USA TODAY Sports’ Tom Pelissero gives the three teams that got the most bang for their buck at the 2017 NFL draft.
USA TODAY Sports
The 2017 NFL draft is complete, so no time like the present to grade it, right?
In all seriousness, it’s not fair to issue final report cards on this draft until some time in 2020. Still, it’s valid to assess early impressions of each team’s performance with the caveat some of these grades will almost surely change drastically … just as some general managers (and likely ex-GMs) will wish in a few years – maybe fewer – that they’d gone in a drastically different direction when choosing players.
Cleveland Browns: They didn’t pull off what seemed to be their dream scenario, adding both DE Myles Garrett and QB Mitchell Trubisky. But credit executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown and Co. for not overthinking the selection of Garrett at No. 1 and not overpaying for a quarterback with 13 college starts. Agree with their analytics or not, the Browns also stuck to their board and dealt out at No. 12 (rather than take Clemson QB Deshaun Watson), yet sprung for Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer, who may have more upside than Watson anyway, when he was available at No. 52. Punting at 12 netted Brown a 2018 first rounder, meaning Cleveland owns five picks in the first two rounds next year – still more than enough ammo to pursue a veteran or rookie QB in the near future.
Jabrill Peppers, picked 25th overall, doesn’t have a defined position, but he’ll surely fill a gap somewhere on a defense full of them while adding special teams value. The third first rounder, David Njoku, could have more potential than any of this year’s tight ends and excited team brass enough to cut Gary Barnidge. Sixth-round DT Caleb Brantley could be a wasted pick – Brown has already acknowledged as much – or a nice gamble if his legal issues don’t sink him.
San Francisco 49ers: New GM John Lynch heard the Matt Millen comparisons after his surprise hire in January. But after brilliantly manipulating his first draft, maybe he’s earned more faith he can restore the Niners to their former glory. Lynch picked up two third rounders and a fourth for simply flipping his No. 2 choice for Chicago’s No. 3 – a nice payout given the rebuild facing Lynch and new coach Kyle Shanahan.
Lynch later used that extra fourth rounder to get back into the first, where he obtained two of this year’s most coveted players in DL Solomon Thomas (No. 3) and LB Reuben Foster, who took a bit of a tumble before being rescued at No. 31. This duo should go a long way toward revitalizing a defense that’s been in steady decline since Super Bowl XLVII. Third-round CB Ahkello Witherspoon should also help. Teamed with Carlos Hyde, fourth-round RB Joe Williams could give Shanahan the two-pronged attack he leveraged so well in Atlanta last year. Round 5 TE George Kittle could flourish after getting few opportunities to show his gifts at Iowa. Taking his Hawkeyes teammate, QB C.J. Beathard, in the third round might have raised eyebrows given he doesn’t project as a starter. But maybe he’s a long-term backup option since veteran stopgaps Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are only under contract for the next two years.
VIDEO: Who took biggest risks in draft?
USA TODAY Sports’ Tom Pelissero looks at the four teams that took the biggest gambles in the 2017 NFL draft.
USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills: They were quite active during new coach Sean McDermott’s draft debut. Rather than take another QB prospect, the Bills traded their 10th overall selection to Kansas City, content to let Tyrod Taylor develop a bit longer himself while surrounding him with fresh talent and picking up a 2018 first rounder to boot. First-round CB Tre’Davious White should step into Stephon Gilmore’s vacated post, and second-round WR Zay Jones should see the field plenty given the lack of depth behind Sammy Watkins. Buffalo also slipped back into Round 2 for OL Dion Dawkins, who could be the new right tackle, and plucked Pitt QB Nathan Peterman – arguably this year’s most NFL-ready passer and a guy with a shot to overtake Cardale Jones – in the fifth.
Carolina Panthers: If the mission was to reduce stress on QB Cam Newton and his surgically repaired wing, GM Dave Gettleman seems to have accomplished his objective. In first-round RB Christian McCaffrey and second-round WR Curtis Samuel, Newton will have two explosive weapons who could be somewhat interchangeable in the slot and backfield and perhaps present quite a nightmare if paired together in certain packages. Gettleman also found another bodyguard for the 2015 MVP with second-round OL Taylor Moton. As a bonus, Round 3 DE Daeshon Hall is insurance for graybeard DEs Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson.
Green Bay Packers: The Pack’s Swiss cheese secondary submarined Super Bowl aspirations in last season’s NFC Championship Game, so GM Ted Thompson spent both second-round picks (lanky CB Kevin King and hard-hitting S Josh Jones) to address it. Fourth-round LB Vince Biegel could get Julius Peppers’ vacated role on passing downs. Jamaal Williams (Round 4) will be a nice option for a running back depth chart in flux.
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Philip Rivers might just decide he wants to play another half-dozen years after welcoming his new teammates. First-round WR Mike Williams will take him back to the days of throwing the ball up to massive targets like Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd … and he should have more time to send them on deep routes with new guards Forrest Lamp (Round 2) and Dan Feeney (3) protecting him. New DC Gus Bradley could have his version of Kam Chancellor in fourth-round S Rayshawn Jenkins.
New England Patriots: A mere four selections, but you have to look at this draft holistically. WR Brandin Cooks, who arrived at the price of their first rounder, could have a transformational impact on an already potent offense. The Pats only dropped a few slots (from the bottom of the second round into the third) for the opportunity to acquire DE Kony Ealy, who nearly won Super Bowl 50 MVP honors for Carolina and might be an impact pass rusher if coaches can finally leverage his ability in the regular season. Former Bills RB Mike Gillislee arrived via a restricted free agent offer and a fifth rounder. Beyond that, don’t discount the two prospects New England snatched at premium positions in Round 3 (Youngstown State pass rusher Derek Rivers and Troy T Antonio Garcia).
Tennessee Titans: They improved three phases of the game with a pair of first rounders. Corey Davis, who has the most receiving yards in Football Bowl Subdivision history (5,278), is the No. 1 receiver QB Marcus Mariota has lacked. Adoree’ Jackson has time to develop into a No. 1 corner but will be an elite returner the moment he steps onto an NFL field. Third-round WR Taywan Taylor could be the slot nightmare Kendall Wright never really became. This team looks ready to win the AFC South.
Washington Redskins: DL Jonathan Allen (17th pick) had shoulder problems at Alabama, and CB Fabian Moreau (81st) is coming off a pro day pectoral tear, but both are tremendous value picks at positions of need for this defense. Second rounder Ryan Anderson may just take suspended OLB Trent Murphy’s job. And don’t be the least bit surprised if fourth-round RB Samaje Perine emerges from training camp as the starter.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles must be thrilled, though pressure will only continue to build on him to prove he is a franchise quarterback. But that task got significantly easier with first-round RB Leonard Fournette behind him and second-round OL Cam Robinson safeguarding him. Don’t be surprised if Fournette quickly becomes the offensive focal point, which might also allow Bortles to hone some game-management skills rather than attempt some of his ill-fated throws. New team executive VP Tom Coughlin did roll the dice on fourth rounder Dede Westbrook, whose off-field history scared several teams. But the Jags clearly liked Westbrook given they already appear rather set at receiver.
New York Jets: Just like in 2015 with Leonard Williams, GM Mike Maccagnan stayed put at No. 6 and had a stud, LSU S Jamal Adams this time, fall into his lap. The Jets finally resisted the urge to take any more developmental quarterbacks, apparently content to let Christian Hackenberg and/or Bryce Petty sink or swim in 2017, and instead went to work reloading a very depleted depth chart. Second-round S Marcus Maye and third-round WR ArDarius Stewart should vie for starting jobs as rookies, and their selections signal more major roster changes ahead. Keep an eye on Round 5 TE Jordan Leggett from Clemson.
Arizona Cardinals:First-round LB Haason Reddick and second-round DB Budda Baker offer valuable talent and flexibility to a defense that lost five starters this offseason. Fourth-round G Dorian Johnson might not need long to play his way into the lineup. Perhaps some concern that the Cards didn’t find a quarterback to start grooming behind 37-year-old Carson Palmer, but GM Steve Keim also didn’t have to mortgage future assets like the Bears, Chiefs and Texans did.
Baltimore Ravens: GM Ozzie Newsome, an Alabama alum, adhered to his wont, taking two Crimson Tide stars in first-round CB Marlon Humphrey and third-round OLB Tim Williams. If Humphrey learns to defend the deep ball and Williams cleans up his act off the field, both could deliver big time. Newsome also restocked an aging defense with athletic second-round OLB Tyus Bowser and versatile third-round DL Chris Wormley. Fifth rounder Jermaine Eluemunor may be a diamond in the rough for an O-line that took some hits in free agency.
Cincinnati Bengals: Their risk-laden draft will ultimately be defined by the chance they’ve taken on second-round RB Joe Mixon. Setting his well-known issues aside, Cincy might have hit the lottery in terms of football merit. A multi-dimensional talent, Mixon could emerge as this draft’s best back and may not take long to overtake Jeremy Hill, a free agent in 2018. First-round WR John Ross can affect every play, with or without the ball, courtesy of his field-stretching 4.22-second 40 speed – assuming, of course, he can outrun concerns about his injury history and diminutive stature (5-11, 188). Mid-round selections Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson and Ryan Glasgow upgrade defensive depth at minimum, and Willis has a chance to make a bigger splash. Even Round 5 K Jake Elliott will be welcomed a year after Mike Nugent’s misadventures.
Dallas Cowboys: This could be a very productive rookie class – and may have to be after free agency’s defensive exodus. First-round DE Taco Charlton, second-round CB Chidobe Awuzie and third-round CB Jourdan Lewis – assuming legal issues are resolved in his favor – should all see extensive playing time if they don’t start. Fourth-round WR Ryan Switzer gives QB Dak Prescott a second weapon in the slot along with Cole Beasley
Minnesota Vikings: Last year’s trade for QB Sam Bradford meant GM Rick Spielman only had two picks in the first three rounds. But both – RB Dalvin Cook and OL Pat Elflein – should be instant difference makers for a rushing game that ranked last in 2016. Cook has red flags to shed after suffering several injuries at Florida State along with questions about his off-field behavior. But he’s got the ability to make newly signed RB Latavius Murray a second stringer in short order.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A forward-looking haul and perfect example of why it takes time to realistically grade any draft. First rounder T.J. Watt might need more refinement as he continues to learn the linebacker position, but he fills a need and brings unquestionably good genetics. Second-round WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is a solid player, though currently seems a bit of a luxury pick, especially with WR Martavis Bryant on the road back from suspension. Third-round RB James Conner, a Pitt star and cancer survivor, is not only a feel-good story but a bruising runner who offsets Le’Veon Bell’s slashing style. GM Kevin Colbert will have truly hit a home run if Round 4 QB Joshua Dobbs proves worthy of being Ben Roethlisberger’s heir apparent.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They didn’t need TE O.J. Howard at No. 19, but they were wise not to pass on him. Third-round WR Chris Godwin is another nice choice and, along with Howard, should allow QB Jameis Winston to be far less reliant on Mike Evans. Second-round S Justin Evans and third-round LB Kendell Beckwith made the defense healthier, and even Round 5 RB Jeremy McNichols could have instant value to a team that must decide how to move forward amid Doug Martin’s suspension.
Atlanta Falcons: The reigning NFC champions didn’t have many flaws but might have found two Week 1 starters. First-round DE Takkarist McKinley will be a needed complement to NFL sack champion Vic Beasley and a pass rush that didn’t get the job done at the end of Super Bowl LI. In Round 4, Sean Harlow could emerge as a starting guard in the wake of Chris Chester’s retirement. GM Thomas Dimitroff also replenished depth, namely third-round LB Duke Riley.
Denver Broncos: First rounder Garett Bolles appears like the lone rookie likely to start much in 2017. He lacks experience and will soon turn 25 but seems like an ideal fit physically for an offense that badly needed a left tackle. Second-round pass rusher DeMarcus Walker and third-round WR Carlos Henderson have the opportunity to earn some snaps this year. Third-round CB Brendan Langley and fifth-round TE Jake Butt probably won’t contribute much in 2017, but Butt could become a Heath Miller clone down the line if he overcomes his Orange Bowl knee injury.
Houston Texans: Yet another team where time is truly needed to tell the tale, though first-round QB Deshaun Watson‘s success (or lack thereof) will be the overriding consideration. GM Rick Smith broke with his personal preference to move up 13 spots to get Watson – and has now parked both his 2018 first- and second-round picks in Cleveland over the past few weeks. Still, if Watson solves Houston’s perennial problem under center, no one will argue. LB Zach Cunningham (Round 2), RB D’Onta Foreman (3) and T Julie’n Davenport (4) might all be starters in 2018 but more likely bit players as rookies
Indianapolis Colts: New GM Chris Ballard immediately went to work overhauling a 30th-ranked defense and may have really scored with S Malik Hooker at pick No. 15. Hooker is inexperienced and has injury concerns but might also be Ed Reed one day. Second-round CB Quincy Wilson and third-round edge player Tarell Basham shouldn’t take long to crack the lineup. The running game could get an immediate boost from a pair of fourth rounders, OT Zach Banner and RB Marlon Mack.
Kansas City Chiefs: A team that’s won 43 regular-season games in four years under Andy Reid (but hasn’t made a deep playoff run) targeted a man who will be tasked to change that – and at the cost of next year’s first rounder. Welcome to the NFL, Patrick Mahomes. He’s probably the most physically gifted passer coming into the league and should get ideal training for learning a pro offense and breaking some of his bad habits given Reid used to coach Brett Favre and incumbent QB Alex Smith will tout the merits of game management. Second-round DE Tanoh Kpassagnon and third-round RB Kareem Hunt probably won’t begin paying off until 2018, at the earliest, either. Boom or bust.
Seattle Seahawks: For the fourth time in five years, they popped out of the first round but accrued six Day 2 picks in the process. Four of the top five selections this year were devoted to an aging defense, the exception being second-round C Ethan Pocic, who should nail down an interior spot for a beleaguered front. DT Malik McDowell, Seattle’s first selection at 35th overall, could be a major disruptor if Pete Carroll’s staff can unleash his talent and competitive spirit. Third round defensive backs Shaquill Griffin and Delano Hill have work ahead to find their homes in the Legion of Boom. Amara Darboh could be a nice No. 2 wideout in a few years,
Philadelphia Eagles: If pass defense was their primary concern entering the weekend, they made strides. DE Derek Barnett (Round 1) is relentless, if not twitchy. CB Sidney Jones might represent highway robbery at No. 43 if his pro day Achilles injury heals quickly. CB Rasul Douglas (3) picked off passes left and right for West Virginia. Fourth-round RB Donnel Pumphrey, the all-time leading rusher in FBS history, may be another nice weapon for QB Carson Wentz on passing downs but must confirm his slender frame (5-8, 176) can withstand the NFL’s rigors.
Detroit Lions: The player with the most name recognition might be Miami (Fla.) QB Brad Kaaya, who may be a career backup — which is fine for a sixth rounder. Teammates at Florida, first-round LB Jarrad Davis and second-round CB Teez Tabor – assuming his athletic limitations don’t sink him – should be in the mix to start right away. Third-round WR Kenny Golladay won’t make anyone forget Calvin Johnson, but he should be a nice red-zone option at 6-4, 218 pounds.
Miami Dolphins: Seems like a decent, if not particularly noteworthy, group. Pass rusher Charles Harris (Round 1), LB Raekwon McMillan (2) and CB Cordrea Tankersley (3) all have upside along with attributes to their games that seem like worrisome flaws. Don’t be shocked if fifth-round G Isaac Asiata winds up playing the most as a rookie.
New Orleans Saints: GM Mickey Loomis went to work patching the NFL’s worst pass defense from 2016 by selecting Marshon Lattimore, who projects as this year’s top corner, 11th overall. Marcus Williams, taken in Round 2, could be the new free safety. If he shakes the injury bug, look out for third-round LB Alex Anzalone. Some of Loomis’ other choices could stir debate. T Ryan Ramczyk, the final pick of Round 1, may need a fair amount of time to crack the starting five. RB Alvin Kamara (Round 3) could be dynamic, but how many touches can he steal from Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson?
Oakland Raiders: High ceilings and low floors for the first three selections. CB Gareon Conley would likely not have lasted to pick No. 24 had he not been accused of rape in the days before the draft. But he’s a wonderful addition if his record is as clean as he’s claimed. Second-round DB Obi Melifonwu is a physical marvel but maybe not the most instinctive player. Third-round DT Eddie Vanderdoes could plug a glaring hole in the trenches if his burst is back after a lackluster 2016 season when he was recovering from knee surgery.
Chicago Bears: GM Ryan Pace will have to hold his breath … for a few years. He’s deservedly invited heavy scrutiny – even if the recent boos at the United Center were unwarranted – after forking over four picks, including a 2018 third rounder, to move from No. 3 to No. 2 in order to guarantee the services of Mitchell Trubisky. (It should be noted Pace recouped some of his mid-round picks by later dealing the 36th selection to Arizona.) Trubisky may yet blossom into this draft’s best quarterback, though he’ll need major seasoning after starting just 13 college starts – a figure usually not predictive of professional success. His selection also looks odd on the surface after Pace signed free agent QB Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million pact in March. However Glennon’s contract has a financial escape hatch in 2018 if Trubisky supplants him. Second-round TE Adam Shaheen from Division II Ashland is also a project. He’s 6-6, 278 pounds with sub-4.8 speed, but he may also not be ready to play. Round 4 S Eddie Jackson might be Chicago’s most valuable rookie in 2017.
New York Giants: GM Jerry Reese has a reputation for not worrying about need and choosing the best player available, regardless of position, with every selection … hence a draft that looks a bit befuddling. First-round TE Evan Engram (6-3, 234, 4.4 speed) is an enticing weapon even if he’s not much of a blocker. Still, the Giants already appeared set with pass catchers. Second-round DT Dalvin Tomlinson offsets the loss of Johnathan Hankins but won’t push the pocket much. And, yes, perhaps third-round QB Davis Webb, who did generate his share of pre-draft buzz, could take the reins from Eli Manning in the future. We’ll find out in a few months, though, if Reese should have prioritized upgrades at linebacker, tailback and offensive tackle.
Los Angeles Rams: This grade is actually a bit more fully developed. Their 2017 first rounder was invested into last year’s gambit for Jared Goff, who’s coming off a fairly disastrous rookie season that legitimized fears he could be the latest college spread quarterback to flop in the NFL. GM Les Snead and new coach Sean McVay hope they’ve found new weapons to hasten Goff’s development. But as intriguing as Round 2 TE Gerald Everett is, he’s no longer in the Sun Belt. Third-round WR Cooper Kupp set a slew of records – but at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Maybe John Johnson (Round 3) could find himself playing safety in Wade Phillips’ defense by opening day. But as was the case with Goff, several leaps of faith here, and diminishing room for the benefit of the doubt with a franchise likely to spend a 13th consecutive season shy of the playoffs.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
PHOTOS: NFL draft first-round picks