In our final edition of our 2017 NFL Mock Draft, we take you inside how the NFL Draft‘s opening round may look. What should the final four NFL franchises do to ensure a repeat performance in 2017/18?
The latter half of the draft is the bet place to find the perennially successful franchises reside, where best value is most easily found, with a strong, successful roster already in place, those teams can let the best player available fall into their laps.
In our previous mock draft edition, we looked at last season’s playoff teams, all of which will be able to add even greater depth to their strong depth charts to mount a serious challenge once more, with long term sustained success a reality, impressive in a sport domianted by parity. For fans of the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears et al, this is where you want your teams to be selecting, the challenge being to assemble a roster condusive in making this a reality.
We begin with a look at how the Green Bay Packers can hit the ground running and this time impose themselves on the NFC from the opening kick off this September. With the evergreen Aaron Rodgers under centre, a playoff birth is near on a certainty thanks to his presence alone, with the challenge being whether they take the next step and represent the conference in Super Bowl 52.
Green Bay Packers
Zach Cunningham/LB, Vanderbilt
While assistance in the backfield is urgently needed, in at least to cover the free agency losses incurred in recent years, newly installed general manager Elliott Wolff can afford to hold back with his first selection, thanks to an outstandingly deep and talented postional class, allowing him to pick up a starting calibre corner with their second round selection. Not before time, as Packers fans would attest, the Packers add a rangy, sideline to sideline linebacker they have craved for so long. A first team All-SEC standout this season, Green Bay add a tireless competitor at the second level of the defense whose intelligence and rapid diagnostic ability allow him to get to the ball in a hurry. Blessed with excellent size and outstanding athleticism, he can fly downhill to stop the run, cover between the sidelines with ease and offer a pass rushing element in blitz packages. I have no concerns whatsoever that the former Commodore will make his presence felt from day one at the next level.
Takkarist McKinley/Edge, UCLA
For far too long, the Steelers have needed to add a greater pass rushing threat whose name isn’t the evergreen James Harrison. While the veteran was a key difference maker down the stretch to help the franchise make a deep run in this year’s playoff race, upgrading the pass rush is a must this off-season. Pittsburgh’s need matches the excellent depth of former college pass rushing defensive ends who can fit seamlessly into the 3-4 defensive front so favoured. McKinley is a slippery customer, who utilises a plethora of pass rushing moves to get the job done and the sheer speed to put offensive tackles in a spin. His athletic gifts allow him to play with a range that jumped off the screen consistently when watching him, pursuing plays to the sideline, far and away from his area of responsibility. The senior possesses enticing upside, with areas of his ability requiring polish at the next level. While he is soon to undergo the surgeon’s knife to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, which will rule him out of off-season practice, he remains one of he premier pass rushers in this class and the fit in Pittsburgh’s defensive scheme is perfect. Look for McKinley to begin making an impact on Sundays during the second half of the season – it will be worth the patience.
Charles Harris*/Edge, Missouri
With pass rushing talent quickly coming off the board at this stage, the Falcons add the versatile Harris to add to their improving pass rush. While Vic Beasley came on leaps and bounds in his second year, he was the sole threat to opposing quarterbacks off the edge. Adding a versatile piece like the former SEC talent, will enhance both spots with the one draft selection and remove some of the blocking attention from the former Clemson edge talent. The three-year freshman starter, enjoyed a highly disruptive career in Columbia, highlighted by taking down the quarterback 18 times during that stretch, with 9 of them coming this past season. While he endured a quieter campaign in 2016/17, than his outstanding 18.5 tackle for loss effort in 2015, much of this was attributable to the loss of many of his fellow defensive line starters to the NFL and graduation, Harris developed greatly as a junior against the run while demonstrating the ability to line up with his hand in the ground and rush the passer all across the formation, allowing defensive co-ordinator Richard Smith greater play calling flexibility, while being able to keep his secondary from blitzing so much to achieve pressure on their opposing quarterbacks. Playing in a division with the likes of Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, it is imperative to make the Falcons defense less accommodating this season, while providing a boost for their talented secondary to thrive further.
New England Patriots
Evan Engram/TE, Ole Miss
A tight end in the first round? I hear you, but the move doesn’t sound as unrealistic as you may understandably think at first glance. Rob Gronkowski, while on the field, is the finest at his position in the league, but this is the crux, his gamut of nagging injuries keeping him on the sideline for considerable time these past two seasons. Josh McDaniels needs an alternative option who can fill such absence and form a dangerous duo alongside ‘Gronk’ when he is at full health. I love the fit here. Engram has not been receiving the attention his dominant SEC play warranted, as a built up wide receiver type, who has the speed and quickness to be a mismatch down the seam, particularly when stretching the field. A weapon that would considerably boost Tom Brady’s passing options and add something a little different too. The senior plays with a physical edge that makes life tough for defensive backs who cannot match his size, speed and physicality, who so consistently wins at the catch point with his ever-so reliable hands and ability to wall off his opposing defensive backs. Cue the collective sigh from the rest of the AFC.
Featured Image Credit: John Bazemore/Times Free Press
If you enjoyed this, you can read our scouting reports on all the eligible draft prospects in the 2017 edition of our NFL Draft Guide, available here from the 1st April (All proceeds are donated to Muscular Dystrophy UK) still just £5 . Take a look inside for previews and see what our readers think of Europe’s only scouting guide to the NFL Draft.
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