Jul 15 2017

2017 NFL Draft Observations

The 2017 NFL Draft is in the rearview. I don’t do post-draft grades, and I don’t expect rookies to make a significant impact in year one, as I explained in March.

But teams draft the group of players they do for a reason. I want to make notes on every team’s draft, with respect to the players targeted, holes attended to, and which priority free agent I’ll be keeping an eye on.

1. CB Tre’Davious White
2. WR Zay Jones
2. OT Dion Dawkins
5. OLB Matt Milano
5. QB Nathan Peterman
6. OLB Tanner Vallejo
PFA: P Austin Rehkow

 The Bills are switching defenses up once again, and they’re coming off a season that saw them struggle against the run. Milano was the top front seven defender the team added in the draft. Buffalo’s depth issues saw them grab potential starters in White, Jones, and Dawkins. White replaces the last first round Bills CB, as 2012 pick CB Stephon Gilmore left for New England, while Jones replaces departed free agent and 2013 second round WR Robert Woods.

1. DE Charles Harris
2. ILB Raekwon McMillan
3. CB Cordrea Tankersley
5. G Isaac Asiata
5. DT Davon Godchaux
6. DT Vincent Taylor
7. WR Isaiah Ford
PFA: RB De’Veon Smith

  After finishing 31st in rushing yards allowed per attempt, the Dolphins added plenty of front seven help, with McMillan likely serving as the team’s best chance of improving the run defense via the draft. Miami also selected three defensive linemen, led by edge rusher Harris.

3. DE Derek Rivers
3. OT Antonio Garcia
4. DE Deatrich Wise
6. OT Conor McDermott
PFA: ILB Harvey Langi

 The defending champions needed help in the pass rush department, and two of their four picks went towards adding defensive ends. New England finished 2016 ranked T-16th in sacks. The other two picks went to adding depth on the offensive line.

1. SS Jamal Adams
2. FS Marcus Maye
3. WR ArDarius Stewart
4. WR Chad Hansen
5. TE Jordan Leggett
5. OLB Dylan Donahue
6. RB Elijah McGuire
6. CB Jeremy Clark
6. CB Derrick Jones
PFA: WR KD Cannon

The Jets spent much of the offseason jettisoning veterans. WRs Stewart and Hansen join a Jets roster that is without veterans Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. New York spent the first two rounds of the draft adding a new safety corps as well.

1. CB Marlon Humphrey
2. OLB Tyus Bowser
3. DE Chris Wormley
3. OLB Tim Williams
4. G Nico Siragusa
5. G Jermaine Eluemunor
6. FS Chuck Clark
PFA: RB Taquan Mizzell

 Baltimore’s offense was average at best in 2016, while the defense was top-ten. Nonetheless, the Ravens didn’t add an offensive player until Day 3, and didn’t select a skill position player at all. Mizzell should get a chance to make a Ravens team that was unspectacular rushing the ball in 2016, but it was clear that Baltimore felt the team needed to get younger on defense. Humphrey was the first CB selected in the first round since the team selected Jimmy Smith in 2011.

1. WR John Ross
2. RB Joe Mixon
3. DE Jordan Willis
4. DE Carl Lawson
4. WR Josh Malone
4. DT Ryan Glasgow
5. K Jake Elliott
5. C J.J. Dielman
6. ILB Jordan Evans
6. FS Brandon Wilson
7. TE Mason Schreck
PFA: ILB Hardy Nickerson, Jr.

 The Cincinnati offense was rarely at full strength in 2016, with WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Eifert, and RB Giovani Bernard all missing significant parts of the season due to injury. Ross, who ironically has a troubling medical background, would give the Bengals an explosive complement to Green. Mixon has a troubling past incident that will keep excitement about his skill set hushed. He has the talent to help the Bengals, who slipped to 24th in points scored in 2016.

1. DE Myles Garrett
1. SS Jabrill Peppers
1. TE David Njoku
2. QB DeShone Kizer
3. DT Larry Ogunjobi
4. CB Howard Wilson
5. OT Roderick Johnson
6. DT Caleb Brantley
7. K Zane Gonzalez
7. RB Matthew Dayes
PFA: CB Channing Stribling

 Cleveland was fortunate to win a game last season as they undergo a dedicated long-term rebuild. Garrett was the top overall pick in the draft, and he will be relied on to be a difference maker as an edge rusher for a team that ranked T-30th in sacks. The Browns are also transitioning to a 4-3. Peppers should be a versatile playmaker for a defense that allowed the most TD passes in the NFL. Njoku goes to the Browns from Miami (FL) 13 years after Cleveland selected TE Kellen Winslow II sixth overall. Kizer will compete with 2016 third round QB Cody Kessler and salary dump trade acquisition QB Brock Osweiler. Kizer is the eighth QB drafted by the Browns in the first three rounds since 1999; no other team has selected more than five such QBs in that span.

1. OLB T.J. Watt
2. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
3. CB Cameron Sutton
3. RB James Conner
4. QB Joshua Dobbs
5. CB Brian Allen
6. LS Colin Holba
7. OLB Keion Adams
PFA: TE Scott Orndoff

 Pittsburgh could have used some depth along the defensive line. Instead, they used their first round pick on a linebacker for the fourth time in five years. The Steelers missed on the since departed OLB Jarvis Jones in 2013, and top edge rusher OLB James Harrison is 39 years old, so Watt fills a need. Pittsburgh’s selection of Smith-Schuster puts the heat on WRs Martavis Bryant (2014 fourth round) and Sammie Coates (2015 third round), while Sutton’s selection puts the pressure on 2015 second round CB Senquez Golson.

1. QB Deshaun Watson
2. ILB Zach Cunningham
3. RB D’Onta Foreman
4. OT Julie’n Davenport
4. DE Carlos Watkins
5. CB Treston Decoud
7. C Kyle Fuller
PFA: DE Matthew Godin

 Houston’s first draft pick in franchise history was QB David Carr in 2002. In 2007, the team moved on from Carr and traded for backup QB Matt Schaub, who was the team’s primary starter for seven seasons. The hiring of head coach Bill O’Brien in 2014 marked a new era of quarterbacking, but it was one that saw eight different starters. The selection of Watson, after trading up, is a drastic but perhaps necessary move for a team that went 9-7 for three years in a row despite bottom-five quarterback play. Trading up for a passer is usually a foolish, myopic decision, so we’ll see how this goes.

1. FS Malik Hooker
2. CB Quincy Wilson
3. OLB Tarell Basham
4. OT Zach Banner
4. RB Marlon Mack
4. NT Grover Stewart
5. CB Nate Hairston
5. ILB Anthony Walker
PFA: OT Jerry Ugokwe

 Finally, the Colts smartened up and got some help in the secondary. Hooker will be counted on to give the Colts a long-term pass defense presence after Indianapolis finished 28th in the NFL in passer rating allowed in 2016. Wilson and Basham marked the first time that the Colts used every 1st-3rd round draft pick on defense since 2010, while it was the first time since 2005 that the team selected defensive backs with their first two picks.

1. RB Leonard Fournette
2. OT Cam Robinson
3. DE Dawuane Smoot
4. WR Dede Westbrook
5. OLB Blair Brown
6. CB Jalen Myrick
7. FB Marquez Williams
PFA: G Avery Gennesy

 Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011. Since then, no team has fewer rushing yards than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Of course, no team has more losses than the Jaguars since 2012 as well. Fournette is the tenth RB selected in the top five since 2000. While 2016 fourth overall pick RB Ezekiel Elliott led the league with 1,631 rushing yards as a rookie, the rest of the 21st century list is 37.5 percent 1K-yard rookie rushers (Cadillac Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis) and 62.5 percent rookies that didn’t break 1,000 yards (Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson). The Jaguars are counting on Fournette to be a franchise altering producer.

1. WR Corey Davis
1. CB Adoree’ Jackson
3. WR Taywan Taylor
3. TE Jonnu Smith
5. ILB Jayon Brown
6. G Corey Levin
7. OLB Josh Carraway
7. OT Brad Seaton
7. RB Khalfani Muhammad
PFA: OT Steven Moore

 Tennessee surprised with a 9-7 record in 2016, their first winning season in five years. However, the Titans spent most of 2016 getting torched by the pass, finishing 30th in pass yards allowed. Tennessee used major resources towards building up their own passing game by adding Davis, Taylor, and Smith to the receiving corps. But the addition of Jackson, the team’s highest drafted defensive back since CB Adam Jones went sixth overall in 2005, will go a long way towards Tennessee improving their biggest weakness.

1. OT Garett Bolles
2. DE Demarcus Walker
3. WR Carlos Henderson
3. CB Brendan Langley
5. TE Jake Butt
5. WR Isaiah McKenzie
6. RB De’Angelo Henderson
7. QB Chad Kelly
PFA: SS Jamal Carter

 The Denver offense plummeted to 27th in the NFL in 2016, so they will be in a position to count on some rookies in 2017. Bolles was the first offensive lineman selected in the draft, while Carlos Henderson joins a Broncos receiving corps that didn’t add any veterans and had no receivers outside of 1K WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders gain more than 300 receiving yards in 2016. Look out for De’Angelo Henderson, as the Broncos have a history of 4-7 round draft picks rushing for 1,000 yards as a rookie (Hall-of-Famer Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, and Mike Anderson).

1. QB Patrick Mahomes II
2. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon
3. RB Kareem Hunt
4. WR Jehu Chesson
5. ILB Ukeme Eligwe
6. SS Leon McQuay
PFA: G Damien Mama

 Kansas City was another team that decided it was a good idea to mortgage their future in a massive trade up to draft a QB, despite a solid regular season record under head coach Andy Reid. Among 29 QBs to attempt at least 1,000 passes since 2013, Alex Smith ranks 12th in passer rating. Of course, Mahomes was drafted because while Smith is great at completing short passes and not turning the ball over, he’s a bottom-five passer in terms of yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. The Chiefs just about ran out of front seven defenders on their way to another one-and-done, so Kpassagnon is just as pivotal a project as Mahomes is in 2017.

1. WR Mike Williams
2. G Forrest Lamp
3. G Dan Feeney
4. SS Rayshawn Jenkins
5. FS Desmond King
6. OT Sam Tevi
7. DE Isaac Rochell
PFA: WR Artavis Scott

 Los Angeles needed special teams help as well as secondary depth, so Jenkins and King should go a long way towards satisfying both needs. Lamp and Feeney may start as rookies along an offensive line that annually springs leaks. And then there’s Williams, who is the highest drafted offensive player the Chargers selected since acquiring QB Philip Rivers’ draft rights in 2004.

1. CB Gareon Conley
2. SS Obi Melifonwu
3. DT Eddie Vanderdoes
4. OT David Sharpe
5. ILB Marquel Lee
7. FS Shalom Luani
7. OT Jylan Ware
7. RB Elijah Hood
7. DT Treyvon Hester
PFA: WR Ishmael Zamora

 The Raiders selected Conley despite off-field questions leading up to the draft, which speaks to how bad the team needed help in the secondary. Oakland ranked 24th in pass yards allowed, and 2013 first round CB D.J. Hayden wasn’t retained. The Raiders also drafted Melifonwu in the second round, marking the first time since 2005 that the team used their first two draft picks on defensive backs, while the selection of Vanderdoes marked the second straight season that the team used all of their 1st-3rd round picks on defense.

1. DE Taco Charlton
2. CB Chidobe Awuzie
3. CB Jourdan Lewis
4. WR Ryan Switzer
6. FS Xavier Woods
6. CB Marquez White
7. DT Joey Ivie
7. WR Noah Brown
7. DT Jordan Carrell
PFA: OT Levon Myers

 Here’s another team that needed to load up in the secondary, although Dallas’ need was more acute due to veteran departures. Still, Dallas added four defensive backs in this draft, including Awuzie and Lewis on Day 2. Charlton is also the first edge rusher drafted in the first round by the Cowboys since OLB Anthony Spencer in 2007.

1. TE Evan Engram
2. DT Dalvin Tomlinson
3. QB Davis Webb
4. RB Wayne Gallman
5. DE Avery Moss
6. OT Adam Bisnowaty
PFA: OT Chad Wheeler

 New York was dead last in rushing TDs in 2016, but the Giants spent the first three rounds of the draft adding a receiving TE, a replacement for Johnathan Hankins, and a QB of the future. Gallman is the fourth RB the Giants have drafted on Day 3 in the last five years, but he is also bigger than 2016 fifth round RB Paul Perkins and veteran holdovers Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa.

1. DE Derek Barnett
2. CB Sidney Jones
3. CB Rasul Douglas
4. WR Mack Hollins
4. RB Donnel Pumphrey
5. WR Shelton Gibson
5. OLB Nathan Gerry
6. DT Elijah Qualls
PFA: C Tyler Orlosky

 The Eagles added veteran WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to the receiving corps, but Philadelphia still added to the group in the draft by taking Hollins and Gibson on Day 3. Philadelphia went all defense in rounds 1-3, taking Barnett after no DEs had six sacks in 2016 and adding multiple CBs to a pass defense that ranked 22nd in pass yards allowed per game. It’s the first time the Eagles went all defense in the first three rounds of the draft since 2010.

1. DE Jonathan Allen
2. OLB Ryan Anderson
3. CB Fabian Moreau
4. RB Samaje Perine
4. CB Montae Nicholson
5. TE Jeremy Sprinkle
6. C Chase Roullier
6. WR Robert Davis
7. SS Josh Harvey-Clemons
7. CB Joshua Holsey
PFA: G Kyle Kalis

 Allen was probably the best case scenario for Washington, as they needed defensive line help for years. Washington’s last Day 2 pick for a defensive lineman was DE Jarvis Jenkins in 2011 (second round), and their last first round defensive lineman was DE Kenard Lang, the 17th pick back in 1997. Washington was yet another team that went defense only in the first three rounds of the draft, adding edge rushing depth in Anderson and secondary help in Moreau to a team that ranked 28th in total defense in 2016.

1. QB Mitchell Trubisky
2. TE Adam Shaheen
4. FS Eddie Jackson
4. RB Tarik Cohen
5. G Jordan Morgan
PFA: FB Freddie Stevenson

 Three quarterbacks were chosen in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. All of them were acquired after a team traded up, but Chicago was the one team to do so that missed the playoffs and added a presumptive starter in free agency. The Bears have the luxury of taking their time on Trubisky after signing QB Mike Glennon from Tampa Bay and QB Mark Sanchez from Dallas. Interestingly, Sanchez was one of those quarterbacks drafted in the top five by a team trading up – the Bears are his fifth team in five years.

1. ILB Jarrad Davis
2. CB Teez Tabor
3. WR Kenny Golladay
4. OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
4. TE Michael Roberts
5. CB Jamal Agnew
6. DT Jeremiah Ledbetter
6. QB Brad Kaaya
7. DE Pat O’Connor
PFA: OT Storm Norton

 I originally highlighted an undrafted offensive tackle because I thought it was interesting that the Lions didn’t add any backs or linemen to an annually poor rushing attack. Now, 2016 first round OT Taylor Decker is out indefinitely due to shoulder surgery, while the team lost OT Riley Reiff in free agency. Detroit may need an unheralded player to emerge up front. The Lions needed some help defensively, and Davis will be tasked on improving an average at best run defense while Tabor goes to the team that allowed the worst passer rating in the league in 2016.

2. CB Kevin King
2. SS Josh Jones
3. DE Montravius Adams
4. OLB Vince Biegel
4. RB Jamaal Williams
5. WR DeAngelo Yancey
5. RB Aaron Jones
6. C Kofi Amichia
7. RB Devante Mays
7. WR Malachi Dupre
PFA: G Adam Pankey

 Stop me if you’ve heard this before – another team that went defense-heavy at the top of the draft. The Packers traded out of the first round and used three Day 2 picks on defenders. Only the Saints allowed more pass yards than the Packers in 2016, so King and Jones will likely be needed to help turn around what was a tattered Green Bay secondary for most of last season.

2. RB Dalvin Cook
3. C Pat Elflein
4. DT Jaleel Johnson
4. ILB Ben Gedeon
5. WR Rodney Adams
5. G Danny Isidora
6. TE Bucky Hodges
7. WR Stacy Coley
7. DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
7. OLB Elijah Lee
7. CB Jack Tocho
PFA: DE Tashawn Bower

 Ten years after drafting RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings replace him with Cook, one year after the Minnesota ground game sunk to franchise depths. Cook won’t stand a chance if Minnesota’s offensive line doesn’t improve drastically, so Elflein is a critical selection as well.

1. DE Takkarist McKinley
3. OLB Duke Riley
4. G Sean Harlow
5. CB Damontae Kazee
5. RB Brian Hill
5. TE Eric Saubert
PFA: QB Alek Torgersen

 Atlanta split their draft right down the middle, adding a runner, a receiver, an offensive lineman, a pass rusher, a linebacker, and a defensive back. Only four teams allowed more TD passes in 2016 than the Falcons, and you saw what happened in the Super Bowl, so Kazee gives Atlanta another young piece to work with in the secondary. McKinley will be critical for an Atlanta defense that had the 2016 NFL sack leader in 2015 first round OLB Vic Beasley but no other player with five sacks. Riley should also team with 2016 draftees LBs Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell to give Atlanta a swift LB corps – and perhaps allow Beasley to focus more on edge rushing.

1. RB Christian McCaffrey
2. WR Curtis Samuel
2. OT Taylor Moton
3. DE Daeshon Hall
5. CB Corn Elder
6. FB Alex Armah
7. K Harrison Butker
PFA: WR Fred Ross

 Carolina went defensive back heavy in their thin 2016 draft, but they still got torched, so Elder is a player to watch in 2017. Elder and Hall were also the only defensive selections by the Panthers despite the defense slipping to 21st overall and 26th in points allowed. That being said, McCaffery gives Carolina their first dual threat back in franchise history; the Bengals are the only other team that hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rushing/300-yard receiving season from a RB since 1995. Samuel is the receiver version of McCaffery, while Moton has a chance to start as a rookie.

1. CB Marshon Lattimore
1. OT Ryan Ramczyk
2. FS Marcus Williams
3. RB Alvin Kamara
3. OLB Alex Anzalone
3. DE Trey Hendrickson
6. DE Al-Quadin Muhammad
PFA: WR Travin Dural

 The annually poor New Orleans defense got a nice boost from the draft, with four defenders selected in the first three rounds. Anzalone is most likely to help a run defense that was bottom-five in TD runs allowed. Lattimore was the first CB selected, and is the highest drafted Saints CB since Alex Molden went 11th overall in 1996. Williams joins a team that drafted SS Kenny Vaccaro in the first round in 2013 and FS Vonn Bell in the second round in 2016. Ramczyk may have been a luxury pick initially, but New Orleans will be without LT Terron Armstead (shoulder) and C Max Unger (foot) indefinitely.  Kamara is a long-term receiving back with newly signed RB Adrian Peterson coming off a career-worst season at age 32 and set to back up RB Mark Ingram. Hendrickson is much needed pass rush help after DE Cameron Jordan was the only DE to collect more than 1.5 sacks in 2016.

1. TE O.J. Howard
2. FS Justin Evans
3. WR Chris Godwin
3. OLB Kendell Beckwith
5. RB Jeremy McNichols
7. DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
PFA: QB Sefo Liufau

 Tampa Bay’s defense improved after a dreadful start to the 2016 season, but the run defense stayed bad for most of the season. Enter Beckwith, a college teammate of current Tampa Bay starting ILB Kwon Alexander. If Beckwith is recovered from the torn ACL that ended his final season at Louisiana State, then the Buccaneers might have themselves an impact rookie defender. Evans is Tampa Bay’s highest drafted S since taking Mark Barron seventh overall in 2012. Howard is the highest drafted TE in team history, and his selection came only three years after the previously highest drafted, since-released 2014 second rounder Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. Godwin may be the long-term complement to WR Mike Evans, but he’ll be competing with WR Adam Humphries while Howard competes with TE Cameron Brate.

1. ILB Haason Reddick
2. FS Budda Baker
3. WR Chad Williams
4. G Dorian Johnson
5. OT Will Holden
5. RB T.J. Logan
6. CB Rudy Ford
PFA: C Lucas Crowley

 Arizona’s offense had an uneven year in 2016, and their offensive line has the task of protecting one of the least mobile passers in the league in QB Carson Palmer. Starting OTs D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer both ended the season injured, so the Cardinals should do what they can to prepare Holden to play as the swing tackle. The top of the draft brought versatile defenders in Reddick (who has edge rushing talent) and Baker (who can play multiple positions in the secondary). Williams wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but he probably has the best combination of size and speed in an Arizona WR corps that includes future HOFer Larry Fitzgerald and small speedsters John Brown and J.J. Nelson.

2. TE Gerald Everett
3. WR Cooper Kupp
3. FS John Johnson
4. WR Josh Reynolds
4. OLB Samson Ebukam
6. DE Tanzel Smart
6. FB Sam Rogers
7. OLB Ejuan Price
PFA: RB Justin Davis

 The Rams were dead last in TD passes in 2016, and QB Jared Goff cost the team their first round pick this year. Los Angeles went out to help upgrade Goff’s weapons, selecting Everett, Kupp, and Reynolds in the second, third, and fourth rounds, respectively. Johnson could have an outside chance at a starting spot.

1. DE Solomon Thomas
1. ILB Reuben Foster
3. CB Ahkello Witherspoon
3. QB C.J. Beathard
4. RB Joe Williams
5. TE George Kittle
5. WR Trent Taylor
6. DT D.J. Jones
6. DE Pita Taumoepenu
7. CB Adrian Colbert
PFA: OT Erik Magnuson

 The 49ers were ran over in 2016, but they also had only one plus pass rusher (2016 first round DE DeForest Buckner). Thomas was already an intriguing fit despite the team shifting to a 4-3, but the trade down with Chicago made it even better. Foster has medical and off-field concerns, but he would further bolster San Francisco’s front seven. The 49ers hit all three levels of the defense before the end of Day 2, drafting 6’3″ CB Witherspoon in round three. Beathard was a surprise third round pick to go with two former QBs from a dreadful 2016 Chicago team (Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley).

2. DT Malik McDowell
2. OT Ethan Pocic
3. CB Shaquill Griffin
3. SS Delano Hill
3. DT Nazair Jones
3. WR Amara Darboh
4. SS Tedric Thompson
6. FS Mike Tyson
6. OT Justin Senior
7. WR David Moore
7. RB Chris Carson
PFA: WR Darreus Rogers

 For the fourth time in five years, the Seattle Seahawks did not have a first round draft pick. But they did make six picks in rounds 2-3, tied with the most in franchise history (1976). Pocic is a critical selection as an offensive lineman going to a Seattle team that is notorious for their mixed results towards fielding a competent unit. Darboh joins WRs Paul Richardson (2014 second round), Tyler Lockett (2015 third round), and TE Nick Vannett (2016 third round) as Day 2 receivers selected by Seattle in the last four drafts. McDowell and Jones join the Seahawks defensive line one year after Seattle drafted DTs Jarran Reed (second round) and Quinton Jefferson (fifth round). Griffin, the highest drafted CB by Seattle since the team took CB Josh Wilson in the second round in 2007, may have a chance to start as a rookie. Hill may be SS Kam Chancellor’s heir apparent.

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