2018 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

This offseason has been nothing short of chaotic. I like to wait until free agency has kicked off before revealing my first mock draft of the season. Good thing I did, because things have radically changed. Lets just look at the draft order first.

Two massive trades have completely shaken things up. The Buffalo Bills jumped into the Top 15 with a swap deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, then the New York Jets jumped up into the Top 3 to presumably land their future franchise quarterback.

That’s just for offseason moves affecting the draft. Through free agency we’ve seen the Seattle Seahawks completely blow up the Legion of Boom, the Vikings let three starting quarterbacks leave and gave another quarterback a fully guaranteed contract — the first of it’s kind.

Now after all that, lets try and sort things out in regards to their effects on April 26th. Here’s our first voyage into mock draft season…

1.) Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Browns are in the driver’s seat (we’ll get into that more at No. 4). But to kickoff the draft the Browns get their choice of quarterback. There’s still a ways to go, but it seems that this is Darnold’s spot to lose.

2.) New York Giants: Saquan Barkley, RB, Penn St.
This is an early turning point in the draft. Given what the Giants have done so far in the offseason (signing Nate Solder and trading for Alex Ogletree) it looks like the team is looking to make one last Super Bowl run with Eli Manning. But with a rare Top Five pick, the organization has an opportunity to land another franchise quarterback to succeed Manning. At this moment, I see them continuing to build a team to win now.

3.) New York Jets: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Jets bundled a bevy of second-round picks to move up just three spots. That is a clear sign they are looking to draft a quarterback. For this mock draft I see them landing Rosen.

4.) Cleveland Browns: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
This is where the Browns are really in the driver’s seat. If two quarterbacks are off the board by the fourth pick, the Browns can expect a lot of phone calls from teams looking to trade up. Why? The Broncos are hunting for a franchise quarterback as well, which means the Browns can request a very rich trade package from teams looking to jump ahead of Denver. I don’t project trades in mock drafts, so if the Browns stay I think Fitzpatrick is their man. Look at the impact Jalen Ramsey has had in Jacksonville. Fitzpatrick is a similar caliber player.

5.) Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Broncos are lucky in this scenario and Allen drops right into GM John Elway’s hands. With Case Keenum now on the team, will have a year to develop Allen.

6.) Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, OLB, NC State
GM Chris Ballard continues to show an impressive acumen. He drops three spots, picks up three second-round picks, and lands the player they would have selected at three overall. That is how you rebuild a team.

7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St.
The Buccaneers had the worst pass defense in the league last year and they play in a division where they face off against Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees twice a year each. The Bucs have to address that problem quickly. Ward is the player to do it.

8.) Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
This is a dream come true for the Bears. If Nelson falls to Chicago, they will be over the moon. You traded up to take Mitch Trubisky last year. Now you have to protect him. Nelson has all the makings of a ten year starter.

9.) San Francisco 49ers: Derwin James, S, Florida St.
The Niners have struggled to properly address their secondary over the past few years. Bringing in veteran Richard Sherman was a start, now they have to address the safety position. GM John Lynch knows what a good safety looks like and James fits the bill.

10.) Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
New head coach Jon Gruden has said linebacker Bruce Irvin will move back to his more familiar defensive end position. That opens yet another spot on a thin linebacking corps. Edmunds, is a physical freak and the type of throwback player Gruden is after.

11.) Miami Dolphins: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
This is an interesting spot. They could look at a quarterback, but overall I think Smith is the better option in this mock draft. Head coach Adam Gase is looking for leadership. Smith fills a need and brings loads of leadership.

12.) Buffalo Bills: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Bills traded up from the 21st overall pick in a swap deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. In this mock draft, the Bills get lucky and land Mayfield, but in reality they will most likely have to trade up into the Top 10 to select their quarterback.

13.) Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The Redskins finished last in rush defense in 2017. That can’t stand. They landed a quality building block last year in Jonathan Allen, but injuries are a concern there and there isn’t much depth outside of him. Payne, gives them another prospect to clog the rushing lanes.

14.) Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Green Bay secondary needs a serious renovation. Davon House isn’t the answer, they traded away Damarious Randall, and Kevin King missed time with injury. Alexander, is a playmaker who can provide some juice to the lagging cornerback position.

15.) Arizona Cardinals: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Cardinals have been in the hunt for a quarterback since last year’s draft. They could reach for Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph. They could pull off a major trade and jump into the Top 10, but if they’re stuck here Ridley is their man. They need help and an heir to Larry Fitzgerald at the wide receiver position.

16.) Baltimore Ravens: James Daniels, C, Iowa
When John Urschel abruptly retired before last season the Ravens were left scrambling at the center position. Then Ryan Jensen emerged as a stalwart and solidified the offensive line. Now, the Ravens are back in the hunt for a pivot as Jensen signed with Tampa Bay. Daniels would be a safe, sound selection.

17.) LA Chargers: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Bolts got run all over last season, boasting the second worst run defense in the league. The entire front seven needs some work, so what better way to start addressing the problem than addressing the line? Veta is a mountain of a man and continue the youth movement along the defensive front.

18.) Seattle Seahawks: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Davenport is a freak, plain and simple. The talent is there to be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, but it will take some time to get there. Davenport is raw, but has all the tools to develop into a classic Seahawk edge rusher.

19.) Dallas Cowboys: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Cowboys haven’t addressed a single need in free agency outside of issuing the franchise tag to DeMarcus Lawrence, which means Dallas has a lot of areas to address via the draft. Dallas believes they have a franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott. He is already well protected, now it’s time to get Dak some weapons in his arsenal.

20.) Detroit Lions: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Outside of Darius Slay and Glover Quin the Lions are pretty scant in the secondary. They drafted Teez Tabor in the second round last year, but they need more help. Hughes, is a potential lock down corner.

21.) Cincinnati Bengals: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Is this a reach? Probably, but that’s why we deliver three to four mock drafts every year. For where the Bengals are drafting this isn’t the most outrageous reach. Hayden, is arguably the best tight end this year, and veteran Tyler Eifert has failed to stay healthy.

22.) Buffalo Bills: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Buffalo lost veteran Preston Brown via free agency. He played 99.2% of the snaps last year and racked up 144 tackles. That’s a lot of production to cover. Lucky for them, they land Evans.

23.) LA Rams: Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
The Rams have already traded away Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree. Then there is Connor Barwin who is currently out there on the free agency market. They need a pass rusher and Landry could be the man. He led the country with 16.5 sacks two years ago.

24.) Carolina Panthers: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
When Andrew Norwell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he left a massive hole for the Panthers to fix. Cam Newton gets battered enough as is, the Panthers can’t wait around. Hernandez is a road grader who can help both Newton and last year’s first-round pick Christian McCaffrey.

25.) Tennessee Titans: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.
The linebacking corps was already an area the Titans needed to address and then they lost Avery Williamson to free agency. Vander Esch was a one year starter in Boise, but what a year it was. Vander Esch racked up 141 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. If he can prove it wasn’t a fluke, he could add a lot to Tennessee.

26.) Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Atlanta’s strength is their fast flowing defense. With young stars like Grady Jarrett, Tak McKinley, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal adding Bryan to the mix would make things even more interesting. He’s a bit undersized, but has the raw strength and explosion to be special.

27.) New Orleans Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St.
Like the Bengals and their tight end, this is probably a reach. But for how this mock draft has shaken out, Goedert is the best bang for the Saints’ buck. The Saints were trying hard to reconnect with Jimmy Graham on the free agency market, but things didn’t work out. Getting production from the tight end position is a high priority and Goedert, though from a small school, could be the man to make it happen.

28.) Pittsburgh Steelers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
After running back Le’Veon Bell got the franchise tag for the second straight year, it seems like the relationship may be beyond repair at this point. With an aging franchise quarterback, it’s probably best to rebuild the running game as soon as possible.

29.) Jacksonville Jaguars: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The Jaguars allowed veteran Allen Robinson leave via free agency. While the Jaguars did resign Marqise Lee and brought in Donte Moncrief, you can never have enough weapons for your quarterback and Sutton supplies Blake Bortles with a big target.

30.) Minnesota Vikings: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
The Vikings boasted the best defense in the NFL last year. It’s important they keep it that way. Age is starting to creep up along the interior defensive line, so injecting some youth would be smart. Phillips and his relentless motor would be a good fit.

31.) New England Patriots: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
If Williams dropped to the Patriots it would be a dream come true. New England got crushed via free agency and left tackle Nate Solder was among those who left. Williams, if healthy, could be a starter from Day One.

32.) Philadelphia Eagles: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The Super Bowl champion Eagles go with an offensive tackle. Future Hall-of-Famer Jason Peters ended the season on IR and is nearing 40 years of age. Molding McGlinchey to be Peters’ heir wouldn’t be the worst thing.


The Too Early NFL Mock Draft

We’re back, baby! It has barely been a month since the Philadelphia Eagles were crowned Super Bowl champions and somehow it feels like we’ve been without football for an eternity. Well, that long painful wait is over.

Forget the warm weather. Forget the longer days. Spring is about one thing and one thing only – the NFL Draft.

Now, typically I only like to do four mock drafts per season. The mock draft is precious thing and we have to treat it so. I usually don’t get into it until free agency has kicked off, because a lot of needs for a lot of teams can be addressed via free agency.

Hell, look at what’s transpired so far this winter. Vontae Davis, Chris Ivory, Marcus Peters, Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, and Alex Smith have already moved to new teams. That’s six Pro Bowlers relocating before the offseason has even began!

Maybe winter has been particularly long or maybe I’m just looking forward to free agency a little more than usual (a terrifying notion), but I’ve decided to whip up an irrational and way too early mock draft.

I’ll still deliver my annual four mocks, this one is just for fun. We’ve still got a long road to April 26th and it will be littered with big trades and bigger pro days. Here’s our look.

1.) Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St.
Here’s the thing. The Browns are in the drivers seat. Is taking a running back first overall a reach? To some, sure. But only one other team (the Giants) will be looking at a quarterback before they are back on the clock. Unless they are head over heels with one of the quarterbacks, Barkley should be their guy.

2.) New York Giants: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Giants recently shipped a pair of draft picks to the LA Rams for linebacker Alec Ogletree. That’s a sign they are still trying to win now with Eli Manning and if that is the route you want to take, you need to protect him. Taking a guard second overall may not be sexy, but Nelson is a rare talent.

3.) Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, OLB, NC State
Chubb decided to stay in school after a strong junior season and capped his collegiate career by winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. Pretty smart decision. The Colts need help across the board. Adding a pass rusher is always a plus.

4.) Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Look at that! In this scenario the Browns walk out with the best running back and arguably the best quarterback in the entire draft. Patience is a virtue.

5.) Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen comes into the league with questions about his commitment to the game. Once upon a time Broncos GM and hall-of-fame quarterback John Elway entered the league with a similar cloud over him. If anyone can get Rosen to rise to his potential it would be Elway.

6.) New York Jets: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The run on quarterbacks will inevitably happen this year and this scenario for the Jets is actually pretty stellar IF they resign veteran Josh McCown. McCown is the consummate professional and giving Allen a year to marinate behind a leader like him would be a great benefit to both the player and the franchise.

7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick is a Swiss army knife. Like a growing number of players in the league, Fitzpatrick can lineup at corner, safety, or at the nickle. Tampa’s pass defense has been lackluster for a few years now. Fitzpatrick provides an instant upgrade.

8.) Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St.
Like the Colts, the Bears need a little bit of everything. In this scenario, it’s a matter of taking the best player on the board. Ward, isn’t the biggest prospect, but he has the ball skills and toughness to be special.

9.) San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is an intimidator who would pair extremely well with last year’s first round pick Reuben Foster. Edmunds has rare sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability and while raw as a pass rusher, has the potential to grow into a nightmare for quarterbacks.

10.) Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith is the saving grace to the linebacking woes of the Oakland Raiders. Smith, has tremendous awareness and makes plays all over the field. While a bit undersized, he brings a lot to the position whether it be blitzing or covering opposing running backs or tight ends on pass plays

11.) Miami Dolphins: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
If you have to keep asking if so-and-so is the guy, he’s not. Coach Adam Gase inherited the solid, but unspectacular Ryan Tannehill. Now, Gase brings in a quarterback of his own choosing. Mayfield has the moxie to thrive in the NFL and provides a lot, for a quarterback whisperer like Gase, to work with.

12.) Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Williams missed seven games last year with a knee injury that, in the end, did not need surgery. Nonetheless, selecting a tackle who is coming off a knee injury at twelfth overall is a bit risky. However, that is how bad the Bengals offensive line was last year. The Bengals have invested a lot upfront in recent drafts, but little to none has panned out. Hopefully, Williams bucks the trend.

13.) Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
It’s the oldest adage there is – you build a team from the inside out. That means starting in the trenches. The Redskins had the worst run defense in the entire league last year. There’s little talent and even then it’s injury prone.

14.) Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, OLB, UTSA
Davenport is a freak. That simple. And Green Bay could really use a freak pass rusher. Starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry combined to deliver 15.5 sacks last season, but Matthews is getting older and Perry has always had injury issues.

15.) Arizona Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Cardinals are in an interesting position. What they do in free agency will be of particular interest. Do they reach for a quarterback? Maybe make a trade up? That should be there first priority, for this scenario they stick at fifteenth overall and nab Alexander. A highly talented prospect, but comes with injury concerns.

16.) Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Baltimore loves Alabama prospects. Given everything that shakes out in this mock draft, Ridley landing in their laps is too perfect. Arguably the best receiver in the draft, the Ravens have their fingers crossed they don’t run into another Breshad Perriman situation.

17.) LA Chargers: Derwin James, S, Florida St.
James is an intriguing prospect. He could go much higher. For this, he lands in a perfect scenario. Coordinator Gus Bradley’s system thrives with a thumper in the mix that he can deploy all over the field like he did with Kam Chancellor, while he was in Seattle. James, has that type of ability in him.

18.) Seattle Seahawks: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Hughes doesn’t have the size typically associated with Seahawk cornerbacks, but Hughes is a game changer. Seemingly, with Richard Sherman on his way out, cornerback becomes a pressing need and Hughes has the playmaking ability to step in and contribute right away.

19.) Dallas Cowboys: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Over the course of Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, we saw just how exposed quarterback Dak Prescott was. The Cowboys offensive passing game ranked 26th in the league last year. Who knows what will happen with Dez Bryant. If the longtime Cowboy is brought back or not, Prescott needs more weapons. Kirk, is an intriguing prospect.

20.) Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
The Lions have a quality quarterback, a quality pair of wide receivers, and a quality offensive line. If they intend to regularly make it to the playoffs, they need to invest in a quality running back. Guice, can be the powerful dynamic option to help take the pressure off of Matt Stafford and keep Ameer Abdullah healthy.

21.) Buffalo Bills: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Veteran Kyle Williams is nearing the end and the team shipped out former All-Pro Marcell Dareus in the middle of the season. They need depth help in the trenches. Payne could walk in and be a Day One starter.

22.) Buffalo Bills: James Daniels, C, Iowa
Similarly, the Bills need help at the pivot. Veteran Eric Wood was forced to retire due to injury. He had been a steady, Pro Bowl talent and now that spot is abruptly vacant. Daniels, is a proven starter and versatile player with experience at the guard position as well.

23.) LA Rams: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.
As mentioned earlier, the Rams dealt Ogletree to the Giants. That leaves them with a gap in the middle of their defense. Vander Esch, came out of nowhere in 2017 and racked up 141 tackles with 8.5 for loss. That is tremendous production from a one year starter and at the same time worrying, because he only started last year. If he can prove it wasn’t a fluke, pairing Vander Esch with Mark Barron would be tremendous.

24.) Carolina Panthers: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
In the middle of the season the Panthers traded away receiver Kelvin Benjamin, leaving the team very thin at the position. The Panthers need to provide Cam Newton with weapons. Sutton would pair well with Devin Funchess and at a welcomed size as Sutton stands 6’3″ tall.

25.) Tennessee Titans: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
The Titans have a good roster. They just need depth. So this position in the draft is tricky. With a power run game the focus of their offense and declining guard Josh Kline entering free agency, replacing the vet with a young road grader like Hernandez is a perfect situation.

26.) Atlanta Falcons: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
Like the Titans, the Falcons do better when they run the ball. That being said, they need to get tougher and deeper along the interior of their offensive line. Veteran Andy Levitre missed five games last year and could be a cap casualty. Wynn, has starting experience at multiple positions along the offensive line.

27.) New Orleans Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St.
Another small school prospect making it to the first round. Goedert, is the type of size and speed prospect that give opposing defenses fits. The team has failed to get much production from the position ever since trading away Jimmy Graham. Goedert, could fix that problem.

28.) Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The very scary and very unfortunate neck injury to young star Ryan Shazier has put the Steelers back in the hunt for an inside linebacker. Evans fits the bill as a tone setter, who can also provide help in coverage.

29.) Jacksonville Jaguars: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Like the Saints, the Jaguars have failed to get much production from the tight end position over the past few years. They’ve gone the free agency route and failed. Now it’s time to look at the draft. While Hurst is an older prospect, he flashes pass catching and blocking abilities. A rare combination with tight end prospects, of late.

30.) Minnesota Vikings: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
McGlinchey is another in the long line of top offensive line talent to come out of South Bend. While he isn’t the polished prospect that some of his contemporaries have been, McGlinchey is a proven starter that if he fine tunes his abilities could be a ten year starter.

31.) New England Patriots: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
This is a dream come true should Jackson fall to the Patriots. There aren’t many cornerback prospects that boast Jackson’s combination of size and ball skills. After the Malcolm Butler drama that poured out post Super Bowl, it should be no surprise that the position is a top concern for the boys from Boston.

32.) Philadelphia Eagles: Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
This is a luxury pick. Brown boasts the the size and experience that typically would make scouts drool, but a closer look reveals a lot of problems with his technique. Brown could go higher, he could slip into Round 2.

AFC West: Training Camp Snapshot

The AFC West was as competitive as ever in 2016 as the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders tied atop the division at 12-4. The Chiefs were the two seed for the playoffs thanks to a clean sweep of their division rivals.

Oakland tumbled from legit Super Bowl contender to a one-and-done wild card team after quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Denver fought admirably to a 9-7 record with Trevor Siemian at the steering wheel after living legend Peyton Manning retired.

The Chargers suffered through a brutal, injury plagued season that ended with the franchise announcing they would be moving to Los Angeles as the “other” team in the Rams sprawling stadium and athletic complex of the future.

Training camp is here, so lets get to it. Here are some quick hits from around the AFC West.
*Order is predicted standings for 2017

1.) Oakland Raiders
The Raiders certainly have a chip on their shoulder after putting it all together in 2016, only to see it fall apart, because of a broken leg. Carr, took a massive step in Year Three, as he passed for nearly 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Of course it helps when you have targets like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw too. The team also added Jared Cook to upgrade the tight end position. The biggest story line for the Raiders entering camp is the freshness of running back Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement to join his hometown Oakland Raiders before they move to Las Vegas.

Despite a rapidly developing juggernaut on offense, the Raiders were still lacking on defense. The unit finished the season 26th in total defense. That’s not good enough for a Super Bowl contender. While superstar end Khalil Mack continued to haunt opposing quarterbacks, the rest of the line suffered through injuries and inconsistencies. A lot will be riding on Mario Edwards who needs to stay healthy. The secondary also left a lot to be desired. Newcomer Reggie Nelson led the team with five interceptions, but more needs to be done. Which is why the team spent their first two draft picks on corner Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu.

Best Camp Battle: Ben Heeney vs Cory James vs Marquel Lee
The starting middle linebacker spot is a major weakness. Heeney, started last season, but went down early with an ankle injury, openung the door for James. James, logged 48 tackles and five starts. Still unimpressed, the team drafted Lee in the fifth-round. Lee, finished his senior year at Wake Forrest with 105 tackles.

2.) Los Angeles Chargers
Injuries and uncertainty killed the Chargers the past two season. Now everything is settled. The team is now in LA and under the direction of first time head coach Anthony Lynn. Luckily for Lynn, he still has Philip Rivers manning the ship. Despite losing top target Keenan Allen for the second consecutive season due to injury, Rivers still led the eighth best passing attack in the league. The Bolts added another weapon in first-round pick Mike Williams, but his season is already in doubt with a back injury. The key for the Bolts will be a resurgent run game, which is why they invested two top draft picks to bolster the guard positions.

New coordinator Gus Bradley will be transitioning the team from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme and has the perfect building blocks in pass rushers Joey Bosa, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Melvin Ingram. The two combined for 18.5 sacks last season. The linebacking corps is led by youngsters Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown. Who mans the third spot will be a toss up between Korey Toomer, second on the team in tackles in 2016, and Jeremiah Attaochu. The corners boast some nice young talent in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, although Verrett has struggled to stay healthy over his first three seasons and opened training camp on the PUP list.

Best Camp Battle: Dwight Lowery vs Rayshawn Jenkins vs Desmond King
Lowery is the incumbent and had a solid season in 2016, posting 60 tackles and nine pass breakups. Jenkins and King are rookies. Jenkins, is big, strong, and fast and can really pack a wallop. King, won the Thorpe Award in 2015 and will be moving from corner to safety. He has the skill to develop into a quality starter, but how fast?

3.) Denver Broncos
Injuries and inexperience crushed the Broncos in 2016, particularly in the run game. Starter C.J. Anderson went down after seven games, leaving rookie Devontae Booker to lead the rushing attack. He finished with 612 yards and four touchdowns. Denver signed Jamaal Charles hoping the long time Chief still has a little left in the tank. As underwhelming as the rushing attack was, the offensive line should take some of the blame for vastly underperforming. The team invested heavily in this unit over the offseason, signing Menelik Watson and Ron Leary via free agency and drafting Garett Bolles in the first round. All three should start from Day One.

Denver finished fourth in total defense last season and return mostly intact. The only big change comes with the retirement of future hall-of-famer DeMarcus Ware. With Ware gone, the pass rusher job opposite Von Miller falls to former first-round pick Shane Ray, however he tore ligaments in his wrist on the first day of training camp and will miss six to eight weeks following surgery. The secondary continues to boast, arguably, the best cornerback tandem in the league with Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Newcomers Domata Peko (free agency) and DeMarcus Walker (draft) should help bolster the run defense, which finished the season 28th in the league.

Best Camp Battle: Trevor Siemian vs Paxton Lynch
Siemian played admirably in 2016. The first time starter posted 3,401 yards with 18 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. However, he’ll have to show even more to stave off Lynch. The team invested a first round pick in the former Memphis quarterback making it difficult for the organization to not hand over the reigns.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs
What a strange offseason for the Chiefs. After a string of head scratching moves by GM John Dorsey, culminating with the mismanaged release of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Dorsey was fired, a move that shocked many around the league. So what are the Chiefs left with? Quarterback is set with Alex Smith and first-round pick Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. Running back will be led by incumbent Spencer Ware with another rookie, Kareem Hunt, behind him. The biggest question mark comes at wide receiver. With Maclin gone it will be up to Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson, and rookie Jehu Chesson to help the aerial attack.

The Chiefs depth along the defensive line will be tested after the departures of Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard. The team signed Bennie Logan and drafted Tanoh Kpassagnon, to help, particularly with run defense. KC is stacked with linebackers. Justin Houston and Dee Ford can wreak havoc off the edge, but Houston needs to stay healthy. He’s only played in 16 games over the past two seasons. Additionally, veteran Tamba Hali is growing discontent with the team. A valued vet, Hali was irritated with his lack of playing time in the playoffs and recently took to twitter and the podcast world to express his frustrations with multiple issues and even questioned if he was needed by the franchise.

Best Camp Battle: Every Cornerback vs Every Cornerback
Marcus Peters is a shut down corner. His position is unquestioned. As is nickle back Steven Nelson’s. But who will take the starting spot opposite Peters? Veterans Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, Kenneth Acker, and Eric Murray as a dark horse candidate all will compete. Someone needs to distance themselves from the pack.

NFC West: Training Camp Snapshot

At the close of the 2016 season the Seattle Seahawks were atop the division and the only surprise came from the floundering of the Arizona Cardinals at 7-8-1, who had entered the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The least surprising story of 2016 was the futility of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Both teams fired their coaches and are starting over with Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, respectively. Both are leading an organization for the first time, with McVay being the youngest head coach in NFL history at 31 years old.

With the Cardinals having already reported to camp, let’s take a sneak peak at the division and their best training camp battles.
* Order is in predicted standings for 2017

1.) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks once again boasted a top-five defense and Russell Wilson continued to lead the organization, no thanks to the offensive line. Wilson was sacked 41 times (tied for second worst in the league) and played most of the season hobbled. The line was in shambles all season, except for Justin Britt who manned the pivot admirably. The team drafted Ethan Pocic in the second round of the draft and has the versatility and talent to start at either guard or center. Eddie Lacey will look to revive his career in the Pacific Northwest, similar to Marshawn Lynch back in 2010.

On defense, cornerback will be under close scrutiny. All-Pro Richard Sherman was on the trading block, after an overly pugnacious 2016 season. DeShawn Shead, started opposite Sherman, but tore his ACL in the postseason. His return is up in the air. Safety Earl Thomas also suffered an injury, playing in only 11 games. It was the first time he failed to complete a full season in his career. Depth is a major issue for the secondary, which lead to the team spending four draft picks on this unit.

Best Camp Battle: Luke Jockel vs George Fant
Left tackle will be under close watch as Jockel and Fant battle it out to be top dog. Fant started 10 games last season, but as an undrafted former basketball player, his game still has a long way to go. Jockel, like Lacey, is looking to revive his career after four injury plagued seasons in Jacksonville after being selected as a Top 10 pick.

2.) Arizona Cardinals
The Cards are, seemingly, giving it one last swing with Carson Palmer at the helm. Injuries took out most of the team in 2016, but one bright spot was the emergence of David Johnson. He took as much off of Palmer’s shoulders as possible, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, while adding 80 receptions (second best on the team) and another 800-plus yards. Similarly to Palmer, this could be the last go for club legend Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, has transitioned well to playing the possession role more as he gets older. He posted another 100-plus catch season.

Arizona posted the second best overall defense in the league last year, however the team lost five starters during free agency. One position they addressed via free agency was inside linebacker, where the team brought back Karlos Dansby for his third stint with the team. Even at his age, he is still an asset. The front line is a strength, but lost another club legend in Calais Campbell. That leaves last year’s first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. He under-performed last season and has a lot to prove in 2017.

Best Camp Battle: Brandon Williams vs Justin Bethel
Marcus Cooper led the team in interceptions and is now in Chicago, leaving Williams and Bethel to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Both started three games last year and neither left an impression. Williams, a third-round choice last year, has the inside track, but is still new to the position. Bethel, a special teams stud, needs to be more consistent to keep the spot after starting his career at safety.

3.) San Francisco 49ers
A lot is new in San Francisco. The team is now being led by Shanahan and fellow first-timer in GM John Lynch. Lynch, proved legitimate after wisely maneuvering the draft. He and Shanahan were smart in building their roster. They brought in familiar faces from Shanahan’s previous coaching stops, signing Brian Hoyer, Pierre Garcon, and Aldrick Robinson. The team finished the season with the second worst offense, there is only room for improvement. Jeremy Zuttah, was acquired via trade, fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He adds another top talent to work with left tackle Joe Staley.

While the team finished second to last in total offense, they finished dead last in total defense. Again, there is only room to improve. Coordinator Robert Saleh is also a first timer. He’ll be switching the team from their long time 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 and got two tremendous building blocks in Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in Round One of the draft. Defensive leader NaVorro Bowman will also be back. The linebacker missed 12 games in 2016 thanks to a torn Achilles. Third-round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon could compete for a starting spot at cornerback.

Best Camp Battle: Jimmie Ward vs Jaquiski Tartt
Safety will be a fun position battle. Ward, has been used at cornerback and safety over his three years in the league, while Tartt has been used as a supersub at both safety positions. Safety is Ward’s natural position, but if the corner position fails to solidify and Tartt beats out Ward, corner could be Ward’s new home.

4.) Los Angeles Rams
In five years under Jeff Fisher, the Rams only produced 31 wins. It got so bad, that star running back Todd Gurley said their offense “looked like a middle school offense out there” after a 42-14 thrashing by the Atlanta Falcons last season. Fisher is out and McVay is in. He has a lot of work to do in bringing life to the Rams’ offense. Early reports are that the players are buzzing over McVay’s new scheme, but a lot still needs to be upgraded. The addition of proven and consistent veterans like Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth, and John Sullivan should pay off. Jared Goff, will be looked at to take the next step.

McVay was very smart to hire Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. He’s still one of the best in the league and will transition the team to his preferred 3-4 scheme. It will be interesting to see if it pays off as all-world talent Aaron Donald has excelled as a three technique over his first three years. He’ll move to a five technique. Similarly, Robert Quinn’s transition from end to linebacker will be worth monitoring. He has not aged well. Trumaine Johnson is the No. 1 corner and excels in zone schemes, however Phillips’ defense requires more press-man coverage.

Best Camp Battle: Tyler Higbee vs Gerald Everett
Tight end is an important part in McVay’s offense. Higbee started seven games last year as a rookie, but only turned in 11 receptions for 85 yards and a single touchdown. Everett, is a rookie who plays like a supersized wide receiver. If he can translate that ability, the payoffs could be big.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC West

The 2016 season had two distinct story lines. One was the resurrection of the Oakland Raiders, who returned for the first time since 2002 with a 12-4 record. However, there Super Bowl dreams were dashed when quarterback David Carr went down with a broken leg near the end of the regular season.

The second was that the San Diego Chargers played their final game in San Diego as they decided the best move of the organization would be the second Los Angeles team and move into the LA Rams new stadium in 2020. It was a crushing move for the San Diego natives and it didn’t help that the team showcased Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa on their way out.

It was the Kansas City Chiefs who took the division crown, but just as in Philadelphia, coach Andy Reid proved consistently making the playoffs rarely turns into a Super Bowl appearance. While Denver rolled up to the finish line with a modest 9-7 record as Trevor Siemian took the reigns from the retired future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning.

For such a competitive division in 2016 the most striking aspect of it was the amount of turnover that occurred in the postseason.

The Oakland Raiders also agreed to relocate in 2020, with a move to Las Vegas finalized. Now, with an end date in Oakland, hometown hero Marshawn Lynch was coaxed out of retirement in an attempt to help send off the Raiders with a Super Bowl trophy while still in the bay area.

Elsewhere in the division, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak decided to retire which led to the hiring of first-time coach Vance Joseph. In San Diego, Mike McCoy was let go and returned to Denver as offensive coordinator, a position he already held from 2009-2012. Anthony Lynn was tasked as the man to replace McCoy and lead the Chargers into their new turn as the LA Chargers.

With such turnover, how did things transpire on draft day? Look no further. Here is the complete breakdown…

Denver Broncos: B+
1.) Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
2.) DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida St.
3.) Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
3b.) Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar
5.) Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
5b.) Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
6.) De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina
7.) Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

The Broncos and GM John Elway continue their impressive build up. Addressing the trenches to start was a tremendous approach. Bolles, will be a 25-year-old rookie and is still a bit raw, but he should start Day One on the left side. Walker, fits seamlessly into the Broncos 3-4 scheme. He had 26.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Henderson, gives Denver a slot option with the hands and quickness to be dynamic. With the final pick in the draft the Broncos tagged Chad Kelly. A very intriguing move. The nephew of hall-of-famer Jim Kelly, Chad has shown an impressive ability at the position, but has considerable off-field questions. With fellow hall-of-famer Elway in the building, it will be interesting to see how Kelly develops.

Best pick: Jake Butt
Butt, would have been a lock second-round pick, if not a first-round choice, had he been healthy. Butt, tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl and will take awhile to yield results from him, but he is a classic tight end who can block and be a reliable receiving option.

Kansas City Chiefs: C
1.) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
2.) Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova
3.) Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
4.) Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
5.) Ukeme Eligwe, LB, Georgia Southern
6.) Leon McQuay, S, USC

The Chiefs were very aggressive during the draft. First moving up 17 spots to take Mahomes and handing over their first-round pick in the 2018 draft to do so. Mahomes, threw for over 5,000 yards and 40 scores in his final season at Texas Tech, but he is still raw in respect to the NFL level. The Chiefs again moved up for Hunt. With long time back Jamaal Charles now in Denver, Hunt adds to the committee to replace him. Chesson, was expected to breakout in 2016 after a promising 2015, but injuries slowed him down. The Chiefs are hoping he can get back to his 2015 self.

Best pick: Tanoh Kpassagnon
The man is an athletic freak. That simple. Kpassagnon, has the explosiveness and length to excel in the NFL, but needs to develop. Voted a team captain, Kpassagnon put up 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles-for-loss over his final two years.

LA Chargers: B+
1.) Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
2.) Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
3.) Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
4.) Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami
5.) Desmond King, S, Iowa
6.) Sam Tevi, OT, Utah
7.) Isaac Rochell, DT, Notre Dame

The Chargers did a tremendous job drafting for need. The Bolts still believe in Phillip Rivers, but his weapons have been few and injury prone. Williams, instantly upgrades the unit and provides the perfect compliment to Keenan Allen. Spending capital on linemen with their next two picks was smart as that was their weakest link for a few seasons now. Lamp, can play any position along the line and should be a Day One starter. Jenkins, can play either safety position and is a thumper. King, won the Thorpe Award in 2015 and will have his abilities maximized sliding over from cornerback to safety at the NFL level.

Best pick: Dan Feeney
When word gets out that the New England Patriots had to scramble after you selected a player one pick before them, you know you’re on to something. Feeney, will be a Day One starter and, like Lamp, offers versatility along the interior.

Oakland Raiders: C
1.) Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio St.
2.) Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn
3.) Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
4.) David Sharpe, OT, Florida
5.) Marquel Lee, LB, Wake Forrest
7.) Shalom Luani, S, Washington St.
7b.) Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama St.
7c.) Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
7d.) Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo

The Raiders surprised many with the selection of Conley. Just before the draft, Conley was accused of rape after an incident in Cleveland. Conley has maintained his innocence, the Ravens gave him a lie detector test previous to the draft, and Conley regularly has met with Cleveland police. That pick aside, the Raiders turned in a rather lackluster class. Majority of the prospects are depth pieces. Vanderdoes, in the third-round was surprising. He was on his way to developing into a considerable talent before a knee injury derailed his development and hasn’t seemed to be able to get on track. Lee, was a three-year starter and the anticipation and tackling ability to add quality depth and special teams play to the Raiders.

Best pick: Obi Melifonwu
Melifonwu, was a fringe first-round talent and is wildly athletic. He played all over the field at UConn showing ability at corner and safety. With his size and dependable tackling, Melifonwu could significantly improve the Raiders 24th ranked pass defense.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC South

The AFC South was once again soft. Since Peyton Manning left the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, the division has failed to deliver a true powerhouse. Under Bill O’Brien, the Houston Texans have won the AFC South division the past two years. An impressive feat considering the Texans have had virtually no quarterback to steer the ship.

The massive Brock Osweiler deal (four-years and $72 million dollar with $37 million guaranteed) turned out to be a bust. Osweiler, was benched by midseason and after the season was dealt, along with his remaining guaranteed money, to the Cleveland Browns along with a sixth-round pick in 2017 and second-round pick in 2018 for a fourth-round pick in 2017.

That left Houston in a particularly bad situation with the new and improved Tennessee Titans nipping at their heels. The Titans surprised many in 2016, going from 3-13 to 9-7 in their first year under head coach Mike Mularkey. The big question now is, can the Titans build off that success? The team is young and led by former-Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

After another 8-8 season, the Colts parted ways with GM Ryan Grigson and brought aboard Chris Ballard, from the Kansas City Chiefs. The big question entering the year was can Andrew Luck stay healthy, after playing in only seven games in 2015. Luck, stayed upright for 15 games, but the roster was so thin that it was difficult to turn any production into wins.

Then there are the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. After yet another exciting young draft class and free agent period, the team couldn’t string together enough wins leading to the departure of head coach Gus Bradley. The team promoted Doug Marrone and brought back, former head coach Tom Coughlin, to work along side GM David Caldwell. What else is their to say? Maybe this is the year they put it together?

Houston Texans: B+
1.) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2.) Zach Cunningham, ILB, Vanderbilt
3.) D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
4.) Julie’n Davenport, OT, Bucknell
4b.) Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
5.) Treston Decoud, S, Oregon St.
7.) Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor

On Day One of the NFL Draft, the Texans were aggressive. They jumped in front of the Arizona Cardinals to pick up their guy, Deshaun Watson. Now, Houston really likes their guy Tom Savage, but he has proved injury prone. Maybe, he plays in 2016, but the plan is to have Watson watch and learn. Cunningham, is a freaky athlete, who will be the heir to Brian Cushing in the middle of their 3-4 defense. That provides a dynamic, young core when paired with Benardrick McKinney. The fourth-round was used to build the trenches and the Texans picked up quality talent. Davenport, needs some seasoning, but has starter upside. Watkins, provides needed depth along the defensive front and adds another pass rushing threat.

Best pick: D’Onta Foreman
Foreman, is a true Texan. Grew up in the Houston-area, played in Austin, and is now playing pro ball back home. At 230-plus pounds, Foreman, is a bruiser who ran for over 2,000 yards last year and 15 touchdowns and is considerably fast given his size.

Indianapolis Colts: B+
1.) Malik Hooker, S, Ohio St.
2.) Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
3.) Tarrell Basham, OLB, Ohio
4.) Zach Banner, OG, USC
4b.) Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
4c.) Grover Stewart, DT, Albany St.
5.) Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
5b.) Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Ballard was given a gift in his first year drafting for the Colts. How Hooker fell to 15th overall is astonishing. Hooker is a legitimate Top 5 talent. Although, he only started one year, he racked up seven interceptions. Pairing Wilson, with Hooker instantly upgrades a pass defense that ranked 27th in the league last year. Wilson, could be a Day One starter. Basham, is another piece to a defensive rebuilding project. Gone are the days of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. The Colts need pass rushers and got a good prospect in Basham. He had 11.5 sacks last year. Banner, is an intriguing player. He is a mammoth at 6’8″ and 350-pounds. Size will always be an issue, but if he can get fit, Banner is a road grader with starter upside. Walker, adds depth inside at linebacker and special teams help. With so little talent at linebacker, should injuries pop up, Walker could get pushed into starting duties.

Best pick: Marlon Mack
This very well could have been Hooker, but Mack is intriguing. Frank Gore, isn’t getting any younger, and the Colts need a run game to take some pressure off of Luck. Mack, is on the smaller side, but rushed for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons.

Jacksonville Jaguars: B
1.) Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
2.) Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
3.) Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
4.) Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
5.) Blair Brown, LB, Ohio
7.) Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
7b.) Marquez Williams, FB, Miami (OH)

The Jaguars draft class is marred by fourth-round pick Westbrook. He is in the Joe Mixon realm of deplorable character. The draft grade is representative of the rest of the draft class, which again injects Jacksonville with strong blue chip talent in Fournette and Robinson. Fournette, is an old school back, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards two years. Last year’s minor injuries won’t be an issue. The Jags hit on pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue in the third-round last year. They’re hoping to do the same with Smoot this year. He’ll add another pass rush threat to their rotation. Brown, isn’t the biggest linebacker, but he’ll make the play. Myrick, has the speed to excel on special teams.

Best pick: Cam Robinson
Robinson, the 2016 Outland Trophy winner, is a Day One starter and should finally fix the revolving door at one of the tackle spots. They’ve taken tackles in the Top 10 and paid big for free agents to be the answer. Robinson is a smart, safe selection at the top of Round 2.

Tennessee Titans: B-
1.) Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
1b.) Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
3.) Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
3b.) Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International
5.) Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA
6.) Corey Levin, OL, Tennessee-Chattanooga
7.) Josh Carraway, OLB, TCU
7b.) Brad Seaton, OT, Villanova
7c.) Khalfani Muhammad, RB, Cal

When you have a young, dynamic quarterback like Marcus Mariota you have to give him the weapons to succeed and that’s exactly what the Titans did. Davis, Taylor, and Smith should all contribute as rookies. Davis, has the size and speed to be special. He racked up over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns while at Western Michigan. Jackson, was a bit a reach. He is technically raw at the position, but has a very high ceiling. He also has added value as a return man. Smith, has upside as a receiver in a flex role. Was a four year starter at Florida International, but needs to get stronger. Brown and Carraway will better the special teams units, while Levin and Seaton are projects who add depth.

Best pick: Taywan Taylor
Taylor, could be a force in the slot at the next level. While on the small side Taylor has the speed and quickness to make an impact. Over the past two seasons Taylor racked up 184 receptions and 3,197 yards, along with 34 touchdowns.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC North

It was a surprisingly down year in the AFC North despite traditionally being one of the better divisions in the NFL. The Steelers took the division crown this year and made it to the championship game. It comes as no surprise, the Steelers are still in great shape, despite being in Year 3 of trying to restock their defense.

The biggest surprise to come out the AFC North in 2016 was the fall of Cincinnati. The Bengals have jockeyed for power with Pittsburgh and Baltimore for division supremacy with regularity the past few years, but all went wrong last year. Age, injury, and thin depth showed in glaring fashion as they went 6-9.

Baltimore continued to flounder in mediocrity again. After regressing to 5-11 in 2015, they rebounded to a measly 8-8. The team is going through a major generational shift. First was the departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, then it was Haloti Ngata leaving, now it seems that Terrell Suggs seems to be on his last legs. As the team attempts to keep their hallmark playing style, they’ve been struggling to find the right pieces.

Then of course…there’s the Browns, who nearly went DEFEATED in 2016. Now, I would just like to state: I love the Cleveland Browns. They are one of the greatest, most historic franchises in history. But after the villainous Art Modell absconded with the team to Baltimore the Browns have been a horror show. I believe Hue Jackson is the right man to lead the team, but this mess will take years to clean up.

Baltimore Ravens: B
1.) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
2.) Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
3.) Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan
3b.) Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
4.) Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego St.
5.) Jermaine Eluemunor, OT, Texas A&M
6.) Chuck Clark, S, Virginia Tech

The Ravens once again brought in a quality haul, however they are all at positions addressed in the earlier rounds of previous drafts which means the Ravens are missing on picks. Humphrey, gives them a high ceiling, low floor talent who can ease his way into the starting rotation as he develops behind Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. Bowser, is a classic Ravens edge rusher. A freak athlete, who can fly off the edge. His numbers got better each year. Wormley, effectively replaces Timmy Jernigan, who was dealt to Philly. Wormley, could be a Day One starter at the five-technique. Siragusa and Eluemunor are developmental depth picks.

Best pick: Tim Williams
GM Ozzie Newsome loves taking Alabama players and Williams, is a classic Newsome choice. On talent alone, Williams is a first-round talent, but off-field there were red flags. Taking a flyer on a player of this caliber in Round 3 could pay off considerably.

Cincinnati Bengals: C+
1.) John Ross, WR, Washington
2.) Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
3.) Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas St.
4.) Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
4b.) Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee
4c.) Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
5.) Jake Elliot, K, Memphis
5b.) J.J. Dielman, C, Utah
6.) Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma
6b.) Brandon Wilson, RB, Houston
7.) Mason Schreck, TE, Buffalo

The selection of Mixon is gross and shows that while the NFL may say it takes a position on certain issue, this pick and others show a disturbing level of hypocrisy. This grade comes with the omission of the Mixon pick. Ross, seemed like a reach at No. 9 with his injury history. Yes, he tore up the 40-yard dash and his best season came post injuries, but the issue remains. Willis and Lawson, provide an excellent pair of high upside pass rushers they can mold and rejuvenate their defensive front. Malone, gives a high ceiling playmaker who has the talent to be special, he just has to put it all together. Glasgow, adds much needed depth to the interior of the defensive line. Dielman, has a nasty disposition and starter upside.

Best pick: Jordan Willis
Willis is a player. That simple. He’s not the flashiest edge rusher, but he gets the job done. A tough, aggressive player, Willis got better each year at Kansas State and capped off his senior year with career bests 17.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

Cleveland Browns: B
1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
1b.) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
1c.) David Njoku, TE, Miami
2.) DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
3.) Larry Ogunjobi, DT, North Carolina-Charlotte
4.) Howard Wilson, CB, Houston
5.) Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida St.
6.) Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
7.) Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona St.
7.) Matt Dayes, RB, NC State

See the above issue with Mixon and apply it to Brantley too. This grade omits his selection. The Browns did a tremendous job to kickoff the draft. With their history, there is always the worry that they could screw it up, but they stayed to the board. It was tremendous. Garrett, was a can’t miss top talent and the Browns didn’t miss. Peppers, is the playmaker that new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs in the secondary. Williams will take full advantage of Peppers’ aggressive playing style. Moving back into Round 1 for Njoku was smart. A young, freakish athlete, Njoku could become quite the weapon. Kizer, has maybe the best pure arm talent in this year’s class, but some had a problem with his attitude. Coach Hue Jackson will get the best of Kizer to come out and could be a dynamic talent. Ogunjobi, is a quality three-technique to pair with nose Danny Shelton.

Best pick: Zane Gonzalez
Don’t hate on kickers. Gonzalez is a quality prospect, having only missed two field goals last season and only three point-after attempts over his four year career as a Sun Devil. There were four games last season that the Browns lost by at least three points last season. Gonzalez, could pick up that difference.

Pittsburgh Steelers: B+
1.) T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
2.) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
3.) Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
3b.) John Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
4.) Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
5.) Brian Allen, S, Utah
6.) Colin Holba, LS, Louisville
7.) Keion Adams, OLB, Western Michigan

The Steelers did a great job of sticking to their board and addressing areas of need along the way. Watt is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. He’ll learn a lot behind veteran James Harrison and will be allowed to develop. He has a high ceiling. Smith-Schuser, was a value pick, but could certainly pay off sooner than later. Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers haven’t had a real go-to target. Smith-Schuster could fill that void. Sutton, is working his way back from a fractured ankle, but he could be a quality addition. A four year starter for the Volunteers, he excelled in both man and zone coverage. Conner’s, story is tremendous to fight back from cancer to make it to the NFL. He is a bruiser and is the perfect compliment to Le’Veon Bell.

Best pick:: Josh Dobbs
Dobbs has a little bit of Dak Prescott to him. Dobbs, got better from Year 1 to Year 2 as a starter, seeing his accuracy jump from 59.6% to 63% and his touchdowns from 15 to 27. He is still developing, but has the size, arm, and athleticism to suggest he could grow into a starter.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC East

Once again the AFC East was a rather vanilla division. The Patriots were the clear top dog, made it to another AFC Championship, made it to another Super Bowl and turned in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to win their sixth ring under future-hall-of-fame coach Bill Belichick.

However, there were some intriguing twists and turns over last season. Most notably, was that of the 10-6 Miami Dolphins, who under first-time head coach Adam Gase made the playoffs as a wild card. It was the latest attempt by a division rival to usurp the Patriots, however, we’ve seen this story before.

In 2015 under first-time head coach Todd Bowles, the New York Jets went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs as a wild card. So, how did the Jets follow that strong start in 2016? A disastrous 5-11. For any team to beat the Patriots, they will need to have sustained success. The Dolphins can’t slip as the Jets did.

Speaking of sustained success, the Buffalo Bills haven’t had that since the early 1990s. The Bills turned in a ho-hum 7-9 season. However, the season was so tumultuous that Rex Ryan fired his offensive coordinator a few games into the season and then Rex Ryan was fired with a few games left in the season.

Then in the offseason GM Doug Whaley “led” the search for a new head coach and, after having his initial choice Anthony Lynn was turned down, went with first-timer Sean McDermott to take the helm. Then after the draft Whaley was fired. The lesson of this story: the Bills are in the cellar until further notice.

Buffalo Bills: B+
1.) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
2.) Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
2b.) Dion Dawkins, OT, Temple
5.) Matt Milano, LB, Boston College
5b.) Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
6.) Tanner Vallejo, LB, Boise St.

Despite the mess in the Bills front office, GM Doug Whaley left the Bills a lovely parting gift. The writing on the wall came after Whaley traded down with the Chiefs, but netted a first-round pick next year and the collateral to move up in Round 2 and take Zay Jones. Not to mention, both White and Jones will be Day One starters for the Bills, who were picked clean in free agency. White is one of the most complete players from this year’s class. He will impress. Jones, has the size and speed to compliment Sammy Watkins very well. Dawkins, can play guard or right tackle and with the revolving door the Bills have had on the right side, except him to make an impact at right tackle. Milano, can lineup all over the field and make plays on special teams.

Best pick: Nathan Peterman
The reason Whaley took heat for trading down from the No. 10 pick was, because ownership wanted the quarterback who went 10th overall in Patrick Mahomes. Trading down was the right move, as nearly all the quarterbacks were over-drafted due to the shallow quarterback class. Peterman, was, arguably, the most complete prospect. He could surprise a lot of people.

Miami Dolphins: B
1.) Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
2.) Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio St.
3.) Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
5.) Isaac Asiata, OG, Utah
5b.) Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU
6.) Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma St.
7.) Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech

The Dolphins game-plan was to address a defense that finished 29th in the league last year and they succeeded. Harris, should develop nicely in a rotation with Cam Wake, Andre Branch, and William Hayes. Harris, lived in the backfield at Mizzou with 30.5 tackles-for-loss over past two seasons. McMillan rounds out a vastly improved linebacking corps after the team signed veteran Lawrence Timmons and resigned Kiko Alonso. McMillan isn’t flashy, but carries a lot of lead in the pencil. Tankersley, adds to a young, high ceiling positional group. A two year starter, Tankersley displayed quality ball skills with 22 pass breakups and nine interceptions over that time. Godchaux and Taylor, are developmental, depth pieces needed along their line.

Best pick: Isaac Asiata
With Laremy Tunsil shifting to tackle that leaves a guard spot open. Asiata, is a physical run blocker who can pull, i.e. the perfect candidate for Miami’s offense. If Asiata can continue to improve, don’t be surprised if this fifth-round pick turns into a starter.

New England Patriots: A
3.) Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown St.
3b.) Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
4.) Dietrich Wise, DE, Arkansas
6.) Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA

How can you get an A-grade with only four draft picks? Easy. All you have to do is make trades for Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy, Mike Gillislee, and James O’ Shaughnessy while also trading down for potential starter (Rivers) and take that capitol to trade up to take another potential starter (Garcia). It seems almost insane for the Patriots to do what they did during this year’s draft, but moving picks all their picks to land (potentially) five starters in Cooks, Ealy, Gillislee, Rivers, and Garcia is so impressive.

Best pick: Derek Rivers/Antonio Garcia
The Pats hit it out of the park in Round 3. Rivers had 52 tackles for loss and 35 sacks in three seasons. He’ll be put in a rotation that allows him to develop, just as breakout play-maker Trey Flowers did. Garcia, will sit behind incumbent Nate Solder as he plays out the final year of his contract where Garcia, should then take over as Tom Brady’s blindside blocker.

New York Jets: C-
1.) Jamal Adams, S, LSU
2.) Marcus Maye, S, Florida
3.) ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
4.) Chad Hansen, WR, Cal
5.) Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
5b.) Dylan Donahue, OLB, West Georgia
6.) Elijah McGuire, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette
6b.) Jeremy Clark, CB, Michigan
6c.) Derrick Jones, CB, Ole Miss

The selection of Adams saves this draft pick from getting a D-grade. Adams, was, arguably, the second best talent in the draft and they landed him at sixth overall. That’s a steal. But not addressing their two biggest needs, cornerback and offensive line, was incredibly puzzling. That puts a lot of pressure on average veterans Kelvin Beachum at tackle and Morris Claiborne to play at a high level. Maye, is a tremendous leader who all, but finalized Calvin Pryor’s departure from the team. Stewart and Hansen, are fantastic additions to a depleted unit. Stewart, is a physical playmaker and Hansen can take the top off a defense. Leggett, is another weapon for Josh McCown to utilize. He will stretch the seam and could start Day One.

Best pick: Jamal Adams
Players like Adams are rare. He has size, range, ball skills, and can provide run support with strong tackling abilities. Adams, is maybe the most complete player in the 2017 NFL draft class and he will be a leader from Day One for Gang Green.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: NFC West

Talk about the Wild West, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how the NFC West shaped up in 2016. Preseason division favorites the Arizona Cardinals collapsed despite running back David Johnson breaking out into a star. Head coach Bruce Arians was in and out of the hospital during the year and after the year they faced a retirement scare with Carson Palmer, who ultimately, decided to give it one more shot in 2017.

Not surprisingly the Seahawks won the division in the end, going 10-5-1, despite Russell Wilson battling injuries all season and the Niners pulled up the rear which saw coach Chip Kelly fired, as well as GM Trent Baalke. The intriguing part postseason was the hiring Kyle Shanahan as head coach and former-All Pro safety John Lynch as GM despite having no front office experience

The Rams were a sad story in their first year back in Los Angeles after a 20 year hiatus in St. Louis. Head coach John Fisher got caught up in an ugly fight in the media with LA Ram legend and NFL Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson, the team floundered in every way, and Fisher was eventually fired. Taking over is the spry 30-year old Sean McVay.

So how does this new look division shape up following the draft? Here’s a look…

Arizona Cardinals: B
1.) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
2.) Budda Baker, S, Washington
3.) Chad Williams, WR, Grambling St.
4.) Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh
5.) Will Holden, OT, Vanderbilt
5b.) T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
6.) Rudy Ford, S, Auburn

This is a draft class that will certainly help Arizona down the stretch, most notably with the selection of Johnson and Holden. The offensive line has been underwhelming despite recent first-round investments. Johnson could become a starter as a rookie. Holden is a more developmental prospect with high upside. Reddick, is a tremendous story, walk-on turned Top 15 selection. He is the perfect defender in Bruce Arians’ defense. He can be deployed all over the field and wreak havoc. Williams and Logan, provide developmental prospects at skill positions.

Best pick: Budda Baker
Like Reddick, Baker can be lined up all over the field. He can play safety, nickle, even as a linebacker. Baker, gets dinged, because he is not the biggest prospect, but Baker is a baller with great ball skills.

LA Rams: B
2.) Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama
3.) Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
3b.) John Johnson, S, Boston College
4.) Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
4b.) Samson Ebukam, LB, Eastern Washington
6.) Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane
6b.) Sam Rogers, FB, Virginia Tech
7.) Ejuan Price, OLB, Pittsburgh

This is a proven and steady draft class brought in by the new regime in LA. First time head coach Sean McVay comes to town after running the Redskins offense the past three seasons and with a roster absent of playmakers, McVay went right out and picked some up. Everett, is a natural pass catcher who can make plays, but needs to get bigger to help as a blocker. Kupp, is not a burner, but he will run the best routes and always make the catch. Reynolds, has a great size-speed combo that will allow him to make the big play. Ebukam and Smart provide depth.

Best pick: John Johnson
Johnson, is an underrated prospect, but don’t be surprised if he winds up starting sooner than later. He is versatile prospect having played both corner and safety with proven ball skills (18 PBUs, six INTs in two years) and range to make the play.

San Francisco 49ers: B+
1.) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
1b.) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
3.) Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
3b.) C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa
4.) Joe Williams, RB, Utah
5.) George Kittle, TE, Iowa
5b.) Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech
6.) D.J. Jones, DT, Ole Miss
6b.) Pita Taumoepenu, LB, Utah
7.) Adrian Colbert, S, Miami

How about GM John Lynch, huh? The former-Pro Bowler went straight from TV commentator to front office executive seamlessly. Not only did he fleece the Bears, but he was able to move up and down the board effectively, picking up a second- and third-round pick for next year’s draft. Kicking things off with the trade and still getting their guys Thomas and Foster was tremendous. Round 3 was more intriguing. Witherspoon, has tremendous size and potential, but is raw having only played the game for five years or so. Beathard, has the intangibles you look for in a quarterback, but is still developing. Williams, Kittle, and Taylor provide needed depth at the skill positions. Taylor, is lightning fast capable of breaking out a big play whenever he has the football in his hands.

Best pick: Reuben Foster
The Niners were big, big fans of Foster and as his slide continued. The Niners waited till the end of Round 1, gave up very little and jumped up to stop the fall. Foster is a Top 5 talent, who sets the tone on defense. He’ll make his impact felt much sooner than later in the Bay Area.

Seattle Seahawks: C
2.) Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan St.
2b.) Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
3.) Shaquill Griffin, CB, Central Florida
3b.) Delano Hill, S, Michigan
3c.) Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina
3d.) Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan
4.) Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
6.) Michael Tyson, S, Cincinnati
6b.) Justin Senior, OT, Mississippi St.
7.) David Moore, WR, East Central
7b.) Christopher Carson, RB, Oklahoma St.

The Seahawks always have very unique drafts. Their never afraid to trade out of Round 1 and are never afraid to take a player who may be seen as a reach. McDowell, is another piece of the rotation in Seattle. He has the natural ability to be special, but takes too many plays off. Pete Carroll, always gets the most of his guys. Jones, in Round 3, gives them another versatile prospect who can play inside and out. Age and contracts are starting to hit the Legion of Boom, highlighted by Seattle taking four defensive backs. All this comes, of course, comes with virtually no addressing of the offensive line which was a sieve last year, allowing Russell Wilson to get smacked around for a whopping 41 sacks.

Best pick: Ethan Pocic
A versatile lineman, always a bonus in a Tom Cable coached unit, Pocic could be the pivot they desperately have needed since trading away Max Unger. Pocic, has the ability to pull and get to the second level and the football IQ to make an impact.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

The NFC South has produced the NFC representative in the Super Bowl for the past two years with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. And just like the last two years, this will be another year of highlight reel play from this division.

Atlanta are the top dogs following last year, but the big question is, how do they respond following that epic collapse in the Super Bowl? With Matt Ryan at quarterback and Dan Quinn as head coach, they should be set to make back to the playoffs despite losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco.

Besides the Falcons, the biggest surprise was the fall of the Panthers. They went from playing in the Super Bowl to having a Top 10 pick the following year. Carolina needs to find their identity, as do the Saints. The Saints have mired in mediocrity since winning the Super Bowl in ’09. They can’t keep wasting Drew Brees’ ability. The intriguing team of the division is Tampa. After an ugly shakeup at head coach last offseason, the team seems to be all systems go under Dirk Koetter.

Here, is how things came to be in the NFC South over the 2017 NFL Draft…

Atlanta Falcons: B+
1.) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
3.) Duke Riley, LB, LSU
4.) Sean Harlow, OG, Oregon St.
5.) Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego St.
5b.) Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
5c.) Eric Saubert, TE, Drake

Every pick here could contribute in someway in 2017. That is impressive. McKinley, had the most moving moment of the draft as he came on stage after being selected, holding a portrait of his grandmother, who he had promised on her deathbed that he would make it to the NFL. The Falcons got gassed in the Super Bowl, which makes McKinley a perfect fit. His motor never stops. Last year, the Falcons took Deion Jones, who had only started one year at LSU before starring for Atlanta. Riley, could be considered a clone. Harlow, could contribute sooner than later now that there is a whole open at guard. Hill, provides a reliable power back. Saubert, could emerge a starter a few years down the road.

Best pick: Damontae Kazee
The Falcons are set on the outsides, but needed help in the slot. Kazee, in the fifth-round was a steal. A three year starter for the Aztecs, Kazee displayed impressive ball skills totaling 16 interceptions over that time.

Carolina Panthers: C+
1.) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
2.) Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio St.
2b.) Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan
3.) Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M
5.) Corn Elder, CB, Miami
6.) Alex Armah, FB, West Georgia
7.) Harrison Butker, K, Georgia Tech

McCaffrey to kickoff the Panthers weekend was a home run. He is a dynamic, Swiss army knife that can lineup all over the field. He’ll take a lot of pressure off of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. Samuel, is a very similar player to McCaffrey which was a head scratcher. Moton, is a versatile lineman, who could be a swing tackle or guard. The Panthers need to protect Cam Newton better. Hall, played opposite No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, and was rather overshadowed. He will learn a lot behind Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers. Butker, could signal the end for Graham Gano.

Best pick: Corn Elder
Losing Josh Norman crushed the Panthers last year. Elder, can help move forward. Elder, is a competitive corner who can lineup in the slot. While he’s not the biggest, he displayed good ball skills, breaking up 23 passes the past two seasons.

New Orleans Saints: A+
1.) Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio St.
1b.) Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
2.) Marcus Williams, S, Utah
3.) Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
3b.) Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
3c.) Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
6.) Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami

This may be my favorite draft class in the entire league. The Saints have been devoid of talent for awhile now, this injection of talent could really wake up the team. Lattimore, fell to them, because of injuries. If he can stay healthy, the Saints picked up a premier corner talent. Ramczyk, will be the bookend opposite Terron Armstead. Williams, will help the Saints get better after posting the 32nd ranked pass defense and allow them to run three safety packages. Anzalone, could become a starter if he stays healthy. He’s an athletic freak. Hendrickson, isn’t a flashy pass rusher, but he is an effective pass rusher. He had 23 sacks the past two seasons.

Best pick: Alvin Kamara
He was underused at Tennessee, which means he has a lot of tread left on his tires. Kamara, can return kicks, catch the ball out of the backfield, or be a change of pace running back. When your quarterback gets older, you support him with a strong rushing game. The Saints have done that.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
1.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
2.) Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
3.) Chris Godwin, WR, Penn St.
3b.) Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
5.) Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise St.
7.) Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, DT, USC

The Bucs did a wonderful job here. Howard, fell and the Bucs couldn’t have been more happy. Evans, has a little growing to do. He looks for the knockout hit instead of wrapping up. He’ll be dynamic if he can improve his tackling. Godwin, is a tremendous talent. Remember when Allen Robinson came out to little fanfare, then became a Pro Bowler? Godwin, isn’t too far off. Beckwith, was an ascending talent until he tore his ACL late last year. If he can get back to where he was, this was a steal. McNichols, is a player. He’s not the biggest, but maximizes his ability in both the pass and run game. Tu’ikolovatu, is a two down run-stuffer.

Best pick: O.J. Howard
In today’s game it is rare that a complete prospect comes out of college, especially at tight end, but Howard is the real deal. He can block inline, he is a dangerous receiving threat who can stretch the seam. He is a special talent.