later rounds, getting project safety Rayshawn Jenkins at no. 113 out of Miami and the DB Desmond King at no. 151 from Iowa. Both will fit in well in sub-package situations as well as special teams.
6. Arizona Cardinals
Instead of going for their quarterback of the future, which many expected considering Carson Palmer’s advanced age (37), the Cardinals made a tough defence even tougher at the draft. At no. 13 there was no controversy, as they selected 13th rated OLB Haason Reddick out of Temple. He gets added to a superb linebacking corps which includes Deonne Bucannon and Chandler Jones. Then, in the second round the Cards traded a passel of picks to take Washington Huskies safety Budda Baker. A bit of a curious move at no. 36, as Baker was rated 42nd. But, he’s another backfield piece who won’t hurt them, especially teamed with Tyrann Mathieu. The selection of Grambling State WR Chad Williams in the third round (a supplemental pick from Carolina), might turn out to be a good sleeper selection. He stands to learn much being mentored by, and playing behind Larry Fitzgerald.
5. Cleveland Browns
We’ve spilled a lot of ink here bashing the Browns for being worse than a hot mess of a football team. From Johnny Manziel to a host of idiotic moves, the Browns were a laughingstock. We say “were” since they used the Carson Wentz trade from 2016 to their advantage. Effectively, the Eagles got Wentz in a draft day deal a year ago and the Browns turned him into nine players. After they took DE Myles Garrett at no. 1, the Browns wheeled and dealed with those Philly provided options to select S Jabrill Peppers at no. 25 and QB DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, at no. 52. Kizer is the most intriguing pick, in that the Browns got the 34th rated player in the draft 18 picks down. Being a second rounder with the size (6’4″, 230 lbs.) and drive to succeed, there isn’t a ton of pressure on him out of the chute.
4. Green Bay Packers
Even without a first round pick — which the Packers relinquished to Cleveland — Green Bay did rather well stocking the cupboard of an already good team. Instead of taking TE David Njoku from Miami at no. 29 (which the Browns did), the Pack used the Browns first pick in the second round, no. 33, to select CB Kevin King out of Washington. King is a potential top two outside corner who will battle for a job in camp. The Packers then took safety Josh Jones at no. 61 out of N.C. State. The Pack got burned by Matty Ice and the Falcons in the NFC championship game leading to the stockpiling of talent in the defensive backfield. The Packers’ pick we like was LB Vince Biegel of Wisconsin at no. 108 (first pick of the fourth round), who the Packers obtained from Cleveland. He had 14 sacks in three years as a starter with the Badgers. He’s got extra motivation to succeed, given that he’s a homeboy from Wisconsin Rapids. A fan favorite, at the very least.
3. New England Patriots
It’s got to burn the rest of the NFL that the Patriots won the championship and with little in the way of picks at the draft, still came up smelling like a rose. The champion Pats, who have no appreciable holes to fill, had squat in the first two rounds (thanks to trading down), but managed to scoop two third round picks in DE Derek Rivers of Youngstown State at no. 83 (courtesy of the Tennessee Titans) and then OT Antonio Garcia from Troy (in a trade with Detroit). The Pats, who opted out of the first round at no. 32 and then the second, they got a good one in Rivers, who provides pass-rushing depth and was thought to be good enough to sneak into the first round. New England did trade up to take Garcia at no. 85 (dealing no. 96 and 124 to Detroit), a developmental talent at tackle who has the time to do so.
2. Washington Redskins
At 8-7-1 in 2016, nothing could have sat well with Redskins’ management in the off-season. Washington also had some options at no. 17 in the draft, but didn’t expect fourth-rated prospect DT Jonathan Allen of Alabama to fall to them at that spot. But fall he did, mainly due to arthritic shoulders, but the ‘Skins, who need help in their defensive front couldn’t pass up on him. Right off the bat, the Redskins defence got better and they compounded their good fortune by taking Allen’s teammate from the Crimson Tide, solid LB Ryan Anderson at no. 49. Washington completed the defensive trifecta by selecting CB Fabian Moreau from UCLA. He was rated 53rd going into the draft — some saying he had first round potential a while ago — and fell to the Redskins at no. 81 in the third round. An unheralded pick they got from the Jets (fourth round, no. 114), RB Samaje Perine from Oklahoma, could be their sleeper.
1. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are our pick for being draft weekend kings. Why? Because even though they gave up the 14th pick (DE Derek Barnett of Tennessee went to Philly), the Vikings snagged very good running back Dalvin Cook at no. 41. The Vikes, who finished 8-8 last season, instantly upgraded a backfield that includes free agent signee Latavius Murray. Then, with the 70th pick in the third round, the Minny braintrust probably made the find of the draft, getting top-ranked center Pat Elflein out of Ohio State. The Vikings traded up to get Elflein (moving from no. 79), but he should be well worth the swap with the Jets in the long run. The Buckeyes big man was the top rated collegiate center and was 60th ranked overall coming into the draft. Minnesota also addressed depth in many other areas, making nine selections in the last four rounds, including Virginia Tech TE Bucky Hodges at no. 201.