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2017 NFL mock draft: Assessing team needs at mid-season mark

Scott Carasik
Written by Scott Carasik

Here we are at the NFL’s mid-season mark, and a good portion of the league is all looking ahead to the NFL free agency period and the draft itself. For this reason, we’re looking ahead as well with our first 2017 NFL mock draft of the season.

There are quite a few talented players in the 2017 class, but some positions will be weak on talent. However, the focus here is on what teams might be looking for come the draft.

Each team is going to have a couple of needs listed because no team is perfect. There are issues on every squad that could prevent a playoff run for any team. Check out what your team does in this mock draft.

1. Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Clemson

Team Needs: QB, OL, DL, LB

The Browns have issues all along the offensive line and at the quarterback spot on offense while they need front seven help on defense. The best player in the draft for the Browns is easily DeShaun Watson out of Clemson. Assuming Cleveland keeps Joe Thomas while also fixing its offensive line, the team would have a great situation for a rookie franchise quarterback.

The Browns have some talented receivers in Terrelle Pryor, Gary Barnidge and Corey Coleman as well as a decent enough run game in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson to build some success. They just need the right quarterback to tie it all together. Cleveland needs to finally put it all together with the right quarterback, and Watson is that guy.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Garrett, edge defender, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett

Team Needs: QB, WR, EDGE, LB

While the 49ers are in sore need of a quarterback, they could find that they don’t like any of these quarterbacks this year in the first round and go after someone like Geno Smith, Kirk Cousins or Jay Cutler in free agency to hold them over for a season. So they go with the best player in the draft here who also happens to be a good fit for their pass-rushing need.

And while he doesn’t come off as an ideal fit in a 3-4 defense, the 49ers don’t tend to play their strong-side linebacker in blitz sets anyway and could get away with switching their defense from a 3-4 to an off-balance 4-3 similar to what the Seahawks, Falcons and Raiders run. Arik Armstead would play under tackle and Buckner would be the ideal strong-side end while Garrett plays LEO.

3. Chicago Bears: DeShone Kizer, quarterback, Notre Dame

Team Needs: QB, WR, LT, S

The Bears are in a horrible situation with their quarterbacks this year. It’s not Cleveland Browns bad, but it’s not too far off either. DeShone Kizer comes off as the perfect kind of quarterback for a Dowell Logains system and can hit guys like Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery—if he’s retained—on deep routes.

Chicago also needs to get a good blind-side protector for whoever it’s new quarterback is. On top of that, it could always use a solid safety on defense or a receiver to potentially replace Jeffery should the veteran Pro Bowl talent leave.

4. Carolina Panthers: Jabrill Peppers, safety, Michigan

Team Needs: LT, EDGE, CB, S

After losing multiple cornerbacks in Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere over the offseason and early part of the regular season, the Panthers might look at one here. They could also look at an edge defender to play defensive end for them as their pass rush isn’t great and Charles Johnson’s contract expires at the end of the season.

2017 NFL mock draft, Jabrill PeppersTheir biggest need could be considered left tackle after a disappointing start to the season by Michael Oher. But their secondary really just needs some playmakers. While they have a deep safety in Kurt Coleman, they need a guy at strong safety who can also play quarters in their very conservative scheme. Jabrill Peppers is a playmaker who can also play within the scheme and be effective.

5. New York Jets: Jalen Tabor, cornerback, Florida

Team Needs: TE, OL, EDGE, CB

The Jets have been somewhat of an embarrassment at quarterback this year, but they seem to think they have their long term answer in Christian Hackenberg. So instead of worrying about that, they need to look into a full-time starting tight end, a way to protect their quarterback, a way to improve their pass rush and a way to improve their coverage.

Jalen Tabor makes a ton of sense here because of just how bad Darrelle Revis has been this year. They need to find a way to replace him with someone who can run with wide receivers and create turnovers for the defense. Tabor is the best at both of these in the draft and is very similar to last year’s top-10 pick out of Florida in Vernon Hargreaves.

6. New Orleans Saints: Marlon Humphrey, cornerback, Alabama

Team Needs: TE, OL, CB, S

The Saints’ defense has been awful this year. And their cornerback situation isn’t helping. Sure, they have quite a few guys on injured reserve, but their guys aren’t that talented in the first place. On top of that, the Saints could use a safety since Jairus Byrd has been a big bust as a free agent and Kenny Vaccaro has been a busted draft pick.

The Saints should take Alabama’s top cornerback here because he’d be the ideal fit for a No. 1 cornerback in their scheme. There are definitely other options they could look into, but they would be remiss if they didn’t fix their cornerback situation heading into the 2017 season.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cam Robinson, offensive tackle, Alabama

Team Needs: LT, OG, CB, S

Blake Bortles has taken a step back as the Jaguars’ quarterback in 2016. How much of that is because they have very little talent on the line and how much of that is because of Bortles’s own incompetence? Bortles would likely be better if the Jaguars had a better offensive line—specifically at left tackle.

Cam Robinson is the only first-round talent as an offensive lineman in this year’s draft. However, he’s one heck of a talent and can be that franchise left tackle that the Jaguars have needed. They would also be wise to try and re-sign Luke Joeckel for their starting left guard role, because he was starting to finally figure a niche in the NFL out there when he was healthy.

8. Miami Dolphins: Reuben Foster, linebacker, Alabama

Team Needs: TE, OL, LB, S

Miami has issues with its tight ends, as neither of the team’s current starters will be under contract in 2017. The Dolphins could also use a safety to complement Reshad Jones in the back of the defense and another offensive lineman to team with Laremy Tunsil on the left side. However, linebacker is probably their biggest need.

The Dolphins don’t really have any linebackers under contract for 2017 right now. While they likely should re-sign Kiko Alonso to play weak-side linebacker, they need a true middle linebacker to run their defense and make plays all over the field. Rueuben Foster is the best linebacker in the draft and will be an instant starter for the Dolphins.

9. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles): Juju Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, Southern Cal

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Team Needs: WR, OG, CB, S

The Titans have a pair of picks here because of last season’s trade with the Los Angeles Rams. They have some key needs that need to be addressed along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary. And while guard and safety are issues, the biggest needs for the Titans are at wide receiver and a playmaking cornerback across from Jason McCourty.

Juju Smith-Schuster is the kind of playmaker that Marcus Mariota can be successful with. He runs great routes and has speed to attack teams for days. Even if he comes in smaller than his listed 6’2″, 220 pounds, the Trojans receiver can be a true No. 1 for the Titans to take their offense to the next level.

10. Tennessee Titans: Desmond King, cornerback, Iowa

Team Needs: WR, OG, CB, S

Desmond King may not be the flashiest cornerback in the upcoming draft, but he should be the perfect complement across from McCourty in the Titans defense. King is an All-American caliber cornerback who could wind up even going higher than this when all is said and done.

11. Baltimore Ravens: Tim Williams, edge defender, Alabama

Team Needs: RB, WR, EDGE, CB

The Ravens have some big needs on their team. They don’t have any experienced wide receivers under contract in 2017 and could use a primary running back to carry the load on offense. On defense, they could use another corner to help in coverage, but they could use someone for their pass rush.

Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are starting to get up there in age and could use a guy to rotate in with them now who has the potential to replace one of them later on. Tim Williams is the perfect pass rusher to learn from these two. He’s very similar to the both of them and could provide a similar impact to what they have done for the Ravens for years.

12. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Allen, defensive lineman, Alabama

Jonathan Allen, Trevor Knight

Team Needs: OT, DL, EDGE, CB

The San Diego Chargers are much better than their record would indicate. They could definitely use a right tackle who can assist in pass protection, a pass rusher off the edge if they lose Melvin Ingram in free agency and some cornerback depth behind Jason Verrett. However, they can’t pass on Jonathan Allen’s talent here.

While they just took Joey Bosa in the 2016 NFL Draft (and he”s doing well), adding Jonathan Allen to their defensive line for nickel packages as a 3-technique and using him as an unbalanced end in their base packages could be their best option here. Allen is a top-5 talent in this draft. But it was tough to find the right fit for him, so he slipped here.

13. Cincinnati Bengals: Malik McDowell, defensive lineman, Michigan State

Team Needs: TE, OL, DL, EDGE

The Bengals don’t have a ton of needs. Another tight end to help out with the offense for when Tyler Eifert is out and to give Andy Dalton another option wouldn’t hurt. Some offensive line help to keep Dalton upright is definitely needed. But the big thing that the Bengals need is more help in the pass rush.

Malik McDowell is an interesting pick because he basically provides the team with another Geno Atkins. However, because he can play any technique, from the 3-technique to a 7-technique, the Bengals could use McDowell at both defensive end and defensive tackle depending on the package to add depth all over the line.

14. Indianapolis Colts: Leonard Fournette, running back, Louisiana State

Team Needs: RB, OL, DL, EDGE

Yes, the Indianapolis Colts have needs along the offensive line and in their defensive front seven that have to be addressed. However, the Colts have a running back that needs to be replaced after this season in Frank Gore. Gore is aging and his contract expires at the end of the season.

Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette is, by far, the best running back in the draft. He could wind up being the best thing to ever happen to the Colts with Andrew Luck at quarterback. Fournette could give the Colts a running game that would alleviate the pressure on Luck’s shoulders to constantly make plays. He would also allow the offensive line to grind down defenses with run blocking, so they can’t just pin their ears back.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Williams, wide receiver, Clemson

Team Needs: WR, TE, DL, S

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have issues at tight end — where only Cameron Brate is worth keeping. They also have issues along the defensive line and desperately need some pass rushers to help the pass defense out. They could also use an upgrade over Chris Conte at safety since he’s mediocre at best, but the biggest need is at wide receiver across from Mike Evans.

Vincent Jackson’s contract expires at the end of this season. Mike Williams is a perfect fit for the offense that Dirk Koetter runs that is based out of the four verticals concepts. Williams has the speed, size and catching radius that would make him a great fit across from Evans. Adding him would help Jameis Winston develop into an even better quarterback.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, North Carolina

Team Needs: QB, OL, DL, LB

A linebacker could really help the Cardinals’ defense get to the next level. While the Cardinals could definitely use some help upgrading their porous offensive line or adding someone to the defensive line to team with and/or replace Calais Campbell, they should look into a quarterback.

Mitch Trubisky has been extremely impressive for the Tar Heels this season and could wind up in the conversation for the No. 1 pick by the end of the season. The quarterback is a good fit for head coach Bruce Arians’ scheme and would be in a great spot to learn from Carson Palmer while the veteran’s career winds down.

17. Buffalo Bills: Jamal Adams, safety, Louisiana State

Team Needs: WR, OG, EDGE, S

The Bills have a talented No. 1 wide receiver in Sammy Watkins, but he’s injury prone. They could also be losing their depth receivers, Justin Hunter, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin this offseason due to contract expiration. They also could use a starting left guard for the long term with Richie Incognito getting older.

On top of that, they could use another pass rusher should they lose Lorenzo Alexander and if Shaq Lawson doesn’t turn into what they think he can be. But the biggest need for Rex Ryan’s defense is a free safety like Jamal Adams who can roam around the defense and make plays everywhere.

18. Washington NFL Team: Brad Kaaya, quarterback, Miami

Brad Kaaya

Team Needs: QB, WR, DL, LB

The Washington team is losing DeSean Jackson to a contract expiration and could also use some help in the middle of their defensive front seven. However, the biggest need they have is at quarterback with Kirk Cousins not just stinking up the place but having his contract expire as well.

Washington needs a franchise quarterback that fits in well with the offense. Miami’s Brad Kaaya is a great fit for the scheme. He has taken some strides under Mark Richt as a junior but could really have his career take off in the west coast-style offense that Jay Gruden runs.

19. Detroit Lions: Zach Cunningham, linebacker, Vanderbilt

Team Needs: WR, OT, LB, CB

The Lions have issues along their offensive line but could really use another tackle to help keep Matt Stafford upright and potentially replace Riley Reiff if he leaves in the offseason. Another cornerback who fits in with the defense would help out a ton too. A wide receiver wouldn’t if they lose a couple of their expiring contracts to other teams this offseason.

The Lions’ linebackers situation is pretty terrible. Not only do they lack talent at the position, but they also have quite a few expiring contracts at the end of the 2016 season. Bringing in Zach Cunningham to lead the defense as the middle linebacker would be the best move the Lions could make this offseason. He’d be an instant upgrade for them to start.

20. New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk, offensive tackle, Wisconsin

Team Needs: TE, LT, EDGE, LB

The Giants need to find some more pressure off the edge on defense. But on top of that, they need to find some linebackers who can actually help their defense. Larry Donnell is a solid tight end, but they could use an overall upgrade over him. Most importantly, however, the Giants need to really replace Ereck Flowers on their starting line because he’s atrocious.

Ryan Ramczyk is a very unique tackle out of Wisconsin who can start right away at left tackle in the NFL. He may never be a Pro Bowl caliber player at the position, but he can be someone who holds up well long term on the blind side to help his quarterback find more time in the pocket.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dalvin Cook, running back, Florida State

Dalvin Cook

Team Needs: RB, LT, EDGE, CB

Sure, the Steelers could use a better left tackle, some pass rushers and a good cornerback. However, Le’Veon Bell’s contract is running out after the season. Furthermore, the Steelers could be done with him following consistent failures regarding the substance abuse policy and injury situations and could let him walk.

Dalvin Cook is arguably the best all-around running back in the draft and has the perfect style to fit into Pittsburgh. Cook’s a potential Heisman candidate this year due to his ability to make people miss with both speed and power. Cook has potential to be just as good as Bell, and maybe even better.

22. Atlanta Falcons: Derrick Barnett, edge defender, Tennessee

Team Needs: TE, DL, EDGE, FS

The Atlanta Falcons have been getting sub-par play from Brooks Reed through the first 23 games of his contract and could be losing Dwight Freeney to either retirement or another team in the offseason. Because of that, they need a pure pass rusher to team with NFC-leading sack artist Vic Beasley.

Derrick Barnett is a good pass rusher who can play well versus the run and creates a ton of pressure off the edge. Barnett is an ideal fit for the LEO role in Dan Quinn’s defense. He can play a weak-side defensive end role in the base packages while playing right defensive end in the nickel effectively.

23. Houston Texans: Dan Feeney, offensive guard, Indiana

Team Needs: OL, DL, LB, S

The Texans need help along their defensive line and at linebacker because of how Vince Wilfork and Brian Cushing are aging. However, they don’t need to take anyone this early for the spot. They could also use a talented safety to assist in the secondary.

However, the biggest need for the Texans comes on the offensive line. Xavier Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen have been solid, but a true zone-blocking workhorse up front like Dan Feeney would be a great addition to the Texans. Feeney is an average run blocker, but as a pass protector, he might be the best in the draft. He could severely upgrade the right guard role for the Texans.

24. Kansas City Chiefs: Marquis Haynes, edge defender, Ole Miss

Team Needs: OL, DL, EDGE, S

The Chiefs have talent on their defensive line and at linebacker, but they could really use someone to rotate in with their combination of Tamba Hali, Dee Ford and All-Pro Justin Houston. Hali isn’t the ideal long-term starter at outside linebacker due to age but would be worth keeping to teach the new draft pick.

Marquis Haynes out of Mississippi is a great fit for the Chiefs scheme. He needs to bulk up his smaller frame before he really gets a chance to see a ton of playing time. The long-term rotation of Ford, Haynes and Houston could be harassing quarterbacks in the AFC West for years.

25. Green Bay Packers: Christian McCaffrey, running back, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey Stanford

Team Needs: RB, TE, OG, EDGE 

The Packers have had some issues replacing Josh Sitton early in the season after cutting him. They could also use some more talent from the tight end position. On top of that, they could also use a pass rusher if they wind up losing Nick Perry and Datone Jones to free agency this coming offseason.

However, the biggest need they have will come at running back. Eddie Lacy and James Starks are shells of what they once were. Adding a star back who can catch as well as he can run would be a boon for this offense.

26. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia): Vita Vea, defensive lineman, Washington

Team Needs: QB, OL, DL, LB

As seen with their previous pick, the Browns can get a top quarterback at No. 1 overall and should be able to find something else in the later pick. They can get a linebacker to team with Christian Kirksey and potentially upgrade DeMario Davis or they can improve their sieve of an offensive line.

However, the best pick for the Browns here might just be right up front. Bringing in someone who can play any technique from 0-technique through 5-technique would be ideal. Vita Vea might be able to just do that, teaming with his fellow Husky, Danny Shelton.

27. Oakland Raiders: Sidney Jones, cornerback, Washington

Team Needs: RB, RT, LB, CB

The Oakland Raiders could use upgrades at running back and right tackle on offense. They could also use another good linebacker on defense to start at middle linebacker for them long term. However, the biggest need for the Raiders is a true No. 1 cornerback.

Sidney JonesSidney Jones comes from the line of Washington corners that provided the NFL with Marcus Peters, Marcus Trufant and Desmond Trufant. Jones would be the best fit for the cover-3 scheme that the Raiders run under Ken Norton, Jr. He’s got a unique ability to match up with any receiver and play efficiently.

28. Denver Broncos: O.J. Howard, tight end, Alabama

Team Needs: TE, LT, DL, EDGE

Russell Okung has been a mediocre left tackle for the Broncos and could be upgraded this offseason. They could also use someone to effectively replace Malik Jackson on the defensive line. They could also use someone to potentially replace DeMarcus Ware if Ware leaves after the end of the season.

Even though the Broncos just traded for A.J. Derby, they could really use a playmaking tight end to help their young quarterbacks take that next step. O.J. Howard out of Alabama is the best tight end in the draft and could really open up the passing game for the Broncos. He’s also a good blocker and would be able to adjust to a pure zone scheme easily.

29. Seattle Seahawks: Lowell Lotulelei, defensive lineman, Utah

Team Needs: LT, OL, DL, CB

The Seahawks need at least three starting offensive linemen, including a franchise left tackle and some talented guards to go with it. They could use someone up front at defensive tackle to join with Jarran Reed long term to harass quarterbacks and help stuff the run. They could also use someone to compete with Jeremy Lane at right cornerback for the starting role.

Lowell Lotulelei is the little brother of Star Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers. He’s an ideal fit for a 1-technique nose tackle in Kris Richard’s scheme in Seattle. Lowell can come in and eat up double teams early on in his career while learning the fine art of pass rushing as he continues on.

30. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota): Adoree’ Jackson, cornerback, Southern Cal

Team Needs: WR, OL, DL, CB

The Eagles have some needs, despite winning a lot of games early this season. They could go through wholesale additions to their offensive line and defensive line for long-term depth and future starters. They could also use a true No. 1 wide receiver that would be able to help the offense take that next step with a young quarterback.

However, the biggest need in Philadelphia is a No. 1 cornerback. Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin are both solid NFL players, but neither one of them can match up with the best of the best that the NFL has to offer. Jackson has the potential to turn into that kind of cornerback who can do that.

31. Dallas Cowboys: Carl Lawson, edge defender, Auburn

Carl Lawson

Team Needs: WR, DL, EDGE, CB

Terrance Williams’ contract ends after this season, and the Cowboys could be better off letting him walk than re-signing him. They could also use someone on the interior of their defensive line who can help stuff the run and get after the passer. On top of that, they need a good cornerback to replace either Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr.

But the biggest need for the Cowboys is a pure pass rusher off the edge. Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are talented, but they have the bad habit of violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. Carl Lawson would be a good fit as a rotational defensive end for the Cowboys his first season and could turn into their premier pass rusher after that.

32. New England Patriots: Jarrad Davis, linebacker, Florida

Team Needs: RB, WR, EDGE, LB

The Patriots are the best team in the NFL. And it’s not even really close right now. However, there are some spots that they could improve upon. At running back, James White and LeGarrette Blount are good, but one player who can do it all would be better. They could also use a No. 1 wide receiver and a premiere pass rusher.

The biggest need on the Patriots is easily at linebacker though. Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are the only linebackers under contract for the Patriots now. Jarrad Davis would instantly start at middle linebacker for the Patriots should they lose Collins and/or Hightower in the offseason.

Teams without first round picks

Los Angeles Rams

Team Needs: WR, OL, EDGE, LB

The Rams traded their first round pick to the Titans as part of their trade for Jared Goff. Hopefully, Goff starts before the end of the season. The Rams need to give him some help before next season, though. They could really use a No. 1 wide receiver and an offensive line to protect him. On the other side of the ball, a complementary pass rusher and a third linebacker would be helpful.

Minnesota Vikings

Team Needs: RB, LT, RT, LB

When Phil Loadholt retired and Andre Smith and Matt Kalil went down with injuries, the Vikings’ offensive line went down hard. They could really use some depth along the offensive line at a minimum, and selecting a top-level left tackle starter couldn’t hurt. This might be the worst draft to need line help though. A running back to replace Adrian Peterson wouldn’t hurt either.

About the author

Scott Carasik

Scott Carasik

Scott Carasik is an analyst for SportsNaut. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, college football, the NFL, the NFL draft, the UFC and WWE. Follow him on Twitter @CarasikS.