The 2017 NFL Draft talk has officially begun, as the College Football Playoff if set and eventually all eyes will be on the top college football prospects that will be turning pro. NFL teams are already starting to switch gears, as several teams like the Browns, Bears and others have already been eliminated from playoff contention and need to start thinking about the future at numerous positions.
Of course, as tantalizing as some prospects are, the most interesting aspect of the draft continues to be who will go first overall. That’s usually a slam dunk most years, as any team that is bad enough to get the top pick needs a quarterback, and then they draft one. That sure would be the case for the 0-13 Cleveland Browns, but when a team is winless it’s easy to suggest just about any player could be a strong candidate for that top spot.
The Browns understandably have a lot of holes to fill and with such a talent-starved team, there even has to be the idea of trading down out of the #1 pick. No matter what the Browns do, someone will be selecting a player at that top spot, which means at some point we’re going to have a pretty good idea as to who will be drafted #1 overall. That could change quite a bit between now and the actual 2017 NFL Draft, however, so let’s take a look at the five best candidates for the honors:
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett heads our list because he’s probably the most talented player going into the 2017 NFL Draft and he can arguably make the biggest impact for Cleveland right away. The Browns badly need help on a terrible defense and with Jamie Collins probably leaving in free agency, they could be left with very little in the pass rush department.
There is no guarantee Garrett would be the stud right away that he’s been in college, but there’s also no denying his upside and physical ability. The guy has a flat out beast, as he has the size, speed and power to explode off the edge and make plays against the run, as well as of course put serious pressure on the quarterback. If Cleveland wants a prospect that they can drop in immediately and see him progress on a weekly basis, they should think long and hard about spending their top pick on Garrett.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Trubisky is a traditional passer with nice size and NFL arm strength and he put up some very impressive numbers with the Tar Heels, but the obvious question is if he’s ready. Trubisky has just one year as a starter under his belt and it’s possible his meteoric rise up the NFL Draft ranks won’t have him ready in 2017. For a team deep in rebuilding mode, that might not be a huge deal, especially given the fact that Trubisky is only scratching the surface of his talent and already looks so promising.
The reality is Hue Jackson – if he stays around – doesn’t have his future franchise quarterback. Cleveland would be wise to trade down and collect picks, while still hoping to land Trubisky, but perhaps they fear they won’t be able to. The interest is reportedly there, so Trubisky has to be near the top.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
This one would greatly shake things up, as not many view Fournette as a serious contender for the top spot. Perhaps that’s because the running back position is devalued or because Fournette seemed to shrink in some tough matchups. Both could be true, but there is no denying his potential impact as a generational rusher that some liken to Adrian Peterson.
That might be a reach, but Fournette has been a dominant force at LSU, displaying brute toughness, good size, elite vision and exceptional athleticism. It’s the complete package that drops the jaws, as Fournette can bulldoze defenders, make them miss or run right by them. He has that rare blend of size/vision/speed that teams wished they had in a running back and it just might make people start to consider him for the #1 pick.
Running backs historically do not get picked that high, but he’s an elite talent and we’ve seen Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott shoot up mock drafts over the last two years. Could Fournette go all the way to #1? Probably not, but if the Browns are there, few could blame them for a splash pick when all they have is Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson right now.
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
If Cleveland is sitting at the top spot and is seriously thinking about taking a quarterback, Kizer has to be in the mix, in addition to Trubisky. Few have actually tossed Kizer’s name all the way up to the #1 pick conversation, but he’s among the best quarterbacks in this draft class an also offers considerable upside as a dual threat passer at the next level.
Kizer already seems to have the leg up on Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and if he can show well ahead of the draft, it’s not crazy to imagine him rising about Trubisky. The real issue will be whether or not the Browns believe he’s the superior passing talent. From a pocket perspective, he probably isn’t. However, he might have the type of upside Trubisky may not possess.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Myles Garrett is without a doubt the more electrifying talent, but if we’re looking at impact defensive prospects, there isn’t a great reason to not include Allen. Interior defensive linemen are often the meat and potatoes of NFL defenses, and Allen appears to have the size, hands and quickness to be a truly disruptive force on an NFL d-line.
There is the question as to exactly where he’d line up as a pro, but the beauty is that’s more of a luxury than a problem. Allen has the size, strength and athleticism to line up on the inside of a 4-3, or he could be used on the outside of a 3-4 line, ala J.J. Watt. That versatility is going to be huge for his draft stock, while his play in itself is balanced in that he can sniff out the run and get after the quarterback.
Allen isn’t quite the sexy prospect Garrett is and he’s obviously not a quarterback, but there is a strong argument that he’s the most balanced, NFL-ready talent on this list.
Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
Jabrill Peppers isn’t being mentioned much in the #1 draft pick conversation, but perhaps he should be.
Peppers only has one career interception, but his physical ability, versatility and instincts could make him an elite defensive back at the next level. The real problem for an elite do-it-all talent like Peppers, of course, is where exactly he’ll be used on a regular basis in the NFL.
Peppers can light the field up as a return man, he can play running back, he can catch the football, he’s big enough to play linebacker and he could master cornerback or safety. He has such a unique build and set of skills, that he could be placed anywhere and eventually develop into a stud at the next level.
While Peppers hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers in college, he really hasn’t been asked to or put in the position to, either. Once teams get a good idea of how to best use Peppers, we’ll truly know his value for this draft.
Of course, what NFL teams really should do is just use him as the talent he is: a player who can do everything. That probably keeps him on the defensive side of the field, but he doesn’t have to strictly be a safety, linebacker or cornerback. He can do it all, and because he can do it at such a high level, he might end up being invaluable.
It could be hard to sell Peppers as the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but in so many ways, it’s weird that he’s not being discussed there more than he is.
2017 NFL Draft – #1 Pick Prediction
Like them or not, these five prospects appear to be the overwhelming favorites to be picked #1 overall. Garrett leads the way across almost all mocks, but as long as a quarterback-needy team occupies that #1 pick, we certainly have to consider Trubisky, Kizer and possibly even a few other passers we maybe aren’t seriously acknowledging.
For now, the Browns are at the top spot and with this team being much more than a quarterback away from contending, Garrett looks like the safe, logical pick.