NFL Mock Draft: Picks 17-33+

njoku

We’re now less than a month away from the NFL Draft and hopefully you’re well into your rookie research.  I think doing a full 32 pick mock draft is a good, albeit time consuming, exercise for dynasty owners because it can help you identify the landing spots for the best offensive talent.  Hopefully, that offensive talent will feature prominently on your 2017 RSO team.  Below you will find the second half of the first round – to start at the top, click here (INSERT LINK)

#17 – Redskins – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

The Redskins had signed six defensive players in free agency by the time I wrote this piece so I don’t foresee them drafting defense in the first round.  I also don’t see them going for a WR because they have a fair amount invested in new signing Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first rounder Josh Doctson.  John Ross would be a good replacement for the departed Desean Jackson but I feel they’ll compare their WR and RB depth and go for Cook.  Cook did not perform well at the combine but his tape is spectacular, he could end up being a steal here if the tape doesn’t lie.

#18 – Titans – John Ross, WR, Washington

Ross comes with myriad injury concerns (both knees, shoulder) and they do worry me.  If it weren’t for them, his 40-yard dash at the combine alone would be enough to push him 6-8 spots higher in this draft.  Ross is a burner who would pair well with Tajae Sharp, Rishard Mathews and Delanie Walker to create a solid but under-the-radar receiving corps.

#19 – Buccaneers – David Njoku, TE, Miami

This was a surprise pick even to me, having Njoku go before OJ Howard, but I couldn’t talk myself out of it after I put pen to paper while doing my research.  The Bucs had Njoku in for a private workout and must have immediately realized the potential of having Njoku alongside Mike Evans in the red zone.  Howard is bigger and faster than Njoku, but Njoku can jump far higher (7.5″ higher vertical).  Njoku is young (just 20 years old, about 18 months younger than Howard) and started playing football later than most so he has room to grow, literally and figuratively.  Plus he grew up about 5 miles from where I live so maybe this is partly a “homer” pick.

#20 – Broncos – Garrett Boles, OT, Utah

The Broncos suffered a sack on 6.6% of drop backs which was the 8th worst in 2016.  Then they lost Russell Okung to the Chargers in free agency so they need a long term replacement.  I’m not sure that Boles ultimately is that franchise cornerstone LT, but at the least he will provide depth to a position of need.

#21 – Lions – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Ezekiel Ansah is the freakiest of athletes but he needs help so offenses cannot constantly double team and chip him.  In 2016 the Lions only had 26 sacks, second worst, and only 2 of those came from Ansah.  Barnett was a three year starter for the Vols who had at least 56 tackles and 9 sacks.  He would help put a pass rushing threat opposite Ansah so offenses couldn’t key on him so much.  The Lions have addressed their defensive line in the past two years, taking 3 DTs, so they may feel that taking another lineman is overkill but they definitely need it.

#22 – Dolphins – Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple

I really struggled to identify the biggest need for Miami.  Ultimately, I decided to go BPA for them and that was Reddick for me.  Reddick really upped his draft stock with an impressive 2016 totaling 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 INT.  He’s a stat sheet stuffer.  He did well at the combine, running the fastest 40-yard dash for a DE/OLB and was in the Top 12 for the other drills.

#23 – Giants – OJ Howard, TE, Alabama

As I mentioned above, I was surprised to have Howard fall this far after reading so much about him when doing my research.  I think the Giants would feel the same if they find him here at #23.  He is an amazing athlete for his size, no doubt.  He is 6’6 and 251lb and ran the second fastest 40-yard dash for a TE (4.51) and ran the best times in the 3 cone and shuttle.  My concern with Howard is that he is riding the wave from two massive performances on the national stage against Clemson in 2015 and 2016.  More than 18% of his career receiving yards came in those two games against Clemson.  What was even more surprising is that he only has 7 career TDs and 3 of those came against Clemson.  Don’t assume he must be a redshirt sophomore coming out early and just doesn’t have many games under his belt; he was a four year player who played in 46 career games.  When 2 of your 46 career games account for so much of your production, I have my eyebrows raised.  Those brief flashes of brilliance make Howard a 1st round pick at a position largely devoid of stars but I’m not going to be the guy reaching for him in my rookie draft.

#24 – Raiders – Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

There is a non-zero chance that Joe Mixon goes completely undrafted due to his off the field issues.  Even though NFL teams have black balled other violent offenders, I think they will be enticed by Mixon’s combination of size, speed and pass catching ability and give him a chance any way.  The Raiders are courting Marshawn Lynch currently, but if that falls through expect them to grab Mixon here to replace Latavius Murray.  Despite splitting touches with Samaje Perrine, Mixon still amassed over 1,800 total yards and 15 TDs last season.

#25 – Texans – Jabril Peppers, LB/CB/S, Michigan

The Texans lost 168 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 7 INTs this offseason when LB John Simon, CB AJ Bouye and S Quintin Demps departed.  What better way to replace all of that production than with a versatile and dynamic player like Peppers?  None of Peppers counting stats jump out (just 3 sacks and 1 INT, all coming in 2016) but there’s no denying how athletic he is.  When he first landed in Ann Arbor in 2014 he started at CB but lost most of the season to injury, in 2015 he moved to safety and in 2016 he mostly played LB (oh, and RB, KR and PR).  He does not have a defined role which could be a problem for some coaches but I believe Bill O’Brien, of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, would find ways to make use of him.  The Texans were fourth worst in yards per kick return last year, so Peppers could help there immediately.

#26 – Seahawks – Kevin King, CB, Washington

The Seahawks love tall CBs.  Seven of the eight currently on their roster are 6 foot or taller.  The tallest of the bunch is Richard Sherman and as you’ve heard he is on the trading block.  Sherman is 6’3″ and 195lb meanwhile, King is 6’3″ and 200lb – a near perfect match.  Seattle should try to trade Sherman before the draft because once they take King, it will be obvious to the rest of the NFL that they have no intention of holding Sherman and will lose some of their leverage.

#27 – Chiefs – Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

When researching the Chiefs, I found one writer on Draftek.com who went back and looked at decades of their draft history.  He found that the Chiefs have not taken a first round QB since 1983.  They haven’t even taken one in the second round since 1992.  I think the time has come in 2017.  I believe Pat Mahomes is the best combination of talent, potential and value in this draft class.  His mechanics need work, he rarely throws with his feet set, but his arm strength and awareness are evident when you watch his film.  If needed to start tomorrow, Trubisky and Watson would be better choices, but the Chiefs still have Alex Smith.  Smith is a good-enough QB who can give Mahomes the time he needs to improve and mature.

#28 – Cowboys – Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky

The Cowboys should go the same route they did in 2013, when they took C Travis Frederick, and make a surprise pick by taking the highest rated interior lineman.  The Cowboys definitely need DL help too but I think they will forego that need for now.  Lamp was a tackle predominantly in college but projects more as a guard in the pros.  The Cowboys invested heavily in their OL from 2011-2014 using three of their four first rounders on linemen.  With a young backfield of Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott to protect, there’s no reason to stop now.

#29 – Packers – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Ladarius Gunter was embarrassed by opposing offenses on multiple occasions last year so the team signed Davon House to try and stanch the bleeding.  House isn’t enough to vastly improve a passing defense that was in the bottom ten in most categories and was worst in passing yards per attempt.  Conley had 4 INTs last year and 8 passes defended which will definitely help.

#30 – Steelers – Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt

The Steelers have lost LBs Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones to free agency.  I was between Cunningham, Tak McKinley and Charles Harris for this pick.  I chose Cunningham because of his combine performance in the vertical and broad jumps which show his burst and lower body strength (even though they they beat him in the speed drills).  Cunningham is not a real threat to sack the QB (zero sacks in 2016), likely because of that lack of elite speed, but neither was Jarvis Jones (1 sack in 2016).  For me it’s all about Cunningham being a volume tackler (125, 10th most in the NCAA in 2016).

#31 – Falcons – TJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin

You can’t go wrong with a Watt, right?  Watt is the best combination of strength and speed in the pass rushers remaining at this point and will immediately help what was a bad defense in 2016.  Watt ran a better 3 cone and shuttle drill than highly touted athletes Dalvin Cook and Curtis Samuel.  In the Falcons 4-3 system, Watt will probably slot in at DE rather than OLB but he likely has the ability to play anywhere in the front seven if needed.  My only concern on Watt is the sample size.  He played minimally in 8 games as a sophomore in 2015 (just 7 tackles, 0 sacks) so all of the hype is based off his 63 tackle, 11.5 sack junior season and his combine performance.  At this point there are other pass rushers with a longer track record (McKinley, Harris) but Watt gets the nod because of the bloodline.

#32 – Saints – Obi Melinfonwu, S, UConn

Melinfonwu would be a luxury pick for the Saints here at #32.  I’m not sure they need him but if he doesn’t go in the first round, he’s somebody teams will target with a trade at the top of the second.  Melinfonwu has moved up draft boards after a stellar performance at the combine.  He ran the fastest 40-yard dash among safeties (4.40).  He had the highest vertical jump (44″).  He had the longest broad jump (141″, best by a huge 9″ gap).  If he ran the 3 cone and shuttle drills, I bet he would have dominated those too.  Not only is he a great athlete but he is a tackling machine (118 tackles in 2016, 18th best and one of the few safeties on the list) who also had 8 career INTs.  Not a bad addition to a passing defense that was third worst per attempt last year.

#33 and beyond

These are the players whom I believe teams will be targeting at the top of the second round.  With the break between the first and second rounds, it gives teams time to re-evaluate their board and see what highly rated players fell to a point that they just need to snap them up.  Based on projected rookie contracts by Sportrac.com, the difference in total contract value for the #32 and #33 picks is about $1.6mil.  For comparison, that’s about the same difference as the value between #24 and #32.  So, there is real value at the top of the second.  There’s an RSO lesson here too… If you do your homework and have your own “Big Board” you can package picks together to move up to 2.01 and grab a first round talent at a steep discount.

  • Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State – I really wanted to find a spot for McDowell but didn’t.  He’s a huge space eater (6’6″, 295lb).  He isn’t much of a pass rushing threat but who needs to be when you’re that big.
  • Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama – Robinson is the best of the rest of the poor OT class.  I originally figured he would go in the first before I started but the value on many of the defensive players was just much better.
  • DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre DameI am not a fan of Kizer but others are.  I believe he lacks awareness and good decision making on the field.  However, he is big and fast and somebody is bound to fall in love and try to grab him and hope they can fix him.
  • Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss – Engram is the fastest of a fast group of rookie TEs but he is also the smallest.  He is “just” 6’3″ and 234lb.  I would not be surprised to see him play more on the outside and essentially transition to WR similar to how Devin Funchess did when Michigan realized he didn’t really have the size to be a pro TE (Engram is bigger though so it’s probably not going to be an official change).  Size wise, he is about the same as Jordan Reed but Engram ran a much quicker 40-yard dash (4.42 vs 4.72).  If you told a coach he could have a faster Jordan Reed without the long injury history they would jump at that.
  • Nate Peterman, QB, Pitt – Mel Kiper believes that the Texans might be interested in Peterman.  He’s brought it up on the First Draft podcast and worked it into his most recent mock draft.  I’m thinking there may be something he’s been told by a team official but he can’t just admit that.  No way should they take him in the first, but I think they could make a move up to pick #40 or so and grab him then.  With Romo retiring and Osweiler shipped to Cleveland, the Texans are left with Tom Savage.  As a Rutgers season ticket holder, I have first hand experience of what happens when you rely on Tom Savage.

**Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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