OK, football fans, here is your Thursday morning fix.
Now that the Super Bowl is over and internet trolls have pretty much exhausted all the memes slagging the Falcons for not beating Tom Terrific and the Patriots, we turn our attention to all those sorry clubs who missed the big dance.
The Cleveland Browns, in case there is any confusion, will be picking first after an entirely crappy 1-15 season. Their needs are many on both sides of the ball.
They will certainly need to pick wisely, as the San Francisco 49ers, only slightly “better” at 2-14, have about the same needs. Spoiler alert, quarterback is just one of them.
And we won’t even mention that the third worst team, the Chicago Bears (3-13), also need a pivot. It’s going to be interesting.
The draft is a month and a half away, with a combine slated for Feb. 28 – Mar. 6 so that team’s can get a more accurate gauge of talent available.
Here are the 20 non-playoff teams and prospective picks, starting with no. 1 pick and going to no. 20, with back-up options at the end in italics.
20. No. 1 Cleveland Browns (1-15) – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett is the consensus no. 1 pick and for any team with the first pick, he has been touted as too good to pass up. The Browns do need a quarterback, but they do also own the 12th pick, so taking Garrett is optimal. The team was near dead last in overall defence in 2016, giving up 6,209 yards against (392.4 per game) as well as points against (28.3, 29th overall). According to his NFL draft profile, Garrett is an athletic elite edge rusher with explosiveness and NBA shooting guard agility. He will be the kind of player the Browns can rebuild their defence around. Incumbent DE starters Carl Nassib (14 games, 20 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Jamie Meder (16 GP, 48 tackles, one sack) are still too raw and unproven and unanimous All-American Garrett should be able to jump in right away and make an impact. Options: QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson), CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
19. No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (2-14) – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The Colin Kaepernick era, as short and as controversial as it was, is almost certainly over in the Bay Area. And in California, offence sells, so expect the Niners to take the best quarterback available, especially with Kyle Shanahan taking over the reins as head coach (he has plenty to atone for, given his dubious play calls in Super Bowl LI). If Kaepernick decides to void the option on his contract, it will leave only Blaine Gabbert to help groom a young pivot and Watson, despite a slight regression this past year (less yards per attempt, more interceptions over his sophomore year), is a proven winner, a team player and very poised, according to several pundits in the know. Options: QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina), DT Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
18. No. 3 Chicago Bears (3-13) – Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
The Bears weren’t all that bad defensively in 2016 and could really use a quarterback, but expect them to augment a fairly tough and young defence with the nation’s top defender. Allen won the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski awards ass the NCAA’s top defensive player, racking up 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks with the Crimson Tide. He has the character and leadership skills to play in a blue collar football town like Chicago, according to draft experts. Allen has the ability to play inside and outside and has excellent foot and hand work. The only knock on him is size, as at 6’3″, he’s not quite as tall as the average DE in the NFL. Even still, too good to pass up at no. 3. Options: S Jamal Adams (LSU), S Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
17. No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) – Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
The Jags were supposed to be so much better on offence last season than 23rd overall in total yards and 25th in points. What really hampered QB Blake Bortles ability to make plays was the play — or lack thereof — of his front line. The most sacked quarterback in football between 2014-15 (106 total) was sacked 34 more times last year, an “improvement” if you can call it that. The fact his pass protection was sketchy also led to a decrease between his TDs/INTs, from 35TD/18INT in 2015 to 23/16 in 2016. Therefore, the Jags should draft the best available guard, he being Dan Feeney of Indiana. Feeney, an Outland Trophy nominee and proficient guard (allowed no sacks in 12 games as a freshman for the Hoosiers), is the right man for the job, having been rated the best interior offensive lineman for the draft. Options: Solomon Thomas, DE (Stanford), S Jamal Adams (LSU)
16. No. 5 Tennessee Titans (9-7) – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
The Titans, who got this pick from the Los Angeles Rams, need a lot of help in their secondary, particularly at corner. They were third worst in passing yards allowed with 4,307 and 17th in receiving TDs against with 25. First team All Big Ten corner Marshon Lattimore is the highest rated corner available and is coming off a great bounce back year from injuries. After playing only three games as a freshman in 2015, he got in all 13 games with the Buckeyes last season, recording 41 tackles, and four interceptions, one for a touchdown. One pro personnel director from the AFC had this to say, summing up his talent: “I’ve studied the top cornerbacks coming out and he’s the best I’ve seen. He’s so athletic that he can just post up under the receiver’s chin and shadow him all over the field. And he’s tough, too. He’ll be one of the top cornerbacks pretty quickly.” Options: WR Mike Williams (Clemson), WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
15. No. 6 New York Jets (5-11) – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
We’re going off the board here and saying the Jets will make quarterback a priority in this draft. Why? Because Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract was voided and he is now a free agent (with options out there) and Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg are the answers for the future. That’s why picking Mitch Trubisky in this spot might make sense. His stock rose dramatically in his junior year in 2016, as he broke several Tar Heels records with passing yards (3,748 in 13 games), completions (304), total offence (4,056 yards) and TD passes (30). Many scouts see high ceiling in his game and a comparison was even made to Oakland’s Derek Carr regarding his poise, decisiveness and quick delivery of the ball downfield. Options: OLB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
14. No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
As we said earlier, offence sells in the West, and with the Chargers making the move up the coast to La-la land, having another deep threat for aging but still superior QB Philip Rivers should be a priority. Keenan Allen, so good a few seasons ago and one of Rivers’ favored targets, has suffered through two straight injury filled seasons, with 2016 being the worst. He played just one game, catching six passes for 63 yards (after catching 67 passes in just eight games in 2015, including four TDs). Therefore, Deshaun Watson’s preferred go-to buy at Clemson, Mike Williams, should be high on their war room list for selection. At 6’3″, 225 lbs., he’s a big target and has even drawn comparisons to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Alshon Jeffery. In 15 games with Clemson, including the title game, Williams caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 TDs. Options: S Malik Hooker (Ohio State), OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
13. No. 8 Carolina Panthers (6-10) – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The Panthers, so good in 2015, took a giant step backward in 2016. Part of the funk was owing to a running game that was only so-so, if you took QB Cam Newton out of the equation. Aging former star Jonathan Stewart nly ran for 824 yards last year, which didn’t take a lot of pressure off Newton, whose TD/INT ratio fell to 19/14 from 35/10 in 2015. This also speaks to another need, offensive lineman, but running back should be the focus. Enter Dalvin Cook, Florida State’s all-time leading rusher who is coming off a monster junior season. He ran 288 times for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as hauling in 33 passes for another 488 yards and another score. He capped his season by rushing for 145 yards (207 total) and earning MVP honors in a 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Options: OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin), OT Cam Robinson (Alabama)
12. No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1) – Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State
Simply having star QB Andy Dalton fling the ball downfield at will is tempting, but the Cincinnati Bengals need to get their running game in high gear to give him options, as well as beef up pass protection so that he isn’t the highest sacked pivot in the NFL (he was dumped 41 times last year, second most in the league). Therefore, picking up a tackle, or better yet and elite center is paramount. Ohio State senior Elflein, 6’3″, 300 lbs. has the size, experience and versatility to fill that role in Cincinnati (where we are sure the Ohio native would be a fan favorite). Originally a guard and a tackle, Elflein made the transition to center seamlessly, so much so he won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2016. Options: LB Reuben Foster (Alabama), DE Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
11. No. 10 Buffalo Bills (7-9) – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
If Mike Williams is off the board at the no. 10 spot, the Buffalo Bills should either take him, or the next best available option, Corey Davis out of Western Michigan. Some pundits have said the Bills, who have many, many needs, should draft a QB since Tyrod Taylor may not be around, but should he stay, they were mediocre at best at wideout and could lose some to free agency. After setting freshman records with the Broncos in 2013, Chicago native Davis had three straight seasons of 1,400 yards-plus, capping his career as a senior with a personal best 91 receptions, 1,427 yards and 18 TDs. The MAC Offensive Player of the Year has been compared to Eric Decker and has been touted as having the skills to be a starter. Options: S Malik Hooker (Ohio State), CB Teez Tabor (Florida)
10. No. 11 New Orleans Saints (7-9) – Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
The Saints were dead last in passing yards allowed in 2016 with 4,380, which isn’t great when facing elite quarterbacks in their division like Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton. Thus, the need to build the defensive backfield into a more formidable force is key. Should Malik Hooker be available at no. 11 (he’s ranked top 10 in a few polls) he is a more than logical choice. The Buckeyes sophomore was outstanding in 2016, making 74 tackles, seven interceptions (three pick-sixes) and swatting away four passes. The First Team All-Big Ten free safety has decided to forego his remaining two years of eligibility to enter the draft and has been projected to be all-Pro within a few years after gaining experience. Options: CB Teez Tabor (Florida), ILB Reuben Foster (Alabama)
9. No. 12 Cleveland Browns (1-15) – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Should the Browns do the expected with the first pick and take Myles Garrett, they might use the 12th pick they got from the Philadelphia Eagles to address the yawning chasm at quarterback. Having used seven pivots in 2016, to little effect, grooming a rookie with high upside wouldn’t be out of the question. Patrick Mahomes, who has opted out of his senior year with the Red Raiders, has a lot of scouts drooling over his size (6’3″, 230 lbs.), confidence and physical tools to one day be a solid pivot at the NFL level. In 12 games with Texas Tech in 2016, he completed 65.7 percent of his passes (388-for-591) for 5,052 yards and 41 TDs against just 10 interceptions. One to watch in the early going of the draft. Options: QB Brad Kaaya (Miami), OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
8. No. 13 Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1) – John Ross, WR, Washington
If top rated wideouts Corey Davis and Mike Williams be gone before the Cardinals pick at 13 (which we have postulated), they need to select a wide receiver who can one day (soon) take over for Larry Fitzgerald. The aging superstar will be back for another year in the desert, but his time is growing short. John Ross, then, represents a speedy, if smallish (just 5’11”) threat who runs great routes and is a coachable, low-key sort. Ross broke out in a big way in 2016 for the Huskies after being a sub in his freshman and sophomore seasons, grabbing 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns in 14 games. He has been compared to Brandin Cooks of the New Orleans Saints. Options: ILB Reuben Foster (Alabama), CB Teez Tabor (Florida)
7. No. 14 Indianapolis Colts (8-8) – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
The Colts defence is an aging lot and judging by their overall performance in 2016, it could stand a youth injection. They were 27th against the pass with 4,200 yards against and 25th against the run with 1,926 yards against. Indy also surrendered 27 aerial TDs (tied for 20th worst) and 12 rushing scores (tied for 13th). Reuben Foster, tabbed as a top 10 pick in a few polls, is the best choice to fill their most glaring need, linebacker. Foster is considered the best available linebacker in the draft and would be a key piece to a Colts’ defensive rebuild. He had his best season as a senior with the Crimson Tide, recording 115 tackles and five sacks in 15 games. The caveat in this pick is that a coin flip with Philadelphia (who they tied for this pick) will determine who gets it — so we went with Indy. Options: RB Leonard Fournette (LSU), OT Cam Robinson (Alabama)
6. No. 15 Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) – Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
Even though they could really use a dynamic wide receiver for Carson Wentz, the consensus is the Eagles really need to bolster their corner position. Tabor, who is projected as a mid-first round pick, is the second best corner available next to Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State. At 6’0″ and 200 lbs., Jalen “Teez” Tabor has the size, athletic ability and smarts to make an impact. The bottom line on him, according to the NFL scouting report, is that while he has lapses in judgement and awareness in coverage, he is a pure cover corner with the ability to pattern match around the field. Tabor started 12 games for the Gators in 2016, registered 33 tackles, a sack and picked off three of his career eight interceptions (one for a TD). Options: WR Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington), RB Christian McCaffery (Stanford)
5. No. 16 Baltimore Ravens (8-8) – Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
The Ravens, who have always prided themselves on stout defence, really require their next great edge rusher. And if things unfold like we have placed the draft order, Solomon Thomas could fall into their lap. Rated top 10 in some polls, even top 3, Thomas is an explosive defender who is strong, quick and will fit in with Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme. He’ll likely help add to their low sack output, which was tied for 24th overall with just 31. In 2016 with the Cardinal, Thomas registered 61 tackles and had 8.5 sacks and was named to the First Team All-Pac 12. One scout from the AFC was effusive in his praise of Thomas, saying, “He’s damn good. You have to figure out where you will play him, but he won’t stop. He’s going to be really productive.” Options: SS Jamal Adams (LSU), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)
4. No. 17 Washington Redskins (8-7-1) – Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
However this draft unfolds, Adams is the rated either the first or second best safety in college — depending on who’s talking — and may not be around when the Redskins make their pick at no. 17. According to our projections, though, he is right here according to teams’ needs ahead of this slot. At 6’1″ and 213 lbs., his size jumps out at scouts, followed by his superior instincts, physicality, and ability to think one step ahead of opponents. Adams had a great year with the Tigers in 2016, registering 76 tackles, a sack and four successful pass defences. He recorded an interception (fifth of his career) and forced a fumble, too. An AFC scout said that Adams is a great leader and a “no-doubt first-rounder.” Options: SS Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
3. No. 18 Tennessee Titans (9-7) – Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
We believe the Titans will have filled a huge gap at corner with Marshon Lattimore at no. 5 and with their second pick in the draft at 18 they will give QB Marcus Mariota a good future downfield target. Slotted as the fourth best college receiver by Sports Illustrated, Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp has been a reliable producer in four years of subdivision football. In 13 games with the Eagles in 2016, Kupp caught 117 passes for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. Now, he did play mostly against tier 2 competition, but did burn rival and elite level Washington State for 12 catches, 206 yards and three TDs in a shocking 45-42 EWU victory. Options: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC), OLB Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)
2. No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) – Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
The Bucs have need along the defensive line and in the defensive backfield, but picking 19th, they might likely take a wide receiver to give Jameis Winston another option besides stud Mike Evans. Juju Smith-Schuster brings great pedigree from a great program and has the size (6’2″, 220 lbs.), good hands and ability to battle hard to make catches. Not particularly speedy, Schuster still had the tenacity to snare 10 TD passes in each of his last two seasons with the Trojans. In 13 games last year, the junior wideout caught 70 passes for 914 yards, one year after snaring 89 tosses for 1,454 yards. Schuster’s game has been likened to that of Anquan Boldin. Options: DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee), SS Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
1. No. 20 Denver Broncos (9-7) – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
A look up and down NFL line-ups doesn’t call for many teams looking at help in the tight end position. However, the Denver Broncos, who also have needs on the offensive line, are particularly weak at TE. No. 1 Virgil Green caught just 37 passes for 237 yards and a TD in 2016. Alabama’s O.J. Howard, then, might be the right fit, and besides, he’s been compared to former Bronco tight end Julius Thomas. The knock on him is that he isn’t competitive enough and needs polish, but he chafed under Lane Kiffin’s scheme with the Tide. One scout said, “He could be an all-pro. I just need to know if he loves football.” Ranked as a potential middle first rounder, Howard caught 45 passes for 595 yards and three TDs in 15 games for Alabama last season. Options: OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin), OT Cam Robinson (Alabama).