Here we are. The first round of the 2017 NFL Draft has drawn to a conclusion. There were some major surprises along the way, especially at both quarterback and wide receiver. All said, six players at those two positions were selected within the first 12 picks.
Among the most-active teams in the first round, both the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers ended Thursday’s action building up what were two of the most talent-stricken rosters in the NFL. In the process, each of these bottom feeders also added future draft assets in trades.
Then, we have the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs trading up for potential franchise quarterbacks. Did they exhaust too much in terms of capital in making these trades? Only time will tell there, but at least neither team stood back and let the first round play out without addressing a huge need.
These are among the top-10 takeaways for the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Browns make the right decisions
The obvious pick at No. 1 overall had to be Myles Garrett. He was considered the consensus top player in the entire draft and is a generational type talent on the defensive side of the ball.
We know that there were rumors leading up to the draft that a split existed within the Browns’ organization over whether to take Garrett or North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It obviously wasn’t as serious as reports seemed to indicate.
In reality, Cleveland made the right decision here. Sure it needs a franchise quarterback, but reaching for a signal caller at the top of the draft with Garrett on the board would have been a bit absurd. General manager Sashi Brown and Co. knew that full well. And after weeks of smokescreens, that’s apparently what the consensus was within the organization.
The Browns can now team Garrett up with 2016 second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah to form a tremendous pass-rush tandem against the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco in the AFC North. That’s what we would call drafting to go up against your competition.
Then, with their second pick on Thursday night, they took advantage of what was a fluid situation at quarterback. After both Trubisky and Pat Mahomes went off the board in the top 10, Cleveland took advantage of the Houston Texans’ desperation by trading down to the end of the first round while picking up Houston’s first-round selection next year.
By virtue of the Brock Osweiler trade back in March, Cleveland now holds both of the Texans’ top-two picks next season In fact, Sashi Brown and Co. have five picks in the first two rounds. This is team building in it truest form.
Not to be outdone here, Cleveland was still able to land linebacker/safety Jabrill Peppers with the first-round pick it acquired from Houston the aforementioned deal. That’s what we would call doing everything possible to rebuild a long downtrodden roster. Peppers is seen as a tweener and there’s no telling where he might play in Cleveland’s system. A diluted drug test at this year’s combine also seemingly dropped him down a notch. Even then, the Browns need to find talent wherever they can get it. Peppers is among the most physically-gifted athletes in the draft.
If that weren’t enough, Cleveland traded back into the first round from the 33rd pick for its third selection of Thursday night. With that pick, the Browns ultimately decided on an extremely talented tight end prospect in the form of David Njoku from Miami (F). He’s one of those pass-catching tight ends that could create some major issues both inline at the line of scrimmage and in the slot. It’s a tremendous fit for what the Browns like to do on offense.
Buccaneers get Jameis Winston another target
DeSean Jackson wasn’t enough for the Buccaneers. They had to go out there in the first round on Thursday night and add another top-end receiving option. It came in the form of tight end O.J. Howard. The former Alabama standout is the best pure pass catcher in the draft.
At 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Howard will give Winston another elite-level receiving option to work with in the red zone. He will also take pressure of Mike Evans and the aforementioned Jackson on the outside.
While Tampa Bay still needs to address the running back position, there’s a ton of talent left at that position heading into Day 2 of the draft. In reality, Tampa got a top-five talent with the 19th pick. That’s hard to do, especially when looking at a need position.
49ers collect capital to rebuild
First-year general manager John Lynch and the 49ers were not going to take Mitch Trubisky No. 2 overall. Lynch had already indicated that rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense wasn’t meant for a rookie quarterback. So when reports surfaced that the team was indeed looking at the North Carolina quarterback, it had to be taken with a grain of salt.
In no way did this mean that Trubisky himself wouldn’t be taken second overall. It was just that the 49ers, who had been “desperate” to trade down, wasn’t the team that was going to make this selection. This gave Lynch and Co. a ton of leverage.
It’s in this that the 49ers were able to pick up a third and fourth-round pick this year and a third-round pick in 2018 to move down just one spot. With that pick, San Francisco selected a player in Solomon Thomas that it had been targeting all along. That’s called playing the rest of the NFL like a fiddle.
Surely we can question the Chicago Bears’ decision to exhaust that much capital in order to pick up Mitch Trubisky. Who wouldn’t? But this is more about Lynch, in his first year as a NFL general manager, doing what he needed to do in order to help rebuild a talent-stricken roster.
Thomas now joins a defensive line that includes former first-round picks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. It has a chance to be one of the most dominating units in the entire NFL. And with all three other teams in the NFC West struggling from a pass-protection standpoint, this could make the 49ers competitive rather early in the Lynch-Shanahan era.
As with the Browns, San Francisco was nowhere near done here. It used that additional fourth-round pick the team acquired from Chicago to move up from the top of the second round to 31st overall. With that selection, Lynch and Co, nabbed former Alabama linebacker Reuben Roster. Here’s a top-five overall prospect that saw his stock tumble after an incident at the NFL Scouting Combine and a diluted drug test during the same event.
But make no mistake about it, Foster is among the top-three defenders in the entire draft. This means that Lynch was able to pick up two elite defensive players to help rebuild one of the most talent-stricken units in football. Amazing.
Chiefs exhaust huge bounty for quarterback of the future
The Kansas City Chiefs have already committed to Alex Smith for next season. That’s probably a good thing considering the guy they traded up for is nowhere near ready to take the field as an NFL starter. Kansas City yielded a third-round pick this year and its first-round pick next year to move up from 27th to the Buffalo Bills’ original 10th pick. It did so in order to acquire fast riser Pat Mahomes out of Texas Tech.
While Mahomes boasts a ton of upside, he’s not yet equipped to take an NFL field as a starter. This is a clear indication that Kansas City is looking more to the future than attempting to contend in 2017. If it were serious about a championship run under Smith, the team would have taken an immediate impact performer. No matter how good Mahomes might be down the road, he’s not that.
We can’t really doubt Andy Reid when it comes to quarterback evaluation. Here’s a guy that helped lead Philadelphia to the Super Bowl with Donovan McNabb. He then traded for Smith following the 2012 season, only to earn playoff spots in three of the next four years.
The issue here is that Kansas City gave up its first-round pick next year for Mahomes. That’s a longer-term strategy than one would think the team might take with what has to be considered a veteran roster.
Oakland Raiders shock the football world
The Raiders have continued to preach about accountability and character since Reggie McKenzie started running the ship as the team’s general manager a few years back. It’s something that owner Mark Davis has also made sure to focus on in recent drafts. So it was an utter shock that the Raiders went out there and added former Ohio State running back Gareon Conley.
Here’s a guy that was just recently accused of sexual assault. And while he has not been charged with a crime, it’s an ongoing situation that teams surely had to take into account so close to the draft.
On the field, Oakland is getting a high-end impact player that has Pro Bowl talent. Conley has the ability to start out of the gate and fills a major hole for the team. But with his off-field situation unsettled, this was a major risk for the Raiders to take.
Run of wide receivers makes absolute no sense
This was considered one of the weakest drafts at wide receiver in some time. There were major concerns over Mike Williams’ ability to create separation at the line, an issue that will surely follow him to the NFL level. Former Western Michigan standout Corey Davis performed well against lesser competition in college, but how would that translate to the professional ranks?
Meanwhile, there were numerous reports leading up to the draft that former Washington standout John Ross’ injury issues would force him out of the first round altogether. All three ended up going within the top 10. This is a clear indication that the pass-first NFL has forced teams to value receivers more than in the past.
It started with the Tennessee Titans nabbing Davis fifth overall. At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Davis provides Marcus Mariota with the big-bodied target he’s been missing in the outside. He also boasts a catch radius and dominating physical ability that made opponents look silly in college.
“Man, he breaks them off with those routes,” an NFL scout said in the lead up to the draft, via NFL.com. “It wasn’t even fair the way he did those corners in that conference. A man among boys.”
Then, with the seventh overall pick, the Los Angeles Chargers doubled down at wide receiver. Already flush with the likes of Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin on the roster, Los Angeles added Mike Williams from Clemson. Yet another big body at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Williams should act as a solid possession receiver for Philip Rivers in the twilight of the quarterback’s career.
It was, however, the Cincinnati Bengals’ decision to pick up John Ross No. 9 overall that sent shockwaves throughout the NFL. As we noted above, there were major concerns over his ability to hold up in the NFL leading up to the draft. The idea here was to give Andy Dalton a legitimate down-field threat to go with A.J. Green. Whether that happens will depend heavily on whether Ross can remain healthy.
All said, it was pretty darn surprising to see three receivers go within the top-nine picks of the draft Thursday night. But it’s the clearest indication to date that this position is being valued at an alarmingly high clip.
Texans going for the right now
There’s very little doubt that the Houston Texans boasted a championship-caliber roster this past season. Even with former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt sidelined for all but three games, Houston finished the season as AFC South champs while fielding a top-10 defense.
The issue here was at quarterback, where free-agent bust Brock Osweiler absolutely bombed out in his first and only season with the Texans. It got so bad that Houston benched Osweiler in favor of Tom Savage before ultimately having to turn back to him when Savage was injured.
This led to Osweiler stinking up the joint in an otherwise competitive playoff game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. It also led to the Texans pretty much selling Osweiler to Cleveland for a second-round pick once free agency going going last month.
Interestingly enough, Houston and Cleveland were right back at it Thursday. The Browns sent their second first-round pick (12th) overall to Houston for its first-round pick (25th overall) and a first-round pick in next year’s draft. In the process, Houston picked up the first real franchise quarterback in the short history of the team.
Deshaun Watson might not have the ceiling of a Pat Mahomes or Mitch Trubisky, but he has the highest floor of any quarterback taken in each of the past three drafts. A three-year starter at Clemson, Watson’s college resume speaks for itself. He’s a Day 1 starter with the intangibles to perform up to the level we saw from Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys last season.
“Tremendous leader and winner. Good pocket posture with quiet upper body. Good pocket mobility and doesn’t show much panic when pocket gets noisy,” NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein opined about Watson in the lead up to the draft. “Sacked just 32 times over his last 1,181 drop-backs. Willing to stand in and deliver the ball against rib-wreckers on a clear path for him. Has history of clutch play in big games and big moments.”
That’s the type of quarterback that can surely win early in his NFL career. And in reality, this is something Watson himself has mentioned recently. He vies himself as a winner. He has the experience. He has the leadership skills. And for the Texans, that was more than enough for them to exhaust a huge capital for his services.
Teams address secondary needs in a big way
Leave it to the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts to locate issues on defense and fix them immediately. These have been among three of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to evaluating draft talent. All three knocked it out of the park in a big way.
It started with the Jets at No. 6 overall when they added all-everything LSU safety Jamal Adams. Depending on who you ask, Adams was the best defensive back in the class. He can play both single-high safety and strong safety. Heck, Adams has the ability to go up against receivers one-on-one in the slot. He’s a sure bet, and a true Day 1 starter for a Jets team that simply needs to find young talent on both sides of the ball.
Then, at No. 11, the Saints picked up a true shutdown corner that they have been missing over the better part of the past decade. Marshon Lattimore might have only one year of high-level college starting experience, but he’s a physical freak that is not afraid to get in the receiver’s face at the line.
Couple that with great ball-tracking skills, and we’re talking about a potential Pro Bowler out of the gate. New Orleans needed this big time after finishing in the bottom two in the NFL against he pass each of the past two seasons.
What amazes us the most here is that Indianapolis was able to nab a safety in Malik Hooker, who many had pegged in the top five, with the 15th pick. Hooker’s coverage ability in the back end of the defense has been compared to Earl Thomas. If you know just how elite Thomas is from this perspective in Seattle, that says a whole heck of a lot.
It was also a pleasant turnabout for a Colts organization that has been disastrous drafting on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. Major props to first-year general manager Chris Ballard for getting a steal at a position of need midway through the first.
Dynamic backfield in Carolina
When the Panthers picked up former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey No. 9 overall Thursday, it wasn’t necessarily too big of a surprise. Carolina had been bandied about as a landing spot for either McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette.
Still, it enabled us to come to the realization that McCaffrey — one of the most-dynamic backs to come down the pike in some time — will now be teaming up with Cam Newton in the Panthers’ backfield. That has to be a scary proposition for opposing NFC South teams.
More than this, McCaffrey brings elite-level receiving and return ability to the Panthers. That’s what made him such a high-value target for teams around the NFL. He can be a game-changer in three different aspects of the game. Not many running backs in today’s NFL can say that.
Top talent still available
It was a bit surprising to see former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook still on the board as the first round wrapped up Thursday night. Considered by most to be the third-best running back in the class, it seemed likely he would hear his name called. This was only magnified when both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey went within the top 10. But here we are preparing for the second round, and the ultra-talented Cook remains on the board.
Among other players, we’re also a bit surprised that Alabama product Cam Robinson still finds himself on the board. A former All-American with the Crimson Tide, Robinson was a projected top-20 pick heading into the draft. Instead, he saw two offensive tackles taken before him. Heck, who is to say Robinson will be the first offensive linemen off the board come Friday afternoon? After, all the top-rated guard in the draft, Forrest Lamp, is also still available.
We see it every year. Players that seemed to be locks falling out of the first round. In this case, there’s still a ton of elite-level talent remaining on the board. That doesn’t even take into account quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb, both of whom were bandied about as potential first-round picks heading into Thursday.