More so than any other year, the team with the No. 1 pick in the draft, Cleveland, holds the keys to the rest of the first round. Everyone is keenly aware how badly the franchise needs a quarterback, but there might not be a guy sitting there at No. 1 overall who the Browns feel is a lock to succeed in their current situation.
Likewise, a draft day trade (or before) situation is in play with one of the three picks they possess in the first 34 overall selections. Cleveland likes to move down and acquire picks, but it also could send some picks to the Patriots for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Or Cleveland could just love Myles Garrett. Even if they do, there’s an interesting choice to be made, because as you’ll see below, they can probably come away with a quarterback and a pass rusher from this draft. It’s all about the combo they choose, making the 2017 NFL Draft basically a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for the Browns’ front office.
In the first mock draft of the season for me, I’ve got them taking Ohio native, Browns fan and upside-riddled quarterback Mitch Trubisky, which starts the dominoes falling a different direction.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: A Tar Heels quarterback has never gone in the first round of the NFL Draft, much less No. 1 overall, and passing on Myles Garrett here is a risky proposition at best (at worst, it could go down as one of the all-time whiffs). But if you find a QB, you have to take the QB, and Trubisky could be the QB.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: Pretty easy choice here for San Francisco. Even though they’re badly in need of a quarterback, it would require a big trade package or Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch falling in love with a different quarterback to make the move up.
Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama: There are plenty of reasons why the Bears would want to draft an offensive player, but Allen is a mammoth presence on the interior and this roster needs all the talent it can possibly get.
Jamal Adams, S, LSU: With Allen off the board and no offensive lineman worth a selection here, the Jags continue to improve their secondary by picking up Adams, who can drop down into the box and hammer against the run.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles)
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: Plenty of help needed here on the defensive side of things, but Marcus Mariota needs a primary target who can grow with him as he develops. This offense could be scary with the addition of a true No. 1 wideout.
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: The Jets have a lot of needs but none bigger than getting a quarterback in place who can jump-start the offense. There is pressure on the coaching staff and front office, and drafting a strong-armed potential franchise quarterback will, at worst, buy them some time. Drafting a first-round quarterback a year after taking one in the second round is hardly unprecedented.
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: Getting an offensive lineman would be ideal, but this is a defense that could quickly become elite with the addition of another playmaker. Hooker is a ballhawk who could make an impact for the Chargers quickly during their first year in Los Angeles.
Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: Watch Thomas light it up against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl and you can picture Dave Gettleman’s eyes lighting up if he’s sitting there at eighth. The Panthers are a team in need of protection for Cam Newton, but their biggest need is a legitimate pass rusher.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: Cincy’s mock drafts will be all over the place between now and the middle of March because of their free agents. They could lose a lot of talent on the offensive line, and they face defensive woes too. Foster recorded 188 total tackles in his final two years with the Crimson Tide.
10. Buffalo Bills
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Irony strikes when the Bills draft a Clemson guy in the post-Rex Ryan world. The reality is they can’t possibly believe they’re prepared to move forward at quarterback and should have a good recommendation on hand courtesy of Sammy Watkins.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: Once again the Saints have to pump as many resources as possible into the defensive side of the ball. Peppers is a versatile guy who can be a weapon in multiple places, and going creative with a defensive pick wouldn’t be surprising for Sean Payton here.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia)
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: And this is why the Browns can take Trubisky at the top. They still come away with a quarterback and a pass rusher, in this case one who produced 32 sacks in three years at Tennessee. Hitting these two picks is absolutely critical for the Browns future.
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: This is a move for now and the future, because it would set up the Cardinals with a dynamic pair of cornerbacks in Jones and Patrick Peterson, not to mention Tyrann Mathieu in the defensive backfield. There are long-term issues with the offense to worry about, but this defense could be truly scary.
14. *Indianapolis Colts
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: A surprising fall for the top back in the draft, but it sets up well for what the Colts want to do in terms of protecting Andrew Luck. Chris Ballard can land a power back to even out the offense with his first pick as new GM.
15. *Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota)
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: Another team that needs a running back and that can get some value here. There are other needs for the Eagles, but adding a dynamic back to help Carson Wentz in his second year could boost this offense.
16. Baltimore Ravens
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Lot of investment in the tight end position lately, but the Ravens just need playmakers. And who better to know what kind of impact an Alabama tight end can have on a team than Ozzie Newsome?
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: Going back-to-back wideouts in the first round after taking Josh Doctson seems excessive, but if the Redskins exit free agency with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon both leaving, it won’t seem weird at all.
18. Tennessee Titans
Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA: Capable of playing with his hand in the dirt or standing up, McKinley gives the Titans another pass rusher, and suddenly (along with their No. 5 overall pick) they come away with a haul from this class.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan: Grabbing Charlton sets up the Buccaneers well in terms of building up a pass rush for the long haul. Noah Spence and Charlton bookending a line with Gerald McCoy could do some damage in a QB-heavy division.
20. Denver Broncos
21. Detroit Lions
Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State: Building up the defensive line should be a key component of this offseason for Detroit. The offense under Jim Bob Cooter with Matthew Stafford running things looked fine (although you could make the case for an improved running game) but the defense has to get more talent immediately.
22. Miami Dolphins
Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky: Projection here that the Dolphins make some changes in free agency along the offensive line. If that’s the case, they’ll need to improve on the interior, and Lamp would give them a boost.
23. New York Giants
Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama: The biggest issue for the Giants last year was an inability to keep Eli Manning protected -- even though he was only sacked 21 times, he was consistently under pressure from opposing defenses. Adding Robinson will shore up the pass protection and help improve the Giants’ run game.
24. Oakland Raiders
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: There are probably bigger issues of need than cornerback, at least from a group of active guys on the roster, but overall this is just a defense that needs to get better. Adding a championship-caliber defensive player to the roster will only help improve an area of weakness.
25. Houston Texans
Garett Bolles, OL, Utah: The Texans need to improve their running game if they want to limit the exposure they’ll have to Brock Osweiler having to throw the ball. That starts with getting more talent up front.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Dan Feeney, OL, Indiana: There’s no question what the Seahawks biggest weakness is heading into 2017. They have to protect Russell Wilson if they want this offense to improve, and that starts by building out the offensive line.
Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida: There are so many ways this could go depending on what Kansas City does in free agency. If they tag Eric Berry, Dontari Poe is out the door. Tag Poe, and Berry is gone. For now we’ll have them improve the interior with an aggressive defensive tackle who can help stop the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
28. Dallas Cowboys
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida: The Cowboys have a lot of spots to improve on defense (the offense is fine!) and that includes cornerback, where they’ll lose both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to free agency. Maybe they shift Byron Jones back, but they still need depth and talent in the secondary.
Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: Sam Shields was just released, and Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy watched the secondary get smoked repeatedly down the stretch of 2016. Green Bay has to add more talent and depth in the defensive backfield.
Haason Reddick, LB, Indiana: This defense is already improving quickly, but there isn’t any reason not to add depth, talent and versatility at linebacker, particularly given James Harrison’s age and Lawrence Timmons’ impending free agency.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama: 18.5 sacks as a pure pass rush type of guy would help Atlanta continue to build depth on the defense. The second half of the Super Bowl is going to ensure they chase talent on that side of the ball.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: This probably ends up being a “trade back” scenario for Bill Belichick, but the McCaffery connection as a guy who can disrupt multiple aspects of the game and pile up yards from scrimmage on handoffs or short passes is too enticing to pass on.